Aboriginal Melbourne Award celebrates excellence in the arts

A passion for Indigenous filmmaking earned Tony Briggs and his team the first Aboriginal Melbourne Award.

The award recognised the Birrarangga Film Festival and Blak Masterclasses, founded to celebrate global Indigenous films.

Tony, the festival’s artistic director, said the award was a surprise and privilege.

‘The award helps enormously with exposure for what we are trying to achieve with the Birrarangga Festival,’ Tony said.

A renowned writer, Tony created the play The Sapphires, which went on to become an award-winning film. The Birrarangga Film Festival arose out of his belief that First Nations filmmakers needed more platforms.

‘It’s been a long dream to have a festival that showcases work created by Indigenous filmmakers from across the world. I thought it was time to bring these types of extraordinary films and talents to Melbourne audiences,’ Tony said.

The title Birrarangga was chosen due to the festival’s site at ACMI beside the river.

‘It’s a word that means river location in Woiwurrung language, the language of the Wurundjeri people, so it felt right to use it because rivers connect Indigenous people across the world,’ Tony said.

The 2019 program featured films from Australia, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Mexico, Russia, Greenland and Peru.

‘The most rewarding parts of the festival were the positive responses from attendees, specifically those with no idea what to expect of the festival who were blown away by the experience,’ Tony said.

‘Equally fulfilling was the opportunity to host international filmmakers who came to support our festival and help celebrate their talents.

‘The panels were also a highlight, particularly the session held for Australia’s iconic civil rights leader Gary Foley.’

Asked what it means to Melbourne’s Aboriginal community to have an event like the Birrarangga Film Festival, Tony said: ‘I can’t talk for the entire community. Still, I can say that those people who were with us to celebrate Indigenous storytellers from across the world were highly supportive of our vision to place front and centre a unified global Indigenous voice’.

To find out more, visit Aboriginal Melbourne.

Please note, we have temporarily delayed the Melbourne Awards’ annual process due to COVID-19. We will be excited to share the new direction for 2020 in early June. For updates, subscribe to the Melbourne Awards newsletter.