IT WAS a triumphant night for the Cummeragunja Songbirds.
The comic musical The Sapphires, about an Aboriginal girl group who rise from an outback mission to Vietnam War entertainers, has swept the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards.
Wayne Blair's feel-good hit won best film, best direction and four more awards at a star-studded ceremony in Sydney, adding to the five trophies at the event for craft awards on Monday.
In winning form ... the AACTA Awards belonged entirely to The Sapphires. Photo: Supplied
With Russell Crowe hosting and fellow Oscar winners Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Geoffrey Rush in the audience, Deborah Mailman won best lead actress and Jessica Mauboy won best supporting actress for playing two of the Cummeragunja Songbirds who become the sassy, soul-singing Sapphires when they head to Vietnam.
‘‘I’m so deeply proud of what this film has achieved and am so bloody thrilled I was a part of it,’’ said Mailman, praising the four ‘‘aunties’’ who were the real life Sapphires. ‘‘You set a precedent for the rest of us to follow’’.
An emotional Mauboy said: "God bless all you mob ... I feel I really don’t deserve this - I mean it."
Ireland's Chris O'Dowd, who played their boozy manager, won best lead actor and Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs collected best adapted screenplay. In a speech delivered by Mailman, O’Dowd apologised for not being at the awards "but it seems you get naked on one flight and it seems you’re no longer welcome on Qantas".
The ABC TV series Redfern Now won two awards on a night of celebrations for indigenous talent - Leah Purcell for best actress in a TV drama and Steven McGregor for best television screenplay.
Backstage, Sapphires director Blair, who worked on both sides of the camera for Redfern Now, said he was thrilled to be part of a tide of indigenous success in film and television."To be a part of this wave that’s happening now that started 30, 40 years ago, it’s beautiful," he said. "I just cannot wait to start back on Redfern Now again and to introduce this film to America on March 22. So fingers crossed."
Flanked by Mauboy and fellow Sapphire Shari Sebbens, Mailman said the turning point was Aborigines getting to tell their own stories. "When you’ve got that creative control then you can really push boundaries. You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can actually come from a personal point of view, from an insightful point of view, you can push it emotionally, you can actually really tackle the issues at a gut level."
The Sapphires became the fourth Aboriginal story to win best film in the past 11 years at the AACTA and preceding Australian Film Institute awards - following Samson & Delilah, Ten Canoes and Rabbit-Proof Fence. Its 11 awards was the most dominant result since Somersault won 13 awards in 2004.
The drama Wish You Were Here, about a disastrous trip by Australian tourists to Cambodia, won best supporting actor for Antony Starr and best original screenplay for director Kieran Darcy-Smith and his wife Felicity Price.
In the television categories, Ten Network's Puberty Blues won best drama series and Channel Nine's Howzat! Kerry Packer's War won best mini-series or telefeature.