Australia’s critics last night (April 10) gave Snowtown a resounding thumbs up, presenting it with three key awards: best film, best director for Justin Kurzel and best actor for Daniel Henshall.

Snowtown’s producers, Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw, were not in Sydney to collect the most significant Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA) Award as the Warp Films Australia pair are in New Zealand making their second film Shopping, which is being directed by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland.

Collecting the trophy on their behalf, Henshall said he knew they would be pleased to be recognised for taking a risk and added a message of his own: “These girls are gutsy and determined women.”

Three Australian best film awards are given out each year – by the FCCA, the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) and under the IF Awards banner – and the feel-good crowd-pleasing Red Dog had already won the other two.

While both Kurzel and Henshall were honoured by the AACTA, it is a significant turn-around for the visceral, hard-to-watch and brilliantly made Snowtown, a drama about the actions of a real-life serial killer that shows a dog being shot, to be crowned best film.

Other key critics’ awards went to actor Emily Watson for her performance in the heart-breaking UK-Australian co-production Oranges And Sunshine and to writer Judy Morris for her script of the comedy of manners The Eye Of The Storm, which is currently doing the US festival circuit in advance of its cinema release there. Both films were nominated for best film, as was The Hunter and Burning Man. All four won two awards each.

The principal presenter of the FCCA Awards was Academy Award winner Adam Elliot, who had just flown in from Paris where he and producer Brian Rosen have been trying to raise $12m for Elliot’s second animated feature.

“Unfortunately they told us to go to Greece but we are determined to keep fighting,” he joked. The awards were held at the Australian Film, Television & Radio School.

The full list of winners is as follows:

Best Film: Snowtown, producers Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw

Best Director: Justin Kurzel, Snowtown

Best Screenplay: Judy Morris, The Eye Of The Storm

Best Actress: Emily Watson, Oranges And Sunshine

Best Actor: Daniel Henshall, Snowtown

Best Supporting Actress: Alexandra Schepisi for The Eye Of The Storm, Frances O’Connor, The Hunter.

Best Supporting Actor: Hugo Weaving, Oranges And Sunshine

Best Performance by a Young Actor: Daniel Connors, Toomelah

Best Cinematography: Robert Humphreys, The Hunter

Best Editing: Martin Connor, Burning Man

Best Music Score: Lisa Gerrard, Burning Man