Sydney Film Festival 2022 (8-19 June)

* If you arrived here after a search, either scroll down to the film you were looking for, or search the text for the name of the film.   
  My notes of all Q&As are just notes - they are not complete transcripts, but they should be representative summaries.

  The Festival is over now, and so here is a list of my top 5 films, of the 23 features that I saw, in accordance with the rating I gave them:

   Pather Panchali
   All That Breathes
   The Quiet Girl
   Small Bodies
   Into the Ice

Calendar Girls
Documentary. Sweden & USA. 4/5.
Begins well with interesting establishing shots of somewhere in Florida. It’s Christmastime and the dance troupe “Calendar Girls” showcases their first number: a jazzed-up version of “O Come All Ye Faithful!” You get the idea that this is different. The “girls,” who are seemingly all over 60, wear nutty costumes with crazy headdresses. They come in all shapes and sizes and seem to be quite unselfconscious – at least, after they acclimatise themselves to membership. I like the way that the use of slo-mo makes the rather poor dancing look good. It is as if the film was made for MTV in the 1980s. But it is not all fluff: one interesting woman asks, “What is my purpose?” The question is, what happens to you when you’re not needed by your family or job any more. The MTV effect continues beyond dancing, to provide a montage of the working life of a female “linesman,” and it is very effective.

This is not at all the film I was expecting. It’s much better. It also provides what might be a Festival theme: coverings for the lower leg! Here they are furry and white, like the ones Verdine White from Earth, Wind and Fire wears. Believe me, there are more I the films that follow. Other things in the film that deserve mention: “patriotic reindeer with patriotic antlers,” a David Lynchian red curtain, a Shiva effect, and the technique of putting one’s chin up for a photo, which allegedly knocks 10 years off one’s age. And of course, the hilarious discussion about how to achieve suicide (assisted or otherwise) without creating a mess! The original music is also above average. The Swedish directors have brought a perceptive eye to this fascinating group of women.

Hide and Seek
Documentary. UK & Italy. 4/5.
A young man, Entoni, lives with his mother and young brother in the Spanish Quarter of Naples. His father is in gaol. Entoni’s is the story of a whole generation of young men and boys (and perhaps some girls. The filmmaker has spent 4 years with her subjects, which, interestingly, include Entoni’s doting grandmother, who has a history seemingly as a crime boss, and is bound by the Omerta, so cannot divulge her past, but dtill commands respect in the community.

This is a fascinating and important story, beautifully filmed and edited, but one wonders at the ethics of inserting yourself into a young man’s life. What effect has the camera had on his life, which is increasingly depressing. The film begins slowly, taking its time to introduce its characters using pictures rather than words. “Those with guns only end up on gaol or die,” says the young Entoni, who doesn’t want “to be like this…” Will Entoni (or his brother Gaetano) escape that fate?

There are some beautiful images, including a white wedding dress hanging on a high washing line, floating in the breeze, together with a bucket. That wedding dress will appear again later in the film. And a file is opened on Gaetano…

Pather Panchali
Fiction. India. 5/5.
This must be the third time I’ve seen this film and it only gets better.

This is the result of a restoration done by the Criterion Collection (and I think, the BFI), after the film’s negatives were destroyed in a fire.  There are a few anomalies (notably on the soundtrack, if I’m not mistaken) but otherwise it is a brilliant job.

This film has a slow accretion of detail which, before you know it, draws you into this family’s trials, troubles and emotions. Exquisite photography and lighting enhance the experience, but it is very hard to extract yourself from the experience for long enough to make such observations. Scenes stay in the mind: Auntie threading a needle, Apu’s sister having her hair braided, Apu hearing a train whistle, Apu and his father writing at low desks next to each other. The whole sequence of sister taking Apu to see a train, the fields and the electricity wires, and Apu coming up a little rise, as viewed from under the train between its wheels. And Auntie sitting beside the road, not moving, with her song in the background, and we know what has happened. The scene with Dragonflies on the water, with waterlilies and elephant ears, is exquisite enough, but Ravi Shankar’s music makes it sublime. Perfection!

Friday 10 June

Children of the Mist
Documentary. Vietnam. 3.5/5
Similarly to the director of Hide and Seek, this filmmaker spent 3 years with her subject, Di,  and the ethics of this will be challenged (physically), as seen later in this film. We hear that “kidnap the bride” is a tradition of the Hmong people during the Lunar New Year Festivities. The family that the director has embedded herself with is the result of the father kidnapping the mother, so they consider it “normal,” even if it sounds horrific to us, the audience. There are 2 daughters of “kidnappable” age (seemingly around 14), and one has already been kidnapped and had a baby.  The director documents development which result in a “kidnapping” by one child of another, and the director gets involved physically, as noted above. But the director, who was at the Festival, was diplomatic in describing this. The tradition, she said, was considered a beautiful one by the Hmong people, but also has its dark side, which can even involve kidnapping Hmong girls for Chinese husbands (China is not far north of this part of Vietnam.

