15 February 2024

Illawarra in the spotlight as local talent shines bright at 'Australian Oscars'

| Dione David
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Finding Addison film still showing two girls leaning on each other

Newcomers Pez Warner and Aria Hart in the Academy Award-winning short film Finding Addison. Photo: Chris Toomer.

The Illawarra screen community has been recognised on a national stage after cleaning up at the premier film awards in Australia, the Australian Academy Awards – fondly referred to as the “Australian Oscars”.

At the Australian Academy of Cinema Television and the Arts (AACTA) event, Balgownie film creative Francisca (Fran) Braithwaite “couldn’t have been prouder” when she was awarded Best Short Film for Finding Addison.

Illawarra residents will spot some familiar settings, given the film was shot primarily at Fran’s parents’ Balgownie home and a Berkeley Airbnb in April. The film also features local landmarks, including the Balgownie Mini Mart and the Balgownie Junior Football Club.

“The local shop and the community soccer club were wonderful. For this to be my first big production, shot in and around my neighbourhood, and to have this award behind it is so special. It’s a good feeling,” Fran says.

“The hope is that it will inspire our region’s filmmakers to make more stories about the Illawarra and for the Illawarra, that resonate nationally and globally.”

READ ALSO Screen Illawarra taking a starring role in building a thriving film industry in the region

Led by themes of identity, acceptance and forgiveness, Finding Addison follows two best friends who share a life-changing secret, until a knock on the door three decades later reveals the truth.

The film, which Fran wrote, produced, acted in and directed was a joint effort with director of photography and executive producer Jess Milne, and actor and executive producer Nick Bolton, from Bulli production company TEN ALPHAS, along with script continuity advisor Tony Barea from Primbee.

“This film would not be what it was without all the people who worked on it, from the incredible casting director Faith Martin who brought together an incredible ensemble, to Marcus Bolton from Cutting Edge Films who did a spectacular job on post-production and Freya Berkhout, the composer whose music brought everything together,” she says.

“These people are too often left out of the spotlight but this award is every bit as much for them as it is for me.”

Finding Addison still showing two women

Francisca Braithwaite and Bonnie Sveen during a scene in Finding Addison. Photo: Chris Toomer.

Finding Addison is a personal story inspired by a close friend who discovered she was adopted in her late 20s and went on a mission to find her mother. At 29 minutes and 49 seconds, it’s a “long short film”, a format which Fran says often suffers on the film festival circuit – but there’s no fat.

“To be classified a short film, a film must be no more than 40 minutes, however the majority of film festivals in Australia and around the world tend to prefer films at the 15 to 20 mark max. I think there’s a place for films of those lengths but the long short films are tailored to people who want to go on a journey that I couldn’t take them on in 10 minutes,” she says.

“The original edit was 36 minutes and we got it under 30 … It takes them from the 90s to the present day, and not a single second more could have been cut.”

READ ALSO Illawarra film turns focus on homeless crisis facing older women

Composer Damian Lane from West Wollongong was nominated four times for his music composition and picked up the gong for Best Original Score in Documentary for The Dark Emu.

Austinmer casting director Anousha Zarkesh was nominated twice, including for Warwick Thornton’s New Boy featuring Cate Blanchett and Thirroul’s Deborah Mailman, and was named Best Casting in Film for Shayda.

“The AACTAs are the pinnacle in the Australian screen industry, and just to be nominated is amazing. It was so good to celebrate with Fran, Jess, Nick and Damian,” she says.

Another local, Matt Bonnici from Wollongong, worked in the art department on Streets of Colour and was nominated for Best Independent Feature Film.

Nick Bolton, the chair of Screen Illawarra, and executive producer of Finding Addison, noted that it was a proud moment to see so many Illawarra locals being recognised nationally, proving that the screen community was thriving and competing with the very best in Australia.

Screen Illawarra shall be holding a screening night soon to showcase the work nominated at the Academy Awards.

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