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Clearly it's not the Riviera, but the Margaret River wine and leisure region of Western Australia has its own geographic appeal (including gorgeous Geographe Bay), and the six year old CinéfestOZ has a good wine-red carpet and its own screen legends, such as Bryan Brown (2012) and this year's honouree, Jack Thompson. It is ripening well, as Andrew L. Urban reports on the 2013 vintage (August 21 - 25).

A 50% jump in attendances to over 15,000, six major events sold out across its five days, a well received program of Australian and French films - including a few world premieres - has boosted its reputation as a filmfest to watch, as it were. 

"destination showcase for new Australian films"

Like the somewhat smaller Dungog Film Festival does in the NSW Hunter Valley across the other side of the continent (held in May), CinéfestOZ prides itself on being a destination showcase for new Australian films. The Australian focus is crucial to CinéfestOZ, notwithstanding that it has a dual nationality, with French films another key element of the program. More on the French bit later.

Geographe Bay

The quality of the 2013 program has been impressive, thanks in part to a clever arrangement with MIFF's Premiere Fund which enables CinéfestOZ to program films from the Melbourne event just two weeks prior, co-branded, as it were. Hence the inclusion of six of the 17 chapters from Tim Winton's The Turning, Patrick, Aim High in Creation and the debut feature from rising WA filmmaker Zak Hilditch, These Final Hours.

A sort of modern day On The Beach, the latter stars Nathan Phillips as a young man interrupted on his way to a no-holds-barred end of the world party when he feels compelled to save a little girl being kidnapped by two brutes with clearly abusive intentions. Outstanding performances drive the film's high energy and ceaselessly edgy tone.

Roadshow boss Joel Pearlman was on hand to conclude the distribution deal for the film: it will be released next year.


The festival opened its French program with Tenderness, Marion Hansel's understated road movie/relationship drama - and in the other two cinemas in Busselton's Orana Cinema, The Rocket launched the Australian program. This multi-layered crowd pleaser from Kim Mordaunt is set in Laos, and had just won the Audience Award at MIFF. The Rocket opens commercially this week.

Each of the MIFF films were followed by Q&As with the filmmakers and/or stars, as were most other films, including Ivan Sen's Mystery Road; Sen has already returned to China, working on his next film, but Jack Thompson, David Field and producer David Jowsey were there.

Another Australian film in the program that is in a foreign language was (ex-Buddhist monk) Greg Sneddon's Arrows of the Thunder Dragon, which explores the ancient tradition of archery and social/family customs in Bhutan through a story of a brother and sister. It will be released in selected cinemas early next year. Sneddon, too, was a Fest guest and captivated the audience with his post screening discussion - which your reporter was pleased to moderate.

"the region's food and especially wine culture"

In keeping with the region's food and especially wine culture, festival attendees could feast on the French biopic, Haute Cuisine about a Presidential lady chef and catch up with how the rich and aspirational Chinese got Red Obsession in Bordeaux. The latter, an Aussie film, went down especially well. 

The French connection continued into the Australian program with the premiere of Rachel Ward's splendide telemovie, An Accidental Soldier, set in WWI France, starring Dan Spielman, Marie Bunel, Bryan Brown and Julia Zemiro. The film is based on Silent Parts, a novel by John Charalambous, adapted by Blake Ayshford, and is the story of an innocent Aussie soldier (Spielman)who isn't ready to die and seeks refuge in a farmhouse where Colombe (Bunel) is worrying for her own son fighting at the front.

The supple strength of the story, the defined and interesting characters are all masterfully handled by Ward, who joined producers Sue Taylor and Kylie du Fresne and Ayshford for the Q&A. (An Accidental Soldier will screen on ABC TV on September 12, 2013)

Aravina Estate

Screened at the Margaret River Cultural Centre, this was one of the six sold out events; the others were opening night, Saturday night gala - where Jack Thompson was presented with the Screen Legend Award by Fest patron David Wenham; the expansive, buzzy directors' lunch at Aravina Estate; the Studio Bistro In Conversation lunch, compete with a panel consisting of Ward, Wenham and Aboriginal actor/singer/writer Jub Clerc), moderated by film journo Sandy George, and the Settler's Tavern Sidebar event.

As to why a French connection, it's only partly due to the names the 18th century French explorers left behind along the coast. Equally inspiring was the 2006 visit to St Tropez, enjoying the Antipodean film festival organised by Bernard Bories each year. The format of a new film every day followed by a party had instant appeal for co-founders David Barton and Helen Shervington. Ooh, let's do something like that …

"the Festival brings films they wouldn't otherwise get to see"

The schools program (strongly supported by major sponsor Rio Tinto) and a dozen or more shorts, plus a smattering of industry seminars and briefings (some in association with Screen West) filled out the program, the latter devised for the 40-plus industry guests. For the locals in the region, the Festival brings films they wouldn't otherwise get to see without travelling almost three hours to Perth. That's why it was born.

But this year's rapid growth will not be repeated, nor sought. One of the contributors to the big leap in numbers was the expansion North to Bunbury, with its 600 cinema seats at the Regional Entertainment Centre offering a new 'shop front'. But co-founders Barton (Chair) and Shervington (Deputy Chair) are not chasing growth for the sake of it. Mindful of the dangers of getting bigger without getting better, they are guiding the Fest to a healthier and more professional future.

For the past six years they and their fellow board members have devoted their energies and time and will continue to do so, but they feel the festival must mature and employ more than one person full time. (Fest director Malinda Nixon is it, for now.) Barton runs a physiotherapy business in Busselton and Shervington is Chair of Busselton Water Board (and has a history in water conservation work).

Part of the plan for the future is to embrace the neighbours: Singapore is already a source of tourism into Perth and so are Malaysia and Indonesia. Getting these tourists to come South to the Busselton- Margaret River region isn't the challenge – and as Tourism WA is keen to advise, they're coming already, tasting the wines, discovering river canoeing, exploring the Ngigli cave network, trekking along the coast and sampling the cuisine, not least the fabulously tasty marron, a lobster-like local.

There is now talk of adding a sidebar that may showcase Asian films, for instance. CinéfestOZ has the benefit of access to a strong tourism infrastructure, which goes beyond the vineyards, to boutique arts & crafts, adventure activities, plenty of surfing and a population to provide a solid base of patronage.

"allows visitors to mingle with the stars and filmmakers"

The challenge is to attract visitors who are unaware that late August is one of the best times to be in the area, with the mild climate, the absence of crowds (restaurant bookings are easier) and the access to a film festival that is small enough to be personal, that allows visitors to mingle with the stars and filmmakers, but important enough for the industry to support with new films.

The turning point may well have been the festival screening of Julie Bertucelli’s Aust/French co-production - and Cannes entry - The Tree (2010). “We had the WA Minister for Arts here for that and had a big party under a big tree,” recalls Shervington. “Later on, Andrew Mackie (distributor, Transmission) told me The Tree did proportionally better here in WA than anywhere else in Australia, so it helped open the door to other distributors.”

Indeed, when Shervington started, she was lucky to even get her calls returned. "Now they're calling us," she says smiling.

Published August 26, 2013

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An Accidental Soldier

The Rocket

Jack Thompson

Red Obsession

Haute Cuisine


Julie Bertucelli’s Aust/French co-production - and Cannes entry - The Tree (2010)

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