SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL 1999: A PREVIEW
DIVERSE AND CONTROVERSIAL
It has a new director (Gayle Lake), a new look and it's shorter. One of Sydney's premiere
cultural events is back: welcome to the 46th Sydney Film Festival, June 11 - 23, 1999.
PAUL FISCHER presents a preview of this year's edition, defined by its diversity.
The Phantom Menace notwithstanding, Sydney's stately 2000-seat theatre, the State, will
no doubt be packed to the rafters, as eager movie lovers gather with their thermos flasks
and cut lunches to attend one of the most significant film events of the year, seeing
films that (in many instances) will never be screened outside the festival.
"It's entertaining, provocative, satisfying, funny and
certainly a very sound program."
But this time around there are changes. Not least of all, Gayle Lake succeeds Paul
Byrnes as Festival director. Lake, whose background is in film distribution and marketing,
had eight short months to come up with a program for the 46th festival, and try and make
it her own. Speaking from the Festival's Glebe office, Lake admits that with the time she
had, "there are glimpses of me in this Festival, but I don't think the full me will
be evident till 2000." In defining what it is that will ultimately define a Gayle
Lake festival, she says that she likes films "that question, that are a little bit
edgy, and, like the next person, I like a happy ending. Film festivals have a diverse
range of parameters in which they exist, and certainly I don't believe that everybody has
to absolutely love every film - that's not necessarily the role of the Film Festival. It's
as much to provoke discussion and an appreciation of films, as it is showcase a world
perspective, and what is stimulating filmmakers."
This year's program represents greater diversity than we've seen at this festival for
years and Lake is unapologetic if some of her choices generate a degree of controversy.
"That's the fun of a festival," she says.
Part of that controversy gets off and running right from opening night. This
non-subscription event is the new John Sayles film, LIMBO.
This adventurous drama tells the story of people trying to reinvent themselves in the
Southeastern islands of Alaska. The story revolves around Joe Gastineau, (David
Strathairn) a fisherman traumatised by an accident at sea years before, singer Donna de
Angelo (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and her disaffected daughter Noelle (Vanessa
Martinez) who come into Joe's life. When Joe's fast-talking half-brother Bobby returns to
town and asks Joe a favour, the lives of the characters are changed forever. From all
accounts, Limbo was booed when screened at last month’s Cannes Film Festival, but
Lake is not concerned. "That doesn't surprise me. I actually think the film is very
clever and quite an incredible piece of film making", she says unequivocally.
Some may also question the inclusion of Neil Jordan's universally panned IN DREAMS. The film deals with Claire Cooper (Annette Bening), a
New England housewife who finds herself mentally linked to a serial killer, sensing his
every thought. Slowly going insane from the experience, Claire attempts to find and
confront the killer, with whom she has a personal score to settle. Jordan's least
successful film and his most maligned, Lake is more than happy to defend this mainstream
thriller. "It's very much about that notion of unconscious and conscious psyche. It's
his investigation of dreams and how they mirror, or not, a society. There are themes that
emerge through films as I watch them over the eight months, and if there's one theme you
could link most of the films with, it is about a search for place and identity."
Of course, while it's true that festival-goers may not approve of every film screened,
this festival is defined by its diversity.
2 SECONDS is a sweet, interesting little film from Quebecois
director Manon Briand, and tells of Laurie (Charlotte Laurier), a cyclist, who waited two
seconds too long in a sport in which a millisecond can mean a mile. She is fired by her
boss, and returns to Montreal to live with her socially inept brother Steff (Yves
Pelletier). There she signs away her life (or so it seems), in order to become a bicycle
courier, to get back into the thrill of riding. She finds a cycleshop tucked off in a
corner, owned by a gruff Italian named Lorenzo (Dino Tavarone) who also used to race. At
first their relationship is antagonistic, but they eventually find out that they have a
lot in common. The film is part of a strong evening of lesbian cinema, and is a deftly
made comedy-drama with broad audience appeal.
Larry Clark's powerful ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, which
premiered at last year's Toronto Film Festival, tells of Bobby (Vincent Kartheiser) a
teenage thief whose idea of a big score is emptying the coins out of a cigarette vending
machine. When he gets caught in the act and is brutally beaten by a security guard, his
girlfriend, Rosie (Natasha Gregson Wagner) is forced to call for medical help. Enter
‘Uncle’ Mel (James Woods), who arrives with advice and drugs to dull the pain.
Later, after Bobby has recovered, he and Rosie join Mel and his girlfriend/partner, Sid
(Melanie Griffith), in a life of crime. When Mel asks Bobby if he's ready "to
graduate from the world of screwdrivers and vending machines to some really serious
larceny," the budding criminal can't refuse the lure of big money. At first,
everything is great, with Mel and Sid acting like parents to their youthful friends, but,
after a drug deal goes bad, the relationship becomes strained. This is an extraordinary
work from Kids director Larry Clark, a new take on the gangster thriller. Flashy, darkly
funny and full of memorable, powerhouse performances, Another Day in Paradise is audacious
From Iran comes the critically acclaimed CHILDREN OF HEAVEN,
directed by Majid Majidi which opens in the poor quarter of an Iranian city. There we meet
Ali (Mir Farrokh Hashemian), a 9-year old boy going home with his sister's worn, pink
shoes, which he has just taken to a cobbler for repairs. On the way, he stops at a fruit
and vegetable stand to buy some potatoes. He puts the shoes down, and, while he's sorting
through a bin, a rag picker mistakenly takes the shoes, thinking they're part of the stand
owner's refuse. When Ali arrives home empty-handed, his 7-year old sister, Zahra (Bahare
Seddigi), is in tears. What will she wear to school? Iranian cinema is often defined by
its simplicity, and Children of Heaven is no exception. It's a heartfelt, beautifully
GODS AND MONSTERS has taken its time reaching Australian
screens. The movie opens in 1957. Hollywood director James Whale (Ian McKellen) has been
out of the movie industry for some 20 years. These days, he is tended by his fiercely
protective Hungarian housekeeper, Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), and he is fascinated by the newly
hired gardener, Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser), a handsome drifter who loves Whale's
stories of the old days. During long visits with Whale, the younger man triggers painful
memories for the old man. Remembering his losses, both professional and personal, Whale
plunges into melancholy. Skilfully directed by Bill Condon, whose beautiful script won an
Oscar, Gods and Monsters is an exceptionally crafted film.. With its subtle combination of
dark humour, pathos and dramatic power, the film takes hold from the outset. Its attention
to period detail is exquisite and the performance of McKellen nothing short of
magnificent. Redgrave too is illuminating, and Fraser is superb. A true work of art, Gods
and Monsters is an unforgettable experience, a highlight of this Festival.
