Robert Connolly set to spend CinefestOz film prize money on making a bigger splash at Toronto Film Festival next month.
25 Aug 2014 - 3:02 PM  UPDATED 25 Aug 2014 - 5:24 PM

The family film Paper Planes, about a young boy who dreams of competing in the world paper plane championships in Japan, has won Western Australia’s inaugural $100,000 CinefestOZ film prize for an Australian film.

The film just happens to have been made in WA and stars Ed Oxenbould as the young Dylan, Sam Worthington as his grieving dad and David Wenham as the father of his arch rival.

“It is a charming film for children that I think will also appeal to adults,” said jury head and veteran director Bruce Beresford who announced the winner on Saturday night, the fourth night of the festival. “It’s acted with great naturalness by its young cast and it’s adult cast. Speaking as a director, I’m very jealous of the enormous skill and flair brought to this by [writer/director] Robert Connolly.”

CinefestOz’s other prize, the “you’re a legend” award, went to Joel Edgerton, who starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby and, more recently, in CinefestOZ finalist, the tense drama Felony. But Edgerton also wrote and was one of the producers of Felony, which tracks the impact of an accident on three detectives. Sadly for him, no cash was attached.

And no strings are attached to Paper Planes’ $100,000 prize which goes to the producers: Connolly, who is one of Australia’s most experienced and multi-skilled filmmakers; WA-based Liz Kearney, whose debut feature These Final Hours is now in cinemas; and Maggie Miles, also from Melbourne, who has a number of credits to her name including Tim Winton’s The Turning, which she produced with Connolly.

Distributor Roadshow Films is already planning towards a January 15 cinema release for Paper Planes – securing government film funding, which Paper Planes did, usually requires distribution arrangements to be in place at the time of financing to ensure Australians have the opportunity to benefit from how their tax dollars are being spent.

But when Connolly accepted the prize he said the money would be “a massive help” to ensure the film was “a big hit for Australian kids” – very few children’s films are made in Australia, not just because of the perception that it is hard to make something that can compete against Hollywood kids films made with huge budgets, but also because Australia also has difficulty matching the amount spent on the advertising of Hollywood films. And the competition is sure to be harsh in late January, the heart of the school holidays.

Connolly also told the audience that the money would help make a bigger splash when the film played at the Toronto International Film Festival next month, which is a significant launching pad from which to reach the millions of eyeballs in the rest of the world. More people associated with the film are likely to travel to Canada to generate more publicity worldwide, for example.

Connolly individually thanked some of the locals who worked on the film and were in the audience, which also included at least one producer from each of the other five films that were finalists. Locations in Perth stood in for Tokyo but a small component of the film was also shot in Japan.

Kearney thanked federal government film agency Screen Australia, state government film agency ScreenWest, the Australian Children’s’ Television Foundation and the Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund for putting up the “modest” budget.

Beresford, who has directed a whopping 31 films in the last 42 years, was on the jury with veteran producer Sue Milliken, movie critic Margaret Pomeranz, Directors’ Fortnight film selector Benjamin Illos and actor Marta Dusseldorp.

During the CinefestOz festival, Dusseldorp said her preference was to work in “her own voice” and “in her own culture”, which is why it was “really important” to her to stay in Australia.

CinefestOZ's underlying aim is to get more attention and more visitors to the picturesque south west of the vast state of Western Australia. The $100,000 prize money comes from the WA State Government through Tourism WA’s Regional Events Program, which is funded by Royalties for Regions. (25 percent of mining and onshore petroleum royalties are channelled into regional WA under the Royalties for Regions initiative.)

CinefestOZ applied few eligibility rules to the submissions – except that the films had to be made within a certain time frame and had to be feature-length. Festival co-founder and vice chair Helen Shervington told the jury that it could not split the prize between two films.

The four finalists (selected from 28 entries) in addition to Paper Planes and Felony were director Russell Vines’ The Whaler: Australia’s Great War Horse, which was made for television but is likely to get a small theatrical release, John V Soto’s The Reckoning, Julius Avery’s Son Of A Gun  and Stephen Lance’s My Mistress. The first to be released in cinemas is Matt Saville’s Felony, which Roadshow is releasing on August 28.

Sandy George hosted the awards ceremony at CinefestOZ on Saturday night. CinefestOz flew her to Perth, paid for four nights of accommodation at Busselton, and kept her fed and watered.