Adelaide Film Festival launches more Australian features

Mat Kesting, the newish artistic director of the Adelaide Film Festival believes that 'cinemas progresses humanity, one film at a time'. He's giving it a red-hot go here.

The Adelaide Film Festival 2020 joins the Brisbane International Film Festival to create October as Real Audience Month, which we hope is a second act turning point in the pandemic drama. The joy starts tropically on Thursday 1 October to Sunday 11, moving south to Adelaide from Wednesday 14 October to Sunday 25.

There’s been a lot of tension to get to this point. As CEO and artistic director Mat Kesting revealed in an interview with Screenhub, it was a rolling low level nightmare. Since January the AFF has been through no less than five contingency plans, relied on visiting Venice and Toronto last year and just caught Berlin in February. From then on, all choices have been streamed. 

‘It’s less than ideal,’ he said, ‘programming from screener links and a desktop. Film festivals are all about bringing people together. And that’s how work is selected. You meet the makers and you build those relationships. While Zoom is a great resource, it doesn’t compensate for being able to meet someone in person’.

What is more, the festival has to obey the checkerboard arrangement to sustain social distance. Fortunately, Palace is hosting the festival this year so Kesting can adjust the number of cinemas given to a screening according to demand. There are no overseas guests, of course, but some local filmmakers are back from overseas. 

As usual, the festival is determined to showcase films which are funded partly through its own Festival Fund. Among these is I am Woman, which is running here even though it had a premiere screening in Adelaide a few months ago. It is already on Stan, but Kesting is delighted that it will get the full cinema treatment in a rare event before the hometown heroine, Tilda Cobham-Hervey.

Even better, she is presenting her short animation, called Roborovski, about a hamster driven to homicide by jealousy and neglect. It is co-written, co-directed and co-produced by Cobham-Hervey and Dev Patel, who met on Hotel Mumbai and have been together ever since. They have a little help from their friends. 

Also on the funded list is the opening night film, 2067, written and directed by VFX maestro Seth Larney, produced by Lisa Shaunessy, Jason Taylor and Kate Croser, and shot in Adelalde. In the words of Seth Larney, ‘We are bringing our film home for its premiere’. There are good cast in here, with Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ryan Kwanten, Aaron Glenane, Damian Walshe-Howling, Finn Little, Sana’a Shaik, Leeanna Walsman and Deb Mailman. We do love the synopsis:

The year 2067: Earth is on the verge of collapse. After years of doing too little to reverse climate change, plant life is extinct and there is a dramatic reduction in available oxygen. With no cure in sight, humanity builds a quantum time machine that pings the future in search of a connection with a possible solution founded by our descendants. They receive a response: a message from 400 years in the future that simply reads “Send Ethan Whyte”. Unwittingly, Ethan, a reclusive utility worker, barrels into the future as the only hope for his species, and his sick wife. 

In February 2009, the Adelaide Film Festival premiered My Tehran for Sale, made through Kate Croser and Julie Ryan of Cyan Films.  The film was created and directed by Granaz Moussavi, an Iranian-Australian poet who shot the picture surreptitiously on the streets of the city. It became one of the great wild women stories of Australian cinema, went on to do well at festivals and finally exploded into a full-blown scandal when actress Marzieh Vafamehr was arrested and sentenced to be flogged. She was saved by a public campaign but kept out of her art until 2018.

Now Granaz Moussavi is back with Adelaide finance to present When Pomegranates Howl, shot on the streets of Kabul. 

9-year-old Hewad is an irrepressible, street-smart kid who is energetically working every angle, hustling everything from pomegranate juice to amulets to protection from the evil eye. His real ambition is to be a movie star, and this comes a step closer when he meets an Australian photographer. But in a city where every family has a member who has been “martyred,” the streets are as perilous as they are vivid. 

Kesting calls it a real gem. There is no trailer, which is the price to pay for daring low budget films. It was produced by Baheer Wardak, Christine Williams and Marzieh Vafamehr, who is clearly irrepressible.

The festival has also supported three feature documentaries. Yer Old Faither is a particular joy around the friends of Heather Croall because she was talking about this film long before she became director of the Adelaide International Documentary Conference, spent nine years as director of the Sheffield Doc/Fest and came home to run the Adelaide Fringe. 

Set in the industrial town of Whyalla, this is an intimate portrait of John Croall, a Glaswegian immigrant to Australia, and the father of long-time Adelaide Fringe director, Heather Croall. John Croall delivered three generations of babies and planted thousands of trees in the town. He was also a great letter writer, and this very personal documentary uses these letters as its point of departure. Heather Croall films with her father as a way of coping with his approaching death and reflecting on the close, and often very funny, relationship between a father and a daughter. 

Croall wrote, directed and produced with the support of Karin Altmann as co-screenwriter. The cinematographers are Croall herself with Liam Somerville, Miles Rowland and Sieh Mchawala. The editor is the legendary Tania Nehme, known in Adelaide as a colleague of Rolf de Heer.

