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NOOSA FILM FESTIVAL 99 - INAUGURAL EDITION

LUKE AT HIS FILMS !
Luke Davis spent three years trying to make the Noosa Film Festival happen; he had one driving ambition - to create a festival he would like to attend. "I just love movies - from the obscure to the commercial," he tells ANDREW L. URBAN.

"What drove me? Right now I think I was crazy," says Luke Davis (pic) on the eve of the inaugural Noosa film festival, only half joking. The $1.3 million budget is blowing out to $1.7 as we speak, and won't stop swelling until passing $2 million. Davis doesn't care; he knows it'll take five years for the festival to start hitting its stride.

"I don't want this to be a star driven event; I want the emphasis on the filmmakers." Luke Davis

"I wanted to create an event I wanted to go to. I love film festivals and I love films, from obscure to commercial. . . but there wasn't anything that was broad enough." And even now, Davis realises that his baby won't find its own direction until it's a bit older. "But I don't want this to be a star driven event; I want the emphasis on the filmmakers." (To which end Noosa is hosting more than a dozen directors and has wooed the industry with low-cost accreditation - see later.)

Above all, he says, it being a resort based festival, it offers a unique atmosphere and very different to city festivals: "I want people to have fun . . .like walking through the woods to the 700 seat outdoor cinema we built…."

Yet if you thought the Noosa film festival was a chicken shit affair in a provincial resort town, hoping to pass itself off as something of note, you may have to think again. Or at least think about chicken shit. To launch a competitive international film festival takes large doses of determination, human resources, contacts, organisation - and hard cash.

(The last major competitive festival was launched a decade ago, when the city fathers of Tokyo and several business giants threw in US$10 million to launch the Tokyo International Film Festival. That event, which I covered for the movie industry weekly, Screen International, also attracted the Hollywood majors, who provided films and film stars in a well directed effort to promote their wares in what is a very important market - and a large trading city.)

"The Sixth Sense... one of the hottest films in US"

Noosa doesn't seem like either; yet it has The Sixth Sense to open with, one of the hottest films on release in the US and solid critical approval. Your first question will be 'what sort of a festival opens with a Bruce Willis movie?' The answer is: this sort. And the reason is that The Sixth Sense is not the hard dying action film with which Willis is usually associated.

"I think it's the perfect choice," says Davis; "wait till you see the performances… best thing I've seen Bruce Willis do in 15 years - and there's an Australian in it (Toni Collette)."

Financed by Hollywood Pictures, a Disney label, the film is a psychological thriller by the so far little known M. Night Shyamalan (opens commercially on October 14, 1999). Even so, it was not until the print was screened in Australia for the local team (Buena Vista International handles all Disney films) led by Managing Director & Vice President Buena Vista International Alan Finney (pic),  that it became a solid choice.

"On paper," Finney admits, "a Bruce Willis film doesn't seem to be first choice for a festival. But when we saw it we thought it appropriate. Part of the benefit for us in showing the film at Noosa in the festival is that word will spread that it's not a typical Bruce Willis film. So it helps with our positioning of the film. This film is equally deserving of festival exposure as of playing the nearest multiplex."

This commercially driven decision doesn't take away from the fact that Finney had enough faith in the credibility of the festival to lend his company's image to its opening night attraction - a keystone moment in any festival, never mind the inaugural one.

"Noosa displays a genuine & independent cinematic spirit"

"The people associated with the festival," he explains, "lent it credibility, which leads to attention, and one of our marketing aims with a movie is to get noticed."

That sentiment is given weight by the fact that Finney was himself on the festival committee until three months ago, when he had to resign due to work pressures.

But opening night film apart, the festival has been impressive in acquiring a diverse range of Australian and foreign films for its sidebars, as well as a list of competition films (see link to story, top left) that are not hand-outs from the major studios (as was largely the case in Tokyo). Noosa displays a genuine and independent cinematic spirit, The Sixth Sense notwithstanding.

