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OPINION: AFI AWARDS - QUESTIONS ASKED

The AFI Awards were presented in Sydney last Saturday after three years in Melbourne, and used the Sydney Convention Centre in Darling Harbour for the televised presentation, adjourning for the after party to the finger wharf that was once the temporary casino, down the road. ANDREW L. URBAN reviews the event and calls for a reassessment.

The following is meant to open debate; and except for my criticism of the after party, my remarks should not be read as an attack on the AFI or the awards as such.

The Convention Centre is a concrete block with cavernous holes in it that are called meeting rooms or auditorium; it is a convention centre, designed and run for richer clients who can afford $5 for a very basic sandwich cut down in size and flavour. I had just one of these in the media room during the AFI awards presentation – it was the last one on a couple of platters that was to cater for all the media covering the night – about 100 people in all.

"inappropriate as an entertainment venue"

The fact that the place is totally lacking in charm, ambiance, atmosphere, style or human scale is magnified by the other factors that make it inappropriate as an entertainment venue. Especially for a non profit organisation as small as the AFI.

I spent three days in a conference there just before the awards. The annual film and tv production industry which gathered around the awards night as a holus bolus package from Melbourne had done so after NSW Premier Bob Carr matched Victoria’s Kennett government’s financial package to bring the kudos to Sydney.

"Shame, Sydney can’t match Melbourne for style"

Such a shame, then, that Sydney can’t match Melbourne for style on this occasion. The Convention Centre stage facilities were the only things that were up to standard.

The access design is clumsy, via airport-like escalators to the first floor, which also resembles an airport traffic area. The arrival apron is inadequate for an event catering for 2,000 people. It is even more inadequate for ushering 2,000 people (in the rain), after the presentation, waiting for far too few (2? 3?) charter buses to transfer guests to the party venue. Some of us managed to take a taxi instead, but for those paying $175 a head, this would have added injury to insult.

A further queue at the entrance shuffled through to security via three temporary bars serving drink – good idea, lousy execution. I got a beer, by chance, when a six pack (a six pack!) was being opened. No other drinks were available at that serving point. Louise – and others around us – had hoped for something else. The next servery bar as we jostled along, was to serve champagne, except all they had were empty champagne flutes and staff trying to wrestle open two bottles. There’ll be drinks trays inside, one hopeful guest remarked, urging us forward.

"shabby after the spacious elegance of Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt"

By the time we arrived inside, patience had been tested and we were indeed expecting tray service drinks and finger foods. There was no drink tray service where we stood, but we did capture one beef and one chicken skewer each. It was now close to midnight by now, and people had started arriving for the event at 6.30. The single, underpowered bar was unapproachable, the reverberating noise made conversation a shouting match and the discomfort level rose to unbearable. The muggy heat was giving us an unwelcome sauna. We left, without Louise even getting a sip of a drink, almost an hour and a half after the end of the presentations.

The old finger wharf is just not up to 2,000 people; it is also the worst possible shape for a party – especially of this size. The tacky little tables that were shunted together looked shabby after the spacious elegance of Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt, which managed the same size crowd with ease.

"It is a celebration & that mood ought to be maintained at the party"

Whatever your opinion of the presentations (live or telecast versions), it is a celebration and that mood ought to be maintained at the party. There are no doubt reasons (like cost, perhaps) why the guests had to be relocated for the party: at the conference, I attended sit down meals for almost 1,000 guests in the ground floor banquet hall, easily large enough to handle 2,000 standing. If the Convention Centre is the venue for the presentations, it may as well be the venue for the party. It may be dull and lacking in character, but at least it’s convenient.

"Party Organiser, Spin Communications... had not returned any of AFI's phone calls as of Thurs Nov 12"

The party was organised on behalf of the AFI by Spin Communications, chosen on recommendation; as of Thursday November 12, Spin had not returned any of AFI's phone calls to discuss the event.

If $175 a head - plus a heap of generous sponsors - can’t buy a decent awards evening, Sydney needs to urgently cancel the Olympics.

And if the cost of the awards presentation is too high, we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions:

If $175 a head - plus a heap of generous sponsors - can’t buy a decent awards evening, Sydney needs to urgently cancel the Olympics.

Or we should ask: Can the AFI organization and its membership of 8,000 afford to run a de facto national film & tv award system? Should it be more modest?

What contribution could or should come from the industry itself, whose practitioners directly and indirectly benefit from the exposure and acclaim the AFI awards provides?

If Bob Carr wants it in Sydney, should he be asked to dig deeper in his Treasury’s pocket?

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Our readers and AFI RESPOND

DON’T DARLING ME !

Andrew L. Urban and Louise Keller hosted the AFI Awards on AOL Live, from the media room of the Darling Harbour Convention Centre, requiring a team of 12 people plus a handful of computers (linked to phone lines that cost $200 a pop – for 24 hours!)

We wanted to set up on Friday and make sure the technology worked, and leave the computers in place overnight for Saturday’s coverage. Security became an issue since the media room was a space with sliding doors that had no locks. Extra security was available – at $30 an hour for the 36 hours to Sunday morning.

It wasn’t until we got there on Friday that we saw the two storage rooms off the media room – complete with locks. A week of harassed discussions could have been avoided if the Convention Centre staff had thought to mention this. In all, it was not an experience I would happily repeat.

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