Sydney goes underground for a film festival of twisted joys: SUFF 2021

The Sydney Underground Film Festival is back, online, and available across Australia.
A skeleton promoting Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF)

Horrible Covid is delivering a raft of niche experiences to the nation’s most twisted fanatics as the big film events go online. The Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF) is a monstrous gallery of ideas and opportunities for low budget filmmakers, even the respectable ones who might sick up on their waistcoats.

We exaggerate of course, but these cult events can be really inspirational. Besides, they can be fun and cater to a wide range of tastes. Or obsessions, depending on how mainstream you are.

The Festival has announced program number 15, which is online from Thursday 9 September to Sunday 26 September. As the release chirps into the void, ‘the 2021 lineup features 30 feature films and documentaries, 20 Australian premieres, a special 40-year anniversary film, and over 100 wild and wacky shorts across nine themed sessions.’

All fine and dandy, but we also pluck the solution to a ScreenHub mystery from this announcement. The 48 Hour Film Challenge is an international film movement driven by a collective desire to be part of a planetary project, which claims to run in 130 cities around the world, involving 60,000 people. In Australia, it is celebrated with great joy in Adelaide over a weekend in March, but Sydney is conspicuously absent.

Now we know why. Rather than embracing some mobile US event called Filmapalooza, Sydneysiders have banded together inside the carapace of SUFF and set up their own, called Take48. As the announcement says,

‘Joining the program for its third year will be much-loved filmmaking competition TAKE48 Film Challenge. Putting filmmakers’ abilities to the test, TAKE48 takes place for 48 hours from Friday 3rd September to Sunday 5th September. This year’s Challenge will also be entirely online, with entries open to Sydneysiders as well as interstate and international participants, and over $16500 in prizes to be won, including camera prizes from SONY Australia.’

Prices for Sydney Underground Film Festival are $12/session or $195 for the whole lot, which is just over $10/day.

Seeing as we think that words are sexier than a vampire’s kiss, we should emphasise the fourth Inhuman Screens Academic Conference. Users of indirect speech and academic circumlocutions will be forced to jelly wrestle giant trap door spiders. Online. The jelly comes to your home as crystals, the spiders will be delivered via Uber.

Highlights, according to the curators are

  • Opening film Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It, from Kazakhstan-based director Yernar Nurgaliyev, a hilarious no-holds-barred road trip film about a man who decides to get away from his nagging wife with his friends, befallen by a series of highly entertaining and incomprehensible events.
  • The Australian premiere of The Land, a cinematic experiment between internationally renowned photographer Ingvar Kenne, academic Gregory Ferris, and award-winning actors Steve Rodgers (Rush) and Cameron Stewart. A microbudget, improvised drama, The Land is a bold and confronting story of friendship tested by a very dark secret, filmed over the course of three years.
  • Feelgood films redefining the importance of community include Alien on Stage, where a very amateur dramatics group (a bunch of UK bus drivers) create a serious stage adaptation of sci-fi horror film, Alien.
  • Eye-opening music documentaries with women at the forefront include Fanny: The Right to Rock, revealing the untold story of a Filipina American garage band that morphed into the ferocious rock group Fanny; and Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche, in which the death of punk icon and X-Ray Spex front-woman Poly Styrene sends her daughter on an intimate journey through her mother’s archives.
  • The life and times of some of the world’s most provocative and challenging artists are explored in documentary film, with indie director Beth B’s Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over, the first career-spanning retrospective of Lydia Lunch’s acerbic and always electric artistry as New York City’s preeminent No Wave icon of the late 70s.
  • Moments Like This Never Last, about another New York native, the late Dash Snow, documents his turn from notorious graffiti tagger into international art star, rejecting a life of privilege to make his own way as an artist through drug and alcohol fuelled nights in downtown NYC in the late 90s.
  • Brilliant comedies from all corners of the globe start in Australia, with Robert Wood’s An Ideal Host, where the apocalypse comes to dinner and Sweethurt by Sydney filmmaker Tom Danger: two intertwining stories of love, friendship, and paralysing regret that can keep you up at night. For those whose tastes lend themselves to the camp, absurd and ridiculous, there is Ninja Badass, Routines and SHIT & CHAMPAGNE.
  • Those who prefer more darkness, drugs and misanthropy in their humour will enjoy Danny. Legend. God. about a corrupt and maniacal Baltic businessman that highjacks a documentary made about him, and Hotel Poseidon, a film reminiscent of Delicatessen that follows reluctant hotel owner Dave, a man troubled by nightmares, his neighbour and love.
  • SUFF is also screening Estonian director Ramus Merivoo’s KRATT, a highly enjoyable fantasy film where children are left at Grandma’s house without their smartphones and find instructions for Kratt, a magical creature who will do whatever its master says.
  • A special 40th anniversary presentation of renowned Polish director Walerian Borowczyk’s film The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, a visually stunning, perverse adaptation of the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde story, starring Udo Kier and the most unforgettable bath scene in movie history.
  • Also curated shorts from around the world with sessions like Exploding Eyeballs, LSD Factory, Reality Bites and Lovable Idiots.

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.