Australian Thom Green and New Zealander Kerry Fox have taken home Best Actor and Actress at the 10th annual Iris Prize for their roles in Grant Scicluna’s compelling debut feature, the eerie murder mystery Downriver.
The world's largest LGBTI film prize, though the top gong is reserved for shorts, the awards, sometimes dubbed the Gay Oscars, also credit stand-out performances in queer-themed feature films.
Interestingly, both Green and Fox have powerful but nonetheless supporting roles in the haunting Downriver, which stars Reef Ireland as James, recently released from prison and hoping to make amends for a terrible crime committed when he was still a boy.
Fox plays James’ stoic mother, trying to rebuild their lives, while Green is James aggressive ex-friend Anthony, who may be connected to the sins of the past.
Raised in Wollongong and now based in LA, Green is honoured to be recognised by the Iris Prize. “Downriver was a very special project for me personally as it was unlike anything I'd worked on before,” he says. “It was my most challenging role yet and it was the best experience I've had on a set in a long time. Grant, myself and the rest of the cast worked incredibly hard on this film, so it truly means a lot.”
Getting to walk on the dark side was major drawcard for Green. “I've never really played the bad guy before so getting to jump into the mind of someone so vile and messed up as Anthony and trying to understand why he does what he does was a dream come true.”
Calling for greater representation of minorities in film, including actors with disability and those from different ethnic backgrounds, Green says the Iris Prize plays an important role in championing queer stories.
“As a straight man, I can't speak from experience, but I’ve heard how difficult it was for friends to fully embrace their sexuality,” he says. “If younger audiences are educated and exposed to characters on the big screen and on TV too, they’ll be more likely to grow up accepting and loving themselves and those around them who may be considered ‘different’.”
“If younger audiences are educated and exposed to characters on the big screen and on TV too, they’ll be more likely to grow up accepting and loving themselves and those around them who may be considered ‘different’.”
“I’m so happy for Thom,” Scicluna says. “He’s only on screen for a short time but his performance was just so good and I’m extremely proud of him. The award really just cements how good Kerry is too.”
Scicluna won the top gong at the Iris Prize in 2012 for his confrontational prison-set short The Wilding, as well as the SBS Television Award at the St Kilda Film Festival. As a result, he was able to film his follow-up short Hurt’s Rescue in Wales and sat on the following year’s Iris Prize judging panel.
The Wilding win helped secure all-important funding for the micro-budget Downriver. “It was a wonderful and very well-timed award for us because we were in a bit of a tough financial situation where we needed to convince people to say yes on Downriver,” Scicluna reveals. “A big win like the Iris got Screen Australia excited and that meant a huge deal behind the scenes.”
Downriver debuted at the 2015 Melbourne International Film festival before being released in cinemas this August. Scicluna says it’s important that movies with queer characters and themes are garnering mainstream platforms as well as the support of events like the Mardi Gras Film Festival and the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and that they can break new ground.
“The queerness of Downriver is part of character, it doesn’t drive the plot,” he says. “When people think about queer films, they always think about a coming out story or one about discrimination. Of course that’s great and important, and in my film the queerness is really evident, it’s not shy or coy, but it’s tied up in character, so the plot itself is a murder mystery.”
Fox, speaking from London, said that it was rewarding to be recognised for her role in Downriver, which she describes as, "intriguing and complex, mysterious, sad and humane."
Fresh from hearing David Oyelowo’s call for action over words at the London Film Festival Black Symposium, Fox added: "It takes balls and guts to step up to the platform and take action on telling diverse stories on screen. Inevitably these are seen as 'smaller' films and it seems daunting that audiences have difficulty finding them in the swamp of sameness."
Watch 'Downriver' trailer: