Archive for the ‘Sydney Film Festival’ Tag

my map my summer

So, remember when I submitted footage to Map My Summer, the Australia-wide user-generated film project inspired by Life in a Day? Well, it turned out that two bits of my footage of the bats of Gordon were selected by Amy Gebhardt, the director of the project, and are included in the final Map My Summer film, WE WERE HERE.

That film premiered at a packed screening last Saturday night, before the Australian premiere of Life in a Day, as part of Sydney Film Festival. As a contributor I was an honored guest. Amy and executives from Screen Australia and YouTube introduced the film along with SFF director Clare Stewart. Dr George Miller, the distinguished supervisor of the project, was not there (he is too busy working on Happy Feet 2), but he sent a video greeting. I found myself wondering if at any point the dude who directed The Road Warrior looked at my bat footage.

You can watch the finished product embedded here, or on YouTube’s Map My Summer page, for a few more days at least. (I believe they’ll take it down on Saturday after a week’s run.) It’s about 25 minutes long. My footage occurs twice: once near the beginning, and again about two-thirds of the way through.


To tell you the truth, I spent some time being worried that there would be a conflict of interest; I work for Sydney Film Festival- and I just didn’t know what would happen when that came out. So I kept it on the downlow for weeks, while I was waiting for everything to be confirmed. But it turned out that when my colleagues were delighted when they found out about my part in the film, and wondered why I hadn’t boasted about it before.

The whole thing is a bit ironic. Recently I’ve been wanting to get back into film production, and have been planning a couple of different short film projects as a way of challenging myself. I didn’t imagine that footage of bats I shot on my iPhone would end up being the first effort of mine to be screened in public.

But I’m pleased. In general I think community-based filmmaking is one of the directions the industry is going in. I just took a workshop with Joe Lawlor, who has been doing some terrific things with his Civic Life project – collaborating with local communities on financing and producing films in places as diverse as Newcastle, UK and Singapore. User-generated films might be considered the logical extreme of this. At the very least, it’s one positive step towards making sense of the chaos of online video content.

I’m also happy about being included in this project because of being a recent migrant to Australia. I remember seeing a rude comment on one of the posted invitations for Australians to submit footage of what summer means to them: “Better get ready for hundreds of shitty clips of bands playing at the Annandale.” It was funny, but it also highlighted the fact that I haven’t had time to become cynical about anything here yet. I’m still amazed by so many things others take for granted – like seeing flowers blossoming in the winter and parrots hanging out in my front yard. I wanted anything I submitted to reflect that amazement – and it did.

I didn’t have to make many creative decisions – the bats themselves did all the work. Simply pointing the camera at the level of the horizon produces a pretty astonishing image.

Or, maybe all of that is just a roundabout way of saying it really doesn’t have anything to do with filmmaking – it was all pretty random and I’m just lucky. But that works too.



Screen Australia are collaborating with Youtube on an Australia-wide, crowd-sourced film initiative called Map My Summer. It’s similar to and no doubt inspired by Life in a Day, the experimental documentary shot by hundreds of people worldwide on one Saturday last July and fashioned into a feature film by producer Ridley Scott and director Kevin McDonald; the completed film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this month.

The idea of Map My Summer is that thousands of ordinary Aussies will film – well, anything they want to film, as long as it sort of has something to do with summer, and upload it to Youtube by March 31. Selected footage will be fashioned into a short film (not a feature, alas) by an up-and-coming Aussie filmmaker under the supervision of Dr George Miller. I guess Miller is meant to be the Aussie-surrogate Ridley Scott for this undertaking – famous director to give it some clout y’know. But considering he directed the Mad Max films and Babe – four of the finest artifacts ever created by man – that’s all right by me. Anyway, the resulting film will be screened at Sydney Film Festival in June.

I liked the idea of Life in a Day, and I’m pretty psyched about Map My Summer too. Seems like a nice, unforced way to combine experimental and populist filmmaking.

Incidentally, Life in a Day got mixed reviews; some critics say it’s a predictable mishmash, and maybe even a little manipulative. Others call it innovative and uplifting, a Koyaanisqatsi for the new new age. I’ve not seen the film, but I like this take on it by reviewer Kirk Honeycutt in, of all places, the Hollywood Reporter:

The fact that terrible news didn’t dominate the world that day allows the film to concentrate on everyday life. So the film is quite cheerful on the whole. Whether people are skydiving or walking down a chapel aisle with an Elvis impersonator, the film expresses a collective hope in the present and in better days to come.

Onstage, Macdonald and Walker insisted that this mood came about through no editorial nudging by them. The preponderance of the videos submitted was playful, optimistic and positive. Do you suppose our 24/7 news media has gotten this wrong, that much of the world isn’t in the grip of depression, malevolence, cynicism, backstabbing and pessimism?

