BigPond Adelaide Film Festival: A true independent

Everyone’s going to Adelaide this week, to be at the country’s most risk-taking festival. Encore spoke with festival director Katrina Sedgwick and associate director Adele Hann about the secrets behind its success.

The first point of differenceis the festival’s Investment Fund, which has delivered some of Australia’s most acclaimed films of recent times, including 2009’s Samson & Delilah. The pressure to continue this high level of performance from its slate hasn’t seen the funded projects become safe, predictable choices. It’s been quite the opposite.

“The Investment Fund has meant that Australian cinema is put to the forefront. Over time the success of the slate has generated anticipation; it’s become the element of the program that people really look forward to, the one that sells out first and excites the industry. One of the great things festival director Katrina Sedgwick does with that money is support some fairly risky projects that get the opportunity to evolve and develop because she has that confidence in the creatives.
“There may very well be some pressure [to find ‘the next Samson & Delilah’], but we’re trying not to focus on one film. There will be a number of projects from different genres and styles that will generate a lot of interest and excitement,” explained Hann.
This year, the Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund will also reach New York, when seven of the films it has supported since its creation (Last Ride, Ten Canoes, My Year Without Sex, Look Both Ways, Samson & Delilah, Mrs. Carey’s Concert and Boxing Day) screen at the Museum of Modern Art in April.
“It’s a week-long program that MoMA has selected and curated. It’s an extremely prestigious institution and for them to have decided to do this is a great honour,” said Hann.
Another point of difference is its emphasis on cross-platform. It’s not just web content such as the upcoming SBS series Danger 5, but about commissioning moving image artworks to be seen in galleries. One of this year’s highlights is a video installation by Warwick Thornton, part of the Stop the Gap exhibition.
“It’s certainly a conscious attempt to involve and get people thinking about the creativity that’s going on in other art forms, and looking at the ways that they cross over and merge in moving image works,” said Hann.
One of this year’s new initiatives is The Hive, a five-day residential lab including artists, musicians, theatre makers, dancers, choreographers, writers and filmmakers (represented by Tony Krawitz, Anna Broinowski, Amiel Courtin-Wilson, Matthew Bate, Sophie Hyde, Bryan Maison, Ashlee Page, Amy Gebhardt and Jason Sweeney).
“Potentially the results are quite intangible. It’s about stimulating people’s imagination and putting them into the same space with participants from other disciplines. It’s about cross-art form collaboration; it may be that projects are developed, and in that case, there is a pitch that they’re doing at the end of the lab to a select group of industry figures and agencies,” said Hann.
Another new element takes advantage of Australia’s culinary craze of the last two years, to reach audiences beyond the traditional festival crowd. The culinary strand Appetite celebrates food and film, with a feeding event at Port Willunga Beach, and Handpicked, a series of films selected and presented by food writer John Lethlean, restaurateur Gay Bilson, chef Cheong Liew and MasterChef’s Poh Ling Yeow.
“It creates an awareness of the festival amongst a much broader section of the population, and it promotes the area of the Fleurieu Peninsula, which is an important food and wine region for South Australia. It’s a way of letting people know that the festival is on, and they might want to come to see their favourite celebrity chefs introduce a film.”
Taking place alongside the Australian International Documentary Conference and the Australian Directors’ Guild Conference has also helped the festival become an event that attracts a high volume of industry professionals. With the former, the festival will be sharing guests such as Steve James, Bob Connolly and Pamela Yates. With the latter, it will also share events that will appeal to some of the delegates.
“Last time we did it with the Writers Guild, so I guess each festival we’ll approach and work with organisatons to get that critical mass of industry here. It really makes a great difference,” said Hann.


According to Sedgwick, one of the best things about BAFF is the fact that Adelaide is such a small city, which makes the event very intimate and informal. It also helps that it takes place alongside the Australian International Documentary Conference (March 1–4) and the Australian Directors Guild Conference (Feb 26–March 1), making South Australia the temporary capital of the screen industry.

“You get to hang out with everyone over a program of industry events, screenings and a party almost every night,” she said.
New initiatives include a lab called The Hive, run by Wendy Levy (BAVC in San Francisco), with mentors Marc Boothe and Bridget Ikin and a lineup of participants including filmmakers, directors and writers, choreographers, musicians and visual artists.
BAFF will also include a focus on VFX, Imagined Worlds, including a masterclass with Douglas Trumbull in partnership with Rising Sun Pictures. Sedgwick found inspiration for this strand on South Australian Hollywood pioneer J.P. MacGowan’s 1915-1935 work on stunts.

“I thought it would be great to use his inspiration to explore some of the turning points in the history of cinema where the impossible – or incredibly dangerous – became possible through the camera. We began to nominate a few of the key films we had to show – but then our associate director pulled the whole strand together by inviting Douglas Trumbull to come and share his genius with us all.
“He’s not only quite brilliant but very generous with his knowledge which spans not only the ground breaking optical effects he developed for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but he’s worked on large scale immersive rides, he’s involved in cutting edge 3D technology development, he’s fascinated with astrophysics… He’ll be introducing the screening of 2001 and Blade Runner, and presenting a free lecture about his work and his perspective on the past and future of special FX – along with a more intensive masterclass which will be a conversation with like minds from the industry to get a little deeper into his processes and ideas,” explained Sedgwick.
The event will see the premiere of 14 projects supported by the Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund. Features include the debut feature from Indigenous filmmaker Beck Cole, Here I Am, about a young woman
released from prison and trying to find her life and family again. Another highlight is Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown, a dramatized account of the ‘bodies in barrels’ murders. Finally, Amiel Courtin Wilson will present his low budget Hail; a combination of documentary and drama. Short Films will also be represented with The Moment (dir. Shane McNeil and Troy Bellchamers); Greek/Australia co-production The Palace (dir. Anthony Maras) and Magic Harvest (dir. Jeni Lee).

In terms of documentary, BAFF will screen The Tall Man (dir. Tony Krawitz); Mrs. Carey’s Concert (dir. Bob Connolly/ Sophie Raymond); Life in Movement (dir. Sophie Hyde/Bryan Mason), Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (dir. Matt Bate) and Stunt Love (dir. Matt Bate).
An important part of BAFF’s program, cross-platform projects include the first video installation from Samson & Delilah director Warwick Thornton; Rekindling Venus in Plain Sight, by Lynette Wallworth; and the comedy/action series Danger 5, from the creators of Italian Spiderman, Dario Russo and David Ashby.

“Australians are so quick at adopting new technologies – but artists are even quicker. It’s wonderful to see how these new technologies can be so creatively applied to an idea and delivered so surprisingly to an  audience – where it’s not a gimmick but a way to express an idea that connects with an audience in an entirely new way,” said Sedgwick

BigPond Adelaide Film Festival, February 24-March 6, 2011.


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