On 6th September, 600 guests congregated at the prestigious Concourse on Sydney's North Shore to attend FOA's 2017 Gala Awards Night. They were there to walk the red carpet, to enjoy beautiful performances from visually musicians Matt McLaren and Stacee Parkinson, to delight in the spectacle of one hundred dancers with disability lighting up the stage and, of course, to celebrate the winners and all the contributors in this year's festival.

It was, as we have come to expect over the last nine years, a great night - in equal parts funny, moving and inspirational. Judge Lisa Duff singled out 'the passion of the film makers and the diversity of the stories'. NOVA CEO Martin Wren spoke of the core reasons behind FOA. 'Everybody in our society deserves to participate fully,' he reminded us. 'Film does this well, because it touches our hearts.' But perhaps it was FOA patron Paula Duncan who put it most simply: 'I love this night,' she said.

Online voters gave the chocolates to Sri Lankan entrant Life of Silent, Wonthaggi's Bass Coast Specialist School doco We Are Here, and Sam Bateman's quirky one man band in Catsperger.

Best Actors went to Kenyan Bill Kasanda in Chances and a very modest Evan Rowe for The Dr's Appointment. 'I definitely didn't think I was the best Australian actor,' declared Evan. 'But I'll take that! That's fine. That's good.'

International winner, John Lawson identified the 'new normal' he was looking for in Whitney's Wedding, telling the audience: 'In the US about 1% of the characters in TV and film have a disability, and most of them are played by able bodied people...We made a film where 95% of the characters had a disability.'

Documentary awards went to Carlson School's eye-opening Yes We Can and Karenza Ebejer's story of the talented Tilly Jones. Kellyville High School's powerful depiction of Alzheimer's Disease King Jack and Jared Hargreaves' visually rich Mr. Joe took out the short film gongs. NOVA Choice winner Blaise Borrer took home a brand new Kia Cerato for his stunning declaration of identity in Life Without Limitations and expressed his gratitude 'for being able to share these stories that only people like us can tell.' And the Kia? 'I have my license! And now I have a car to go with it!'

And that's not it for 2017. FOA's third New York screening takes place on October 3-6, following a showing in Auckland on September 13 and then heading to Zimbabwe on October 21!