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(L-R) AFTRS Council Chair Rachel Perkins, Minister for the Arts, The Hon Tony Burke, Master of Arts Screen: Business Graduate EJ Garrett

A $530,000 grant over two years to support First Nations training and career pathways was announced last Friday by the Minister for the Arts, The Hon Tony Burke, who attended the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) Graduation Ceremony. 

Minister Burke announced the grant, which is supported by the National Cultural Policy, Revive: A Place for Every Story, a Story for Every Place. The first pillar – First Nations First – recognises and respects the crucial place of First Nations stories at the centre of Australia’s arts and culture and recognises that career pathways need to be supported at all career stages through access to culturally appropriate training and skills development.  

The funding will allow AFTRS to support two programs of work. The First Nations Bridging Program will offer participants a bespoke combination of training, placement, mentoring opportunities and community support based on the needs, interests and ambition of First Nations students. It will create pathways for cohorts of emerging First Nations talent from remote and regional areas into the screen, radio and audio industries. 

The second program will support a Training Audit of current First Nations employment and training within the screen sector to provide AFTRS, screen agencies and the industry with a clear map of the current needs and gaps, as well as the areas that are well supported. This will be a vital part of a targeted and coordinated approach to First Nations screen, radio and audio training, across Australia.  

The announcement at Graduation came three days after a significant investment in the Arts8 national training organisations was included in the Federal Budget. AFTRS will receive $23.2 million over four years, with funding indexed and ongoing, to ensure it is able to continue fostering the next generation of talent across screen and audio.  

AFTRS CEO Dr. Nell Greenwood welcomed the investment,

“This restoration of government funding to previous levels is a relief, and such a great outcome for the School and its future students. We are grateful to Minister Burke and the Government. In a time of industry upheaval, challenges and opportunities, it means we can continue to champion and support brilliant Australian talent and our resilient, ever dynamic screen and audio communities.” 

“The role of AFTRS is to train and to inspire,” Minister Burke said to AFTRS’ graduating students, “You, with the training you now have, are some of the best equipped people in this nation, to make sure Australia knows itself.”  

Minister Burke also spoke about the importance of investment in Australian stories,

“To imagine our nation without our stories is to image a place where none of us would want to live.” 

“We’ve invested in you. Don’t stop imagining.” 

The ceremony saw 158 students graduate from the 2023 academic year. 

AFTRS Council Chair Rachel Perkins welcomed the announcement, and in speaking to the students, underscored the importance of their work to Australia.

“[AFTRS] is here to benefit you, but it is also here to benefit the country. Taxpayers invest in this institution because they believe that the stories we tell are significant to our country and will move our country forward and inform our country at times of crisis; inform our national identity and make us evolve as a people. You are the creative lifeblood that fuels the industry, and that will change the industry.” 

Over 90% of AFTRS students find relevant employment within six months of graduation, in part thanks to internship and placement programs, such as the paid Graduate Program which temporarily places graduates with some of Australia’s most respected production companies and broadcasters, including the ABC, BBC Studios, Endemol Shine Australia, Eureka Productions, ITV Studios Australia, SBS and Warner Bros. 

Heartbreak High Creator and Showrunner Hannah Carroll Chapman gave the Alumni Commencement Address. In 2009 Hannah graduated from AFTRS with a Graduate Certificate: 3D Animation, and again in 2012 with a Graduate Certificate: Screenwriting. 

Hannah said,

“Our industry is one in a state of perpetual change. The companies change, the formats change, the technology and the screens and the politics. But what doesn’t change, and what never will, is our insatiable human appetite to see and hear and feel our stories told. Know that the worldwide hunger and interest in Australian stories is out there.” 

“Try not to look at your fellow cohort as your competition. See them as the people who will be hiring you, the people who will be helping you up the ladder of this industry. In turn, help them up the ladder of this industry. And pay special attention to those that did not start on the same rung as you.” 

The graduate speaker on the night was EJ Garrett, a Darumbal man from the coastal lands of Central Queensland who studied the Master of Arts Screen: Business online. EJ said,

“This has been a life changing experience.” 

“This process has really emboldened me to achieve my dreams.” 

Also announced at the Graduation ceremony was the winner of the Women in Cinematography Prize, presented by Sony to AFTRS Bachelor of Arts Screen: Production graduate, Mia Schirmer. 

In announcing the $10,000 camera prize, Alyssa Young, Head Product Manager, Sony ANZ said,

“Congratulations to this year’s deserving winner, Mia Schirmer. It’s important to celebrate the unique perspectives, storytelling and visions of female-identifying cinematographers. We wish Mia years of cinematic brilliance ahead.” 

Mia submitted a film titled ‘For Joan’ which explores the harsh reality of women’s reproductive rights in the 1950’s. Mia said,

“I am so grateful and honoured to be selected for this prize. I aspire to continue my career in camera, in the short term, working in the short documentary and music video spaces, and in the long term, hoping to shoot a feature!  

Receiving this camera will not only help push me into more work, but also further my creative practice and allow me to dig into more of what I love. I am so grateful to be coming up in a time where women are being recognised and supported. Thank you to Sony and AFTRS for pushing this initiative!”  

The night before Graduation, six graduating First Nations students were honoured at a ceremony attended by Elders, First Nations community and industry colleagues including Indigenous alum. The night began with a smoking ceremony and dances by Gawura Cultural Immersions and featured a warm welcome from Elder-in-Residence Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, words of encouragement by Worimi filmmaker and educator Genevieve Grieves and alum producer Skye Leon, as well as an electrifying performance by acclaimed Noongar singer songwriter Bumpy.