Audience favourite Paper Planes has won CinfestOZ's inaugural $100,000 Film Prize.
After three days of borderline grim movies - a bloody action-thriller, two tough police dramas, a coming-of-age romance that opens with a suicide and a documentary culminating in the slaughter of Australia's heroic war-time horses - the judges opted to reward Robert Connolly's upbeat kiddie flick about country kid who dreams of being the paper plane champion on the world.
The decision of Bruce Beresford and his judging panel to give the Film Prize to Paper Planes was no surprise as it echoed the feelings of much of the audience who clearly preferred the polished, Disney-styled children's movie to more ambitious but flawed examinations of the dark side of humanity.
"I am really flattered to receive this, I am really touched," Connolly told the audience at a gala ceremony on Saturday night in Busselton's Orana Cinemas.
"We want this film to be a really big hit for kids and something like this is a massive, massive help," said Connolly, one of the most respected figures in the Australian film industry.
"I would like all of you to think when you see one of our actors at one of these festivals overseas talking about the film, this money helped to achieve that," he said.
Perth genre specialist John V. Soto takes a huge step forward with his CinfestOZ finalist The Reckoning, a drama about an ethically compromised cop (Jonathan LaPaglia) racing against time to track a pair of teenaged serial killers avenging what they believe to be the murder of another youngster.
The rampaging teens are making a documentary of their killing spree which falls into the hands of LaPaglia's detective and used by the police to solve the murder of a cop and staunch the flow of blood.
It is a nice idea that gives The Reckoning energy and drive and the opportunuty for ace Perth cinematographer Jason Thomas to show off his considerable skills. He creates of patchwork a fimic styles and textures that recalls Oliver Stone's JFK as Soto cuts between the chase and the film within a film.
However, the device becomes a rather too-forced contraption as Soto gives the cops not just the raw footage but the completed documentary (you find yourself wondering if the next package will contain the director's cut). But kudos to Soto for taking his filmmaking up a notch or three.
Next up came Stephen Lance's very peculiar erotic drama My Mistress, with Harrison Gilbertson playing a boy who fleed from family tragedy - the film opens with the suicide of his father - into the arms of a suburban bondage specialist (French star Emmanuelle Beart).
Lance's autobiographical was warmly welcomed by many women in the audience who have grown tired of violent genre movies and who are waiting for the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey.
While there several touching moments - the suicide of the boy's father and its aftermath are handled with great artistry - and the River Phoenix-like Gilbertson clearly has a great future. But we never quite understand how Beart's icy, damaged bondage mistress is salving the pain of grieving youngster.
Russell Vines and Marian Bartsch's documentary The Waler: Australia's Great War Horse, about the horses who helped restore Australia's pride after the disaster of Gallipoli, was always going to struggle against the dramatic features in competition.
However, The Waler is a fine piece of work - concise, compellling, infortmative, poetic and deeply moving - and will be in line for awards later this year when it competes in is own category.
The one film that could argue it has been hard done by in the Paper Planes victory is Felony, a gripping police drama that transcends its genre to becoma a searching examination of masculine camaraderie and corruption and the struggle for decency in a fallen world.
It was for me the most compelling and accomplished film in the competition, with Joel Edgerton (who also wrote the script) doing his best work yet playing a cop who bumps a kid off a bicycle while driving home drunk and having his crime covered up by his mates. He's aided immeasurably by director Matthew Saville who give this dark, troubling tale texture without resorting to visual pyrotechnics.
But many of those at CinefestOZ - especially the numerous film professionals who had travelled to Busselton - felt that it was too much like a television show and not cinematic enough. If this feeling is echoed by the wider public Felony could struggle when it opens nationally on Thursday.
So it was no surprise when Beresford and his fellow judges - The Movie Show's Margaret Pomeranz, actress Marta Dusseldorp, veteran producer Sue Milliken and Cannes selector Benjamin Illos - chose to give Connolly and his co-producers Maggie Miles and Liz Kearney the $100,000 prize, the biggest of its kind in Australia.
The WA-made movie has the heart the other film's lack, with Sam Worthington, who plays the emotionally damaged father of a youngster who become a paper plane champ, delivering a quietly forceful performance that reminds us of what a good actor he can be. It almost erases the memory of his previous WA-made movie, the disastrous surf flick Drift.
Paper Planes will be released nationally early next year. I have a feeling that by the time Connolly unleashes his prize-winning movie the embattled local film industry will be desperately looking for something to lift its spirits.