Gory British prison drama wins Sydney Film Festival

Mon Jun 15, 2009 1:16am EDT
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SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - A drama about a violent British prisoner has won the top award at the 56th Sydney Film Festival, beating three local films for A$60,000 ($49,000), the largest cash prize in Australian film.

"Bronson," written and directed by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, looks at the life of Welshman Michael Peterson, who adopted the name Charles Bronson after the action movie actor when on the fight circuit.

Bronson, who has been called the "most violent man in Britain," was jailed for armed robbery in 1974 but his sentence has been repeatedly extended for crimes committed in prison, including attacks on fellow inmates and guards as well as hostage-taking. He has spent about 30 of 35 years in jail in solitary confinement.

Bronson, 56, is played by English actor Tom Hardy, who met him in prison while preparing for the film, which was criticized in Britain for glorifying the criminal's life.

The president of the festival jury, director Rolf de Heer, said "Bronson" best demonstrated "the competition's criteria of emotional power and resonance, audacity, cutting edge, courage and going beyond the usual treatment of its subject matter."

The Sydney Film Festival celebrated its 56th anniversary this year but the official competition is only in its second year, funded by Hunter Hall Investment Management to reward "courageous and audacious filmmaking."

Last year another prison drama, "Hunger," about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in his dying days, won the inaugural official competition.

Twelve movies were in the official competition at the 12-day festival this year with no clear favorites, although three Australian movies had gone down well with audiences.

These were "Disgrace" about a university lecturer in post-apartheid South Africa, "Missing Water" about a refugee who fled Vietnam in a small boat, and "Beautiful Kate" directed by British actress Rachel Ward about a writer returning to his family farm as his father is dying.

The first Foxtel Australian Documentary Prize of $10,000 was split between two films -- "A Good Man" about a struggling Australian farmer and his quadriplegic wife, and "Contact" about an Aboriginal woman's first contact with white men when she was 17.

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)