Sydney Film Festival 2018

* If you arrived here after a search, either scroll down to the film you were looking for, or search the text for the name of the film.
   These reviews are written on the run during the festival and shortly after, by a very tired writer using odd software. Please forgive any errors, which I will gradually correct.
    My notes of all Q&As are just notes - they are not complete transcripts, but they should be representative summaries.

The Festival is over now, and so here is a list of my top 11 films, of the 47 features that I saw, in accordance with the rating I gave them:

Ex: Libris - The New York Public Library
The Ancient Forest
Blackkklansman
The Heiresses
The Marriage of Maria Braun
No Date, No Signature
The Guilty
One Day
The Kindergarten Teacher
Genesis 2.0
Kusama: Infinity


Wednesday 6 June

My 20th Century, Hungary. Dir: Ildyko Enyedi    Rated 3/5 (CLASSICS RESTORED)

I was particularly intrigued to see the restored version of this film from 1988, made by the winner of last year’s Sydney Film prize and my favourite film of the festival.

This is a whimsical, beautiful-looking and sometimes funny film, but it doesn’t quite fulfil its promise.  While it offers a view of history from the female perspective, it doesn’t quite cover the whole of the 20th century, and it doesn’t finish too satisfyingly. Hence the rating.

Thursday 7 June

That Summer, Sweden, USA, Denmark. Dir: Goran Hugo Olsson    Rated 3/5
This is, in a way, a “prequel” to the famous Maysles Brothers’ film Grey Gardens. The Maysles brothers were assistants on an earlier film – this one- that was never completed, assembled or released – until now, in an interesting form.

The people are fascinating, of course, and beautiful. The film has been assembled by director Olssen and his crew using films taken by three artists: Peter Beard, Jonas Mekas and Andy Warhol. Because the intended film was never finished, this film is very raw - as indicated by the almost ever-present "hair in the gate" - and it can drag. But it is almost hypnotic in its recreation of the past, and brilliantly brings out the beauty of the eccentricity of the two Edies.

No Date, No Signature, Iran. Dir: Jahid Valilvand    Rated 4.5/5
I loved this medical mystery thriller from Iran. It is one of those films that keeps throwing up ethical dilemmas, and where a small mistake causes unimagined consequences and huge drama. And on top of that there are at least three magnificent performances. The sense of place is palpable, and the pace never drops. Iranian drama just keeps on giving.

The film begins with an accident, and for reasons that will be revealed later, the party who is at fault doesn't call the police. From that point on, things unravel in spectacular ways. Uh-oh!  Should have gone through the proper channels! Part forensic thriller, part ethical drama, this film is beautifully reallised and completely engrossing. And it's not just the main characters who make grave mistakes. Nearly every character makes a dodgy compromise, and so could be seen as implicated in what happens in the end. Excellent film.

The Line, Slovakia, Ukraine. Dir: Peter Bebjak    Rated 3/5
Here's the first of several films at the Festival featuring a border. This is the story of smuggling cigarettes and tobacco (and some other things) across the border of Slovakia and Ukraine, and is complicated by the fact that Slovakia is (in 2007) soon to join the Schengen States of the European Union, and so the border is being cracked down on.
 
We have an anti-hero who's a family man (something like James Gandolfini's character in The Sopranos), and he has a similarly complicated life. The film paints a bleak picture of life in those two countries, where everyone seems corrupt or complicit, but it has its funny moments: the code name for the contraband is "Cancer" and there are several moments when everyone stops for a smoke and they all light up together. A gripping thriller with a likeable anti-hero and a truly horrible villain.

The Deminer, Sweden. Dir: Hogir Hiron   Rated 3/5
This documentary plays as a thriller, as "Crazy" Colonel Fakhir goes about his daily soldiering business. Except his business is defusing mines - and not in the big suit featured in The Hurt Locker, and not using robots. No, Colonel Fakhir uses a pick and shovel and a pair of pliers.

There are many moments when I jumped in fright, and there's one scene with a mobile phone that is one of the most tense moments I've had in the cinema.  The only thing is, there is so much footage of Colonel Fakhir and his exploits over the years that I began to get suspicious. Is this a hagiography? Can I believe everything I'm seeing? Why haven't I heard about this man before? That's probably just my overly-suspicious mind, and in any case, it is one hell of a story. The film crew, too, have taken their lives in their hands - sometimes to a foolish exten
t.

Friday 8 June

Entrepreneur, Sweden. Dir: Virpi Suutari  Rated 4/5
This is a smart and stylish documentary made by a director with a sharp eye and a quick wit, and the knack of picking great subjects. She has two smart women on the one side, developing their meat substitute using innovative technology into a world-wide phenomenon. And she has a hangdog man and his charming family on the other, driving a traditional game meat truck from frozen town to frozen town, supplementing income with an old fashioned and a bit decrepit carnival.  Such an effective contrast, and such an unpredictable future for each of them. A great pair of stories, really interestingly told, and superbly photographed and edited.
This is one of the best-looking documentaries you'll see.


There was a Q&A with the director, Virpi Suutari.
Q: How did you find the entrepreneurs?
A: I met a lot of different entrepreneurs without getting the chemistry. In a grocery store Jani happened to be there with his kids They went to have coffee. He showed his meat products! It took 2-3 months to decide to go with them. Also I fell in love with his children - different realities/levels. For the girls [entrepreneurs] they were at a big startup event and had foul brown tasting samples - but they had twinkles in their eyes and the special machine tailored to their needs was being delivered.
Q: It's beautifully shot - to what extent was it choreographed?
A: The cinematographer has worked with me for 20 years. We used the heavy Arriflex camera - this dictates the aesthetics – not handheld. People begin the play themselves and their real lives. But the style is "staged-like." But life starts to happen in front of you. We filmed for over a year. As Hitchcock sad, for a fiction film, the director is God. For documentary, God is the director.
Q: Can you give us an update for the businesses?
A: For the ladies, they went to Japan, have a factory in Switzerland, and are going to the US. It tastes good now - when you put herbs with it and have the right recipes! The other family is doing about the same.
Q: Do the children want to go to Uni?
A: They are very attached to the country and the place. The family wants them to go to school and perhaps uni and get out of the place. They are smart and have the entrepreneurship spirit in them too. Both groups had the same sort of entrepreneurship spirits.
Q: How did the family think about filming things that didn't go well? Did the father object?
A: No he didn't. I always show [my subjects] the final cut. The bigger issue was the killing of the brother by accident. A very delicate matter.
Q: Sound design, dialogue?
A: Music is very essential always for my films. I always work closely with the sound designer and composer. Humour: the older I get I like to see the humour in our lives. I don't want to laugh at people in a nasty way - always tender. In this case the music is quite epic - more than in my other films. I've worked with the composer, Sanna Salmenkallio, for years. The subject here is quite ordinary, so I wanted to make it quite epic in contrast - to put the big dreams of the entrepreneurs into the music of the film - and the suspense.
Q: What's next?
A: I am in post-production on a film about a Finnish architect: Alvar Aalto. Next Tuesday, I'm meeting Glenn Murcutt for the next film.

Disobedience, USA. Dir: Sebastian Lelio  Rated 2.5/5
For me, another disappointment, although I was very interested in the depiction of the community in which it was set. The film looks drab, and - dare I say it - the lovemaking scenes were overlong in my opinion. Others have praised the performance of Alessandro Nivola, but I found him decidedly one-note and totally desexed, which is a real shame.  I thought everything was so constructed, nearly everyone in the film was passive-aggressive, and I felt cheated of the story of the most interesting person in the whole film - Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) but he dies in the first few minutes.

The last note I wrote about this film as I was watching it was: "Interminable."