"Noosa has humble ambitions"

Yet Noosa has humble ambitions: it expects to sell just 2 - 3,000 entry passes to the festival, which compared to even smaller city festivals, like Brisbane's 8th year tally of 26,000, is modest. But Noosa is a small resort, albeit handsomely middle class. And the tickets aren't chicken shit, either: top of the line President's Pass - access all areas at all times - comes at $1,500; Festival pass to everything except opening and closing nights at $225 - those two extra nights are $90 each. A daylight pass (8 am - 4pm screenings) is $112, while a weekend pass is $125. If you just want to party, it's $60 for opening and closing night bashes at the Sheraton Hotel, one of several sponsors.

The industry and the media also have to pay, although it is a small 'accreditation fee' that covers entry for all events at just $50.

However, in a move that will blunt the 'elitist' criticism, the festival has put aside 200 free passes to film industry students.

The program includes several films that are destined for commercial release, including all the Australian films. Festival director Luke Davis will not be the only festival director to be criticised by some for including such films in the schedule, but that's a little unfair these days.

"We applaud the increased opportunity for the screening and discussion of films," Alan Finney

"It's become much harder for festivals to get films that won't screen commercially," comments Finney, one of the most experienced distribution executives in the business. As he points out, films that have marginal markets are now being niche-marketed by the bigger distributors, having seen the potential for these films filling in the cracks of their business plans. And this festival exposure is also of benefit for the films; that's another reason the Australian industry has welcomed Noosa. "We applaud the increased opportunity for the screening and discussion of films," says Finney. "All of us in the business generally would like to see new things happen and a new festival falls into that category."

As for how the festival will shape up, what is its potential, we'll have to wait for an assessment, which will be influenced very much by what kind of audiences attend. Apart from the films themselves, half the reason for going to a film festival is the sense of community that develops amongst the festival crowd. Who goes is part of the culture of a festival, and how the different elements glue together is the propellant for much of the impact of the event.

"the preponderance of Australian filmmakers and stars is notable"

And when it comes to the guest list, one thing stands out: the preponderance of Australian filmmakers and stars is notable, which already stamps Noosa as being different. That, coupled with the fact that it has sprung from the grassroots (if Luke Davis and his team can be so described) and doesn't have a single cent of government money behind it.

If Davis is feeling crazy now, he clearly had an inkling of what he will feel like at the end: the closing night film is Muggers (black Australian comedy about two medical students in an human organs scam), to be followed by a party featuring Mental As Anything.

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OUR COVERAGE:
Competition Films/overview

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Next week:
Andrew L. Urban and Louise Keller bring you their first hand report from Noosa: who came, who went, who won, who partied, who became a star - and can it be our Cannes?

Also - keep an eye on Stop Press for major news breaks from Noosa.

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The inaugural Noosa Film Festival opens tonight (September 2, 1999) with the Australian premiere of the much acclaimed psychological thriller,

The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis. This new Australian festival is a milestone because it is the first to have a competitive section, in which 12 features from around the world compete for a top prize of $50,000.

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Festival Patron:

Gillian Armstrong

Festival Chairman:

Kate Fitzpatrick

Festival Director:
Luke Davis

The Jury:
Jack Thompson (President)

Graeme Clifford (director)
Mark Fishkin (founder, Mill Valley Film Festival)
Jacqueline Mackenzie (actress)
Peter Thompson (film critic, Nine Network)
Rachel Ward (actress)
David Williamson (writer)

Awards:
Competition films -
Grand Jury Prize - Golden Boomerang
Scriptwriting Award
Cinematography Award
Director's Award
World Cinema Award
Best Male Actor Award
Best Female Actor Award

Other films -
Short Filmmakers' Trophy
Audience Award (all films entered)

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Closing Night Film:

Muggers

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For Noosa Film Festival general enquiries and box office:
61 (7) 54472410
or email: noosafilmfest@ozemail.com.au
or access the website: www.noosafilmfestival.com

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