From no festival to an online festival to live screenings and special streaming events for those who couldn’t be there in person, CinefestOZ Film Festival 2020 will go down in history as one to remember.

The first Australian film festival to host screenings for live cinema audiences since the easing of restrictions in Western Australia following the COVID-19 pandemic wound up yesterday following a Special Presentation of the highly anticipated WA film Dirt Music on Saturday night.

Special guests, including US actress Kate Walsh, Australian star Adelaide Kane and Dirt Music associate producer Kate Separovich, were among those who walked the red carpet at Orana Cinemas in Busselton before the celebratory presentation of Gregor Jordan’s adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel by iconic Australian writer Tim Winton.

The screening was followed by an after party, where CinefestOZ patrons toasted the festival that almost wasn’t and raised a glass to those interstate and international guests they hope to see again in 2021.

It was also a night to celebrate the winners of the inaugural Short Film Competition, proudly supported by CinefestOZ and Screenwest.

Carmentis, from writer/director Antony Webb and producer Jaclyn Hewer, beat Carrie’s Doing Great, I Want to Make a Film About Women and The Immortal to win the $5,000 top prize. The film tells the story a grief-stricken miner (played by Ben Mortley) who finds himself injured on the desolate planet Carmentis and must overcome his personal demons in order to survive.

“We are so proud to have won the first inaugural short film prize,” Webb and Hewer said. “CinefestOZ is a festival that has become an essential part of the fabric for the Australian screen industry and we couldn’t be more excited to accept such a prestigious award.”

Cinewest Best West Australian Short Film (supported by Screenwest) went to The Quiet, directed by Radheya Jegatheva and produced by Jay Jay Jegathesan; while the Best Indigenous Short Film was awarded to Doug the Human, directed by Gary Hamaguchi, produced by Jodie Bell and written by Gary Hamaguchi.

Hayley McElhinney picked up the Best Actor award (supported by Annie MM Casting) for her role in Antecedents; Sam Lara and Jess Parker were awarded the WIFTWA supported Best WA Female Short Filmmakers award for Featherweight; and Karen Pearlman took home the Best Director award (supported by the Australian Directors’ Guild) for I Want to Make a Film About Women.

The Audience Choice award will be announced tomorrow.

The CinefestOZ Short Film Prize awards were voted on by a jury of esteemed industry professionals, which included Jury Chairs screenwriter Dot West and producer Taryne Laffar; and Jury members, actors Luke Carroll, Kelton Pell and Kate Walsh and producer Brooke Silcox.

Laffar said voting hadn’t been easy. “It was a privilege and pleasure to view such a dynamic array of shorts,” she said. “It was challenging to judge as we have such wonderful talent in the Australian screen sector. A huge congratulations to the winners and all the films selected.”

The CinefestOZ 2020 program was a modified one but still boasted 18 features, two In Conversation events and four packed short film sets, along with an outstanding Community program.

Students from across 15 different schools in the South West participated in this year’s Cinesnaps, which saw a number of film guest incursions, including animator Mike Dunn presenting on the dynamics of XR technologies, IndigifestOZ Koorda Kelton Pell sharing his experiences and an Acting Up workshop with Olivia Nardini from Swimming for Gold; along with excursions to cinemas, including a Q&A screening of CinefestOZ 2019 Film Prize winner H is for Happiness with lead actor Daisy Axon.

The program also engaged with 40 secondary teachers across 10 schools from Harvey to Margaret River with indigenous guests Dot West and Jub Clerc hosting a unique professional development session.

The Cinesnaps Short Film Competition, voted on by jury members Myles Pollard, Annie Murtagh-Monks and Kate Separovich, saw Poppy Treloar from Georgiana Molloy Anglican School take out the title for her accomplished short Sand Box. James Kenworthy and Cooper Warrick from Cape Naturaliste College were runners up for their heist short The Decoy.

The Festival also partnered with Busselton Jetty to screen Rubber Jellyfish as a free community film while several community groups got together to host their own Community Screening via CinefestOZ’s On Demand options online.

The CinefestOZ two-day Industry Program at Esplanade Hotel, Busselton, broke new ground by live streaming the event for those unable to attend due to WA’s hard border closure. The program was watched by people across Australia, the US and New Zealand.

CinefestOZ CEO Malinda Nixon admitted to having a tear in her eye at the end of the festival.

“This really is a festival that will go down as one for the ages,” she said. “We truly thought, all those months ago, we may never see this day. For so many people to come out and support us, whether they came from the South West, Perth, further afield in WA or elsewhere in the country or across the world via our incredible streaming service, it just goes to show we were right to push forward with CinefestOZ 2020. We really feel we have engaged audiences and the industry and kept the Australian film flame burning during the darkest of times.”

CinefestOZ thanks Premium Partners Screenwest and City of Busselton and Community Partner Rio Tinto. The festival acknowledges its strong support from Lotterywest and Screen Australia.

Dirt Music opens nationwide on 8 October.