The Marriage, Kosovo, Albania. Dir: Blerta Zeqiri   Rated 4/5
From a Lesbian romance, to a clandestine gay male one, with a very different treatment. This is an important film for Kosovo, where the director tells us NO ONE lives an openly gay life. If this film can be seen throughout the region, one might hope for social change.  It has this in common with another Festival film, and one which won the Sydney Film Prize: The Heiresses (see below, on Sunday 17 June). The film starts in an extraordinary way, with an attempt to identify the bones of those killed in the 1999 Kosovo war. This is in a way a poignant preparation for Anita and Bekim's forthcoming marriage (Anita's parents are presumed dead, but missing). This is handles with great delicacy, and Bekim is very tender throughout. But then we realise that Bekim has a past attachment to his old friend Nol, and it is evident what kind of attachment as soon as we see Bekim's mother's reaction to the news that he is back in town.

I thought the film had a great sense of place: I really believed the bar that Bekim owned, and it was hard to accept that this attractive character was going to behave badly towards both his fiancée and his old lover. The film moved so quickly that I had little time to make notes, so obviously I was captivated.

There was a Q&A with the director afterwards.
Q: The film took 5 years to make, intensely personal story of desire but also going into the dark elements of history.
A: The war story came quite late into the script writing - only in the last year. We were all so touched by the war that I had to put it into the story.
Q: Why are most of the directors from your region (the Balkans) women - or at least of those films that have screened here?
A: I don't know, but the Balkans is a very patriarchal society and yet there are female directors of about 50% of the films that are financed. Male directors are going to TV and publicity because there's no money in film in the region.
Q: Was it reputationally dangerous to act in this film?
A: Alban Ukaj [who plays Bekim] lives in Sarajevo and is a very famous actor and is considered like Brad Pitt. It was brave of all 3 of them. Alban has been in queer theatre too. The actor who plays Nol, his lover [Genc Salihu], is making his debut in this film. He's a famous musician and a judge on the Albanian The Voice! He wants to take society forward and change society.
Q: Why did it take you 5 years?
A: We worked a lot on the script. We couldn't get money before the script was ready. We cast
the main actors in 2012/13 and then worked with them on the script and workshopped it. There was a long process of filing those sessions on our phones. Also we didn't have a lot of funds, so we worked other jobs at the same time.
Q: How is the film received in Kosovo?
A: Really surprisingly! In 2012 extremist groups beat up people to do with sexuality, so we thought we might leave Kosovo - we were scared. But in February the premiere went really well - we received no threats! I didn't expect that and I'm so happy! Maybe the Government wants to prove to the EU that we have the same values. This year we had The Pride for the first time with no incidents. When the Government has the will, you can do things.
Q: What is life like in Kosovo for LGBTIs?
A: It's getting better, but we don't even have one gay couple that lives
openly. The gay community feels very happy that this film was made.
Q: Is there another film in the works?
A: Not really. I have a lot of ideas...


The Seen and the Unseen, Indonesia, The Netherlands, Australia, Qatar. Dir: Kamila Andini   Rated 3/5    IN COMPETITION
Probably the most unusual and original film I saw at the Festival. It is whimsical and poetic, with some stunning performances by the two lead children. It is a tale of two worlds: the real and the spirit worlds, which co-exist in the world of the people of Bali. Some of its images still linger in my mind a week and 30 films later, and the culmination of the film in a stunning dance sequence is unforgettable.

Q&A with Margaret Pomeranz introducing one of the producers, Gita Fara.
Q:
What is the name of the young girl?
A: Thaly Titi Kasih
.
Q: Was she a dancer?
A: Yes, she can sing, dance and they are all very talented.
Q: The director - how does she come to you? What with?
A: On the last 2 films, with a point of view above life and above death, working with children for an innocent point of view and working with non-professional actors. She got an idea and then got a Cinefoundation Residency and it took a long time to develop the script.
Q: About the director...
A: The director's father is a well-known director in Indonesia. She went to school in Melbourne. I (Gita Fara) worked with her father.
Q: The eggs?
A: For us when we are young in Indonesia, fried eggs is an easy lunch, o your mother likes it. Some kids like only the yoke and some only the white.
Q: What is the relationship of the spirits that come out of the field?
A: The basic story of this film is the Balinese concept of culture - the world consists of both the spiritual and he physical world - the Seen and the Unseen. That's why they do offerings every day. Both worlds must be in harmony. The kids in the paddy fields are part of the unseen world that gets closer to Tantri after he gets sicker.
Q: How do you balance the film to be seen on a wider stage?
A: This being a 2nd feature, we have more expectations of it. So it has to be something really important - a story to be told. We didn't want to limit the creativity in it. It is hard to explain this to Indonesian funders. That's why we got the money from Europe.
Q: In Bali there is the artistic tradition. When the film is shown in Bali or other parts of Indonesia - would they all understand.
A: When this film screened in Indonesia and Bali, the young kids get the fun of the dancing but don't all get the deeper meaning of life and symbolism. Some get it, some don't. It is not the usual form of cinema seen in Indonesia, but we are trying to make a different kind of cinema.
 

Jirga, Australia. Dir: Benjamin Gilmour   Rated 2/5     IN COMPETITION
Jirga is an Afghan Court of Tribal Elders.

I was disappointed by this film, which I felt was built on a false premise. The film crew went through tremendous hardship to make this film, and must have had a marvellous experience, but to what end. This film seems naive - and so hard to believe in. How could a soldier travel all the way to Afghanistan to apologise to the family of a man he killed, and be so unprepared? How could he put a taxi-driver's life in danger for his own misguided purposes? How could he go so far without even a bottle of water or any food.? Is this man mad?  He's hard to take as a hero. And I didn't believe the ending at all. Shame.

Q&A with Nashen Moodley introducing director Benjamin Gilmour and star Sam Smith.
Q: You are in a position to understand the war in Afghanistan by making films in Afghanistan and being a paramedic.
A: (Gilmour) I am not an expert on Afghanistan and I don't understand why there is a war, but I did an informal survey of all the Afghanis I met, and it is clear there can be no peace in Aghanistan while there are foreign troops in Afghanistan. A 17-year war is heading to 20 years. Trump's just sent 4000 more troops, and Britain sent 400. We'll be next. We [filmmakers] went in out in uniform and with humility and respect - that might be an approach for the West.
Q: (Audience) Thanks for making one of the most beautiful and healing war movies I've ever seen.
Q: Thanks for making a film from the point of view of the Afghani people. How did you start out, what were the challenges and difficulties you faced?
A: (Gilmour) Sam & I did not experience division in the filmmaking team. There were representations of all ethnicities. But they were all united in opposing outside interference. Militant groups in Afghanistan have increased as we increased our military presence.
A: (Smith) There were day-to-day problems, eg there might have been an IED in a house we wanted to shoot, or the Taliban might be taking pot-shots at me while I'm trying to act!
Q: What inspired you to make the film?
A:
(Gilmour) Just the Afghan people - like the taxidriver. The landscape looks great - especially photographed. But it was my position against the unending cycle of conflict - my opposition to war in general and any form of conflict, even in relationships.
Q: How flexible were you? How much planning was there?
A:
(Gilmour) You have to be dynamic and responsive to your changing environment.
A: (Smith) We had to film on the fly. We had a list of shots and we got them where we could.


Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, USA. Dir: Gus Van Sant  Rated 2.5/5
Gus Van Sant's biopic of cartoonist John Callahan, played by River Phoenix, is a rather strange affair. Although occasionally very funny, featuring some quite outrageous, very funny cartoons by Callahan (I particularly liked the KKK one), I was not moved by this tale of an alcoholic who becomes a quadriplegic, and finds his salvation in cartooning. I thought Phoenix was strangely distant, and that Jonah Hill stole every scene as a charismatic alcoholic counsellor. I thought the treatment of alcoholism and the therapy group was quite naive, and what should have been devastating was merely diverting.

On a positive note, I thought the film was tender in its treatment of the disabled, and the group of skateboarding young kids was a refreshing diversion from cliché. And Rooney Mara was delightful.

Saturday 9 June

Ex Libris - The New York Public Library, USA. Dir: Frederick WisemanRated 5/5
This is my film of the Festival so far. A comprehensive documentation of all aspects of the Library imaginable, and all branches, with portraits of the dedicated staff, the fascinating patrons and the dedication to the cause (even if occasionally disguised in management-speak).

