Film Reviews: Sydney Film Festival 2013 Day 1

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 11th June 2013.

Every June, cinephiles from all over Australia make their annual pilgrimage to Sydney in order to drink coffee, stand in queues, eat sandwiches and watch as many films as humanly possible. It’s time for the Sydney Film Festival. This year, due to time constraints, my scheduled involved seven films in two days, so find a seat in the general admission area, pop a No-Doz and enjoy these rapid fire reviews of my first day at SFF.

William and the Windmill is a doco about William Kamkwamba, a young man from Malawi, who built a windmill from junk to generate electricity for his family’s home. Championed by bloggers worldwide, Kamkwamba is thrust into the spotlight and soon becomes a celebrity and bestselling author. Now a student at the prestigious Dartmouth College, the film is a fascinating portrait of a man bridging two worlds, and whose native language does not have a word for stress.

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill uncovers the disturbing truth behind the US Government’s covert operations in Dirty Wars. This documentary is slickly edited to resemble a blockbuster thriller and shows that nothing is sacred in the “war on terror”, not even innocent civilian lives, international borders or the assassination of US citizens. I left the screening feeling unsettled, which I am sure was the desired effect.

I really did not enjoy F@ck for Forest, a doco which follows a band of misguided free spirits in Berlin who produce and sell homemade porn to raise funds to save the rainforests. I must admit to having just a little chortle when the hippies arrive in the South American rainforests to find that the locals do not understand free love and have no interest in their money. Not for the faint hearted, this challenging piece made me realise that sometimes a cake stall isn’t enough.

A Hijacking is a taut Danish thriller about the ramifications at home and onboard when a cargo ship is taken for ransom by Somali pirates. Shot in a semi-documentary style on a ship that had actually been hijacked, it is hard not to empathise with both the crew and the company bosses as negotiations move painfully slowly and the days turn to weeks and then months. I’m sure an English language remake is just around the corner.

Legendary Australian photographer William Yang has been showing his work in a live theatre slideshow format since the eighties. I attended the world premiere of William Yang: My Generation, his tenth live show reimagined as a film. Yang lovingly relives his experiences as a social scene photographer amongst Sydney’s artistic elite. This film will screen on Sunday Arts Up Late on ABC1, Sunday June 16 at 10:25pm and comes highly recommended.

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