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AFTRS is 50: celebrating and building the future of screen and audio

In 2023, AFTRS marked its 50th anniversary with a year full of celebrations and connections. Throughout the year, we celebrated the screen and audio industry and the achievements of our community with various events, screenings, and get-togethers, culminating in an unforgettable celebration on 25 November.

Our community shared stories of transformation and creativity, looking back at their formative years at AFTRS and the continuing network of creative collaborators they nourish throughout their careers.

In her closing remarks, Dr. Nell Greenwood, AFTRS CEO, acknowledged our school community’s tireless work, creative commitment, and dedication, and expressed her gratitude to the entire AFTRS community – alumni, industry friends, community partners, students, and staff – for their support.

As we dedicated the year to celebrate 50 years of AFTRS, taking pride in our rich history and anticipating the creative future that lies ahead, we strengthen the community bonds that testify to creativity, storytelling and the revolutionary potential at the heart of everything we do at AFTRS.

Dr. Nell Greewood | AFTRS 50th Anniversary Reunion

“This year AFTRS celebrated its 50th anniversary

We have enjoyed screenings and alumni get-togethers across the country and an unforgettable alumni celebration at the school on the 25th of November. It’s been a year where we were able to reflect on our history, take stock of where we are now and look to the future. There was much to celebrate.

AFTRS was founded, back in 1973, in a bipartisan act of parliament that recognised the profound value of stories to a country. The AFTRS Act was the result of the tireless campaigning of AFTRS founders – a list of luminaries that includes Barry Jones, Phillip Adams, Tom Jeffries and Peter Coleman – who knew that if Australia was to have a thriving local industry, so Australians could switch on the radio, the television, go to the movies and see and hear great Australian stories, we needed a world-class national school.

Our founders set the School on its path to be a transforming, disruptive and enriching force for Australian culture. They had an ambition for the School that we must acknowledge and be grateful for in this 50th year. It was evident in their decision to approach Professor Jerzy Toeplitz, the visionary director of the Polish National school, widely regarded at the time as the global leader in film education, to lead this new School. It was also there on the first page of AFTRS’ first Course outline. Barry Jones, then AFTRS first Council Chair, wrote in his introduction of the need for the School and its first cohort to be a revolutionary force in Australian culture.

Thanks to this ambition, thanks to the hard work, creative commitment and dedication of our School community, the support of the Australian government and the brilliance of our many alumni, this vision has been and continues to be realised.  We now have a national screen and audio school that is a global beacon for learning and creativity. When we spoke to Barry Jones earlier this year about what this creative revolution looks like today, he spoke about the fundamental importance of creativity to the human experience: “it’s got to be a priority, that it really matters… It’s central to explaining who we are… Creativity is central to the abundant life.”  One of the things that makes this School such a unique place is that creativity and its revolutionary potential remains at the heart of everything we do here.  We have highly creative people doing extraordinary creative things together with a deep, deep love for and belief in the power of art, stories, films, radio to affect, connect and transform people.

One of the particular highlights of this year has been talking to alumni about their time at AFTRS. The brilliant director, Sue Brooks – whose film played as part of the 50th program of restored alumni shorts – said of her time at AFTRS: “It changed my life for the better… my three years at AFTRS was a creative storm.” To hear more alumni stories, including Warwick Thornton, Bethany Ryan and our Council Chair, Debra Richards, you can listen to this podcast, hosted by Screen Australia, celebrating AFTRS’ 50 years.

Over the year I have been struck by what a privilege and pleasure it is to be a part of this extraordinary, transformative community and why it’s so important that the doors to this School are open as wide as possible to creative talent across Australia. This year we launched the Alumni & Industry Scholarship fund for an MA student, and thanks to the generosity of donors, we have our first scholarship recipient starting next February.

Early next year we will be launching a living archive that will allow us to tell this brilliant history of the School. In his foreword to the Fulltime Program Course brochure of 1980, Professor Toeplitz quoted the French President Valerie Giscard D’Estaing on the role of a film school as “a keeper of our memory and at the same time the source of our imagination; a watchdog of our traditions and knowledge, and the motor of change”. And this year has culminated with a short film, told by AFTRS students and staff, that looks forward to the future of storytelling.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you all – our alumni, industry friends, community partners, students and staff – for your support in 2023 and for making this such a memorable and joyful year.”

Dr. Nell Greenwood