Exactly. Thank you.

So, I plan to take part in Map My Summer. Here’s a rough sketch of my idea, filmed last night. It’s the famous flying foxes of Gordon – large bats that come out en masse every night like clockwork a few minutes after sundown. Gordon, about ten minutes’ drive from our place, has the largest bat colony on the North Shore of Sydney, and there’s a bridge overlooking a wooded little valley or dell that offers a perfect view of the thousands of bats as they swoop out of their shelters.

I don’t know if you can call lots and lots of big bats cheerful or optimistic – but it’s certainly really cool in my book. Am I creeped out by the bats? Not at all – not even when they come and roost in the trees in our yard in the middle of the night, making weird squeaks and gurgles that we can clearly hear right out the window. I like them. Spiders on the other hand… well, never mind.

I’m tempted just to leave this footage, which was shot on my iPhone, it as is – I love the distorted, hypnotic repetition. (And the time limit on an uploaded clip for the project is three minutes – though it’s true you can upload as many as you like.) But more clarity and more angles to work with might be good too. We’ll see what I come up with – I’ll keep you posted.

Here are the relevant links:

Screen Australia’s Map My Summer homepage, and the press release

Map My Summer’s Youtube page

julie’s redbacks

Last week the Franco-Australian film The Tree had its Aussie premiere at the Sydney Film Festival. (I could just as easily have described it as an Australian-French film, but I like any excuse to use the word “Franco” in context.) I attended the screening at the State Theatre, which featured an introduction and a Q&A with the film’s director, Julie Bertucelli.

I thought it was a fine film; my review can be found on my other page. Set in rural Queensland, it’s the story of a family coping with grief, and their special relationship with the massive Moreton Bay fig tree in their yard. Though Bertucelli is French (and star Charlotte Gainsbourg is French and English) I found it a very Aussie film not only in its setting, but in the way its characters interact with each other and the quasi-mystical force of nature represented by the tree.

During her speech, Bertucelli highlighted the film’s dual citizenship. She said when she was at Cannes, where The Tree had the honor of closing the festival a couple of weeks before, a lot of people assumed her film was Australian and so was she. And being here in Sydney it was the opposite — people took it for granted that the film was French like her.

In her pleasant, low-key way, she went on to say she started to feel Australian while spending a year here in production. She offered as evidence the fact that she wore the same pair of Redbacks for that entire year, and continued to do so after wrapping the film. She even wanted to wear them that evening but thought it was slightly too formal an occasion.

OK, maybe it was an effort to ingratiate herself to a packed house full of Aussies. But in general she seemed very sweet and down to earth (perhaps more reasons to be mistaken for an Aussie despite her accent). That always goes a long way with me in the film business, and it put me in a good frame of mind before the film rolled.

Anyway — great choice of footwear, Julie. Especially for a gruelling year of film production in Queensland. If you don’t know, Redbacks are one of the most popular Australian brands of work boots and shoes. They’re the main rival to the classic Blundstone; like Blundstone they specialize in pull-on safety boots. These comfortable boots, often steel-toed, with the distinctive “pulling-on” straps, are a purely Australian phenomenon — Australia’s answer to Doc Martens, but not yet diluted by mass-marketing to fashion-conscious kids — and universally worn by workers of all kinds. Everywhere you go, you see truck drivers and tradesmen proudly the sporting same Aussie work uniform: cargo shorts, fluorescent safety shirt or vest, sunnies, and pull-on boots. Like Aussies, the boots are tough, practical, unpretentious, and stylish in their own way.

At the organic produce warehouse where I worked, I got to know a kid from India who’d been here for three months (about the same time as me). He was about five feet tall, a nerdy-looking engineering student with glasses. But he wore Blundstones to work, and that made him absolutely Aussie.

Redbacks are proudly Australian-owned and made, which is no longer the case with Blundstone. They are, of course, named after the poisonous spider which is a kind of wicked alternate national mascot — seen everywhere here in art, crafts, design, and marketing of all kinds (as covered in this arachnophobically-induced post.) I myself have a pair of Redback chef clogs. They’re as comfortable as could be, and dare I say kind of hip. If I was going to spend a year filming a movie in the Queensland countryside, I’d probably stick with my Redbacks too.

It was a small thing for her to mention her Redbacks, but as someone who’s lived in Australia for even less than the year she spent here, it stood out for me. I thought it was cool of her to admit she identifies with that part of Australiana. It made me inclined to like her and her film that much more.

