Monday, June 27, 2005

Sydney Film Festival - The Final Tally

TOTAL: 27 films (not counting shorts or "special event" sessions).

Annual "Bright Leaves" Award:
Me and You and Everyone We Know (feature)
Tarnation (fusion?) (documentary?) (whatever)

Best non-film experience:
The Music of Master and Commander: a 2 hour Q&A session with three of the composers / arrangers of the film's music (including Iva Davies).

The Girl Can't Help It (feature, US) - cheesy fun with the hourglass shaped Jayne Mansfield.

Highly recommended documentaries:
A State of Mind (UK/Nth Korea)
Mad Hot Ballroom (US)
Murderball (US)
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (US)
Tell Them Who You Are (US)

Highly recommended features:
Brothers (Denmark)
Kontroll (Hungary)
Green Bush (Australia)
Bombon El Perro (Argentina)
P.S (US)
3-Iron (feature, South Korea)
Howl's Moving Castle (Japan)

Features that are only a whisker below "highly recommended", but it looked stupid to highly recommend everything:
Yesterday (Sth Africa)
A Day Without A Mexican (US)
36 Quai Des Orfevres (France)
Up and Down (feature, Czech Republic)
Mean Creek (US)
Duck Season (Mexico)

Good solid viewing, with some transcendent moments:
Two Great Sheep (feature, China)
In the Battlefields (feature, Lebanon)
Sisters in Law (doco, ?)
Kindergarten (doco, China)

The bottom of the pack for me - but maybe I was just having a bad hair day / whatever:
Five Seasons (doco, Australia)
Story Undone (feature, Iran)

The thing that got me angriest about the festival this year was the decision not to list the short films in the free program (either in hard copy or on the website). You have to buy the $12 souvenier program to find out what the shorts are and where to see them (which . . . as if). Not just annoying for the cinema goers - it totaly sucks for the under-credited filmmakers. So not only can I not list the short films I saw (memory is not that good), even if I'd kept notes, I'd be lucky to get down all the directors names, the country of origin, etc . . . Disgraceful, SFF. Be very ashamed.

Only the titles with no "inverted commas" are the real titles. If anyone knows what the other films are, or where any of these came from, drop me a line - I'm going to do my own sleuthing around over the next few weeks.

Pol Pot's Birthday - hilarious, weird. Asks the question:what would Pol Pot have done on his birthday in the final year of his reign whilst hiding out in bunkers? Answer: the cake was bigger last year.
"Australian film in an elevator" - Australian short starring Kerry Armstrong stuck in a lift. A bit heavy-handed, but the Kerry Armstrong factor pulls it through.
Useless Dog - charming short film from Ireland about a useless dog. Documentary style, lots of footage of a dog lying around sleeping, and the Irish farmer in interview, shrugging his shoulders and saying "well, I'd like it if the dog would work more . . . but what can ye do?" Hilarious.
"Donkey pinata" - Cute, Pixar-like animated short about a little donkey pinata who finds out the hard way what he's actually for. (ouch!)
Monster - Australian short about things that hide in the closet. One really effective shot of a thing coming right at you up a flight of stairs - you could feel the entire cinema around you inhale for a collective "ahhhh!" Hope to see these guys on a fuller length feature sometime soon.
"Creepy French short" about a guy who carefully cuts a hole in an apple,lures in a wasp, closes up the hole, then waits for his son to come home.. . .
"Amusing (probably Irish) short" about an international incident whenBoris Yeltsin's plane landed in Ireland; nearly sparking war. "OurPresident is indisposed." "C'mon. He's drunk, isn't he?" "Are you calling me a liar? You have insulted Mother Russia." etc. Hee.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sydney Film Festival

The promo tag line runs something like "16 days, 200 films". I saw 26 feature films at the festival, which sounds crap, but I think they factor short films into the "200" total (which - totally cheating, dude). Anyway, my eyes are tired, but I had a fabulous couple of weeks. I'll post a bit about the highlights over the next few weeks.

The "Bright Leaves" award for coolest film experience is split between two films this year: Tarnation, and Me and You and Everyone Else We Know. They have nothing in common, except that they're both from the US. And they're also both films that even if you hate them, I can guarantee that you will walk out of the cinema, turn to someone and say - "well, I've never seen anything like that before".

Me and You and Everyone Else We Know is a US film and the debut feature from performance artist Miranda July, who performs the triple role of actor/writer/director. Whilst it is hilarious, oddly vulnerable and touching; it also has an edge - of the fifteen or so people around me in the cinema, there was a particular scene where about nine of us were laughing, four fell silent, and two walked out.

It's a film that you could easily find really irritating - as you see from these reviews, there are a number of critics who just couldn't get into the vibe. Whether you do or not rests entirely on whether you like the incredibly strange people which inhabit this film, or whether you find them too unreal, too sketch-like, too "quirky" or cute. The lead female character is a performance artist who becomes obsessed with a shoe-salesman. The lead male character is the single-father shoe salesman who seems perpetually unable to deal with his own life, his kids' lives, his divorce, or his job.

And as the title of the film suggests, the story ripples outwards - to the kids, to the modern art gallery owners, to the elderly users of a mobile car service, to neighbours. You get the feeling that the movie could have gone for another hour, another two - the purpose or angle wouldn't have changed, but the scope is literally infinite. And, as also hinted by the title, it's about the relationships between us and "everyone we know". How do we understand each other? Why do some relationships fall apart, and others flourish? How meaningful is communication? What can we do with images, words, the internet, telephones, face to face dialogue?

This film was championed by influential American critic Roger Ebert - you can see his rave review here, although if at all possible, avoid all the press and reviews and just see it for yourself.

Tarnation was my second top pick. I'm on safer ground with this one - not only does nearly everyone love it, it's been written about as likely to be the most influential film of the last ten years.

The filmmaker Jonathan Caouette has pieced together this film largely from "found footage" - pre-existing material taken by his family's video camera, family photographs, odd archival images, excerpts from films, school videos - it's a magpie like collation of ideas.

At the film's heart is a traumatic event of the past. When Jonathan's mother Renee was about 14, she fell off the roof of the family house and suffered a physical injury. After a questionable diagnosis, she underwent shock therapy for three years. When her mental condition deteriorated, she had more treatment and went in and out of institutions. After this process had finished, as Caoutte's narrative baldly notes, she had lost most of her original personality.

Her son Jonathan was raised mostly by his maternal grandparents, but also went in and out of foster care. He had a horrible childhood. The footage has some occasionally hilarious moments - there's footage of a young 11 year old Jonathan who already self-identifying as gay, is performing a self-penned monologue to the camera as a tortured Southern Belle. But even here, the initial laugh from the audience at the young boy in makeup and fake lashes, disperses when we realise what he's saying . . . it' s a monologue about horrific spousal abuse and obsession. Real footage. You can look into the dark eyes of this 11 year old kid, and think: I don't know what's going on in your head. And also: you are not okay.

The experience of this film is like the skin of this family is being peeled back so that you can see inside - it looks painful, and feels painful to watch - and it's also intrusive in ways that aren't comfortable for an audience, even though you as audience member are being "let in" by a member of the family. But it's ultimately a story about survival - how Jonathan lives past the trauma he inherited as part of his family legacy.

Legend has it this film cost about $215 US to make. It's an example of what you can do with good footage taken on a basic camera, particularly now that the means to edit films are available much more widely, not just to the highly trained and professional studios. And if this is what the future of film-making looks like, I say, bring it on.

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