Asia Pacific Screen Awards: Warwick Thornton's 'Sweet Country' Wins Top Prize

Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival
'Sweet Country'

Foreign-language film Oscar hopefuls 'Loveless,' 'Scary Mother' and 'Newton' from Russia, Georgia and India also got honors.

Warwick Thornton's Sweet Country on Thursday won the best feature honor at the 11th annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Brisbane, Australia.

The nod marks the second time that Thornton and an Australian film have won the top award at the APSAs, which cover 70 countries. Thornton’s debut feature, Samson and Delilah, won the honor in 2009.

Sweet Country’s APSA win also follows a special jury award for the period Western at the Venice Film Festival in October and a win in the Platform section of Toronto International Film Festival in September.

Editor Jill Bilcock, president of the APSA international jury, said Sweet Country, which portrays an aboriginal couple on the run amid politics and racial tensions, was a milestone film about Australia’s shameful history. “It is uniquely told through Warwick Thornton’s strong cinematic style and personal knowledge of his own culture. Our jury from five countries have been transported by cinema into diverse communities and privileged to share in their personal stories, history and traditions,” she said.

“I was particularly impressed by the rise of stories featuring strong women characters and also the emergence of some truly talented female directors,” Bilcock added, referencing Anan Urushadze, who received a jury award for Georgia’s foreign-language film Oscar hopeful Scary Mother and Mariam Khatchvani’s Dede, which won a cultural diversity award.

Other female winners on the night were Kamilia Andini for The Seen and The Unseen, which earned the best youth feature film award, and Anne Marie Fleming’s Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming (Canada), which received the best animated feature honor.

While Sweet Country nabbed top honors, it was films from Russia and Georgia that dominated the night, winning three APSAs each, including two jury grand prizes.

Andrey Zvyagintsev won best director honors for Russia’s foreign–language film Oscar submission Loveless, coming one month after he won the top prize at the London Film Festival.

In a further win for the Russian Federation, Pyotr Duhovskoy and Timofey Lobov received best cinematography honors for The Bottomless Bag (Meshok Bez Dna).

A jury grand prize was awarded to Russian actor Aleksandr Yatsenko for his performance in Arrhythmia (Aritmiya).

Georgia was represented by the aforementioned Dede, filmed on location in the historic UNESCO World Heritage province of Svaneti and directed by Mariam Khatchvani, which won the Cultural Diversity Award under the patronage of UNESCO.

Also from Georgia, Nata Murvandizem, the star of Scary Mother (Sashishi Deda), was tapped as best actress.

India’s Newton, which is that nation’s foreign-language film Oscar entry, took home two awards: Mayank Tewari and Amit V. Masurkar won best screenplay honors, and Rajkummar Rao was named best actor.

The best documentary honor went to Syria’s Last Men in Aleppo, directed by Feras Fayyad.

Special mentions went to India’s Lady of the Lake (Loktak Lairembee) in the cultural diversity category, Iranian actor Navid Mohammadzade for his role in No Date, No Signature, and New Zealand’s Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web in the documentary category.

The APSA Youth, Animation, Documentary international jury was this year comprised of filmmakers and APSA Academy members, namely jury chair Haifaa Al Mansour (Saudi Arabia), Melanie Coombs (Australia) and British producer Steve Abbott, representing APSA’s Academy Alliance with the European Film Academy (EFA).

Other previously announced winners included Ilgar Najaf as the Young Cinema Award recipient for Azerbaijan’s foreign-language Oscar submission Pomegranate Orchard (Nar Bagi) and Filipino filmmaker Bianca Balbuena, who received the FIAPF Award for outstanding achievement in film in the Asia Pacific region.

Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami was given a special artistic acknowledgement for his final film, 24 Frames, and was posthumously named to the APSA Academy.