Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sydney Film Festival 2009 Highlights

So it's all over for another year - being the shy and retiring type I didn't go to the closing night party (and film - An Education) and instead finished the festival with the 5 hour Che epic. As usual, my reviewing is running well behind viewing, so to make sure I don't forget anything there's a quick summary of the films I've seen here, and I'm going to write up my overall festival impressions while it's all still fresh ! Individual film comments may or may not follow.

Overall it was probably the most consistent film festival I've been to. While there were no absolute killer films, there were, for the first time in memory, no duds either; the closest being a mere let-down (The Girlfriend Experience) that really didn't live up to it's promise or director's reputation. I believe I promised I wouldn't mention the website and ticketing problems again - so I won't !

My favourite documentary was the The Cove - for being everything a good documentary should be - but a special mention here to Big River Man, the story of an overweight alcoholic 52 year old Slovenian who decides to swim the entire length of the Amazon, which came very close, telling a remarkable story at once personal and global; with a much smaller budget and none of the rich and powerful connections that the makers of The Cove enjoyed.

The Beaches of Agnes was a delightfully unexpected treasure and beat out Che Part 1 for favourite bio-pic (really I just created the category so I could mention it). Understanding the history, character and motivations of Agnes Varda also added enormously to my appreciation of Cleo from 5 to 7 the next day - I just love seeing those old 'new wave' black and whites on the big screen.

The winner for best big budget Chinese propaganda piece (in the face of terrific competition) was Red Cliff - and what a pleasure to see John Woo in person - so humble and proud of his work.

And finally, my overall favourite was probably Wake in Fright - despite (or because) of it being nearly 40 years old. The back story added to the enjoyment, of course, but the film absolutely stood on its own as an unflinching look at part of the Australian psyche. I'm really hoping a lot of people will go and see this when it gets its cinema run soon.

PS The full set of my 2009 Film Festival entries are collected here; and those for past years here - starting to build up quite a collection now, definitely helpful in remembering what I've seen !


Robyn said...

I've been enjoying your film reviews and tweets. I'm hoping many of these will also be in the NZFF programme!

Duncan said...

Thanks Robyn - I remember in previous years there's been quite an overlap so hopefully this year will be similar.

Whatever you do - don't go see the Taiwanese/French film The Face - haven't seen so much negative feedback in a long time. For me the description was warning enough - plus Taiwanese films have never been my cup of tea !