Movie lovers will also revel in the feature documentary HITCHCOCK,
SELZNICK AND THE END OF HOLLYWOOD, directed by Michael Epstein. This film traces
Selznick's rise from spoiled rich kid to master of moviedom, and argues that Gone With the
Wind's (left) triumph destroyed the producer when he realised he could never match it. Hitchcock
chafed under Selznick's autocratic hand, and when the working relationship that produced
Rebecca (right) finally sputtered out with The Paradine Case, the director felt liberated. Epstein
offers archival footage, interviews, and lots of welcome commentary from film historian
and Selznick biographer David Thomson. An absolute must!
Ken Loach's latest gem is MY NAME IS JOE, which revolves
around a reformed alcoholic (Peter Mullan) who trains a local football team and becomes
romantically involved with a social worker (Louise Godall). When one of his team (David
McKay) falls into the debt of a gangster (David Hagman) who threatens to break his legs,
Mullan agrees to work for him. This doesn't sit so well with Godall, and Mullan's newfound
peace and security is severely threatened, leading to a confrontation with himself and his
life with dramatic results. Another fine study of working class British society.
Another powerful British drama, screening on a special evening of British cinema, is Tim
Roth's THE WAR ZONE. Dealing with incest in a family that has
uprooted and moved to the country, the film has much in common with Nil by Mouth.
Beautifully executed by actor-turned-director Roth, War Zone is uncompromising, haunting
and powerful. It's not a film for everyone, but it deserves to be seen.
RUN LOLA RUN is a breathless, intoxicating film that charts
one woman's desperate attempt to rescue her lover and has proven to be a huge success in
Europe. Lola and Manni are in their early twenties and are in love. Manni has a shady job
running money for his shady boss. One day, something goes wrong: he loses a bag filled
with 100,000 Deutsche marks of the boss's money. He has 20 minutes to come up with the
cash, and it's up to Lola to save him. A wrong decision can have terrible consequences. A
The central figures of Chris Eyre's SMOKE SIGNALS are Victor
Joseph (Adam Beach) and Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams), two natives of the Coeur
D'Alene Reservation in Idaho. Victor and Thomas aren't friends, but they have known each
other since childhood, and they share a link. One night in 1976, Arnold Joseph (Gary
Farmer), Victor's father, saved the infant Thomas from a fire that killed his parents.
Now, more than 20 years later, Arnold, who abandoned his wife, Arlene (Tantoo Cardinal),
and son for a life in Phoenix, has died, and Victor must make the trip to claim his ashes.
Thomas, who is supplying the money for the journey, accompanies him. Along the way,
they teach each other life lessons. Another standout discovery from Sundance, Smoke
Signals is a flawless masterpiece that has taken its time to get here. With its parochial
content, it seems unlikely it will be released commercially, which is a tragedy. This is
an exquisite work of sheer poetry and deep humanity.
The Festival will close with the world premiere of Australian director Christina Andreef's
SOFT FRUIT. Not much is known about this film, except that
word is very strong. Some 1400 films were submitted for consideration this year and Gayle
Lake is happy at the final choices that were made. It is one of the most eclectic and
exciting film events of the year. Lake sums it up as: "It's entertaining,
provocative, satisfying, funny and certainly a very sound program."
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SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL
DENDY MARTIN PLACE &
Festival office: 02 9660
9821 / 9826 / 3844
Ticketmaster: 13 61 66 (fees apply)
Tickets (no fees) from State Theatre Box Office –
9am – 5.30 pm, Mon – Fri;
10 am – 5 pm Sat.
Opening Night Film: Limbo
Read excerpts from Andrew L. Urban's Cannes interview with
7pm, June 17: Academy Twin
Movie Show producer Richard Kuipers has been busy on
another project for the past few months, making Stone Forever, a documentary on the
seminal 1974 film, Stone, produced by David Hannay, directed by Sandy Harbutt, who plays
Undertaker. Kuipers, who has just finished making three versions of the 25th
anniversary doco, is said by Hannay to have done "a fantastic job, going into the
culture of the film in intimate detail. It’s incisive and insightful…" The
first version will screen at the Sydney Film Festival on June 17, in tandem with the film
itself; another (56 minute) cut will be shown on SBS later, and a longer version will be
out on video later still.
Starring Ken Shorter as Stone, the cop sent to
investigate a series of violent murders in a motorcycle gang, Stone also stars Helen Morse
as Amanda, his high society girlfriend. Stone Forever covers the times in which the film
was made and the following it has generated in the 25 years since – culminating in
the extraordinary run last year of over 30,000 roaring hogs took to the freeway.
ANDREW L. URBAN