To celebrate the 9th Possible Worlds U.S. & Canadian Film Festival, kicking in Sydney between the 7th and 17th of August (before travelling to Canberra on the 20th of August and Perth from the 22nd to 24th of August) we sat down with festival director (and curator of the Sydney Film Festival’s amazing Hub in Town hall) Mathieu Ravier about this year’s "flavour."
You’re opening the festival with Richard Trogi’s French-language coming of age comedy 1987, is that going to set the tone for the festival?
We wanted to open the Festival with something upbeat and fun and 1987 is the right opening night film. Its great sense of time and place allows this coming-of-age comedy to transport audiences to Quebec in the 80s, making it simultaneously familiar to anyone who’s lived through this decade and yet very culturally specific to this part of Canada.
In a way, that mix of accessibility and cultural specificity is true of many films in the festival. These days, Hollywood films dominate multiplexes worldwide, and they do so by dulling every rough edge, by muting the personal and accentuating the universal so that the work – which has become a generic product – can be sold to mass audiences globally.
The films in our line-up, including ones such as 1987 which are designed to entertain, were chosen for their adherence to a personal vision, a vision that is not watered down for the global, commercial marketplace. That spirit of independence and that integrity of vision runs through the program.
I’m sure that like our 2012 opening night film Starbuck (which became The Delivery Man with Vince Vaughn), 1987 will eventually be remade in Hollywood, in English, with all its distinct Quebec flavour sucked right out of it. In the meantime, it tells the story of young teenager Ricardo Trogi, who spends the summer of 1987 trying to get a job, get a car, get into bars and get laid. Ricardo Trogi is also the name of the director: 1987 may be laugh-out-loud comedy, but it is first and foremost an authentic, personal piece of autobiography.
What do you look for from an American film for Possible Worlds?
We are swamped with American product, it’s almost impossible to ignore. And yet independent American cinema, which is currently enjoying a creative outburst, remains relatively unseen on Australian screens. It’s a shame, because these films, taken together, present us with a more interesting and complex vision of the United States and its place in the world.
Films like Faults or The Mend herald the arrival of new and exciting talent in the filmmaking landscape. Both are feature film debuts that display considerable promise. It’s the Festival’s role to shine a light on writer-directors like Riley Stearns or John Magary, and introduce their work to new audiences, just as we did with Eliza Hittman or Joe Swanberg in the past.
We’re also interested in films which honestly reflect the way we live today, right this minute, in a way that more commercial cinema doesn’t seem able or willing to do. Zachary Wigon’s The Heart Machine, for example, deftly captures the way technology and in the internet are embedded into our lives and mediate our relationships. It feels absolutely of our time.
We also like filmmakers who are very film-literate, who like to pay tribute to the giants whose shoulders they stand on, while making very original works of cinema. Young Ones is a love letter to both the Western and the heyday of 70s sci-fi. Land Ho! Pays tribute to the 80s buddy comedy while delivering subtle observational insights that transcend the genre.
What do you look for from a Canadian film for Possible Worlds?
Canadian cinema is on fire right now. When we launched the festival in 2006, you were hard-pressed to see a Canadian film in cinemas. Today, you’ll find three Canadians in competition in Cannes, nine Canadian features in the Sydney Film Festival, and brilliant films made North of Hollywood getting a theatrical release, like Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle or Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell.
Xavier Dolan is more than just a pretty face. It still doesn’t have an Australian distributor, but Tom At The Farm has a place in our program, as does Miraculum, in which he delivers a standout performance.
Robert Lepage is known around the world for his masterful theatre productions, which tour regularly to Australia for Sydney Festival. Lesser known is his very personal film work, including Triptych, in which he distils stories from his 9 hour stage play Lipsynch.
Long before their Oscar-nominations for Incendies, Monsieur Lazhar or Dallas buyers Club, you could discover the early work of Denis Villeuneuve, Philippe Falardeau or Jean-Marc Vallee at Possible Worlds. This year’s discovery is Matt Johnson. The Dirties is bold and subversive high-school film that navigates cleverly between genres to create one of the biggest cinematic surprises this year. We’ll hear a lot more from him in coming years, I’m sure of it.
Who are the most exciting American and Canadian independent filmmakers working today?
In Canada I’d have to say Denis Villeneuve, who now has access to some of the best talent in the business; Bruce LaBruce, who keeps shaking up the traditional image of polite Canadian society with his quietly subversive queer cinema; Guy Maddin, a true maverick who makes film in what seems to be complete independence; Xavier Dolan, whose youthful talent is no fluke, both as a director and as an actor (we’re screening both Tom At The Farm and Miraculum); Sarah Polley, who’s doing young adult fiction next, adapting the author of The Fault In Our Stars, but still I’ll be first in line to see what she does with the material.
In the US, I’m particularly excited by the work of Lynn Shelton, Kelly Reichardt, Joe Swanberg, Richard Linklater and Aaron Katz.
I love your new logo. Your festival says that “it evokes the classic motel or casino signage that is characteristic of the typical American or Canadian road trip.” With that in mind, if you had to program a double feature of a casino film and a road movie, what would you recommend?
Yeah, we had a lot of fun creating the poster this year, for which designer Alex De Bonis built a motel sign from scratch.
There aren’t many good films set in Casinos. I like The Good Thief, Hard Eight and Canadian drama Owning Mahowny, with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Road movies on the other hand make up the backbone of American cinema. My favourites were all made within a 5-6 year period: Bonnie And Clyde, Easy Rider, Vanishing Point, Duel, Two-Lane Blacktop, Badlands…
But to work as a double feature, I’d pick two mid-90s numbers by John Dahl: Rounders and Red Rock West. They’re far from perfect, but if you stopped in a Motel 6 by the highway and they were on TV you probably wouldn’t switch them off.
Possible Worlds, 9th US & Canadian Film Festival runs August 7-17 at Event Cinemas George Street in Sydney. For the full line-up, visits www.possibleworlds.net.au.
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.