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Magical, micro, experimental and underground

Anna Arabindan-Kesson at the 9th Revelation Film Festival

Steven Anderson, Fuck Steven Anderson, Fuck
photo Hugh Kesson
Moving between several venues that spanned the length of Perth’s sprawling suburbia, film-goers at the 9th Revelation Perth International Film Festival enjoyed black comedies, cutting edge documentaries, absorbing features and restored classics. Along with an impressive experimental line up Rev integrated micro-cinema with the alternative and kitsch to create Cinema Tabu, hidden in Perth’s most versatile venue, The Bakery Artrage Complex.

Cinema Tabu & SPLIF

Incorporating local bands with an impressive line up of documentaries and features, Cinema Tabu provided audiences with the opportunity to watch films in a more intimate setting. This micro-cinema venture most notably featured Fuck (Steven Anderson, 2006), a well made, funny although not always eye opening critique of censorship in the United States; Super Starlet AD (John Michael McCarthy, 2000), a sleazy, grainy, B-grade, exploitation-esque cult oddity about busty girl gangs in a post-apocalyptic world; and Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley (Nyla Adams, Laurie Trombley, 2005), an intimate journey into the mind and life of the musician.

The kind of ‘do it yourself’ aesthetic of micro-cinema was particularly well suited to SPLIF (Screening Perth’s Local Independent Films) a showcase of local underground cinema that was perhaps the main event at Cinema Tabu. The SPLIF program began with the smoothly produced and visually impressive Some Dreams Do Come True (Christopher Kenworthy/Chantal Bourgault, 2005, 6 mins). Recently accepted into the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the film evokes the powerful effect that “the things we picture” in our minds have on our lives. After spending years visualising his perfect wife the protagonist finally meets her on his wedding day. Switching between dreams and wedding scenes, the groom gradually approaches his dream woman who reveals herself to be less perfect than expected. Her distasteful, pointed comment while they are dancing—”I thought this was meant to be a white wedding”—allows the camera to move to the only black man at the wedding, who arrives just in time to signal the flaws in the not so perfect girl, and of course the flawed fantasy of the protagonist. The film’s underdeveloped culmination left me somewhat confused, the disrupting presence of the black man seeming a little tokenistic, even for a short film. Nonetheless the appealing special effects—the dream sequence of flying angels was nicely gothic—combined with vivid lighting and deep colours, highlighted the potential for politically oriented independent films to eschew the gritty aesthetics of conventional social realism.

This approach was particularly well developed in Weewar (Glen Stasiuk, Naomi Ashcroft, 2005, 6 mins) which engages with the politics of public history. An Indigenous period piece set in 1840, it tells the story of the first Nyungar man to be tried under white law in Western Australia. Weewar moves between the Nyungar language and English, between natural landscape and colonial architecture, between land and water to parallel the impact of colonisation on Indigenous ways of life in Western Australia. In doing so it reflects the disjuncture of colonial and indigenous cultures central to its narrative.

Nightfill (2003, 23 mins) by Luke Jago is a wonderful black and white comedic take on the horror genre. In a small suburban supermarket the night fill staff begin their duties. Unbeknownst to them it has just been discovered that drinking a particular brand of milk is turning people into bloodthirsty zombies. As the night fill workers begin to turn into zombies it is up to “The New Guy” to save them. Technically astute and visually entertaining, the film highlighted the features of the genre while showcasing the skills of the actors and crew.

Ransis and Alee (Randal Lynton, 2003) was another technically accomplished piece. A painstaking 10-minute stop animation work, it’s a story about a dog and a cat searching for food in a quiet medieval village. When a gargoyle tries to overcome them the creatures join forces against him. The detail in the animation makes it captivating and almost familiar. A creaking sign, eerie shadows and the bloody knives of the tavern owner, along with rickety skeletons, slimy fish heads and scurrying mice, are exquisitely macabre details in a deadly gothic fairy tale. The curiously anaemic cat, Alee, whose strangely shaped head bobbles out of a disused barrel to meet the diseased eye of Ransis the dog, is oddly endearing. The finely composed soundtrack enhances the imaginative evocation of setting in this fascinating short animation.

