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Shorts that lift hearts

Emma Clark Gratton

Emotional warmth and uplifting stories set Heart of Gold apart from the grit and grunge of many contemporary film festivals.
Shorts that lift hearts

Burning Heart Ceremony, Heart of Gold, Gympie

Short films have the potential to pack a huge emotional punch. Without the luxury of varied pacing that a feature film enjoys, a short film must use intelligent storytelling, expressive imagery and emotional engagement to create impact quickly.

That potential for emotional resonance is at the heart of the aptly-named Heart of Gold International Short Film Festival. Held from October 6-9 in historic Gympie, two hours north of Brisbane in Queensland, the festival prides itself on showcasing films from around the world which affect the viewer on an emotional level. 

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Artistic director Emily Avila said, ‘We look for films that are thought-provoking and heart-warming, which doesn’t necessarily mean all positive films, but ones that have a message of hope.’

This year, for example, the festival includes a special selection of films focussing on the refugee experience. The four-day program also includes a broad variety of events, including industry masterclasses, a spectacular opening night gala, an awards night party and up to 30 sessions of shorts. 

View the Heart of Gold program

Finding the heart

ScreenHub Editor David Tiley is part of the jury charged with the difficult task of judging the shorts and selecting the winners. 

He looks for two things when judging films: how people manage performances, and whether the audience believes them. ‘In this medium, everything needs to be dynamic and metaphorical. I’m always interested in films that are about something, films that have surprise and tenderness. What one character is doing to another character has to mean something. 

‘There are lots of short film festivals around, which offers lots of opportunity to enter. It’s not particularly a problem if you don’t get anywhere with it. But having such a diverse range of festivals means that different films win, which is fantastic.  

‘There’s a bunch of festivals, including Heart of Gold, that are about values, and those festivals are really interesting because people are about values as well. It’s really great to have a festival that gives space to diversity and positive views on the world. It’s not dirty or cash-y, it’s people who are interested in something different than exhausting narratives. We want to share those things about people’s experience that makes it great to be alive.’

Another member of the Festival’s jury is film and television legend Michael Caton. Most well-known for his riveting and hilarious role as Darryl Kerrigan in the much loved (and much quoted) feature film The Castle, Caton also played Uncle Harry in the Australian television series The Sullivans. Michael hails from Monto in regional Queensland, and went to boarding school in Gympie, which is where his love of acting began.

Opportunities for emerging filmmakers

This is Avila’s first year at the festival, after working at the Brisbane International Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival and she has introduced a range of new offerings in a packed program.

‘We have an excellent emerging filmmakers program this year, including hybrid documentary and comedy film masterclasses,’ she said. Award-winning short filmmaker Tim Marshall is teaching two comedy film masterclasses – one for teenagers and one for adults. The interactive classes will cover what makes a film funny and explore techniques to enhance humour in a script. Documentary filmmaker Margaret McHugh will run a masterclass on the creative process behind documentary storytelling, and the different ways filmmakers use fictional storytelling techniques to tell true stories. McHugh’s lauded hybrid documentary, The Drover’s Boy, will also play on Opening Night. 

On Sunday 9 October, Heart of Gold is bringing animator Benjamin Zaugg and composer Jonathan Bush from the ABC ME interactive animation Doodles to Gympie to run a drop-in session that brings real children’s drawings to life. Doodles is the brainchild of Emmy award-winning Brisbane production company Ludo Studio. ‘Doodles is at the heart of our Family Day, at the Gympie Civic Centre, where children can see hand-drawn pictures turned into animations and brought to life with music’ said Avila. 

Every film entered into the festival competes for the Best Short Film award, which is awarded a $5000 prize. Other award categories include: Best Australian Short Film, Best Student Short Film, Screener’s Choice, Best Cinematography, Best Script, and Younger at Heart (for budding high school filmmakers). The festival has a history of unearthing exceptional films from around the world. The 2014 Best Short Film Winner, The Phone Call, went on to win the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film.

Loungeroom critics

Heart of Gold’s two-part screening process also sets it apart from other festivals. The films are viewed first by the Avila, then passed onto groups of ‘screeners’, who gather in lounge rooms across Gympie and score and review the submissions. ‘I watch all the submissions, and also source films from other festivals for inclusion in Heart of Gold. And then I send them on to our screeners. We have five screener groups, with about forty people in total, all regular people from Gympie and the surrounding areas. They get together with popcorn and wine and watch the films, then send me their comments and reviews.

‘This makes the whole festival really accessible as it takes away some of the mystique of film festivals. The people in the town know they can come along to the festival and see something that they love,’ said Avila.

Buy tickets to the festival 

About the author

Emma Clark Gratton is an ArtsHub staff writer.

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