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A full weekend of Australian films, festival fun and country ambiance has rapidly turned the Dungog Film Festival into a unique event that is not just a giant showcase of Australian cinema but a great example of a regional screen culture initiative with a can-do attitude, reports Andrew L. Urban on the eve of the 3rd edition of the event.

Countrylink’s dedicated three-carriage Festival Express will again deliver festival guests, filmmakers, media and sponsors to Dungog on Thursday, May 28, for the third annual, non-competitive showcase of Australian films, into the waiting arms (and beds) of the Hunter Valley town on the outskirts of the famous Barrington Tops range in NSW. The Festival Express leaves Sydney Central at 11.35 and arrives at Dungog at 15.03, with guests offered complimentary food and beverages on the way.

Andrew L. Urban about to enjoy a beverage on The Festival Express (photo Enzo Amato)

The beds reference is not a salacious insinuation about freewheeling sex in town: it’s just that with barely 50 actual tourist beds (in a couple of hotels, a motel and some holiday apartments) Tourism Officer Wendy Farrow has developed an extensive ‘home hosting’ arrangement, whereby locals rent out their homes to festival visitors. (Many of them take holidays or make other arrangements, so it’s not like you’re sharing with the owners.)

Last year, Wendy was faced with the challenge of finding accommodation for about 3,000 visitors. Some people were reluctant to let their homes out to visitors; what sort of people go to a film festival, they wondered. But the word – the good word – spread fast after the 2008 event, and Wendy now has about 5,000 beds to offer, at $50 per person per night. This compares to $100 - $160 for the formal accommodations.

The locals, evidently enthused by last year’s event, are also getting into the spirit of the celebration, with shopkeepers presenting Australian film-themed window displays during the festival.

Once unpacked, visitors (and local festival-goers) will start getting the 2009 buzz from Martin Sharp’s first poster in 20 years, which will be auctioned off. Autographed prints will be on sale at the box office, where other merchandise, including stylish Frost Design T-shirts, DVDs of Australian films – including Urban Cinefile’s 50 minute Doing Dungog doco covering last year’s festival – will also be on sale.

With NSW Mining back as presenting sponsors, providing an even bigger cash budget and lots of on-the-ground physical support (like volunteer drivers for the filmmaker & cast guests), the Festival will kick off with the Gala Opening Night party, a sit down dinner with celebrated cabaret artist Paul Capsis (with his new, short haired look)performing parts of his solo show.

Capsis will also be seen in Jon Hewitt’s Dark Love Story, which will be screened in the festival program. (More program information and film details in our Festival Preview, published April 30, 2009.)

On the Friday night of the Dungog weekend, Dungog based high energy band Caleb Skips Chemistry whose music features in another festival entry, Bad Bush, will play live at the Royal Hotel on main street and on Saturday, it's the Rock n' Reel party - hosted by NSW Mining, on behalf of the 'Rock' and the festival provides the 'reel' . . .

The James Theatre, Australia’s oldest running movie house (opened 1914), will be busy from 9am till midnight, and the RSL auditorium will again be used for screenings – even more than last year. A third permanent venue is expected to be ready for the 2010 festival, says Festival Director Allanah Zitserman. This will be needed as the program expands even further. Already this year, the first two films from New Zealand have been selected.

Several cafes and restaurants serve breakfast / lunch / dinner, the Royal Hotel is slap bang in the centre of town, not far from the James, and they all make an effort to welcome visitors and provide suitable services. In addition, there are several stalls near the James, serving a range of inexpensive ‘stand up’ food and beverage.

Supported by the NSW Film and Television Office (as well as Dungog Shire Council), this festival grew from zero to hero instantly, becoming something of a template of how a country town can seize the cinematic day. Of course, you do need an enthusiastic, resourceful and dedicated team to make it happen.

Published April 23, 2009

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Paul Capsis

DUNGOG 2009 - Preview

Country Link Festival Express


DOING DUNGOG - making the documentary

Andrew L. Urban’s 2008



DATES: May 28 – 31, 2009

By rail:
Countrylink - XPT services daily, adult pre-paid fare $31.47 one way
online bookings

By road:
222 kms from Sydney CBD, approx 2hrs 30mins (with tolls)

Wendy Farrow
Tourism Officer
Dungog Shire Council
Tel: 02 4992 2212
Fax: 02 4992 2214

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