Whanganui actor Libby Hunsdale has won international acclaim for her lead role in the film Poppy after receiving the best actress award at a film festival in New York.
Hunsdale was awarded the Best Actress in a Narrative Feature award and the film Poppy was one of two winners in the Best Narrative Feature Film in the SR Socially Relevant Film Festival New York.
Hunsdale's portrayal of a young woman with Down syndrome who takes control of her life in order to follow her dream of becoming an auto mechanic resonated with American audiences. The winners were announced on March 21 which coincided with World Down Syndrome Day.
Although thrilled by news of the award, Hunsdale said she was not too disappointed she was not able to travel to New York to collect it in person.
"I love Whanganui and I don't think I would want to be anywhere else at the moment.
"I'm really proud to win and I'm so happy for Linda [Niccol - the film's director]. It would have been great to receive the award in person but I'm happy where I am."
Hunsdale said she was currently enjoying a hospitality training course at Training 4 You and she has recently enjoyed working backstage at the Wanganui Repertory Theatre helping with make-up and costumes.
Niccol said she and producers Robin Laing and Alex Cole-Baker were delighted with the recognition.
"Poppy has screened at a number of film festivals and I was unsure how American audiences would respond to the film," said Niccol.
"These awards are affirmation that they have responded well and we're thrilled for Libby. It could open opportunities for other roles for her."
Niccol cast Hunsdale for the lead role in 2019 and a supporting cast and crew were found before filming got underway in Paraparaumu on the Kāpiti Coast just before the Covid-19 level 4 lockdown in March 2020.
Production resumed at the end of May 2020 under level 2 health and safety protocols and the film opened in New Zealand cinemas in May last year.
New Zealand Down Syndrome Association national executive officer Zandra Vaccarino said it was "very appropriate" that Hunsdale received the award on the international day of recognition.
"We congratulate Libby on her achievement and wish that she could have been there to receive the award in person.
"Another young woman with Down syndrome also won an award for her part in a documentary film. We watched the awards online and we were all cheering for Libby."
The SR festival is in its ninth year and aims to satisfy a market need for socially relevant film content and everyday positive human stories.