Monday, June 27, 2016

Sydney Film Festival, Day 12: Closing Night, Awards, and Final Thoughts

We've finally made it to the final day of the Sydney Film Festival - more than a week since the festival actually closed. I apologize for the lateness of these final recaps: since the festival closed, I've started my internship with the festival's Traveling Film Festival (a roadshow-style presentation of select films from the main festival in different parts of Australia), explored the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, and discovered exciting things here in Sydney. But now I can finally put a button on things with the final three screenings, plus awards.

Before we get into those things, however, I want to say a few things about my experience here. The Sydney Film Festival was my first festival, and I could not have asked for a better one. The venues were fantastic, especially the historic State Theatre; I also saw films in the Event Cinemas on George Street, the Dendy Opera Quays in Circular Quay, and the Dendy Newtown. The films, regardless of quality, were worth seeing for one reason or another, and I only wish that I could have seen even more. Seeing 22 films in a 12 day period is exhausting, but I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to marathon my way through films from all over the world, several of which may not ever get a Stateside release. I hope that one day I'll be able to come back and do it again.

And now we can get to the final day. Short films are hugely important in the Australian film industry. There is limited government support for film production; therefore, a strong short film greatly increases a filmmaker's chances of getting the funding for a feature project. As a result, the Sydney Film Festival sponsors an official competition slate for Australian short films, complete with cash prizes for the winners and a shot of acclaim.

More after the jump.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Sydney Film Festival, Days 10 & 11: A Haunting Animated Fable and a Quirky Coming-of-Age Fairy Tale

Family films often get short-shrift when we talk about quality movies, especially at film festivals. Rarely do they make the main competition lineups at Cannes, Berlin, or Venice, all of which favor "serious" material over anything that a child could understand. Even Sydney relegates its family films to separate section, designated for children so that parents know which films are safe for their children. There's nothing wrong with parents making informed choices regarding what their kids watch, but it's still a shame that such films don't get higher-profile spots in the lineup.

For example, a film such as The Red Turtle (grade: A-), an animated film by Dutch filmmaker Michael Dudok de Wit and co-produced by Studio Ghibli, would have made a wonderful higher-profile feature at the festival (though, granted, the film was a late addition to the festival). The film is an almost dialogue-free story of a man who is shipwrecked on a deserted island whose attempts at rescue are thwarted by the titular sea turtle. The turtle is not what it seems, however.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sydney Film Festival, Days 8 & 9: Two Political Comedies and an Evening with Mel Gibson

For reasons too banal to get into, I've fallen way behind on my reporting from the Sydney Film Festival. As of the time of this writing, the festival has been officially closed for almost 24 hours. I'll do my best to accelerate the pace of these posts so that they'll be as timely as possible.

Before I discuss the films, however, I had the pleasure (of sorts) of attending a special event, "An Evening with Mel Gibson."

More after the jump.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sydney Film Festival, Day 7: An Outrageous Australian Satire and a Jarmusch Tone Poem

Film restoration is an essential task facing the art today, as anyone who's listened to Martin Scorsese talk in the last 20 years knows. Celluloid decays as it ages, and as a result a vast number of films - including nearly all early silent films - are in danger of being lost forever. This is especially true in nations without developed film industries, where the lack of interest or ability to protect film means that scores of films will never be salvaged again. Luckily, there are organizations dedicated to preservation: the Criterion Collection, for example, and the Library of Congress are both essential bodies in the United States. Australia has the National Film and Sound Archive, but pitiful government funding is a huge hurdle to its continued success.

Last night, the NFSA presented its latest restoration project: Bliss (grade: B), an essential Australian satire from 1985 directed by advertising director Ray Lawrence. The film is based on a novel by Peter Carey and tells the story of adman Harry Joy (Barry Otto), who dies for four minutes and wakes up to a skewed world. His wife Bettina (Lynne Curran) is having an affair with his business partner Joel (Jeff Truman), his daughter Lucy (Gia Carides) is buying coke from his son David (Miles Buchanan) in exchange for sexual favors, and he is having increasingly vivid hallucinations while falling in love with prostitute Honey Barbara (Helen Jones).

There's an irreverent streak that runs through most of the film, which makes it surprising when it becomes heartfelt and conventional.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sydney Film Festival, Day 6: An Australian Classic and a Chinese Debut

Believe it or not, I'm now over halfway through my festival screenings. Out of the 22 films I have scheduled, I've now seen 13 of them, including the two in today's post. And if I'm being completely honest, I'm exhausted. The next couple of days will only have one or two films each, so these posts will get shorter.