Visit Redback Boots’ website — not only to browse through their great selection of boots and shoes, but to check out the funny little animated spider that follows the cursor around on the home page.

acknowledgement of country

One morning a few weeks ago I attended the official launch of the Sydney Film Festival at Customs House. The launch is essentially a press conference to announce the festival’s program and start the process of hyping it, with a presentation of the ad campaign, trailers for some of the films, and some speechifying. A couple of high-powered names showed up to add weight to the proceedings, including Miranda Otto, star of the festival’s Opening Night film, South Solitary.

The first speaker was Virginia Judge, Member of Parliament and Minister for the Arts for New South Wales. Before she spoke, she made a point of acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land, and thanking them for their cultural and spiritual legacy. Then she went on to more mundane thanks and acknowledgemnts — the board of directors, sponsors, and so on.

I was pleased but slightly astonished. I have to admit it made me disposed to give extra consideration to everything else she said that morning. But I could not figure out the context. It certainly seemed done in some official capacity, and not on any sort of whim. Yet I’d never heard such a thing, and it seemed very fresh and unusual to my ears. Suffice it to say that no elected official or bureaucrat in America would go there unless there was a reason for it — unless they were stumping for a crowd of Native American voters, or commemorating a massacre or something. But I couldn’t see an overt reason Ms. Judge would do that in downtown Sydney (where there is not a significant indigenous population), at a film festival press conference. There were no particularly Aboriginal themes or collaborations of note, and I didn’t think there were any special guests of indigenous heritage.

That day I posted some of these observations on facebook. I mentioned that it made me feel good, even if it wasn’t off the cuff or from the heart. My friend Larissa, who is from here but now lives in England, responded by informing me that indeed, it’s an official thing. It’s a set of protocols that a growing number of organizations here in Oz follow at the start of functions or activities. It’s called Acknowledgement of Country. A more formal version, called Welcome to Country, involves an Aboriginal elder being present to officially bless an event or gathering. Sometimes a Welcome to Country can include a special fire ceremony.

I wasn’t surprised. Maybe I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t witnessed some sort of spontaneous gratitude on the part of Ms. Judge. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of such a protocol.

Last week I was at the festival’s Opening Night at the State Theatre. Before the program started, an Aboriginal gentleman, a representative of some cultural body, came onstage and addressed the crowd. He was quite a jolly chap and started by warming up the crowd with a couple of joking asides. (Before speaking, he bumped into the microphone, causing some feedback, and theatrically muttered, “Bloody hell!” earning a big laugh). He also magnanimously apologized for the rainy weather. But after a minute I realized I was witnessing a Welcome to Country. He explained that we were on Cadigal land; that the Cadigal band, part of the Eora nation, were and are the traditional custodians of the land on which Sydney is built.

He then welcomed us to Cadigal land — welcomed us warmly, welcomed us several times in fact. He was pretty articulate and polished, but chose to use a lot of slang for effect — for example, he referred to the Cadigal as the “mob” who run this place, and said that whatever mob we came from, we were welcome here too. He rambled a bit but I liked the way he talked. He called us all his brothers and sisters. I don’t think you can ever go wrong with that kind of outlook.

After he was done with his welcome, more functionaries and guests came onstage with introductory remarks. (Actually there were a few too many of them, and a few too many remarks. The crowd grew quite restless as the christening of the festival approached an hour.) Each speaker acknowledged the country briefly before moving on to the business at hand.

Being newly aware that it’s an official thing gave me a different perspective. If it’s not terribly sincere — if it’s just done by rote before some official stream of hot air, doesn’t that take something away from it? And what good is all the acknowledging of the “traditional” custodians anyway, since the Cadigal were decimated by smallpox before being systematically driven off their land? What claim do they actually have on the real estate value of this land and the tremendous amount of commerce that goes on here? What good does it do the indigenous people of Australia to take part in bureaucratic functions, and to have the right things said about them by well-meaning politicians, if living conditions are still so bad for most of them? What good are words?

Actually, words are pretty powerful. They say watch your words, for they will become your actions. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s easy enough to be cynical about the government saying nice things. But coming from a place where it’s much less likely for the government to acknowledge the Native American legacy — not to mention the crucial part in our history played by slavery — it’s pretty refreshing. So I think it’s good there’s an apparatus in place to oblige these official types to say these things. Mere acknowledgement is not enough, but it’s a start. It’s also yet another new thing I’ve discovered that’s utterly and unmistakably Australian. I like it.

So, come to think of it, I too would like to show my respect and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land I live on, and elders past and present, and would like to thank them for their cultural and spiritual legacy and its contributions to my writing and everything else I do.

Here are two links for information about the Cadigal and other indigenous people native to the Sydney area: