‘Neptune Frost’, ‘Sweet As’ take top prizes in inaugural Melbourne International Film Festival competitions
After 18 days of in-person screenings, more than 370 films and the awarding of a new prize totaling $210,000 AUD (approximately $145,000 US), the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) must be one of the longer, livelier and now more lucrative. film festivals around the world. The winning films were announced at Saturday night’s closing gala, with Afrofuturist sci-fi musical “Neptune Frost,” an American-Rwandan co-production directed by Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, taking home Bright Horizons’ top prize from 140 000 AUD (100,000 USD) . Jub Clerc, the Indigenous Australian director of the coming-of-age road movie ‘Sweet As’, has won the Blackmagic Design Australian Innovation Award of $70,000 AUD ($45,000 USD).
This is the first year of the Bright Horizons competition. After being selected from an exceptionally strong line-up of 11 films, which included festival favorites like Charlotte Wells’ “Aftersun”, Laura Wandel’s “Playground” and Natalia López Gallardo’s “Robe of Gems”, Williams and Uzeyman were clearly moved by accepting the prize via Zoom.
“It was a movie we made with all our hearts, and we’re so thrilled it touched you,” they said. The feature debut was hailed by the jury, made up of Australian filmmakers Shareena Clanton and Lynette Wallworth, alongside cinematographer Adam Arkapaw and Indonesian writer-director Mouly Surya, for having “penetrated deep into your heart and soul by “disrupting the colonial gaze and connecting the growing influence of technology in all of our lives.”
The Blackmagic Design Australian Innovation competition is also in its first edition and has been designed to recognize and inspire emerging Australian filmmaking talent, regardless of their area of expertise. Five film creators were nominated alongside Clerc: two other directors, a team of screenwriters, a production designer and an editor. Accepting his award for directing “Sweet As” on stage with several of his collaborators in attendance, Clerc said, “It’s not my film but our movie,” before joking, “Not the prize money, of course, that’s all mine.” She went on to mention her Indigenous heritage, “Storytelling is in our blood. We’ve never had a written language we sang, danced and painted all our stories, and now we have a new medium,” she said, pointing to the screen behind her. Her remarks were echoed in the jury statement, which highlighted how the Clerc’s film “helps show how resilient and beautiful Indigenous women are.”
Talk to Variety As the marathon festival crossed the finish line, Al Cossar, artistic director of the MIFF, “exhausted and exhilarated”, was delighted with the results, emblematic of the vocation of the new competitions to champion emerging talent.
“MIFF is a huge program,” he said. “But one of the main motivations for us is to create this sense of pure and simple discovery. I think this space supercharges this mentality.
Cossar also mentioned the specific challenges at MIFF, which took place in physical form for the first time since Melbourne emerged from one of the longest and toughest lockdowns in the world.
“We’re in the mindset that we’re not through COVID, but living with it for years to come… It’s a big step in the right direction this year – to be back in the world – but to get back to that full-scale viewership will still grow for a while.
But Cossar is optimistic. “We have a very determined and adaptive mindset at this point,” he continued. “Certainly [the pandemic] challenged us to look in the mirror and ask fundamental questions…that will help expand MIFF’s access and inclusivity in a much broader way than a COVID response.
This year’s innovations, including the lavish prize fund, aim to increase MIFF’s international visibility, but the festival is also trying to strengthen its regional roots. Philippa Hawker, a cornerstone of Melbourne’s critical landscape who writes for The Age, The Saturday Paper and Senses of Cinema and was part of the 2022 MIFF Critics Campus, alongside international mentors Jessica Kiang from Variety, Jourdain Searles of The Hollywood Reporter and Danny Kasman of Mubi, said, “It’s nice to have a shiny new award for early career filmmaking, especially one as lucrative as this.” But mostly she wanted to shout out to the local strands of MIFF 2022, adding “In the 70th edition of the festival, it was so good to see a program of meaningful and sometimes unpredictable examples of cinematic achievement from the city’s past.”
As the festival continues in an online format for another week, we hope that more attendees, near and far, can marvel at a hugely elastic program that encompasses the local, the global, and all points in between.
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