DUNGOG FILM FESTIVAL 2010 – WRAP
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
The Dungog Film Festival has established itself as something of a darling of
Aussie filmmakers and has become a launch pad of some substance, if not for the
biggest Australian films as yet, at least for those which are ready at the right
time. The 4th edition offered sophisticated programming and a rich mix of new
and classic, established and emerging, reports Andrew L. Urban, our man in
The past, present and future of Australian cinema met at Dungog last weekend,
offering the ever growing crowds a menu from a handful of classics from Charles
Chauvel, a couple of modern classics from the 80s as well as premieres of new
Australian films and even a work in progress, as well as readings of scripts not
yet filmed. Over 130 shorts filled out the program in batches, with
masterclasses from Nadia Tass, who also presented her 1986 classic Malcolm, and
Gillian Armstrong with her 1982 musical Starstruck.
The festival opened with the world premiere of Belinda Chayko’s charming,
nuanced and gently melancholy Lou, starring John Hurt, Emily Barclay and
youngster Lily Bell-Tindley. Hurt plays the grandpa to Bell-Tindley’s Lou, and
as his mind wavers he mistakes her for his late wife, while Lou’s single mother
(Barclay, excellent) tries to cope with the hardships of daily life. Warmly
received, the film was preceded by Shane Genders’ short, The Edge of Reality,
starring John Jarratt as a washed up Elvis impersonator. (Elvis also popped up
in another comedy short, in which it wasn’t a possum in a young couple’s roof
but an Elvis.)
But the short that made the biggest impact was Alexandra Schepisi’s 24 minute
drama, One Night, about five single women (two of them friends) who set out to
try and have a fun night in Melbourne. It’s a tragi-comic essay on young
contempo women in Australia, and it’s not a pretty picture. The young Schepisi
set out to make something different, real, confronting – and succeeds.
"a mystical element to the Aussie outback horror
One Night screened prior to Road Train on Friday night, which adds a mystical
element to the Aussie outback horror genre, an element that tends to mystify but
not as intended, while the performances by Xavier Samuel, Georgina Haig, Bob
Morley and Sophie Lowe are tops. Not an original premise (four youngsters
stranded in the outback with a predator on their tail) the film is likely to
appeal to fans of the genre, driven as it is by a complex and oversized score
from Rafael May – as big as the road train featured in the film, and as
All the other premieres also filled the venerable old James theatre to capacity
(which is expanded to over 500 for the festival): Michael Bond’s Los Angeles set
Passengers, and the Saturday night special, Surviving Georgia, from Kate
Whitbread and Sandra Sciberras. The filmmakers and some of the cast from each
film presented their work and took questions.
Passengers, starring Angie Milliken and Cameron Daddo (who also produced)
engaged the audience with its well observed dialogue as a married Aussie couple
in Los Angeles make their way through heavy traffic to friends for dinner. It’s
a virtuoso work for all concerned, not least for cinematographer Laszlo Baranyai,
who had to be something of a contortionist in the back of the car where most of
the scenes take place. The excellent dialogue and top performances make engaging
cinema as the journey on which they started out, symbolic of their marriage,
comes to an unplanned end. Daddo and director Bond both came out from Los
Angeles for the event.
"an audience pleaser"
Surviving Georgia attracted overspill crowds and extra seating had to be
rushed in. Writer/directors Sandra Scaberras and Kate Whitbread delivered a
romantic comedy from what was originally written as a heavy drama about a woman
(Caroline O’Connor as Georgia) who leaves her two young children before they
reach puberty – and then 12 years later tries to reconnect and gain their
forgiveness. Pia Miranda and Holly Valance play the daughters (Heidi and Rose),
with Shane Jacobson as the country town cop who falls for Rose and Spencer
McLaren as the city guy chasing Heidi. It’s an audience pleaser with a well
maintained tone that allows the themes to breathe and terrific performances. It
was preceded by Air, a witty short from Murray Fahey about an exotic customer
who walks into a music store to buy an air guitar.
A fourth premiere, screening in the makeshift ‘theatre’ at the local school
(sponsored by DVD rental company, oovie, and thus christened the oovie theatre),
also played to a packed house: Matthew Chuang’s Braille has a strong story and
fine performances about a blind man who plans to retake a stolen blood diamond
from its unexpected hiding place, with the help of a small team of specialist
operatives. Flawed but promising, the film lacks the clarity it needs for this
sort of heist caper, and should not have relied exclusively on hand held
camerawork, so the audience can be more involved in what’s going on.
The festival also offers an opportunity for testing films prior to their
completion, and Owen Elliot presented his work in progress of Bathing Franky,
starring Henry Szeps as Rod, Shaun Gross as Steve and Maria Venuti as Franky,
the bed ridden mother around whom is told the story of recently released
prisoner Steve and the irrepressible dreamer Rod. Audience feedback after the
sellout screening will be analysed to feed into the completion process. Written
by Michael Winchester, the film explores the impact that Rod has on Steve, whose
uncertainties about life contrast with Rod’s fanciful world of the imagination.
The film was shot in and around Dungog.
Recent Australian films also had a run: Accidents Happen, Subdivision, Beneath
Hill 60 and Before the Rain (AFTRS & NIDA coproduction) were the catch-up
program, while an extensive selection of documentaries completed the schedule.
"festival’s growing popularity"
The festival’s growing popularity was evidenced by the large numbers who
attended all the sessions – but the growth also put a strain on resources and
event management. Several sessions ran late, which created a ripple effect of
problems for patrons relying on punctuality to transition from one to another.
Seating at all venues is problematic: in the James theatre, In the James, then,
the choice is either comfort but very far from the screen, or discomfort closer
to it. The comfy armchair seats that are in weekly use for standard sessions
only extend to half the theatre, which is how it normally operates. By lifting
the mid-room screen, the cinema can be more than doubled in capacity to 560 –
but the extra chairs are the hard plastic variety secured to each other. This is
the seating at all the screening venues, halls and such that are converted for
the weekend. The audience seemed largely tolerant of these issues (and of the
technical squawks) but that tolerance may wear off in the future.
With barely 60 hotel/motel beds in town, Dungog Visitors Centre had to again
find beds for the masses: they managed 150 home placements. The other 7,000 or
so festival attendees (many of them locals, of course) either drove in and out
from other Hunter Valley locations or came for the day - or camped/squatted anywhere they could (invcluding the town hall).
The festival has given Dungog a $2 million weekend, but this isn’t going to save
the James (oldest Australian cinema, opened in 1914), which is struggling to
keep open as digital projection offers both an opportunity and a hurdle. The
hurdle, of course, is $130,000 for the new gear. The opportunity is for easier
and quicker access to films, leading to increased patronage.
But the festival has also given Australian filmmakers a new and increasingly
valuable platform to showcase their films. Charles Chauvel would have been
heartened to see his legacy honoured at the well attended morning screenings
courtesy National Film and Sound Archives, of In the Wake of the Bounty
(introducing Erroll Flynn) , The Rats of Tobruk (introducing Chips Rafferty) and
Jedda – films which gave the festival a depth and a perspective on Australian
cinema history. Watching The Rats of Tobruk, I was reminded of Billy Wilder’s
marvellous talent for handling dramatic material with a light touch, and
surprised by how little the film had dated.
"a valuable resource"
The Dungog Film Festival is now a valuable resource, thanks to the vision and
energy of its organisers, Allanah Zitserman and Stavros Kazantzidis, and to the
hefty support (financial and logistical) of NSW Mining, thanks to Dr Nikki
Williams. But it needs to be carefully nurtured; getting bigger should not be
the criterion. Getting better should come first.
Published June 3, 2010
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