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online e-dition august 21


transgender transformations

keith gallasch: 16th sydney film school festival


The Hidden Gem, Namratha Thomas The Hidden Gem, Namratha Thomas
THE BEST DOCUMENTARIES, LIKE THE BEST FICTIONS, ALLOW US TO REASSESS THE EVERYDAY BY MAKING IT STRANGE OR, EQUALLY, TRANSPORT US INTO UNFAMILIAR WORLDS, WHETHER ACROSS AN OCEAN, INTO THE OUTBACK OR THE LIFE OF SOMEONE LIVING QUITE NEAR TO US, IN INNER SYDNEY, AS IN NAMATHRA THOMAS' THE HIDDEN GEM.

Thomas' subject is Jemma, a Kings Cross sex worker in her early 40s with a drug problem and an impending court case for allegedly abusing two young men. But the eccentric, volatile Jemma is also Steven Gray, a one-time dancer with the AIDT touring dance theatre group from NAISDA (National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association) Dance College. Raw archival video footage reveals an elegant, sensual performer.

Thomas and her small crew follow Jemma at close quarters with hand-held camera, tracking a sporadic soliloquy of doubt and near despair leavened by a droll sense of humour. Establishing shots are more formally filmed, giving The Hidden Gem a strong sense of place—best of all on Jemma's transformative journey home to her Queensland family in an apparently idyllic coastal setting. Here, she sheds drugs, exotic clothing, wig and makeup to reveal a soft featured, gently spoken Steven in awkward conversation with his slightly disapproving mother. However, soon mum is laughing and dancing with her much-loved son. Such spontaneity comes as a great relief.

But for all that home offers, Steven is restless for city life. Given the affection his family has for him and the natural comforts of home, we struggle to comprehend the attraction. The dynamic tensions between the seemingly discrete personalities embodied in this transgendered person, between a loveless city and a caring family and between formal and informal filming (finely edited), propel this bracing film. For all the film reveals about its subject, ultimately his-her motivation remains unclear. What more can we expect but to be grateful to Jemma-Steven for allowing a life to be scrutinised. This is intelligent, sensitive filmmaking.

The Hidden Gem has been programmed for the 2012 Antenna International Documentary Film Festival in Sydney (Oct 1-14). In the school's festival awards for documentary, Hidden Gem won Best Direction, Editing, Cinematography and Sound Design as well as a Courage Curiosity Compassion Award and an Audience Award.

Another engaging documentary, True Cult (director Sara Pinto) takes us into the world of Sydney's Jaimie and Aspasia Leonarder and their homely Mu-Meson film archive and screening room (see "Archivists on the edge" in RT79). The Vimeo trailer offers a glimpse of True Cult's intimate, immersive filming, dextrous editing and the amusing selection of images from vintage lo-fi films. It's good to have a film tribute to the amiable, knowledgeable and quietly passionate Leonarders. In another documentary award section in the festival, True Cult won Best Direction, Editing and Cinematography.

91-104, Brendan Sweeney 91-104, Brendan Sweeney
In a large field of films I was also taken by Brendan Sweeney's unnerving short, 91-104, constructed from a brisk montage of brief close-ups of humble 1940s and 50s technical equipment and power facilities. The focus on innocent looking buttons, wiring and gauges gradually evokes a sinister scenario—of the Dr Strangelove variety—as the music and editing pulse insistently and the incursion of a bloodied hand suggests someone will push the button that will unleash nuclear war. 91-104 won the award for Best Sound Design in Drama.

Although inventiveness was variable and booming scores too often overwhelmed quieter visual material, production values were consistently high in all of the films screened.

Sydney Film School is a private film school with students from 42 countries attending the school since 2004. Every year some 120 documentaries, dramas and individual thesis films are produced. To date 87 films have screened in 127 film festivals locally and abroad, winning 38 first prizes.


The Hidden Gem, director Namratha Thomas, director of photography Jean Tertrain, editor Miguel Muzaly, composer Ross Symington, producers Bingyin Guo, Amanda King; True Cult, director Sara Pinto, DOP Alexandre Guterres, editors Carolina Izquierdo Duarte, Alexandre Guterres, Sara Pinto; 91-104, director Brendan Sweeney, DOP Timothy Endmeades, production design Catherine Rynne, composer Luke Warren; 16th Sydney Film School Festival, Awards Night, Chauvel Cinema, Sydney, July 12; www.sydneyfilmschool.com

RealTime issue #110 Aug-Sept 2012 pg. web

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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