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Sydney Film Festival Diary 2003
by Michael Collins

Come follow me dear reader, as I tell the story that was my Sydney Film Festival 2003 opening weekend experience.


The main event of Day 1 was of course the opening night film - THE HONOURABLE WALLY NORMAN - A review of it can be found here:


Before the main event there was a prelude of short films that were the finalists for the various short film awards that are on offer as part of the festival. Always like short films - they’re good for my short attention span.

There were six categories covering documentaries, fiction, animation and experimental weird stuff. The winner of the experimental film category, Fugue, has already completely escaped my mind. Only the first day and I’ve already forgotten films.

A documentary’s success is heavily dependent on the main protagonist. And there were some great characters to be found.

We met Joe Bussard - An avid 78s record collector, Pamela Travers - the Australian author of the Mary Poppins books. The Orthodox Jew Waks family, Mr and Mrs Waks and their 17 children. Then there was Alex Kurzon, a holocaust survivor who was on a search for his real name and origin. Things get complicated when he’s accused of being a Nazi collaborator.

The fiction section was divided into two sub-sections - above and below fifteen minutes. This section was marked by bittersweet and dark drama. MARTH’S NEW COAT, ROY HOLLSDOTTER LIVE and BLACK TALK were the standouts.

The animation section was more upbeat and included an hilarious look at the misfortunes of a CANE TOAD and the silent film-inspired THE PROJECTIONIST. The latter being a sure fire award winner as it featured the State Theatre - the very venue of the festival. Talk about sucking up to the judges! And it indeed won the award - Deservedly so. It was nightmarish and had an inventive mix of techniques.

The opening night festivities was marked by a series of speeches. If you hate sitting thorough all those adds and trailers imagine putting up with 50 minutes of speeches - including politicians. Bring on the movie.

Radio presenter, James Valentine - the MC for the evening - comments included various jokes how the Festival would be the only thing in Sydney that would admit to be being 50 years old. The Premier of NSW Bob Carr, made a well-timed anticensorship jibe and reminded us all that the real joy in winning is the satisfying knowledge that someone else has lost.

The Honourable Wally Norman felt like an average episode of Seachange. Partly because of a couple of the Seachange cast members being in the film, but mostly because it was only an average film. A bit of a let down really and not up to the standard that one would hope for in a festival opening night film. There were some nice moments - mainly from Greg Pickhaver and Shaun Micallef - but having a go at something as complex as politics is too easy and the pun heavy humour got a little tired.


The first morning of the subscription season was almost like a home coming with all the homely smells and reunions of familiar sights.

There’s the reassurance of coming back to the old school charm. There’s the old State Theatre with all its ornate design, old world beauty and old style chairs (no cup holders in these seats). There’s all the old people about that you never see at the multiplexes in such numbers.

There’s smell of home-style food like oranges and other fruit, fresh sandwiches and hot tea steamily poured from the thermos. Then there’s all the blankets over knees in a vain attempt to stave off the festival ‘flu which will surely hit some of the subscribers who are in for the long haul.

In THE TALE OF A NAUGHTY GIRL we had nice photography and pretty girls which are all very nice for a film, but this one was a little tedious. The occasional bouts of laughter were made, but not on enough occasions to keep interest.

In The Tale of A Naughty Girl a young girl, Lati, struggles against following her mother’s profession of prostitution. It’s the time of the first moon landing and Lati has a thirst for knowledge after having a taste of education.

There was something to get out of this film. The prostitutes retelling of how it feels to have the clientele touch them is quite powerful. Also the value of education as a method of escaping the fate of one’s family is hinted.

Everyone in this film had a journey to follow to satisfy a need. Well acted, nicely photographed, but a bit of a test of the attention span.

In contrast to Naughty Girl, SPELLBOUND was really gripping stuff. Who would have thought that spelling bees would be more exciting than the prostitutes!?

Spellbound provided a wonderful example of the value of education. Showing how people from various backgrounds and socio-economic class can still perform on equal terms - all through the aid of education. Not that far from a theme in Naughty Girl

Spellbound followed the efforts of Harry, April, Neil, Nupur, Ashley, Angela, Ted and Emily. Eight kids who make the final 249 for the American 1999 National Spelling Bee. The format was to keep asking the kids to spell words until there was only one kid left standing.

The stress and excitement was unbelievable. It was amazing to see some of the kids soak up the pressure and others to fall by the way side. The intelligence is bursting at the seams.

Some of the kids are classic nerds, some are from privileged backgrounds, but another is into sport and hanging out with his friends and some just plain work hard. It would be interesting to see the eventual fates of the contestants. Past winners are shown in the film with seemingly normally led lives. Yet none of them will forget the extraordinary time when they participated in this great competition. Again with a good documentary, it’s having a great story which marks its greatness, and with this story we have a real nail bitter.

I better not make any spelling mistakes from now on.


Day 3 was a day off for me - I was easing my way in slowly here. So I spent it with a friend.

Watching a movie.

Spritely on a Monday morning that could have been spent asleep a warm bright sunny day greets me for the dark cold world of BROKEN WINGS

Fist though, there was the short, KITTY. The story of a guy that has locked his cat in the fridge. The man remembers this as his is hurtling down a cliff in his VW which he has just driven off the edge. Funny in a The Far Side kind of way, it also had lots of digital effects which seem to be happening more and more now on cheaper films.

The muted lighting match the muted moods in BROKEN WINGS. The tone, story, acting - it was all muted. Or depressing if you like.

This film provided an opportunity to see Israel doing something else rather than dealing with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, this film was just as depressing and had just as many simple solutions to the problems at hand - None

Maya is a promising young singer in a band with label interest. Sounds good, but the home situation is not at all OK with a family still coming to terms with the death of the father.

Essentially a suburban struggle drama the frustrated and tired mother, Dafna (Orly Silbersatz Banai) and the bored talented, but held back kids are convincingly portrayed. The film has some nice looking moments, but really it was quite grim and deflating.

Even some of the hardened festival goers were crying at the end of this one. Understandable. It was rather depressing.

Also depressing was the withdrawal of Ken Park. As I left the theatre, there were leaflets explaining the situation and a hope for a campaign to have the film screened.

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=740
originally posted: 06/09/03 00:20:46
last updated: 01/03/04 00:32:22
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