Starting this year, films will only qualify for Australia's principal awards system if they have had a theatrical release in the previous year.

Until now eligibility for AFI (Australian Film Institute) Awards has instead been on the basis of when a film was made, often resulting in released pictures being pitted against those that had not yet been released. The move addresses criticism that few people voted under the old system.

The AFI hopes the change will limit the number of films entered. The accredited filmmakers who judge all but the best film category will still have to see all of them to vote but will have more opportunity to do so. It should also hoped to encourage more interest in the awards from the general public as they will be more familiar with the films on show.

The change means films will not be able to take advantage of any publicity that flows from nominations and awards. Those made without distributors attached before going into production - and within the Australian production environment they are predominantly self-financed low-budget pictures - will have one less avenue for drawing attention to themselves.

The AFI Awards will next be held on Nov 16 in Melbourne.