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Sydney Fest: film feast fires up patrons

June 10-25

Remarkable docus and edgy thrillers, combined with unique events like an Evening with Lisa Gerrard and topical, edgy forum sessions, are giving patrons a positive time at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, which wraps this Saturday (June 25) with the inaugural Urban Cinefile Audience Awards presentation and the sold out screening of the eye popping Closing Night Film, Howl’s Moving Castle.

As film composer Martin Armiger pointed out in his introduction of Lisa Gerrard at the Opera House Studio, Gerrard is a unique film composer who has established her own voice – both literally and figuratively – around the world, with her haunting work on films like Gladiator and Whale Rider, King Arthur and Ali, Baraka and The Insider. The session was a clear highlight of the 2005 Sydney Film Festival, a unique event that would have filled the great Halls of the world , from the Royal Albert to Carnegie or Radio City. It also filled the Opera House Studio, although inexplicably a block booking by one Sydney’s film schools was not used, leaving empty seats after patrons had been turned away for the week before the event.

Gerrard’s eloquence matches her talents, and she kept the audience entranced with lucid insights into her unique artform, reflecting on her formative years with Dead Can Dance, the group which recently toured the US, but can’t find a local entrepreneur to take it around her native country. Scenes demonstrating her work on several films added texture, and questions from the audience had to be cut short as time ran out after almost two hours, leaving Gerrard no time for a planned a capella performance.

The Opera House Studio (first used in last year’s Festival) also housed two fascinating and approachable Behind the Scenes sessions: the visual effects in The House of Flying Daggers with Sydney based Animal House, and behind the music of Master and Commander with composer Iva Davies and sound editor Simon Leadly.

The strength of the Festival’s documentary stream reflects the growing interest in factual features and the selection of Murderball, for example, is admirable. Imagine a sort of kamikaze dodgem car game played in chariots of ire by quadraplegics, with a ball that is carried on the lap and the wheelchair carrying the ball over the opponents’ line score a point. Simple, brutal, wild and emotionally charged.

Another standout doco in the program is Tarnation: comprising home videos, snapshots, video diaries, phone messages and a sprinkling of pop culture, the film documents the traumatic lives of Jonathan Caouette and his mother Renee, as they struggle with illness, drugs, abuse and an unkind fate. Caouette began documenting his life at the age of 11 – the age he first knew he was gay. Documentary is not quite the right description for Tarnation, but I wonder what is. A stream of consciousness held together by the underlying life story of mother and son, a tale so achingly sad as to be surreal.

And if you can make it, the second screening of Inside Deep Throat (if it isn’t sold out) on Friday June 24 at 9.45 is a must see: Linda Lovelace made her infamous mark in the controversial 1970s porno flick, Deep Throat, and 30 years later this film documents the social and political storm it caused, and the social commentaries it generated, from the likes of author Normal Mailer and feminist Camille Paglia. The most profitable film ever made (cost US$25,000, grossed US$600 million).

Inside Deep Throat is made by US pop guru duo Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who directed and produced The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Party Monster – both the documentary and the feature based on it – Monica Lewinsky in Black and White, and The Hidden Fuhrer. They are co-founders of World of Wonder, an independent production company based in Los Angeles and London. They have produced and directed documentaries and series for HBO, the BBC and Britain’s Channel Four and recently created Show Biz Moms & Dads, and Brilliant, But Cancelled. Bailey is a guest of the Festival.

At once amusingly entertaining and yet searingly revealing, Inside Deep Throat is documentary gold. It is a journalistically sound probe into the social and political waves that the pioneering porn flick, Deep Throat had on America, and an intimate revelation of the impact the film’s infamy had on those who made it and starred in, from the conflicted Linda Lovelace to her tormented co-star Harry Meers. Fenton Bailey and Rando Barbato have made a film that is deals with the whole phenomenon of Deep Throat in a meaningful and fascinating film made with good humour and cinematic verve.

For thriller fans, there is a genuine noir film from France; Olivier Marchal’s 36 Quai des Orfevres boasts two of France’s greatest male stars, Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil, a gritty cop v cop story in a genuine noir film.

From Hungary, Nimrod Antal’s Kontroll generated so much interest that it’s first screening on Sunday at the George Street cinemas was sold out. Set entirely underground in the Budapest metro system, Kontroll is a unique, genre-busting thriller-black comedy-horror flick with some stylish cinematography, a rock solid sound track, great dialogue (especially for the many of you who understand Hungarian and won’t have to rely on the subtitles) and an edgy storyline about competing ticket inspecting teams and private demons. The pedestrian meets the bizarre … this is exactly the sort of film a Festival needs. (Kontroll won the Youth Award at Cannes in 2004 and the Gold Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival.)

But there are charmers, too, such as the Opening Night film from England’s Pawel Pawlikowski, My Summer of Love, about two teenage girls from opposite ends of the social spectrum who become friends and more, at least for the summer; and Carlos Sorin’s Argentinian road movie, Bombon the Dog, about an unemployed man whose life is changed when he acquires a large white pure bred dogo and gets drawn into dog shows and breeding.

Andrew Urban

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