Sydney Film Festival, long a haven for lovers of factual films, screens 43 documentaries this year – including 30 Australian premieres and seven world premieres. 24 documentary filmmakers are on hand at the festival to introduce their films and answer audience questions. Here’s a round-the-world trip through our 2012 documentary line-up – and we’re pleased to offer OzDox members a special discount ticket offer on a number of the films mentioned, see details below.
Our itinerary starts in Japan with the moving (and prize-winning) Death of a Japanese Salesman, in which filmmaker Mami Sunada records her once work-obsessed father’s final months.
Next stop is Beijing, for High Tech, Low Life, fresh from its Tribeca debut, which profiles two Chinese bloggers: 27 year-old ‘Zola’, who’s just starting out on his career; and ‘Tiger Temple’, China’s first citizen reporter, who’s been struggling with the authorities and the so-called Great Firewall of China for years. Director Stephen Maing is in Sydney to present his film and to take part in an on-stage interview with AIDC’s Joost den Hartog on Saturday 9 June at 5pm in the Festival Hub at Lower Town Hall. (Stephen’s visit is supported by the AIDC.) SFF screens two other documentaries from China: the charming and insightful Bachelor Mountain, from director Yu Guangyi – hailed by Variety as ‘one of the world’s superior nonfiction filmmakers’; and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Alison Klayman’s film about the controversial Chinese activist, artist and architect which won Sundance Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Defiance.
Director Davy Chou, a relative of one of Cambodia’s leading film producers of the 1960s, is in Sydney to present his film Golden Slumbers, a haunting look at Cambodia’s lost celluloid years. After the film’s first screening on Friday 15 June, join Davy and festival programmer and Khmer pop fan Richard Kuipers as they spin obscure gems at our Cambodian Psych-Out Party, a free event in the Festival Hub afterwards.
Next we head west to India – subject of our special Focus on India strand. Festival guest Anand Patwardhan (a past SFF prizewinner with War and Peace) presents his epic documentary Jai Bhim Comrade, 14 years in the making, which explores the 1997 police killing of unarmed protesters in Mumbai. Another long-term project, filmed over 20 years, is Sandeep Ray’s evocative literary doco The Sound of Old Rooms. We’re also screening an India-set Canadian production, The World Before Her, a major prizewinner at Hot Docs and Tribeca. Nisha Pahuja’s film dramatically juxtaposes two institutions: the Miss India pageant and Durga Vahini, the women’s arm of the Hindu fundamentalist movement.
From India we head to North Africa for two inspiring docos. El Gusto, tagged as an Algerian Buena Vista Social Club, features plenty of toe-tapping music from the Casbah. Don’t miss the antics of first-time director Namir Abdel Messeeh and his domineering mum in The Virgin, the Copts and Me. Messeeh set out to document the phenomenon of Virgin Mary apparitions in Egypt’s Coptic and Muslim communities; the result is both comedic and uplifting.
A zigzag across the Mediterranean takes us to Israel and this year’s Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance, The Law in These Parts. Director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz (The Inner Tour) explores the legal framework for Israel’s 45-year military ‘rule of law’ in the Occupied Territories.
On to France, where revered American documentarian Frederick Wiseman, in trademark style, takes us behind the scenes at a famous Parisian nightclub in Crazy Horse. Further south in the agricultural region of Aubrac, director Paul Lacoste follows the seasons as a master chef relinquishes his kitchen to his son in Step Up to the Plate. And then to Switzerland we go for another seasonal encounter, the disappearing tradition of people and livestock moving to new pastures as the first snow falls, in the Berlinale-selected Winter Nomads (wrap up warm for screenings!)
We head across the Channel to the UK for the unforgettable Dreams of a Life. Part documentary, part detective story, part drama, Carol Morley’s film looks at the mystery of Joyce Carol Vincent, a 38-year-old woman whose remains were found in her North London bedsit three years after she died. Another innovative UK film, Bart Layton’s impressive The Imposter tracks the strange-but-true story of a Frenchman who poses as the missing teenage son of a Texan family.