Technically, though, this film is amazing. The director, Diem, gets so close to everyone – she is almost one of them – and the camera is actually hit more than once. It is interesting how involved Di’s teachers get: “You must study first, and help your parents later,” says a teacher when she goes through students who have missed classes. They also get involved and threaten to call the police on Di’s mother when she tries to force Di to leave school  and marry her kidnapper, Vang. The director even gets Vang to admit: “I am still a child. I don’t know why I kidnapped her.”

This is one of those true Film Festival films which take you places and shoe you things you didn’t even imagine. Not only is this Diem’s feature film debut, she is not even a professional filmkaer, but more of a social worker setting up arts programs in the north of Vietnam. But on the evidence of this film, I truly hope she will tell more cinematic stories, because they are clearly there to be told. And there are fuzzy leg warmers in this film too….

Q&A followed:
Q: When did you meet Di?

A: In 2017. I saw them in the village when we were doing an arts programme for children. I saw her and I knew about childhood marriages as a friend had told me. The film took 3 1/2 years of filming. I finished last year. I didn't speak Hmong, but only Vietnamese.

Q: Was the “dragging awa scene difficult to film – Di calls out to Diem?

A: Very scary. Only sisters and brothers are allowed to help in such circumstances but Di’s parents allowed me to help. I turned the camera on Di’s mother because she knew she could stop this – and she did.

Q: What has happened to Di?

A: Di went to a boarding high school 20 kilometres away from the village. It was a new school, friends, teachers and Di got a scholarship from Australia to allow her to finish high school and to go to university. But schools closed during Covid. Di left school and has since fallen in love and had a daughter. They lost contact for a while, but now Di has been back in contact to show Diem her baby.

Q: Was Di’s reputation damaged because of refusing Vang?

A: it is complicated. The dowry is very low, so it can be a good thing [to be kidnapped], but it can turn into women being trafficked to China. So it can turn dark. It is very complicated to say no. The Hmong consider it part of their culture.

Q: Is this your first film? You have shown us something we've not seen before and you got in so close.

A: Yes. Thank you.

Q: Have the Vietnamese seen it yet?

A: No. Also I'm waiting for Di to feel better about the film.

Q: The kidnapping – does it usually involve rape?

A: It was a beautiful tradition but it can turn dark. There was another kidnapping of a girl who was on the swing with Di. Sometimes it is a happy thing and turns out well – as in that case.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Nothing yet. I am still working in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Small Body
Fiction. Italy, France & Slovenia. 4.5/5
A feminist fable set in northern Italy or thereabouts, some time in the late 19th or early 20th century, this is a strange but wondrous film. A young woman gives birth to a stillborn daughter, but she cannot be baptised because she has never drawn breath. This means that mother and daughter cannot be reunited in heaven, and the mother, Agata, cannot accept that. She defies the Church, her fisherman husband and her community, and sets off to visit a church that apparently will baptise the child. It is a strange and dangerous journey, but somehow, with the help and hindrance of a young fellow, Lynx, who is extraordinarily striking-looking (reminding me of the young Terence Stamp), she finds her sanctuary, and achieves a resolution, though not the kind she might have imagined.

There are some similarities between this film and a later film, You Won’t Be Alone, but this is the superior film I think. I wish it were in competition.

All That Breathes
Documentary. India. 4.5/5
An early contender for my favourite film of the Festival. Two brothers set themselves up in polluted Delhi as wildlife rescuers, specialising in Kites and other birds of prey. Amazing  cinematography, and arresting story, important work and charming people make this the least stereotypical story you’ll see about India.

We were lucky that one of the brothers, Nadeem, attended the Festival in person. He introduced the film, telling us that the director’s inspiration for the film was his concern that Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world. There are no blue skies, he said, and the sun always looks blurry.

The film opens with amazing shots of birds, and a quote: “when they fly, all other birds show their effort. But the kite swims.” Before we know it, a kite has swooped on the brothers’ assistant, Salik, and stolen his glasses. It's an incredible moment. Nadeem later  confesses that though he has had a life devoted to wildlife rescue, but... he feels trapped. Later in the film we learn that he gets the opportunity to study in America. There is no telling where this will lead.  An inspirational story of hard work undertaken against all the odds, and the willingness of these men (and their families) to give and give with only the work as its own reward.

