The Inaugural Winner

A 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.

The panel of three judges awarded the Prize to the film The Forgotten Tree, written and directed by Ms Liz Cooper from Ermington, NSW.

On behalf of the panel, 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.”

Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, which sponsored the Prize, Right Reverend Professor Stephen 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 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.

Watch the Film