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Done Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Sundance. Now Dun-gog.

Festival Launches Speed Auditions.

Three year old Dungog, the youngest but increasingly popular newcomer on the Australian film festival circuit, is fast becoming a favourite of industry, public and locals in this rural community three and a half hours from Sydney.

This is winemaking, farming and mining country – ensuring spirits are well lubricated, bodies well-fed and, due to distance between venues, well-exercised. Sponsorship by the state (New South Wales) mining council ensures that opening and closing parties really rock.

The area is dotted with country get-away properties of well-known actors and film-makers, accounting at least partly for the event’s success.

The brainchild of dynamic film-making duo Allanah Zitsermann and Stavros Kazantsidis, its co-founders and respectively director and managing director, DFF was originally conceived as an event with a single mission: the screening of Australian features, documentaries and shorts. It claims to be the largest showcase (in duration terms) of local films at any one single event even though London’s Barbican centre actually may show more films.

Dungog is as much about celebrating cinema history with screenings of works by pioneers like Charles Chauvel, (this year in the presence of his grandson Ric) as it is about industry workshops and screenings of current successes like Jeremy Sims’ Beneath Hill 60, premieres of upcoming movies, as about nurturing upcoming talent.

This year again female feature directors prominently featured with Gillian Armstrong and Nadja Tass, conducting popular Masterclasses.

Belinda Chayko’s (City Limits) Lou, a tender relationship drama about the bond between an 11 year old girl (impressive newcomer Lily Bell-Tindley) and her grandfather (British veteran John Hurt) starring award winning actress Emily Barclay, opened the programme.

Surviving Georgia’s protagonist, a country town mother (Caroline O’ Connor) who wants to return into the lives of daughters she abandoned as teens, was directed by Sandra Scribberas and Kate Whitbread.

As many of us city slickers departed home on Sunday evening, it was the locals’ turn for their finale, award-winning director Sue Brooks’ (Japanese Story) new romantic comedy, Subdivision, located in a small community threatened by a property development company.

One of the event’s most exciting talents, Alexandra Schepisi ’s 24 minute drama, One Night, provided a glimpse into the darker side of love, lust and loneliness in the lives of five women out on the town in Melbourne.
Over its four editions, organisers have evolved a rich and interesting programme that now includes industry initiatives like In the Raw, an informal variation of the Sundance script Lab with analysis, and feedback readying a screenplay for financing scrutiny, effective for the two projects in the inaugural 2008 slate.

The Australian Directors’ Guild’s put on a digital film-making workshop whilst leading composers and costume designers demystified their processes

But the most exciting Kazantsidis new initiative, turned out to be Speed Auditions, a contest for upcoming actors who were asked to send in a short audition piece based on an original script. Watched speed dating, now welcome to speed auditions.

The 200 candidates were culled to 10 finalists (7 females, 3 males) invited to Dungog to audition from a new script provided less than 24 hours prior to a camera and live audition judged by a panel of industry professionals.

These included CEO Paramount Australia, Mike Selwyn, directors Nadia Tass, Jeremy Sims and Rowan Woods, actors Cameron Daddo and Denise Roberts, principal and CEO of Screenwise which offers one component of the main prize (acting tuition) that also includes $5,000 and an 18 month representation by the festival.

With its strong industry links – and Hollywood’s avid interest in Australian actors – it may turn out to be quite a lucrative prize for the winner.

“It’s a great idea,” said Selwyn. “We’re not trying to replace the traditional audition process. But this event is turning into a festival for upcoming talents and the idea of helping actors on their way up fits in perfectly with the spirit of the festival. We’re looking for people who can make an impact and immediately have something to offer for the future of the industry.”

The judges’ decision, allegedly, was virtually unanimous. Whilst several candidates impressed, the stand-out was 37 year old Richard Carwin, a black belt karate martial arts expert (who coached wrestling to one of Sydney’s leading rugby teams) currently performing at a small inner city theatre who nailed his designated role of a prison inmate approached to go on a blind date with a woman on the outside.

“”He’s absolutely wonderful,“ raved Tass, adding “He has a really promising future.”

It is anticipated that Speed Auditions will go Australia-wide next year.

A final meet the filmmakers session confirmed a boost in the career of one of Speed Auditions’ judges, actor turned director/ producer, Jeremy Sims whose Beneath Hill 60, a story about miners during World War I attracted a strong crowd at Dungog, following its critical acclaim and box office leverage since release.

“The story came out of a community just like this, it’s a great fit here,“ commented Sims on the eve of a trip to Los Angeles with 20 meetings scheduled in five days.
Sims’ phone started ringing when on the back of strong reviews and box office, Variety reported the film’s sale to Momentum on Page 1. Adding kudos recently Sims confirmed that both Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson requested screenings.
“Spielberg is making a WW I movie next year so he has probably asked to see all recent features from the period,” said Sims. As for Jackson, “Paramount look after both of us so they gave him a print and the world is that he really likes the film.”
But the grounded Sims is not departing for Hollywood with his head in the clouds. “I’m not moving there so there may simply be many good meetings,” he said at Dungog. “But I’ll be letting them know I can access a 40% rebate for films shot here in Australia. I want to talk to people on those terms because I like doing projects from the ground up.”

Sims is returning to a project on which he was working when approached to commit to Beneath Hill 60, an adaptation of a play he toured around the country, Last Cab to Darwin, a comedy about a cabbie who drives north to kill himself
Whilst Sims opts to be based in Australia, one of Dungog’s most interesting features addressed the plight of Australian ex-pats in Hollywood. Written, directed and co-produced by Michael Bond, it marks a nuanced impressive performance from fellow ex-pat , former Australian television heart-throb, actor/producer Cameron Daddo starring opposite locally based Angie Milliken.
The two-hander which takes place in a car on Hollywood freeways, with LA a strong force in the script, depicts the corrosive toll the struggles to survive the creative experience exert on the couple’s relationship. The dialogue-driven drama breaks all the rules but after playing to full cinemas at the Mill valley film festival in the US, at Dungog too the movie won over many fans, surprised by the maturity, subtlety and intensity of Daddo’s performance.
Dungog was terrific fun but some industry insiders fear that Dungog may fall victim to its own popularity. As crowds descended on the tiny township for the week-end the scramble for tickets escalated, necessitating an extension of the 500 seat movie theatre capacity, one of the first built in the country dating back to 1914, by bringing in 200 extra chairs.
The juggling act for DFF now is how to cater to the increasing crowds (multiplied seven-fold over three years, with a 38% increase in ticket sales since 2009) without compromising its own success. Its greatest challenge is handling the influx without losing its quaint appeal.

Mary Colbert

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