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SFF winners symbolise changing industry

David Tiley

Purcell, Igwabi, Agdag, Epstein, Stolevski, Baricevic.. gone is the great avalanche of Anglo-Celtic names which rolled through an industry generation.
SFF winners symbolise changing industry

Image: photographed by Brett Boardman, this is a wonderful picture of Leah Purcell in her Belvoir Street production of The Drover's Wife. 

Let's do the monumental wide-ranging award first. Leah Purcell was awarded the $10,000 Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award, bestowed by Create NSW to honour a 'trail-blazing NSW-based screen practitioner'. 

We hardly need to explain who she is, but it's great to put the whole story together. She is a musician, a playwright, a prose writer and an actor. After a tough childhood in Queensland, she emerged into community theatre in the mid-90's, and appeared in a string of television series. She really found  her own voice in the one woman theatre show Box The Pony, which went to the Belvoir Theatre and ultimately to the UK. Based loosely on her own life, it was co-written with Scott Rankin.

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She moved into film acting with Somersault, The Proposition and Jindabyne, and continues to appear on television in shows like Redfern Now and Janet King. After directing the documentary Black Chicks Talking and the short Aunty Maggie and the Womba Wakgun, she hit the tough arena of television directing with Redfern Now and The Secret Daughter.

Meanwhile, she turned the Henry Lawson story The Drover's Wife into a stage play, which became the 2017 NSW Book of the Year, along with the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting. That project should become a feature film. 

The Purcell Award sets a motif loose in this year's awards, which confronts the cosy middle class world in which the industry tends to swim. 

The Dendy Short Film Award at the Sydney Film Festival was awarded to Adele, written and directed by Mirene Igwabi. Her film emerged at Flickerfest and went on to St Kilda, where she won the The Best Director Awardwhile actress Princess Mariama Andrews was honoured as the Best Young Actor. This award carries a $7000 cash prize.

As we noted after St Kilda, the synopsis says,

'Faced with African tradition imposed on her in Australia, teenage Adele is torn between high school and home, where she’s a wife and mother-to-be.'

Mirene Igwabi escaped on foot as a child from The Congo, running four days with her mother and brother who carried a mattress, a bucket, a blanket and some clothes, to find refuge on her grandmother's farm. It took them ten years to be accepted into Australia. She settled in Queensland at the age of 15, learnt to speak English, and studied business at university.

According to her  website

During her studies Mirene started a YouTube channel as a hobby, as she wanted to make people laugh. With her YouTube videos gaining good traction, she got offered several opportunities including one to travel around Australia hosting concerts for one of African biggest musician, Flavor N’abania. After working on her friend's short film in Perth whilst travelling, she realised how much she enjoyed visualising and bring stories to life, and immediately saw that film and production was going to be her future. 

She studied at the Brisbane SAE College and has been making clips and short films. The film clip is on the website along with some lovely production stillsIt was produced  by Grace Julia, shot by Jason Hargreaves, edited by Digby Hogan, with sound design by Ross Batten. Mairi Cameron and Stephen Lance are executive producers. 

The hotly contested Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary's $10,000 cash prize was awarded to Sascha Ettinger Epstein and Claire Haywood for their film about Kalgoorlie's last brothel, The Pink House. 

Lost Property Office, an animation by Daniel Agdag, won both the Yoram Gross Animation Award and The Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director, worth $7000 and $5000 respectively. The producer is Liz Kearney; the original story is by Nicola Gunn.

Besides Adele, the finalists in the Dendy Award were After All (animation w/d Michael Cusack,; p Richard Chataway); A Birthday Party (w/d W.A.M. Bleakley, p Lucy Knox, Sunday Emerson Gullifer); Brown Lips (w/d Nakkiah Lui, p Majhid Heath): The Eleven O'clock (w Josh Lawson, d Derin Seale, p Derin Seale, Karen Bryson, Josh Lawson); Into The Black Water (w/d Jonathan Burton, p Cameron Nugent, Andrew Curry); Lost Property Office (animation w/d Daniel Agdag, p Liz Kearney); Melon Grab (w/d Andrew Lee, p Kiki Dillon, Ashlea Ritchie, Noël Magis); Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (w/d Sunday Emerson Gullifer, Alexandra George); and The Wall (animation, w Nick Baker, d/p Nick Baker and Tristran Klein).

