Adelaide film festival: Adelaide, thinking outside the square

Adelaide goes beyond the traditional limits of festivals to fund films and promote cross-platform development. Tracey Prisk spoke to the minds behind the event.

The Adelaide Film Festival (AFF) endeavours to remain true to its roots of being “a celebration of contemporary screen culture”. Apart from the event’s film screening program, festival director Katrina Sedgwick says she didn’t want to ignore the impact that other types of screens – including television and mobiles – are having on the future direction of the industry.

“We’re very excited about Crossover Australia; it’s a creative think tank to crack the opportunities for those working genuinely across platforms. We want to push what those platforms can be; not in a digital context, but going into live and non-digital media platforms as well.” According to Sedgwick, one of the most exciting platforms yet to fully be exploited is gaming, which is why they’re working with the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) and the Adelaide Fringe Festival to present a program called Playground. Sedgwick believes that AFF differs in many ways to the traditional film festival.

“We’re a festival of the moving image. A part of that is your traditional film festival, including 180 films to be screened over 10 days. And through our Investment Fund we also have a very big focus on investing, supporting and world-premiering a range of new Australian works. Around all that, we’re pushing the definition of a film festival. “It’s unique because the practitioners working in more conventional works are excited to explore other areas of creative practice, and that’s a very good thing.” Pushing creative people outside of their comfort zones is what inspired Sedgwick to introduce events such as Crossover. The inclusion of innovative filmmakers such as Sandi DuBowski also helps to push filmmakers to think outside the square when it comes to how they make their films and distribute them.

“The way that he has distributed Trembling before G-d is just fantastic and so lateral. It’s so much about niche marketing, but it takes somebody special to have not only a filmmaking talent but also those entrepreneurial skills. I think he’ll be very inspirational at Crossover.”

Sedgwick is aware that the AFF will never be as big as the Melbourne and Sydney Festivals. It has never been an issue because it was always planned as a boutique festival, not as an event that would compete with others. “We want to position ourselves as an event that encourages new ideas … it’s working for us and there’s no intention to grow in size.

“We have no problems getting people to see new Australian films, we pack out, but we’ve got a lot of work in growing an audience for the films that are a lot more challenging, those from Asia and South America.”

There’s no doubt in Sedgwick’s mind that the event couldn’t be held in a more appropriate city. “Adelaide loves a festival … the challenge for Adelaide is getting people to films outside the festival context.”


In the three years since its launch, the event’s Investment Fund has more than fulfilled its initial goals of a minimum of two feature films every two years. This year the AFF fund will present five feature films, one feature-length documentary, five short films and a video-based project. “We’ve had a very comprehensive output and there’s been a success rate in terms of the calibre of the projects. It’s important when we talk business in the industry that the artists are not forgotten. What it all comes down to is that a really fantastic piece of art is being created.” With Sedgwick overseeing the $1 million fund, people are invited to submit a script, a list of the key creatives involved, and outline how the film will economically benefit the state as well as the South Australian production industry. Projects which apply for funds typically have budgets between $1 to 4.5 million, and the fact that the project needs to be finished by festival time means that filmmakers must prove they can meet that deadline. While the films vary in style and subject matter Sedgwick says the similarity comes from the fact that they are “unconventional”. “Our most popular box office hits have been Ten Canoes and Look Both Ways, with forbidden Lies in a documentary context. Each of those films has an idiosyncratic feel and a very strong vision with a distinctive voice. “In the end (selection) comes down to a project-by-project decision. It’s not a massive amount of money that we offer, but it’s still important.” With no increase in the fund’s budget, Sedgwick is careful to ensure she can put the cash to good use. Following her recommendations, it is then left to the AFF board to grant the final approval. At a time when there are very few options this fund helps ensure diversity of production. “Having different funding doors is vital because inevitably, there is a gate keeper at every door, and personalities and personal aesthetic concepts always come into play. That’s just how it is, and a good reason why there should be multiple doors.”


UK-based Matt Adams is one of the international mentors who will participate in Crossover Australia. During the fiveday interactive workshop he will help participants brainstorm cross-platform models and projects. According to Adams, Crossover will give artists or content creators the opportunity to think outside the square. He is not necessarily a fan of labels and therefore he believes that in a cross-platform environment, it’s hard to define exactly what the company he co-founded, Blast Theory, actually does.

“It does games design and documentary’ it is a TV and radio broadcaster; and we work across all those disciplines… that’s one of the reasons I’m coming to Crossover,” says Adams. “As a mentor, I’ll talk about interdisciplinary practice and how some of these previously distinct sectors are converging and how we can make best use of that.” Adams is quick to admit that convergence may be the way of the future, but not everyone is keen to embrace it.

“There is a small band of people in the broadcast area who understand that there is a major shift taking place but there is a gap between the initial understanding and any realistic sensible approach to implementing those changes,” he says. “It’s still extremely hard still in the UK to do true interdisciplinary projects and get them commissioned, partly because there are many challenges raised by this new way of working.”

Blast Theory has been producing games since 1999 and Adams admits that while economically it is a lucrative sector in which to work, the company’s interest in producing games goes beyond economics. “One of the reasons why games are coming to prominence is because they are the base language of interaction. It’s definitely a growing cultural form, and when you look at games now they’re graphically very sophisticated but in terms of their content there’s still a tremendous amount of room for their development and growth in terms of the intellectual and emotional sophistication.

“My personal belief is that’s where some of the most exciting work is going to happen in the coming years and one of the things that will drive that is the convergence of broadcasting with interaction.” Adams admits that it’s ‘baby steps’ when it comes to seeing convergence moving into the mainstream broadcast arena as it’s seen as a high risk model without the high returns. “The broadcasters aren’t really sure if it will be worth the risk.”

Despite the difficulties Adams says practitioners must still endeavour to keep abreast with the advances in technology and new forms. “There are many ways to educate yourself; it’s a question of being curious and eager to learn from all kinds of different sources. You have to be there to help drive this stuff because everyone is learning as they go.” For an interview with Crossover Australia director Frank Boyd and mentor Sandi DuBowski, visit our website www.encoremagazine.com.au

BigPond Adelaide Film Festival, 19 February-1 March

Full program available January 23.


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