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Sydney film festival opens with My Summer of Love

The theme for Friday’s Sydney Film Festival’s opening night was Sparkle! and it certainly did.

The State Theatre, already dazzling with its marble staircase, mirrored and tapestry-covered walls, and second largest cut crystal chandelier in the world suspended over the three-tiered auditorium, provided the perfect venue for the red carpet entrance, accompanied by bright lights, snapping flash bulbs. And…pink diamonds, worn by some of the festival guests and provided by the night’s sponsors Mondial Neuman, pink diamond specialists.
With lead actresses Nathalie Press and Emily Blunt introducing their film My Summer of Love, the film festival was under way. Winner of this year’s BAFTA Award for outstanding British film of the year, and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, the film is a coming-of-age story as cheeky, working-class Mona (Press) and bored princess Tasmin (Blunt) meet after Tasmin comes back from boarding school to her small Yorkshire hometown.
From vastly different worlds, while Tasmin has the run of her parents’ mansion and plays a piece of music on her cello called The Swan, the orphaned Mona lives above a pub called The Swan with her brother (Paddy Considine), born again after having spent some time in prison. With Mona’s brother using religion like a drug to dispel his anger and Tasmin quoting Nietzsche in her declaration that God is dead, the film raises interesting questions about religion and faith.
Having an eye for the poetic, the director captures the sense of hazy summer days spent sunbathing and swimming, as well as the girls’ every intense emotion, as friendship blossoms into romance. While the film is bittersweet, Mona’s final act is strangely uplifting, as a new found strength is perceived within her.
The 52nd year of the festival sees Lynden Barber, whose career has included music and film critic, take over the role of artistic director from Gayle Lake. When Lake started she tackled financial problems by introducing more flexible ticket sales, new venues, and different programming ideas.
Continuing in this theme, Barber has added the multiplex George Street Cinemas to the venues of State Theatre, Dendy Opera Quays, Art Gallery of New South Wales and The Studio, Sydney Opera House. While the festival will have to compete with Mr. and Mrs. Smith at George Street Cinemas, Barber hopes the expanded choice, both in the programming and the venues, will create a “broader appeal to bring in audiences that might not have thought about going to the festival...providing ways for people to pick films and make up a program.”
Specialist programs comprise This Sporting Life, including Murderball from Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro about quadriplegic rugby, the sinister Thrills and Chills, Hong Kong Choice, New Argentine Cinema, and Rock Flicks.
Kicking off the New Argentine Cinema strand on Saturday was festival guest Carlos Sorin’s Bombon (El Perro), a gentle comedy/road movie about a garage mechanic who loses his job. His luck appears to change when he meets Bombon, a huge dog that seems to promise a lucrative future in dog-breeding. Having started before the economic collapse of the country, Barber believes that the continuation of the new Argentinian cinema shows that “good filmmaking doesn’t necessarily come from great wealth, it comes sometimes from hardship and crisis that sharpens the desire of filmmakers and artists in general to communicate.”
Rock Flicks includes such classics as fluffy Frank Tashlin’s The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield. Having an appreciation for both music and film, Barber is excited about putting the two art forms together, seeing great similarities in the way both music and film rely on a sense of “rhythm and colour and movement.”
The festival has already seen an impressive start in its usual Contemporary World Cinema strand with Olivier Marchal’s dark and stylish 36 Quai des Orfevres leaving the audience guessing until the end what happens to the two rival cops played by Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu. Exposing the underbelly of Paris, there are enough shoot outs and car chases to rival an Arnie film. However, the exploration of themes such as deception and loyalty brings it an emotional intensity, satisfying, if difficult to watch.
On the other spectrum Dyland Kidd’s P.S. was a quirky comedy with Laura Linney playing a divorced admissions executive at Columbia University who falls, hilariously, for wannabe student F. Scott (charming Topher Grace). Reminding her of her dead ex-lover, the idea of reincarnation is opened up and provides great fodder for humour as Linney’s Louise gets more and more spooked out as F. Scott says lines her ex-lover used to. Thrown in for complication is Louise’s co-dependent ex-husband (Gabriel Byrne).
One film to watch will be British filmmaker’s Daniel Gordon’s A State of Mind. Given a window into the lives of two North Korean gymnasts aged 11 and 13 as they prepare for the Mass Games, a stunning spectacle essentially for “Dear Leader”, the documentary promises to be insightful. A diverse selection, other documentaries include Caveh Zahedi’s I Am a Sex Addict, and Peter Raymont’s Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire, detailing the emotional journey as the former leader of the UN mission to stop the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis returns to Rwanda.
Australian filmmaking is celebrated with the tribute to the CAAMA (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association). Begun 25 years ago as a radio station with only a few pieces of recording equipment, “it was about keeping alive the culture and communicating,” artistic director Barber says. He adds, “It was a way of keeping together a lot of isolated communities and giving them a sense of identity.”
Now Australia’s largest indigenous media organisation, with a record label, film and television production offshoots, and television station, the sophistication of the films especially has won international acclaim. Warwick Thornton’s Green Bush, which follows radio DJ Kenny’s realisation of the importance of his job at an Aboriginal community radio, won Best Short Film in the Panorama section at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Yella Fella, Ivan Sen’s documentary about a troubled young man of mixed heritage, was selected for this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Tony Krawitz’s Jewboy, a short feature about a young man who returns to the Chasidic community in Sydney after the death of his rabbi father, was another film picked up at Cannes. Jewboy screens as part of the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films. Categories for awards include Documentary, Fiction Under 15 Minutes, Fiction Over 15 Minutes, Experimental, the 2005 CRC Award (Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW, Yoram Gross Animation Award, Rouben Mamoulian Award presented by Showtime. The 17 films will be screened on the final day of the festival with the winners announced and awards presented later that night, along with the closing film, the Japanese animation Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki.
As for overriding themes, Barber points out a level of interest in Islamic themes and the Muslim world, reflected especially in such British films as Antonia Bird’s The Hamburg Cell, a portrait of three of the hijackers of the 9-11 aeroplane, and Yasmin, directed by Kenny Glenaan and written by Full Monty scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy, a drama about a westernised young woman from a Pakistani family and how the events of 9-11 impact upon her.
Similarly, the Australian film Silma’s School, directed by festival guest Jane Jeffes, explores issues related to being Muslim in a Western society by looking at the Noor Al Houda, an Islamic College in western Sydney.
Palestinian Hanu Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now about two Palestinian suicide bombers likewise offers no easy resolutions.
So do films like these make any difference at all on the course of events – and let’s include Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. That is actually a topic to be discussed in one of the festival’s open forums. We’ll just have to wait for the answer.

The 52nd Sydney Film Festival runs from Friday 10 June to Friday 25 June at the State Theatre, Dendy Opera Quays, George Street Cinemas, Art Gallery of New South Wales and The Studio, Sydney Opera House.

Sarina Talip


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