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Belfast Film Festival award winners revealed

Polish, Irish and American film directors claimed the top prizes at this year’s Belfast Film Festival.

Dublin filmmaker Mike Hayes won the short film competition, while Janusz Mrozowski from Poland took the documentary contest gong. And the audience award went to American director Joss Whedon.

The festival, which drew to a close at the weekend, annually showcases both local talent and the best in new international cinema.

A platform for fledgling filmmakers from across the island of Ireland, the short film competition attracted over 50 entries this year covering a range of genres, from animation to docudrama.

And Toy Soldiers by Mike Hayes was chosen as the best by judges Jennifer Johnson (short film maker, film and digital arts education sector), Emma McErlean (Skewiff Theatre Company) and Chris Martin (producer).

The Dubliner’s winning entry was described by the judges as “a wonderfully scripted and paced short film made all the more extraordinary by the performances director Mike Hayes has achieved with his young cast”.

Toy Soldiers is the story of 16-year-old Shane, who finds himself in the reluctant position of babysitter to his kid brother Charlie while his mother is at work. When Shane makes a seemingly innocuous discovery one day his and Charlie's lives are changed forever.

The festival’s Maysles Brothers Documentary Competition, named after documentary legend Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens) who along with his brother was among the first to make non-fiction feature films, celebrates the best of new observational documentary work from around the world.

This year’s winning feature was Bad Boy High Security Cell, directed by Janusz Mrozowski. The Polish filmmaker offers an exceptional look into the life of a 28-year-old prisoner locked up for armed robbery.

Fionola Meredith (journalist and commentator) and David Barker (documentary filmmaker) judged the competition. They said Bad Boy High Security Cell was an extraordinary feat.

“Set in the solitary confinement wing of a high security prison, it features only one man: Damian, a convicted Polish bank robber. The stark context provides the condition for a compelling meditation on selfhood, powerlessness and the hope of a new life," they pointed out.

The audience award is chosen each year by those attending films in the new cinema section of the festival programme.  This year's award went to Joss Whedon for Much Ado About Nothing, a unique take on Shakespeare's story of sparring lovers Beatrice and Benedict and which offers a dark, sexy and occasionally absurd view of the intricate game that is love.

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