JIRGA, a film about redemption shot in Afghanistan, took out the $100,000 film prize at CinefestOZ on the weekend.
The film is about former Australian soldier Mike Wheeler (Sam Smith) who returns to Afghanistan, seeking redemption from the family of a civilian he killed.
Film prize jury chairwoman Sigrid Thornton announced the winner at Saturday night’s gala event in Busselton moments after she was named 2018 screen legend.
She said the “excruciating decision” was made after an “intense but joyful” few days.
Jirga writer/director Benjamin Gilmour and producer John Maynard were present to receive the award.
Maynard recalled the moment the project came across his desk.
“Benjamin walked into my office and I wasn’t quite sure if he was brave or mad or both, but he dumped on my desk a couple of hard drives of material he had shot in Afghanistan,” he said.
“He pitched me a really good story and we went on this crazy journey.”
He said the film would be released across Australia on September 27 and the prize money would enable more people to see it.
Gilmour said he did not write a speech based on Maynard’s advice.
“I asked John if I should write something and he said ‘Nah mate, we don’t have a chance in hell’,” he said.
“It only seems like yesterday the lead actor and I were sliding down a mountainside in Afghanistan not quite believing what we were doing and even on the plane back to Australia, I was not confident that this film would come to anything.
“It’s a miracle it’s in the world; we need a film that speaks about the impacts of war.”
Jirga was selected from fellow finalists 1%, Ladies in Black and The Merger.