Byron Bay Marketing Agency

Every year Byron Bay Film Festival nominates for an award the 10 best films submitted by young Australian filmmakers – no easy task given the imagination, skill and loving care on display in so much of their work.

The Young Australian Filmmaker of the Year Competition has been an integral part of the Festival since 2007, encouraging fledgling filmmakers and rewarding those who dare to dream big.

This year’s Festival, the 17th, once again boasts an impressive line-up of talent, with themes that show the influence of the Covid experience and explore the deeper aspects of being human – things that are difficult for us all, but especially perhaps for the young: loss and grief, identity, social isolation (and bullying), family break-up, and adjustments to a changing world.

Noticeable this year is the ethnic and cultural diversity, with several films exploring the challenges facing immigrant families.

Among them is Tapwater, from 18-year-old Christina Yu, who was born in China and now lives in Melbourne. Tapwater is a minimalist family drama with themes of generational difference and communication challenges facing a mother and daughter coming to terms with life in a new country. The soft pastel colour scheme contrasts with the strong feelings running beneath the surface. Christina is passionate about exploring the fusion of different artistic mediums and aims to embrace the art of storytelling, aspiring to become an auteur for her generation. Tapwater was an Official Selection in the All American High School Film Festival.

Adjusting to a new, sometimes cruel, land is also a theme in Porcelain, which focuses on two days in the life of a poor Vietnamese family in Australia. The title has both significance as a plot device and resonance regarding the delicacy of young schoolgirl Hanh and the sensitivity of her father – a quality displayed by the filmmaker, 22-year-old Cameron Mitchell, a Swinburne University Film & TV graduate. Porcelain is inspired by the experiences of Cameron’s mother, who faced similar struggles as a young refugee in a new country. 

Vera, the teenaged protagonist in Chinese-Australian Joanna Zhao’s film Things Are Good is more sophisticated and worldly than Hanh but is perhaps even more fragile. The high school student’s determination to lead a picture-perfect life proves unrealistic in the harsh real world – making this short drama an acute comment upon our Photoshopped image-obsessed age and the pressure to be happy. Sydney born Joanna, 24, moved to Los Angeles and has graduated from UCLA in 2022 with a BA in Film. Influenced by her life-long passion for photography, she incorporated the motif of still-life ‘tableaux’ into her film, to experiment with cinematic form and film convention.

Hairstyle is surely part of an individual’s identity, including, sometimes, racial identity, and 23-year-old South African Australian Jack Voegt, explores that idea in Tint, where the comical awkwardness of the characters’ interactions gives rise to some serious themes around race, authenticity, political correctness and white guilt. Tint had its World Premiere at the Sydney Underground Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award. Montage, vignettes and fantasy scenes pay homage to Blaxploitation films, outlandish pop culture moments and outright parody.

Grief and how we express it – or not – is the subject of both Cathy’s Doll, the film debut of Australian Film, Television and

Radio School graduate Taylor Venter (26), and Teach Me How to Cry from 22-year-old Finegan Sampson of Melbourne.  Cathy is a young girl at her dad’s funeral, trying to make sense of it all, taking in the masks covering up the family’s sadness – especially her granddad’s, who cannot be seen to cry – and finding her own understanding of death. Taylor says she wanted to create a space to explore how male pain is dealt with in Australian culture — specifically the pain of an older generation of men, largely taught to stifle and hide vulnerability. Finegan’s tale of an older actor who is losing his audiences because of his inability to communicate deep emotion covers similar ground. Forced to overcome this blockage, he faces his own sorrow, in one extremely cleverly scripted and powerful scene featuring a superb performance from Lachy Hulme.

A young girl trying to figure out why her parents are fighting all the time is at the centre of Maggie Brittingham’s graduate short film Me, My Ralph and I. Nine-year-old Lenora seeks more and more comfort from her imaginary friend, Ralph, in this uneasy study of a child’s struggle to retain a sense of self and equilibrium in incomprehensible circumstances. Writing from her own experience, Maggie says: “As soon as I learned my family was unhappy together, but committed to staying under the same roof, it became impossible to separate their conflict and happiness from mine.”  In 2019, Maggie won the Audience Choice award for Best Short Documentary at Tilde Trans and Gender Diverse Film Festival with her film Transpiration.

Fitting in can be a preoccupation for teenagers and being excluded through ‘ghosting’ and ‘gaslighting’ a tortuous experience, sometimes with fatal consequences. When the teen protagonist in The Trials and Tribulations of Being Jordan from Melbournebased Will Calleja gets the silent treatment from her peers, she reacts initially with defiance, then sees it as an opportunity to change, to become who she really wants to be. The film won the 2023 SAE flickerup best youth short film at Flickerfest in Sydney.  Will says he was keen to replicate the techniques employed by cinematographer Marcell Rév (Euphoria) – his exposure settings, camera movement and use of lighting.

An experienced actor at just 24, Aimee Patmore from Sydney is nominated for her directorial debut, Pinch, a story focussing on eating disorders as one of the many mental health problems she observed on the rise during the pandemic but which is, as in her film, usually well-hidden. Aimee says "mental health is an epidemic in Australia, and it is not just a made-up thing in people's minds; mental illnesses are debilitating and life-threatening”. She hopes her film will raise awareness of some of the health issues society is facing while also shining a spotlight on upcoming Australian talent.

Last but certainly not least is the remarkable SUBSTRATUM, from the multi-talented 18-year-old Harvey Abrahams. It is an imaginative tour-de-force, telling a futuristic but timely story of an isolated young boy, his response to his dictator father and the legacy of violence and power. “I’ve attempted focusing on aesthetically pleasing compositions and lighting choices, as well as trying to show more intricate aspects of the human experience,” says Harvey. On top of  filling all the filmmaking roles, he also wrote the beguiling score.

The BBFF2023 Young Australian Filmmaker of the Year screening takes place at 12:30pm on Saturday 21 October at Palace Cinemas and will also screen at The Regent Cinema in Murwillumbah.    

The 17th Byron Bay International Film Festival runs from October 20-29.

For more Festival information visit

Keira Au and David Lam in Cameron Mitchell's Porcelain