AFTRS graduate Nays Baghai’s documentary Descent and three short films – Eliza Scanlen’s Mukbang, Alex Wu’s Idol and Sara Hirner and Rosemary Vasquez-Brown’s GNT – won prizes at the virtual Sydney Film Festival.

The $10,000 Documentary Australia Film Foundation Award for Best Australian Documentary went to Descent, which follows Kiki Bosch, who dives into the world’s coldest waters on one breath, initially seeking healing after a sexual assault.

The underwater footage was shot by Stefan Andrews, Spencer Frost, Peter Lightowler and debut documentary director Baghai.

Judges Kriv Stenders, Lauren Greenfield and Sally Neighbour hailed a visually stunning and beautifully crafted film and an extraordinary story about “overcoming trauma and finding healing and strength at the edges of human endurance.”

They said: “We felt that Kiki Bosch’s story and her free-diving journey through the world’s coldest lakes and oceans is a thrilling and inspiring adventure that ultimately encourages all of us to harness the power within ourselves.”

Scanlen won the $7,000 Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director in the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films. Mukbang tells the story of a school outsider’s (Nadia  Zwecker) obsession with Internet culture which mutates into a sexual awakening when she discovers the South Korean phenomenon ‘mukbang,’ an online audiovisual broadcast in which a host consumes food while interacting with the audience.


She said: “Creating Mukbang was a labour of love; it gave me the opportunity to collaborate with so many inspiring and talented young filmmakers. I can’t wait to see what our generation will continue to create and how the film industry will open doors to allow more opportunities like this come to life.

VCA graduate Alex Wu won the $7,000 cash prize for the Dendy Live Action Short Award for Idol, the saga of a young Chinese celebrity, Wan Ran (Nan Chen), who is called into an emergency meeting with his manager following a young fan’s suicide.

“I still remember volunteering at the Sydney Film Festival when I was 18 years old,” Wu said. “To be a part of the festival and to be awarded the Dendy Award for Best Live-Action Short is nothing short of a dream come true.”

The $5,000 Yoram Gross Animation Award went to Hirner and Vasquez-Brown for GNT, which follows Glenn, a woman on an unwholesome mission which means she must conquer a clique and social media at large.

The Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films jury comprising George Miller, Bryan Brown and Sophie Hyde said: “GNT is a disarming and fearless film that showcases the talent of its makers who control the anarchic tone with strength and humour.


“In a very minimalist way, Alex Wu’s Idol reveals an unexpected story and we were surprisingly moved by the plight of the central character. The use of a single contained shot balanced by the strength of the writing and performance of both actors created a striking film.

“For a unique perspective, we give The Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Direction to Eliza Scanlen, who guided a very strong central performance toward a surprisingly warm ending, to reveal themselves as a director with a fresh voice.”

Sydney Film Festival Director Nashen Moodley said: “This year’s Festival celebrated Australian filmmakers and the industry at large, presenting a diverse selection of films. Across 12 days we’ve been able to bring thoughtful panel discussions and superb stories to audiences across all corners of Australia.”

With one more weekend before the event closes there have been more than 25,000 views purchased, including 20 per cent from interstate.

Head of Screen NSW Grainne Brunsdon congratulated the organisers for delivering a thought-provoking virtual Festival in unprecedented circumstances.

“Starting conversations across the nation at a time when we’ve craved connection to the stories and experiences of other people more than ever – rewarding curiosity, and pulling into focus the diversity and talent of our NSW industry,” she added.

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