Phil Liggett: the Voice of Cycling looks relatively straightforward. Anyone who can spell the Tour de France knows Liggett’s wonderful style as commentator. 

He has called every triumph, tragedy and scandal in the sport for half a century. Astonishingly poetic and whimsical, Phil’s flights of rhetorical brilliance on the microphone are the stuff of legend and are globally known as “Liggettisms”. Has anyone ever described the pain of the uphill climb, or the chaos of the sprint to the line with such grace or style? Phil Liggett has shaped the way the world sees cycling, and his name has become synonymous with the sport. Phil has no plans to retire and has found a new and urgent vocation saving endangered rhinos from poachers – but can this ever replace the thrill of calling the big races? 

This film resists the urge for sad reverence, as director Eleanor Sharpe and producer Nicholas Bird enchanted AFF with ‘the cycling masterwork MAMIL in 2017′.  As in Middle Aged Men in Lycra. Indeed, their respectable career also contains Remembering the Man which seized the audience award at Adelaide in 2015.  We bet their company Waterbyrdfilmz is steadily failing to suppress their sense of mischief. 

There is even an invisible film in the program. This is Port Adelaide is included and financed, but won’t be finished until after the AFL Grand Final which the good folk of the port are convinced the Magpies are going to win. It is made by Nicole Miller, producer at local company 57 Films which is closely attached to the club. 

Off the production finance spreadsheet, we find long term double act Molly Reynolds and Rolf de Heer back in town with documentary ShoPaaPaa, made in London with Shekhar Bassi and Shalinder Bassi. 

Closer Productions refreshes its grunge edge with Video Nasties: the making of Ribspreader, a web series refashioned into a feature documentary about Adelaide splatter identity Dick Dale.

Dick is about to make his first feature film. It will be an epic, lo-fi trash filmmaking odyssey, that will either make or break his career.      

A love letter to no budget filmmaking, this riotous 6 part comedy doc series mashes ob-doc, jump scares and an infamous narrator who will guide us through the trials and tribulations of Dick Dale’s splatterpunk video nasty.

The irrepressible Matthew Bate is directing with Liam Somerville, while he produces with Katrina Lucas, combining Closer with Capital Waste Pictures.

Hilton Nathanson’s Chasing Wonders. The latter is due to screen as part of the Australian Indies strand alongside Madeleine Blackwell’s Damage, Katie Found’s My First Summer, Kurt Martin’s Moon Rock for Monday, Daniel J. Phillips Awoken and Michael Bentham’s Disclosure. 

Also in the glittering Made in Australia catwalk we find Firestarter: The Story of Bangarra, which combines the talents of Wayne Blair and Nel Minchin to tell one of our great inspirational stories. 

Jakeb Anhvù’s A Hundred Years of Happiness is about a Vietnamese wedding, soured by Australia’s failure to grant a visa, leaving a marriage in Korea as the only option. The team, including Kim Nguyen and David Cooley, hit the international festival trail in 2013 with Blush of Fruit, about a Vietnamese orphanage.

Veterans of the 2020 home viewing festival scene will recognise The Leadership by Ili Bare, while Wild Things from Sally Ingleton is a passionate study of environmental activists which launched at Cinefest Oz. 

A least one generation of screen activists is hanging out for Brazen Hussies, which is a history of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Australia from 1965 to 1975. Made by first time filmmaker Catherine Dwyer, shot by Anna Howard ACS & Erika Addis & Sky Davis, edited by Rosie Jones, it is produced by Philippa Campey and Andrea Foxworthy, and executive produced by Sue Maslin. 

It must have been a joyous hoot to make; we really hope that the journey from the Brisbane International Film Festival to Adelaide and beyond gives it a solid commercial season in the cinemas. Not to mention all that footage of powerful, pioneering women in their prime.

The other film with mainstream potential is High Ground.

Stephen Maxwell Johnson’s long-awaited follow-up to Yolngu Boy is the most powerful and engrossing Australian film of the year. It takes an unflinching look at the brutal facts of white settlement, facts that we are still coming to terms with. A massacre of Aboriginal people in Arnhem Land in 1919 leaves deeply damaged survivors: Baywara, a warrior consumed with anger and intent on revenge; Travis, a white man with an uneasy conscience and no way out, and Gutjuk, the boy caught between two cultures. This is a film with all the breathtaking beauty and savage ugliness of this country. It is rich in dramatic tension driven by taut, understated performances by newcomer Jacob Junior Nayinggul, Simon Baker, and Jack Thompson in his best role for many years.

Written by Chris Anastassiades, edited by Jill Bilcock, shot by Andrew Commis, it is produced through Jowsey and Simpkin at Bunya along with Maggie Miles and Witivana Marika, a founding member of Yothu Yindi. 

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.