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SFF: Closing Remarks

The Sydney Film Festival drew to a close on Saturday, capping it all off with the Australian premiere of the eagerly anticipated Howl’s Moving Castle. Not only that but Saturday night marked the first time the festival awarded films based on audience votes in the Sydney Film Festival Urban Cinefile Awards. This is the first time such prizes have been awarded, and will hopefully boost the Sydney Film Festival’s international standing. The winners were:

In World Cinema
Best Feature: Brothers (Directed by Susanne Bier)
Best Short: Ryan (Directed by Chris Landreth)
Best Documentary: Mad Hot Ballroom (Directed by Marilyn Agrelo)

Side Bar Program:
Best Feature: Blacktown (Directed by Kriv Stenders) (Australian)
Best Short: Journey To Mars (Directed by Juan Palbo Zaramella)
Best Documentary: Mad Hot Ballroom

While the Sydney Film Festival is the place to find world cinema that quite often doesn’t get distribution down here, it also provides itself as a source for discovering the up and coming Australian filmmaking talent like no other. Saturday was the day of the Dendy Awards, 17 short Australian films were screened in competition at the State Theatre before the winners were announced as the following:

2005 Dendy Awards for Australian Short Film
Documentary – The Men Who Would Conquer China Directed by Nick Torrens & Jane St Vincent Welch
Fiction Under 15 Minutes – 62 Sleeps Directed by Erin White
Fiction Over 15 Minutes – Green Bush Directed by Warwick Thornton
Experimental – The First Thing Else I Remember Directed by Tamara Meem
The 2005 CRC Award – Jewboy Directed by Tony Krawitz
The 2005 Yoram Gross Animation Award – The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello Directed by Anthony Lucas
The 2005 Rouben Mamoulian Award – Green Bush Directed by Warwick Thornton
The 2005 FIPRESCI Prize for Best Documentary – Darwin’s Nightmare Directed by Hubert Sauper
SBS Language Services Prize: Documentary – The Men Who Would Conquer China Directed by Nick Torrens & Jane St Vincent Welch
SBS Language Services Prize: Fiction Under 15 Minutes – 62 Sleeps Directed by Erin White
SBS Language Services Prize: Fiction Over 15 Minutes – Green Bush Directed by Warwick Thornton

Of all these I recommend most highly to watch out for Green Bush screening in international festivals. Indigenous filmmaking seems to be the secret for Australian film to bring itself to its full potential, evident as this film is a little treat following the community issues a radio D-J finds himself in at an Aboriginal Community station.

The festival thus winds down after two weeks of screening 170 films in only three cinemas playing a regular program, with a few other venues doing special screenings. The festival certainly provides the Sydney urban atmosphere for its attendees, two of its cinemas being nestled in the heart of the city, one only foot steps away from Centre Point Tower. The third cinema on the harbour, just down from the famous Opera House and opposite The Sydney Harbour Bridge.

(Here are Samuel’s last two capsule reviews… Note to Samuel: now you can go to sleep and recover)

Mean Creek

Mean Creek follows in the current trend of American cinema that captures the meanness in today’s youth, in this case mean a planned prank has fatal consequences. Maybe American youth is “mean”, but this film fails to deliver as do the other films that embark on such a subject matter.

It builds up in tension as a group of teenagers and two younger kids lead another kid down a creek to plot their revenge, a lot of violent actions and comments are passed back and forth. As the audience gets to know the kids it becomes apparent that nothing about them makes one care about what happens to them one way or the either. It is not exactly the screenplay’s fault, the film has an intelligent script but the younger actors can’t evoke any sympathy for their characters.

What is most enjoyable of Mean Creek is its haunting appearance. I have no doubt that director Jacob Aaron Estes and director of photography Sharone Meir captured the exact tone of the film that they were going for in the cinematography. As the group of teenagers attempt to come to terms with the fatal consequences of their prank on the edge of a forest, their ordeal is matched by the camera in each shot. If only this much attention had been paid to the acting then perhaps Mean Creek would not have become such an emotionally flat film.

(Ed’s note: I’ve got another bone to pick with Mr.Hilton! For a totally different opinion check out my review.)

Inside Deep Throat

Before the feature screened the Singaporean short titled Cut, a musical-comedy that develops as a man follows the National Film Censor, thanking her for stopping him from becoming a lesbian or a zombie from cutting out such material from films. It’s not long before he breaks into a song just to show his gratitude, this is comical satire at its best and speaks volumes for any audience in a nation where censorship of films occurs.

Pornography is rarely a subject handled tastefully in documentary films but Inside Deep Throat not only invites its audience to explore pornography, and its repercussions, as you would any art form but also acts as an insightful critique into the position of sex across the last three decades. Deep Throat was of course a pornographic film released in the 1970s, successfully drew in audiences across America, and continues to enjoy cult status today. The documentary focuses not only the production of the film, but its release, efforts to have it taken out of cinemas and its aftereffects for not only the individuals involved but American society as a whole.

Inside Deep Throat approaches a handful of controversial subjects, not only in pornography, but touches on the questionable ethics of the law enforcers but also the activity of the mob in the original film’s distribution. The filmmakers aren’t afraid to hold back either, taking quite an insiders look and at one point even showing the pornographic’s film title act. It uses the most colorful of characters from the film’s production and the pornographic industry to tell its story, who offer both analytical answers that make the exploration an enjoyable rather depressing experience. The tactful but probing approach comes as no surprise as directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato have tackled films on subjects ranging from Hitler’s sexuality to a murder committed by a New York club celebrity in Party Monster.

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