52nd Sydney Film Festival - where are the celebrities?

The selection of films at this year's 52nd Sydney
International Film Festival is excellent. From foreign docs to short Aussie animations, the sessions are selling out.

An obvious audience favourite screening today was the mockumentary 'A Day Without A Mexican', satirising a day when all latinos in L.A. disappear (note, "no mexicans were harmed in the making of this film"). The "startingly original love story" '3 Iron' from South Korea captivated and enchanted its audience from beginning to end, and 'Tell Them Who You Are' startled its audience as well, as the cinematographer's own father-son relationship unravelled onscreen.

In another full house session, of the delightful doc Mad Hot Ballroom, the audience laughed and applauded with every on-screen victory. So in just 3 days it's obvious the showcase on offer at SIFF is to be applauded too.

But we all know that – so why waste time repeating it? Please do yourselves a favour and just go along and watch the films instead. Therefore what's left to be said is needed to be said in a Tongue In Cheek Article About Ambience.

If you’re only interested in the films then happy
days, you’ve got a hip and happening line up of world class cinema to fill your dreams and fuel your thoughts for the next fortnight.

But if you’re a papparazzi or serial gossip here then I’m afraid it looks like slim pickings coming up. I asked a photographer at the opening “who are you expecting here tonight?”. He muttered under his breath that unforgivable 5 letter word “no-one”. Then added with some hope “oh they say Bryan Brown is coming, he’s just been nominated for Some Big Award, the Order of Australia or something".

Unfortunately he didn’t show. Thank God that Jane
Campion did, and the always endearing Thomas Keneally and Barry Otto in their own inimitable style.

But if you’re into talking about fashion, and were waiting with baited breath for statements on the red carpet... well the closest that might come to would be wondering if British films 'are the next black’.

Yes, in the words of Festival director Lynden Barber, it was a “cracker” of a British film ('My Summer of Love') that opened the 52nd Sydney International Film Festival. A BAFTA award winner even. Shock horror. Shouldn’t it be an Australian film, the press is accusing.

Should we be following the trend of many
‘ international film festivals’ in the USA that seem to boast an impressive line up of US productions, with a token ‘Canadian’ foreign film thrown in? "The Raging Debate" surrounding this years’ festival seems to suggest that we must have an Australian headlining film or an Australian focus.

Must we? Couldn’t that be just as culturally cringe-worthy as a festival devoid of our own culture?

Yes, Australian films are to be celebrated but the
Sydney International Film Festival has for a long time had the maturity to be well above the role of
self-promoter of Australian work. I personally have seen my own purely Australian-made films included as rare foreign entries in US ‘international film festivals’ though listed in their programs as American. So I’m relieved to see an international film festival proudly showcasing its international selection.

But what I would like to see are a few more
international celebrities – and hey, yes throw in some Australian ones too!- strutting their stuff on the red carpet scene. Because for all the high brow fuss over the decadent decor of the extravagantly elegant State Theatre the attractions were decidedly low brow.

For a supposedly ‘star studded’ and ‘diamond studded’ night, I had to ask where are the stars? Where was the pouting, the posing, the attitude, the arrogance, that makes any international film festival grab headlines?

If we can’t do a red carpet spectacularly, at least be
rebellious and do a green one. There was at least one absurdely tall and skinny model-cum-beanpole taking the spotlight that must have given many people a scare. Its easy to be intimidated when the event is sponsored by a company selling diamonds worth more than the average Australian film.

How do you respond when on the red carpet - and on national TV- you are interviewed about who designed your ‘shimmering diamonds’ - which are completely unreal, and you realise that will be soon be discovered? What does one say? I said proudly “It's budget. I’m a BUDGET
film-maker. I try to avoid wearing jewelry thatcosts
more than my film." Cut! I find the interview is
abruptly over. Well, Australian film-makers are genuinely poor you know!

But even without the high brow high-falutin, I suspect when Australian film makers or cinephiles see red carpets, bright lights and camera flashes, they just don’t know what to do with themselves. In fact, I overheard the partner of one of Australia’s best film directors even ask him “but where is the entrance for those not going down the red carpet”? “We all do honey”, he replied.