This documentary restored my faith in the power of knowledge and the ability of libraries to keep disseminating it in the digital age. Their policy - to collect material that might be relevant or needed in 10 years, whether we know it or not - is exemplary.

It is such a treat to see the interview series the Library put on, with Werner Herzog as the interviewer. He interviews such people as Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Richard Dawkins and the artist and author Edmund de Waal.  Oh, to be in New York!

The Breaker-Upperers, New Zealand. Dir: Jackie Van Beek and Madeleine Sami. Rated 3/5
This quite amusing Kiwi comedy starts at a thousand miles an hour, but is really just a one-joke film, so it feels a little stretched.  There are lots of jokes (some recycled - "I see-food ad eat it" and "I led the walking bus this morning" "I don't understand" "It's where a group of children get led to school..." (thanks Frank Drebbin)), and some amusing characters, but there is also lots of dialogue that is garbled or maybe poorly-recorded, or maybe it's just the accent,  so I missed some of it.

The dance at the end was a bit of a clichéd ending. So there's not quite the level of brilliance of some of its forebears in Kiwi comedy. But it is funny.

West of Sunshine, Australia. Dir: Jason Raftopolous  Rated 4/5
This is my favourite Australian film of the Festival so far. A modest film with a simple but true-to-life premise, and well-acted, mainly as a two-hander with father and son very believable together It is also well-shot on fascinating locations, and well-timed. Economical and authentic, and ultimately moving.

Whitney, USA. Dir: Kevin MacDonald  Rated 3/5
I learned a lot about Whitney Houston from this documentary - particularly her early years. But contrasting it with the recent Elvis Presley 2-part documentary screened on SBS TV, I realised how powerful that was in comparison. I think this film suffered from having too much material and not quite enough insight. But seeing her first TV appearance was priceless.

Sunday 10 June

Three Identical
Strangers, UK, USA. Dir: Tim WardleRated 4/5
Terrific documentary on a constantly surprising topic. Don't read anything about this - see it untainted. You'll have a great ride, as it veers off in unexpected ways, including questions of ethics. Very cleverly edited, too, to maintain suspense. A great look back at the way we were from the 1950 to the 1980s in particular.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, USA. Dir: Desirée Akhavan.    Rated 3/5    IN COMPETITION
Not that impressive. Hardly "audacious, cutting-edge or courageous." as required by the Sydney Film Prize. An unrecognisable Jennifer Ehle features. However, there are interesting questions about qualifications of counsellors, continuing the ethical questions raised in Three Identical Strangers.

Pope Francis - A Man of His Time, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France. Dir: Wim WendersRated 3/5
Wim Wenders directs and wrote this interesting and quite comprehensive film about Pope Francis. He tends towards a softer treatment of the subject, but this is no hagiography. Difficult topics are raised - if not completely followed through on. Francis comes across as intelligent, quick-witted, thoughtful, sincere, open and direct. And he really can look down a camera lense! It seems the Catholic Church is in good hands.

Chocolate Oyster, Australia. Dir: Steve Jaggi.  Rated 4/5
This smart and stylish Aussie feature film is cleverer even than it first appears. Disclosure: my nephew, Adrian Powers, is one of the editors. But I think this film is admirable in many ways. I don't think there's yet been a film as witty and observant as this is about certain aspects of modern life in a big city in Australia.

At first this seems to be a tedious (for people of my age) investigation of the lives of 20-somethings in Bondi. Life is all cafés, drinks, clubs and drugs, with a desperate search for an idealised lifestyle, a better job, a place to live, or all of these. But soon we realaise that the sharp eye of a cynic is guiding this film, and what we are watching is a biting satire. In the end we are presented with the sort of bitter reality that we don't like to admit to in the smarter parts of Sydney town.

Along the way we see that we are in the hands of capable and stylish filmmakers: the opening scene is heroic: 15 minutes without a cut - before the opening credits. That would have taken courage. There are flashes of (or nods to) the
style of filmmakers of the French New Wave, the Mumblecore films, the Duplass brothers' early films (this was revealed by the Director and Cinematographer in the later Q&A). But I also saw flashes of Woody Allen and John Cassavetes. Make no mistake, this is an intelligent film made by a very smart team.

Q&A with Nashen Moodley introducing the Director, Cinematographer, Editors and Stars
Q: How much did the actors know of the film and how it would look?
A: Not a lot. What we did was "Retroscripting", where you have a script but no dialogue. Actors get opposing direction. All the dialogue is improvised.
A: (Rosie Lorde?) The scene when we were both on the phone was Steve directing us over the phone. So much fun!
Q: (Me) The opening shot of the film was absolutely heroic! How much courage did it take to hold your nerve and resist the urge to cut.
A: (Steve Jaggi) The opening shot runs almost 15 minutes. We did 3 takes but used the 1st take. It was the very first day of photography
.
A: (Adrian Powers) I'm glad you asked that question because I fought for 2 years to keep the shot.
A: (Steve Jaggi) I designed it and then lost confidence and Adrian fought for it.
Q: What's next for you as a director?
A: I may never direct again!
Q: Why choose to shoot in black & white?

A: It was a conscious decision. We used a digital camera with old lenses. We wanted top strip away modern conceptions and the distractions of modern life, pop culture and social media: the idea of how they should live and aspiring to lives they can never live.
Q: Why call it "Chocolate Oyster"?
A: It's like Bondi Beach - the 2 most beautiful things in the world but they don't go together.
Q: What's the significance of the last scene - she is staring at the ferris wheel?
A: The Ferris wheel is like a hamster wheel.
Q: The score is beautiful.
A: (Composer) It was a collaborative process. The film was locked off, so I was working to finished visual. Influences of the French New Wave and Godard. Is the music in the world of the character or on the score? The "Chocolate Oyster" theme was influenced by the French band "Nouvelle Vague" and the singer Camille with her percussive sounds.
Gypsy Jazz was done by [my partner?] Charlie. The ending music repeated the first music theme. Hope and despair in the one moment.
Q: There were no establishing shots.
A: Yes, on purpose. From day 1 the idea was that this would be a kind of "time capsule" film: more like a documentary than a feature film.



Monday 11 June
Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle, Spain. Dir: Gustavo SalmeronRated 3.5/5
A fun documentary about an eccentric mother and her family, made by one of the sons.  It doesn't look too good - it is the director's first attempt at feature filmmaking, and his mother can't imagine who would want to watch it. There's a rough story-line involving a search for the vertebrae of a great aunt who was killed during the war. Much like my dear departed half-Italian mother-in-law Maria, Juleta is an organised hoarder. She has collected everything from tiny scissors to doll dresses to Christmas decorations to gigantic sculptures - and she knows where everything is - except the vertebrae! But it really captures a huge and colourful life, which traverses some of the rougher patches of Spanish history, including the Fascist years and the more recent economic downturn. Always engrossing and full of love.

Transit, Germany, France. Dir: Christian PetzoldRated 4/5
The notes on this film made it sound to me a bit like Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942), with all its talk of the fictitious "Letters of Transit" and indeed, Transit did have echoes of that film, in more ways than one. But the conceit of setting the film in the wartime 1940s and yet playing it out in contemporary Marseille was a bold one - and for me it worked. It reminded me of the John Clarke and Brian Dawe sketches where we knew who they were supposed to be even if they didn't try to look like them. And it kept me guessing til the end.

Beirut, USA. Dir: Brad AndersonRated 4/5
Jon Hamm is charismatic in this commercial thriller, set in the 1970s. It was fun, easy to watch, and I very much liked some of the diplomatic detail and the analysis that Jon Hamm's character makes in the early scenes. It's relatively easy to guess the plot twist, but it is all done so smoothly that I didn't mind. As the film was ending, I feared it was going to come over all Stephen Spielberg, when a flag flew in the foreground. I couldn't have been more wrong. It ends bitterly, and most appropriately, as the fighting continues.

[Censored], Australia. Dir: Sari BraithwaiteRated 1/5
I thought this film was a tragically-wasted opportunity to explore a fascinating archive. Instead we have a naive look at naughty footage, and a director (also acting as narrator, which was not a good decision) complaining about how hard some of it was to watch, and suggesting that maybe censorship was a good idea.

