• Warwick Thornton, pictured with producers Greer Simpkin and David Jowsey. (APSA)
The accolades keep coming for Warwick Thornton's outback western.
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24 Nov 2017 - 2:02 AM  UPDATED 24 Nov 2017 - 2:02 AM

Australian director Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country has won the best film prize at the 11th Asia Pacific Screen Awards, which were held in Brisbane tonight (Thursday), in a ceremony hosted by Lee Lin Chin and David Wenham. 

The jury awarded the best director prize to Russian Andrey Zvyagintsev for his stark family mystery LovelessZvyagintsev  (Leviathan)'s Cannes contender is being released in Australia through Palace Films in early 2018.

Sweet Country was nominated for three APSA Awards in total, but the best film prize was its only win of the night. The accolade follows Thornton’s Venice Jury Prize and Toronto Platform Award. The film opens in Australia on January 25, 2018.

The APSA jury, led by award-winning editor Jill Bilcock ACE ASE, recognised Sweet Country as “a milestone film about Australia’s shameful history. “It is uniquely told through Warwick Thornton’s strong cinematic style and personal knowledge of his own culture”. 

Of the broader process, Bilcock told SBS on the red carpet at the APSAs, that “it’s an incredible way of exchanging cultural ideas and stories.  As the box office starts drying up in America and with it going up so highly in this region,  you find people are obviously interested in going to the cinema in this region and keeping the community a little closer together. I think that it’d help us all if we did that. Wouldn’t it?” 

Bilcock made special mention of the prevalence of impactful roles for women this year: “I noticed that supporting actresses were actually the smart one! They were leading the story a lot of the time, telling their husbands or the other characters what to do. It shows a gradual acceptance of the fact there aren’t simply role playing positions for women now.  And there are also a lot of great female directors and writers emerging in the region, which it’s really fantastic.” 

Indian political satire Newton won two Asia Pacific Screen Awards, with star Rajkummar Rao on hand to accept the best actor prize, for his role as an idealistic polling officer surrounded by cynics in a remote polling station. Rao dedicated his award to his late mother, who passed away during a break in the film’s production. Newton’s screenplay by Mayank Tewari and Amit V Masurkar was also recognised. 

Rao attended the ceremony on crutches after a recent foot fracture and spoke to SBS on the APSA red carpet. He said, “The script for Newton is a very different one, and it was not like any other Indian film; I’ve never read one that has had the setup as elections. There’s very intelligent humour in it, and the idea was so fascinating.”

Rao said the film’s wit is its strength: “It’s not taking any side. It’s showing you both sides of the coin, and the people who want to bring change in the system.

“The character of Newton is how I would want our system to be, how it should be, but of course it is not like that.” 

In one of several special jury mentions in the 11th APSA ceremony, Iranian actor Navid Mohammadzadeh was acknowledged for his role as a grieving father wracked by guilt at poisoning his son, in the tense social drama No Date, No Signature

Filmmakers from Georgia were the most awarded on the night, with Ana Urushadze’s debut feature Scary Mother awarded both the APSA for Best Performance by an Actress for Nata Murvanidze, and one of two Jury Grand Prizes presented by the International Jury, to Urushadze. The Cultural Diversity Award under the patronage of UNESCO was awarded to Georgian director Mariam Khatchvani for Dede (Georgia, Croatia, Netherlands, Qatar, UK), which was filmed on location in the historic UNESCO World Heritage province of Svaneti in northwestern Georgia, and which captures the endangered traditions of the Svan people.   

The second Jury Grand Prize was awarded to Russian actor Aleksandr Yatsenko for his performance as a harried mobile medic in contemporary Russian social drama Arrhythmia. The award follows Arrhythmia’s recent best film win at the 2017 Russian Resurrection Film Festival in Sydney (disclosure: this writer was a member of the jury). 

The APSA Youth, Animation, Documentary International Jury, comprised of Jury chair Haifaa Al Mansour (Saudi Arabia), Melanie Coombs (Australia) and British producer Steve Abbott, awarded the Best Animated Feature Film APSA to Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming (Canada), directed and produced by Ann Marie Fleming and co-produced by Shirley Vercruysse and Michael Fukushima. The jury said: “This film is a celebration of poetry, culture and humanity all coming together. Animation was the right medium for such a subject – the best way to depict the feelings and emotions in the film. It was a representation of a woman who is living in a western society, who is from a half-Chinese, half-Persian background and the challenges she faces in reconciling her place in the world. The melding of cultures, coming together in our differences through poetry is presented as a unity for human beings, which we all need to strive for.”

The APSA for Best Youth Feature Film went to poetic Indonesian story of grief and ghosts, The Seen and Unseen by director/producer Kamila Andini. Best documentary prize went to Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Feras Fayyad’s The Last Men in Aleppo. A special mention also went to Annie Goldson’s Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web.   

In a rare additional statement, the Jury said: “We would like to note that two of the winning films are directed by women. We chose them because their films are excellent, but it was exciting to celebrate women’s voices and see the amazing work coming from women in this region.”

Editor’s note: The writer attended the Asia Pacific Screen Awards as a guest of the event organisers.