Q & A followed with brother, Nazeem Shehzad:
Q: How are things in Delhi now?
A: It is very hot weather now in Delhi. They are getting lots of new young birds, dehydrated. The caseload is 50% more than usual.
Q: What was the process of filming with the camera  around all the time?
A: It took 2½ years, 3-4 days a week. The director said he would not film until they felt comfortable, (then started filming).
Q: How were the birds on camera?
A: They panicked, tried to escape, but over time they got used to it.
Q: The level of pollution in India has increased so much over the years, and I am aware of the concept of selfless service there. What are your plans for funding in the future?
A: Now we are just surviving. We don’t have to close. In the past we were going to close down.  Now we need proper funding to move the hospital from the house.
Q: How will your studies help you?
A: There is not a lot of wildlife knowledge in India. So we need more knowledge, education and information. This will help dealing with injuries and illness. The basic studies about bird behaviour are not there in India. It is needed.
Q: With so many birds, how did you go during Covid and what causes them to fall out of the sky?
A: In Covid lockdown, people were not out but we continued to work as we were an essential service. And kite-flying causes many of their injuries – moreso during Covid. They fell out of the sky because of kite-flying, or if they are young they fall out of the nest. Also pollution-related problems. This can cause disease
Q: What's the most prevalent injury?
A: Cut wounds due to kite-flying – nearly 70%. It takes 1 1/2 hours to fix one bird and a month for it to recover.
Q: First scene with rats. How can birds be undernourished? Also what was the film’s dedication
A: Film dedicated to the father of the director who died during the shoot. Rat poison is a problem in Delhi. Regular problem, but manageable and treatable. Metabolic bone disease is an imbalance of vitamin D which causes dehydration in young.
Q: Your late mother's influence in bird rescue? She told fables and stories. Was she involved with the kites?
A: Our kite work started in 2003 and our mother died in 2017. Both parents were very much into it. It was her dream.

Utama (My Home)
Fiction. In competition. Bolivia, France & Uruguay. 4/5
Beautifully crafted film with non-professional actors playing people from the same community, with an underlying environmental message, which makes this film resemble in some respects a later film in the Festival, Alcarras. Then lead actor has a face as serious and magnetic as Toshiro Mifune. Attention to detail is immaculate. The llamas are stars. A worthy contender in the competition.

Q & A with Director Alejandro Loayza Grisi
Q: The two leads were a couple and not actors. Were they from the area? What was it like to work with them?
A: They are from the region and could relate to the situation and empathise with their characters. They are different to the characters they portray. There were easy to work with, very committed, and rehearsed for two months.
Q:  1. Where in Bolivia did you film?
      2. Do the actors live in that area?
A: 1. South of Bolivia, near Potosi, near Chile.
     2. Yes, in a small village, with a similar way of life. No llamas, they grow quinoa. Small    village of 50 to 60 people.

Q: Environmental problems in Bolivia?
A: Yes, climate change: glaciers disappearing. Rain is coming less because of deforestation. Rain doesn't come in the rainy season and this kills the quinoa. People have to walk longer distances to get water.
Q: Thanks for filming where fossilised coral, and volcanoes which I’m shocked to see with no ice. The landscape is devoid of water.
A: Thank you.
Q: How was it working with non-professional actors?
A: To make actors comfortable, you need to protect them. We created an environment for them. Even professional actors can feel insecure. They need to know what's going on. The crew should be ready for them when the actors come on set. Lots of rehearsals with camera to explain what shooting was like. We had fun.
Q: llamas were intriguing. What impact on industry?
A: In the area, the llamas were for transport in the past. Now they're only for wool and meat. Their food is now being brought from the city. Few now walk them to graze.
Q: What is it like directing llamas?
A: They are very smart. They did something once and then they know what to do.
Q: Did you film the shots for showing in a cinema?
A: Yes, we wanted it to be very cinematic. Planned all the shots and then discussed improvising with the DP.
Q: Process of writing script. Languages both Spanish and Quechea?
A: I am first a photographer, then a DP then a director, so images come easily to me but not words. It took me ages to write it and I first had only 45 pages, finally got to 75, more descriptive. I changed the dialogue to Quechea.
Q: Language – concerned by grandson not speaking Quechea. Are indigenous languages being lost.
A: Yes. 36 different languages in Bolivia. Most are disappearing. No not so much Quechea, but some variants of it are disappearing. Also there is discrimination of non-Spanish speakers. A language is a way of thinking and seeing the world. If the language is lost, that way of thinking is lost.

Nude Tuesday
Fiction. New Zealand. 2/5
Unfortunately, this is not very funny. On paper, it should have succeeded. A sex therapy group weekend, with Jemaine Clement as the sex guru, with dialogue all in gibberish, should be funny, but I think the filmmakers have missed the point. By providing (funny) subtitles (written by English comedian Julia Davis, and Australians Cecilia Pacquola and Ronny Chieng), they have negated the effect of the gibberish. It could have been any language, and perhaps, funniest of all, it could have been a different script in English. But doing it as they have done, the filmmakers have made it unoriginal. Plenty of people have provided alternative subtitles to scripts in another language, notably Mystery Science Theatre 3000, who did it for 1950s sci-fi films for US TV, to hilarious effect. I’ve even done it myself, years ago. And I’ve seen a play in Finnish with no subtitles (intentionally) which was fascinating,  clever and eventually understandable. So this was disappointing.

