What was going to be a daily diary up until this point had a bit of catastrophic beginning in the form of a MAC BOOK DOWN. So now that we're back in business; here's some very informal, experiential musings of the 60th Sydney Film Festival - my 3rd.
Wednesday Day One: It's finally here, a Sydney film geek's annual Scarface cocaine bowl serving of new and important cinema. It's a time of year that those with day jobs (I.E me) wave goodbye to [non film geek] friends and family for 12 days to run the gauntlet of 25+ films and sacrificing sleep for festivities. In an attempt to avoid the annual scolding from my decidedly non-film geek fiancé I try to distract her with the glitz of opening night, dusting off the red blazer, bow-tie and an excuse to get dolled up. So we're off to the State Theatre and after watching Richard Roxborough get swarmed by a gaggle of drunken cougars the opening film for the 60th Year was Ivan Sen's Mystery Road (starring Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanton, Jack Thompson ... and others); which coincidentally is the first Australian indigenous film to open the festival. And boy did it open with a bang. In short, it's Australia's No Country for Old Men (for a longer impression of this wonderful piece of Australian cinema - check out my full review here).
Thursday - Day Two:
Now several days prior to the festival beginning one Cam Williams had the pleasure of an advanced viewing of The Act of Killing. His review said that it was the best documentary of his lifetime, which let's just say is a HUGE CALL. As with all in competition films, Festival director Nashen Moodley introduces director Joshua Oppenheimer, whose attending the festival, and they briefly introduced his documentary which had the lofty ambition to change the doco game. So sitting in the State Theatre for The Act of Killing there was an undeniable sense of anticipation. IT. DID. NOT. DISAPPOINT. 'Wow' is probably another word to use watching this harrowing but ultimately amazing work (check out my full review here). Thankfully after an intense emotional experience, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's debut directorial effort The Way, Way Back was lined up and the beautiful Toni Collette and awesome Steve Carrell graced the stage to introduce it. There were waves and waves of laughter rippling throughout the State as this hilarious coming of age journey unfolded and comedy burst forth from Sam Rockwell, Alison Janney and the eclectic ensemble (check out my full review here). Credits roll and it was possibly the perfect cinematic 'two-fer' - the full gauntlet of my emotions had been run - the brisk icy gasp of The Act of Killing, the toasty rays of sunshine in The Way, Way Back.
Friday - Day Three: Only three days in and my morning workout mandate was in full swing, because those who attack the fest with fervour often end up in a state of physical and emotional exhaustion by the end that you need a full week to recover. Well sickness be damned. Another day and another in competition film, this time the first feature film ever made in Saudi Arabia and directed by a woman Haifaa Al-Mansour and Sydney Uni alumni. To say that it was wonderful, and the audience was pleased is an understatement. With deft, subtle motions Wadjda bellows and feels like it's that huff of an impending tornado of change in Saudi. It's easily one of the warmest cinematic experiences I've experience, especially having the filmmaker there to introduce it, and have praise heaped upon her.
During the interval I walked past festival director Nashen Moodley and had to remark that his program was batting an unbelievably high average and that I was looking forward to what else was in store.
Next up was one of my most anticipated films of the festival, and it was only in as a Special presentation; Park Chan-Wook's Stoker. It's a wonderful, Hitchcock influenced American Gothic tale that's perhaps the most beautifully, purposefully composed film I think I've ever seen. Cue director Park Chan-Wook gracing the stage with star Mia Wasikowska for a post screening Q&A; and you could feel the presence of the great South Korean auteur even in the barn that is the State Theatre. Heart warmed, eyes treated to exquisite cinematic beauty; Friday done.
Saturday - Day Four: What's the best way to start a day during a film fest? Watching Fast and Furious 6 at your local cinema. "Whaaa" you say? Well be wise kids, sometimes after you've watched feats of cinematic brilliance that require your fullest intellectual and emotional engagement, it's a relief to seek out a big, dumb, explosive blockbuster...and to actually spend greater than three minutes with my lady. Positives, fast cars.....that's it. After recording That Movie Show 2UE, it's back to the State Theatre for the Australian entry into the Official competition; The Rocket. Well it was an endearing and intimate story of family in the face of the monstrous historical and economic burdens faced by the people of Laos. It had a HUGE response, easily the biggest of the festival so far (and throughout); and the experience was helped by the addition of nearly the entire cast and crew gracing the stage. And to cap off the evening the special presentation of choice was Richard Linklater's Before Midnight. This time we're immersed in the grind of mid life and the endurance required for enduring love. It's a film that cuts to some essential truths; and although they're not necessarily satisfying to have to encounter - they are none the less incredibly honest. So uplifting third world familial triumph; crashed back to earth with the biting realities of long term love. Sunday - Day Five:
First up today was another in competition film, this time from CHAD (not to be confused with Charlie's Angels "The CHAD was great") but the country, titled - Grigris (pronounced GreeGree). This story of the desperation to make a living and passion for artistic expression for dance was much more Blood Diamond than that Billy Elliot description and it was a good film. My own gripegripe (pun intended) with Grigris was that it didn't necessarily engage me. I felt I was watching with an unmoved analytical eye. At this stage it's the slightest dip in quality of the films in competition.
Prior to the festival, Mathieu Ravier the curator/facilitator of all things Sydney Film Festival Hub was kind enough to think of me (and some other great people Andy Buckle, Lisa Malouf, Sam McCosh, Laurence Barber to name a few) to host a little mini event within the event called 'Film Club.' Essentially the brief was to conduct those great film geek conversations you have with friends, with anyone that was travelling through the fest. I was honoured to be a part of an emerging institution - watch that space.
1. The first rule of Day Five is to not forget you're hosting #FilmClub. 2. The Second rule of Day Five is to TELL EVERY ONE ABOUT Sydney Film Festival's Film Hub - Film Club. 3. If it's your first film club - you have to talk.
That evening ended with what Nashen Moodley called "Sympathy porn" - Broken Circle Breakdown; which is a strange amalgam of bluegrass music and high intensity emotionally wrenching narrative. It's one where one box of tissues is definitely not going to be enough. So essentially crying out all of my fluids I headed home...slightly broken and listening to City and Colour (the closest thing to acoustic bluegrass I have on the iPhone).
Monday - Day Six:
Well Happy Birthday Queeny and thank you ever so much for allowing a much coveted sleep in, in the middle of this quite tiring cinematic marathon.
Today's slate is an in competition two-fer: a first time effort from Scottish filmmaker Paul Wright with For Those in Peril and winner of the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear the Romanian Child's Pose - both in the official competition.
Paul Wright's For Those in Peril was incredible. It's a visceral, immersive cinematic debut and it's the best feature I've seen thus far (and remained the case). The real treat of the screening was being able to wander back to the Hub and heap some gush upon the candid, approachable guy. Even cooler still was to see the scrum of Andy Buckle, Sam McCosh, Dom Minic (all online critics) hovering and praising the man - especially when Andy gave him the huge compliment that his film's final shot had been his favourite of the fest.
Next up Child's Pose was an impeccably acted and constructed family drama. The only problem; every member of the family was an irrevocably deplorable person. Callow, rude, manipulative - you name it - this family displays almost everything that's disgusting about entitled upper class white people. So it made for a conflicting experience.
Tune in same Bat Time, same Bat Channel for more ... soon.
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.