Today was the world premiere of a new restoration of The Boys (grade: A-), the 1998 Australian crime classic. The film picks up with Brett's (David Wenham) release from prison, where he was serving a sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He returns home to his mother (Lynette Curran), brothers Stevie (Anthony Hays) and Glenn (John Polson), girlfriend Michelle (Toni Collette), and Stevie's new girlfriend Nola (Anna Lise). It doesn't take long, however, for Brett to settle back into his violent ways, encouraged by (and encouraging) his brothers in a series of escalating confrontations between the men and women of the house.

More after the jump.

Sydney Film Festival, Day 5: Dolan's Dud, An Afghan Rapper, and "Indian 'Bridesmaids'"

Managing expectations at film festivals can be tough. In some cases, the film is brand new, either celebrating its premiere or simply very obscure outside of the festival circuit (I would estimate at least half of the films showing at this festival will never see a US release). In other cases, the films arrive on a wave of hype from previous screenings, whether by winning prizes at other festivals or coming from high-profile filmmakers who typically inspire raves. Knowing what to expect from any film varies significantly from very high bars to practically no bar at all.

It's the former that greets It's Only the End of the World (grade: C), Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan's latest feature. The film, which won the 27-year-old the Grand Prix (essentially second place) at Cannes last month, tells the story of Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a young man afflicted with a terminal disease. He travels home for the first time in years to tell his mother (Nathalie Baye), brother (Vincent Cassel), sister (Lea Seydoux), and sister-in-law (Marion Cotillard) about his diagnosis, but old resentments and arguments get in the way.

If the above grade is any indication, the film did not live up to its lofty expectations. Instead of a rich family drama, the film is 90 minutes of awful people yelling horrible things at one another.

More after the jump.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sydney Film Festival, Day Four: A Timely Brazilian Allegory, An Aboriginal Documentary, and Color Guards

Now the exhausting part of the festival kicks in. Truth be told, three films in a single day is not that many, especially considering that hardcore festival goers are more likely to see at least four or five a day if they can. And there have been days in the past where I've sat at home watching three or four films in a row. Yet there's something different about going out and actually attending screenings, getting up early in the morning for a long day of movie watching, restaurant dining, and discussing the films with others. Believe me, it takes a lot out of you; the festival wears you down faster than you'd think.

Exhaustion is a theme of the first film I attended today, Aquarius (grade: B+). Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho's follow-up to his stunning debut Neighbouring Sounds (2012), the film centers on Clara (Sonia Braga), a breast cancer survivor who happens to be the only person left living in her building in Recife. A construction company eagerly attempts to convince her to sell the apartment, but Clara refuses: she's lived there for decades, and she will not be forced out by anyone. That is, until the company begins taking measures to evict her that escalate into a fight neither side expects.

More after the jump.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sydney Film Festival 2016, Day 3: The De-Camping of Almodovar and Madonna

Today I experienced something that's common at festivals: the mad rush between screenings that are scheduled close together. As soon as the credits rolled on Julieta at the State Theatre in downtown Sydney, I was out of my seat and out the door with 10 minutes to make it to the Event Cinemas on George Street for Strike a Pose. Thankfully, the rest of my screenings for the festival are either spaced better time wise or in the same venue as the previous feature, so I shouldn't have to make that dash again. Still, it was in that moment that I felt like a true festival-goer embracing the insanity of it all.

Speaking of insanity, revered Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar is famous for his madcap, campy sex comedies and dramas (All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). His latest film, Julieta (grade: B+), however, is a markedly different from his previous films. In fact, it almost feels like Almodovar set out to make a non-Almodovar film.

More after the jump.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Sydney Film Festival 2016, Days 1 and 2: A Complex Crime Thriller, A Quiet Masterpiece, and Weird Cartoons

Greetings from Sydney! I'm excited to attend my first film festival, and I want to share this experience with all of you. I'm a little bit behind on reporting here, but now that the Sydney Film Festival is underway, I will report back here every day with what I've seen. I'm currently scheduled to see a total of 22 films at the festival, many of them this first weekend as a result of my unwitting front loading. The films will be a wide variety of new and classic Australian films, recent competitors from other major festivals (including several that just played at Cannes last month), and a few odd films from around the globe. I will be seeing at least one film a day for the next 12 days, so be sure to come back daily for updates!

Me on Opening Night

The opening night film for this year's festival, Goldstone (grade: B), is an appropriate introduction to contemporary Australian film: a standard genre piece enlivened by cultural issues and a slightly askew style.

More after the jump.