Sections are marked by undated and unexplained quotes from the "Australian Censorship Board". This is very troubling for anyone interested in the topic. In the Q&A an academic pointed out why this was a poor decision by the filmmakers, and trivialises the archive. She is right.

The film apparently took 4 years to make, and an AFTRS fellowship.  Someone ought to have another go, and tell us something we don't already know.  And avoid the grammatical errors that were sprinkled through the script. Good music score though.

There was a Q&A with Brigid Ikin introducing the director Sari Braithwaite and producer Chloe Brugale.
Q: How did you start?
A: We made a short film about David Stratton and his fight against censorship at the Sydney Film Festival, and we found this huge archive, prepared and digitised to be available to members of the public - made available by the Department of Customs to the National Film and Sound Archive. So we were confronted with censorship.
Q: How did you negotiate tensions between being a censor/ spectator/ filmmaker and censorship?
A: At various times I was each of those things. Each has their power and abuse of power.
Q: Censoring is done secretly.
A: As a filmmaker I'm controlling the image on the screen. It was important for me to be transparent about my work.
Q: (From an academic) There's a lot you left out - not just the clips. This is a dynamic process, but you proposed the idea of the period as homogeneous. You don't date the censorship. Why?
A: One thing I did was work with the archetypes of the language of the censors. I felt dates would be distracting. It is not necessarily a history - it is a creative interpretation. The transformation of censorship happened after this archive in 1971 the laws and regualtions started allowing more permissiveness his is also an international collection.
Q: (Same academic) You have decontextualised the clips. Eg, the knife scenes. At one particular time the Censor was concerned with gangs of knife-wielding Italians and Greeks. You've show those scenes out of context.
A: Firstly, the Distributors had to agree to the cuts. Secondly, you're absolutely right about the cuts being out of context, but you see the repetition of the image, so you see the same thing. Also, this film can't go into that context.
Q: What is your attitude now to censorship history now after working with this material? It seems like at a point in the script you agree with the taking out of violence.
A: My philosophical beliefs about freedom of expression hit up against my visceral reaction against those clips. I didn't go from anti- to pro- censorship. I got a deeper understanding of the issues.
Q: What proportion of the clips were down to the Distributor requiring lesser Censorship settings, eg Woodstock and the Dylan film [with the drugs].
A: That's really important. One of the things about the laws and regulations was that they were only recommendations for 'A', 'AO' etc. But in the end they had to make it suitable for children.
Q: The film is marvellous- viewed as an art piece. The score is fantastic and a major work. How did you work with the Composer? This work could tour [as a live score].
A: I am married to the Composer! He has been part of the conversation [about this film] for years. When he got the brief to compose the music in a month while working full-time he was up to the challenge. He brought a different emphasis to the clips.


Tuesday 12 June

One Day
, Hungary. Dir: Zsofia SzilagyiRated 4.5/5    IN COMPETITION
I loved this look at a day in the life of a middle-class mother in today's Hungary. The director, Zsofia Szilagyi, attended the screening and provided some interesting insights into the film in the Q&A afterwards. She said she had a friend who was in a similar position to the heroine of this movie, and that friend had written her a letter outlining the events of one busy day in her life. Szilagyi said that just reading the letter exhausted her.

Anchored by a very strong central performance by
Zsofia Szamosi as Anna, a 30-something woman with 3 children who need ferrying about to all sorts of places, a husband with something to hide, a job teaching Italian, and a leaking tap that she cannot ever find time to get repaired. Oh, and the kids might have nits. Sound familiar?

All of this is filmed in the most claustrophobic way imaginable, yet the film looks great, and has a true ring of authenticity. This is a very significant debut feature film from
Zsofia Szilagyi, and is one of quite a few strong films from female directors at the Festival.

There was a Q&A with Director
Zsofia Szilagyi.
Introduction by Director: Our aim was to show on screen what we normally don't show on screen. We won the FIPRESCI Award at Cannes Critics Week, but for me, the most important screening was at the Lab - a technical check: a post-production started to cry at the end.
Q: One of the strengths of the film was the claustrophobic nature of the film - the rooms in the house, the car, etc. Did it feel like that in filming?
A: Yes, it was shot in a real flat to make it very realistic. The claustrophobia is also like a thriller, but we didn't plan it like that. There was a practical reason for this flat too: lighting could be done for day and night. That was important so that the children didn't have to stay up late. Windows were also covered to increase the claustrophobia. But that was also not planned.
Q: What's happening in modern-day Hungary - operating under the current regime as an artist?
A: It's difficult, because if I answer this question honestly, I will probably not do any more films! That proves that the system is difficult for filmmaking. But somehow we have created an island in the "badness" that works well. I'm not a mother myself but I experienced a lot and had the experience of financial restraints.
Q: Congratulations on an amazing film - is it cinema verité? One of the outstanding things is that this is a European film, but her life is exactly like mine!
A: It is interesting that you say it is a fairytale, and that was how it was presented in Cannes in Critics Week. A fairytale with 3 elements. It is a great pleasure for me that the film is understood outside of Hungary
so well. The aim was to tell something that is universal.

The Ancient Woods, Lithuania, Estonia, Germany. Dir: Mindaugus Survila  Rated 5/5   
Director Mindaugus Survila was at the Festival and explained to us in the Q&A some of the immense difficulties in making this gorgeous film. 4 years of research and 4 years just to film, so 8 years in total!

This was one of my favourite films of the Festival, and I consider Mindaugus Survila the Frederick Wiseman of nature. This is an astonishingly beautiful wildlife documentary with no narration or labels and only a few glimpses of human beings. Apart from the astonishing closeups of various creatures, rare and not-so-rare, this film is an extremely important reminder of the need to preserve our forests for future generations.

Q&A with the director,
Mindaugus Survila.
Q: How long did it take to research and film?
A: 8years: 4 years just to film.
Q: Which creature was hardest to catch on film?
A: Hard to say. It's hard to say what's hardest. I sat in a tree for 23 hours, but I had to wait 3 years to get the moose.
Q: Can you talk about the technical aspects of the film?
A: 90% of the film was shot by special equipment; the camera had to fly: 2 ropes of 200 metres long. The Sleeping Dormouse - sleeps 9 months of the year. My brother is a computer programmer and he built a camera driven by a computer to catch the mouse. An underwater camera too.
Q: Are the Lithuanian national parks in danger and is Lithuania in danger?
A: Trees take 400 years to grow, and now we have techniques that allow us to cut down trees in 30 seconds! I'm trying to change this with this movie - to show the animals in the forest that live in there. Not just the trees which would be cut for money. Some of the money from the film we will use to buy a forest to preserve it.
Q: is there any chance that you can make a book of the film. My daughter and I would like a book.
A: That would be made from trees! We have an interactive version of the film and I think that is much better.
Q: Would you come to Australia to make a film?
A: That takes time and money. I chose to tell Lithuania's story.
Q: Was the snake that stalked the mouse the same snake that was eaten by ants?
A: Different! We had about 500 hours of material that we shot.
Q: Are there particularly rare animals in the film?
A: There are only 20 pairs of the owls left. It took 8 scientific teams and 8 scouts [to shoot them].
Q: Is the snake dangerous?
A: In Lithuania (unlike Australia) we only have one snake! It is poisonous, but it won't kill you.



Matangi/ Maya/ MIA, UK, USA, Sri Lanka. Dir: Stephen Loveridge  Rated 2/5   
This film was rescheduled to start 15 mins later than advertised, so I ended up with a clash and had to leave before the end. I'm led to believe that that was not a tragedy.

I saw about half of the film. It began with the director asking his subject, the pop star known by the 3 names above, "Why are you a problematic pop star?" She replies with a question: "Why don't you just shut up and get a hit [record]?" She answers her own question, saying "If I did that, I'd just get a drug overdose, because I need to express myself." This need to express herself is reasserted over and over again (some might say ad nauseam, or ad punctum tedium). She reveals that before she was a pop star, before she got into music, she wanted to be a documentary filmmaker. Her fellow student at St Martins College art school, the director of this film, did just that.  He has excellent access to all sorts of home movies and other artifacts because he is her best friend.

