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Ambitious, diverse and crammed full with events, the inaugural Cockatoo Island Film Festival is a private-public partnership in the arts with film at its centre, reports Andrew L. Urban, and it opens with the buzz film from Venice, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix.

Not backward in coming forward, to use a classic Austrayanism, the organisers of this new event bragged back in April that “this October the world will witness the birth of Australia’s most vibrant and dynamic film festival, floating in the centre of spectacular Sydney Harbour on Cockatoo Island, managed by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.” It would revolve around “Australia’s largest competitive film festival” with five competitive sections: Australian Narrative, Australian Documentary, World Narrative, World Documentary, plus a Short Film Competition – open to anyone around the world, with over 200 selected.

"to support independent artists and connecting screen creators and audiences"

It’s the brainchild of Stavros Kazantzidis (Greek, but not fat) and Allanah Zitserman, the duo who launched the Dungog Film Festival 6 years ago and have expanded their activities with the not-for-profit Cockatoo Institute, with the Dubbo Festival joining Cockatoo as their trio of film centred arts events. The Institute’s aims are to support independent artists and connecting screen creators and audiences.

For example, the Peter Weir and Burkhard Dallwitz Masterclass features the renowned creative team of composer Dallwitz and director Weir who will discuss their collaboration on films The Truman Show and The Way Back.

The full program was officially launched this week (Wednesday, October3), and as reported earlier, it opens with Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. 

In the competition, the first major film out of Paraguay in over half a decade is 7 Boxes, a thrilling ride that follows a teen market courier as he tries to protect his special cargo. First time filmmaking duo Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori touch on grander themes as the film races to the thrilling conclusion. Fresh from its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and a standing ovation at San Sebastian, 7 Boxes represents a bold new vision from an emerging national cinema.

The documentary program will feature the Australian premiere of Everything and Nothing: the Untold Story of 007, telling the inside story of the James Bond phenomenon.

Films from 15 countries – including the Australian entry, Dead Europe from Tony Kravtiz - will compete for a series of prestigious awards to be presented at a red carpet gala awards ceremony on Saturday night, October 28, including Best Feature Film, Jury Prize for Artistic Vision, Best Documentary, Best Australian Short, the Young Film-maker of the Year and a $20,000 NSW Mining Young Indigenous Documentary Fellowship. 

"has attracted world-class film makers"

Zitserman said the festival has attracted world-class film makers as well as some of Australia’s most successful international directors, actors and producers. “This has been in the planning stages for almost two years and we’re excited to announce such a diverse and high-quality list of feature films that will compete for the Best Feature Film Award,” she said.

“The films are from all corners of the globe including South America, Asia, Europe, the US, Britain, Russia, Scandinavia and from local directors and casts.”

The films will be shown over the five festival days in four state-of-the-art digital cinemas, all to be built from the ground-up, on the unique Cockatoo Island, which is managed by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust located in iconic Sydney harbour.

The cinemas include a 1100-seat 3D cinema in the giant Turbine Shop in the centre of the island, once used as part of Australia’s naval ship building programs for World War II. Another will be an outdoor ’silent’ cinema with the soundtrack delivered through wireless headphones. 

Ferry services will run every 20 minutes between King St Wharf, Cockle Bay and Cockatoo Island, from early morning until late into the night for people attending screenings, concerts and festival parties. A local ferry service will run every hour between Balmain West, Greenwich, Woolwich and Cockatoo Island from 8.30am until midnight.

Published October 4, 2012

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October 24 – 28, 2012 Website

Philip Seymour Hoffman - in The Master

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