She wasn’t the only person confused. Two girls tried to enter behind the cordoned off media barrier – i.e. actually through the media scrum instead of being coralled through the crowd entrance –as if they were scared they might be kicked off the red carpet.

Watching all the festival guests rush down the red
carpet like roadkill caught in the headlights was
actually a very funny sight. Most people crossing the spotlights in front of papparazzi and TV cameras frowned and darted the other way, not realising all the live footage was not only being aired... oh I don’t know, somewhere.. but being simultaneously relayed to the waiting audience in the cinema as well! It was a master stroke of multi-media genius, creative and entertaining.

If only the opening ceremonies were just as
entertaining. The sponsor's ads got more laughs thanthe TV presenter MCs, who stumbled their way through shameless sponsorship plugs and cringed with embarrassment through paltry jokes about Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes. “We thought in Australia we’d at least
get away with Cruise jokes." Oh and "the opening film is about our Prime Minister's time on George Dubya’s Texan ranch, aptly titled 'My Summer of Love'." Boom boom. Where is that TV canned laughter track when you need it?

The laughter did come - at unexpected moments. Such as when a local polly (that’s Australian for politician) virtually began his own election campaign speech. Oh, though the point of it all was to also keep reiterating “we DO have an Australian film industry, we really DO”.

This is being repeated so often its starting to alarm me. Perhaps next we’ll get an orange alert system like the USA, to ‘reassure us’ against the alarming state of Australian films.

So, what could save the day here? The Sydney
International Film Festival desperately needs a little more red carpet attention. Plus an Oprah extreme makeover special on its guests.

As Australia is unfortunately in the midst of a serious drought and endless shots of dead trees won’t sell too many newspapers, we should be able to manage a little front page publicity. After all, what is the competition?! Shots of SIFF didn't even make the next night's evening news. A report about George Lucas’ Lifetime Achievement Award in L.A. did.

In leiu of red carpet training, or red carpet
examples, Sydney siders evidently need a few
guidelines here. Someone once told me their New Year's Resolution was to try a new icecream flavour every time. I’d like to suggest that all Sydney film-makers take the spirit of that idea onto the red carpet, if not the icecream. Try wearing a different colour to a film festival every time, instead of the regulation ‘indie’ black. Where are the safety pin dresses, the credit card dresses, the lime green tuxedos? Ok so its winter. Then I expect to see half an animal audaciously adorning someone's fur coat, with
resulting gasps of indignant disgust.

Here’s another resolution perhaps the SIFF board could bravely embark on; Try asking politicians to keep their festival speeches shorter than the average short film.

And everyone should follow the example of
Lynden Barber, the SIFF’s new artistic director, an
ex-critic who’s now nobly responding to film
criticism. At the opening night of his inaugural

festival directorship he greeted the press with
charisma and intelligence, and presented his program with panache – and a perfect set of teeth.

So the gossip and the glitterati are yet to come, but congratulations to Lynden Barber and team on their ‘ cracker’ of a British oops I mean Sydney filmfestival opening, “jolly good show old chap”!

When it comes down to it, the opening weekend went flawlessly and a world class success it was;

Full houses & sold out sessions?- Check.

Glossy artwork with lots of arty stripes – check.

Plus the opening film 'My Summer of Love' was; Interesting - Check.

Ideosyncratic- check. Controversial - Check.

Comedic -Check.

Whilst underpinned with pathos - Check.

International (ie foreign)- check.

Whilst oddly reminiscent of the
Australian sense of identity and irony- check.

Oh and Hong Kong celebrities such as veritable ‘superstar’ Daniel Wu are due on the next flight to Sydney? Check!

So on with the show.

And P.S. PLEASE, dear Nicole,
dear Geoffrey, dear Naomi, dear Mel, even dear Russell if you aren't jailed, we KNOW you’re busy, we KNOW you’re in demand, we KNOW you give endlessly to the needy, but please, give a little attention and some sassy stilettos to the red carpet down here. Especially Russell. There is some serious ‘swanning’ to be done and Sydney needs you. Our politicans need you to save them from the stage and their own shameless self promotion. And above all, our indie film-makers that barely made the festival program need you. Help the hungry film-makers, and give a little glamour where its needed most!

Monday June 13, 2005
Sydney Australia