Brisbane-based filmmaker Emily Avila has been awarded one of the Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowships. The fellowship aims to develop and foster rising talent and grants $50,000 to winners to produce a short film at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival.

Avila made her short film directing debut with In a Cane Field, a meditative murder mystery shot in the sugarcane fields of south-east Queensland. The film premiered at the Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival and has since won Best Short Film at Byron All Shorts and Best Cinematography at Flickerfest.

In a Cane Field was based on short story The Serrambi Case by Frances de Pontes Peebles, which highlights the varied perspectives on discovering a murder. Avila was inspired and wanted to capture the different reactions people could have to the same traumatic event.

“My mum had just been diagnosed with an incurable illness when I read the story and it really resonated with me at the time,” said Avila.

“I wanted the film to try and capture that overwhelming whirlpool of different emotional responses somehow, in a way that was poetic and meditative, whilst still using the dramatic engine of a murder mystery to keep you guessing.”

Avila has worked in the film industry in a variety of roles before her directorial debut, normally focusing on production, managing things behind the scenes and developing projects before they come to fruition. This gave her an edge in the production of In a Cane Field, making her more able to adapt to unexpected obstacles and face new challenges with well-honed skills.

De Pontes Peebles was also involved in the film adaption of his story, meeting with Avila over Skype and email over the five years the film was in development before shooting. Avila’s other projects extended the gestation time, and she also needed to build up her courage for directing. The end result has been worth the dedication and hard work.

“I was surprised by how invested the team became in the project – something that had been this little dream I’d been carrying for five years had become a living, breathing film that became important and creatively exciting for other people as well. That was very rewarding and has definitely given me the courage to continue down the long, hard road of directing,” said Avila.

Queensland has seen an emergence of talented artists in recent years. Fewer film school graduates are feeling the pull of Melbourne and Sydney, instead drawn to the greater number of filmmaking initiatives and large-scale productions coming out of Queensland.

Avila’s new film Fitting, debuting at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival, unfolds almost entirely within the fitting room of a lingerie department store, telling the story of a brief and intimate encounter between two strangers, a customer and a bra fitter.

Along with directing and producing, Avila is also the artistic director for the Heart of Gold International Short Film Festival, one of Australia’s largest short film festivals.

Read about the Brisbane International Film Festival here.