Documentary Australia Foundation Award winner Luke Cornish. (Photo: Belinda Rolland © 2022)

Actor and filmmaker Kylie Bracknell, composer Caitlin Yeo, and Luke Cornish’s Keep Stepping are among this year’s Sydney Film Festival award winners, with Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont’s Close triumphing in the official competition.

Dhont was awarded the $60,000 Sydney Film Prize for his examination of boyhood friendship, beating out the other 11 titles.

The jury, headed by David Wenham, deemed the film a “standout”, displaying “a mastery of restraint, subtle handling of story, astute observations and delicate attention to finer details. A film whose power was felt in things unsaid, the moments between the lines of dialogue. A film with inspired cinematography and flawless performances.

“A tender, moving, powerful film.”

‘Close’.

Dhont’s film also won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in May, in a tie with Claire Denis’ Stars At Noon.

Joining Wenham in the competition jury were Jennifer Peedom; Bangladeshi writer-director-producer Mostofa Sarwar Farooki; Golden Berlin Bear winning Turkish writer-director-producer Semih Kaplanoğlu and executive director at the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, Tokyo, Yuka Sakano.

Accepting the SFF award, Dhont thanked the festival, jury and the audience for “opening hearts and spirits to a film that comes from deep within”.

“We wanted to make a film about friendship and connection after a moment in time where we all understood its necessity and power. I decided to use cinema as my way to connect to the world. And tonight I feel incredibly close and connected to all of you.”

The Sydney Film Festival awards were presented on the festival’s closing night yesterday evening at the State Theatre, ahead of the Australian premiere of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker.

Cornish won the $10,000 Documentary Australia Award for his project Keep Stepping, which follows two female performers training for Australia’s biggest street dance competition.

Accepting the prize, the director thanked Sydney Film Festival, “because very much like the participants in this film, it’s very hard to have your artistry and your creative dreams showcased anywhere. This is what’s helped them, and also myself be seen.”

The award was given by the jury comprising Documentary Australia CEO Mitzi Goldman, filmmaker Tosca Looby and filmmaker Kamar Ahmad Simon.

In a joint statement, they said: “Tonight’s winner is a film that takes us deep into a subculture to reveal far more than appears on the surface. The filmmaker has established remarkable rapport and trust, challenging our preconceptions and delivering a story that touched and transported us far into another world.

“The community showcased in the film have much to tell us about family, identity, belonging, hard work, testing our limits, love and acceptance. The film is sensitively crafted, beautifully shot and edited and its characters mesmerising. This is a generation that have something to say and are asking us to listen. It is far more
than a film about the dynamic subculture of street dance.”

Deutsche Bank Fellowship for First Nations Creatives winner: Kylie Bracknell (Photo: Belinda Rolland © 2022)

Bracknell was awarded the 2022 Deutsche Bank Fellowship for First Nations Film Creatives, the second person to receive the prize after Darlene Johnson. The fellowship provides a $20,000 grant to an Australian First Nations film creative to further develop their skills through international placement or other professional development.

Bracknell will use her fellowship to further develop a project she is co-producing with Robyn Kershaw, The Great Emu War, about “the country turning the tables on imperialism”.

Yeo was the winner of the $10,000 Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award, which is given by Create NSW to a “trail-blazing” NSW-based screen practitioner.

UNESCO City of Film Award winner Caitlin Yeo (Photo: Belinda Rolland © 2022)

Yeo is the first composer to receive the award, with past recipients including Karina Holden, Blackfella Films, Warwick Thornton, Leah Purcell and Lynette Wallworth.

Director Sally Aitken, who has worked with Yeo on projects such as Playing with Sharks and Seduction in the City, presented her the prize, stating: “This year’s winner is truly deserving of all the accolades, for her sensitive, imaginative, and ever open approach to her work. As with so many other craft areas, women continue to be underrepresented. So I am… proud in highlighting her and her work, it also serves to highlight the role-modelling that is so very much needed. As we all know, when you see it, you can be it.”

Accepting the award, Yeo said she was proud that the sometimes “unnoticed” art and craft of screen composition was being recognised, and encouraged the industry to continue to advocate for each other to create a stronger industry.

“I would like to thank all the amazing filmmakers I have worked with in my career for sharing a desire to push the boundaries of what music can do, how it is created, and its poetic ability to illuminate vision,” she said.

“We are all allies together, and of course, my music would not exist if it were not for the remarkable Australian stories, I have had the privilege to compose for.”

Yeo’s prize also includes an up to four-weeks’ residence at Charlie’s in LA, the hub opened by Australians in Film.

The Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films saw Jonathan Daw and Tjunkaya Tapaya’s Donkey win both the AFTRS Craft Award (a $7,000 cash prize) and the $5,000 Yoram Gross Animation Award. The inaugural AFTRS prize was presented to the film’s character artists, Tapaya; Carolyn Kenta; Imuna Kenta; Elizabeth Dunn; Stacia Yvonne Lewis; Atipalku Intjalki; Lynette Lewis; and Cynthia Burke.

Both the $7,000 Dendy Live Action Short Award and $7,000 Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director were presented to Luisa Martiri and Tanya Modini for The Moths Will Eat Them Up.

The jury for the Dendy Awards were Bracknell, actor-director Taylor Ferguson and Stan’s director of programming Ben Nguyen.

The 2022 recipient of the $10,000 Sustainable Future Award was Australian documentary Delikado directed by Karl Malakunas, which reveals the tribulations of environmental crusaders on the Filipino island of Palawan.

The jury for the prize included the 2021 inaugural winner filmmaker Eva Orner and philanthropist and activist Amanda Maple-Brown.

“This year, the festival has been proud to feature and award incredible films by lauded filmmakers, including Close,” said SFF director Nashen Moodley.

“Our juries have been impressed by the wonderful and perceptive storytelling presented on our screens. It’s a testament to the Festival’s ethos of advocating powerful and thought provoking stories that stay with audiences long after leaving the
cinema.

“From fervent standing ovations to glittering red carpets, graced with iconic film talents, the past 12 days have been an extraordinary and exciting reintroduction back into our wonderful in-cinema, in-person Sydney Film Festival, celebrating the stories that deserve to be told.”

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