Stills from 'Beautiful Minds' and 'Blind Ambition'.

A French comedy following an oddball duo on an unconventional road trip and an Australian documentary about four refugees that compete in the World Wine Blind Tasting Championships have topped the audience awards at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

Bernard Campan and Alexandre Jollien’s Beautiful Minds and Robert Coe and Warwick Ross’ Blind Ambition were voted number one feature film and documentary respectively, following the announcement of the official awards on Sunday.

Inspired by the real-life experiences of Jollien, Beautiful Minds details an unlikely friendship between workaholic funeral director Louis (Campan) and Igor (Jollien), a grocery worker with cerebral palsy, as a chance encounter leads them on a journey across France, during which they discuss everything from Nietzsche to being pigeon-holed.

France also features heavily in Blind Ambition as the setting for World Wine Blind Tasting Championships that Zimbabweans Joseph, Tinashe, Marlvin, and Pardon set out to attend. The quartet, who become sommeliers after developing an interest in wine while working in Cape Town, meet and form a team to compete in the so-called ‘Olympics of the wine world’, taking on competitors from across Europe.

The film has already proved popular with internationally, winning the Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary at Tribeca Film Festival.

It was part of all-Australian top five for the SFF Audience Award for Best Documentary, with Matthew Walker’s I’m Wanita, Jane Castle’s When the Camera Stopped Rolling, James Becket and Camilla Becket’s Australia/US co-production The Seeds of Vandana Shiva, Larissa Behrendt’s Araatika: Rise Up!, and Ben Lawrence’s Ithaka also included.

‘Friends and Strangers’.

In the feature film category, Kiah Roache-Turner’s Wyrmwood: Apocalypse; Ana Kokkinos, Leah Purcell, Julie Kalceff, Fadia Abboud and Lucy Gaffy’s Here Out West; and James Vaughan’s Friends and Strangers made up the local contingent.

SFF director Nashen Moodley said it was pleasing to see attendees get behind Australian productions.

“The people have spoken – and it is with great pleasure that the festival announces Beautiful Minds and Blind Ambition as the winners of the 2021 Audience Awards,” he said.

“It was brilliant to see audiences come out in support of local productions, with the majority of titles in the top five having a local connection.”

According to Sydney Film Festival CEO Leigh Small, cinemas for this year’s SFF were more than 55 per cent full and 52 sessions sold out.

“Not only did audiences come out; 104 sessions featured a filmmaker or live SFF introduction, and 42 international filmmakers made virtual introductions,” she said.

“Also, importantly for many of our Australian filmmakers they not only came to share their premieres with an audience, but also with each other for the first time in a cinema.”

The Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature Top Five:

  1. Beautiful Minds, directed by Bernard Campan and Alexandre Jollien (France, Switzerland)
  2. Wyrmwood Apocalypse, directed by Kiah Roache-Turner (Australia)
  3. Here Out West, directed by Fadia Abboud, Lucy Gaffy, Ana Kokkinos and Leah Purcell (Australia)
  4. Friends and Strangers, directed by James Vaughan (Australia)
  5. Quo Vadis, Aida?, directed by Jasmila Žbanić (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

The Audience Award for Best Documentary Top Five:

  1. Blind Ambition, directed by Robert Coe and Warwick Ross (Australia)
  2. I’m Wanita, directed by Matthew Walker (Australia) – also the winner of the 2019 Documentary Australia Foundation Award
  3. When the Camera Stopped Rolling, directed by Jane Castle (Australia)
  4. The Seeds of Vandana Shiva, directed by James Becket and Camilla Becket (Australia, USA)
  5. Araatika: Rise Up!, directed by Larissa Behrendt (Australia) tied with Ithaka directed by Ben Lawrence (Australia)

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