Friday, May 29, 2009

St. Kilda Film Festival

I was blown away by the two sessions I attended this evening at the St. Kilda Film Festival. I originally intended to see just the German Shorts but was able to squeeze a session of the local films in competition also. As expected, the German session was stronger, being the best of the InterFilm Berlin Film Festival. The real surprise was how strong the Australian films are. The programming has really picked up since I last saw a local session, with less of the one-joke plots, more variety and documentaries being the strongest contenders.

The Australian shorts I saw (session 4) were:
  • Collide-A-Scope (Gregory Godhard, 3')
  • Birthday Girl (Angie Black, 6'30")
  • A Different Cut (Fahim Ahad, 9'30")
  • Home Away From Home (Riyadh Abdul Hussain, 18'37")
  • Multiple Choice (Michael Goode, 4'46")
  • One Shoe Short (Jackie van Beek, 8'17")
  • Wounded (Fiona Corke, 6'09")
  • Undressing Vanessa (Matthew Pond, 22'36")
My biggest belly laughs were with Undressing Vanessa, a documentary about Tobin Saunders, better known as drag queen/performer/social activist Vanessa Wagner. Now, I've had friends who were cross-dressers, but this cat is totally wild and over-the-top. She's an impressive character with a social and political conscience and was involved with the Pauline Pantsdown spoof of Pauline Hansen several years ago. He's also a man with HIV and the film charts his struggles to come to terms with that. If you ever get the chance, see this wonderful little gem.

I loved that several of the films in this session had a political and/or social element to them. Home Away From Home is a very moving account of a lovely Iraqi man who worked as a marketing manager at Al-Jazeera TV and now finds himself driving a taxi in Adelaide. I couldn't help but surmise that that is how the director met him and got talking about his life. So my two favourite Australian shorts are both documentaries.

Also very strong are A Different Cut, which addresses racial prejudice, and Wounded, a story based on true accounts of former shooters who have been traumatised by their experiences of killing animals. I exchanged a few words with the director, Fiona Corke, after the session to ask her intent. It wasn't vegetarianism (which she isn't) but rather, to point out how damaging violence can be, in ways that aren't foreseen.

Collida-A-Scope is an experimental film that did nothing for me. Birthday Girl is about a woman grieving the death of her child that is OK but perhaps a little derivative (reminding me of Juliette Binoche in Paris je t'aime). One Shoe Short would make a good companion piece to Samson and Delilah, depicting aboriginal children living in poverty in Alice Springs, and recalling Iranian cinema with its focus on children. Multiple Choice is the only film that came close to that one-joke formula that I have disdain for, but it was clever enough not to be too silly and being only the one, it was quite OK.

The German shorts were:
  • Pingu Q (Kun Jia, 1’)
  • The Pick Up Artist (Der Aufreißer, Steffen Weinert, 13’)
  • Robin (Hanno Olderdissen, 20'30")
  • Apple on a Tree (Astrid Rieger, Zeljko Vidovic, 4'50")
  • It's My Turn (Bende Sira, Ismet Ergün, 10'05")
  • Cuddling with Politicians (Christian 3 Roosen, 4'50")
  • Frozen Sea (Likas Miko, 27’)
  • Our Wonderful Nature (Tomer Eshed, 5'05")
Where to start? Frozen Sea is the clear stand-out and this Likas Miko should be a talent to watch. I predict that his name will become more prominent. The film looks gorgeous with a raw naturalistic look, set in winter. The film has a mysterious edge to it, and we gradually learn about family secrets and lies. Told from a child's viewpoint, we see his parents quarrelling and the father is often absent. Things come to a head at Christmas and we realise that things are not always what they seem.

Apple on a Tree is a real festival crowd-pleaser. Highly inventive, visually amazing and very funny. Basically it's a musical (lyrics in English), an absurd pantomime not unlike the inventive music videos of Michel Gondry (think Björk). It depicts a man who is an apple on a tree who becomes a human and realises that it's better being an apple. This description doesn't do it justice, you just have to see it.

It's My Turn screens without sub-titles, and that is its original intent, because it's not even in German. Unless you're Turkish, you won't understand the words, but that's part of the experience. This film so strongly uses the language of cinema that it doesn't matter and maybe it's a better film because of it. It's terribly moving and it had me in tears like I haven't been for a long time. It's a very simple story which also recalls Iranian cinema's preoccupation with children and would have been very much at home in the Chacun son cinéma collection of shorts, made for the 60th anniversay of the Cannes Film Festival, that are an ode to cinema itself. It depicts a group of young boys who find a way to enjoy the cinema vicariously. I loved it immensely.

Pingu Q is just a quick little animation that serves as a crowd warmer. The Pick Up Artist is a bit of a one-joke plot, but well done. Robin is a fairly gritty social tale that looks very Kieslowski-like but not in the same league (which is not a criticism because I don't think anyone else is in that league). Cuddling With Politicians is OK for variety (but not much else). I saw Our Wonderful Nature at the Festival of German Films recently and obviously so did many others in the audience because the laughs came long before a fresh audience would know to laugh. Basically it's a spoof of a nature documentary, about the mating behaviour of water shrew, using Pixar-quality animation. In fact, you'd almost swear it was a Pixar production.

My evening at the George cinema (where the festival is running until Sunday night) restores my faith in short film, which received a kick-start at the recent Thornton shorts. I'm planning to see the French ones tomorrow along with a local session, and one or two sessions on Sunday. Kudos to Paul Harris and I believe this is his 11th year at the helm of the festival.

No comments: