Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof has won this year’s $60,000 Sydney Film Prize for There Is No Evil, beating out 11 other Sydney Film Festival (SFF) competition films.
The winner of last year’s Berlinale Golden Bear triumphed amongst a field that included Leah Purcell’s The Drovers Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson, Asia Pacific Screen Awards winner, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, and Ben Sharrock’s Limbo, which was given a special mention.
Designed to examine the impact of capital punishment on Iranian society, the 2020 drama follows four thematically linked stories about individuals facing complex dilemmas.
In awarding the prize at yesterday’s ceremony at the State Theatre, SFF Jury president David Michôd said the There Is No Evil was “adventurous with form and genre, beautifully performed and realised with a deft touch for simple, elegant filmmaking craft”.
“Picking a winner from a collection of films as diverse as this one is never easy, but pick one we did for its moving, multi-angled exploration of a singular theme, about the ways in which an entire culture can carry the burden of institutional cruelty,” he said.
Accepting the award from Tehran, Rasoulof said he was pleased there had been “something more than a simple appreciation” in the prize.
“Being heard and understood is what keeps hope alive,” he said.
“Thank you Sydney Film Festival.”
Other winners on the night included Northern Pictures head of factual Karina Holden, who received the $10,000 Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award, a prize delivered by Create NSW to a “trail-blazing” screen practitioner in the state.
Holden, who has 24 years’ experience in screen production and has worked on series such as Love on the Spectrum and Go Back to Where You Came From, said the award came at a significant time for her personally.
“The isolation of the last couple of years has meant pouring myself into meaningful content and passion projects, while fighting against a tide of seeming impossibilities,” she said.
“My focus has been on pushing the creative boundaries of how we tell stories, nurturing opportunities for my co-collaborators, and finding a rich vein of audience connection.
“The effort has been worth the reward. And to be recognised by the city I love and grew up in is a career high for me.”
Elsewhere, Matthew Walker was awarded the $10,000 Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary for I’m Wanita, which follows Tamworth’s renegade ‘Queen of Honky Tonk’ as she travels to Nashville to record an album. A Highly Recommended went to Jeff Daniels’ Television Event.
Of the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films, the $7,000 live-action short prize went to Sophie Somerville won for Peeps; the $7,000 Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director was awarded to Taylor Ferguson for tough; and Olivia Martin-McGuire’s Freedom Swimmer took out the $5,000 Yoram Gross Animation Award.
Audiences are able to stream SFF award winners nationally until November 21 as part of SFF On Demand.
Director Nashen Moodley said the delays and challenges had not stopped the festival from presenting “one of its most impressive programs on record”.
“Our juries have been blown away by cutting-edge works from visionary Australian filmmakers and international auteurs like 2021 Sydney Film Prize winner Mohammad Rasoulof who delivered a rousing virtual acceptance speech tonight,” he said.
“It was incredibly rewarding to witness elated audiences entering theatres, engaging in inspired post-screening discussions, and completely immersed in powerful stories from acclaimed and emerging filmmakers from across the globe.”
The full list of winners is below:
Winner of the Official Competition and Sydney Film Prize: There Is No Evil
Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award – Karina Holden
Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary: I’m Wanita
Dendy Live Action Short Award winner – Peeps
Rouben Mamoulian Award winner – Taylor Ferguson for tough
Deutsche Bank First Nations Fellowship – Darlene Johnson
Sustainable Future Award – Burning