Dave Cleeve and Brendan Pinches.

Who needs film schools? Not Brendan Pinches, whose documentary about an anonymous female street artist who paints portraits of train commuters won the main prize at Tropfest in Sydney on Saturday night.

The self-taught Pinches wrote, directed and produced Be You T. Fool, his first ever short, collaborating with Dave Cleeve as the editor and DOP.

Eric Bana, who presented the winner’s trophy, said the judges were unanimous in their decision and described the film as “entertaining, well-made, inspiring and emotional: It had everything.”

Now 32, Pinches spent the last 10 years working in sales and marketing for a family engineering company. He is moving to a part-time role at the company as he is embarking on a Masters of Film and TV at VCA.

Pinches left a note addressed to the mystery painter with his telephone number on the Chandler Highway bridge, which is adorned with her works, last May. She got in touch and agreed to be the subject of the film on the condition she retains her anonymity. She wanted the film to be about her work, not herself.

“I don’t think she expected the film would have this kind of profile,” he tells IF. “She’s got a beautiful, generous spirit and she showed faith in me and shared her story.”

Amongst his prizes are $10,000 cash from Kennedy Miller Mitchell, a new car, a $500 camera hire voucher, a year’s membership to the Australian Directors’ Guild, a film immersion course and a week of meetings in Los Angeles with agents, studio executives and other industry professionals courtesy of the Motion Picture Association.

Rory Kelly (Melbourne) took home second prize with Comican’t, whose lead actors Ryan New and Andrew Tresidder won the best male actor prize. Third prize went to Cassie de Colling (Ascot Vale) for Allie.

There was a tie for best female actress between Evelyn Krape (Can You Hear Me) for her role as a grandmother who discovers some things are better left unheard, and Shabana Azeez, the lovestruck lead courting a cute candle shop girl in Crush. The $3,000 prize for each short film star was donated by Nicole Kidman.

The winners of the Tropfest‘s Craft Awards are David Franjic (Allie) for cinematography; Pip Hart (Crush) for editing; Claire Worsman (Suck It) and her crew for production design; Michael Noonan (Notes to Salma) for sound; Benjamin Goldman (Safe Space) for original score; Jayce White (The Validation of Violet Worth) for VFX; Leela Varghese (Crush) for screenplay; and Edward Copestick (The Last Fight) for documentary screenplay.

Pinches hopes the prizes and boost to his profile will enable him to complete his first work: Hammer, a 55-minute documentary shot by Cleeve, which profiles Shane ‘Hammer’ Heal, the Australian basketballer who played for the Australian Boomers in four Olympic Games and had two seasons with the NBA.

The film concentrates on a warm-up match against the USA “Dream Team” in Atlanta in 1996, when he had a running battle with NBA superstar Charles Barkley, the two almost coming to blows, and features interviews with Heal and team-mate Andrew Gaze.

The doc is in rough cut as Pinches belatedly realised he needed more funds to pay licence fees for footage of NBA games and the Olympics.

“I am self-taught,” he says. “When I was a teenager and in my early 20s I made compilation videos of songs. Now I hope to raise the funds to make more films based on my ideas.”

One project he is keen to make is a dramatic feature about an iron man who returns to triathlete competition to regain the trust of his family. He wrote the screenplay with Shia LaBoeuf in mind to play the lead.

That may be smart casting after Honey Boy, a fictionalised look at the actor’s troubled childhood with his substance abusing, alcoholic father, got a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival. Amazon Studios acquired the Alma Har’el-directed drama scripted by LaBeouf for $US5 million.

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