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Created and developed by the local community around Margaret River, WA, CinefestOZ is a unique Australian film festival with a French flavour, sitting comfortably alongside the region's wine driven tourism culture. It's a happy blend, as Andrew L. Urban discovered at its 5th edition, where Bryan Brown was awarded the Screen Legend Award.

Why have one opening night film if you can have two? No good answer to that, so CinefestOZ 2012 celebrated its duo-cultural profile by screening both the French box office smash, The Intouchables (due for release nationally from October 25) and the Australian/Chinese co-production, 33 Postcards, at the Orana Miniplex in Busselton.

Bryan Brown, recipient of the Screen Legend Award - in Yallingup (Photo by Tim Swallow)

The Chinese connection added a third culture to the duo-cultural profile of the event, and signalled the growing importance of Chinese/Australian filmmaking co-operation.

A large marquee in the park across the road welcomed guests with local (Margaret River) wines from Forester Estate, finger foods and the energetic sounds of the sweetly named Needing Cherie, whose members appear to have just left school.

"baptism by fire into the ranks of film festivals"

A couple of technical hitches blemished the screening of both films, which can be seen as baptism by fire into the ranks of film festivals, and seemed not to dent the enthusiasm of the audiences, a mix of film industry, sponsors & supporters and plenty of locals.

Both film were WA premieres, and the writer/director of 33 Postcards, Australian/Chinese Pauline Chan, introduced her film and held an informative Q&A session afterwards. The film is about an Australian prisoner (Guy Pearce) and his sponsoring a Chinese orphan girl, Mei Mei (Zhu Lin), who eventually visits Australia as part of a youth choir and is determined to meet her mentor - the man whose postcards to her had painted himself as a wildlife ranger with a family.

Chan explained the way she managed directing the highly experienced Pearce, who doesn't like too many takes and first timer Zhu Lin as Mei Mei who often needed as many as 20 to rise to the level of energy and emotion to match him. "I would shoot the first couple of takes on Guy, and then shoot lots of takes with the camera on Zhu Lin, until she got it," Chan explained to the enthusiastically responsive crowd.

Pearce as Dean Randall and Claudia Karvan (as Dean’s parole officer) deliver superb performances and Rhys Muldoon is excellent as Dean’s wayward brother, working with scumbag Fletch (Terry Serio, terrific).

Pauline Chan, Dean Daly Jones, David Wenham, Emma Booth, Oliver Leimbach and Bryan Brown in Busselton for CinefestOZ. (Photo Tim Swallow)

Another Australian/Chinese co-production in the program was the Friday night world premiere of Deep Sleep No More, attended by the two lead Chinese actresses Liu Xinyue and Zhou Shixuan, together with Chinese Producer/Writer Jin Tzu Cheng and WA director Carmelo Musca.

These two actresses play the lead character, Li Hua: Zhou Shixuan as the young revolutionary during the war and Liu Xinyue, as the older Li Hua in the 1970s.

The film is set in Shanghai during the Japanese Occupation of World War II. Shot entirely in China, the international version of Deep Sleep No More was post-produced in Perth with the assistance of ScreenWest. “This film is significantly different to the Chinese version, which is more linear and has less violence,” says Musca, who joined writer/producer Jin Tzu Cheng for the Q&A.

Producer Antony I. Ginnane flew in from the Movie Convention on the Gold Coast on Thursday to present his latest film, Last Dance, a powerful two hander starring Julia Blake as a Jewish widow and Firass Dirani as a Melbourne Islamic terrorist who kidnaps her in her own apartment as he hides from police. 

The drama (written by David Pulbrook and Terence Hammond, directed by Pulbrook) centres on how the two characters respond to each other in the circumstances, and generated several probing questions in the post scenting Q&A with Ginnane - who had to fly off to Sydney early the next morning to attend the AWGIES on Friday night, where the film was nominated for a Best Original Feature Screenplay Award. (The award went to Michael Lucas for his Not Suitable for Children.)

Of the 19 films in the program, seven were either French or partly French productions, including the moving and haunting, acclaimed French/Canadian drama, Monsieur Lazhar (opening nationally on September 6). It’s the story of Bachir, an Algerian immigrant in Montreal, hired to replace an elementary school teacher who committed suicide in her classroom. While the class goes through a long healing process, nobody in the school is aware of Bachir's painful former life.

"an ambitious mix of films and events"

The festival program was an ambitious mix of films and events for both the public and the industry: apart from the requisite parties (opening night, Saturday Gala, Margaret River Premiere) the festival hosted a script reading, several sessions for schools, a claymation workshop, a director’s lunch, and a film financing seminar with senior industry executives, including Greg Coote, the Australian film financing executive whose CV is studded with impressive activities, mostly in Hollywood, and latterly in Asia, too.

Director's Lunch (Photo Tim Swallow)

Coote talked about the huge growth potential for the film biz in China, which currently has only 9,000 screens for some 1.3 billion people - but is opening an average of about six a day. The US, a mature movie market, has 40,000 screens for about 300 million.

As for movie theft ("we don't like the term 'piracy' because it sounds too colourful"), Coote believes only governments can really do anything about it. He wants to see people convicted of movie theft to be jailed, and agrees that it is a huge business for organised crime.

Coote's advice to Australian producers is to "buddy up" to develop a slate of projects to offer investors as a portfolio. "My magic number is 12," he said "but more is better". Single project investing is too risky, he said, and added that script development is rightly funded by government agencies. In Hollywood, it's the studios ...

Perhaps most interestingly, Coote said he saw no impediment or ceiling for Australian films in either scale or budget. Coote was quick to accept the invitation to attend as he is scouring WA's mining sector for potential investors. Some were present at the seminar.

" to taste the scenery and tour the wines..."

The hosts of the event, which collectively include the WA Government’s screen agency and tourism arms, also offered guests several opportunities to taste the scenery and tour the wines ...

Forester Estate has recently built a mock French renaissance facade onto its winery, an irony since it doesn't host cellar door sales and the public doesn't get to enjoy it.

Voyager Estate

Voyager Estate has also refurbished recently, creating a sophisticated and lavish environment for wine tastings on several levels (matched by rising price structure) and delivering first class food and beverage experiences - it's not just eat, drink, pay, leave.... 

Although smaller than both of these, the Cape Naturaliste winery is just as impressive for both the quality of its wines and the passion of its colourful boss, Craig Brent-White.

But for those who came to drink in the films, it was a rich and rewarding menu, ranging from the family adventure, The Dragon Pearl, the third Australian/Chinese film in the program - to the French romance, Sideway.

"the French connection"

The reason for the French connection is … the French connection: there are many echoes of the early French explorers along the South West coast of WA. The regional tourism centre is Busselton – in Geograph Bay. French expeditions during the 18th and 19th centuries, under explorers such as Baudin, Hamelin, de Freycinet and D’Entrecasteaux, have left their mark, with the naming of over 200 places along the coastline. The fact that the region has become a leading wine producer is just a happy coincidence.

And appropriately enough, the Australian wine doco, Chateau Chunder, made it onto the program (complete with a dedicated wine tasting of course). With its larrikin sense of humour, the film tells the story of Australian wine “in a way that reflected the nature of Australia itself, and its relationship with the rest of the world," says its director, Steve Oliver.

The film brings together winemakers, marketers, merchants, critics and drinkers including Bruce Tyrrell (Tyrell's Wines), Robert Hill Smith (Yalumba), James Halliday and Max Allen (Australian wine critics), Robert Parker (US wine critic), Oz Clarke and Jancis Robinson (UK wine critics), and even the unmistakable man of tatty taste, Sir Les Patterson (Cultural Attaché to Australia, a comic creation of Barry Humphries).

The closing night film, Save Your Legs, had all the attributes required for an 'up' finale to the festival: it is about men reluctantly facing up to the need for maturity - in their 30s - told through a story about a village cricket team. It's a comedy, of course, written by the actor Brendan Cowell who also stars, and it helps if you are a cricket tragic. The audience lapped it up and skipped happily across the road opposite for the after party. 

It was in this same marquee that Bryan Brown was handed a large glass ornament, the Screen Legend Award, presented by CinefestOZ and handed to him by the night’s MC, TV celebrity & comedian Tim Ferguson. 

"exceeded expectations"

All up, the organisers are delighted: “CinéfestOZ has exceeded expectations with over 10,000 attendances, 62 sessions, and 29 films (including shorts) over the 5 days, with 30 film industry guests, including Bryan Brown, David Wenham, Rachel Ward and Emma Booth along with 20 other actors, directors and producers.”

Published August 30, 2012

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CinefestOz Film Festival, Western Australia

Andrew L. Urban was a guest of the Festival and Tourism WA.

The 5th uniquely French & Australian flavoured CinefestOZ was held in and around Margaret River in Western Australia, August 22 – 26, 2012.

The Intouchables

33 Postcards

Deep Sleep No More

Save Your Legs

Monsieur Lazhar

Chateau Chunder

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