Impressive start for Sydney Film Festival


By Kath Gelber

The Sydney Film Festival got off to an impressive start on June 10 with the screenings of the 1994 Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films.

Shorts were screened in five categories: documentary, fiction, general, animation and the Ethnic Affairs Commission (EAC) award. Although I was unable to make the distance for the marathon all-day session (with no lunch break), some of the shorts were particularly impressive and bode well for the future of Australian film making.

Winners were announced the same evening. Ana Kokkinos' Only the Brave picked up the prize in the fiction section. This is a particularly powerful film about relationships between two Victorian secondary students, their families, classmates and teachers. It conveys in stark reality a sense of the anger, strength and desperation of the two young women as they try to deal with their own family situations. The self-destruction that can arise out of severe physical and emotional abuse is both horrific and totally understandable. The actors who play Alex and Vicki are entirely believable as is their teacher, played by Maude Davey.

The winner in the documentary and EAC categories was Motherland, a sensitive and moving film about Latvian grandmothers and their fragile relationship with their children, grandchildren and culture. They hold on to their understanding and memories of the past, and this engenders conflict with the new generation (who don't even understand Latvian any more) and their own new reality. This film will mean a lot to first and second generation Australians, and is well worth seeing the next time it is available.

A less impressive candidate in the documentary category was Christopher Tuckfield's Cenotaph, which attempted to draw out some history and current issues in relation to the effects of World War I on the small NSW country community of Hay. I found the script full of platitudes rather than content. Other than perhaps helping to fill in the history of the ordinary soldier in war, it didn't say very much.

The Sydney Film Festival has a full program of Australian and international film and runs until June 25 at the beautiful and centrally located State Theatre, as well as holding some events in other venues around the city. Some of the features are set for theatrical release in the months after the festival, most notably the lovely lesbian romance comedy Go Fish due for release by Dendy in August. This is a funny, well-made, warm and wonderful film that will delight more than just a lesbian audience. In fact, I'd recommend it as a must-see. Whether you need some reminiscing about the early, romantic days of your relationship, or just need reassuring that romance does exist, it will do wonders for your mood.

Ken Loach's Ladybird Ladybird also comes highly recommended but unfortunately is not due for theatrical release until 1995. So try to catch its festival screening.

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