Missed Q & A.

Saturday 11 June

Into the Ice
Documentary. Denmark & Germany. 4.5/5 
Another of my favourite documentary films, involving courageous and committed filmmaking. It documents three expeditions onto the ice shelf of Greenland by three different professors, each obtaining data in different ways: the first by ice core drilling, the second by taking local readings, and the third by dangling into ice caverns, called “moulins,” to absorb the melt-flow of water. This is truly fantastic filmmaking with great characters and with a natural dramatic arc that makes it a well-rounded film. And I want Claus to supervise my next expedition!

You Won't Be Alone
Fiction. In competition. Australia. 3.5/5
I mentioned earlier that this film resembled Small Bodies in some respects. I preferred Small Bodies, but this film is in the horror genre with blood and gore, so quite different in that sense, and not to my taste. That said, it is an extraordinarily accomplished film debut by the Australian, and it has interesting and important thing to say. It could be a winner of the Sydney Film Prize because it is certainly “audacious, cutting-edge and courageous” filmmaking. A strange fable about a child-stealing witch who converts one of her captured children into a shape-shifting witch, but one who is curious about the world and other people, having been deprived of a normal childhood. The filmmaker is one to watch.

Fiction. In competition. Spain & Italy. 4/5
Again, I mentioned earlier that this film resembled Utama in some respects. Perhaps SFF director Nashen Moodley’s taste is making itself felt.  A beautiful and sweet film from Catalunya, about the loss of fertile farming land (in this case, for a peach orchard) under the Spanish Government's policy of encouraging solar panel farms. Non-professional actors from the area portray a real extended family with grace and authenticity. The director’s own family comes from the area, and so she might be just a touch in love with her characters, and so the story is a little loose, but still very affecting.

Seriously Red
Fiction. Australia. 2.5/5.
A confused Australian film about a Dolly Parton impersonator. The lead actor, also the writer, is charming and convincing, but the Kenny Rogers impersonator looked nothing like Kenny Rogers (though he sounded good). This is surely a serious problem – unless, as I thought ¬– the joke could have been that he only thought he looked like Kenny Rogers, and no one else did. But no.  So I'm still puzzling as to what the point of the film was, given that the obvious point about being true to yourself was constantly undercut. The style was something like Strictly Ballroom in its overblown and campy charm, but one wonders what the point of it all was.

Wednesday 15 June

Short film: Dixie: USA: 4/5. An excellent evocation of the south and all sorts of problems and reminiscences which arise during research into the family tree to determine if they really are related to Robert E. Lee.

The family named their dog “Dixie,” which soon became problematic such as when they were introducing it to a distinguished older African American history scholar. There are many still photos and a few film clips, all in black and white, with a narration by the director. One example of a reminiscence of the grandmother: “She left for college when she was 17 and never went back. The cats all died on the road outside the house.”

She concludes “ The General Lee story is just a story. But I do know where I come from now.” The credits revealed Dixie as having been renamed “Pinky” – but isn't that just as bad?

Three Minutes – a Lengthening
Documentary: Netherlands & UK. 4/5.
A fragment of three minutes from a 1938 film is found in Palm Beach Gardens FL, taken by David Kurtz. Kurtz did a grand tour of Europe in 1938 and, apart from visiting large cities in France and Switzerland, also went to some towns in Poland where he had relatives. One town is suspected, where 3,000 Jews from there were killed by the Nazis. However, a man in Florida identifies it as his home town, Nasielsk, 30 miles north of Warsaw, where nearly all its inhabitants were also killed by the Nazis, and the town destroyed. This was also the birthplace of David Kurtz. Nothing remains of the Jewish population of this town. No sign, nothing. All were deported in December 1939 to various towns, then to Treblinka, the death camp, where they were murdered. A few survived using false papers to escape. Seven were still living in 2012 and two of these are in the film, Mr. Maurice Chandler and Feige Tick (sp?), a woman. Eleven people were eventually identified as surviving.

This film is based on a book by Glenn Kurtz, the grandson Of David Kurtz, and is narrated by Helena Bonham-Carter. It is an extremely important film because it provides the only evidence of the existence of victims of the Holocaust in this particular town. The film brilliantly explores the process of uncovering the identities of the various people who appear in this little fragment of film. It is quite the detective feat. An example of this is the way that the sign over the grocer's shop is identified as such, and the name of the proprietor discovered by a combination of guesswork, sharp eyesight, and the use of directories of grocers. Thus the film gives us faces, rather than names, as a memorial dash or as the film puts it, faces as tracers.”

The question of the possibility that film will no longer be manufactured for personal use, now that we all use digital cameras, only brings into sharper relief the significance of fragments of films such as this one.

