John Sheedy’s ‘H is for Happiness’ wins $100,000 CinefestOZ prize

CinefestOz 2019 Gala Night - Images by Court McAllister

(L-R) John Sheedy, Daisy Axon, Julie Ryan, Lisa Hoppe and Tenille Kennedy (Photo credit: Court McAllister).

John Sheedy’s feature debut H is for Happiness, an adaptation of Barry Jonsberg’s young adult novel My Life as an Alphabet, has won this year’s $100,000 CinefestOZ Film Prize.

Announcing the award at the Saturday night gala, jury chair Rachel Ward said: “If we have the power as jurors to change the world to be a better place, then voting for H is for Happiness to win the CinefestOZ 2019 is our contribution. As juror Alex Dimitriades added, H is also for Hope.”

The other finalists were Owen Trevor’s GO!, Ben Lawrence’s Hearts and Bones, Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy & Punch and Paul Ireland’s Measure for Measure.

Sheedy said: “The competition was so tough. There were five amazing films, I saw all of them. To be chosen in such good company is wonderful and to be here at CinefestOZ it’s amazing.”

Richard Roxburgh, Emma Booth, Miriam Margolyes, Joel Jackson, Deborah Mailman and newcomers Daisy Axon and Wesley Patten star in the dramedy produced by Julie Ryan, Tenille Kennedy and Lisa Hoppe.

The prize money will be invested by the producers in the development of an adaptation of Jonsberg’s young adult comedy A Song Only I Can Hear, the saga of 13-year-old Rob, who has a crush on the new girl at school but is super shy and prone to panic attacks; an anonymous texter sends him challenges which may or may not help.

Sheedy is attached to direct and Shane McNeil is writing the screenplay for Ryan and Kennedy.

Perth-based Axon, who made her debut in Judy & Punch, plays Candice Phee, a 12-year-old with boundless optimism and a unique view of the world, who is determined to bring her dysfunctional family back from the brink.

Patten, who won the best young actor award at last year’s St Kilda Film Festival for his performance in Sheedy’s short film Mrs McCutcheon, plays Douglas Benson, a character from another dimension.

Roxburgh and Booth play Candice’s parents with Jackson as her rich uncle Brian and Margolyes as Miss Bamford. Universal will release the film next year.

Screen Australia provided the major production investment. The co-investors are the Western Australia Regional Film Fund, Screenwest, the Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund, Film Victoria, Soundfirm and Fulcrum Media Finance. The world sales agent is Tine Klint’s LevelK.

Previous winners were Benjamin Gilmour’s Jirga (2018), Jeffrey Walker’s Ali’s Wedding (2017), Rosemary Myers’ Girl Asleep (2016), Nicole Ma’s Putuparri and the Rainmakers (2015) and Robert Connolly’s Paper Planes (2014).

The other jurors were Marta Dusseldorp, Glenn Gainor and Ben Young. As IF reported, actor Kelton Pell was the first Western Australian to receive the Screen Legend accolade from CinefestOZ in the event’s 12-year history.

CinefestOZ Film Festival wrapped on Sunday after screening more than 150 films including 15 world, 11 Australian and 53 WA premieres.