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Queer teen tragedy wins Sydney Film Festival’s top prize

Belgian director Lukas Dhont has won Sydney Film Festival’s $60,000 Sydney Film Prize for his queer teen tragedy Close, which portrays a powerful friendship between two 13-year-old boys that is severed as they transition to high school — with tragic results.

Presenting the award at Sydney Film Festival’s closing ceremony at the State Theatre on June 19, the jury, led by actor/director David Wenham, said Close “displayed a mastery of restraint, subtle handling of story, astute observations and delicate attention to finer details”.

Dhont found inspiration for the film when he returned to his primary school and re-examined his early male friendships and sexuality: “The memories came flooding back of going to school at that time, when it was really tough to be my true, unfiltered self,” he said in press notes for the film.

Close, which also recently won the Grand Prix at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, depicts the intimate, uncomplicated friendship that develops between 13-year-olds Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) and which fractures under the scrutiny of their peers.

Accepting the award via a video message, Dhont said, “We wanted to make a film about friendship and connection after a moment in time where we all understood its necessity and power. I decided to use cinema as my way to connect to the world. And tonight, I feel incredibly close and connected to all of you.”

Dhont’s film won against a field of 11 other films that included Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Utama, Berlinale Golden Bear winner Alcarràs, three films straight from Cannes’ Un Certain Regard line-up, and two Australian films: Archibald Prize-winning artist Del Kathryn Barton’s feature debut Blaze, and Goran Stolevski’s witch fable You Won’t Be Alone.

The film will be released in Australia by Madman Entertainment.

Other awards aat the 69th Sydney Film Festival
Australian filmmaker Luke Cornish was presented with the Documentary Australia Award’s $10,000 cash prize for Keep Stepping, about two remarkable female performers training for Australia’s biggest street dance competition.

The Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films saw the inaugural AFTRS Craft Award (a $7,000 cash prize) presented to the character artists behind Donkey; Tjunkaya Tapaya OAM; Carolyn Kenta; Imuna Kenta; Elizabeth Dunn; Stacia Yvonne Lewis; Atipalku Intjalki; Lynette Lewis; and Cynthia Burke.

The $5,000 Yoram Gross Animation Award was also awarded to Donkey, directed by Jonathan Daw and Tjunkaya Tapaya OAM.

Both the $7,000 Dendy Live Action Short Award and $7,000 Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director were presented to Luisa Martiri and Tanya Modini for The Moths Will Eat Them Up.

The 2022 recipient of the $10,000 Sustainable Future Award, made possible by a syndicate of passionate climate activists led by Award sponsor Amanda Maple-Brown, is Australian documentary Delikado directed by Karl Malakunas, which reveals the tribulations of environmental crusaders on the Filipino island of Palawan.

Filmmaker and performer Kylie Bracknell was awarded the 2022 Deutsche Bank Fellowship for First Nations Film Creatives. The Fellowship provides a $20,000 grant to an Australian First Nations film creative to further develop their skills through international placement or other professional development.

The $10,000 Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award, bestowed by Create NSW to a trail-blazing NSW-based screen practitioner, was presented to film composer Caitlin Yeo.

Minister for the Arts, the Hon. Benjamin Franklin MLC said, “The NSW Government is proud to show its continued support for this magnificent event and we are delighted that the Travelling Film Festival will now begin its tour throughout regional NSW, making the arts accessible for all in our state.

“Congratulations to all the winners, your efforts have shown to audiences everywhere that Sydney is roaring back to life.”

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Sydney Film Festival ran in Sydney cinemas from June 8-19, 2022. The Travelling Film Festival runs in regional NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory from now until February 28, 2023. See https://www.sff.org.au/tff/program/

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