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'A Separation' Wins Sydney Film Festival's Top Prize

Nader and Simin, A Separation
Courtesty of Berlinale 2011

Ashgar Farhadi's Golden Bear winner takes top honors Down Under.

SYDNEY -- The winner of the 2011 Sydney Film Prize came down to a tight contest between two Middle Eastern films, Ashgar Farhadi’s Nader and Simin, A Separation from Iran and Mohamed Diab’s Cairo 678 from Egypt, but it was ultimately A Separation that took away the AUS$60,000 ($63,600) prize announced Sunday.

Sydney Film Festival Jury president Chen Kaige said both films came close to fulfilling the competition's key criteria.

“The 2011 Official Competition Jury has been mindful of the key criteria for this prize: we award a film that best demonstrates emotional power and resonance; a film that is audacious, cutting-edge, courageous and goes beyond the usual treatment of the subject matter. In our final deliberations we found two very different films about the relationships between men and women came closest to fitting these criteria. We take great pleasure in awarding the Sydney Film Prize to A Separation,” Chen said.

A Separation “looks beneath the surface of relations between men and women in Iran in a way that raises questions about law, freedom and feminine and masculine honor. It is an extremely courageous film, successfully executed,” Chen added.

The jury also praised Cairo 678’s “courage in using a popular form of cinema to successfully communicate the frustration and anger of women in Egypt with sexual harassment, and their determination to change this. It’s a film that resonates the world over.”

Joining Chen on the 2011 Official Competition Jury were actor Kerry Fox, British producer Mark Herbert, ABC Radio National’s senior film critic Julie Rigg and Australian director Sarah Watt.

Speaking from Iran, Farhadi said, "Here in Tehran at my home the day has just began and I have been awakened by my dear friend with a phone call giving me news of this award. I am on this side of the world and you are on the other, at this moment when it is the start of day here, it is approaching night time there. What could bring us together better than cinema? It removes the time and space separating us. I would like to thank Clare Stewart, festival director and her team as well as jury president Chen Kaige and the members of the jury for this award and I would like to share this happiness with my fellow Iranians living there in Australia. Thank you.”

A Separation was the fourth winner of the Sydney Film Prize and beat out 11 other features, which also included Cannes Palme D’Or winner, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life and Australian Cannes entries Sleeping Beauty and Toomelah, in the festival’s Official Competition. It reprised the film's Golden Bear Award for best feature at this year's Berlin Film Festival.

Other awards announced on the festival’s closing night included: The 2011 Foxtel Australian Documentary Prize, which went to Life in Movement, produced and directed by Bryan Mason and Sophie Hyde; the Dendy Award for Best Live Action Short is The Palace written and directed by Anthony Maras and produced by Maras and Kate Croser; and the CRC Award for a Multicultural film was won by 33 Postcards, the first official Chinese-New South Wales co-production, directed by Pauline Chan and produced by Chan, Penny Carl-Nelson, Liu Zhijiang and Lesley Stevens.

Dario Russo, the creator of viral web hit Italian Spiderman, won The Peter Rasmussen Innovation Award, for an Australian whose work in film, machinima or new media “embodies a visionary spirit and a relentless determination in the face of obstacles -- financial or otherwise -- to create high quality works for the screen.”

The results of the 2011 Audience Awards will be announced later this week.