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  • Writer's pictureMade in the West Film Festival

Introducing the 2023 Festival judging panel

Hold onto your hats because it’s the final day before submissions close here at Festival HQ and you know what that means… it’s time to tell you about this year’s judges!

We’re so thrilled to have a few new faces among the judging panel this year, and of course they will be joining the stellar line-up of talented folks that have been long-time supporters of Made in the West.

Together, these judges will share the extremely difficult task of deciding the award-winning films at this year’s festival.

Before we get to the announcement, we should probably remind you that we're in the final countdown to submissions closing soon!

So there’s still time to submit your short film for consideration as part of this year’s Official Selection... Could your film win one of our three top trophies on the night? Or maybe you might win over the audience and take home our Audience Choice Award?!

All you need is a cast member, crew member or location from Western Sydney. Check out the full entry criteria here..

There are just five short weeks before Western Sydney's favourite short film festival returns to the big screen - can you believe it? We’ll be back in everyone’s favourite screening house EVENT Cinemas on Saturday 25 November from 6pm.

Join us for the 12th annual Made in the West Film Festival as we take over the west wing again at Liverpool cinemas!

Thanks to our awesome venue sponsors, we’re going to be rolling out the red carpet for local filmmakers, popping the champagne and screening a fantastic line-up of Western Sydney-made films on the Vmax big screen in Liverpool.

It’s going to be a great night!! Mark your calendars and book it in with your friends now - Made in the West is coming up soon on Saturday 25 November. Save the date!

Keep an eye on our FB & Insta pages to stay in the loop about tickets, the official selection of films and all the exciting news we have in store for all our short film movie marathon lovers out there.

There have been some AMAZING entries so far this year and if it were left up to us to decide who wins our festival awards, let's face it, we'd probably find a way to reward everyone! So around this time every year, we thank our lucky stars to have festival judges.

This year we have ten wonderful judges whose keen eyes for screen mastery and years of creative experience will combine to help us decide who wins this year’s festival glassware.

The judges’ collective scores determine who will take home our gorgeous crystal trophies for ‘Best Music Video’, 'Best Student Film' and 'Best in the West' (for indie filmmakers).

Plus, their nominations decide our individual category winners - this year there are nine individual awards up for grabs: Best Director, Screenplay, Cinematographer, Editor, Sound Design, Production Design, Original Score, Lead Actor and Supporting Actor.

But remember - the most important judge on the night is YOU!

That’s right, we’re inviting you to join Western Sydney filmmakers on the red carpet from 6pm on Saturday 25 November to watch the year’s best short films, then VOTE for who you think should take home the highly coveted Audience Choice Award.

Entry to the festival is FREE and ticket registration opens in November! You might even spot some of our judges there on the red carpet as we celebrate all the amazing filmmakers from our region.

So, without further ado, let us introduce you to this year's judging panel:


Neil Sharma is a Sydney based director and writer. Mentored by Oscar winning auteur Taika Waititi and acclaimed director Jeffrey Walker, his directing credits include the International Emmy nominated reboot of Heartbreak High on Netflix, the recent remake of Mother and Son on the ABC, and the SBS Digital Original series Appetite. Neil cut his teeth in the film industry as an assistant director on productions such as Thor: Love and Thunder, Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Lion, Mad Max: Furiosa, The Cry, Mortal Kombat and The Dressmaker. Follow him online here. We’re so pleased to have Neil on our judging panel for the first time this year!


Wenlei Ma has been a TV and film critic, journalist, broadcaster and commentator for more than a decade, and has written for and appeared on prominent Australian media outlets including the ABC, The Guardian,, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sunday Telegraph. She is a weekly contributor on RN Breakfast, has hosted RN’s Stop Everything and appeared on ABC TV’s China Tonight. Wenlei is also the Chair of the NSW division of Media Diversity Australia. Follow her adventures online here. She is joining us as a festival judge for the first time in 2023 and we warmly welcome her to the panel!


Courtney Gibson is a consultant at C-Type, providing strategic and business advisory services to arts, screen and creative industries organisations. She is a former board member at ACE Parramatta and has extensive experience in screen commissioning and financing roles, working previously with Screen NSW and Queensland, SA Film Commission, Jungle Entertainment, ABC TV and SBS. With a background as a producer, Courtney is passionate about developing industry partnerships and fostering a more diverse screen industry by ensuring opportunities for communities and individuals historically under-represented in the creative industries sectors can thrive. 2023 marks Courtney’s first time on the Made in the West judging panel and we thank her for coming on board!


Michael Hamish Budd is an award-winning actor, director and producer, best known for playing Esmael, alongside Henry Cavill and Sigourney Weaver in The Cold Light of Day and playing the Zion Controller in The Matrix Reloaded. He recently directed the award-winning feature film Ruby’s Choice, starring Jane Seymour and Jacqueline McKenzie, and scored a nod for Best Director at the 2021 Australian Screen Industry Awards. His directorial debut, Love of my Life, starred Logie winner Peter O’Brien and his second feature film Life of the Party, starring Holly Brisley, premiered in cinemas around the country in 2017. He is the owner of production company Amazing People Pictures and his feature film Enter Sanctum was released in 2020. We’re stoked that Michael could join us again for his eighth year on our judging panel!

