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Iranian Drama 'There Is No Evil' Has Taken Out the 2021 Sydney Film Festival Prize

Also a winner at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival, the moving anthology film explores capital punishment and its impacts.
By Sarah Ward
November 15, 2021
By Sarah Ward
November 15, 2021

When the Sydney Film Festival last happened in-person back in 2019, it awarded its annual prize to the movie that everyone had been talking about since its Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or win a few weeks earlier: Bong Joon-ho's Parasite. Returning to Sydney's cinemas after a year's gap — longer, actually, after a few delays this year — SFF 2021 has declared another international festival favourite its latest Official Competition winner: Iranian drama There Is No Evil, which also nabbed Berlinale's Golden Bear in 2020.

Receiving SFF's annual $60,000 award, the anthology film explores capital punishment and its impacts, with writer/director Mohammad Rasoulof examining the ripples that state-sanctioned killing has upon Iranian society. Pondering the threats and freedoms of life under an oppressive regime, it steps through the stories of a stressed husband and father (Ehsan Mirhosseini), a conscript (Kaveh Ahangar) who can't fathom ending someone's life, a soldier (Mohammad Valizadegan) whose compliance causes personal issues and a physician (Mohammad Seddighimehr) unable to practise his trade.

Headed by Animal Kingdom, The Rover and The King filmmaker David Michôd, and also including actor Simon Baker (High Ground), NITV Head of Commissioning and Programming Kyas Hepworth, director and producer Maya Newell (Gayby Baby, In My Blood It Runs) and filmmaker Clara Law (Floating Life), the 2021 SFF Official Competition jury selected There Is No Evil "for its moving, multi-angled exploration of a singular theme, about the ways in which an entire culture can carry the burden of institutional cruelty."

"Picking a winner from a collection of films as diverse as this one is never easy," said Michôd in a statement. "It's a movie adventurous with form and genre, beautifully performed and realised with a deft touch for simple, elegant filmmaking craft."

Rasoulof has actually been banned from filmmaking in Iran, all for examining the reality of his homeland — and, after 2013's Manuscripts Don't Burn and 2017's A Man of Integrity, There Is No Evil continues the trend.

"I want to thank the jury. I am really happy there is something more than a simple appreciation in this prize," the filmmaker said, accepting the award virtually from Tehran. "Being heard and understood is what keeps hope alive."

In winning the Sydney Film Prize, Rasoulof's film follows in the footsteps of not only Parasite, but of other past winners The Heiresses (2018), 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).

SFF announced There Is No Evil's win at its closing night ceremony, as well as a Special Mention to fellow Official Competition title Limbo — and a number of other awards spanning the rest of the 2021 program. The $10,000 Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary went to I'm Wanita, a portrait of the self-described 'Australian queen of honky tonk', while producer and director Karina Holden received the $10,000 Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award.

In the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films, Sophie Somerville's Peeps won the Dendy Live Action Short Award, Taylor Ferguson received the Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director for tough and Olivia Martin-McGuire's Freedom Swimmer nabbed the Yoram Gross Animation Award.

As previously announced before and during the festival, filmmaker Darlene Johnson received the 2021 Deutsche Bank Fellowship for First Nations Film Creatives, while Australian documentary Burning, directed by Eva Orner, scored the first-ever Sustainable Future Award.

The 2021 Sydney Film Festival ran in-person from November 3–14, with the festival's online program SFF On Demand now streaming until November 21.

Published on November 15, 2021 by Sarah Ward
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