The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) tonight presents the Emerging Australian Filmmaker Award to director Jonathan auf der Heide for his short film Hell's Gate, one week before he goes into production on a feature-length version.

The low-budget privately-financed feature, like the short, is a dramatic thriller about the human instinct to survive and it is based on the exploits of Alexander Pearce, the only man in Australian history convicted of cannibalism. The Irish convict was hanged in 1824.

Oscar Redding plays Pearce, and also wrote the script and is executive producer alongside auf der Heide. He starved himself and lived rough for several weeks to get himself ready for the film's final scene, which has already been shot. The all-male cast of mainly theatre actors includes Mark Winter and Tony Wright.

Madman has signed on as Australian distributor but no sales agent is attached.

Maggie Miles is producing and veteran Ellery Ryan is the cinematographer. Filming will take place over six weeks from Aug 15, predominantly in Victoria's Otway Ranges but with one week in the island state of Tasmania, the location of the true story.

The story of Pearce seems to have captured the imagination of several Australian filmmakers: Lucky Miles director James Michael Rowland has been making a television documentary on Pearce for the public broadcaster ABC TV, and the horror thriller Dying Breed, directed by Jody Dwyer for Arclight and Omnilab, and due in Australian cinemas in November, uses the premise that Pearce's ancestors still roam the Tasmanian wilderness.

A total of 88 shorts from across the world have been screened in competition at MIFF, which closes on Sunday. The full list of winners is as follows:

City of Melbourne Grand Prix for Best Short Film
Dennis (Denmark), director Mads Matthiesen

Melbourne Airport Emerging Australian Filmmaker and the Best Student Production
Hell's Gates (Australia), Jonathan auf der Heide

Film Victoria Erwin Rado Award for Best Australian Short Film and the Australian Writer's Guild Award for Best Short Screenplay
296 Smith Street (Australia), John Evagora

Nova Cinemas Award for Creative Excellence in an Australian Short Film
Mutt (Australia), Glen Hunwick; I Love Sarah Jane (Australia), Spencer Susser

Best Fiction
Two Birds (Iceland), Runar Runarsson

Best Documentary
Heart (Australia), Amy Gebhardt

Best Animation
I Am The Walrus (Canada), Josh Raskin; John And Karen (UK), Matthew Walker

Best Experimental Short Films
Mumbler (Belgium), Marc Roels and Wim Reygaert

Panavision Best Australian Achievement in Cinematography
The Ground Beneath (Australia), Simon Chapmen

Avid Technology for Best Achievement in Editing
Jerrycan (Australia), Jack Hutchings

Shannon's Way Award for Short Film Promoting Human Rights New Boy, Steph Green

Performance Award/Special Citation
Steve Mousakis and Tony Niholakopoulos, 296 Smith Street