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Award winning screen composers Lisa Gerrard and Michael Yezerski, actress Sigrid Thornton and writer David Williamson, are among the high profile guests who will be presenting their wares at the 5th Dungog Film Festival (May 26 – 29) in the charmingly bucolic surrounds of the Upper Hunter Valley just 3 hours north of Sydney. Andrew L. Urban reports.

Gerrard will be present for the opening night screening of Jim Loach’s fact-based drama, Oranges and Sunshine, for which she composed the score. Prior to the screening, guests will be treated to the Oscar winning Australian short, The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan, accompanied by a live band led by the film’s composer, Michael Yezerski.

Both Gerrard and Yezerski will give master-classes in screen composition during the Festival, moderated by your reporter.

"newly raised profile of screen music"

The newly raised profile of screen music at Dungog comes as the Australian Performing Rights Association (APRA - copyright protectors for musicians and songwriters) joins the list of sponsors of the Festival.

Dungog Community Radio 107.9 FM will be launched in the week of the Festival, and has programmed a three hour live special on Friday May 27, 12 noon – 3pm – devoted to the Festival, with news and program info plus interviews with some of the Festival guests, conducted by your reporter.

The Dragon Pearl will make its NSW debut for the festival’s Sunday night gala (May 28). Directed by Emmy award winning Adelaide filmmaker, Mario Andreacchio, The Dragon Pearl is Australia's first official co-production with China.

Staring Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Piano, The Hunt For Red October), Louis Corbett (Charlotte’s Web), Chinese star Wang Ji and newcomer Li Lin Jin, a family find themselves thrown into an ancient mystery instead of their quiet vacation of an archeological dig in China. While their parents are making historic discoveries, the children have discovered an ancient Chinese Dragon, trapped on earth because it was separated from its magical ‘pearl’.

This is the first time that the Chinese authorities have given permission for their sacred Golden Dragon to be animated by Western artists. SA’s Rising Sun Pictures (Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Batman) was enlisted and delivered a ‘real’ live dragon amidst this live action film, in consultation with Chinese advisors.

The much anticipated world premiere for Charles Blackman: An Imprint In Time, will screen Friday (May 27). Filmed over a four-year period, the documentary explores the fascinating world of Charles Blackman, one of Australia's legendary modernist painters. Tirelessly created by Darryn Hahn to preserve some of the most powerful Australian art history, this film is a window into Blackman’s thoughts and ideas as he talks candidly in his studio about the meaning behind his paintings. The documentary traces each decade of Blackman’s life with a wide range of his friends and colleagues, plus insights from his eldest son Auguste Blackman.

Also premiering at the festival is the short, Moving Day, screening Saturday (28 May), which tells the story of a little girl moving into her new home where she discovers a box of toys. The discovery leads to a battle for the garden where no one will ever be the same... It is directed by Jason Wingrove and written and produced by Matthew Graham.

With Frank & Jerry, screenwriter Nick McGee makes his feature debut as director, with his own script, about a homeless windscreen washer whose gift-of-the-gab lands him a job with a big American film producer. 

When leaving a Melbourne film set, juiced-up on pharmaceuticals, film producer Jerry Goldman (played by acting veteran Jeremy Kewley, who debuted in Fred Schepisi’s The Devil’s Playground at 14 and was recently in The Underbelly Files) meets Frank (Benedict Hardie, best known for his theatrical roles for The Bell Shakespeare and Belvoir), a homeless yet optimistic windscreen washer on the hunt for a job. 

Jerry throws caution to the wind and invites him to attend a pitch at a major film studio. With the pitch a success, mainly due to Frank's fast talking skills, boozed up Jerry offers him a position on his current picture as an associate producer. A new life awaits Frank, but can he escape his dark past and rise to the challenge?

At first Frank and Jerry make the perfect team, with Frank the ideal antidote to Jerry’s brash, trash-talking disposition. However Jerry’s colleagues and friends don’t take to Frank one bit.

"full program will be online from May 10"

The Festival’s full program will be online from May 10, 2011.

Non-competitive and proudly showcasing only Australian films (and the odd Kiwi effort) Dungog has grown in stature and influence – and drawing power. For its 5th edition, about 10,000 visitors are expected to flood into town over the four days; and filmmakers – both high profile and low – will be among them.

This year the Festival claims “the biggest showcase of shorts in the country. Benjamin Mathews’ comedic short The HR Guy, is one of the world premieres and stars Dungog regular, the charismatic Rhys Muldoon. The film is a clever take on the drive behind modern corporate culture and will have you ruminating for hours afterwards.”

(By coincidence, the acclaimed and entertaining Israeli film, The Human Resources Manager opens in cinemas today [May 5,2011]. The films have nothing in common except for the central character’s job description.)

Published May 5, 2011

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Lisa Gerrard

Sigrid Thornton

David Williamson

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