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Two features and a wave of short films will represent the Australian film sector at the 5th Manchester International Film Festival (MANIFF), launching March 2 at the Odeon Cinemas in the north-west metropolis’ iconic Great Northern Railway Warehouse centre.

Expanding to a week-long celebration for the first time in its history, MANIFF will host the U.K. premiere of Heath Davis’ bittersweet dramatic-comedy Book Week, which has benefitted from a strong grass-roots marketing campaign and independent release strategy in its homeland.

For Davis (pictured, right), the MANIFF acceptance of his little-film-that-could is deeply rewarding. “It’s wonderful,” he told SCREEN-SPACE. “It helps get your voice heard on an international platform and validates that what you’re creating resonates on a global level.” The two sessions of Book Week will see Davis return to Manchester for the first time since the festival screened his acclaimed drama Broke in 2016.

The festival will also host the first screenings in England’s north-west of Ben Hackworth’s opera drama Celeste, starring Radha Mitchell (pictured, top), which played the London Film Festival in October 2018. Australian talent also features in Jeff Vespa’s international co-production Paris Song, with actress Abbie Cornish (pictured, below) co-starring with Sanzhar Madiyev in the true story of Kazakh singer Amre Kashaubayev and his presence in an international singing competition at the 1925 Paris Expo. The Antipodes are further represented by New Zealander Dustin Feneley’s Stray, a potent romantic drama shot in the Otago region of the nation’s South Island.

In addition to the feature line-up, Australian short films have commandeered an impressive 12 slots in the program, including six U.K. premieres and one, Luke Wissel’s A Stone’s Throw, getting its first international exposure. It is a significant showing that Heath Davis says represents a burgeoning pool of Down Under filmmakers. “There’s a new wave of Aussie talent brewing and we want to create a brand where Australian films are sought after,” he says. “It’s starting to happen and this is an example of that.”

The vast richness displayed in the programming of the Australian content reflects the commitment of the festival to offer Manchester filmgoers breadth and depth of choice. In a press statement, Head of Programming Al Bailey says, “This year’s line-up is the perfect example of what we set out to achieve five years ago – a showcase of the most eclectic independent films from around the world and the strength of the selection shows the reputation that the festival has and continues to gain.” 

The short film roster includes:

Colony (Dir: Catherine Bonny; starring Emma Burnside, Alicia Hellingman, Ben Leyden; pictured, right) In the future two women struggle for survival as part of a work colony.

For Your Sins (Dir: Julian Lucas; starring Ryan Shelton, Dave Lawson, Michala Banas) A young man realises that everyone is sinning and seeks the help of a boutique communications agency to help raise awareness for his cause.

St. Bernie (Dir: Elise Tyson; starring Lara Robinson) Like any teenager, Bernie is curious about her developing body, sexuality and romantic interests but, denied any sex education in school or at home, Bernie feeds her curiosity in secret.

Solus (Dir: Adam Jamsek; starring Stephen Degenaro, Christopher Kirby, Tycho Richardson) A father and his chronically ill son go tracking into the heart of a forest in search for a magical healing bird.

Bridget and Iain (Dir: Leah Patterson; starring Vivienne Powell, Damian Sommerlad, Sala Baker) A loving mother struggles with her addict son and comes to realise that her actions maybe enabling his addiction.

Rooftops (Dir: Odeya Rush; starring Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Harry Nathan) The story of a boy in love, centered around the lyric "Rollin' like it's high school fantasy".

Skates (Dir: Maddelin McKenna; starring Renee Kypriotis, William McKenna, Corey Robert Hunt) New Year's Eve 1979; a young boy working at the local roller-skating rink forms a bond with a girl, skating alone.

A Stone’s Throw (Dir: Luke Wissel; starring Lily Pearl, Anna Steen, Patrick Graham) A rock thrown from an overpass sets in motion a series of crises that open emotional wounds for a middle-class family.

Behind Barres (Dir: Sophia Bender; starring Tizana Saunders , Damien Welch; pictured, right) A prisoner within her own body, ballerina Adelina is tortured by injury and begins to detach from reality in order to fight the physical pain and personal demons that torment her.

Cherry (Dir: Claudia Bailey, Vanessa Bray, Evie Friedrich) An anthology of stories that address virginity take an unflinching look into the awkward, perverse, intimate and sometimes embarrassing nature of sex.

Shooter (Dir: Andrew Carbone; starring Dugald Mullen, Clayton Watson, Mark Lee) Two boys dealing with the loss of their mother are faced with a father who is becoming increasingly unhinged in his grief.

Don’t Call Me Beautiful (Dir: Jill Robinson; Documentary) In 1965, at the age of 3 months, Zeitha Murphy was removed from the care of her Aboriginal mother, setting in motion years of emotional and physical abuse. Now, determined to create a better life for herself and her sons, Zeitha embarks on a journey to find her true place in society and her birth family.

The 2019 Manchester International Film Festival runs March 2-10. Full session and ticketing details can be found at the event’s official website.

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