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Mahtab’s 9th birthday Mahtab’s 9th birthday
The programming of Motion Pictures, A Festival of New Cinema by curators Kate Blackmore and David Capra defined what’s ‘new’ by looking back to the past and into the future. They led a willing audience, on foot through Fairfield from a cinema site of the golden age of movies to gallery video art, digital spectacle (in another abandoned cinema) and competition screenings of works by the next generation of filmmakers. We were indulged with afternoon tea at the exotic Stars Palace Reception Centre, watching Tracey Moffat’s wickedly funny and socially revealing Love (2003), which resurrected further movie memories.

Fairfield once boasted the 1,700-seater Crescent (1934-67), built by A J Beszant, whose cinemas flourished in suburban Sydney from the 1930s to the 90s. His Palatial Theatre in Burwood had almost 2,000 seats. The last Beszant cinema was sold in Cooma in 1995. On the street outside what was once the Crescent we heard from John Kirkman (Executive Director of Information Cultural Exchange, ICE] about the history of the Beszant enterprise and from senior citizens who relished their memories of the cinema’s heyday. Then we signed waivers so we could wander the ruin, a vast space stripped of its movie house furbishments. We could only imagine.

At the end of the day we gathered in another cinema, the gutted 1980s Forum to witness Pia van Gelder’s Harmonious Field Studies: an engrossingly evolving interplay of sound and imagery projected on a huge bare wall where once stood a screen. This felt a very strange mix of past, present and future.

Earlier at Powerhouse Youth Theatre recent works by Shaun Gladwell, Angelica Messiti, Shaun Rafferty and Soda_Jerk provided an apt prelude to brief talks that told of the breadth of the motion picture experience for viewers and participants. Craig Anderson spoke about the ‘special interest’ favourites in his 8,500-strong VHS cassette collection including one by the parents of Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman who, having appeared in Richard Simmons’ tapes of exercises for the aged, ripped him off with one of their own. Maria Tran, showing thrilling footage from her career as an Asian action movie actor and stand-in spoke about the advantages of making YouTube ’tests’ to get film projects going.

Ali Khadim (who featured on skateboard in Shaun Gladwell’s Midnight Traceur, 2011 in the gallery) discussed the need for realism in action picture editing; Isobel Parker Philip pondered our multiple selves as we watched Gene Kelly dancing with his life-of-its own mirror self in Cover Girl (1994); and Oscar winning costume designer Tim Chappel spoke of the joys of creating outfits as alien as possible for Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994). The subsequent screening of Khaled Sabsabi’s Guerrilla (2007) with its triptych-split screen and intense close-ups cooled the mood and raised the political temperature of the room as we considered its three speakers’ involvement in the war in Lebanon.

The Crescent Cinema 1934-1967 The Crescent Cinema 1934-1967
Beszant Young Filmmakers’ Award

Sponsored by Fairfield’s Neeta City Shopping Centre, the $1,000 Beszant Award for films by 16-25 year-old emerging Western Sydney filmmakers went to Mahdi Mohammadi for his film Mahtab’s 9th Birthday (2014, 10mins) a finely made, simply told and frightening story about a young Afghani girl doomed to disappear behind a burqa. Much of the film focuses on the characterful girl until her father’s arrival home with his gift and then the camera focuses on him; she is no longer seen, just heard, stifled.

The other contending films varied in quality and confidence but each revealed skill and occasionally strong ideas. John Nguyen’s The Neighbourhood Thief subtly observes a thwarted household robbery but needs another dimension, as does Vihn Nguyen’s The Subsistent Glamour, an account of work in a hair and beauty salon. In Andres Bustamante’s gentle animation, Memoria, an astronaut keeps seeing a woman in red, but is she really there?

Kathy Vu’s Identity is a tightly plotted, finely shot widescreen mystery—a man wakes up with no memory in a strange building, suspects he’s been involved in a crime and stages a violent escape, only to recall the innocent truth in the bright light of day. Game On by Jerry Kahale is muddled but potentially very funny with two cleaners in a video game factory risking involvement in the violent action.

Motion Pictures’ charismatic hosts David Capra and Kate Blackmore, its air of intimacy and community, its traversal of the streets of Fairfield, its respect for history and its openness to the diversity of screen forms old, new and to come made for an unflaggingly engaging and informative experience. Congratulations to its producer Powerhouse Youth Theatre for imaginatively re-envisioning its Short Cuts Film Festival of 2004-14. Young filmmakers can not only compete for the Beszant Award but situate themselves in the history and present of a lively screen culture.

Motion Pictures, A Festival of New Cinema, Powerhouse Youth Theatre, Fairfield, Sydney, 18 April

RealTime issue #127 June-July 2015 pg. 24

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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