In June 2008, the Sydney Film Festival will become the first in Australia to have an official FIAPF-approved competition, organisers announced today.

The New South Wales state government has committed nearly $1.8m (A$2m) additional funding over the next four years. Twelve features will be in competition, judged by a jury of five, including two Australians. The competition will feature red-carpet screenings and the prize will be awarded to the best director or producer at a black-tie gala function.

SFF principal sponsor Hunter Hall Investment Management has pledged a A$60,000 cash prize.

At the announcement, producer/director George Miller (Happy Feet) said the competition would boost SFF's profile. 'If we give it our own Aussie brand then I think that's really great,' he said.

Executive director Clare Stewart, who helmed her first SFF this year - 17 days, 91 short films, 199 features - said the money was coming through the NSW government's major events funding.

The benefits of the international competition are twofold, Stewart said from Toronto.

'It's going to give us the opportunity to leverage the programming a lot further,' she said. 'We will be bringing in more international guests. We're looking at inviting two guests for each film in the official competition. And it will give us an edge in terms of attracting films, especially given the cash prize is so substantial.'

A series of industry engagement initiatives with the NSW Film and Television Office will be held for visiting filmmakers, including round-table sessions with local industry members, and location and facility touring.