53rd Sydney Film Festival

The poster image of this year´s Sydney International Film Festival was haunting. A nymph-like beauty, in mid flight, peers deep into a wall of water. Her face swirls into the rhythm of the water and is lost into its depths. And so too, that image was entrancing as the cinema blackened and every hour yet another film festival debut emerged from the darkness and spellbound its audience.

'Go deeper' was the message... and the 53rd Sydney International Film Festival delved deep into the wealth of award winning films of world cinema to find cinematic pearls of every thinkable style and genre.

One of the most engaging was the 'Latin Horizons' program, particularly its selection of Brazilian films, from inspiring music docs such as 'Favela Rising' where Afro Reggae challenges and changes the world they live in by the beat of a batucada drum, to a deeply epic drama which swiftly shimmers through time and the shifting sands of Brazil; the slow moving ëHouse of Sand'.

To both those uninitiated and to those addicted to Latin rhythms, 'El Milagro de Candeal' was simply a beautiful film to serenade the soul. It meanders between conversations with old friends reunited and new friends found at the pace of a slow bossa nova, and ends on a high note with a rousing rendition of unforgettable hits by Brazilian modern musical legend Carlinhos Brown (of 'Tribalistas' fame) at the carnival of Salvador de Bahia.

'Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures' was another crowd favourite, full of wry quips and odd class collisions and cultural collusions. It gently revealed an undercurrent of tension within the social classes within Brazil, whilst delivering a delightful road-movie with a myriad of understated moments between the German and Brazilian buddies at its heart. And thankfully to its audience full of Latino-Australians, it showed Brazil and Brazilian cinema holds more to offer Australian audiences than just the exotic allure of danger and the bold beats of its faraway favelas.

Spanish language films also attracted a sell out crowd. 'The Gronholm Method' was a Spanish/ Argentinean/ Italian corporate psychological drama about an interview selection process full of mind games so misplaced you would have to be mad to want to join the company. It was enough to strike fear in the hearts of any job applicant ñ and much audience debate after the film.

Another film that could have been programmed with an audience ëdebriefí afterwards was the super-slick 'Secuestro Express', giving a different and very daring look at the uber-industry of kidnapping in Colombia. It left its audience confused whether to side with the glamorised gangland kidnappers or fear them, as it crashed between comedy and chaos in a surreal mismatch of dramatic thriller and hyper-real music video styles.

For those interested in delving into other tongues this yearís Sydney International Film Festival also showed Australian films can be a genre and a language unto itself. The opening night film 'Ten Canoes' by Rolf de Heer traversed little known Aboriginal waters, and a culture even more unfamiliar to some Australians than Brazil, whilst the gala program of 'Solo' (by first time feature director Morgan Oí'Neill) exposed the Australian urban landscape in a stylish film coolly serving up the sleazy underbelly of 'ocker' organised crime.

This year was the year of Australian celebrity 'docos' too, with strong documentaries featured by celebrated Australian drama directors Jane Campion ('Abduction, The Megumi Yokota Story') Gillian Armstrong ('Unfolding Florence'), and the inimitably effervescent Australian TV host/journo extraordinaire Andrew Denton ('God on My Side').

But the highlight of the festival was a low profile world cinema gem that was so well timed and absurdly charming that it shone above all others. 'The Great Match' by veteran Spanish film-maker Gerardo Olivares played with the trials and tribulations of remote tribes in the Amazon, the Sahara and Mongolia to tune into the World Cup ñwith cinematographic brilliance and comic finesse.

It was coupled with the Brazilian short 'Hardball' about "A lusty young footballer who must choose between sex and the first division", and screened on a Sunday afternoon whilst Australia was in the grip of World Cup fever, with Australia about to face Brazil in a historic sporting moment for our country. A goal for the programming team - Whilst the streets were nearly empty, the cinema was nearly full.

The side program covering football was a winning move - and surely scored new fans for both the football and the film festival. Yes Australia has been swept up in the rhythm and glory of world football and thanks to the Sydney International Film Festival, in some breathtaking moments of world cinema too.

Sydney Australia
26 June 2006