Sydney Film Festival 2024 winners announced

Italian hit There's Still Tomorrow, Australian documentary Welcome to Babel, and short film Die Bully Die were among the winners at the Sydney Film Festival.
Sydney Film Festival 2024, Documentary winner Welcome to Babel.

On Sunday night, the 71st Sydney Film Festival closed with a ceremony announcing the winner of the festival’s biggest prize, the prestigious $60,000 Sydney Film Prize for ‘audacious, cutting-edge and courageous’ film.

It was given this year to the Italian film There’s Still Tomorrow directed by and starring Paola Cortellesi. The announcement was made at the State Theatre ahead of the Australian Premiere screening of Cannes hit The Substance.

The festival’s other prizes were also announced on Sunday and are listed below.

Sydney Film Festival Prize 2024: There’s Still Tomorrow

There’s Still Tomorrow is described as a moving and empowering melodrama about an industrious woman in post-WWII Rome. The film, starring its own director, became a box office phenomenon in Italy, outperforming the likes of Barbie and Oppenheimer and is the most successful film to be directed by an Italian woman.

The winner of the 2024 Sydney Film Prize was selected by an international jury headed by Bosnian writer and director Danis Tanović, alongside Indonesian director Kamila Andini, Australian producer Sheila Jayadev, US producer Jay Van Hoy, and Australian director Tony Krawitz.

In a joint statement, the Jury said: ‘We award the prize to a film that welcomes audiences into one of the historic cradles of cinema.  Set in post-War Italy, Paola Cortellesi’s debut feature, C’è ancora domani (There’s Still Tomorrow) feels intensely relevant today. We relive every woman’s struggle for equality through Cortellesi’s “Delia,” we face the brutal cycles of domestic violence with an immense empathy that ultimately proclaims and affirms the virtues of democracy. C’è ancora domani deftly weaves humour, style, and pop music into a dazzling black-and-white cinematic event, then it delivers an ending that will take your breath away.’

Previous winners of the prize are: The Mother of All Lies (2023); Close (2022); There Is No Evil (2021); Parasite (2019); 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).

Read: The 12 fantastic films in competition at the 2024 Sydney Film Festival

SFF Documentary Australia Award 2024 –Welcome to Babel

The $20,000 Documentary Australia Award was awarded to James Bradley for Welcome to Babel. The Jury comprising Bhutanese director and producer Arun Bhattarai, and Australian directors and producers Dean Gibson and Pat Fiske, said in a joint statement:

‘The Jury felt that Welcome to Babel’s intimate story of artist Jiawei Shen was a beautifully made and thoughtful film that demonstrated the ambition to tell a global story through the intimate relationship of Jiawei and his wife, Lan. The cinematography and editing were exceptional and tonally perfect for the story. Congratulations to Welcome to Babel.

First Nations Award: First Horse

This year, Sydney Film Festival launched the inaugural First Nations Award, proudly supported by Truant Pictures. This Award establishes the world largest cash prize in global Indigenous filmmaking, rewarding $35,000 to the winning First Nations filmmaker.

The winner of the First Nations Award is New Zealand filmmaker Awanui Simich-Pene’s short film First Horse. Set in 1826 with Aotearoa on the cusp of colonisation, the film follows a young Māori girl who encounters a dying man and his horse, exposing her to the best and worst of her rapidly changing world.

The Jury comprised by producer and programmer Jason Ryle, Australian producer Kath Shelper and Australian First Nations producer Erica Glynn, said in a joint statement:

‘Members of the jury were thrilled with the quality and variety of the works programmed for the inaugural First Nations Competition, noting the power and beauty in the collection of these storytellers’ films which represent all types of cinematic art. The jurors also celebrate the launch of this meaningful prize and congratulate the Festival for making it a reality. In awarding the winning work, the jury recognises its originality, elegance, and cinematic achievement in story and form. In a few short minutes, the talented creative team has crafted a deeply impactful film with a resonant emotional punch.’

Sustainable Future Award: Black Snow

The 2024 recipient of the Sustainable Future Award was presented to the documentary Black Snow directed by American filmmaker Alina Simone. The jury also Highly Commended The Feast (director Rishi Chandna) and Wilding (director David Allen).

The Award is presented to a film that explores the social, economic, political, and environmental consequences of climate change and highlights the urgent need for action to mitigate its effects.

Black Snow follows a Siberian eco-activist, dubbed the ‘Erin Brockovich of Russia’, who fights for her community in a remote Russian mining town where black snow falls due to the extreme pollution.

Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films

A jury composed of producer Liz Watts, Hong Kong filmmaker Ray Yeung, producer Finbar Watson, and filmmaker Alec Green judged the 2024 Festival’s short film awards.

The competition for the Australian Short Films was established in 1970 and winners of the Best Live Action Short Film Award and the Yoram Gross Animation Award (sponsored by Sandra and Guy Gross in memory of the late Yoram Gross) are Academy Award-eligible, opening new pathways for many Australian filmmakers.

The 2024 Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films were awarded to:

  •  Die Bully Die, directed by Nathan and Nick Lacey (Best Live Action Short)
  • Darwin Story, directed by Natasha Tonkin (Yoram Gross Animation Award)
  • Pernell Marsden, director of The Meaningless Daydreams of Augie & Celeste (Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Australian Director)
  • Chloe Kemp, screenwriter of Say (AFTRS Craft Award for Best Practitioner)
  • Bridget Morrison, lead actor of Say (Event Cinemas Rising Talent Award)
Still from Die Bully Die, winner of Best Live Action Short. Image: SFF.

2024 Sydney UNESCO City of Film prize: Debbie Lee

This annual award recognises a trailblazing NSW- based screen practitioner whose work stands for innovation, imagination and high impact. Previous winners include Chris Godfrey, Karina Holden, Warwick Thornton, Leah Purcell, and Lynette Wallworth.

In 2024, Screen NSW awarded the $10,000 cash prize to Debbie Lee, Matchbox Pictures’ director of scripted development. Lee has previously held roles including ABC TV’s Head of Comedy and with SBS’s commissioning arm, SBS Independent. Her executive producer credits include House of Gods, The Heights, Hungry Ghosts and The Family Law.

Debbie Lee, winner of the Sydney UNESCO City of Film Prize. Photo: Sydney Film Festival.

Jenny Neighbour farewells SFF

Also announced on Sunday night was the departure of Jenny Neighbour, Head of Programs and Documentary Programmer, who after 35 years with the festival has chosen to make 2024 her last.

Neighbour joined SFF in 1989 and has been instrumental in shaping the event into the world-renowned cinematic showcase it has become.

Sydney Film Festival CEO Frances Wallace said, ‘Jenny’s unparalleled dedication, vision, and passion for film have left an indelible mark on the Festival and the Australian film industry. Her contributions have been pivotal in the Festival’s growth and global reputation.’

For more information, visit the Sydney Film Festival website.