By Michael Collins
Posted 06/29/05 16:21:05

My Sydney Film Festival experience was to be struck down by illness (my own illness), but that was not before I got stuck into a good selection of the films that were had sex themes.

Saturday saw my first day (or at least evening) at the George Street cinemas.
It's great to see the SFF hitting this venue.

There's lots of signage in the foyer informing of the festival, but it's not
quite as clear what specific films are actually are showing. It would be better
to have the individual films listed on the session times screens as that would
give a chance to attract some passers by who may not have normally think of going
to the festival. Surely that's the purpose of taking the festival to that venue.

When I was picking up my tickets I was greeted with the news that both sessions
for the Hank Williams doco, Honky Tonk Blues had sold out. Great stuff.

Murderball proves to us that stupid macho bullshit is not limited to fully-abled
men. It seems quadriplegic men have it too.

Murderball tells the story of some of the US wheelchair rugby team and a former
US player who is now coaching Canada.

We start at the World championships where there is an upset victory. The rest of
the film concentrates on the lead to the Olympics in Greece two years later with
rematch or more accurately, revenge is on a lot of people's minds.

The American coach of a the Canadian team is quite the task master of both the
Canadian team and his own family. Very much a tough love thing going on hear. It
benefits the Canadian team, it has mixed results with his family.

As a subplot we look at some recently injured patients as they go through the
difficult rehabilitation process. They are introduced to Wheelchair rugby as a
glimmer of hope for those that have been through a tragic accident.

The Hamburg Cell follows the last fews years of the life of one of the 9/11
hijackers. You get the idea he's just a guy who fell in the wrong crowd. Or the
right crowd depending on your views.

When we first meet up with the film's lead character he's not even a particular
devout Muslim. He is to go through quite a transformation.

The film is shown in a simple straightforward manner. It has a lo-fi feel to
it, yet it is still accessible including having the film predominantly in
English. This film is clearly for an American/Western audience.

The characterisations are sympathetic and it was well paced. The lo-fi music at
the beginning and the glum look of Hamburg was a touch off-putting, but I guess
that's what the place is really like.

The film was really well done - it tells it straight - It doesn't make them seem
like they are out and out evil - they're just people who take on and extreme
action of tremendous violence. The lead character especially seems like a guy
who is just with normal feelings that anyone can relate to.

Rock School is a documentary on the School of Rock run by the
meanest, toughest, roughest child councillor on the East Coast you ever did see.

Coming from the I'm-shouting-at-you-because-I-love-you school of teaching. This
guy is tough on these kids - Real tough.

He'd probably scare the parents of the students if they knew what he said to the
kids. Yet the kids take it because they find themselves achieving much more than
they thought they would be capable of achieving.

The natural music talents who are already driven achieve as you would expect and
we all love that.

The most impressive progress though is the ones who aren't natural talents
and are there for reasons other that music. One particular child says that he
has attempted suicide on a number of occasions. By the end of the film to see his
transformation - even though he quits Rock School - is a testament of the school
and the teachers' methods.

Continuing on the music theme was Wattstax Ė a concert film from the early 1970s. This was a late starting session at Hoyts Ė about 20 minutes late. Once it got started I warmed to it quickly.

From the opening speech by Jessie Jackson we are made fully aware that this is a political event. The music is almost secondary to the interviews and the political statements made during the film.

The print was a great restoration. The sound was excellent so we could not only enjoy the music, but also clearly hear the words of the people interviewed during the film. It was only a stereo soundtrack, but it did sound and feel good.

A young Richard Pryor features heavily during the film. He is one of many people interviewed during the film, but he treats the interview like a stand up routine. Hilariously telling it how it is, heís biting and caustic as he punctuates the film. Unusually for a music film, you are actually looking forward to the interviews in between songs.

With Wattstax running late I left the film early to see Absolut. In the end I probably wish I hadnít.

A cleaner and political activist plans to install a computer virus into a bankís computer system. Things go awry though and the cleaner canít be sure if he had installed the virus or not Ė He has lot his memory of the time spent in the bankís computer lab.