A Love Song
Fiction. USA. 4/5.
The film begins with a song coming from a portable radio in a caravan in a trailer park in what we eventually find out is Colorado: “Loving from my Baby’s Eyes” must be the longest song ever written as it plays from the film’s opening, moving from day to night. A striking-looking older woman (Dale Dickey, as Faye) seems to exist entirely on yabbies (they call them crawdads) and I wondered: doesn't she have any vegetables? Nothing much happens until a visitor drives up in a truck but turns around when they see that somebody is already in that camp site.

And so we just see the lake, crawdads, wildflowers and the odd bird. Where is this?, I wondered, because we aren't told it's Colorado until the end credits. Faye says, “It used to rain a lot more here then” and “the water came all the way up to here.” So here is another film about environmental change.

The dialogue is so simple – to the extent that it sometimes verges on the awful – that it needs a very good actor to sell it – and they've got one in Ms. Dickey. To a lesser extent, her high school sweetheart, played by Wes Studi, is also able to sell the dialogue.

It transpires that the radio is a magic one. Dickey says “Give it a twirl – it always plays the right song.” I was longing to know the identity of those songs because most of them I had not heard.

The film continues, paying great attention to the flowers the trees and the skies. There are few birds seen, but they are heard. Dickie goes for a walk over the fields, climbs a hilltop, than a mountain top, watches a sunset, stays out all night in the wind, and wakes to see a universe of stars. Comic relief is provided by 5 Mexican kids who arrive to rebury their dead father and end up borrowing an engine from Dickie, a bush pilot. Other visitors include a lesbian couple and the mailman.

This movie is a really slow burn. It was shot in southwest Colorado and there was one song by Jerry Jeff Walker. Recommended.

Before, Now and Then
Fiction. In competition. Indonesia. 3.5/5.
Douglas Sirk goes to Indonesia. This lush romantic film, beautifully shot and with extraordinarily evocative music, has its longeurs, but it is worth persisting. There are dream sequences, there are unexpected turns of events and there is a very subtle backdrop of the political troubles in Indonesia as President Sukarno hands over the regime to President Soeharto – there’s even a joke about the similarity of their names. The film verges on Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love in its romantic excess but it also contains interesting details of an upper-middle-class existence in Indonesia during these years, including the extraordinary procedure for divorce, where everyone in the extended family seems to have a say.

A subtle aspect of the film is the tradition that troubles and secrets are kept by women under the bun in their hair. Our heroine, the extraordinarily-named Happy Salma, keeps scratching and poking at her neck under the bun and this indicates to us the turmoil going on in her mind, under her calm, serene, beautiful exterior.

Adapted from a play, staged non-fiction? Australia. 4.5
This impressive and important piece of theatrical film is unclassifiable as fiction or non-fiction. There is a meeting – some kind of summit – but it is a little unclear as to what the status of this meeting is. Never mind, it proceeds and a group of “disabled” (neuro- and physically-diverse?) people discuss various problems, leading us on a journey that dies not go where we might expect. Along the way I learned a lot about seeing people as they want to be seen and behaving accordingly. Highly recommended.

Preceding it was the excellent short film Voice Activated, a hilarious and moving exploration of the difficulties that might present themselves to a small business operator with a speech disorder (a stutter). When technology tried to be helpful, it can have unfortunate consequences, as this little film powerfully shows.

Bio-pic. Australia & USA. 3/5
Half the people I have spoke to loved Elvis and the other half hated it. I loved it. But it has its problems.

First, the good things: Austin Butler is simply astonishing as Elvis. He looks and sounds like him, but more importantly he projects the effect that Elvis must have had on everyone he met. I particular, Baz Luhrmann is able to capture the orgasmic effect of Elvis in concert as his young female fans scream and moan in response to his sexual magnetism. Next, Baz’s montages are once again superb, as he telescopes aspects of Elvis’ life, such as explaining how Elvis imbibed gospel, soul and blues influences from mostly black culture, musicians  and personalities. All of this, and the music, is superb.

But Tom Hanks as Col Tom Parker? The Dutch/ Southern accent might be accurate, but it is too weird – as are the prosthetics. He’s hard to watch and hard to listen to. This makes getting the character across almost impossible. Priscilla (Olivia de Jonge) is as pretty a doll as Priscilla was, but surely they could have approximated her outrageous hairdos rather than toning them down. This rather misses the point of the excess, doesn’t it? Some of the other Australian supporting cast don’t seem quite right either, but a standout from the pack was Helen Thompson, superb and almost unrecognisable as Elvis’s mother, Gladys.

For me, the good outweighed the bad, and I think everyone should see this new Elvis. Austin Butler, I mean.

