2011 Sydney Film Festival Winners

With festivities closing for another year, the Iranian drama ‘A Separation’ was announced the winner of the 2011 Sydney Film Prize.

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With Sydney Film Festival wrapping up yesterday, Jury President, Chen Kaige, announced Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's A Separation as the winner of the 2011 Sydney Film Prize.

A deserved winner, this powerful and emotionally resonant drama, which has already taken out top gongs at the Berlin Film Festival, is a complex but utterly compelling exploration of the basics of truth and ethics.

The film hinges upon a couple who are attempting to divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. While Simin (Leila Hatami) is anxious to leave Iran to ensure a better future for their daughter, her husband, Nader (Peyman Moaadi), refuses to leave his elderly father. When their divorce is refused in court, Simin departs the family home, leaving Nader to contract the services of a housekeeper - the poor but highly devout Razieh (Sareh Bayat). This in turn leads to an altercation that has unexpected but devastating consequences. 

In announcing A Separation as the winner, Kaige said that the jury was "mindful of the key criteria for this prize: we award a film which best demonstrates emotional power and resonance; a film which is audacious, cutting-edge, courageous and goes beyond the usual treatment of the subject matter."

Helping the film clinch success was its imploding narrative - the perfect metaphor for the social and political discord that plagues contemporary Iran. "This film looks beneath the surface of relations between men and women in Iran in a way that raises questions about law, freedom and feminine and masculine honour. It is an extremely courageous film, successfully executed. We honour the filmmakers," Kaige said.

Writer, director and producer of the film, Asghar Farhadi (About Elly) accepted the award by offering the message, "Here in Tehran at my home the day has just began and I have been awakened by my dear friend with a phone call giving me news of this award. I am on this side of the world and you are on the other, at this moment when it is the start of day here, it is approaching night time there. What could bring us together better than cinema? It removes the time and space separating us."

After thanking the festival and jury, Farhadi said that he "would like to share this happiness with my fellow Iranians living there in Australia."

Farhadi's win also proved a victory for Iranian filmmaking, with this year's festival screening a retrospective of the work of fellow Iranian director Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, The Circle, Offside), who was sentenced to six years in jail for a charge of making films against the Iranian regime, after being arrested in March last year.

The jury also commended Egyptian director Mohamed Diab's bold debut feature Cairo 678 "for its courage in using a popular form of cinema to successfully communicate the frustration and anger of women in Egypt with sexual harassment, and their determination to change this."

Awarding the $AUD 60,000 Sydney Film Prize, the largest of its kind for film in Australia, was the Official Competition Jury, which comprised legendary Chinese director Chen Kaige (Jury President), internationally respected actor Kerry Fox, British producer Mark Herbert, and Australian director Sarah Watt.

Other films in Official Competition included Joshua Marston's follow-up to his acclaimed Maria Full of Grace, The Forgiveness of Blood; Miranda July's typically eccentric but affecting The Future; Jeff Nichols' psychological thriller Take Shelter; and Terrence Malick's Cannes-winning existential epic, The Tree Of Life. The two Australian films vying for the top prize were Julia Leigh's skewed fairytale Sleeping Beauty and Ivan Sen's raw Aboriginal drama Toomelah.

In other categories, Bryan Mason's documentary Life In Movement, about Tanja Liedtke, the artistic director of the Sydney Dance Company who died tragically aged 29, won the $10,000 documentary prize. Pauline Chan's Chinese-Australian co-production, 33 Postcards, a Sydney drama starring Guy Pearce and Claudia Karvan, won the $5000 award for films with a multicultural perspective.

Dario Russo, creator of the smash Italian Spiderman web series, won the $5000 Peter Rasmussen Innovation Award; the Dendy Award for Best Live Action Short went to Anthony Maras's The Palace; the Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director went to Craig Irvin and Ashley Harris's Tethered; and the winner of the Yoram Gross Animation Award was Nullarbor written and directed by Alister Lockhart and Patrick Sarell.

This year's festival also represented the last for director Clare Stewart who has decided to step down. Having overseen the festival since 2007, Stewart has been instrumental in helping re-establish the festival on the global film circuit.

For more information about the winners, visit the festival website.

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