Australian films and co-productions are eligible, if they have not had a theatrical release locally.

CinefestOz has secured its position as part of Australia’s major film festival scene and won the hearts of Australian filmmakers by introducing an annual $89,000 (A$100,000) cash prize for best Australian film.

“We will be requiring the films to have not had a theatrical release in Australia,” CinefestOz board member Helen Shervington told ScreenDaily. “Co-productions with Australia are eligible, as are feature length documentaries. We will set up a pre-selection committee and imagine, in the first instance, that we will have four to six films in competition.”

Other criteria are yet to be determined including whether films have to be world, Australian or Western Australian premieres.

Entries will be accepted from February 28 to June 30 in time for the 2014 edition of the festival, which will run from August 20 to 24.

The new prize is the biggest for film in Australia – the Sydney Film Prize for films of any nationality is worth $53,000 (A$60,000) – and may well be the biggest cultural prize of any kind in the country.

The six-year-old CinefestOZ is held in the southwest corner of Western Australia (WA), an area best known for Margaret River wines, and is driven by a group of local Busselton-based businesspeople.

They describe it as a “destination film festival” and, in line with this, the prize money and setup costs have been secured via a three-year sponsorship deal with Tourism WA’s events division Eventscorp. This is a Western Australian Government body part-funded via royalties applied to the companies that benefit from WA’s mining and resources boom.

“The audience for our films tend to be an older demographic and they travel and are interested in the region’s other attractions such as the wine, food, scenery and other attractions. ” said Shervington. “We are about trying to create an event as opposed to seeing a film.”

Only French – in celebration of the area’s historic links to France – and Australian films are shown and organisers are talking to the French Embassy about inviting a leading light from the French film industry onto the jury. 

The home-grown fare far outshines the French content in terms of profile and popularity but Shervington hints that this may be addressed in the near future, providing they can secure French sponsorship.

Australian actor, director and CinéfestOZ patron David Wenham says there is tangible incentive for Australian filmmakers to enter the film prize, as funding for projects remains the film industry’s greatest challenge.

“This prize goes a long way to encourage excellence in Australian filmmaking and support the nation’s vibrant industry. It is a significant inducement for any hardworking filmmaker to seriously consider coming to Western Australia in August,” he said in a statement.

WA is in the middle of a film-making boom. New films not yet released include: Kriv Stenders’ Kill Me Three Times, starring Simon Pegg; Julius Avery’s Son of a Gun, starring Ewan McGregor; John V Soto’s The Reckoning, starring Jonathan LaPaglia and Luke Hemsworth; and Zak Hilditch’s These Final Hours starring Nathan Phillips.