Australian Warwick Thornton caps off a dream run with his film Samson and Delilah, taking out the Camera D'Or in Cannes.
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25 May 2009 - 8:00 AM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 1:01 PM

A month ago Central Australian filmmaker Warwick Thornton was pinching himself to register the reality of being invited to show his low budget tough, powerful and beautifully shot film, Samson and Delilah, at the Cannes Film festival.

Tonight the dream continued with a win of one of the event's most prestigious prizes, the Camera d'Or (Golden Camera), awarded by a special jury to the best first/debut feature from all the sections of the festival.

“My life has been a Cinderella Story,” Thornton, who shed a few tears on the way up to the stage to receive the beautiful award, told a crowded world press conference.

“I grew up in the streets of Central Australia getting into trouble with the police,“ he confessed. “I needed direction and somehow I found cinema and cinema found that direction for me. Cinema, in a sense, saved my life. “

Modestly Thornton added: ”But where I am today, I've only just begun. I've got so many more stories, that I believe in, to tell. There are fires inside me, there are things that I desperately need to show the world. So it's almost that Cannes and the Camera d'Or is the beginning of a Cinderella story, of a journey through cinema.”

The Camera D' Or award was created by current president of the festival, Gilles Jacob, in 1978 to promote and encourage young and upcoming talent. This is Australia's second win, previously awarded to Shirley Barrett in 1996 for Love Serenade.

Asked what effect the win is likely to have on his young actors, Thornton replied : “It's 4 am where they come from and neither Marissa or Rowan have phoned so someone will have to drive to the community and knock on the door and tell them, 'We've won, we've won!!' "

Quizzed about the inspiration for the film, Thornton said: “It's interesting because the original idea for the story came out of anger; out of a fire inside of me that there is so little done for these kids not only by the governments and the wider society but even by mothers and fathers and parents. So it did come form a dark place."

But Thornton decided to modify his stance. “I had to think about the film for a year to not present something that was angry,“ he said. “I needed to present something that was beautiful where people could just go on a journey with these children and the film-maker/director did not dictate perceptions of who they are or what's happening to them.

“I think that's the intelligent side of all of us as an audience is that you go to a film and you come out with your idea about a film, you come out because you've actually lived your own life. So that was really important to me,” he told the press.

The first aboriginal movie presented in Cannes, Thornton explained the importance of CAAMA (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) which empowered indigenous people to make and produce programmes, which enabled them to hear and express their own voices. . Even up to the 80s we didn't hear our own language on radio and we did not see our own people on television,“ he said.

Thornton said he felt blessed with this project. “The funding side was easy – we had to tack the budget because people were giving us too much money. For every million dollars you add 3 executive producers, and we said 'No, we don't need that'. We made it for $1. 6million.

“It was one of those beautiful experiences where all the stars aligned at the right time and nothing went wrong,” he said. “We didn't need a lot of money and we finished the shoot early, the edit early. I took 14 days to write the 80 page screenplay.”

The Camera d'Or Jury president, Pavel Lounguine, commented:“We saw this movie early and I was really impressed with it but we expected other movies to chase it or give it some competition but it never happened. Even after we saw 24 - 26 films it still stuck in my mind and it's the most wonderful production and scene I've seen in a long time. I was really stunned by it.”

Photo of Warwick Thornton courtesy of Patricia Williams.

Read our review of Samson and Delilah here

Watch the Samson and Delilah trailer here

Watch an interview with Warwick Thornton here

Have you seen Samson and Delilah? Tell us what you think here