To help him remember he checks himself into treatment to get his memory back. This is when the weirdness sets in. There is a suspicion that his memories are somehow planted into his mind. Reality then takes a back seat and things start to get weird.

Despite being a French Swiss film it had a more German feel to it. Filmed on ugly DV, the film had a very formal look to it.

In the final third of the film I began to lose interest. The disorientation that the filmís protagonist was feeling was transferred to the film watcher. There was just too much whoops! Nope, that didnít happen. Ha ha tricked you, moments that it just got tiring.

The ending of the film did redeem the film somewhat with the interview . . . at least of what I can remember about it anyway.

SFF05 Part IV

To see kids fully clothed playing in a fountain is a funny thing to see if a film during a festival that is in the middle of winter and it wet and cold everyone catching a cold. Feels downright weird to see.

Half Priced details the trial and tribulations of three preteen-ish French kids. They are a trio of brats basically. They steal, sneak into films, ride on trains without paying, beg for money, and get in trouble at school when they bother to turn up.

This film was made by a young filmmaker and it was impressive to see a unique style in someone so young. Thereís evidence that a lot of thought was made in the way the film was shot and the performances of the kids are all too real. It feels exactly like a documentary, but you hope that what these kids arenít real. Because they are suck little shits!

There were no beginning or end credits. We were in and out of these kids lives like a bolt of blue.

The all too real theme was to continue with Inside Deep Throat Ė a documentary on the making of and repercussion of the infamous porn Deep Throat featuring Linda Lovelace. It being a film that was scandalously a hit in the early 70s. The documentary tells of oppressive censorship and exploitation of pretty much everyone concerned.

The paradox of porn for me floats between being ok with it (because itís only sex and we shouldnít be hung up about it) and distaste (because it so grossly exploitative of its participants who seem to be seriously mixed up).

The documentary keeps clear of making a stand about porn and instead looks at the lives of the people who made the film and what happened to them after making the it. In short nobody seems to have done any good out of the film except maybe The Mob who kept all the cash of which some (probably exaggerated) reports say amounted to about $600 million.

The male star of the film is set up as a scapegoat. While the director and Lovelace were granted immunity from prosecution the male star faced jail time. The free speech brigade gets in his corner to help his fight and itís interesting to see where the guy ends up.

The doco very effectively captures the times and what epitomised the porn chic. It seemingly was a time of innocence that was quick to be stamped upon.

Continuing the sex theme (well why not?) was the autobiographical I Am A Sex Addict.

Done with humour and engagingly told we see the life of a man with an addiction to prostitutes which was told matter of factly, simply and with humour. The film has that reality busting nature to it. Itís like a dramatised documentary. Speeches to camera and real situations with fake people.

At no time during the film does he address the underlying reasons of why he has the addiction. Which leads me to believe that he is destined to repeat his previous deeds even though Ė as shown at the beginning of the film Ė he is set to get married for the third time.

This guy is really testing the traditional vales of relationships. Itís interesting that these dark and terrible desires and deeds that this guy has are amusingly told and make them seem funny - At least initially anyway.

For the first half of the film there is an effective use of pathos, but as the film progresses I started to turn on this guy. Heís a prick and when that it realised you stop thinking the film is funny. One certainly doesnít hope for a happy ending.

The structure of the film is interesting. Iíll give him that. Yet as I got to know this guy my esteem of this guy gradually decreased.

That was to be the end of my festival experience. Ending somewhat prematurely as the festival Ďflu took a firm grip of my throat and lungs I was confined to home and not wanting to go out in the wet and cold. A stark contrast to the weather last year when it felt weird to be inside a cinema when it was glorious weather last year.

Despite a shortened festival it was still an enjoyable festival. Festival director, Lynden Barberís selections were varied and the expansion of venues and the increased flexibility of ticketing arrangements were more than welcome. There were a couple of hitches (some subtitles problems and empty seats in supposedly sold out sessions), but it did not detract from an enjoyable festival. Bring on 2006!

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