For me the highlight of SPLIF was A Dollar for the Good Ones (Josh Lee, 2006, 30 mins), a thoughtfully incisive documentary about the lives of 2 marginalised young men, Luke and Jermaine. Shot in Karawarra, once a working class Perth suburb where Lee and his 2 friends grew up, the film revolves around the boys’ midnight journeys to the new golf course to find balls that they then clean and sell to help supplement their drug habit. Lee shows a rare ability to avoid a sense of voyeurism, perhaps arising from his affinity with the men and his willingness to allow them to carry the film forward. It is, after all, their story, and it’s the daily interactions of the men with each other and Lee, and their rapport with the camera, that gripped me. Watching them swim in the golf course lake, cleaning the golf balls, discussing how they sell them, emphasised the economic disparities that underscore my middle class privilege and casual optimism about life.

Somehow Lee manages to bring his audience into an uncomfortable, but never unfeeling, relationship with the protagonists that, for him, must have been unnerving and exhausting. In the final scene we are left watching Luke in a post-injecting high, his spent body slowly slumping into a chair. If micro cinema offers the potential for new ways of seeing, perhaps this film embodies it: somewhere in between public and private space, viewing becomes potentially more ‘exposing.’

Experimental Showcase

Incorporating a diverse range of aesthetic and political concerns, Rev’s experimental program was curated by Sydney based independent artist Atanas Djonov. Screening at Luna SX in Fremantle, the showcase offered audiences a useful extrapolation of the possibilities and directions that experimenting with film-based forms might create.

Djonav’s own work formed a significant component of the program, several of his works using music as a crucial pivot. Juxtaposing time, music and landscape the video works Dawn (2004-2006) and Wide Open Fields (2005) are set to traditional Eastern European folk songs about hope and community. Against a backdrop of changing urban and rural scenes, past and present merge as the subtitled songs call up memories of lost warriors, forgotten causes and dreams. As the music evokes what we cannot see and hazy light throws shadows on deserted built and open spaces, we watch history pass while reflecting on how communities form and who they rely on to survive. I enjoyed the significant role music was given, overlaying and underscoring the conceptual work of seeing. Escape (2004), a stop frame animation, deals with our need to find and display images of perfection. Using a human figure made from wire, whose quest is to capture an image he is attracted to, Djonav suggests such desire provides moments of inspiration but is a fruitless urge that propels our lives.

In Trojan Horse, Turkish Crow (Karga) David Mackenzie’s poetic merging of colour, motion and stillness is mesmeric. As darkness slowly peels away under the glow of impending dawn, we see a group of birds cascading in all directions around the statue of a horse. Their textured motion juxtaposed with the frozen statue against hazily toned colouring captured something like the sublime: a moment of poised stillness in which viewers are immersed. Ticketweavels (Caroline Huf, 2004) is a frenetic stop animation video work. Full of worm-like movements that eventually disintegrate a railway ticket, its un-weaving evoked industrial processes of construction together with the natural process of decay. Bringing something so simple to life, Huf recreates its intricacy before our eyes.

In Sumugan Sivanesan’s Anaesthesia (2004), a television screen showing asylum seeker images struggles to make itself heard against a deafening soundtrack. The tightly synched video and audio creates an unnerving sense of dislocation and alienation that reverberates eloquently with the treatment of people seeking asylum in Australia. This kind of aesthetic engagement, variously deployed by the experimental works on show transformed the cinema into a gallery-like environment, reshaping and expanding the viewing experience.

The creative scope and the space they offer filmmakers make both SPLIF and the Experimental Showcase significant elements of the cinematic makeup of Rev. Along with Cinema Tabu they offer other perspectives on seeing, realising the revelatory impact of independent, underground and experimental cinema.

9th Revelation Perth International Film Festival: Cinema Tabu, Bakery Artrage Complex, Northbridge, July 14-16, 20-23; SPLIF, Bakery July 16, Mojos, Fremantle, July 18; Experimental Showcase, Luna SX, Fremantle, July 22

Congratulations from RealTime+OnScreen to Revelation director Richard Sowada on his appointment to ACMI as Head of Film Programs. He takes up Clare Stewart’s position, who is now Artistic Director of the Sydney Film Festival.

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 17

© Anna Arabindan-Kesson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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