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The films, the events, the guests; festival director Gayle Lake talks to Andrew L. Urban and tells him why she’s excited about the Australian film, Lantana, opening the fest; it’s a rare achievement.

If it wasn’t for Moulin Rouge, Lantana might well have screened in Competition at Cannes in May this year, competing for the Palme d’Or. As it is, the film’s world premiere is an unquestionable highlight of the Sydney Film Festival (SFF). It is an Australian film which festival director Gayle Lake calls “an immensely satisfying drama – something the Australian film industry has had trouble making,” she says, instantly adding, “I’ll get shot for saying that.”

The discussion about Lantana and Cannes belongs elsewhere; suffice to say nationality is politics and Cannes festival decisions are as political as they are judgmental. In the context of the SFF, Lantana is a coup. Starring Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia and Barbara Hershey, it is a thriller written by Andrew Bovell (Head On) and directed by Ray Lawrence (Bliss). A woman disappears. Four marriages are drawn into a web of love, deceit, sex and death – not all of them survive.

“We’ve embraced a different kind of audience”

“The ensemble cast is a knockout,” says Lake, who chose the “really different” Australian film, Steve Jacobs’ debut (as director) La Spanola, to close the festival, in tandem with Belgium’s acclaimed and very entertaining (Oscar nominated) Everybody Famous. Eclectic? You haven’t heard the rest of it. Between the opening and closing nights, Lake has programmed around 160 films. “It’s the best of the best. We’ve probably had 1400 tapes and I’ve seen another 500 films. . . .of course, by and large the programme is formed by what is available to you for various reasons. And I’m pretty happy with it. We’ve embraced a different kind of audience. Advance sales have held at projected levels and the more flexible packages are very popular. Working people get access…”

For those who care to sample the wares, examples of programming diversity abound: Divided We Fall – Czech Republic – Academy Award nominated humanist comedy; Faithless – Liv Ullman (Cannes 2001 jury president) directs an Ingmar Bergman script; 101 Reykyavik – zany black comedy from Iceland; Solo Por Hoy – Argentinian slice of life doco made on the streets; and The Day I Became A Woman, an Iranian film about three women struggling with social expectations . . .and so on.

“special event screenings”

A film programme of new films from around the world is rounded out by special event screenings – like the one off screening of The Sorrow and The Pity, or the silent 1925 film, The Lost World, claymation which inspired many others, including the famous King Kong.

As well as singular films, there are (as always) special themed groups of films, such as New Scandinavian Cinema, Latin Beat and an Indian film retrospective introduced by David Stratton.

And of course, there are special guests, like writer Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Last Temptation of Christ, Mosquito Coast, etc); three of his films will screen, including Light Sleeper [1991] which he also directed, starring Willem Dafoe & Susan Sarandon. Your reporter will conduct a special ‘Evening with Paul Schrader’ Q & A at the UTS lecture theatre on June 21 from 8pm. “His work and his film criticism stand him in good stead to develop a relationship with our audiences,” says Lake.

“film could be a metaphor for Australia”

Documentaries in the festival include the 144 minute A Life in Pictures, about Stanley Kubrick, where everyone he has ever worked with talks about the man – between clips of his films.

Among the little surprises you’ll find in the vast programme is another Australian/world premiere, the Australian film, Silent Partner, “a clever film set in the greyhound racing scene, with David Field and Syd Brisbane playing punters down on their luck, tempted by a deal . . .huge performances,” says Lake. Directed by Alkinos Tsilinidos (Every Night Every Night), the film could be a metaphor for Australia.

Published June 7, 2001

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The Sydney Film Festival runs from June 8 - June 22, 2001

Anthony LaPaglia stars in Lantana
Lantana opens in cinemas October 4, 2001

Solo Por Hoy

In July

A Life in Pictures, about Stanley Kubrick

Read our FEATURE on Kubrick next week (June 14)

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