Despite all this, and despite the fascinating fact that her father was one of the early founders a of a group affiliated with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka I found it hard to get into the documentary. It was very fragmentary, and quite repetitious. It could also have something to do with the fact that I'd never heard of her. But that doesn't stop me with other films.

I'm reliably informed that the film got more interesting, politically, but that as a documentary film, it did not improve from the mediocre, which was my impression based on 60 minutes of the 97.

Ryuchi Sakamoto: Coda, USA, Japan. Dir: Stephen Nomura Schible Rated 4/5   
I have loved the screen music of Mr Sakamoto ever since I heard his score for Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (Oshima, 1983). I particularly love the score for The
 Last Emperor (Bertolucci, 1987) and The Revanant (Iñárritu 2015). I was only vaguely aware that Mr Sakamoto wrote other contemporary music. After seeing this doco I now know that he is so much more. An elegant, yet enthusiastic man, he began as part of an avant-garde pop band, and progressed to film score writing when Oshima offered him an acting role in
Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Being young and ambitious, he replied "Only if you let me write the score." To his astonishment, Oshima agreed. He never looked back

"Film work always comes suddenly" he says, explaining that he had to write 45 songs for the Last Emperor in a very short time. When making The Sheltering Shy for Bertolucci (1990), he was 40 minutes before he was due to record the score with a full orchestra, when Bertolucci told him the introduction required a rewrite. When Sakamoto objected, Bertolucci said: "Morricone would do it."  Sakamoto did it. He says he prefers the rewritten introduction to the original.

There are more such fascinating revelations, including his problems with throat cancer, and his fascination with natural sounds mixed with music, or as music. I loved the way that he delighted in his own compositions and discoveries by saying: "I like this". And I liked this film very much.


Wednesday 13 June

Wajib, Palestine, France, Germany, Columbia, Norway, Qatar, UAE. Dir: Annemarie Jacir     Rated 3.5/5     IN COMPETITION  
This is an interesting, charming and amusing comedy-drama, which takes us inside the domesticity of life in modern Nazareth. A father and son must personally deliver the invitations to the wedding of their daughter/sister. They meet all sorts of people and encounter relentless and never-ending hospitality. The number of cups of coffee they have to drink! The drama revolves around the question of whether the mother, who divorced from the father, will be able to come to the wedding. The divorce is a source of intense embarrassment - even humiliation - to the father, who is a greatly respected and loved school teacher who hopes for promotion to headmaster (especially if he can invite a VIP to the wedding). Gradually, and delightfully, we get to understand how this world works. Such importance is given to family, custom, and saving face: it makes one realise how easily positions can become entrenched.

All in all, an enjoyable and informative film, but I'm not sure it can be said to be "cutting-edge."

The Taste of Rice Flower, China. Dir: Pengfei Song    Rated 3/5   
Surely this film should be "The Taste of Rice Flour"? The women do make a kind of pancake out of what seems to be rice flour. In any event, this film is fascinating in many ways, not the least of which is its setting on the border between China and Burma, in Yunnan Province. The costumes and the cultural aspects - particularly the dance sequence which concludes the film (reminding me of the same sort of conclusion in The Seen and the Unseen) are very striking. The central performances of the main characters - mother and daughter - are excellent, and the film is unflinching in its depiction of the difficulties cause for human beings in the midst of China's economic obsessions.

Filmworker, USA. Dir: Tony Zierra    Rated 4/5   
Stanley Kubrick is my favourite director, so I was really looking forward to this film, and I was not disappointed. However, I was a bit dismayed at the way in which my hero drove his capable assistant, Leon Vitale, to near death from exhaustion.

Nevertheless, this is a very engaging and comprehensive documentary, with a fascinating subject. Talk about taking hero-worship to the limit!  But in doing so, Vitale made himself into a great filmmaker himself, mastering every aspect of the art.  And he did it because he loved it. Now he will get the attention he was due. Shame on those who did Kubrick retrospectives without consulting Vitale!

As a bonus, we learn a great deal more about the allegedly-reclusive Kubrick and the making of many of his films. That can only be good.


John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, France. Dir: Julien Faraut    Rated 1/5   
This was a very disappointing documentary. I should have realised from reading the SFF catalogue notes, which begin with the Jean-Luc Godard's quote that "movies lie, not sports" that this would not be a proper sporting documentary on John McEnroe. And that it would not be "cutting-edge". Because all sports fans know that sports DO lie: vide Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and other cyclists accused of cheating, members of the Australian cricket team accused of cheating, Hansie Cronje from South Africa whose career ended because of unfair practices, and some of the Pakistani cricketers convicted of fixing games, some tennis players in the lower grades and various soccer players, and the East German swim team in years gone past. The list goes on...

There were a couple of interesting documentaries in here, but this wasn't one of them. The director has come across the instructional sporting videos made by Gil de Kermadec for the French Institut National du Sport et de l'Education Physique, having started out as a tennis player, and first using more conventional shots of theoretical tennis to illustrate how to play. But he soon decided that tennis in practice was way different to the theory, and began to follow the starts of tennis, resulting in a much more dynamic product - even if he mainly concentrated on play at one end of the court!  Kermadec appears in the film, and his story is one of the two films that I would have preferred to see.  The other is a film actually about John McEnroe. This film gestures towards it, and then slips away.

The introduction of a psychologist to explain the way McEnroe played (using negative energy both to gee himself up - a difficult feat - and to put off his opponent) is really just explaining the bleeding obvious, and at a superficial level at that. The nature of the footage means that we only see McEnroe playing at Roland Garros, of course, so that is limiting in itself. When the film finally gets to the McEnroe/Lendl French Open final in 1984, we finally get to see part of an actual tennis match between 2 people. It's quite a relief. But before that we have to put up with such "quirkiness" as using bits of Robert de Niro's dialogue in Raging Bull to accompany a McEnroe tantrum. And there's a very odd use of rock guitar soundtrack and western movie scoring. Spare me! We get a couple of gold nuggets of information about McEnroe's parents, and his early life, but that's about it.  I wanted more from this overlong filmic essay.

All in all, another instance (see [Censored]) of a wasted opportunity in making a documentary from a wealth of fascinating archival material.


Thursday 14 June

Genesis 2.0, Switzerland. D: Christian Frei     Rated 4/5   
Another fabulous documentary, this one actually addressing the Yakut people of Siberia, who are addressed fictionally in the following film, Aga (below). First we see footage of the Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis Society (GEM) conference in America. Then we
are introduced to the Siberian men who hunt for woolly mammoth tusks underneath the tundra. The trade can be lucrative, but it is uncomfortable, lonely and often dangerous work.

Next we meet the brother of one of the hunters. He is Semyan Gregoriev, a Professor at North-Eastern Federal University (Siberia) and the director of an Institute dedicated to the Woolly Mammoth, and he wants to clone one from live cells, if he can get them.

Next, we go to Korea, where we meet Woo-Suk Hwang, the cloning pioneer, who in 2005 cloned the first dog, and who carries on a thriving business doing more of this today, but who at one stage had a cloud hanging over him about some allegedly false claims about cloning. Is he for real?

Finally, we go to China where we learn that they are trying to make a genome record of EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD (presumably everything living). There's a moment in the film that was amongst the most chilling of the Festival:  Swedish/ American scientist asks the spokeswoman for the Institute about the ethical considerations of screening out birth defects (which is one of the advances that the Institute trumpets), the spokesperson is completely silent, smiles, and looks blank. She has no idea what this question means!

We return to the New Siberian Islands, where the hunt for tusks is over. Will they make it back through treacherous seas? It becomes a thriller!

This is an important story, well-told.

Aga, Bulgaria, Germany, France. Dir: Milko Lazarov    Rated 3/5       IN COMPETITION
I just loved the look of this film, and was fascinated by the clinging on to a lifestyle and culture by the elderly couple at the centre of this film. So it was very dismaying to hear from the filmmakers in the Q&A that followed that it was a concoction. It wasn't based on a true family, or even on a true culture. It is pure fiction. That information I found very disturbing, and that's why the film didn't rate higher in my opinion.