Sunday Emerson Gullifer was Highly Commended for her short film Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorow.  And Daniel Agdag's animation Lost Property Office cleaned up, by taking out both the $7000 Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director and the $5000 Yoram Gross Animation Award. His instagram page is a treasure.

Agdag graduated from the VCA in 2007 with Paper City Architects, an arresting film made entirely from box cardboard and glue. He is also a sculptor who makes wonderful small objects out of (you guessed it) paper and glue.

Michael Cusack, less driven by art but a determined animation creator for more than twenty years, won the Event Cinemas Australian Short Screenplay Award, which carries a $5,000 prize in its own right. The Screenability program came through with Johanna Garvin and Emily Dash who were Highly Commended for The Milky Pop Kid.

The interview with Garvin on the Screen NSW website is terrific and humbling. 

..I think it shows that there is a real shift occurring in the industry. The industry is recognising that for many years people with disabilities have been excluded from the decision-making, representation, creative process and participation in the industry. The Sydney Film Festival and Create NSW are acknowledging this exclusion, rather than just talking about it, which is what has always happened. Both entities have decided and done something about it. It is such an exciting time for filmmakers living with a disability and I feel incredibly lucky to be included.

The international feature film competition was won by the Hungarian film On Body and Soul, written and directed by Ildikó Enyedi and produced by Monika Mécs, András Muhi, and Ernő Mesterházy. The film did brilliantly at the  Berlinale this year with the Golden Bear, the FIPRESCI Prize, and the prize of the Ecumenical Jury. And the reader jury of the Berliner Morganpost. 

Who won the four Lexus Fellowships on offer for 2017, which will give each winner $50,000 to make a short film? We explored the long list in some detail when it was announced.

Emily Avila, who made In a Cane Field, has been a dedicated film festival worker, assistant to  Emile Sherman at See-Saw Films, and ‎Scripted Development Assistant at Essential Media & Entertainment in Brisbane. 

Lara Kose's short Crush is doing well at film festivals. She is a VCA Masters in Editing student and is building a slate based on what the announcement calls 'stories about women, culture and identity that question and create understanding.' 

Macedonian migrant Goran Stolevski went to the Berlinale Talent Campus, has made a LOT of shorts, and was supported by the Screen Australia Talent Escalator initiative to shadow Alister Grierson on Nowhere Boys. Again, 'a focus on female, multicultural and LGBT protagonists'.

Thomas Baricevic is an engineer turned filmmaker through VCA, active in organising short film festivals, part time educational filmmaker, who is 'passionate about telling stories to a global audience that will entertain, provoke and encourage.  Baricevic’s migrant background informs and influences his work.'

How much do these successes indicate larger trends? It is actually tricky to know because the European migrant presence in the Australian film sector has been significant for a long time. The rise and rise of Indigenous filmmakers has been created over a generation, so the policy decisions were made at least 25 years ago. Film Festivals by definition engage with the interesting edges and emerging filmmakers, and the population dynamics here are very different from the community of mainstream industry people, for whom a production is a workplace and professionalism is about repeated craft. 

Our most joyful voices have always been ratbags, going back to the industry renaissance which started in the 70's and they were always diverse and never greyly conformist. But we like to think that the ratbags of today are a bit more diverse and bring a wider experience of the world before the camera. Warwick Thornton's We Don't Need a Map, which opened the festival this year, is a film of now, which has never really occurred before. 

Something is happening and we surely need it. 

About the author

David Tiley is the editor of Screen Hub.

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