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Entries in Film Festivals (3)



Having overseen the selection of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival line-up from 100s of hopefuls, the question is there to be asked…what would Nashen watch, again? With his bums-to-seats ratio growing annually and a new raft of films and venues in the mix, there’s an argument to be made that Nashen Moodley is the most successful festival director in Sydney Film Festival history. 

On May 17, a gathering of industry insiders joined journos and sponsors at the Abode Bar in Sydney’s Park Royal Hotel to get the scoop on the best of the fest from the man himself… 

WE DON’T NEED A MAP: Dir Warwick Thornton
Nashen says: “A couple of years ago, Warwick made a very controversial statement that the Southern Cross as a symbol had become the new swastika. He got into a lot of trouble for that but, instead of shying away from it, Warwick decided to make a film about it. It’s a clever documentary that, like the man himself, is funny and provocative.”
Critics say: Nothing, yet; the Opening Night film is having its world premiere at Sydney.

FELICITE: Dir. Alain Gomis
Nashen says: “So little is known about African cinema outside of Africa, which is a very sad fact. Set in the Congolese city of Kanchasa, this film is filled with music and magic as well as tragedy. It’s a remarkable film because it subverts the ideals of African cinema in many ways, presenting hardship but within a love story, a resilience against hardship.”
Critics say: “A formally complex work, too long perhaps and occasionally opaque in its meaning, but a daring ride to those wanting to glimpse the best of African cinema.” – The Film Stage

LITTLE HOURS: Dir: Jeff Baena
Nashen says: “This one will cause a little trouble, I think, but it’s very funny. It’s set in a nunnery, where some nuns are not as committed to their as they should be when a hunky deaf mute Dave Franco enters their world. The trailer has made some people angry, but it’s all loosely based on The Decameron, so they’ve had 700 years to be angry about it.”
Critics say: “as it delivers plenty of laughs for its duration it’s difficult to fault The Little Hours for *only* being a funny film.” – Film School Rejects

BLUE: Dir. Karina Holden
Nashen says: “This film paints a horrifying picture about what is going on in our oceans at the moment. Fortunately, we are introduced the film to a number of heroes who are challenging what has been accepted for too long and are changing how are oceans are being treated.”
Critics say: Nothing, yet; film is having its World Premiere at Sydney.

THE BEGUILED: Dir. Sofia Coppola.
Nashen says: “There’s sexual tension, heresy, the type of ‘southern hospitality’ that you’ve not seen before. Nicole Kidman is remarkable in this role, that sees her balance between extreme good and quite extreme evil.”
Critics say: “Although the picture is noticeably lacking in taut suspense of the conventional variety, it flies in close to a subtler, hotter flame: The sensuality of deceit.” – TIME

Nashen says: "I’ve been to many Sundance festivals and I can’t recall any films that got a reaction like Patti Cake$. It is very inspirational, with a wonderful performance in the lead by Australian actress Danielle McDonald. It was the focus of a big bidding war and will be one of the best session at our festival.”
Critics say: “Every few years, an indie character comes along who so perfectly captures what it’s like to be mocked and marginalized, even as she refuses to let the bullies and abusers have the last word. That’s the kind of character Patti Cake$ is, and that’s why she stands to become one of the year’s most endearing discoveries” – Variety

THE UNTAMED: Dir. Amat Escalante.
Nashen says: “Escalante has made quite a few very controversial, very extreme films, most notably Heli. He changes tack once again with The Untamed, which is about…um, how to say this…I guess…a sex monster from another planet, capable of providing humans with the greatest pleasure they’ve ever experienced. It is science-fiction, erotica and social realism. It is not one for everyone, I admit.”
Critics say: “Imagine if H.P. Lovecraft had written The Joy of Sex, or better still a porn parody of Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker.” – CineVue

RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD: Dir.Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana.
Nashen says: “It is about how native Americans and their music has impacted all kinds of music across many decades. It is a fantastic, surprisning film with so much great music.”
Critics say: “Along with showcasing the evolution of rock music, blues, jazz, folk, pop and even hip hop, Rumble also provides great insight into the hardships that Native Americans endured over the years.” – In The Seats.

Nashen says: “Australia’s first Muslim rom-com. It stars Osamah Sami, the very person upon whom the incredible true story is based. He told his story to a film producer friend, who said ‘We have to make this into a film’.”
Critics say: Nothing, yet; the film is having one of its first showings at Sydney.

