Alethea Jones spends her life around scripts, but she couldn't have written herself a better scene than reality delivered on Sunday night, when she was handed the top Tropfest gong by Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush.
They were part of the star-studded judging panel along with Nicole Kidman, Toni Collette and Asher Keddie who picked Alethea's short film Lemonade Stand to win the prestigious competition's first prize, which includes $10,000 cash, a trip to LA to meet film industry executives and a Nikon D800 camera.
"It was so surreal," Alethea, who grew up in Alstonville, told The Echo. "It all went very slow for me, not in a boring way mind you! I was very calm… I felt like I was in the eye of a storm.
"It was truly humbling. There were some pretty big industry names and the fact they would show up and support films at the short film stage was pretty mind blowing... We're all amateur filmmakers just trying to carve out our careers but they were really engaged. It was raining and there was a thunderstorm, there were people moving their chairs and running around and the judges just stayed really intent, watching the screen - they were undercover though, they weren't getting wet!" she laughed.
Alethea, now aged 32, attended Alstonville Primary, Alstonville High and Trinity and said it was her father Angelo who first got her interested in the world of cinema.
"My dad is a massive film buff… I actually wanted to be an actor and did drama classes with Jenny Johnston from Brainstorm Productions and studied drama at Trinity under Peter Derrett… they were real inspirations," Alethea said. "But gradually I realised the putting together of films was much more interesting to me than being a character.
"The thing I love most about film is the collaboration… seeing people at their best. For me as director I need to give them an environment where they can realise their potential, whether it's in cinematography or costume. Listening to their ideas and shaping that with them."
Lemonade Stand is comedy about Benny (played by writer Tim Potter) and his granddad (John Flaus), who have been running a successful lemonade stand in their neighbourhood for years until someone sticks their nose in.
She said she couldn't say why the judges picked it from the 15 other finalists, but believed the massive effort put in during its creation was a factor in the winning formula.
"I think our film has a lot of heart and that's embedded in the story," Alethea said. "Every crew member put a lot into it… and everyone had fun. We all laughed a lot in the making of it and I think that shines through."
Alethea has several projects in the early stages of development including six feature films and three TV series that she plans to discuss with industry professionals on her trip to LA. She has three months to make the trip and just has to work it around her upcoming wedding to fiancé Andrew in March.
She says her dream is to make feature films and direct television, and would like to "collect" a crew of people she feels passionate about collaborating with.
"I'll be working on shoots and think 'Oooh I like that person', or 'I really want to work with that editor again'. I'd just like to be a in a position to pay them money - they've all been doing it for free!" she laughed.
Alethea said she was humbled by the award and that it was lovely for her parents to see her achieving in her chosen career.
"It's a big risk when your kid says they want to go off and make films and their support all the way through has been amazing. They've never tried to steer me onto a more conventional career so every tiny success is huge," she said. "It's only a short film but every success is big for me. I want to make them proud."
Lemonade Stand can be viewed online at www.youtube.com
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