The film Shayda MIFF@CinefestOZ is the 2023 winner of Australia’s richest annual $100,000 Film Prize, which recognises excellence in the craft of filmmaking from an Australian feature film or feature-length documentary.

Shayda filmmakers, including writer, director and co-producer Noora Niasari were presented the prize by acclaimed actor, director and screenwriter Robert Connolly at the prestigious Film Prize Celebration at Sabina River Farm in Busselton on Saturday 2 September, following selection by a panel of industry experts.  

Chair Margaret Buswell said, “the CinefestOZ Film Prize champions new and compelling Australian made films – and was introduced ten years ago in partnership with the Western Australian State Government, through Tourism Western Australia’s Regional Events Program.”

“Our Film Prize Jury, which comprised Chair Robert Connolly, Debbie Liebling, Mia Wasikowska, Rob Collins and Deborah Riley – assessed each of the four finalists Bromley: Light After Dark, Monolith and MIFF@CinefestOZ films Shayda and The Rooster  from a perspective of excellence –  taking into account originality, the power of the story, the pace, structure, memorable characters, acting quality, cinematography and its alignment with the narrative, and the ability of the filmmaker to create a strong and cohesive experience in the cinema. After much deliberation over the four finalists, the Jury selected Shayda.”

Jury Chair Robert Connolly spoke about the decision on behalf of the Jury and described Shayda as “a film that introduces an exceptional new filmmaking voice, revealing with great authenticity and emotional impact a deeply personal story untold previously in our national cinema, driven at its heart by two extraordinary performances depicting the resilience and love between a mother and a daughter.”

Shayda Co-producer Vincent Sheehan said “The biggest reward in filmmaking is connecting to an audience. Noora’s story and brave cinematic voice connects and starts conversations and this significant prize provides a space where these conversations can be amplified within Australia and beyond.

Noora Niasari, director, writer and Co-producer said  “It was such an honour to be nominated alongside three incredible Australian films. Winning this prize means a great deal to me because whilst this is a specific Iranian mother daughter story, it is also an Australian story. These kinds of stories are rare but they shouldn’t be, and I am so grateful to CinefestOz for shining this light on Shayda.”

The other finalists in the 2023 CinefestOZ Film Prize included: Monolith directed by Matt VeselyBromley: Light After Dark directed by Sean McDonald and MIFF@CinefestOZ film The Rooster directed by Mark Leonard Winter

About Shayda

Produced by Niasari and Vincent Sheehan, and executive-produced by Cate Blanchett, Andrew Upton and Coco Francini, it stars Cannes Best Actress-winner Zar Amir Ebrahimi (Holy Spider) alongside Osamah Sami, Leah Purcell, Jillian Nguyen, Mojean Aria, Rina Mousavi and Selina Zahednia.

The film is based on Niasari’s own experience and tells the story of a young Iranian mother and her six-year-old daughter, who find refuge in an Australian women’s shelter during the two weeks of Iranian New Year (Nowruz), which is celebrated as a time of renewal and rebirth. Aided by the strong community of women at the shelter they seek their freedom in this new world of possibilities, only to find themselves facing the violence they tried so hard to escape. 

Shayda’s win at CinefestOZ comes directly off the back of the recent news that the film will represent Australia in the Best International Feature category at the 2024 Academy Awards

About the 2023 Film Prize Jury
Robert Connolly – Chair – is one of Australia’s most acclaimed and best-known filmmakers with an international career spanning 30 years. His films include the box office hit Paper Planes with Sam Worthington, Balibo starring Oscar Isaac and Anthony Lapaglia and the compendium feature film The Turning with Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne. Most recently Robert wrote and directed The Dry based on Jane Harper’s best-seller and starring Eric Bana. In television, he directed the International Emmy-nominated The Slap and Barracuda for NBC Universal and recently completed Deep State for Fox Network Group, starring Mark Strong. As a producer and executive producer Robert’s credits include The BoysRomulus My FatherThe WarriorsGallipoli and Chasing Asylum.

Deborah Liebling is an influential US film and television producer and studio executive. As chief development and production executive (Head of Original Programming) for Comedy Central she was solely responsible for the development and realisation of the cultural phenomenon South Park. At Universal Pictures she was President of Production for hit films Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect and TED. Most recently, she produced Columbia Pictures’ 65, starring Adam Driver and JULES, starring Sir Ben Kingsley, which won the Audience Award at the 2023 Sonoma Film Festival. She is currently Executive Produce with FOX, Netflix and Nickelodeon and an active Board member of Women In Film, the Producers Guild of America, the Television Academy, and is an ambassador for Reframe (an organization that works with 50 Hollywood leaders to further gender parity in the entertainment industry).

Deborah Riley is a four-time Emmy award winning production designer and art director. Her portfolio includes award-winning film and television sets like Game of Thrones, 21 Grams and Moulin Rouge! Her first breakthrough into film came in the late 1990s when she was hired as a set designer for The Matrix. The film broke new ground in the world of visual effects and won four Academy Awards. In 2013, Ms Riley secured a position as Production Designer for cult TV series Game of Thrones, a show which has been widely cited as one of the most successful television shows in history due to its film-like production values with intricately detailed set design and elaborate locations. During this time, she managed an art department in excess of 100 people, across multiple countries.

Mia Wasikowska is an actor, director and writer with nearly a two-decade long journey in the entertainment industry.  Mia made her directorial debut with LONG, CLEAR VIEW, a segment of THE TURNING anthology film, based on Tim Winton’s novel, which was nominated for an AACTA Award in 2013.  She followed this with AFTERBIRTH, a segment of MADLY, an international anthology of short films featuring innovative love stories, which premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.  In 2019, Mia made her main stage theatre debut as Ralph in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of LORD OF THE FLIES, directed by Kip Williams. Mia has also received the Hollywood Breakthrough Actress of the Year Award and the Australians in Film Breakthrough Award.

Rob Collins graduated from the National Institute for Dramatic Arts in 2013 and has performed as an actor and singer across film, television and stage in Australia. Film highlights include Arthur the King, Top End Wedding, Extraction, Angel of Mine – alongside Noomi Rapace and Yvonne Strahovski -and Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife, for which he was nominated for an AACTA Award for Best Lead Actor in Film. In television, Rob is well known for his work on Cleverman, Wrong Girl, Glitch, Total Control Rachel Griffiths and Deborah Mailman, Mystery Road Series 2, and most recently Ten Pound Poms and Limbo with Simon Baker. On stage Rob’s theatre credits include a national tour of THE LION KING in the role of ‘Mufasa’ and ‘Lysander’ in Sydney Theatre Company’s A Midsummers Night’s Dream.

Photos by Court McAllister/ Mac1Photography