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Lucky Miles Lucky Miles
THERE WAS A HEALTHY SLICE OF AUSTRALIAN FEATURE FILM PROGRAMMING AT THE ADELAIDE FILM FESTIVAL WITH SOME HEARTENING PRODUCTIONS SUGGESTING AN ACCEPTABLE VINTAGE FOR THE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL CIRCUIT: INDEED, THERE HAVE ALREADY BEEN SOME NOTABLE AUSTRALIAN PREMIERES AT BERLIN AND SUNDANCE.

While there was no evidence here to hint at a box office breakout hit (admittedly I missed Cherie Nowlan’s Clubland), a film festival working to an art cinema agenda is unlikely to unearth another Kenny (Clayton Jacobsen, 2006). It is also worth noting that the scheduled release date for many Australian features again seems to be August-September. Local distributors appear to be still pushing for a crowded schedule to gain some exposure prior to the AFI Awards, risking several films being lost in the mass. However, if I can generalise, there is a continuing steady incline in overall quality and a wider and more pragmatic acceptance of low budget methodologies, both in the agency funded programs and privately financed projects.

lucky miles

The festival opened with Lucky Miles with first-time director Michael James Rowland staking a claim for a new genre, at least in this country: the refugee road comedy drama. The premise of the film—an Iraqi, a Cambodian and an Indonesian trekking across Western Australia in search of civilization and sanctuary after being smuggled and dumped on a remote bit of coastline—doesn’t exactly drip with commercial potential, but is an intriguing platform for some piquant social commentary. Tonally, the film walks a line between mild farce and emotional drama and for large sections runs the risk of turning into a twee, old fashioned quirky romp. Ockerish whimsy is too prevalent in the Army Reserve unit on the tail of the refugees, while the fugitives themselves engage in occasionally predictable cultural clashing (both with each other and their new landscape) and lessons in harmonious team work. In the end, some assured filmmaking and a satisfying climax take Lucky Miles a notch above a “comedy of issues” to be a warm, engaging film.

west

Although Dan Krige’s West is a product of the AFC’s high profile, low budget development and production laboratory Indivision, the script’s incubation stretches far beyond the recent workshopping environment. Having written a first draft in 1986 and completing something approximate to the shooting script in 1994, Krige’s tale of two male cousins clashing over the same girl in Sydney’s western suburbs is his self-described “baby.” Beneath the drug deals, teen sex and street violence, West is another coming-of-age story, albeit in a much more interesting milieu than, say, the sleepy coastal town of Indivision sister project Caterpillar Wish (Sandra Scriberras, 2006). West is a good account of the genre, frankly portraying limited life options given to the characters whilst gaining the most production value possible out of the budget (approximately $1.2 million).

boxing day

As discussed in the RealTime interview with director Kriv Stenders (RT 77, p17), his new production, Boxing Day is unusual in two key facets: the film was solely financed by a state government funded event (AFF) without a marketplace attachment in place, and was shot based on an outline and an intensive rehearsal period rather than a full draft script. The finished film, about a man on home detention attempting to reconcile his shattered family, is highly effective in its authenticity and sustained heavy drama. The cast of non-actors are credible with sensitive subject matter, and the experiment of shooting the film ostensibly in one extended handheld take contributes to Boxing Day’s relentless drive.

court of lonely royals

Yet another debut feature, this time from Melbourne-based Rohan Michael Hoole, is the dystopian hitman film Court Of Lonely Royals. Emerging from the private finance route, the film has a stylised storyline and heavily aestheticised visuals, heavily channeling the spirit of Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels (1995). Hoole happily confesses to adoring Wong and Chris Doyle’s work, and should be commended for the energy and talent on display here; Melbourne’s streets and cafes host a hyperrealist nightmare populated with young nihilists.

the home song stories

The Home Song Stories, Tony Ayers’ second film, is a combination of heart on the sleeve autobiographical indulgence and sluggish melodrama. Loosely based on Ayers’ childhood, the film is about a dysfunctional Chinese family with an unpredictable matriarch. The story is bookended by the ham-fisted cliché of having Ayers’ alter ego, a middle aged writer, type out his life story as a nostalgic voice over launches the extended flashback sequence that forms the main narrative. While it is good to see a rare mainstream artistic space for the Chinese-Australian experience, and the setting of seventies suburbia is lovingly recreated, The Home Song Stories never gets beyond the dramatic gear of a mid-range telemovie.

dr plonk

Prolific low budget auteur Rolf de Heer launched Dr Plonk, a silent, black and white sociopolitical satire as the closing night film. In an environment where even raising soft money for safe projects is a major stumbling block for local producers, it is a mark of de Heer’s current standing within the industry that he can make a freewheeling Chaplin/Keaton homage. It is fitting that Dr Plonk closed the festival, as it is very much an ‘event’ film, celebratory, light-hearted and in this instance invigorated by live music accompaniment composed by Graham Tardif and performed by Stiletto Sisters. A mad scientist from 1907 turns doomsayer when his calculations predict the world to end in 2008, and he builds a time machine to acquire proof. What follows is well-timed slapstick, much more difficult than it sounds, as Plonk travels to and fro throughout history, but the satirical elements of the film regarding environmentalism and political commentary are a little straightforward and overt. Nevertheless, Dr Plonk will go down as one of the genuine curios of the Australian canon.

AFF has a vested interest in showcasing Australian film: they have a literal stake in some of the projects in the form of their equity investment. Compared with other national festivals where the local content is sometimes marginalised, the 2007 AFF program is rigorous and inclusive, and the crop of low budget fare displays, on the whole, an array of promising talent.
Cherie Nowlan’s Clubland will be reviewed in a future edition of OnScreen. Ed.


Adelaide Film Festival, director Katrina Sedgwick; Adelaide, various venues, Feb 22-March 4

RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. 19

© Sandy Cameron; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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