Toronto prize for Warwick Thornton’s ‘Sweet Country’

Warwick Thornton’s period Western Sweet Country has won a key prize at the Toronto International Film Festival, judged the best of 12 titles in the Platform program of director’s cinema.

That’s another accolade following the Venice Film Festival, where the film won the Special Jury prize.

“This is a spiritual epic taking place in 1929 in Australia’s Northern Territory,” stated the Platform jury comprising Chen Kaige, Malgorzata Szumowska, and Wim Wenders.

“It is a great saga of human fate, and its themes of race and struggle for survival are handled in such a simple, rich, unpretentious and touching way, that it became for us a deeply emotional metaphor for our common fight for dignity.”

Thornton’s film was viewed as frontrunner for the $CAD25,000 prize after leading a poll of six critics during the festival, ahead of Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin and Iram Haq’s What Will People Say.

The jury noted that the 12 films span very different universes of the soul and take viewers to extremely different places and that half are directed by women.

“As we only had one award to give, we had to be quite radical. We also limited ourselves to only one special mention, even if other films might have imposed themselves for best acting, writing or directing,” the jury added.

The special mention went to Clio Barnard’s Dark River, a film deeply rooted in the Yorkshire countryside which the jury found is utterly believable and controlled.

Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which stars Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, won the festival’s audience award. Fox will release the film here on January 1.

Produced by Bunya Productions’ David Jowsey and Greer Simpkin, Sweet Country stars Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Ewen Leslie and Matt Day. Memento Films International is pitching the film to international buyers.

Scripted by David Tranter and Steven McGregor, the saga follows Aboriginal stockman Sam (Hamilton Morris), who kills white station owner Harry March (Leslie) in self-defence.

Sam and his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber) go on the run. Brown plays weathered police Sergeant Fletcher, who leads the posse that sets out to track down Sam, and Neill is a preacher without a church who believes “we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord.”

Sweet Country was backed by Screen Australia’s Indigenous department in association with Create NSW, Screen Territory, South Australian Film Corporation and the Adelaide Film Festival, where it will have its Aussie premiere in October. Transmission will release the film January 25, 2018.