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Sydney Film Festival 2005 Diary Part I
by Michael Collins

Join us as we make our way through the Sydney Film Festival. With the first few days spent at the State Theatre read on to hear about a night in a small radio station, bungling film makers and the consequences of playing ball in a minefield.

The festival had a slow start for me.

The opening night film My Summer of Love had a accepting if not overwhelming reaction. It seem to be a, yeah-it-was-nice-but-not-what-one-would-accept-for-an-opening-nighter, type of reaction.

I checked out Story Undone and it's accompany short, Little Terrorist

The short was a nice little number that packed quite a punch in its short running time.

Some kids are playing ball near the minefield border of Pakistan and India. The ball rolls into the minefield and one of the boys carefully slowly and perhaps foolishly crawls into the field to retrieve the ball.

Shots ring out and the kid gets disoriented and makes a run for it.

Now he's not being careful or slow, but the foolishness is still in force.

He somehow manages to make it out of the minefield, but he's now on the wrong side of the border and the border guards are after him.

One of the trickiest things to get across borders (apart from drugs) is humour. When humour deals with very serious subjects it's often difficult to tell when someone from a different culture is joking or not. The more different the culture the more difficult it is. Little Terrorist uses humour in this way and for the most of it you catch on with the laughs.

The film was a nice discourse of the absurdity of a lot of the issues that surround terrorism.

In the feature, Story Undone, we also get an example of humour dealing with a serious matter. Set in Iran we following a documentary film making duo as they try to follow some refugees cross the border.

The pair a quite the bunglers - they try and set up a rendezvous with a bus load of people attempting to leave the country. They duly pay the people smugglers for some access, but then a series of fights, bungles and masks falling off lead to the smugglers having enough and they kick the film makers off the bus.

You would be laughing off your seat if you didn't have this feeling in the back of your mind about the seriousness of the subject matter.

The humour reaches a high point when a police / thieves / refugees confrontation is averted by the film makers quick thinking.

It's an oddly surreal film. That is probably due to the clash of humour with people who are literally running for their lives. It's an interesting twist on my experience of Iranian films which are usually told so straight and quite glumly.

It's hard for this pair of western eyes to completely get the humour. Everyone in the film delivers with such a straight face. You think they are joking, but you can't be entirely sure.

The print I saw was a little dodgy and perhaps technically the film could have made some improvements. We must, of course acknowledge the trying circumstances that often need to be over come in making films like this.

When I left this film though, I felt informed about an aspect of Iranian life was like and I also thought the film was funny. I guess that can't be a bad thing.

Green Bush and 5 Seasons were two medium length films that were made as part of CAAMA, The Central Australia Aboriginal Media Association.

Association president Priscilla Collins made the interesting point that a culture is defined in its ability to make art. The Aboriginal culture had often been dismissed as not being a proper culture despite its strong if not central artistic expression aspect of their culture.

The films show aboriginals in a positive light without shying away from the dark issues that face the aboriginal community.

Green Bush is a night in the life of a presenter of a community radio station near Alice Springs. He plays requests for his people who are in jail at the moment and the station also provides a refuge for those who don't feel safe being by themselves at night. I was quite struck by how DIY it all felt. The technology used in the radio station was decades old.

David Page's performance as Kenny the DJ was excellent as he carries the bulk of the film.

The second part of the session was the documentary Five Seasons. It uses the interesting notion that in East Arnhiem land the locals see there being five distinct seasons to show a year in the life of the community there.

Five Seasons was a bit more hi-fi looking than Green Bush and slightly more involved in the direction. It showed the plight of the community striving to preserve its culture. A society keen to teach its young people traditional ways and to bring to light those who threaten it existence.

From the plight of a indigenous culture to the plight of a displaced one we move to A Day Without Mexicans.

First though there was the plight of a Pinata. Those toy animals that kids love to beat the hell out of until treats fall out of them. In this hilarious computer animated film we get an idea of what one of these pinatas thinks when it first acknowledges its existence and its surroundings and then how to deal with being the object of destruction that kids with big sticks find so much fun.

A Day Without Mexican continues the humour theme. Its a tongue in cheek look at what would happen to California if the Hispanic community suddenly disappeared.

The humour dissipates though with the following film In The Battlefields.

A much more sombre and formal film, it tells the story of a family during the 1980s civil war. The war is only in the background, though. It's a constant annoyance at the back of everybody's mind rather that the centre of attention.

The family in the film however act just like a war zone. The father and his sister have gambling problems, the maid of the family wants to go to Syria, the mother just wants to get the hell out and the young daughter looks on trying to makes sense of it all.

You quite quickly feel the oppressive nature of the situation of the film. It is filmed in an oppressive, even ugly way. There's nothing pleasant going on here so the story is shown accordingly in a very formal and glum manner. The daughter wants to kill herself and I could completely understand.

The destruction of innocence going on here was almost too much. There were some people who left during this film. Telling the truth and telling it truthfully is great and everything, but hard to watch. Painful subjects do not have to be show in a painful was as was shown by A Day With Mexicans.

The young girl's wide innocence is striking but the film is so overwhelming grim that it makes it hard to sit through.

Next in the SFF diary will be dogs and Mexicans and how they change peoples lives.

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originally posted: 06/15/05 08:13:21
last updated: 06/17/05 15:03:54
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