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“Exciting and daring” are the words Gayle Lake uses to describe how the 51st Sydney Film Festival is shaping up – her fifth as director and the first to expand into a collaboration with the Studio at the Opera House. Exactly three months before opening night, Andrew L. Urban files the first report.

SFF Director, Gayle Lake, says the films selected for 2004 promise to be the most daring and diverse of her five year reign and she believes new options in the expanded program would cater to a diverse audience. Additional new venues, new ticket packages and a World Movies Festival Club are part of the expanded program for the 51st Sydney Film Festival (SFF), June 11 – 26, 2004.

Although she can’t yet announce all the films, among them is the celebrated Go Further, directed by Ron Mann and starring Woody Harrelson, described by Mann as an “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test on Tofu – a lifestyle altering adventure for the twenty- first century,” and The Saddest Music in the World, directed by Guy Maddin, starring Isabella Rossellini, 'A visually rapturous, appallingly funny tour de force,' according to the Toronto Film Festival.

"an incredibly inventive film"

“It’s an incredibly inventive film,” says Lake, “with Guy Maddin pushing the envelope. It takes a poke at consumerism and looks at the human condition in times of strife and is shot in glorious black and white. It’s daring in form and it’ll surprise people.” Like the beer filled glass legs of imperious brewery baroness Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rossellini). The Depression-era melodrama/musical is set (and made) in Winnipeg, about the battle between two brothers -- the sneaky, pseudo-American Chester (Mark McKinney) and the morose, pseudo-Serbian Roderick (Ross McMillan) -- in a contest to determine which country can create the world's saddest music. Winnipeg, by the way, is a strong contender for the world’s saddest place tag.

Lake is excited about the Discovery strand, showcasing newcomers, like Alex Steyermark, with his debut feature Prey For Rock N Roll, starring the inimitable Gina Gershon “who plays guitar and sings and looks excellent in leather pants,” adds Lake. “The film is about a struggling band in Los Angeles, and it looks at all the pitfalls for women in rock n’ roll. What rock n roll can do to you, and how to hang on to the dream.” Gershon also served as Executive Producer on the film.

Another item that will get people talking is the ‘confessional’ Jesus You Know documentary (one of several in the program) by Ulrich Seidl. It’s based on six people talking about their personal positions viz Catholicism. “It’s also a pointer to a theme that is emerging through the program,” says Lake still trying to finalise several of her selections, “that shows people seeking spiritual and political answers.”

Showcases include emerging directors from Europe and Asia (“it’s a very good year for Korean cinema, which gives us the box office hit Memories and Murder”). From China, Lake is excited about another daring work, “an amazing film away from the studio system there and one that somehow slipped through the censors…called Uniform, with a lot to say about the China of today that we don’t see. It’s about a young man who works in a laundry, and when a policeman fails to pick up his shirt one day, the young man finds out the policeman’s been killed and he starts to wear it . . . and what happens as a result.”

In 2004, the Sydney Film Festival will mark 30 years at the glamorous StateTheatre, but will also expand programming to include artistic collaborations with The Studio at the Sydney Opera House, with three unique events: Scope, a new media festival to be held over four days; Sprocket, a VJ/DJ scratch night performed by Tesseract Research Laboratories; and two nights with the master interpreters of the spaghetti western sound-track, The Ennio Morricone Experience.

"excited about this collaboration"

“I’m really excited about this collaboration with The Studio … it’ll develop into a much greater program over the coming years,” says Lake. “It’s meant to cover a wide spectrum of visual work, exploring the extensions that play with structure and narrative.”

The introduction of an additional screen at the Dendy Opera Quays will increase festival capacity by 30% and an additional day and evening session will provide a film industry gala showcase for Australia’s longest running and most respected
short film awards – the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films, also marking 30 years. A record number of entries have been received for the Awards and the finalists will be announced on May 5, 2004 at the Festival’s 2004 official program launch. Winners will be announced at the Festival’s Gala Closing Night event to be held on Saturday, June 26, 2004.

The World Movies Festival Club at the State Theatre on Market St is in the centre of Sydney’s CBD, and adjacent to the State Theatre. The World Movies channel has just become part of the movie package available on pay tv, instead of being a single subscription channel. This will increase its availability dramatically to a million viewers who have pay tv. The Festival Club is intended to be the social hub of the Festival and will include late-night club events, a series of forums and ‘Meet the Filmmaker’ nights and the Stella Artois Bar.

Tickets for the festival can be purchased in a variety of packages including a two week evening subscription, groups of ten or single session.

DATES: Friday 11 June – Saturday 26 June 2004
VENUES: State Theatre, Market St
The Studio at Sydney Opera House
Dendy Opera Quays, Circular Quay
PRICES: A range of ticket packages are available from a 2 week evening mezzanine subscription $290 to single session tickets (adult $14.00 / concession $11.00).
TICKETS: Tickets can be purchased at the State Theatre / Dendy Opera Quays or visit www.ticketek.com.au Box office opens May 5. Subscriptions available from mid- March.
WEBSITE: http://www.sydneyfilmfestival.org

Published March 11, 2004

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