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 friendship wins $60,000 prize at Sydney Film Festival

Belgian director Lukas Dhont has won the Sydney Film Festival’s $60,000 Sydney Film Prize for a ‘bold, forward-thinking and courageous’ film for his queer teenage tragedy Close, about a powerful friendship between two 13-year-old boys who is broken by their transition to high school – with tragic results.

The film, which screened in Sydney after winning the Grand Prix (second prize) at Cannes, was hailed by the Sydney Film Festival jury as “a tender, moving and powerful film. A mature film about the innocence”.

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

Dhont’s film won against 11 other films including Sundance Grand Jury 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 first feature, Blaze, and Goran Stolevski’s witch fable, You Won’t Be Alone.

It was a line-up notable for its stories with 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 underloved nine-year-old who thrives in the summer with parents, in the Irish-language film The Quiet Girl; and the swarm of children and teenagers enjoying a last summer on their family’s land, 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 Close “showed a mastery of restraint, subtle handling of history, shrewd observation and delicate attention to finer detail”.

Five men and women lined up 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.(Provided: Sydney Film Festival)

Close is very personal for Dhont, who found inspiration when he returned to primary school and re-examined his early male friendships and sexuality: “Memories came back of going to school at that time, when it was really hard to be my true, unfiltered self,” he said in press notes for the film.

In Close, we meet 13-year-old Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) on the cusp of high school, and experience their powerful, intimate yet simple friendship – then watch that bond unfold. stretch and eventually break, under the watchful eye of their peers.

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

The film will be released in Australia by Madman Entertainment.

A white man in his thirties with short brown hair in a suit stands next to a blond teenager in a suit, on a red carpet.
Close is the second feature from Lukas Dhont (pictured here with actor Eden Dabrine at Cannes) following his acclaimed 2018 film Girl.(Provided: Getty/Lionel Hahn)

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

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

“The community presented in the film has a lot to tell us about family, identity, belonging, hard work, testing our limits, love and acceptance. The film is sensitively crafted, beautifully shot and edited and its fascinating characters. It’s a generation that has something to say and asks us to listen. It’s so much more than a film about the vibrant street dance subculture.

2022 represented a “return to normal” for the Sydney Film Festival, which was online only in 2020, and postponed twice in 2021 due to COVID-19, before opening in November – initially with capacity audience reduced by 75%.

This year the festival opened in June as usual, with an audience at full capacity. While masks were worn by all venue staff, they were not mandatory for members of the public.

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

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

But he said the festival was considering bringing a component “home” for future editions: “We know what technology can do; we really appreciate it. And I think looking to the future, we will see where we can best use for the festival to connect with the public.

“At the same time, we know very clearly from our audience research, from our own experience, that the fundamental thing about the Sydney Film Festival – and I think all film festivals – is this cinema experience; it’s not just for the public, and for the filmmakers and for the festival, it’s [also] in terms of business operations.

“And while [previously] you wanted people (rights holders, filmmakers, sales agents, distributors) to explore this technology, because as cinemas reopen there is a greater reluctance to put films online.”

Full list of winners

Sydney Film Awards: $60,000 in cash
Winner: Close, Wri/Dir Lukas Dhont

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

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

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

Sustainable Future Award: $10,000 cash prize
Winner: Delikado, Real 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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