Film Reviews: Sydney Film Festival 2013 Day 2

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th June 2013.

It is day 2 at the Sydney Film Festival and things are starting early for me with a 10am screening at the State Theatre. I really love seeing films here. The sound may not be fantastic and the screen is a little small compared to the megaplex stadium style of cinema to which we are now accustomed, but there is something old school and charming about enjoying a movie in a grand theatre, complete with sculptures and chandeliers.

I have fond memories of coming to the State Theatre with my late grandmother to see several Alby Mangels’ World Safari films. This series of movies featured the rugged explorer sailing the world, accompanied by a nubile girlfriend and a dog. Inevitably, some unfortunate accident would ensure that neither the girlfriend or dog made it to the end of the film, but sure enough, Alby would find a new set of companions for the next instalment.

Rule #37: Just like getting out of town when Jessica Fletcher arrives for a visit (someone is getting murdered), you should never accept an invitation to be Alby Mangels’ onscreen girlfriend, or dog.

Ginger and Rosa is the latest film from English director Sally Potter (Orlando, The Boy Who Cried). Set in the 60’s, the titular teenage characters have been friends since birth but are now starting to grow apart. Ginger is concerned about the threat of nuclear destruction and Rosa is more interested in boys and smoking. When Rosa takes up with Ginger’s estranged pacifist father, their lives are shattered.

This is Elle Fanning’s film. Following on from her radiant performance in Super 8, she is the best young actress working today. Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures), daughter of Aussie director Jane Campion, is also impressive as Rosa. Annette Bening, Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall make the most of their supporting characters. Ginger and Rosa is sure to be a hit in the arthouse scene.

Documentary The Moo Man follows dairy farmer Steve Hook. He owns a small herd of cows near Hailsham in Sussex and sells raw, organic milk via his home delivery service and at local markets. At risk of being crushed by the major supermarket chains, Steve has a close relationship with his cows and runs his family farm in a traditional way.

The first 60 minutes of the film are a joy. We follow Steve talking to his cows, milking them, talking to them, helping them give birth, talking to them and bottling the milk by hand. Nothing much happens, but that’s the charm of the piece. Unfortunately, the film is about 30 minutes too long and I found myself squirming when several opportunities to conclude the film were missed.

I closed my Sydney Film Festival 2013 movie marathon with Grigris, a French-Chadian film. Grigris has a gammy leg and makes a living working for his uncle and picking up some extra cash dancing in nightclubs. When his uncle falls ill, Grigris turns to illegal petrol smuggling. Unfortunately, he’s not a very good trafficker and soon plots to steal a delivery, with potentially disastrous consequences for himself and his new girlfriend, the local prostitute with a heart of gold.

I found the plotline to be a little dreary and the stuff of standard late night movie fodder on SBS. Whilst the depiction of life in Chad was interesting, stupid people making stupid decisions is yawn inducing worldwide.

Sydney Film Festival closed on Sunday and will be back, bigger and better, in 2014.

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.