Doco on young Cubans wins Best Film prize at Byron Bay Film Festival

An Australian-made documentary about the lives of young people in Cuba has won the Best Film Award at the 2023 Byron Bay International Film Festival.

Habana Shakes explores the dreams and ambitions of the five 20-something Habana natives – performing artists, a tattooist, a skateboarder – as they go about their daily lives, struggling to make ends meet, pursuing their passions and in some cases avoiding the attention of the authorities.

Directed by Marcelle Lunam and produced by Tamara Popper, Habana Shakes is “subtle in its messaging, fresh, stylish and well-crafted”, according to the judges, a perfect reflection of the lifestyles and ethos of its artistic young subjects.

A moving documentary made by Lennox Head artist Angus McDonald, Freedom is Beautiful, which traces the fate of two Kurdish refugees and their years of suffering during detention on Manus Island and in Australia, received an Honourable Mention in the Best Film Category, and won the Best Byron Film Award, from a pool of 29 films made by filmmakers from the NSW Northern Rivers region.

Kaugere: A Place Where Nobody Enters was awarded the Best Documentary prize, which was judged by Miriam Margolyes. Set in a dangerous township in Papua New Guinea, where the ‘raskol’ gangsters rob and intimidate the community and provide a tempting lifestyle option for the young men, Kaugere tells one story of hope, in which footy coach Albert Muri offers the youths an alternative – rugby league. Stephen Dupont was director on the film, co-producer with Ian Darling, and co-producer and co-writer with Elizabeth Tadic, who was in Byron to receive the Award.

The Best Dramatic Feature Award went to a Belgian comedy set in the French countryside named Let’s Get Lost (Ailleurs Si J’y Suis), directed by François Pirot.

This modern-day parable of the middle-aged urge to escape stressful working lives (and threadbare marriages) by retreating to the forest and living naturally struck a chord with the BBFF audiences.

Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox came out from New York to present his latest work, The Edge of Nature, to the Festival’s Opening Night audience, and picked up the Best Environmental Film Award for his multi-layered doco on Covid, climate catastrophe and generational trauma. The film was a visual expression of the music of Josh’s hero, folk singer Pete Seeger, in all its passionate protest against inequity and injustice.

Point of Change took home the Best Surf Film Award for London-based director

Rebecca Coley. Utilising old footage, striking animation and interviews from surfers and locals the film explores the cultural and personal transformation surfers brought to an idyllic Indonesian island community following its ‘discovery’ by Westerners as the home of the ‘perfect wave’.

Best Short Film was Tria, a powerful portrait of sisterhood, of burgeoning sexuality and of betrayal and patriarchal rule by Giulia Grandinetti.

The work of 28-year-old Egyptian cinematographer, Mostafa El Kashef in filmmaker Morad Mostafa’s short drama I Promise You Paradise, about African migrants in the heart of Cairo, won him the Best Cinematography Award.

Best Animation was Black Wing, created with real-time game engine technology. Tim Main’s depiction of a day in the life of a cormorant mirrors the visual texture and tangible beauty of the natural world.

The Best Experimental Film Award went to Untitled, a 24-hour installation created by Jack Bailey, a Byron Bay based contemporary landscape artist with a sophisticated eye for abstraction, shape and tone. Honourable Mention went to The Microcosm by Joe Ingham where Glenda Jackson narrates Maureen Duffy’s exploration of London’s infamous lesbian hang-out The Gateways Club.

The Best 3DoF VR Experience Award was won by Perth-based Briege Whitehead for Beyond the Milky Way and the Best 6DoF VR Experience went to Alex Rhul for Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Roderick Gadaev’s Get Down Right Now snared the Best Music Video Award with its juxtaposition of Dinley Jones’ upbeat pop funk song and a dark tale of revenge robbery.

The Young Australian Filmmaker of the Year competition was won by Australia-based South African Jack Voegt for Tint, his wry, uncomfortable comment on modern manners.

The Byron Bay International Screenplay Competition Award went to the engaging drama Dinner at Seven, penned by Rodrigo Badoino, 28, born in Peru but a Perth resident since 2003, who also collected $1000 as part of the Award.

Independent filmmakers are the heart of the festival and so films in competition at the Byron Bay International Film Festival are entered directly by the filmmakers and have not come through distributors.

The 2023 Byron Bay Film Festival ran at some of the finest cinema venues across the Northern Rivers region 20 – 29 October, presenting an array of screenings and fun Special Events in Byron Bay, Lennox Head, Brunswick Heads and Murwillumbah.