Alps, a movie about a weird cult that hires its members out to replace deceased people, won the Jury award in the Official Competition at Sydney’s 59th Film Festival.

Announcing the award from the Cruise Bar overlooking Sydney’s Opera House, jury President Rachel Ward described the movie as combining ‘pathos, black humour and taut menace in a film that is at once challenging and highly rewarding.’ She added, ‘It was a very challenging but enlightening process to debate the pros and cons of each movie… the competition does offer a fantastic opportunity to view and talk film.’

The Jury’s brief was to choose a courageous, audacious and cutting-edge film, and Alps beat out other high calibre finalists including Walter Salles’ On the Road, Sundance favourite Beasts of the Southern Wild, Oscar nominee Mr Lazhar and Australian favourite, Cate Shortland’s Lore. Alps was directed by Greek Filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos whose other offbeat and edgy films include the black comedy Dogtooth (2009) and he also produced the strange and original Attenburg (2010).

Deceased people was also the theme of the Foxtel Australian Documentary Award winner, Killing Anna by director/ writer/ producer (and erstwhile anthropology student) Paul Gallasch. Unable to cope with a relationship break up, Gallasch pretends his ex-lover is dead. The documentary features the funeral service Gallash held in his attempt to come to terms with the loss of Anna.

Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films went to Yardbird, a film about a young girl who takes on the men who are bullying her father, by director Michael Spiccia and writer Julius Avery, Dumpy Goes to the Big Smoke by Mirrah Foules and a magical animation called The Maker by Christopher Kezelos.

‘The competition has done a great deal to raise the profile of the Sydney Film Festival’, said Festival Director Nashen Moodley a few minutes before the winner’s announcement. ‘We put together a group of very special films in a range of styles. We had filmmakers in their 80s through to very young filmmakers. It was exciting to find those films and we hope you enjoyed them.’

The red carpet was rolled out for the last time at the State Theatre’s closing night film Safety Not Guaranteed, by US director Colin Trevorrow. Festival offices at Sydney’s Hilton hotel wrapped up, international guests took their leave as Sydney’s rains finally cleared to blue skies and balmy winter weather, and all that was left was to count the votes for the Showtime Channel Audience Awards.

Audiences chose Death of a Japanese Salesman as the Best Documentary. Already picking up recognition at Muhr Asia Africa and San Sebastian festivals, the documentary by first time director Mami Sunada tells the story of her father, a workaholic and a control freak, who discovers just after he retires that he has terminal cancer.

And it was the drama Mr Lazhar from Canadian director Philippe Falardeau that won audiences’ hearts once again by taking out the prize for Best Narrative Feature. A simple and powerful story about a supply teacher who steps in to help a class of schoolchildren recover from a terrible trauma, Mr Lazhar was a big audience hit at Sundance in January this year and was also nominated for an Oscar.

It’s a wrap.