The Heiresses, a Paraguayan film featuring a first-time actress and hailing from a debut feature writer and director, has emerged victorious at this year's Sydney Film Festival.
After picking up two awards at this year's Berlinale — including best actress for star Ana Brun — Marcelo Martinessi's moving drama beat out 11 other contenders to win the 2018 Sydney Film Prize. That's no mean feat in any year, but given that this year's competition included Cannes prizewinner BlacKkKlansman; Sundance hits Leave No Trace and The Miseducation of Cameron Post; and fellow Berlin standouts Transit, Aga and Daughter of Mine, it's quite the considerable achievement.
Telling the tale of Chela, who is forced to adjust when her girlfriend of more than three decades is imprisoned due to the couple's mounting debts, The Heiresses became the 11th feature to nab the festival's $60,000 award. Again, it's in fine company, with previous winners including On Body and Soul (2017), Aquarius (2016), Arabian Nights (2015), Two Days, One Night (2014), Only God Forgives (2013), Alps (2012), A Separation (2011), Heartbeats (2010), Bronson (2009) and Hunger (2008).
Comprised of Australian artist and filmmaker Lynette Wallworth, Aussie actor Ewen Leslie (The Daughter), Filipino producer and writer Bianca Balbuena (Season of the Devil), South African film composer and songwriter Chris Letcher and Tokyo Film Festival programming director Yoshi Yatabe, the jury dubbed The Heiresses a "provocative, layered and surprising film". "The film we chose carried us with restraint and confidence into a world still shielded by entitlement even as its structures crumble," explained Wallworth at SFF's closing night ceremony. "It revealed a delicately unfolding courage to release what we cling to, even when it is all we know, and let change come — within ourselves and within this collective frame that we build, that is society."
The fest's other big 2018 prize — the $10,000 Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary — went to Aussie doco Ghosthunter by another first-timer, Ben Lawrence. In the kind of story that has to be seen to be believed, the documentary starts out as a portrait of Sydney security guard Jason King and his after-hours gig as an amateur ghost hunter. That's not how it ends up, however, with the film evolving over the course of its seven-year shoot to delve into King's troubled family history.