Thursday 16 June

The Box
Fiction. In competition. Mexico & USA. 4/5
Director Lorenzo Vigas (who is Venezuelan but lives now in Mexico) was present in person.  It is his first visit to Australia, and he was particularly charming. When we were told he would be present at the Q&A at the end of the film, he suggested that the audience could ask him questions, but he could also ask the audience questions.

How could there be two films in the festival in which a young person carries the remains of a dead person around in a box (See Small Bodies)? Further, this is yet another film in which missing fathers (or one reason or another) have a profound effect on their sons’ lives.

A boy picks up the remains of his dead father’s body, given to him in a box. We don't know why the father is dead, but there are lots of families doing the same thing. The boy (Hatzin) phones his grandmother, who had authorised to pick up. He then returns to his motel on a bus, but he sees a man in the street that seemingly resembles his father and convinces the bus to stop. From then on Hatzin will not let this man go, returning to him again and again.

The film does not explain whether this man (Mario) is in fact the boy's father, but I did not think it was. He starts out looking like a philanthropist, but soon we discover that there is a darker side to this man, and he draws the young man into his world. In this respect the film is a little bit like Breaking Bad in that a person is drawn little by little into an immoral world, starting by making decisions which can be justified, and ending in total moral disintegration.
Though in this case, the film ends on a note of hope. But along the way it has shown us how far a boy will go to please his father.

Q&A with Director Lorenzo Vigas
Q (Sandy George): We do not know whether Mario was Hatzin’s father. Do you care what we think?
A: I like leaving space for the audience to finish the film in their minds. Making the audience part of the film. Most important is that Hatzin desperately believes this.
Q: Did you have a personal connexion with this film? What was your drive?
A: I worked on a trilogy of father/ son relationships in Latin America and this is the third of the three. This is common. Many fathers leave home. What are the consequences for the boys? But my relationship is not like this. Also, the father figure is an archetype in Latin America. I've heard that when you don't have a father at home you get a relationship and loyalty to a father-figure (even political figures like Chavez or Peron)
Q: You are Venezuelan. Why did you tell a Mexican story and shoot some of it in Chile?
A: I've lived for 21 years in Mexico. My heart is a bit Mexican now. I was sensitive to those Mexican issues.
Q: 1. The film begins with industrial sound (which is striking).
     2. Are there any photographs of Hatzin smiling or laughing, because he does not do so in the film?
A: 1. The sound design of the film. I don't use outside music. The sound universe of the film is all about how to enhance emotions with the sound. The factory is like another character. We wanted to put across the sound of the factory.
    2. We chose Hatzin from hundreds of boys. He had never made a film before, but from his interview at school, I found he had hatred inside and I found out he had the same story as in the film. For him making the film was important. He is now studying to be an actor.
Q:  1. Was it shot in Mexico in part?
      2. What was the film’s reception in Mexico?
A:  1. 99% shot in Mexico. The snow-storm was shot in Chile.
      2. The film opens in October in Mexico. So far it has had only festival screenings. It has had a good reception, but it is a difficult film for Mexicans.
Q: how did Hatzin get to the point of killing the old lady? And then to recoil.
A: Hatzin risked everything to belong. And it was against everything he believed but he did it in the moment. In the end he was repelled.
Q: 1. Casting for all the characters?
     2. Focus on current events
A: 1. We had a combination of professional and non-professional actors. Some were from Mexico and others from Chihuahua. The young boy Ricky who helps Hatzin is from Chihuahua. It was important because they have a different accent.
     2. The current problem of the women disappearing in the border area – 20,000 women have disappeared in the north of Mexico in recent times.
Q: What was the best thing about making the film?
A: Hatzin. He's amazing and we came to love him. The ending is optimistic and you can choose at the end. In the end, he chose chooses “the box.”

Fiction. South Korea. 4/5.
I wonder about the spelling of the title. Is it meant to be a pun? I doubt it: the director didn’t mention it. Is it an error? We were all too polite to mention it at the Q&A.

Nashen Moodley introduced the film to us by saying that it has a lot to say about what's going on in Korean cinema right now. The director, Shin Su-won, was present at the festival, and spoke through an excellent interpreter.

In Hommage, a female director has made a film about a female director working on a film made by one of the first Korean female directors! How meta is that?. The result is terrific. There's sound and footage missing from a film called “The Woman Judge,” based on the true story of the first woman judge in Korea. The director, Ji-wan, is appointed to restore the film for a showing at a Film Festival retrospective, and so tries to track down missing soundtrack and footage. Thus the film is basically a detective story about tracking down material from an old film and so, of course, I loved it. The film tells us that the first woman judge was poisoned and murdered, perhaps by her husband, but this theme is not pursued in the film of the judge’s story, which has a happy ending. The film is visually inventive (shadows come to life and there’s also shadowplay on the sheets on a washing line) and it’s  funny too (the slogans on the family’s  t-shirts are hilarious). The mystery centres on censorship so that aspect also attracted me. There’s an interesting parallel, too with another SFF film this year: Three Minutes. And I loved the character of the older editor, and how she contributes to the culmination of the film: it’s like a Korean Cinema Paradiso.

Q&A with the director, Shin Su-wan:
Q (Nashen): We screen lots of Korean films, but so few by Korean women filmmakers. Tell us about why so few?
A: The reason I made it is in line with your question. I don't know why. I made my first film in 2010 and then I made a documentary. In that process I found director Hong made a film in 1950 [? 1962?]. The first Korean female filmmaker was Park Nam-ok who directed A Single Widow {1955]. And she was very scrutinised at the time. She carried a young child on her back. In the 1960s director Hong [Hong Eun-wong] directed three films, which was unprecedented but none of those films survived [til recently]. The existence of A Woman Judge [1962] was discovered in 2016 and that was my inspiration for this film. I thought these women were very entrepreneurial and brave – not even just a question of male versus female.
Q: Is there a portrayal of you in the movie?
A: Yes. Because I made the film, but not all of it. The 40-minute documentary on finding the film is no longer in print. I had a deep desire to seek it out. I've never done a sound restoration myself. I have lingering thoughts about whether I could go on as a filmmaker. About 20% of what you saw reflects my own experiences.
Q: The use of shadow in the film is amazing. Where does it come from?
A: Have you ever walked alone at night on the streets? Your own shadow follows you. Sometimes it feels like a friend. I've always wanted to do shadow effect in my film and in this film it represents a bygone era and a lost sentiment and this was the perfect vehicle. I wanted to use the shadow to portray this. These were sentiments ingrained in the film but they are no longer there. I used it in several scenes: the folding of the blanket scene and the rundown cinema scenes. I saw the shadow there from a car. And there's a strong representation in the credit sequence.
Q: These days all films are fast and disposable. Your film was beautiful for its pauses that allowed the audience to sit with those moments. Please tell us about this.
A: First, thanks for the comment. I have taken great care to cast the actors in this film. Our lead the film [Lee Jeong-eun] was in Parasite which I loved. I told her not to get too attached to the character. Be emotionally true to the characters as she met them. We chatted a lot, always about the character. This is her first man character role in 30 years. She was surprised looking at the monitor to see her reactions and facial expressions. We developed a great friendship. Even the other actors – I tried to tone them aesthetically down to make everything as real as possible.

The word “homage” means respect and thanks and I respect and thank you, SFF.

Friday 16 June

Non-fiction. Mexico & USA. 4/5
This is one of the films that make you really appreciate the Sydney Film Festival. Because it clarified through everyday detail some of the problems facing the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

The film begins with the drone shot of misty mountain country. Buddhist monks pass by on bikes but we soon realise we are in a very busy Asian town with motorbikes, trikes and trucks. The setting is a health clinic for pregnant women and we see a woman arrive prone on a trike for treatment. She is very ill and we see a drip hanging from spidery rafters in a wooden shed. This is not a sterile western clinic.

We then see the workings of this clinic, run by a strong Buddhist woman, Hla, and her husband (who stays mostly in the background as far as treatment is concerned, though he seems to have the idea that he is in charge). But this is his wife's story, and the story of her Muslim assistant, Nyo. Nyo is an apprentice and needs a lot of training but is extremely ambitious and aims to set up her own clinic. Eventually she does this, but one wonders whether she has anything like the incredible skill and knowledge of her mistress, Hla, who is able to predict the date a woman will give birth based only on a physical examination of her pregnant belly. She is truly astonishing. At the same time, the film gradually reveals the difficulties of the Muslim minority in the Myanmar state of Rakhine which suffered ethnic cleansing begun in 2016 with the army “crack-down.”

There are bemusing scenes of war and military parades, where we are shown tanks driving along streets (with their no doubt substandard Chinese tyres, as appeared in the Ukraine invasion by Russia), presided over by generals with absurd amounts of military decorations on their chests. The conflict between the Buddhists and the Muslims is also exemplified in the everyday discrimination and prejudiced language used even by Hla against Nyo Nyo. However, their relationship is, on the whole, positive, as shown by the way that Hla criticises the arrangement of Nyo Nyo’s new clinic, but at the same time expresses pride in her student. If it weren't for the military coup (February 2021) these people might still live in peace, as they did in the past, even if it is a begrudging one.

Father’s Day
Fiction. Rwanda. 3.5/5
A third film (amongst those I saw at the SFF) about the cycle of violence and poverty that occurs when men fail their children or their wives. Here the fathers are not physically absent but somehow they are not there. We see various kids roller skating – who knew it was so popular in Rwanda? We see a father teaching his son to “hustle,” a doctor instructing a woman on all that she has to do to donate part of her lung to her father, and a man trying to bully a masseuse into giving him a “happy ending.” She refuses, but this does not placate her lazy “Christian” husband, who considers her as akin to a harlot, but he won't save money to help with his son's education, preferring to donate to his Church. A priest is no help in advising the daughter whether she should donate her lung to her father (whom she hates), telling her she has no choice, and if she does not, she is “playing God.”

Finally these women find each other, and another woman who gives them permission to look after their own needs. A montage of dancing in a club gives a joyful dénouement to the film – but there follows a bitter coda. The film skilfully weaves together the various stories without spilling over into melodrama. Subtle performances hit just the right note.

The Quiet Girl
Fiction. In competition. Ireland. 4.5/5
Director Colm Bairéad was at the festival to introduce the film and take a Q&A at the end of the film. As he told us, The Quiet Girl is a quiet film. He told us that this is the first all-Irish-language film to play at the SFF. He is bilingual, as is his wife, the producer, Cleona Ni Chrualaoi.

The Kinsella family consists of a worn-out wife, a gambling and philandering husband and four daughters of whom the “quiet girl” of the title is Cáit, the most wayward. She has trouble at school, is afraid of both her parents, and hides from them if she can. Her pregnant mother sends Cáit away to stay with her (he mother's) cousin and her husband Séan, who lives in beautiful county Waterford. Their neat and tidy house on a dairy farm looks like a palace compared to the run-down slovenliness of Cáit’s home. But the couple do have a secret (despite Eibhlin's denials), and Cáit learns from this couple about family love and care, but also about loss.

What I particularly loved about this film was its observational tone: we are left to work people out, not from what they say, but from what we see. And Eibhlin's husband, Séan, has some great lines about the virtues of staying silent. As he says, “there are many who lost the opportunity to say nothing,” [and lived to regret it]. There's a certain inevitability towards the end of the film, but the film is not always predictable, and ends on a suitably melancholy note. Watching this film was a quietly beautiful experience.

Q&A with Director Colm Bairéad
Q (Sandy George): Catherine Clinch played the quiet girl. Where did you find her? Was she like that?
A: It took seven months to find Catherine. We started with in-person auditions near county Waterford. We had to deal with different dialects. We wanted to use the same dialect from the South. We saw hundreds and then Covid happened. We put out a call through the Celtic school network. One day we got a tape from Catherine Clinch. It was incredible! She makes you lean in. She pushes emotions inward and allows the camera to be like an X-ray machine. Understanding the character of the girl required the building of a shell. Is she like this in real life? She is hyper-intelligent, observant and quiet.
Q: Working with such a young actor. What was the environment like?
A: We tried to shoot the film chronologically to aid her journey through the film. Catherine is like another adult in the room. There's never a need to talk down to her. The number of takes required was definitely less for Catherine then for the others. The Kinsellas’ farmhouse and outbuildings – we were lucky – it had every element needed for the film. I wanted  to create a safe intimate space, which I could do there.
Q: Thanks for a really intriguing film. What is your inspiration to film in the Irish language?
A: All my earlier work is drama in drama was in the Irish language. This film was part of a scheme to disseminate the Irish language. It is based on a long short story – a great contemporary short story writer, Claire Keegan – “Foster.” When I read it I was profoundly moved by the work, but I could also see it was perfect for an Irish language film. The Irish language is only spoken in the everyday working environment in some small areas here and there. Miraculously the rights were still available from the story’s publication in 2010 until 2018 when I wanted to make the film. But the story itself could be set anywhere.
Q: is the Irish language well supported for kids up to year 12 in schools?
A: It is one of the big conundrums that Irish is the official language of Ireland. Everyone learns Irish in primary and secondary school but most people don't speak it. Maybe this is because not many people see any benefit in speaking it.
Q: We are studying Irish. Will you release the screenplay?
A: [After hesitating] Yes.

The Forgiven
Fiction. UK. 3/5
It was not the ideal environment for viewing this film, given that we had been forced to stand in the foyer of the State Theatre for more than 20 minutes, in a crowd, during Covid. Hardly anyone wore a mask, except for us. When we complained to the usher, he did nothing. Further complaints eventually lead to another usher stopping further people being let into what another staff member referred to as the “holding pen.” We felt exactly like animals in a pen. However, we did stay to watch The Forgiven, and unfortunately it did not lead live up to expectations.

The stars, Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain, gave excellent performances, I thought, but the subject matter of the film is problematic and most of the cast were playing people so objectionable as to make them appear as caricatures. The overall effect was that the writer and director had set up straw men and expected us to be pleased when they were skewered. That was not the effect achieved for this viewer. There was an interesting choice made to have all the credits up-front. But this only tipped me off to the fact that there was going to be a downbeat ending. Underwhelming.

At this point we decided the SFF was too dangerous an environment for us to stay if we wanted to avoid contracting Covid, and so we did not see the films of the last two days. Pity!

End of reviews.