Nicolas Winding Refn’s violent thriller, starring Ryan Gosling, wins top prize at the Sydney Film Festival.

Only God Forgives, which stars Ryan Gosling as a volatile drugs trafficker in Thailand, has won the $57,500 (A$60,000) Sydney Film Prize, after the jury took more than six hours to reach a decision.

It is the second time that Danish writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn has won the award. His prison drama, Bronson, won in 2009, the year after the Sydney Film Festival introduced the award.

The prize was announced on the closing night of the film festival (June 5-16), when a message from the director was read out: “I am very honoured and extremely excited to have received this honourable award from a country that in my opinion has one of the great film histories of the world.”

Icon releases Only God Forgives in Australia on July 18.

“In the true spirit of the competition criteria, we award a visually mesmerizing and disturbing film, which polarised our opinions,” said jury president, the actor Hugo Weaving.

The 12 films in competition were chosen, according to this year’s programme, on the basis that they have “emotional power and resonance; are audacious, cutting-edge, courageous; and go beyond the usual treatment of the subject matter”.

All were European or co-productions involving Europe except The Rocket, an Australian drama filmed in Laos, and the Canadian documentary Stories We Tell.

Director Dylan McDonald’s Buckskin, about a young man who has dedicated his life to his Aboriginal culture, won the $9,600 (A$10,000) Foxtel Australian Documentary Prize.

Dylan is the son of the film’s producer, Penelope McDonald (director of the Northern Territory Film Office, as well as Samson & Delilah writer-director Warwick Thornton.

Two projects were recommended: Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls, about Burma’s first all-girl band, and Big Name No Blanket, about the Warumpi Band.

In the short film awards, Perception was judged the best live action film in the Dendy Awards, Butterflies won the Yoram Gross Animation Award and David Lyons was awarded the Rouben Mamoulian Award for his direction of Record.