Berlin strand finds perfect pick in Australian opener

Want optimism? Crowd pleaser H is for Happiness is into Berlin, along with four really modest shorts.

The Generation Program has been a happy hunting ground for Australian projects at the Berlin Film Festival, even though the conventional festival strands are much more forbidding. 

These are the young people’s programs, which are curated for sub-adult audiences, with their own prizes and juries, many of which are composed of youngsters in the relevant age category. What is more, the Berlinale publishes a potted commentary about the winners from the jury. 

Maryanne Redpath, the New Zealand born but sometime Australian resident visual artist who runs these programs brings her own sensitivities, which helps her to communicate with filmmakers when she comes here each year. Six years ago, we published an interview with her, which remains close to true today.

I grabbed her at the Adelaide Film Festival to ask a question which has been nagging at me for several years. Why do Australian films do so well in the Generation Section of the Berlinale? While films like 52 Tuesdays and Galore, both in Generation 14plus in 2014, feature young people, they are made for adult audiences.

“A lot of people have asked me that,” she said. “I have a few theories but none of them are enough to explain the phenomenon. The last four years in a row, a short film from Australia has won a Crystal Bear – but they are not the only ones. There are Crystal Bears sitting on mantlepieces and in cupboards and under beds all round Australia.”

She suggested it may be do to with coming of age stories. They are rich with conflict and drama, we all share them. But, she said, “It can happen when you are seventy years old. I don’t think we ever stop coming of age.

“I wonder if Australia as a nation is going through a coming of age drama – being born, and being reborn again, coming to terms with its identity and what that means, and I wonder if it is being expressed in a lot of films.”

[The rest of the article also speaks to Berlinale 2020]

We have drifted from that true coming of age agenda slightly, though we could be described as looking for the best in bad times, or dealing with a loss of innocence. 

This is important because H is for Happiness has just been announced as the opening film for the K plus category. According to the website:

With 59 competition entries, including 29 world premieres and eleven debut films from 34 countries and a share of female directors reaching 58%, the programme of the 43rd Generation is now complete.

“A keen and open eye, the questioning of conventions and the often dramatic transgressions of borders make the films in the Generation programme particularly powerful: in their stories and topics, but also in their film language,” says head of Generation Maryanne Redpath….

…The young heroes and heroines are brimming with vitality and ingenuity, even if the circumstances are adverse. In the Swedish family adventure Sune – Best Man, in the Danish animated film Mugge & vejfesten (Monty and the Street Party) and in the Australian opening film H Is for Happiness, in which a twelve-year-old girl makes it clear once and for all: happiness is what is inside each of us!

It is written by Lisa Hoppe, directed by John Sheedy who broke through with Mrs McCutcheon and produced by Hoppe, Tenille Kennedy and Julie Ryan. 

The program also contains four Australian shorts. 

Elders, by Tony Briggs, who is a Yorta Yorta/Wurundjeri (Woiwurrung) theatre & film practitioner. It is written by Tracey Rigney and produced by Damienne Pradier. The production company is Typecast Entertainment, and Briggs first moved into film as the creator and writer of The Sapphires.

Nature teaches us vital lessons. In Wojobaluk Country, two elders introduce their grandson to the characteristics of the country of their ancestors. With keen senses, great attention to detail and the necessary respect for the environment, the boy becomes acquainted with the terrain.

Grevillea was written, directed and edited by Jordan Giusti, who also produced with Chris Luscri, Melanie Millado and Hayley Surgenor.  Giusti has been a producer at Flood Projects, Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s production company, for three years. Sugenor put the project into The Australian Cultural Fund, in which she said:

Written and Directed by Jordan Giusti in collaboration with a team of independent filmmakers, ‘Grevillea’ is a short coming of age drama set in Melbourne’s Youth Justice Centre.

Jewish representation in Australian media is often very one dimensional, rarely shedding light on the difficulties people face to keep traditions alive. Jordan’s own experiences growing up in Melbourne provided inspiration for ‘Grevillea’, his fourth short film.

The Flame was made by Nick Waterman, who was nominated for a Crystal Bear at the Berlinale in 2017. Written by him and Megan Washington, this is his sixth short. He is a freelance director, writer and editor who completed a media degree at University of Technology, Sydney.

Fire, wind and smoke have been the fundamental elements for Aboriginal people for thousands of years. Their knowledge of the original power of fire is passed on from one generation to the next. A creative development of oral storytelling in audio-visual form.

 Girl and Body from writer/director Charlotte Mars will make its International Premiere at Berlinale Shorts.

These three films are starting their international festival career here, and don’t yet have much in the way of media assets.

We are still waiting for the program for the Midnight strand. 

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.