UK director Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void) has assembled the definitive documentary on reggae’s king, Bob Marley, including interviews with his family, tons of music clips and never-before-seen footage. Marley is part of our Sounds on Screen program; also included are two films by Australian filmmakers: Unjoo Moon’s The Zen of Bennett (which documents the iconic Tony Bennett in the studio) and Lian Lunson’s Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You – A Concert for Kate McGarrigle.
We head across the Atlantic for two films that have been hitting the headlines: Undefeated, the 2012 Oscar® winner for Best Documentary, which covers a season with a Memphis high-school gridiron team; and Lee Hirsch’s Bully, a film that has stirred controversy across the US, engendering debate about this endemic problem. Another community issue, water usage, is on screen in Jessica Yu’s Last Call at the Oasis – produced by the team behind An Inconvenient Truth and Food Inc. Art-world heroine Marina Abramović and her blockbuster MOMA exhibition is the centerpiece in Matthew Akers’ debut feature documentary Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present, winner of the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlinale. Léa Pool’s Pink Ribbons, Inc. is a timely and indignant look at the industry and culture around breast cancer that has been stirring up debate since its Toronto debut. Then we’re on to a hot topic in the film industry: feature filmmakers, cinematographers and editors offer their thoughts on the shift from film to digital in Side by Side. Don’t miss SFF’s talk at the Apple Store with one of the film’s interviewees, Australian cinematographer Dion Beebe (who also shot The Zen of Bennett).
Back across the Pacific we travel for Pietra Brettkelly’s Berlinale-selected Maori Boy Genius. The director and her subject, teen prodigy Ngaa Rauuira Pumanawawhiti, are both scheduled to attend the festival. New Zealand director Costa Bodes (Forgotten Silver) is also in Sydney to present his Toronto-selected film The Last Dogs of Winter, the tale of an eccentric and his rare Eskimo dogs set in the frozen town of Churchill, Manitoba.
World travellers in our non-fiction line-up include a temperamental Russian dancer and his beautiful girlfriend in Tribeca winner Ballroom Dancer; other dancing globetrotters are the young ballet competitors in the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix, the subject of First Position, a multiple audience-award winner. The latest films by documentary luminaries Michael Glawogger (Workingman’s Death) and Victor Kossakovsky (Hush!) are set in very different worlds: Glawogger explores in the lives of prostitutes on three continents in Whores’ Glory. Kossakovsky’s ¡Vivan Las Antipodes!, a stunningly beautiful film that demands to be seen on the big screen, looks at opposite points of the globe: Russia and Patagonia, Argentina and Shanghai, Botswana andHawaii; Spain and New Zealand.
This year’s FOXTEL Australian Documentary Prize line-up showcases our boundless curiosity about our world, from Afghanistan to the Arafura Sea, India to the mythical Utopia. The line-up of eight films includes Coniston (directed by Francis Jupurrurla Kelly and David Batty, the team behind Bush Mechanics); Croker Island Exodus (directed by Steven McGregor); Despite the Gods (directed by debut feature-length director Penny Vozniak); Dr. Sarmast’s Music School (directed by Polly Watkins); Killing Anna (F4-award winner in Adelaide, directed by Paul Gallasch); Missing in the Land of the Gods (directed by Davor Dirlic); Paramedico (directed by filmmaker, author and paramedic Benjamin Gilmour; and Utopia (from award-winning director, Bruce Petty). All FOXTEL screenings are followed by Q&As with the filmmakers.
And don’t miss SFF’s free screening of short documentaries at the Festival Hub at 4pm on Sunday 17 June.
OzDox members can buy tickets to Vivan Las Antipodes, High Tech Low Life, Bully, Bachelor Mountain, Dreams of a Life, Winter Nomads, The Last Dogs of Winter, and Death of a Japanese Salesman, for the special OzDox price of $14.00 per ticket. Go to the festival website, www.sff.org.au, choose your films and type ‘Ozdox’ in the promotional code field to take advantage of this exclusive offer.