By Jane Wardell
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Home-grown romantic musical comedy "The Sapphires" shone at Australia's film industry awards on Wednesday, picking up best film and lead acting trophies for Deborah Mailman and "Bridesmaids" star Chris O'Dowd.
Awards host Russell Crowe, an Oscar winner for "Gladiator," led a star-studded evening whose theme was pride in Australia's outsized success on the international film stage.
"The Australian academy may be small but over the years we have won more than 60 BAFTAs and Oscars," said Crowe at the second annual Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts awards, affectionately known as the "Aussie Oscars."
Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Jeffrey Rush were all on hand for the event at Sydney's Star casino, leading guest presenter Jeremy Renner to joke: "You can't throw a bottle out the window in Hollywood without hitting an Australian."
The Sapphires, a possibility for next year's Oscars, tells the story of four women from a remote Aboriginal mission who are catapulted on to the world stage as Australia's answer to the Supremes when a kind-hearted manager, played by O'Dowd, hears their powerful voices and sends them to entertain troops in Vietnam.
"Films find their way because of a certain strength," Kidman told Reuters. "The Sapphires is such a unique story and it's great music and great talent."
Director Wayne Blair's debut film also won for direction, cinematography, editing, best production design, costume design and sound.
Best Young Actor went to Saskia Rosendahl for her role in the Australian-German film "Lore", about a teenage girl who leads her younger siblings across Germany at the end of World War Two. Rosendahl was just 17 when the film was made.
The awards weren't without controversy after the director of "Bait", the 3D shark-in-a-supermarket horror-comedy that was Australia's highest grossing film internationally last year, accused the academy of snubbing his movie.
While The Sapphires was Australia's top-grossing film domestically, with more than A$14 million ($14.63 million) in ticket sales, Bait snagged more than $41.8 million worldwide, more than half of that in China.
"It was never going to get best film or best director, but how can the cinematography, the visual effects, the editing, the sound design, the production design - we built a supermarket and put it underwater, for goodness' sake - be overlooked?" said Kimble Rendall to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Prior to last year, the awards were known as the Australian Film Industry (AFI) awards.
($1 = 0.9566 Australian dollars)
(Reporting By Jane Wardell, editing by Elaine Lies)