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Celebrating 50 Years as Australia’s National Screen and Broadcast School

AFTRS has today launched a year of celebrations to mark 50 years since its establishment in 1973. AFTRS is regarded as one of the world’s leading creative schools with its alumni at the forefront of Australian and international screen and broadcast.

The morning brought together the inaugural class of 1973 and the incoming students of 2023 to launch a year of celebrations and creativity.

As Orientation Week begins for the 2023 cohort, screen and broadcast leaders gathered in Sydney this morning – including members of the first intake in 1973 – to acknowledge the School’s achievements over five decades.

Specials guests included internationally acclaimed director and 1973 alum Gillian Armstrong, Susan Templeman, the Federal Member for Macquarie and Special Envoy for the Arts, AFTRS Council Chair Russel Howcroft, and Storry Walton, who was the Director of the 1973 Interim Training Scheme. Other members of the first cohort in attendance were Ross Hamilton, James Ricketson, Ron Saunders, Graham Shirley and David Stocker.

Founding Chair of AFTRS, former Federal Minister Barry Jones, was part of a group of committed Australians determined to invigorate an Australian screen industry. At the time, Mr Jones said: “The School must act as a revolutionary force. There can be no half measures. We must create one of the world’s great film schools, or we must abandon the project at once.”

Throughout 2023, the School will have a program of events and activities underscoring its role as ‘a revolutionary force’ in Australian arts.

Susan Templeman, MP, said: “AFTRS was established in 1973 to be a ‘revolutionary force’ in Australian culture. Since then, it has produced some of our finest storytellers, producers and crews. It has an extraordinary legacy, but the School’s mission today is just a crucial as it was in 1973, when it was formally opened by Gough Whitlam. We need creative, innovative and skilled Australians to bring our stories to our screens and airwaves now more than ever. I congratulate AFTRS on the magnificent contribution it has made to our culture and to our creative workforce over five decades.”

AFTRS CEO Dr. Nell Greenwood said: “Our first 50 years has seen AFTRS become one of the world’s top screen and broadcast Schools and a ground-breaking force in Australian culture. Looking forward, we must continue to meet the revolutionary ambition of our founders with the same sense of urgency and passion. And for AFTRS, the next 50 years must be about access and equity. We want talent across Australia to know that one of the world’s leading screen and broadcast schools is on their doorstep – and it’s here to help them realise their own big, bold dreams – whatever their background, wherever they’re from.

“To hold its place at the forefront of global content-making, our growing industry needs the talent and skills of the best and brightest creators across Australia. AFTRS is that vital way in for the next Gillian Armstrong, Rachel Perkins, or David White – who might be right now daydreaming in a classroom in Darwin or Dubbo – to get started on a long, brilliant career in screen, podcasting or radio.”

Since 1973, AFTRS has launched the careers of over five thousand film, television, radio and new media professionals, and AFTRS graduates have been nominated for and won a slew of prestigious gongs…including a haul of Academy Awards, AACTAs, BAFTAs, Golden Globes and Emmys.

Among AFTRS’ best and brightest alumni are globally renowned directors such as Academy Award © winner Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog, The Piano), Gillian Armstrong, Chris Noonan, Cate Shortland, Alex Proyas, and Phillip Noyce; Academy Award © winning editor Margaret Sixel (Mad Max: Fury Road), Academy Award © winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Cannes International Film Festival Camera d’Or winner Warwick Thornton. The short film MumLife was selected In Competition at the 2022 Cannes International Film Festival. The film was directed by Ruby Challenger and written by Gerard Dewhurst from a story by Ruby Challenger and Claudia Shepherd, all 2021 AFTRS Master of Arts Screen students. Key creatives on the international hit TV series Heartbreak High include AFTRS alumni showrunner Hannah Carroll Chapman, writer Thomas Wilson-White, script producer/writer Megan Palinkas and editor Andrew Macneill. AFTRS alumni continue to achieve in the global industry with other recent successes including Cate Shortland’s direction of the hit film Black Widow, composer Jonathan (Joff) Bush’s award-winning music for Bluey, DOP Zoe White’s credits on TV series such as The Handmaid’s Tale and director Shannon Murphy’s success on international television programs including Killing Eve.

Australia’s airwaves are also filled with AFTRS Alumni, including Nova FM’s Tim Blackwell, from Kate, Tim and Joel; 2GB’s Greg Byrnes (Head of Content, Nine Radio); SCA’s Melanie Withnall (Head of News and Information) and Rohan Edwards (co-host of Hot Nights with Abbie Chatfield); ABC’s Michael Mason (former Head of Radio), Simon Marnie (host of Weekend Mornings, ABC Sydney), Alice Moldovan (Producer, Conversations) and Nick Findlay (Music Director, Triple J); and ARN’s Mike Byrne (Content Director, WSFM).

Reflecting on the need for a national school, founding AFTRS Chair, Mr Barry Jones said of the role of the Arts in Australian life: “It has got to be priority… it really matters. It not just icing on the cake. It’s central to explaining who we are. The arts are not peripheral they are central; creativity is central to the abundant life.”

Philip Noyce, whose early films such as Backroads, Newsfront, Dead Calm and Rabbit Proof Fence were at the forefront of Australia’s film renaissance, and whose stellar international career includes titles such as Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, recorded a message for the incoming 2023 cohort saying: “Maybe today you take for granted the opportunity to make films in Australia but when this film school started, there was almost no film industry to join. I’m here after 50 years still saying action and cut. That’s the only job I’ve ever had ever since I left the film school.”

Producer/director Unjoo Moon, best known for her film I Am Woman, is Chair of the AFTRS Alumni Advisory Group. At today’s event Unjoo announced the new Alumni and Industry Scholarship. Funds raised by AFTRS’ alumni and industry partners will contribute to future scholarships, including the inaugural Alumni and Industry Scholarship in 2024.

In 2024, the inaugural Alumni and Industry Scholarship will be awarded to support a student for the Master of Arts Screen Course who is facing financial hardship. Eligible to students of the 2024 intake, the scholarship will provide a $25,000 contribution towards a student’s living expenses, relocation costs, study resources and/or other costs.

“AFTRS is committed to ensuring that our community reflects the changing landscape of Australian storytellers and we are conscious that the main obstacle to taking up study is the financial burden of tuition and Sydney’s ever-rising living costs. The Alumni and Industry Scholarship has been established to overcome that obstacle for one talented Australian from a diverse background to enable them to study at the School,” Unjoo said.

AFTRS invites all Alumni and Industry to consider donating to the AFTRS Alumni Scholarship Fund. AFTRS’ goal is to raise $50,000 for the fund in 2024, with $25,000 of that going to the inaugural Alumni and Industry Scholarship, and the remaining funds to contribute to other opportunities for future AFTRS students.