The circumstances under which this film was made were very difficult indeed, as we also heard in the Q&A. So it would have rated very high on the Competition's "courageous" category.

Q&A with director
Milko Lazarov and producer Veselka Kiryakova, introduced by Nashen Moodley
Q: (Nashen) What was the inspiration for the film, and what was it like shooting so far from home?
A: (Lazarov) I don't remember! Since I was a little boy I was curious about the explorers of the North Pole. As to difficulties: financing is usually the most difficult thing, but here the shooting in minus 30 degrees, was the most difficult thing.
Q: (Audience) The dog, Hector: how did you shoot without him looking at the camera?
A: Hector is a good actor and he slept a lot. Very easy.
Q: Were the inside the yurt shots shot in the studio?
A: There were 2 different locations but everything was shot on location. Either on the Yana River or in a rebuilt yurt in a warehouse near the city - again outside.
Q: Are there many families now living in the wilderness?
A: No. Not since the 1960s. There are now wooden houses there.
Q: Thanks for a wonderful film. How did you manage to film in the freezing temperatures.?
A: We shot outside 12 hours a day. There was nothing nearby - just one bus. We had good Russian clothes!
Q: This is the best film of the Festival. Were the 2 main actors professionals?
A: Some of the actors were professional. The main actor [Mikhail Aprosimov] is in theatre in Yakutsk. The actress who plays his wife is a local villager.
Q: How long since you started thinking to make the film and how long did it take?
A: 5 years from the idea to the end. That's the usual time for making a film. We planned to shoot in Canada or Greenland. The last chance was Yakutia. It was easy for us to work in Russia with the local crew. Also the beautiful country.
Q: How did you find the 2 lead actors?
A: The 1st location visiting we did a little casting. Their way of acting there is very different - like Chinese TV acting. In Yakutia, lots of people make low budget films. A teacher made a film, we saw the premiere and the woman who was in the lead role - we knew that was our Sedna.
Q: What is the relationship between fiction and documentary [in this film]? It was very ethnographic, but it moved into more dramatic elements. The aspects of Arctic exploration - minerals, global warming. It is also grounded with the oral storytelling and myth.
A: Just a few things related to real life. They don't live like that, they don't hunt like that. The people argued with them, but it is really fictional.
Q: The development of the script, and the fact that these are fictional indigenous people: it is a poetic elegy for these times disappearing.
A:
(Kiryakova) During script development we did a lot of research. Our script consultant is the most famous explorer of Inuit regions and is the inventor of "Visual Anthropology." Milko was trying to make a collective image of northern communities.


The Insult, France, Lebanon. Dir: Ziad Douain     Rated 2.5/5   
Don't go to court in Lebanon!

This film was the audience favourite feature at the Festival.  I can understand why, but as a lawyer I found the events of the film all too hard to believe. I have since spoken to other lawyers, who had the same problems with the film that I did. But someone told me that a Lebanese acquaintance has asserted that this is what court is like in Lebanon. If so, I repeat:
Don't go to court in Lebanon!

A similar scenario was much more effectively, and less melodramatically, dealt with in No Date, No Signature (see above, on Thursday 7 June) with more drama and fewer histrionics. In the film's introduction the director explained that the screenplay was based on an actual incident that happened to him and the other screenwriter. But they have teased that out and exaggerated it to breaking point.

It does all serve to illustrate the bigger political points, and that's admirable, but when the defence lawyer turned out to be the father of the plaintiff's lawyer, that really underlined the melodramatic excesses employed here. I had trouble working out whether the trial was criminal or civil: at first it seemed obviously civil, but when the result involved the concept of "guilty" or "not guilty," I became unsure. It seemed to me that the case should have been all over on day one when it was shown that each injury suffered was not "directly related" to the act of the defendant. That legal concept was well-spelled out early on in the film, so I was sure that would be the result. It wasn't.  The court case itself was ludicrous in my view and several people should have been arrested for being in contempt of court. I was surprised to see in the credits that there was a legal consultant.

For me,
No Date, No Signature did what this film was trying to do, but in a more believable way.  This seemed to be more like an episode of Boston Legal, but in Lebanon.

The Wife,  Sweden, UK. Dir: Bjorn Runge Rated 1/5   
I hated this film. Glenn Close was quite good in it but she's such a strong character in most of her movies, she made it hard to believe her character hid her talent from the world for decades.

I found it impossible to believe that such concealment would be possible for all those years, and I could not accept Jonathan Pryce as a lothario who was flirting with women young enough to be his grandchildren. I could not accept that he forgot the name of one of his main characters. I did not buy Max Irons' performance as the disaffected writer son who gets stoned immediately before a Nobel Prize ceremony. This was such a cliché.

I have not read the book, but I am told that there are significant differences, in fact and in tone. It was such an interesting idea - the undervaluing of women as authors throughout the 1950s and 60s. I wish it had been better realised.


Friday 15 June

Bisbee '17, USA. Dir: Robert Greene Rated 4/5   
This was, to me the most surprising film of the Festival. On paper it was one of those that said to me - come on, you can miss this. It's better to sleep in. But I didn't, and I'm so glad.   This is  a documentary clearly influenced by Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing (SFF 2013), which is one of the films that I most admire in contemporary filmmaking. It's a film that sets out to change society, and to change behaviour.

The filmmakers take as their starting point the 100th anniversary of a shameful incident in the town of Bisbee - the "deportation" of a group of striking mineworkers and their sympathisers, by townspeople who feared the influence of the "Wobblies" (the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, a labour union) who helped the mineworkers assert their rights in 1917 in Bisbee, Arizona.

The film follows the reenactment of the incident, organised by the people of this once-prosperous copper mining town. Bisbee was once the richest town in Arizona. It is now the poorest. But the people decided to mark the centenary of the deportation by facing up to it, and the filmmakers follow the preparations, at the same time interspersing the history. The film plays as a cross between The Act of Killing and Bad Day at Black Rock (Sturges, 1955).

For me, the making of the cattle cars by woodworkers and home handymen was the most poignant thing, and then when the re-enactors enter those cars with townspeople and neighbours playing the role of their arrestors, shouting and prodding, the film, and the reenactment, becomes incredibly important.

The Kindergarten Teacher, USA. Dir: Sara Colangelo     Rated 4.5/5   
This is the way to make a film about someone who steals another's literary work (see The Wife, above, on Thurs 14 June)). Maggie Gyllenhaal, always an intelligent actor, takes on a very challenging role: the role of a well-meaning, but ultimately deluded educator. She basically has to play a failed character, one who hoped to achieve more both in her career, and with her husband and children. And then she sees a chance to help someone whom she perceives to be a genius, and she takes it all too far and too seriously. Her task is basically to play someone dumber than she is: this reminds me of Jack Nicholson in Prizzi's Honour (Huston, 1985). But this is more subtle. She's smart, but she's confronted by circumstances beyond her ken, but which suits her vanity. This leads to a crisis that is unbearably sad. Best of all, the filmmakers know when to stop, and are smart enough to leave us with a set of questions to ponder over. Excellent storytelling.

Daughter of Mine, Italy, Germany, Switzerland. Dir: Laura Bispuri     Rated 4/5   
Another strong film by a female director. Some have found the performances too histrionic, but I'm willing to allow latitude. We have a most unusual little girl as one of the 3 central women. The camera loves her, and she seems born to it. The older one is Valeria Golino, and it is a shock to see her as an older woman.  The middle woman is the most problematic. Alba Rohrwacher plays a free spirit who has lost control, and we have no clues as to why. She's both attractive and repellent, and it is hard to accept that her biological daughter, whom she has given up, is more drawn to her than she is to the adoptive mother who loves her. Or rather, it is easy to see the attraction, but it is hard to accept that it continues. But then who am I to judge what is or isn't true here?  In any case, there are some amazing images in this film, and this is a director who really trusts in the talent of her actors. Intriguing filmmaking.

