New Australian films and their international festival potential By Julietta Zacharova
It was a real pleasure to give the FIPRESCI Award to Look Both Ways, the feature debut by Australian female director Sarah Watt, at this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival which concluded on August 8. The award acknowledges not only the talent of Watt, who is known in the Australian film scene for her animation work, but it also signals to the international film community that there is indeed something interesting happening in Australia nowadays, even though we only see Australian films rather sporadically at international festivals.
Recent Australian films that have travelled, or have the potential to travel, include: Tony Krawitz´s Jewboy, which screened this May in Cannes and then at festivals such as Karlovy Vary and Melbourne; Little Fish directed by Rowan Woods and starring Cate Blanchett, which opened the Melbourne festival and should go to Toronto; and the above-mentioned Look Both Ways, which opened the Adelaide festival before screening at both Melbourne and Brisbane. This latter film has been invited to the Zabaltegi section of the San Sebastian International Film Festival and also to Toronto, with more invitations surely to follow.
Apart from these features (with international campaigns already started or soon to start) I would like to draw the attention of journalists and other film professionals to a few other titles that appeared in Brisbane and/or Melbourne.
The first is Blowin´ in The Wind, one of the most disturbing and saddening films screened at Brisbane. Directed by two-time Academy Award nominee, Australian David Bradbury, the film confronts the viewers with the very present and tangible threat of radioactive waste from DU, or depleted uranium. Bradbury is known for his strong and controversial political engagements. He not only explains the dangers inherent for all of us in the use of DU for projectiles and bombs, he also shows concrete victims of DU who-surprisingly for quite a number of audiences-may be found not only among the populations of countries that have suffered wars recently, but also in the filmmaker’s homeland of Australia.
At this year’s Brisbane festival, Bradbury received the Chauvel Award, which recognizes significant contribution to Australian cinema. His question-and-answer session with local critic, David Stratton, was one of the most interesting events of the festival.
Other remarkable new Australian films that I would like to mention include Kriv Stenders’ Blacktown and Janet Merewether’s Jabe Babe-A Heightened Life. These films both screened in Melbourne and Brisbane, and I believe that both are not without chances to travel to other festivals (though their availability on only BETACAM might prove to be a limitation).
Merewether’s very stylish and fresh documentary tells the story of Jabe, whose life is dominated by her suffering from Marfan’s Syndrome which, apart from other things, accelerates growth. Jabe is very tall with long fingers and feet, and her health condition is quite serious, yet modern medicine enables her to survive and continue with her lonesome life. Thanks to film’s carefully chosen aesthetics and the very intimate monologues through which Jabe is introduced, Merewether-despite a rather long and not very persuasive opening-provides us with one of the most interesting films of recent Australian cinema.
While Jabe Babe took a long time to get started, the main failures of Stenders’ Blacktown can be seen in the last 15 minutes of his film. As in Jabe Babe, style is again a very strong element, and cinema verité-or perhaps rather the dogma style-makes the story very raw and emotional. Viewers, critics, and festival programmers will need to forgive and forget the unprofessionally recorded sound (which is very disturbing in some scenes) and will also have be merciful to those parts of the film that would obviously welcome re-editing. However, those who make these allowances will be rewarded by the very captivating love story of Nicki, a disillusioned woman in her thirties, and Tony, an Aboriginal social worker who is a recovering alcoholic and ex-con. Tony is a strong, charismatic character and so is the performance of Tony Ryan in the leading role. His feelings for a lonely secretary, Nicki, come across as authentic and believable. Yet it seems rather naive when the director suddenly chooses to ignore the obviously problematic elements of a relationship between people from completely different environments in favour of finishing the story with a happy wedding. This ending detracts from a lot that this story had to tell us about loneliness and the fragility of feelings.
Despite several problems, Jabe Babe and Blacktown definitely belong with Look Both Ways, Blowin´ in the Wind and Little Fish as Australia ‘s most interesting films for this year. They mark the end of the first century of feature-filmmaking in Australia in a dignified way. Hopefully this body of films will not remain unnoticed among the international film community, and we might look forward to seeing at least some of this recent crop of Australian cinema at festivals and also in theatrical distribution.