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All Hits, No Misses: AFTRS at Sydney Film Festival 2019

‘Sequin in a Blue Room’ director Samuel Van Grinsven and producer Sophie Hattch with the film's cast and SFF programmer Melba Proestos

Another edition of Sydney Film Festival has just wrapped and at the conclusion of the city’s annual 12-day film extravaganza, AFTRS alumni are celebrating major prize wins, massive world premieres, standing ovations and sold-out sessions.

A whopping 27 alumni works featured in the program, including narrative features, documentaries and short films in what was a bumper year for Australian cinema. And though the competition was fierce, alumni took home almost every award at the festival’s Closing Night Gala and the people’s choice awards, which were announced this week.

With six alumni-made films in the running for the Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary, the award was given to Erica Glynn (Master of Arts: Film & Television Directing, 1998) for She Who Must Be Loved, a hybrid doco about the life and work of her 78-year-old mother, the trailblazing Alfreda Glynn, a central figure in Indigenous filmmaking. The win comes with a $10,000 cash partnership with the Documentary Australia Foundation, acknowledging excellence in documentary production.

Taking out Event Cinemas Australian Short Screenplay Award, which comes with a $5,000 cash prize, was Ties That Bind, produced by alumna Gillian Moody (TV Training Certificate, 1993).

The Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award recognises a trailblazing NSW-based screen practitioner whose work stands for innovation, imagination and extraordinary impact. This year, the Festival broke with tradition and awarded the $10,000 cash prize to Sydney-based production company Blackfella Films, founded by our very own Rachel Perkins (Specialist Extension Course Certificate Producing, 1995). The award was presented to Rachel by her long-time collaborator, actress Deborah Mailman.

Charles Williams’ Cannes Palme D’Or-winning short All These Creatures, lensed by alumni cinematographer Adric Watson (Graduate Diploma in Cinematography, 2013), continued its sweep with the Dendy Live Action Short Prize and the Rouben Mamoulian Award, earning a total cash prize of $14,000 and Academy Award eligibility.

Posted by Sydney Film Festival on Sunday, June 16, 2019

In addition to all the accolades, student films at SFF celebrated Australian and world premieres. AFTRS 2018 Master of Screen Arts narrative feature Sequin in a Blue Room, directed by Samuel Van Grinsven (Master of Arts Screen, 2018; Foundation Diploma, 2014) under the mentorship of AFTRS Head of Directing Rowan Woods (The Boys, The Kettering Incident, Rake), had its world premiere to a full house at Events Cinemas – where it received a standing ovation – followed by another sold-out session the following evening at Dendy Newtown. The queer coming-of-age film is set to make waves on the global stage when it has its international premiere at Outfest in Los Angeles, the world’s biggest queer film festival. Having been announced as the 2019 Sydney Film Festival Award winner for Best Narrative Feature – a major coup for a debut, let alone a student film – it’s clear this won’t be the last you hear about Sequin in a Blue Room.

Red carpet of the world premiere of Sequin in a Blue Room

Posted by Sequin In A Blue Room on Saturday, June 15, 2019

Imogen McCluskey’s Suburban Wildlife – made with a crew of classmates in their final year of the Bachelor of Arts: Screen in 2017) made its eagerly anticipated local debut, also selling out two screenings. And, to the surprise of nobody, the film was named second runner-up in the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature category, which followed the feature’s warmly received world premiere at Cinequest in San Jose earlier this year. McCluskey’s impressive debut won’t slow down any time soon; the feature will take its creators to Italy, having been selected for the CENTRE STAGE official competition at Taormina Film Festival, shortly after it closes the London Australian Film Festival, where Imogen has been selected as their debut director.

Suburban Wildlife AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE was a huge success last night! 🎉🎉We sold out both our screenings for Sydney Film Festival and have more exciting news to come! ✨ Thank you all for coming!

Posted by Suburban Wildlife – Feature Film on Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ahead of their premieres, the creators of Sequin in a Blue Room and Suburban Wildlife appeared in Meet The Filmmakers, a live Q&A panel at Sydney Town Hall, where they discussed how they got their first feature projects off the ground, shared war stories and offered advice to budding filmmakers. The panel was moderated by Sydney Film Festival programmer Melba Proestos, who handpicked these two films for the 2019 lineup.

Watch the full panel discussion:

Extended Q&A with the filmmakers of Suburban Wildlife & Sequin in a Blue Room. Featuring special guests Imogen McCluskey and Samuel Van Grinsven. #SydFilmFest

Posted by Sydney Film Festival on Friday, June 7, 2019


The highly anticipated Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan, the latest feature by the director of such iconic films as Red Dog and Australia Day Kriv Stenders (Bachelor of Arts: Film & Television Camera, 1998) sold out both of its screenings at the festival.

Incredible night at @SydFilmFest last night with our first public, sold out, special advanced screening of Danger Close:…

Posted by Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan on Saturday, June 15, 2019

Hearts and Bones, shot by alumnus Hugh Miller (Master of Arts – Film & Television Cinematography, 2002), reunited national treasure Hugo Weaving with the SFF red carpet and the stunning 2000-seat State Theatre for his latest project’s world premiere. It’s little surprise Hearts and Bones sold out both festival sessions, plus a ‘back by popular demand’ encore screening, so it’s no surprise the film ranked second in the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. The film’s assistant producer alumna Sleena Wilson (Graduate Certificate Screen: Creative Producing, 2018) was awarded the Village Roadshow Animal Logic Entertainment Internship, taking her to LA for the placement.

This year, Sydney Film Festival held the inaugural IGTV Film Festival along with Instagram and VICE, where entrants submit a short through IGTV. Alumna Grace Tan’s (Graduate Certificate in Directing Fundamentals, 2016) short IGTV was a finalist and screened at the Festival Hub for the duration of the Festival.

For many of these alumni-made films, Sydney Film Festival is the first stop on the festival circuit. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up with their journeys and successes.

See the full roll call of AFTRS alumni films at Sydney Film Festival here.


12th Year of the Official Competition and Sydney Film Prize: Parasite
Documentary Australia Foundation Award: She Who Must Be Loved
Sydney UNESCO City of Film Award: Blackfella Films
Dendy Live Action Short: All These Creatures
Rouben Mamoulian Award: All These Creatures
Yoram Gross Animation Award: Sohrab and Rustum
Event Cinemas Australian Short Screenplay Award: Ties That Bind

You can find more information on the 2019 Sydney Film Festival Awards here.