Key image (left to right): Lia honouree Gaylene Preston, Attic Lab mentor Sandi Sissel, winner of Best Short Film Kaitlin Tinker, winner of Best Feature Film Elizabeth Schuch
The 5th edition of Stranger With My Face International Film Festival wrapped up in Tasmania last weekend, including an awards presentation on Sunday night.
The winner of the Lia Award 2017, an annual prize recognising an influential and/or innovative figure in the field of genre storytelling, was named as New Zealand filmmaker Gaylene Preston.
This year’s guest retrospective filmmaker at the festival, Preston was honoured for her off-beat contributions with Mr Wrong (1984) and Perfect Strangers (2003). These films, already approaching ‘cult’ status, will undoubtedly grow in reputation as time goes on. Both are examinations of gender-based tropes around romance, love and female identity. Preston uses the form of the thriller to challenge and deconstruct the role of women in society. Entertaining, original and bold, they represent the kind of filmmaking Stranger With My Face seeks to celebrate.
The festival also pays tribute to Preston for her ongoing efforts to advance the cause of gender equality in the film industry, and for her support of emerging filmmakers over her long career.
In accepting the award Preston likened her films to children who are ‘sent out into the world’ and said it was particularly meaningful to her to have her first feature as director screened alongside a much later effort: “You chose my first ‘child’ and you chose my wild child in Perfect Strangers and it’s lovely to have those two films acknowledged as bookends and films that do speak across time to each other.”
She also paid tribute to Stranger With My Face and the other women filmmakers at the event: “It’s been a blast. I can’t tell you how surreal it’s been to walk out of a post-production facility in Auckland and find myself with this wild tribe of women who are doing the most amazing things.
The short films judges were Victoria Madden, screenwriter and creator of the acclaimed series The Kettering Incident, and Claire d’Este, an award-winning screenwriter specialising in short films (Knit One, Slashed).
d’Este was on hand to award the trophy for Best Short Film. She commented that The Man Who Caught a Mermaid captures the spirit of the festival because it’s “taking some ideas about gender and bringing them forward into a genre environment and saying something disturbing. Really really disturbing.”
In her acceptance speech Tinker said that the film has been lauded overseas, appearing in about 17 festivals, but that “It’s been really tough to get a foot in the door here in Australia… I feel very honoured to be supported by a festival like Stranger With My Face, because it was really made for an Australian audience.”
Victoria Madden, who was unable to attend in person, sent a message: “As the representative of the Australian Writer’s Guild, it is a great honour to be asked to judge on this excellent selection of short films. Stranger With My Face is an inspired and original festival showcasing the best genre women filmmakers from around the world. I am sorry not to be here tonight to present these awards but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and hope to be there next year.”
As well as the top prize the judges gave an Honourable Mention to the film Mouse (dir: Celine Held and Logan George, USA) and deemed Slapper (dir Luci Schroeder, Australia) as the Runner-Up. The judges described the film as “very brave and obviously [made from] a strong female perspective”.
”I definitely want to see more women kicking goats in films,” joked d’Este.
Best Feature Film for Stranger With My Face 2017 was awarded to The Book of Birdie directed by Elizabeth E. Schuch (UK). The festival committee describe The Book of Birdie “a highly original film, visually rich and with an unusual blend of tragic and comedic elements.”
“Thanks so much for having us at the festival and to these amazing filmmakers and audiences!” said Elizabeth E. Schuch, accepting the award amongst other women directors who were invited to be part of the Attic Lab program within the festival this year. “It’s been an inspiring week.”
The Laos film Dearest Sister, directed by Mattie Do, received an Honourable Mention. “I’m excited to hear that there’s a new film from Mattie on the way,” said Festival Director Briony Kidd.
This year’s trophies were again designed by Bryony Geeves.
Stranger With My Face is named after one of Lois Duncan’s most popular young adult novels, published in 1986. And the character of Lia – the ‘evil twin’ of that story – is the inspiration for this Lia Award. Lia represents the shadow self, the dark and mysterious side of life.