First-time feature directors dominate ADG Awards

Zar Amir Ebrahimi and Selina Zahednia in 'Shayda'. (Photo: Nicola Bell)

Noora Niasari has earned yet another accolade for her debut feature Shayda, taking home the top prize at this evening’s Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG) Awards.

Niasari won Best Direction in a Feature Film (Budget $1M or over), triumphing over Colin and Cameron Cairnes’ Late Night With The Devil, which received an honourable mention, Gracie Otto’s Seriously Red, Jeffery Walker’s The Portable Door and Warwick Thornton’s The New Boy.

Inspired by Niasari’s childhood, Shayda follows a young Iranian mother (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) and her six-year-old daughter (Selina Zahednia) as they find refuge in an Australian women’s shelter during the two weeks of the Iranian New Year (Nowruz).

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, winning the Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. It went on to play Locarno and Toronto, and had a successful festival run locally, opening MIFF in competition and winning the $100,000 CinefestOz film prize. It is also Australia’s official entry in the Best International Feature category at next year’s Academy Awards.

As part of her acceptance speech, Niasari invited Shayda star Jillian Nguyen to speak, with the actor reading a sample of the names of women killed by their partners in Australia this year, noting such women were why they made the film.

“I think this is the power of cinema, the power of art, that we can demand change, that we can pay more attention to those around us, listen, speak out. This is an issue that affects all of us, no matter which country you’re from, which language you speak, how much money you have. Please don’t allow domestic violence to thrive in silence,” Niasari said.

Judges called Shayda a “fabulous debut for a director”, demonstrating “exceptional control of story, screen language and performance”.

Niasari’s award was one of 20 given out by the guild this evening in a ceremony held at The Grand Electric in Sydney’s Surry Hills. All four categories recognising solely feature-length work, across both narrative and doc, were won by first-time feature directors (though naturally, Best Debut Feature Film always will be). Female directors also made up just over 50 per cent of all the winners. Entries to the awards were assessed by 74 judges.

Claire Pasvolsky took home Best Direction in a Feature Film (Budget under $1M) for her film Three Chords and the Truth, which follows a self-sabotaging 40-something musician who finds herself terminally ill, alone and struggling financially before forging an unlikely bond with a teenage runaway. Judges called it “restrained, tender and vulnerable”. Other nominees included Amin Palangi for Tennessine, James Vinson for Slant, Molly Haddon for The Longest Weekend and Scott Major for Darklands.

Best Direction in a Debut Feature Film went to actor-turned-director Mark Leonard Winter for The Rooster, while Best Direction in a Feature Documentary went to Emma Sullivan for Into The Deep, with an honourable mention to Selina Miles for Harley & Katya.

The Rooster earned high praise from the judges, described as “an astonishing debut film that deeply affected judges with the depth and complexity of its character development and provided a vehicle for what may be [Hugo] Weaving’s most powerful performance to date”.

Sullivan’s documentary played a critical role in the conviction of Danish inventor Peter Madsen for the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, which occurred as the documentary was being made. Judges said the film “distinguished itself through the director’s adept adherence to the unadulterated narrative, deftly coupled with an editing approach that weaved a captivating and suspenseful tapestry.”

In television, Tony Krawitz won Best Direction in a TV or SVOD Mini-Series Episode for Significant Others, while Emma Freeman took home Best Direction in a TV or SVOD Drama Series Episode for the second year running for The Newsreader. Max Miller won the comedy prize for Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café, while Nick Verso took home the children’s gong for Crazy Fun Park and John Harvey the doco TV prize for Still We Rise.

Best direction in animation was won by Ricard Cussó and Tania Vincent for Scarygirl.

ADG executive director Sophie Harper said seeing debut feature filmmakers take out the top four marked a first for the awards.

“Australia has rightfully earned a reputation for our compelling, relatable and distinctive screen storytelling over many decades and this year’s winners demonstrate the incredible depth of new talent coming through the ranks,” she said.

“These awards not only provide a springboard for many directors to launch national and international careers but shine a spotlight on our best local filmmaking as a tangible reminder of why it’s so important that we protect and promote homegrown directing talent,” she said.

The full list of ADG winners:

Best Direction in a Mobile-First Online Series Episode
Erin Good – Krystal Klairvoyant: Episode 22 – Season Finale

Best Direction in a Children’s TV or SVOD Drama Series Episode
Nicholas Verso – Crazy Fun Park: Season 1: Episode 1 – I Don’t Want To Grow Up

Best Direction in a TV or SVOD Documentary Series Episode or Documentary One-Off
John Harvey – Still We Rise

Best Direction in a Documentary Short Subject
Tom Chapman – Eden Alone Surpasses Thee

Best Direction of Commercial Content
James Dive – Don’t You Forget About Me

Best Direction in a Commercial Advertisement
Sanjay De Silva – IKEA – Show Off Your Savvy

Best Direction in an Online Drama Series Episode
Bonnie Cee – Casino Beach – Pilot

Best Direction in an Online Comedy Series Episode
Madeleine Gottlieb – Latecomers: Episode 6 – Coming Good

Best Direction in an Interactive or Immersive Project
Kerinne Jenkins and Nicole Hutton-Lewis – In Our Own Right – Black Australian Nurses’ Stories

Best Direction in a Short Film
Alies Sluiter – Myth

Best Direction in a Student Film
(Tie) Gabriel Murphy – Enemy Alien
(Tie) Vee Shi – Jia

Best Direction in Animation
Ricard Cussó and Tania Vincent – Scarygirl

Best Direction in a Music Video
Toby Morris – Middle Kids – Bootleg Firecracker

Best Direction in a TV or SVOD Comedy Series Episode
Max Miller – Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café: Season 1: Episode 2

Best Direction in a TV or SVOD Drama Series Episode
Emma Freeman – The Newsreader: Season 2: Episode 5

Best Direction in a TV or SVOD Mini-Series Episode
Tony Krawitz – Significant Others: Episode 1

Best Direction in a Documentary Feature
Emma Sullivan – Into The Deep

Best Direction in a Debut Feature Film
Mark Leonard Winter – The Rooster

Best Direction in a Feature Film (Budget under $1M)
Claire Pasvolsky – Three Chords And The Truth

Best Direction in a Feature Film (Budget $1M or over)
Noora Niasari – Shayda

Honourable mention (Best Direction in a Documentary Feature)
Selina Miles – Harley and Katya

Honourable mention (Feature Film Budget $1m or over)
Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes – Late Night With the Devil