Matt's Diary From The 2012 Sydney Film Festival
I’m back in Brisbane after my whirlwind 3-day adventure at the Sydney Film Festival. It was my first trip to the Festival and it appeared to be very well supported with big crowds and long queues.
Without wasting any more time, here’s my wrap…
Friday, 8 June 2012
I snuck away from work at lunchtime, caught a flight to Sydney and was at my hotel just after 4:30pm. I chose to stay at the Hilton (because of its proximity to the cinemas) and I was not disappointed. Ok, it was a little pricey but it was worth it. I enjoyed the spa bath too.
Enough about that. Onto the movies. My first evening of films was at the Event Cinemas on George Street. It’s a huge complex and the main cinema holds over 800 people. It reminded me of the old cinema 3 at Brisbane’s Regent Theatre. The two films I saw…
Where Do We Go Now? is a nice, albeit simplistic tale, of a group of women in Lebanon who come up with a cunning plan to stop the men in their community from fighting. It’s a crowd-pleaser (no question about that) and whilst I don’t agree with the decision, I can why it won the Audience Award at Toronto last year. Grade: B+.
Jeff, Who Lives At Home is a dumb comedy an unemployed bum (Jason Segel) who leaves his house to buy some glue but ends up being a part of his brother’s crazy adventure. I hated these characters, disliked the “zoom in, zoom out” camerawork, and didn’t find much at all to laugh about. Grade: C+.
The Festival started rather strangely for me as the Where Do We Go Now? screening didn’t have subtitles for the first 10 minutes. People were scratching their heads and wondering whether this was part of the director’s intent. Nope, it was not. In the end, the screening was stopped and the movie restarted.
After the two films, I was lucky to catch up with a bunch of fellow critics who I know through Twitter – Simon Miraudo, Julian Buckeridge, Greg Bennett, Sarah Ward, Sam McCosh, Andrew Buckle and Ian Barr. We started out at the Festival Lounge at the Grasshopper before moving to the Criterion Hotel, where we stayed until 2am talking movies. Was tired the next morning but was well worth it.
Saturday, 9 June 2012
Saturday was always going to be my big day with 4 movies planned. It was back to the Event Cinemas on George Street in the morning for…
First Position was an amazing ballet documentary that reduced me to tears. It follows a series of kids as they navigate their way to the final of the Youth America Grand Prix in New York. Director Bess Kargman picked a great group of people to follow and you’ll feel the tension as the camera zooms in on the faces of the dancers, coaches & parents. Grade: A.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild came with big wraps having won key prizes at Sundance at Cannes. It took a while to warm up (such a strange setting) but it develops in a moving story that explores the relationship between father and daughter in a remote community near New Orleans. In her first acting role, 8-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis is simply extraordinary. Grade: A-.
For lunch, Julian took me to a terrific place just around the corner from the cinemas – the Encasa Deli. They serve these awesome Spanish sandwiches (bocadillos) which well and truly gave me the energy to get through the rest of the afternoon. After a quick/expensive shopping trip in the Pitt Street Mall, it was back to the movies for my evening sessions…
Not Suitable For Children is an Australian film about a guy (Ryan Kwanten) who desperately wants to father a child when he learns he has testicular cancer and will have his ball removed in a few weeks. I’m sure people will see this because of Kwanten but it is Sarah Snook who steals the film as his flatmate. It has its moments but it’s a shame that so much of this film is hard to believe. Grade: B-.
Moonrise Kingdom is the latest from Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Life Aquatic) and whilst it’s not his best work, it has all his familiar trademarks and will leave you smiling many times. It’s set on a small island and revolves around a young boy and girl who run away from home and have seemingly everyone pursuing them. I’d have liked more from the great adult cast but the kids are fun and I’m always a fan of Anderson’s off-beat style. Grade: A-.
I was pretty wrecked after another long day but I had time for a quick drink at the Criterion and caught up with Sydney film fans Mat Whitehead, Sam Downing and Sam Rodgers at some Cuban bar. I was back at the hotel by midnight where my head hit the pillow very quickly.
Sunday, 10 June 2012
After an early morning check out, I dashed off for an early 9:30am start at the State Theatre for a screening of Bully. It was my first glimpse inside the Theatre which I believe seats close to 2,000 people. It’s such a shame we don’t have a similar venue in Brisbane!
Bully rubbed me up the wrong way. I realise it’s an important issue but I found director Lee Hirsch’s approach too one-sided for my liking. I wanted to see the perspective from the bullies themselves and also from a school (or two) that has done something to address the problem. Grade: C+.
I had a few hours spare and so was able to squeeze in lunch at the luxurious food court at Westfield Centre Point. I also managed to find a pair of black casual shoes! This was a highlight of my week since I’d been looking for a pair that fit (I have big feet) since I wore my old shoes out at Toronto last September.
It was then time for my final two films as the rain descended over Sydney…
On The Road was a complete snoozefest. It’s a decent looking cast on paper but this new film from Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) never got going. Set in the late 1940s, we follow a budding writer’s travels back and forth across the U.S. but for what purpose? Stuff happens. More stuff happens. The end. I couldn’t have cared less what happened to these characters. Grade: C.
Undefeated won the Academy Award for best documentary and whilst it doesn’t provide any new revelations into the world of high school football, it’s still an amazing story about a coach’s efforts to take his team and make them better people – both on and off the field. One scene in particular left my eyes very moist. Grade: A-.
The rain was pouring down as I left for the airport and having caught the last plane of Sydney (queue the Cold Chisel song), I was back in Brisbane by 11pm.