HOLLY KAYE-SMITH Dr Holly is a content creator and social change-maker. She has dedicated her life and research to creating change through inspiring communication and empowering other people to do the same. Dr Holly is in demand all over the world, frequenting podcasts, publications, and conferences to advise about sustainability issues and creative content solutions. She was the host of Enquiring Minds and The Why Generation at TVS Television Sydney, and of course, you would have seen her on the red carpet at Made in the West too, as she hosted our red carpet interviews in 2020 and 2021. We’re excited to welcome Dr Holly back to the panel for the second time this year!


David Byrne heads up production company The Rusty Cage and has over a decade of experience producing film and television content for global audiences. He grew up in the Blue Mountains and the idea of being a TV producer seemed a world away, but now he creates everything from commercials and promotional material, to documentaries and television series. Currently, he’s working on several documentaries covering topics including domestic violence, history and adventure sport. He also produces the long-running television series The Travel Bug and picturesque My Greek Odyssey, exploring the Greek Islands on a super yacht. We are very proud to welcome David back for his seventh year on our judging panel!


Dr Craig Morgan grew up in Lansvale and went to school in Cabramatta and Fairfield. As a former board-member of the Australian Guild of Screen Composers (AGSC), Craig is a regular jury member for the Australian Academy of Cinematic and Television Arts (AACTA), Tropfest, Tropscore and KidzFlickz - and in 2018 was inducted into the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) Academy. Craig holds a Graduate Diploma of Screen Music from Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) – his major project ‘PIG’ was an Official Selection 61st Berlin International Film Festival in 2011. Craig holds a Master of Science (MSc) Research publication from Macquarie University and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from The Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney. This is the sixth time Craig will bring his expertise to our judging panel and we are very thankful he could join us!


Peter Millynn is a freelance screen educator and practitioner with more than 30 years experience in the industry as an actor, writer, musician, recording studio operator, production accountant, production manager and producer. He has also written comedy for both radio and television, and has worked extensively in Music Videos, TVCs, Short Film and Feature Films. Peter’s credits in production include Undressing Vanessa, Kokoda and The Saviour. Peter was employed for 16 years at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) in both teaching and senior management roles. Peter has, at AFTRS, AFTT / IFSS and ISA, mentored and overseen the development and production of in excess of 950 student short films including numerous festival winners and 3 Academy Award nominees. This is Peter's sixth year on our judging panel and we’re lucky to have his keen eye judging this year’s films!


Dr Wendy Chandler is an animation specialist and award-winning filmmaker based in the Blue Mountains. Former producer at Parasol Productions, she has directed numerous short films such as Union Street, Vengeance, The Summer of 77 and produced and co-directed the animation series Heirlooms. AFTRS alum Wendy has a Doctorate in Creative Arts and is now lecturing in screen media at WSU. She is a strong advocate for improving lives and educational opportunities for the people of Timor-Leste through her work with the Blue Mountains East Timor Sisters and Blue Mountains Together for Timor and has worked at Casa de Produção Audiovisual training young filmmakers in Timor-Leste. We’re so pleased to have Wendy on our judging panel for the third time this year!


Dr Iqbal Barkat is a digital artist and filmmaker. He teaches screen production at Macquarie University and is a proponent and practitioner of community and participatory arts, specialising in works involving a combination of actors and non-actors, often including fictional elements at the intersection of digital media with other art forms. He is co-director and producer of the documentary This is Our School, currently screening on SBS. This is his tenth time on our judging panel at Made in the West (yep, he has been with us since the start!) and we are very pleased he is along for the ride once again.


Let’s hear it for 2023 judges!

From the entire team here at Made in the West and everyone involved in this year’s festival, we would like to thank this wonderful panel for generously donating their time and expertise to judge this year’s films. We really appreciate it and we are looking forward to receiving your scores!

And of course, the judging panel’s decision is final – we’ll award three beautiful trophies and nine category prizes to the winners according to their recommendations… but as we said before, that isn’t the end of the story!

The final judge at this year’s Made in the West Film Festival is YOU!

Firstly, as always, will you be able to vote in person for the Audience Choice Award on Saturday 25 November at Event Cinemas, sending someone home with an amazing trophy and all the glory that comes with winning the audience vote!

And secondly, this year we have an extra special voting opportunity at our Online Festival happening ALL SUMMER LONG – we’re so excited!

That’s right – we’re bringing the red carpet to folks at home which includes the return of a stack of awards that you can vote for from home, including Best Horror, Comedy, Drama and Sci Fi, plus Best Web Series, Documentary and Animation. How great is that??!

We’re SUPER keen to reward all that hard work and get some awards out there for all the amazing filmmakers doing great work.

Plus, as always, there’s the top prize of them all – the People’s Choice Award – sweeping the tally for the best film over all, as voted by our at-home audience.

The 2023 Made in the West Online Festival kicks off at the start of December and runs all the way through to the end of January 2024.

That’ll be MORE than enough time to rope in your friends, extended family, long lost overseas relatives and half the bloody WORLD to see your film and vote for their favourite as part of this year’s Made in the West Film Festival screenings.

We can’t wait!!

So what are you waiting for??

We’ll see you on the red carpet soon, Western Sydney!


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