Surprise result: Benjamin Gilmour’s ‘Jirga’ wins $100,000 CinefestOZ prize

John Maynard, Benjamin Gilmour, Sigrid Thornton.

Benjamin Gilmour’s Afghanistan-set drama Jirga has won the $100,000 best film prize, Australia’s richest, at CinfestOZ, surprising the writer-director.

Jury chair Sigrid Thornton hailed the saga of a former Australian soldier who returns to Afghanistan seeking redemption from the family of a civilian he accidentally killed as a “singular and courageous film.”

Thornton, who was named the CinefestOZ 2018 Screen Legend, said Gilmour’s film gives a “visceral insight into an age-old culture [and] explores the nature and definition of forgiveness, leaving us with truly unforgettable cinematic moments.”

Producer John Maynard, whose Footprint Films will launch the drama on September 27 after Q&A screenings, said the prize will enable more people to see the film. Sam Smith plays the former soldier who, seeking forgiveness, puts his life in the hands of the village justice system – the Jirga.

Gilmour tells IF: “Winning this prize is such a surprise. All the money will go back into publicity to aid the national cinema release next month. The money is extremely helpful for an indie film like this and will really pay off the more people are moved by Jirga, by the uplifting possibilities of human reconciliation.

“Less than a month before release the buzz around Jirga is palpable. I think we are tapping into a moment in history when ordinary people around the world are banding together for peace. People are desperate for stories of cross-cultural harmony.”


The Felix Media production co-funded by Screen Australia, which premiered in competition at the Sydney Film Festival after sold-out screenings at MIFF, will make its international debut in the Discovery section of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Stephen McCallum’s 1%, Bruce Beresford’s Ladies in Black and Mark Grentell’s The Merger also competed for the $100,000 prize, for which there were 34 submissions.

The other jury members were Animal Logic CEO and producer Zareh Nalbandian, Western Australian actress Tasma Walton, WA producer Tania Chambers and actor Michael Caton.

“In the spirit of all great film festivals, this was an extremely difficult decision to make. We salute all the filmmakers for their very fine work,” Thornton said.

CinefestOZ chair Helen Shervington said: “This has been an outstanding year for Australian film and we are delighted that CinefestOZ has once again delivered an incredibly diverse program of quality films to audiences, including these four deserving finalists.”

The award to Thornton recognizes her outstanding contribution to the Australian film industry. Previous recipients include Jacqueline McKenzie, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown, David Wenham, Gillian Armstrong and Scott Hicks.

The festival kicked off in Bunbury, Busselton and Margaret River with the WA premiere of Catherine Scott’s Backtrack Boys (which was was voted the top feature documentary at the Melbourne International Film Festival) and Ladies in Black.

It wrapped on Sunday after more than 150 screenings including 11 world premieres, 18 Australian premieres and 33 WA premieres