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Sydney Film Festival Diary Day 5
by Michael Collins

The SFF 2003 continues in earnest with Day 5. A Day marked by more comments from Festival Director Gayle Lake lamenting the banning of Ken Park. To the films, we see Silver Bear winner Blind Shaft (itself a subject to banning in its home country of China) and the tragedy that is, Stevie.

Day 5 started with STEVIE. A documentary from Steve James who was one of the minds behind the rather overlong Hoop Dreams.

James again dedicated a very long time with the subjects with the story lasting several years. From inner city black basketball players the attention is now white trailer trash in rural Illinois. You would think that the two wouldn’t have much in common, but familiar themes of economic and social disadvantage again rear their heads. In the case of Stevie we have a far more tragic story.

Stevie Fielding met film maker Steve James back when they were part of the Advocate Big Brother program. Fielding desperately needed guidance and James was the one to try and help. It didn’t really work out and they parted ways

With James’ thought of making a film about Fielding, they met up again ten years later with James finding Fielding in trouble with the law and things looking hard for his family. James thinks his worst fears have come true, but as James learns, things get much worse.

This was an extremely personal account of Fielding with James ignoring the line of merely being an observer to fully participate in Fielding’s life - and what a tragically sad life it is. The petty trouble with the law was not unexpected, but the far more serious crime Fielding commits is a horror and a tragedy.

Fielding is a classic example of an abandoned abused life. Despite being in his late 20s he has the emotional maturity of a twelve year old, and it has the most dreadful and tragic of repercussions.

This film was quite a confrontation of what may be your views on such a person as Fielding. Some people might be ready to quickly dismiss him and wish him speedily to hell, but seeing a film like this forces you to reassess those views.

Just as interesting was the effect it has on James. He’s a main player in this story and we see him deal with the guilt of actions in relation to Fielding. Powerful stuff.

To lighten things up a bit came BLIND SHAFT. No, not a sequel to Shaft, it was one of those films that started off painfully slowly, but the story became quite strong and had a good pay off in the end.

Two men work in mines with the ruse that a third person is their brother. They end up killing the third man and take a compensation pay out as relatives of the victim. Not much is investigated into the death as the mines are illegal operations in the first place. The mine owners are happy to let the miners take the money and run.

To set up their next con they meet up with a sixteen year old kid who they propose to set up as their nephew. One of the con men however becomes attached to the kid and things get complicated from then on.

Winner of the Silver Bear at Berlin this year this excellent little film had a really good story to overcome the weaknesses that were on the peripheries. The acting wasn’t that great from minor characters and the direction is defiantly lethargic (the lack of music adds to this). The subtitles in this print were also not the greatest which made it more difficult to make a connection with the characters.

Yet the film came out a winner since it shows so well the plight of miners in these illegal operations in China. The sequences are dark and the worst kind of claustrophobia you will ever see in a film.

The director of the film, Yang Li, later talked to the audience about making the film. He said that the film is actually illegal in China and that he had to risk his life to make it. Taking film equipment down actual mines was an extremely hazardous exercise.

It was great to see such passionate film making. Such dedication was wonderful to see. It certainly goes a long way to balance out all the money making production line film making in Hollywood.

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originally posted: 06/10/03 23:40:49
last updated: 01/03/04 16:29:30
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