There was a Q&A with the director,
Laura Bispuri, with Jason Di Rosso moderating, and the director also said a few words to introduce the film.
Intro: The film is from the 3 points of view of the 3 protagonists. I hope you love
each of them as much as I do.
Q: The idea of Sardinia as a location. Your previous film as partly set in Albania.
A: Sardinia was a great discovery. The way I work is writing the script and then moving to the place where the movie is set - I do the 1st draft, go to the place and then do another draft. 11 times! Sardinia is a choice by instinct and then much reflection. Sardinia is a mothers' field. The strength of mothers. Strong identity but I kept asking what's new outside the island and it continues to question its identity - which also applies to the women in the film.
Q: The husband in the film is not a typical male for Italians.
A Since I started, my focus was merely on the women. I also believe it is important to think about women because they are not much on film.
Jason Di Rosso: Sardinia is associated with men, eg Padre Padrone.
A: And in the film men were in the background because it was a film about maternity. The male figure represents a masculinity not much seen in Italy: a nice, sweet man who loves his daughter and wife. Umberto goes through the same journey at the beginning of the film that Tina goes through at the end.
Q: The use of the hand-held camera the whole way through.
A: The movie was shot in long sequences. It was the most complicaed thing in the movie, because we had 3 points of view. There was very complicated blocking and sometimes the POV changes from one character to another in a scene. When the editor saw the film she said it was already edited. Through this language I can be more naturalistic. For me, this is the best way to talk about space. Sequence plan is not easy to get into the film but hard to get out.
Q: Thank you for a beautiful film. As a redhead it was good to see another redhead. The scenes with such a young actress - a lot of them were confronting. How did you keep her safe and how did you achieve such close relationships?
A: The young girl [Sara Casu, who plays Vittoria] we found after looking for 8 months. She's Italian. I asked Sara very complicated things because we were shooting with a complicated sequence plan. Also from an emotional POV I asked a lot from her. She always responded with a nice effort. I can tell you a particular anecdote. The scene in which Angelica and Vittoria are dancing and singing. It wasn't in the script. It was created when we interviewed Sara. I wanted to use that song in a different scene and I had to see if Sara was up to the movie. We went to Angelica's place, I played the song and I asked Sara to talk through her eyes a double feeling to Angelica of  attraction and replsion and I saw this while Alba [who plays Angelica] was dancing. When I gave this to my producers they asked me to insert it in the movie. I was a bit sceptical of another dancing and singing scene I and the 3 main characters were confident and equal and worked well together.


Yellow is Forbidden, China, New Zealand. Dir: Pietra Brettkelly Rated 3.5/5   
The director introduced the film, and it seems that she is a force of nature to equal, if not surpass, her subject. It is no wonder she gets the access she does. You couldn't say no to her: she's turn up in your loungeroom in a minute to ask why!

I had not heard of Guo Pei, the fashion designer, before this film, but I knew of the gold dress she designed for Rihanna in 2015. Her fashion is more over-the-top than any I have seen, and so it is a challenge to think of it in Western terms. But it is fascinating to learn of her attempts to crack the Paris Haute Couture scene.

All Guo Pei's efforts must take a tremendous amount of money, though the source of this is not really explored in the film, leaving many questions. We do see a scene where wealthy Chinese women are invited to become VIP members of some sort of club which entitles you to heaven-know-what. You must spend something like $750,000 to qualify. Her designs are expensive and time-consuming to make, and we see some interesting scenes of wages negotiations between Guo Pei and a head seamstress. You get the impression Guo Pei will win, but we aren't told. We also aren't told about whether the Chinese Government is providing any funds, though the director hinted at this in the later Q&A.

It'll be interesting to see if she continues to thrive and becomes a true Paris Haute Couturier. She has the drive and the ideas, but does she have the taste to endure?

There was a Q&A with the director,
Pietra Brettkelly, who wore a gown made for her by Guo Pei!
Q: What drew you to fashion given your other films have been set in or dealt with Afghanistan and Africa etc?
A: This is my 5th feature film. All of my films are about isolation, and that's not always a bad thing. It can be creative too. I like to go with just my DOP and drop into another culture. I'm interested in groups of people and creativity. I heard about the heels of the shoes she designs, and then the Rihanna thing happened and then I rang her [Guo Pei] and they said not to come. But we spoke to her for an hour and then she agreed. We just began. She's an incredibly creative and open person.
Q: Was it easy to get into the Haute Couture world?
A: No. The President was easy, but other people were kind of buttoned down. And the aristocracy of the French fashion world. I found it extraordinary that no one knew who she was: Kenzo, the Mayor of Paris, and the Executive Director of [something]. But the President was really on her side - fashion is not just about fashion - it is about your craft and your passion.
Q: How did the first conversation you had with her go? Where did the story come from?
A: My process is to go and start filming. I research as I go. I believe in my ability to cast. I have the same spiel for everyone: I'll be around for God knows how long. You'll hate me and we'll laugh a lot and you'll need to open up to me. They usually say yes right away. I didn't know she'd do her big Paris collection or that she'd be accepted into the Haute Couture Association either and so it could have been a short film!
We don't use translators, fixers, minders etc. We just rock up. Guo Pei and I used WeChat which translates. And she had some people around that translated. But in some cases I didn't know what was said until I got a budget for the translation, that I knew what it was about.
Q: Tell me about her husband and funding and her daughter.
A: Elder daughter studies at South Carolina Art [something] Academy and has done a year. [Husband] Jack's money comes from a Taiwanese Textiles company but that wouldn't fund all of  Guo Pei's business. There was I believe some Government support for her. It costs  2 million Euros per sow, and she must do 2 shows a year. She has a lot of clients, but I never got to the bottom of it.
Q: The "Yellow is Forbidden" name? I once wore yellow when I went into my local Chinese camera shop and he said, "Yellow is for the Emperor."
A: I love intriguing titles that come from the content. When we interviewed Guo Pei's mother and she said "Yellow is forbidden" - it is still only for the Emperor and especially as there is no Emperor any more. But Guo Pei uses it [yellow] all the time. This is also an indication of here China is at in the commercial world.
Day 1 we filmed Guo Pei in her house and she pulled out her kaleidoscope and said, "This is my happy place" and I said to my DOP: "That's what this film is about: the creative mind." We bought a chandelier and dismantled it and put it before the lense to indicate the nature of the creative mind of Guo Pei.
Q: Did you feel uncomfortable being a white woman in that space?
A: No, never in my career. I've been the first to interview Gaddafi, I've been in Afghanistan and on an oil tanker. Even in my own country it is not straightforward. You just get on with it. And Guo Pei never ever stopped me. When we were outside, Jake [Bryant, cinematographer] and I would pretend we were a couple filming. I want to tell stories. I'm not going to stop.


Saturday 16 June

Kusama - Infinity
, USA. Dir: Heather LenzRated 4.5/5
"No matter how I suffer for my art, I will have no regrets." - Yayoi Kusama
Yet another fascinating, comprehensive and sensitive documentary, this one on Yayoi Kusama, the contemporary artist best known for her polka dot works. I was surprised to learn that she is the most popular living contemporary artists based on museum visits to her exhibitions.  Her current show "Infinite Mirrors" is constantly sold out as it tours the world. But her journey has been fraught with difficulty, and sexist and racial prejudice. That, combined with a cruel mother (who denied her the right to paint, as she wanted her to marry into money), and a philandering father that she was made to spy on by her mother, and you have a recipe for depression and mental illness, even in this confident, brilliant and feisty woman. Nevertheless she has survived to triumph, found a way to live with mental illness, and declares that: "I want to live forever". An inspiring woman, who
now has a film that is does due justice to her talent.

Leave No Trace, USA. Dir: Debra GranikRated 4/5    IN COMPETITION
This is a beautifully shot film by the director of the fabulous Winter's Bone (SFF 2010). The performances are very good, especially Ben Foster as Will, the father of Tom (Thomasin Harcourt Mackenzie), a young and capable girl. The scenes together in the woods are wonderful as the filmmakers create a kind of fantasy world in which it is possible to co-exist with nature, touching only lightly on the land. But as Tom is clearly growing up, we know that this seemingly-idyllic situation will not last. And indeed, reality comes crashing in on them.

