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Saturday
Dec262015

THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART 1: THE TEN BEST FESTIVAL SESSIONS OF 2015

Leaving the studio dross and multiplex clutter behind (we'll get to that soon), let’s consider the thrill of walking blindly into a film festival screening. You may have read the programme blurb, or liked the director’s last film, or heard some buzz from overseas. Or maybe you’ve just found yourself with an unplanned spare couple of hours. When you stumble on an unheralded gem, that wonderful sense of discovery that energises you…well, it’s why I do what I do. Below are ten films (in no order) that played the Australian film festival circuit in 2015, films that may still be searching for wider distribution, still working the international content markets or already available via various platforms, including self-distribution. Each proved a revelation, a little miracle of pure cinema…

JERUZALEM
Screened at Jewish International Film Festival.
The Paz brothers, Yoav and Doron, drag the Israeli film industry kicking and screaming (literally) into the found-footage genre with this end-of-the-world rollercoaster ride. Utilising the rich biblical influences of the region’s three key religions and working in the latest eyewear-camera tech with a fluid, sure-handed directorial touch, the young filmmakers relate the story of two American tourists (Yael Groblas, pictured above; Danielle Jadelyn) caught up in an apocalyptic uprising of demonic entities, as foretold in the scripture (or something like that). Frankly, logic be damned; the ‘shaky-cam’ moments are terrifying, the protagonists believable, the creature effects superb.  

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CONCRETE
Screened at Revelation Perth International Film Festival.
“Shot on next-to-no budget over several years with friend and family non-pro actors in key roles, Stewart and Dohan have conjured a high-school classic; a ‘Gilliam-esque’ teen-dream landscape filled with giddy humour, sweet innocence and touching emotion…” 
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review here.

RAIDERS!: THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE
Screened at Sydney Underground Film Festival.
Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb were 11 year-old film fanatics when, in 1982, they set about shooting their wildly ambitious, passion-driven shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of The Lost Ark. In Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen’s doco, the men reunite to put everything on the line to get the one scene they were never able to conjure – the fistfight between a Nazi heavy and Indy under the whirling blades of a Luftwaffe flying-wing. The staging of the stunt is thrilling, of course, but it is the study in strained friendships and the corrosive impact of a creative dream unfulfilled that makes Raiders! such a bittersweet, emotionally resonant work.  

A FIGHTING SEASON
Screened at Byron Bay International Film Festival.
Clayne Crawford (pictured, right, with co-star Lew Temple) gives a powerhouse performance in silent inner rage as the PTSD-afflicted infantryman returning to his forever altered small town life in Oden Roberts devastating drama, A Fighting Season. Tackling head-on such rich elements as military machismo, the shady ethics of military recruitment and the disassociation that ex-servicemen feel for the very society they were trained to defend, Roberts’ script addresses the neglect and loneliness that returning troops suffer through following repeated hot-zone deployment; Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker tackled similar issues, but with infinitely less honesty and insight.
Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with director Oden Roberts here. 

THE SPIDERWEB HOUSE
Screened at Melbourne International Film Festival.
Mara Ibel-Eibesfeldt’s fantasy/drama tracks the disintegrating lives of three pre-teens left to fend for themselves when abandoned by their mother in working-class Heidelberg. Sounds heavy, and it is, but the lines between the harsh reality of an adult-free life and the collective power of the children’s imagination soon begin to blur. The result is a wondrous, if occasionally nightmarish fairy-tale vision of the strength of the human spirit and the bond shared between siblings during dire times. As the three kids, Ben Litwischu, Lutz Simon Eilert and Helena Pieske share a rare natural chemistry; they may be the year’s best acting ensemble.

BEREAVE
Screened at Byron Bay International Film Festival.
“Recalling Michael Haneke’s Amour in its exploration of fading memory, mature-age love and dwindling life force but played against the broader backdrop of the noir-ish LA sprawl, Bereave is an achingly insightful, darkly humorous, richly rewarding work…”
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review here.

ASTRAEA
Screened at A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival.
It was known as ‘The Drop’; the planet’s population all but extinguished in sixteen days by an unexplained natural occurence. Step-siblings Astraea (a superb Nurea Duhart) and Matthew (Scotty Crowe; pictured, right, with Duhart), somehow immune to the new death, have bonded in their struggle. Their journey of faith to find family in Nova Scotia leads them to fellow survivors, cousins James (Dan O’Brien) and Callie (Jessica Cummings), deep in the snowbound forests of Maine. Director Kristjan Thor melds desperation, humanity and survival instincts into a coming-of-age narrative that plays both deeply tragic and soulfully inspiring; earned Best Film honours from the Fantastic Planet strand of the festival.

SUNDAY
Screened at Byron Bay International Film Festival.
“With the cracked, crumbling façade of earthquake-ravaged Christchurch as a metaphorical backdrop, Michelle Joy Lloyd’s sad, sweet two-hander Sunday deftly explores the complexities of balancing the fantasy of youthful ‘true love’ with the realities of late twenty-something adult life…”
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review here.

THE VISIT: AN ALIEN ENCOUNTER
Screened at Antenna Documentary Film Festival.
Danish director Michael Madsen crafts a profoundly pondered, deeply intelligent and slyly ridiculous second feature with his gripping study in ‘What if…’ hypothesising. Having gathered scientists, philosophers and diplomats of international renown, Madsen poses the question, ‘How would we greet an alien visitation?’ The classic B-movie premise is afforded Mensa-level musings; Madsen’s pristine, high-gloss lensing adds to the (semi)seriousness. The result is a spellbinding piece of pseudo-factual filmmaking. 

HELLIONS
Screened at Monster Fest, Melbourne.
Some critics carped the Canadian indie-cinema great Bruce McDonald’s latest was all homage, no real horror. And, to be fair, there are some familiar beats; the pregnant teenager (Chloe Rose; pictured, right) home alone on Halloween, tormented by wicked mask-wearers, has been done before. But McDonald, like fellow Canuck iconoclast Guy Maddin, is a student of cinema whose talent truly pulsates when he reworks well-established tropes. To wit, Hellions; his giddy, shocking, truly creepy journey down a rabbit hole to Hell and back again is both a disconcerting visual experiment (to accentuate the blood-red moon, much of the film is bathed in a crimson hue) and…well, a little nuts. In a good way.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Ground We Won, Tab Hunter Confidential, Palio, My Skinny Sister, H., Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, III, Goodbye Mommy, Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous, Black Horse Memories, The Horses of Fukushima.

Read The Year in Review, Part 2: Australian Cinema in 2015 here.
Read The Year in Review, Part 3: Our Ten favourite Films of 2015 here. 

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