Jack Clark and Jim Weir’s Birdeater and Matthew Bate’s The Defenders have proven popular at this year’s Sydney Film Festival (SFF), taking out the audience awards for Best Australian Narrative Feature and Best Australian Documentary, respectively.
Of the overseas titles, Anatomy of a Fall by French director Justine Triet was named Best International Feature, while Madeleine Gavin’s Beyond Utopia won Best International Documentary.
Tallied from more than 18,000 votes, this year’s event marked the first time both local and international winners were announced.
Indie drama Birdeater follows a soon-to-be-married couple that invites their closest friends to an isolated country property for a night of pre-wedding shenanigans, only for the evening to take a dark turn when alarming details of their relationship are exposed. Produced by Ulysses Oliver and Stephanie Troost, it was one of three titles from Breathless Films in the festival line-up alongside Amin Palangi’s Tennessine and Oliver’s Love Road.
Breathless co-founder and executive producer Ben Ferris told IF it was thrilling to have the “truly independent” film regarded so highly.
“This is a win not only for us at Breathless and the Birdeater team but for the whole independent sector and what we might be able to achieve in the absence of more traditional funding models,” he said.
“We are so very grateful to Nashen, Jenny, and the SFF team for believing in the film.”
In The Defenders, Bate tells the story of how former Australian football captain Craig Foster and a ragtag team of social media warriors challenged two monarchies, a military junta and the sporting body FIFA, to free footballer Hakeem al-Araibi from prison. The documentary will be released on Prime Video this Friday.
There was a similar tone in the corresponding international winners, with Sandra Hüller starring as an author accused of her husband’s murder in tense drama Anatomy of a Fall, while Beyond Utopia tracks a family’s dramatic journey from North Korea to freedom.
SFF Director Nashen Moodley paid tribute to the festival’s audience for their choices.
“Birdeater was a fantastic indie production by the team at Breathless Films who had three films premiere at the festival,” he said.
“A homegrown psychological thriller that painted a darkly comic portrait of young Aussie men, Birdeater was a real hit with audiences.
“The Defenders is a headline-grabbing story of former Socceroos Captain Craig Foster as he fights to rescue the life of fellow player Hakeem al-Araibi. This documentary took us behind the media headlines, diving deep into the fight to bring Hakeem home to Australia.
“Anatomy of a Fall is a searingly intelligent film that lingers on the mind long after the closing credits roll so it’s no surprise festival audiences awarded it Best International Narrative Feature. And director Madeleine Gavin’s Beyond Utopia is a gripping documentary that follows North Korean defectors as they make a hazardous journey into China; a totally unforgettable film worthy of the prize.”
SFF has added additional screenings of Anatomy of a Fall and Beyond Utopia as a part of its Back by Popular Demand.
The GIO Audience Award winners are as follows:
Australian Feature: • Winner: Birdeater • Runner Up: The Big Dog Australian Documentary: • Winner: The Defenders • Runner Up: The Last Daughter International Feature: • Winner: Anatomy of a Fall • Runner Up: Perfect Days International Documentary: • Winner: Beyond Utopia • Runner Up: Little Richard: I Am Everything