OKJA: Dir. Bong Joon-ho
Nashen says: “I have admired this director for a long time; he’s one of the best filmmakers working today. In his homeland of Korea, his films are considered mainstream, where his genre films are blockbusters, earning upwards of 12 million admissions. We’ve shown almost all his films at Sydney; the last one was Snowpiercer.”
Critics say: A gleeful satire about the rapacious US food industry... wrapped neatly around a moving, almost Disney-esque story of a girl and her pet.” – The Daily Mail (UK)



A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

There can be fewer more arduous undertakings than staging a start-up film festival. In 2016, four rookie events surfaced in Australia that proved that determination, free-thinking and a willingness to place faith in an equally passionate support network meant that the uphill slog that is launching a film festival is not only possible, but can yield results of a global standard…

WINDA FILM FESTIVAL, November 10-13; various venues, Sydney, New South Wales. OFFICIAL WEBSITE
‘Winda’ means ‘star’ in Gumbaynggirr, one of the indigenous languages of Australia’s north-eastern seaboard. It proved a particularly ideal name for this new film event, a celebration of native cultures from across the globe that unites the aims of The Wurhu Daruy Foundation, New Horizon Films and Screen Australia with that of the imagineNATIVE Media + Arts Festival, the world’s largest presenter of indigenous screen content. “These films shine a light on our shared celebrations, struggles and stories, siving us insight and connection to the universal storylines of indigenous nations,” said Pauline Clague, WINDA Artistic Director. Opening with Lee Tamahori’s New Zealand hit, Mahana, the program embraced narratives from such nations as Russia (Dmitry Davidov’s Bonfire); Finland (Suvi West’s Spaarrooabban); Canada (Adam Gernet Jones’ Fire Song); Australia (Ivan Sen’s Goldstone) and Western Samoa (Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa’s Three Wise Cousins). New tech enriched ancient storytelling with the Virtual Reality sidebar, which featured Lynette Wallworth’s Martu tribe story, Collisions, and Ben Smith’s Yolngu culture celebration, Welcome to Garma.

When SCREEN-SPACE spoke to Festival Director Lynden Stone in June, he spoke of the very clear direction he had for his new venture. “We want to present a socially liberal film festival comprised of a diverse and challenging slate that supports and promotes women, Aboriginal, Asian and LGBTI documentaries,” he said. Which is not to suggest this was some hand-wringing, issues-based sobfest. “Whilst I love ‘showcase’ documentary film festivals, I find their schedules and programming to be incredibly serious,” Stone said. “We wanted to look at creating a fun and exciting documentary film festival that was playful with documentary genre.” Hence such crowdpleasers as Jeff Hann’s Coffee Man, Gavin Bond’s Todd Who? and Robin Vogel’s Churchroad. The vast list of competitive honours featured Aaron Beibart’s A Billion Lives, Em Baker’s Spoke, Marketa Tomanova’s Andre Villers – A Lifetime in Images and Giovanni Coda’s Bullied to Death.

WOLLONGONG FILM FESTIVAL, Saturday October 29; Project Contemporary Art Space, Keira St. Wollongong, New South Wales. OFFICIAL WEBSITE.
Festival director Gia Frino (pictured, right) launched the Wollongong Film Festival with a focus on the contributions of women to the art of filmmaking. Submissions were only accepted if women were credited with one of the six key roles during production. “I am a pretty staunch feminist,” she told the local press as part of the event’s launch, “(and) every year I try to empower women in some shape or form.” The festival donated all proceeds to the One Girl initiative, a movement that is bringing education and hope to impoverished African women. “It’s not about ‘here have some money’,” said Frino, who serves as an ambassador for the charity, “it’s actually about giving the girls the power to change their lives.” The international film community responded, with submissions from as far afield as Brazil, Portugal, Italy, Spain, the Phillippines and New Zealand, as well as homegrown talent. Honours went to Lena Kralikova Hashimoto for her student short, Atomka Genpatsu (Japan); Samain Husseinpour for the short film, Fish (Iran); Adnan Zandi for Butterflies (Iran), in the Most Empowering Feature category; Freyja Benjamin, producer and star of the Australian short Strangers in The Night, as Most Empowering Female; and, Jon Bling’s locally made Never Forget, for Best Feature. 

NOOSA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, November 3-6; various venues, Noosa, Queensland. OFFICIAL WEBSITE.
Organisers decided make a bold statement with the Noosa International Film Festival, launching the kind of ambitious, extensive program one rarely sees at a start-up event. As the festival guide proudly declares, ’140 Films 4 Days 4 Towns 5 Venues.’ Festival director and President of the Noosa Chamber of Commerce, Peter Chenoweth, stated that the beach resort town was ideal for a celebration of global film culture. “We’re blessed in that Noosa is a melting pot of skillsets, from financial wizards to film buffs to people with PR and promotional skills,” he told local media. “Add to that the encouragement and help we’re receiving from a whole raft of people within the film industry, and we already have the makings of a very successful and prestigious event.” The big ticket items were ‘Inside Cinema’, a presentation on the art and craft of cinematography by Australian great John Seale; the Opening Night screening of Bernard Bellefroid’s Melody, starring Rachel Blake; and, a rare showing of the German Expressionism silent masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The short film competitive strand and the day-long ‘Ecoflicks’ environmental-themed sessions ensured local talent and issues were also addressed.




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…

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.  

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.

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.  

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.