'Firestarter - The Story of Bangarra'. (Photo credit: Daniel Boud)

Wayne Blair and Nel Minchin’s Firestarter – The Story of Bangarra has won Adelaide Film Festival’s documentary competition, pocketing a $10,000 cash prize.

The jury, consisting of playwright and screenwriter Andrew Bovell; director, producer and screenwriter Khao Do; film critic and programmer Zak Hepburn; producer Rebecca Summerton and actress, singer and dancer Natasha Wanganeen, rated the doc as the film that “resonated most profoundly”.

Produced by Ivan O’Mahoney, Firestarter follows the 30-year history of the Bangarra Dance Company and brothers Stephen, Russell, and David Page. Examining how ‘art can become a weapon that helps people to survive and a nation to heal’, the film combines the Page family’s home movies, interviews with the company’s leading figures, and archive footage.

Also vying in the comp was fellow local doc A Hundred Years of Happiness, from Jakeb Anhvu, as well as Sundance Special Jury Prize winner, Benjamin Ree’s The Painter and the Thief; Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s The Truffle Hunters; Iryna Tsilyk’s The Earth is Blue as an Orange, and Hubert Sauper’s Epicentro.

Of Firestarter, the jury said: “This film documents an important history and the significant cultural contribution of one of the most respected dance companies in this country. In its focus of the personal story of the Page brothers, Stephen, Russel and David it reveals the price paid to make art and confronts the uncomfortable legacy of trauma that First Nations people continue to grapple with.

“We were moved by a film that celebrates the power of Art, storytelling and live performance. This film acknowledges how vital it is in 2020 for us to gather together to share our stories.”

The $10,000 feature fiction award was presented to Georgian director Déa Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning.

The film is the story of Yana, who has followed her husband in becoming a missionary in a remote Georgian village. When locals burn down their place of worship, pressure falls squarely on Yana. She is surrounded by unsympathetic and manipulative men—the police, her husband, God, her son—and searches with quiet desperation for a space where she can know peace.

The jury said it was impressed by Kulumbegashvili’s  “bold authorial voice”.

“From its remarkable opening scene to its confronting final statement, it is a film that pushes the viewer beyond the point of comfort and asks us to deeply consider it’s themes of personal agency under the restrictions of institutional power and the patriarchy.”

Other films in the competition line-up were Stephen Johnson’s High Ground; Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round; Christos Nikou’s Apples, Yolqin Tuychiev’s 2000 Songs of Farida, and Haifaa Al-Mansoor’s The Perfect Candidate.

AFF CEO and creative director Mat Kesting said: “lt’s thrilling to be able to present the festival films in cinemas with deeply engaged audiences and to celebrate Australian and international screen culture. Australian films in both competitions have proudly sat within an international line-up of films from countries across Europe, Asia and the Americas. The Jury had very difficult decisions to make and I’d like to thank them for their passion and consideration.”

Adelaide Film Festival runs until October 25.

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