MIFF 2023: Bright Horizons competition films

The films in the running for MIFF's 2023 Bright Horizons Award have been named, alongside the announcement of a new First Nations Film Creative Award.

Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) has announced its full 2023 film program, with 267 films, comprising ‘an extraordinary selection of features, shorts, restorations, retrospectives and XR experiences’.

Bright Horizons Award

Following its inaugural delivery in 2022, the Bright Horizons film competition returns with a fresh suite of features championing first and second-time directors. All screening as Australian Premieres, the competition films represent the new, the next, the breakthrough and the best, bringing international filmmaker guests and esteemed overseas jury members into attendance.

The 2023 winner will be chosen by an expert independent jury panel composed of co-Jury presidents Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, co-directors of last year’s Bright Horizons-winning Neptune Frost, revered documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe, former Camera d’Or winner Anthony Chen, Australian performer Zoe Terakes and Indonesian director Kamila Andini.

Presented by VicScreen, the Bright Horizons competition awards a $140,000 prize to the winning filmmaker, making it one of the most substantial film prizes in the world.

This year’s competition introduces 11 films, as outlined below, by first and second-time directors, including two local feature directing debuts: Sundance Audience award-winner, Shayda, by Iranian-Australian director Noora Niasar, and The Rooster from actor turned writer-director Mark Leonard Winter.

Banel & Adama

From the international pool is Banel & Adama, the first longform work by Franco-Senegalese director Ramata-Toulaye Sy. The only debut selected for the 2023 Cannes competition, this lyrical tale of love and duty employs a local cast of non-professional actors to conjure a bewitching world of folklore, fate, madness and obsession in a haunting fable of star-cross’d lovers set in a rural Senegalese village.

How to Have Sex

The radiant, revelatory drama of How to Have Sex sees a sun-drenched, hormone-laden trip of teenage kicks turn dark in this compellingly contemporary navigation of sexual politics. Receiving the 2023 Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes, writer-director Molly Manning Walker – who was cinematographer on the Sundance prize-winning Scrapper (also screening at MIFF 2023) – staunchly refuses the coming-of-age clichés of her Hollywood counterparts.

The Sweet East

Famed indie creative Sean Price Williams – whose cinematography credits include the Safdie brothers’ Good Time (MIFF 2017) and MIFF 2022 favourite Funny Pages – makes his feature directorial debut with a freewheeling picaresque trip through the cliques and communes of today’s USA. Screening straight from Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and penned by film critic Nick Pinkerton, the superb cast of The Sweet East is lead by Talia Ryder (Never Rarely Sometimes Always), Simon Rex (Red Rocket), Ayo Edebiri (The Bear), Earl Cave (The School For Good and Evil) and Australia’s own Jacob Elordi (Euphoria).


Working from her own script, director Sofia Alaoui uses an alien invasion to comment on class, religion and gender roles in contemporary Morocco – a feat that won her Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Creative Vision. Like the hypnotic fog that spreads across the film’s landscape, Animalia envelops you in a trance state of new storytelling possibilities.

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell

Having been awarded the 2023 Caméra d’Or at Cannes, Pham Thien An’s Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell is a formally accomplished, transcendental debut feature that follows a young man’s mystical journey across a beguiling rural Vietnam. With its hypnotic rhythm, exquisite visuals and textured sound design, Pham’s three-hour film evokes the work of such heavyweight auteurs as Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tsai Ming-liang.

Earth Mama

Powered by a star-making performance from Tia Nomore – a mother and aspiring doula plucked from the Oakland rap scene by director Savanah Leaf – Earth Mama is a delicate, absorbing portrait of motherhood set against the fallible US foster-care system. Rendered with mesmerising 16mm cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes, this arresting debut confidently tackles the complexities of American institutions through its empathetic character drama.

Ama Gloria

Opening this year’s Cannes Critics’ Week, Ama Gloria, the debut solo feature from French filmmaker and 2014 Camera d’Or winner Marie Amachoukeli (It’s Free for Girls, MIFF 2010) is a compellingly delicate narrative filled with warm, feel-good energy that’s impossible to resist. With a keenly observed sense of childhood brought to life by the same producers behind Celine Sciamma’s Petite Maman and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the film captures an unforgettably tender portrait of a six-year-old French girl’s bond with her Cape Verdean nanny.


Mexican actor turned director Lila Avilés’ second film Tótem (following 2018’s The Chambermaid) was awarded the Berlinale Prize of the Ecumenical Jury for the complex and sensitive way it illustrates the love that holds a family together during a time of great upheaval. With splendid acting from its cast of mostly non-professionals, The film presents a child’s-eye view of love, loss and life in all their messy, glorious, heartbreaking colour.

Disco Boy

Franz Rogowski (also starring in MIFF 2023 film Passages) propels a mesmeric musing on wounded masculinity in Giacomo Abbruzzese’s sensorially and emotionally arresting debut dramatic feature, Disco Boy. Premiering in competition at the Berlinale, this luminous story of outsiders adrift in Paris secured cinematographer Hélène Louvart the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution.

Other awards

Alongside the Bright Horizons competition, MIFF will again present the Blackmagic Design Australian Innovation Award and MIFF Audience Award, plus a new award, in collaboration with Kearney Group, recognising an outstanding Australian First Nations creative within a film playing in the MIFF program.

The inaugural First Nations Film Creative Award will award the recipient a $20,000 cash prize and $25,000 worth of financial services from Kearney Group. The pool of contenders can sit across all film creative departments including directing, producing, screenwriting, composing, editing, cinematography, acting, production design, art direction and sound design. This continent has seen 60,000 + years of storytelling. This new award allows MIFF, alongside the Kearney Group, to support First Nations talent and storytelling across Australia and to highlight achievements on the global stage.

Winners of all prize categories will be named at the MIFF Awards on Saturday 19 August.

MIFF 2023 will take place in cinemas from 3-20 August, with regional screenings from 11-13 and 18-20 August; and from 18-27 August via the festival’s online viewing platform, MIFF Play. More information.

Paul Dalgarno is author of the novels A Country of Eternal Light (2023) and Poly (2020); the memoir And You May Find Yourself (2015); and the creative non-fiction book Prudish Nation (2023). He was formerly Deputy Editor of The Conversation and joined ScreenHub as Managing Editor in 2022. X: @pauldalgarno. Insta: @dalgarnowrites