Two 13-year-old boys, one brown-haired the other blond, sitting close together as if in class, listening to someone.

Queer drama about teenage male friendship wins $60,000 Sydney Film Festival prize

Belgian director Lukas Dhont has won the Sydney Film Festival’s $60,000 Sydney Film Prize for “daring, groundbreaking and courageous” film for his queer teen tragedy Close, about a powerful friendship between two 13-year-old boys broken by their transition to high school — with tragic consequences.

Screened in Sydney after winning the Grand Prix (second prize) at Cannes, the film was hailed by the Sydney Film Festival jury as “a tender, moving, powerful film. An adult film about innocence”.

In Close, Leo helps out on his family’s flower farm in a small village. “That’s the world I grew up in,” says director Lukas Dhont.Supplied: Madman Entertainment

Dhont’s film won against a field of 11 other films, including Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Utama, Berlinale Golden Bear winner Alcarràs, three films straight from Cannes’ Un Certain Regard lineup, and two Australian films: Archibald Prize-winning artist Del Kathryn Barton’s feature film debut Blaze and Goran Stolevski’s witch fable You Won’t Be Alone.

It was a lineup notable for stories featuring teenage protagonists: a boy searching for his father, in the Mexican drama The Box; a 12-year-old girl whose imagination becomes a tool for surviving trauma, in Blaze; an under-loved nine-year-old who blossoms with relatives over the summer, in the Irish-language film The Quiet Girl; and the group of children and teenagers who enjoyed it on their family’s land last summer, in the Catalan drama Alcarràs.

Presenting the award at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Film Festival on Sunday evening at the State Theatre, the jury, led by actor/director David Wenham, said that Close had “a mastery of restraint, a subtle handling of story, astute observations and delicate attention to finer details.” †

Five men and women stand in a row on a red carpet against a blue photo wall with the Sydney Film Festival logo.
This year’s jury was led by David Wenham, alongside Jennifer Peedom, Yuka Sakano, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki and Semih Kaplanoğlu.Delivered: Sydney Film Festival

Close is deeply personal to Dhont, who found inspiration when he returned to primary school and reexamined his early male friendships and sexuality: “The memories came back from going to school back then, when it was really hard to see my true, unfiltered self. he said in the press notes for the film.

In Close, we meet 13-year-olds Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) on the eve of high school, and experience their powerful, intimate but uncomplicated friendship – watching this bond become tense and eventually broken, under the supervision of their colleagues.

Dhont accepted the award via video message, saying, “We wanted to make a film about friendship and connection after a moment when we all understood its necessity and power.”

The film is being released in Australia by Madman Entertainment.

A 30-year-old white man with short brown hair in a suit stands next to a blond teenage boy in a suit, on a red carpet.
Close is Lukas Dhont’s second feature (shown here with actor Eden Dambrine at Cannes) after his critically acclaimed 2018 film Girl.Provided: Getty/Lionel Hahn

This year’s Documentary Australia Award was given to Luke Cornish for Keep Stepping, which takes viewers into the street dance subculture through the prism of the annual Australian competition, Destructive Steps.

In their statement, the jury, led by Mitzi Goldman, CEO of Documentary Australia, said:

“The community featured in the film has a lot to tell us about family, identity, belonging, hard work, testing our limits, love and acceptance. The film is carefully crafted, beautifully shot and edited and the characters are fascinating. This is a generation who have something to say and ask us to listen. It is much more than a film about the dynamic subculture of street dance.”

2022 marked a ‘return to normal’ for Sydney Film Festival, which was online-only in 2020 and postponed twice in 2021 due to COVID-19, before opening in November – initially with a 75 percent reduced audience capacity.

This year, the festival opened in June as usual, with a full house. Although masks were worn by all hall staff, they were not mandatory for members of the public.

While last year’s festival was a hybrid of in-cinema and digital screenings, this year was all in-cinema.

Artistic Director Nashen Moodley told ABC RN’s The Screen Show, “The turnaround from November to June is extremely tight for us; usually we have a year between festivals.”

But he said the festival is considering bringing back a ‘home’ component for future editions: “We know what the technology can do; we really appreciate it. And I think looking ahead we will see where we can best deploy it.” for the festival to connect with the audience.

“At the same time, we know very clearly from our audience survey, from our own experience, that the fundamental thing about the Sydney Film Festival – and I think all film festivals – is that in-cinema experience; it’s best not just for the audience, and for the filmmakers and for the festival, it is [also] how the company works.

“And considering that [previously] you had an eagerness for people (rightholders, filmmakers, sales agents, distributors) to explore this technology, as movie theaters reopen there’s a greater reluctance to put movies online.”

Full list of winners

Sydney Film Award: $60,000 cash prize
Winner: Close, Wri/Dir Lukas Dhont

Sydney UNESCO City of Film Award: $10,000 cash prize
Winner: Caitlin Yeo (composer, New Gold Mountain; Playing with Sharks)

Documentary Australia Award for Australian Documentary: $10,000 cash prize
Winner: Keep Stepping, Dir Luke Cornish

Deutsche Bank Fellowship for First Nations Film Creatives: $20,000 grant
Winner: Kylie Bracknell

Sustainable Future Award: $10,000 cash prize
Winner: Delikado, Dir Karl Malakunas

Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films — Dendy Live Action Short Award: $7,000 cash prize
Winner: Luisa Martiri and Tanya Modini for The Moths Will Eat Them Up

Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films – Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director: $7,000 cash prize
Winner: Luisa Martiri and Tanya Modini for The Moths Will Eat Them Up

Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films — Yoram Gross Animation Award: $5,000 cash prize
Winner: Jonathan Daw and Tjunkaya Tapaya for Donkey

Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films – AFTRS Craft Award: $7,000 cash prize
Winner: Jonathan Daw and Tjunkaya Tapaya for Donkey

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