The standout films for me were First Position, Undefeated, Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts Of The Southern Wild. If I had to pick one out, First Position was my personal favourite and I hope it gets a national cinematic release.
And that my friends, was that. I’ll be closely following those that are still in Sydney for the Festival which still has another 6 days to go. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it again next year!
Are Australian Critics Softer On Locally Made Films?
Imagine that you have a 20-year-old daughter who has landed a feature role in a university musical. You go along to the opening night and you are stunned by just how bad it is. You can see your daughter is trying her hardest but she just can’t cut it.
When you see her backstage afterwards, what do you say? Do you lie and say how much you loved the show and her performance? Or do you be honest and find a polite way of expressing what you really think?
This was a question I posed in a review from last year. If someone has the magic answer, I’d love to hear it.
It leads into what I want to talk about this week - are critics softer when it comes to reviewing locally made stuff?
I debated this with a friend last Friday night after having seen a theatrical production (Elizabeth, Almost By Chance A Woman) at the Powerhouse here in Brisbane.
I don’t have any direct evidence when it comes to theatre but so many plays and shows that come to Brisbane receive praise. It’s not always glowing praise but I’d say reviews range from “excellent” to “pretty good”.
I have done a little more research when it comes to cinema. Over the past 5 years, a total of 103 Australian movies have been eligible for best feature at the AACTA Awards (previously known as the AFI Awards). Of these, 95 have been reviewed by Australia’s two most well-known critics, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, on their ABC program At The Movies.
For those familiar with their program, the results shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The following table shows the star ratings for the abovementioned films:
Of the 187 reviews for Australian films, the statistics show:
Tasty Offerings At The 2012 Sydney Film Festival
Brace yourself Sydney. I’ll be paying you a visit in June.
I haven’t attended the Sydney Film Festival before but I’m making the effort to do so in 2012. I’d love to be able to return to the Toronto Film Festival again this year but I won’t be able to given it’s a huge investment of my time and money. Plus, I have another holiday planned for November. Perhaps I’ll get back to Toronto in 2013 but for now, Sydney is at the front of my mind.
I'll be doing a special Sunday afternoon show on ABC Digital (which can be heard around Australia) covering my time at the Festival and hopefully there'll be some good stories and good films to talk about.
I’ll be at the Festival for 3 days – flying down on the morning of Friday, June 8 and returning in the evening on Sunday, June 10. I’m squeezing 9 films into the calendar and for those interested, here’s what I’ll be seeing. The plot overviews come from the IMDB.
Where Do We Go Now?
Friday, June 8 – 6pm
A group of Lebanese women try to ease religious tensions between Christians and Muslims in their village. Winner of the audience award at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival.
Jeff, Who Lives At Home
Friday, June 8 – 8:30pm
Dispatched from his basement room on an errand for his mother, slacker Jeff might discover his destiny (finally) when he spends the day with his brother as he tracks his possibly adulterous wife.
Saturday, June 9 – 10am
A documentary that follows six young dancers from around the world as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Saturday, June 9 – 12pm
Faced with her father's fading health and environmental changes that release an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy leaves her Delta-community home in search of her mother.
Not Suitable For Children
Saturday, June 9 – 4pm
A young playboy who learns he has one month until he becomes infertile sets out to procreate as much as possible. An Australian film that stars Ryan Kwanten
Saturday, June 9 – 9pm
A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them. The latest from director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) and the cast includes Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand.
Sunday, June 10 – 9:30am
A documentary on peer-to-peer bullying in schools across America.
On The Road
Sunday, June 10 – 2pm
Dean and Sal are the portrait of the Beat Generation. Their search for "It" results in a fast paced, energetic roller coaster ride with highs and lows throughout the United States. Stars Viggo Mortensen.
Sunday, June 10 – 4:30pm
A documentary on an underdog football team who look to reverse their fortunes with coach Bill Courtney. Winner of the 2012 Academy Award for best documentary feature.
If you’re going to be in Sydney yourself for the Festival, do let me know (through email, Facebook, Twitter) and I’ll try to say hi.
Hopefully it’ll be a great few days.Add a comment
Back From Adelaide & The Avengers Amazing Box-Office
Back From Adelaide
I have returned from a fun week in Adelaide with the Queensland men’s golf team. They were competing in the 2012 Australian Men’s Interstate Series at Royal Adelaide and my role was to act as manager. I drove them around, kept them well fed (sometimes a challenge given their healthy appetites) and made sure they got to the 1st tee each day on time.
I was in awe at the standard of golf being played. There are talented players in every state and seeing them face off in head-to-head match play was exciting.
I used the opportunity to strengthen my photography skills and you can check out the players in action by clicking here. I took a lot of video footage as well and am currently editing together a highlights package to upload to Youtube. A few shots are already up and you can see them in my Youtube feed right here.
It was great to come back to a long weekend in Brisbane as it’s given me time to catch up on a plethora of emails and see a few movies. I’m now back on track and ready to resume normal transmission.
The Avengers Conquers The United States
We already saw the amazing box-office in Australia and now The Avengers has taken the U.S. by storm with a ridiculous $200.3m take on its opening weekend. That smashes the previous record of $169.2m held by Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2. It benefits from 3D ticket prices and a large number of screens but it’s still an amazing total. To put it into perspective, only 7 films made more than $200m in total last year in the U.S. The Avengers has made that in just 3 days!
It’ll be interesting to see where its box-office finishes up. What we know for sure is that The Avengers is now a franchise to be reckoned with for many years to come. There’ll be sequels… and lots of them!
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All Rights Reserved. Matthew Toomey. 2012.