A short film that combines elements of Judaism, Islam and Christianity in war-torn strife has been announced as the winner of the inaugural national Religious Short Film Prize.
Right Reverend Professor Stephen Pickard, Executive Director of the Charles Sturt University (CSU) affiliated Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture (ACC&C), said, "The Board of the ACC&C welcomed the recommendation of the panel of three judges to award the Prize to the film The Forgotten Tree, written and directed by Ms Liz Cooper from Ermington, NSW".
The panel of judges led by Reverend Dr David Millikan commented, "The film is a story about a chance encounter between a young Jewish woman and a Palestinian child in time of war. It takes place in a dilapidated Christian church. With such elements and many issues of belief, ancient hatreds and violence are at play. The film made its way with restraint and insight."
Professor Pickard said, "It was a good sign that entries for this inaugural prize came from all over Australia. We extend our warmest congratulations to Liz, and look forward to formally presenting the Prize to her at a special event in August.
"Given that the short film medium is especially attractive to young people we expect the Prize to attract significant numbers of entrants in the future, and we are very excited about its prospects."
The Forgotten Tree is seven and a half minutes long and was shot in colour on a Canon 5D Mk ii digital video camera. It was written and directed by Ms Cooper who also did a considerable amount of the producing and the editing of the film, with the assistance of a small crew with roles as director of photography, sound recordist, production assistant, make-up artist, and producer. The Forgotten Tree stars Paris Naumovski and Simone La Martina (pictured above in a scene in the film), with music by Lachlan Blackwood.
The judges recognised that the early years of a prize such as this are not easy either for the applicants or the judges, particularly when the subject is as elusive as 'religion'.
"The judges were most pleased that we saw films that engaged with Aboriginal spirituality, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism," they said.
Speaking about her win, Ms Cooper said, "Winning the Prize meant so much to all the cast and crew involved. It is a touchy subject to make a film about, so when people like it, it means a lot.
"The most difficult part of making this film was the casting, as the whole story relies on the two young actors. They both had to be able to perform in a way that was honest and vulnerable in a subject area that's difficult for many of us in Australia to really grasp. They had to navigate accents and dramatic loaded dialogue, so directing them through that minefield after finding such great actors was both a wonderful and enormously tricky task."
Ms Cooper works as the Music Program Director at Excelsia College. She also does some film/video editing work, and is involved in a couple of hard rock/metal bands.
"I really want to continue storytelling through film and music," she said. "I hope to eventually be able to support myself in this creative sphere, and to continue in academic training by researching the impact of the technological revolution on the arts industry through things like low budget guerrilla filmmaking and home studio recordings."
Ms Cooper said her advice for future entrants in the Religious Short Film Prize is to make films that are honest, personal and about something you are interested in.
"Films that come from the heart allow the audience and the filmmaker to make a real connection through the film, and I think that's what makes art great - the communication," she said.
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The Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture (ACC&C) resulted from a formal partnership established in 1998 between the Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn and Charles Sturt University. The ACC&C is an ecumenical body reflecting the faith background of approximately 61 per cent (13.5 million) of the Australian population. The Centre is located on a five hectare site on the edge of the Parliamentary Triangle in Canberra.
The ACC&C is planning an event in Canberra in August at which Ms Cooper will be presented with the Religious Short Film Prize. The event will be an opportunity to showcase the film and the commitment of the ACC&C to the cultivation of the arts in relation to faith and life. More details will follow as the event is developed.
The inaugural ACC&C 2016 Religious Short Film Prize judging panel was Reverend Dr David Millikan (chief judge), Dr Susan Murphy, Roshi, and Ms Theresa Charchalis. All films had to be no more than a maximum eight minutes long.