Noora Niasari’s ‘Shayda’ wins $100,000 CinefestOZ prize

Vincent Sheehan, Noora Niasari, Jillian Nguyen, and Osamah Sami at CinefestOZ's 'Shayda' premiere.

Noora Niasari’s Shayda has shone in the west, winning this year’s $100,000 CinefestOZ film prize.

Two days after being revealed as Australia’s official submission for Best International Feature at next year’s Oscars, the drama beat Sean McDonald’s Bromley: Light After Dark, Matt Vesely’s Monolith, and Mark Leonard Winter’s The Rooster to claim the prize, which was presented to Niasari by jury chair Robert Connolly.

Speaking at the film prize celebration at Sabina River Farm, Busselton, the writer, director and co-producer said she was grateful to CinefestOZ for shining a light on the story, which was inspired by her own childhood.

“It was such an honour to be nominated alongside three incredible Australian films,” she said.

“Winning this prize means a great deal to me because whilst this is a specific Iranian mother-daughter story, it is also an Australian story. These kinds of stories are rare but they shouldn’t be.”

Shayda follows a young Iranian mother (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) who finds refuge with her six-year-old daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia) in an Australian women’s shelter during the two weeks of Iranian New Year (Nowrooz) in 1995.

Aided by the strong community of women at the refuge, they seek their freedom in this new world of possibilities, only to find themselves facing the violence they tried so hard to escape – namely Hossein, Shayda’s domineering and abusive husband (Osamah Sami), who seeks to be reunited with his daughter.

In selecting the film as the winner, Connolly deliberated with a jury that comprised US film and Deborah Liebling, production designer and art director Deborah Riley, and actors Mia Wasikowska and Rob Collins.

CinefestOZ screen legend Myles Pollard.

Speak on behalf of the jury, The Dry director described Shayda as “a film that introduces an exceptional new filmmaking voice, revealing with great authenticity and emotional impact a deeply personal story untold previously in our national cinema, driven at its heart by two extraordinary performances depicting the resilience and love between a mother and a daughter”.

Producer Vincent Sheehan, who worked with executive producers Cate Blanchett, Andrew Upton, and Coco Francini to bring the film to life, said it was pleasing to see how the subject matter had resonated.

“The biggest reward in filmmaking is connecting to an audience,” he said

“Noora’s story and brave cinematic voice connects and starts conversations, and this significant prize provides a space where these conversations can be amplified within Australia and beyond.”

Also recognised on Saturday evening was actor and director Myles Pollard, who was named the CinefestOZ 2023 Screen Legend for his decade-long support of the CinefestOZ Film Festival as its Cinesnaps Schools Program patron.

The Perth native, whose acting credits include McLeod’s Daughters, Home and Away, Packed to the Rafters, Wolverine, and How To Please a Woman, as well as the upcoming second season of The Twelve, has served as a Cinesnaps ambassador for 12 years and an acting coach and communications facilitator for more than two decades.

CinefestOZ chair Margaret Buswell paid tribute to Pollard for his commitment to fostering the state’s next generation of screen practitioners.

“In addition to his own role as an actor and filmmaker, Myles has played a pivotal role in the development of young West Australian film talent through his volunteering with the Festival, running masterclasses for thousands of students, chairing our Cinesnaps Award annually as well as his commitment to teaching the next screen generation,” she said.

CinefestOZ was held August 29 to September 3 in WA’s south west region.