(L-R) Yoshi Yatabe, Bianca Balbuena, Lynette Wallworth, Marcelo Martinessi, Ewen Leslie and Chris Letcher.
Paraguayan director Marcelo Martinessi’s debut film The Heiresses won the $60,000 top prize at the 65th Sydney Film Festival while Ben Lawrence’s feature documentary Ghosthunter took the $10,000 Documentary Australia Foundation Award.
The $10,000 Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award, bestowed by Create NSW to a trailblazing NSW-based screen practitioner, went to Sweet Country’s Warwick Thornton.
Alyssa McClelland’s Second West collected the $7,000 Dendy Live Action Short prize while Tom Noakes’ Nursey Rhymes took out the Rouben Mamoulian Award for best director. There was a special mention for Alison James’ Judas Collar.
The $5,000 Yoram Gross Animation Award went to Andrew Goldsmith and Bradley Slabe’s Lost and Found, with Larissa Behrendt’s Barbara receiving a special mention.
Event Cinemas’ $5,000 Australian Short Screenplay Award went to Indigenous screenwriter Tyson Mowarin for Undiscovered Country. Renée Marie Petropoulos (Tangle and Knots), Lucy Knox (An Act of Love) and recently-announced recipients of the 2018 Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship Curtis Taylor and Nathan Mewett (Yulubidyi – Until the End) all received special mentions.
The awards were presented at the closing night at the State Theatre before the indie comedy Hearts Beat Loud.
Winner of the Berlinale Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize and the Silver Bear for best actress Ana Brun, The Heiresses centres on the lives of wealthy Paraguayan families through the tribulations of a lesbian couple, one of whom is jailed on fraud charges. Palace will release the drama in Australia.
Jury president Lynette Wallworth described the film as provocative, layered and surprising, which demonstrated a “delicately unfolding courage to release what we cling to, even when it is all we know, and let change come – within ourselves and within this collective frame that we build, that is society.”
Accepting the award, Martinessi said: “Cinema is a collective work… sometimes we win, and sometimes we don’t win. But the important thing is to always do what we strongly believe in.”
The festival jury consisted of Wallworth, Filipino producer and writer Bianca Balbuena, South African film composer and songwriter Chris Letcher, actor Ewen Leslie and Tokyo Film Festival programming director Yoshi Yatabe.
Recent winners of the top prize include Body and Soul (2017), Aquarius (2016), Arabian Nights (2015), Two Days, One Night (2014), Only God Forgives (2013), Alps (2012), A Separation (2011), Heartbeats (2010), Bronson (2009) and Hunger (2008).
Accepting his award, Thornton said: “This is awesome, thank you. I flew in last night to go and watch my son’s [Dylan River] movie Finke: There and Back, which just blew my mind, and it’s only because I taught him everything he knows.”
The prize includes up to four-weeks’ residence at Charlie’s, a hub for the Australian filmmaking community in Los Angeles, opened by Australians in Film in partnership with Create NSW, AFTRS and Screen Queensland.
The Documentary Australia Foundation Award jury comprising South African filmmaker Shameela Sadat, US producer Melanie Miller and Australian filmmaker Maya Newell said of Ghosthunter: “We were impressed by the humanity brought to this complex and dark subject matter as well as the suspenseful storytelling approach that had us on the edge of our seats.”
The doc revolves around a Western Sydney security guard and part-time ghost hunter as he searches for his absent father.
The short films jury comprised NZ actress-turned-filmmaker Miranda Harcourt, Sony Pictures executive VP Stephen Basil-Jones and Goalpost Pictures’ Kylie du Fresne. They said: “Second Best has everything you look for in a short narrative – structure, emotion, and beautifully drawn characters, funny but touching. The director has a great eye for observational comedy and it is also a richly painted immigrant story. It draws you in and delivers.
“Lost & Found is a delightful, clever and rewarding tale about the simplicity of friendship in a gender neutral (toy) world and Nursery Rhymes is a perfectly executed singular vision which really packs a punch.
“Special mentions go to Barbara for its unique take on verbatim text and powerful story that will resonate for years to come, and Judas Collar for the ability to tell a compelling story with no dialogue and a bunch of camels.”
Sydney Film Festival CEO Leigh Small said: “The Festival spread out further this year to include cinemas at Moore Park and expand attendance at Randwick and Casula. Over 170,000 people joined filmmakers from 66 countries and our own filmmaking community.”
SFF director Nashen Moodley added: “Our program continues in Sydney Film Festival’s spirit of discovery of impactful, relevant and urgent films. We have had filmmakers from every continent and many Indigenous Australian communities, and every year our audience continues to elate and surprise them.
“Our juries have enthused about the quality of competition films; and our red carpets have been graced with Guo Pei gowns and New England Kelpies. Audiences have been in tears, in stiches and standing to applaud.”