This is fairly dealt with by the filmmakers, so that there are no villains, only people trying to do their job. Slowly we see how impossible this life is to continue. It's a tale well-told.

However, I had a few problems with the performance of young
Thomasin Harcourt Mackenzie). She was sensitive, yes, but also a bit monotonous in vocal tone, and sometimes hard to hear - unlike Ben Foster who was crystal clear. I know she's a teenager, but she's not supposed to be the sullen mumbling type. And I was really uncomfortable from the beginning with a father involving his daughter in his own private war against the world. Luckily the scenes where they almost freeze addressed my concerns about the likelihood of any of this working for long.  And where, in that rainforest, were the bugs and leeches?!

The same sort of thing didn't work out for Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic (SFF 2016) either.

The Marriage of Maria Braun, Germany. Dir: Rainer Werner FassbinderRated 5/5 - CLASSICS RESTORED
Such a clever, witty and perceptive piece of work. There is more feminism here than in many of the Festival films, even in something like My 20th Century (SFF 2018), another film in the Classics Restored section of the festival.

The film was presented by the Goethe Foundation, and they had brought over Juliane Lorenz, who edited the film and who lived with Fassbinder for the last 7 years of his life.  That was a wonderful, history making experience, and so it is even more vexing to note that there was a problem (I believe) with the film's projection. It was in the right aspect ratio, but the curtains were not fully open.  As a result, this work of genius did not appear as the director intended. The right and left edges of the screen were not visible, and I could not read all the credits - which, in Fassbinder, are HUGE.  This is a serious error on someone's part.

No one but me seemed to notice this.  I will investigate.


Sunday 17 June
The Heiresses, Paraguay, Germany, Brazil, Uruguay, Norway, France. Dir: Marcelo Martinessi     Rated 4.5/5   
This, in my opinion, should win the Sydney Film Prize (and it did!). Blakkklansman comes close, in my view, but this film sets out to redress the fact that there is no history of filmmaking in Paraguay. And it manages to supply one, whilst at the same time tackling the subject of same-sex love and devotion. So there we have the elements of "audacious, cutting-edge or courageous." as required by the Sydney Film Prize.

It is unusual to find a drama about older women these days, and when we do find them, they often come from South or Central America. Here we see a woman who has given up, having never had to take responsibility for herself, first because she was rich and came from Old Money, still living in the house she was born in, and second because she is in a relationship where she is totally cared-for and able to control her environment so that she is never challenged.

But all that changes for Chela when her long-term lover, Chiquita is gaoled over a bad debt. That in itself is fascinating, as we learned from the film and the Q&A: banks no longer can have their debtors gaoled for defaulting on a loan, so they force them to sign promissory notes, and then have them charged with fraud, presumably for non-disclosure of certain facts. Th filmmaker filmed in a real gaol, and went to considerable trouble to make the inmates comfortable with the camera being there.

This film is ambitious and intelligent, and ultimately very moving. It is a deserved winner of
the Sydney Film Prize. I hope its success contributes to its acceptance in its home country, and that it manages to change attitudes, and perhaps even change the law.

There was a Q&A, moderated by Jason Di Rosso with the director, Marcelo Martinessi. Her also gave a few words of introduction to the film:
Intro: Paraguay never had a cinema law or film institute or cinemathèque, so I'm hoping for more Paraguayan cinema. This film was co-produced with several countries funding. It comes from a country without a film history - I wanted to create a dialogue with that history and all those years of darkness.
Q: (Di Rosso) Chena is Ana Brun?
A: This is her fist film. She's a lawyer, she did theatre about 15 years ago and someone who read the script thought of her. I met her and liked the way she moved. I asked my Mum (Paraguay is a tiny society). She said I don't remember much about her, but I remember her eyes.
Ana Brun is a pseudonym and she changed her name because Paraguay is a very conservative society and she was afraid to play Ana. Also the film was discussed [negatively] in Parliament and it was the first film from Paraguay to go to Berlin.
Q: What about the Tray and its symbolism?
A: The tray portrays the symbolism of her life. It gives her pleasure and the control. The first thing they teach the new maid is how the tray must be laid out.
Q: Thanks for your understanding of women - especially in a film made by a man. Tell us more about the prison.
A: It is complicated to show a prison in Paraguay. We joined the Goethe Institut and did a workshop there - that made us more comfortable to film there. You never go to prison if you have money. Also to create the house that is like a prison and a prison that is free. The prison of a social class or of a relationship.
Q: Has this fall from wealth happened generally in Paraguay?
A: It does happen. There's the crisis in Argentina in 2001.
The 2 women who come for the orchids are "new money" - there's a lot of corruption in Paraguay. The money is with the drug dealers and the government officials - the money has gone somewhere else.
Q: Why does a debt result in a prison sentence?
A: In Paraguay, if you have a debt you used to go to prison, and now [as a result of legislation] not. Now the banks make you sign promissory notes, so they get you for fraud and you go to prison. These women would normally be protected by their social position, but no longer.
Q: Where did you draw your inspiration for this film?
A: I came from short films. When I came to this film I drew from sounds.
When I was a child I'd go with my mother to the hairdresser  and listen to all the gossiping. Other writers have talked of gossiping as the main way of communicating [for some people]. For writers, when you write, it is easier to think of people you know. It's easier. I have used people I know in this film. The Piquita character is horrible on paper, but on film you love her. The actress is very popular now. T-Shirts say, "It's going to be a great funeral."
Q: The main character having no voice was so brilliant. We could make up our own minds about her. You let us make the decisions.
A: This is the way I experience the world. People never say who they are, what they want. So this is how I wrote the script. People never say how they feel. It comes out in other ways.
Q: Given the reaction to the Lesbian relationship when you showed it to Parliament, did you worry that some of the other issues the film raises might be overlooked?
A: You are right. The film had many other layers and these are seen outside Paraguay. I made a film with a lot of modesty, discretion - not for the audience - but because in Paraguay, even the gay couples are so discreet, they have incorporated homophobia into their language; eg, in the film: "You know, the girl who looks like a boy."

BlacKkKlansman, USA. Dir: Spike Lee Rated 4.5/5   
This film is a knockout! So ambitious! Such fun! So important!

Spike Lee is clearly a director working at the height of his powers. Here he has managed to make multiple films within the one film. He's made a thriller, a social problem/ message film, a documentary, a film history, a blaxploitation film, a love story, a comedy and a musical. He has engaging characters and a great dance sequence. He has employed inventive camera-work and a fast pace to make a piece of pure and joyful cinema with a sting in the tail and more stings throughout, just to keep it real. And it IS real (or at least the basic story is), based on the  true story of an undercover detective who joins the KKK - and he's black! Unbelievable but true. And great filmmaking. Music by Terence Blanchard.


The Guilty, Denmark. Dir: Gustav Moller Rated 4.5/5   
Have the SFF programmers saved all the best films for the last day? This is another great film, reminiscent of Steven Knight's Locke (SFF 2014), a virtual one-hander like The Guilty. It's a tour de force performance by Jacob Cedergren, and inventive camerawork by director Gustav Moller and his team. If some of the twists were guessable, it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the film or lessen the thrills. A cautionary tale about the dangers of assumption. Another film containing apologies. And an ending that makes you think there's another film there about Asger's trial the next morning. Who is he calling in the final scene? I hope it's his attorney!

Bad Reputation, USA. Dir: Kevin Kerslake     Rated 3/5   
This biopic of Joan Jett was too much of a good thing. As I was with Whitney (see above on Sat 9 June), I was moderately interested Joan Jett, having already seen the film about her first band The Runaways (Sigismondi, 2010). But as with Whitney, I didn't need to know this much. However, I learned a lot about what a strong and talented woman Joan is, and also about the music industry in America. But I was never a fan of her music, and I still am not.

END OF FESTIVAL