South African film Otelo Burning added to a long list of accolades over the weekend, picking up a hat-trick of awards at Australia's Byron Bay International Film Festival - the first film ever to claim the honour.

otelo burning

The film is about a group of youngsters from the Lamontville township in KwaZulu-Natal who discover a love of surfing.

It was shot in Durban, is in Zulu with English subtitles and stars Jafta Mamabolo, Thomas Gumede and Tshepang Mohlomi.

It is set in 1989 in the midst brewing conflict between two political groups in Lamontville, according to the filmmakers.

Surfing allows the characters Otelo Buthelezi, his younger brother Ntwe and friend New Year an escape from the violence of where they live. What follows is a story of human foibles at an explosive time in South Africa's history.

"Set against the backdrop of Nelson Mandela's release from prison, it looks at the enormous potential for change at the time of apartheid's downfall - all seen through the eyes of a child," said director Sarah Blecher.

Its clean sweep at the Byron Bay Festival was an important international win for the film. It won the Owners Club at Linnaeus Best Film Award, the Byron Bay Coffee Company Best Dramatic Feature Award and the Tavarus Best Surf Film Award.

Festival director J'aimee Skippon-Volk described the film as "exceptional" and as having "a lot of heart".

Thomas Gumede, who plays the role of New Year in the movie, accepted the awards via video link. "It is such an honour to be part of a project that comes from such a small town like Lamontville to be shown among an international audience."

Otelo Burning was in development for seven years and came out of an extensive workshop process held with a group of children in the township.

"It's not just a story that someone sat in a room and made up. It's a Lamontville story, told by the people of Lamontville," Blecher said.

It was taken to the No Borders IFP (Independent Filmmaker Project) in New York City in 2009 and was selected for the IFP Independent Film Narratice Labs in 2011; it was funded by South African investors through the Department of Trade and Industry's film incentive rebate.

The film gained international recognition and a slew of awards following its release in 2012.

These include official selection at London's BFI Film Festival, France's Lille Film Festival, India's Chennai Film Festival and the Seattle Film Festival, as well as a nomination for the Golden Needle Award at the Seattle Film Festival.

It won best cinematography and best child actor at the 2012 Africa Movie Academy Awards in Lagos and best film at the Cape Wine Lands Festival.

Blecher was also awarded the IFP Adrienne Shelly Director's Grant in New York.

More recent awards also included best lighting designer, make-up artist and best movie at the 2013 Africa Magic Viewer's Choice Awards, also hosted over the weekend.