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SFF, Cockatoo Island, German Film Festival

On roll the festivals with announcements tumbling over each other. The Sydney Film Festival announced its first fifteen features and ten docos which you can find here www.sff.org.au/public/news/sydney-film-festival-2012-reveals-first-films/. Bookings don’t open for a few more weeks. This first announcement has at least cleared up the mystery of any future Sydney screenings for Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2011 Cannes and APSA prize-winner, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. These it would seem will be confined to the SFF and after that the film will head for DVD and presumably cable and SBS television. Also announced for Sydney is Ann Hui’s wonderfully warm A Simple Life, a prize-winner at Venice last year. At a screening I attended at Vancouver the audience, or at least most of the approximately 800 present, consisted of middle-aged and elderly Chinese people most of whom either quietly wept or sobbed loudly throughout. The appearance of the director Ms Hui, now a revered figure in Hong Kong cinema after thirty years of battling to get her kind of films made and seen, caused shrieks of delight and she was beset by the phone photographers for an age after the screening.

The SFF’s publicity burst didn’t entirely cause joy and thrall to break out in the population. Paul Pottinger, self-described as the sort of nerd who likes to go on about getting hold of Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight on DVD from Brazil and how it is in many ways the first of the modern film adaptations of Shakespeare wrote in The Daily Telegraph: (The SFF) “has for the most part been a cosy movie club for the black skivvy brigade and coves sporting berets sans irony. At its most commercial, proceedings have lightened up to allow the sort of middlebrow fare that a 702 Sydney listener might consider arty and challenging. At its most wilfully self-absorbed, it has made an Anarcho-Syndicalist Film Society appear like a pack of commercial sell-out bastards.” Still, no likely harm done and as per usual with snideness, no suggestions as to what might be offered. The overlap between readers of the Tele and SFF attendees is not high.

Elsewhere, the Cockatoo Island Film Festival, an event that has yet to take place but which is already prone to giving itself some pretty grandiose descriptions announced that in October “the world will witness the birth of Australia’s most vibrant and dynamic film festival, floating in the center of spectacular Sydney Harbour on Cockatoo Island, managed by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. Featuring the largest international competitive film program in Australia, Cockatoo Island Film Festival, 24th – 28th Oct, will be the place to showcase your films with the Australian and International screen industry, along with an estimated 45,000 festival-goers who will attend. Forty-eight films will be selected for competition in the following categories: Australian Narrative, Australian Documentary, World Narrative, World Documentary. In addition over 200 works will be selected for the International and Australian Short Film Competition that will include the Young Filmmaker of the Year award.” As well there will be additional screenings of Super-Indies (?!?), Premieres and Midnight specials. The festival website announces that all international films will be Australian Premieres and all Australian films New South Wales premieres so don’t expect to get your film in the SFF and then head for Cockatoo Island as well. No mention is made of screening fees or costs of submissions but I guess everything is negotiable. A monster may already be on the loose.

Finally in this section I can report on the forthcoming Festival of German Cinema which will be starting this Wednesday at the Chauvel Cinema in Paddington and no doubt elsewhere around the country in short order thereabouts. Something is happening with new German cinema that is causing more than a few people to sit up and take notice. That something would have been helped immeasurably when festivals around the world including Sydney and Melbourne screened the three part Dreileben to much acclaim last year. A mix of police procedural, love stories and enigmatic drama it was or is quite a treat and ought to be something that SBS would buy and heavily promote in much the same way as it has for the Danish series The Killing. I have by chance already seen a couple of the films screening in the GFF and I have also asked friend and German film aficionado Eddie Cockrell, who will be managing the festival intros and Q&As with the visiting directors, to give me his selection of the best five of the bulging 32 films on offer. Full details of all programs are here: http://www.goethe.de/ins/au/lp/prj/fia/ffg/enindex.ht

Eddie’s selection: A Family of Three (Pia Strietmann), The Good Neighbour (Stephan Rick), Sleeping Sickness (Ulrich Kohler), Stopped on Track (Andreas Dresen) and Three (Tom Tykwer). I would strongly endorse Sleeping Sickness seen at last year’s Sydney Film Festival. One other of considerable merit is Combat Girls (David F Wnendt). This film takes its time but the story is white hot and despite its unpromising title it is really strong stuff. The film follows two teenage girls who are involved with neo-nazi youth - they are part of a violently aggressive sub-culture that seems to fear nothing and brings a genuine hatred to the usual victims. The story arc involves one of the girls attaining some degree of insight as a result of her contact with an Afghan refugee but this doesn't turn her into a saint by any means and there is no love affair or romance between them. The Afghan himself is by no means a totally likable character being headstrong and rather foolish. A remarkable and quite detailed insight into the lives of this sub-group, their contempt for modern Germany and the lifestyle they live.

Finally I can report in this section that Screen Australia is still not bragging heavily about any Australian films selected for the major international film festivals via its web page http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/productions/F_A_Success/Recent_Int_Screenings.aspx . At least as of 15 April 2012, the page stops at the entries for Annecy in July 2011. All those triumphs at Toronto, Busan, Venice, Sundance, Rotterdam and Berlin mentioned in the unending press releases and speeches since then remain permanently unchronicled. (16 April 2012)