Sydney Film Festival closes with honours for Leah Purcell, ‘The Pink House’

Leah Purcell accepting the Sydney UNESCO City of Film Award. 

Sydney Film Festival closed last night, with Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul awarded the $60,000 Sydney Film Prize. 

The film from the Hungarian director has previously also won the Berlinale Golden Bear, and follows an unconventional romance between two co-workers who discover that each night they have exactly the same dreams.

Accepting the award Enyedi said: ”It was such an amazingly strong competition. It’s marvellous that such a film can move so many people, it gives me so much hope in cinema and in human communication”

Sydney filmmakers Sascha Ettinger Epstein and Claire Haywood were awarded the $10,000 Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary for The Pink House, about the last brothel in Kalgoorlie.

In a joint statement, the jury, which was made up of Ramona S. Diaz, CEO Documentary Australia Foundation Dr Mitzi Goldman and Amin Palangi said: 

"Amongst ten noteworthy films, one film enthralled us with its blend of nuanced characters and narrative depth.

“In classic cinema verite fashion, the filmmaker introduces us to two singular women who give her unfettered access to their constantly changing lives, revealing a profound trust between filmmaker and subject that renders this film deeply personal and intimate.

“Through the unflinching gaze of her lens, this filmmaker immerses us in a world that, in less disciplined hands, could very well have been voyeuristic.  Instead we are treated to a film that is handled with affection and grace.”

Previous winners of the prize include In the Shadow of the Hill, Only the Dead, 35 Letters and Buckskin.

The Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films saw the $7000 cash prize for the Dendy Live Action Short Award go to Adele, directed by Mirene Igwabi.

Sunday Emerson Gullifer was Highly Commended for Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and Daniel Agdag's animation Lost Property Office took out both the $7000 Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director and the $5000 Yoram Gross Animation Award.

“We were captivated by the original and diverse stories and variety of animation techniques presented in both the Dendy Awards and in the rest of the Festival,” said the jury of Kirsten Carthew, Mike Selwyn and Kath Shelper in a joint statement.

Lost Property Office stood out for its direction, storytelling and exquisite visuals that could only have been realised through animation, which was the perfect choice of medium to tell this story.”

The Event Cinemas Australian Short Screenplay Award, a $5,000 prize for the best short screenwriting, was awarded to Michael Cusack, the writer and director of stop motion animation After All.  The writers of Screenability short film The Milky Pop Kid, Johanna Garvin and Emily Dash, were Highly Commended. 

The $10,000 Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award, bestowed by Create NSW, went to indigenous actor, director and writer Leah Purcell. 

Purcell was presented the award by director Ray Lawrence (Lantana, Jindabyne), who has been a mentor to her throughout her career. 

In addition to the cash prize, Purcell will be offered the opportunity to take a desk at ‘Charlie’s’, the Hollywood-based co-working space opened by Australians in Film in partnership with Create NSW, AFTRS and Screen Queensland.

“Leah is a trailblazer in every sense and her extraordinary career only continues to grow in stature and range. She is one of our greatest talents and an inspiration to the creative community of NSW,” said Create NSW CEO Michael Brealey.

Chris Freeland has also announced he will step down as Sydney Film Festival Chair, while remaining on the board. Freeland was chair of the festival for eight years, and will be succeeded by producer Deanne Weir, Foxtel’s managing director content aggregation and wholesale. 

Sydney Film Festival CEO Leigh Small said this year’s festival had exceeded previous year’s attendance figures, with an average of 72 per cent capacity across all sessions and almost 185,000 attendees.