NSW Screen diversity shines at Sydney Film Festival

SFF Backtrack Boys dogsCreate NSW’s commitment to screen gender parity (50:50 by 2020) is reflected in the NSW-funded films premiering at this year’s 65th Sydney Film Festival, along with support for filmmakers with disability through the second year of the Screenability series.

Echoing the gender parity in the Festival’s official competition this year, the ten NSW projects supported by Create NSW are headed by five female directors across five feature documentaries, four shorts and one family film.

China Love from first-time director Olivia Martin-McGuire is the second film funded under the Create NSW and ABC TV Arts Documentary Film Fund. The documentary will receive its world-premiere at the festival, and screen on ABC TV at a later date.

Backtrack Boys from director and producer Catherine Scott is the inspiring story of troubled Armidale teens taught how to find their place through the curious challenge of dog jumping trials. Finke: There & Back from director Dylan River (the son of Warwick Thornton, who opened last year’s SFF) documents the blood, sweat and tears surrounding the Finke Desert Race, the largest off-road motor race in the Southern Hemisphere and Australia’s fastest and deadliest off-road motor sport event.

Oyster from director Kim Beamish details the three years it takes NSW South Coast oyster farmers to bring Sydney Rock Oysters to market, and the autobiographical fishing trip, Teach A Man To Fish stars Indigenous filmmaker Grant Leigh Saunders coming to terms with his identity in his mid-40s.

After a sell-out inaugural first year, the Festival also welcomes the return of Screenability – the exciting platform for screen practitioners with disability, in partnership with Create NSW and the NSW Department of Family and Community Services.

Three of the six programmed titles: Broken, Intimate Encounters 20 Years On and Tip of My Tongue are led by the recipients of this year’s Create NSW Screenability Filmmakers Fund, emerging filmmakers Samia Halabi, Dieter Knierem and Daniel Monks.

Short film Asian Girls from Hyun Lee is in competition for the Dendy Award for Australian Short Films, and Maya the plucky bee returns in the charming animated adventure Maya The Bee: The Honey Games – showing for family audiences.

“We are incredibly proud to support and profile such a diverse range of filmmakers and projects at the Sydney Film Festival each year, and thrilled that our funding opportunities are involved in bringing many of these projects to life for audiences,” said Create NSW Acting Executive Director Tarek Barakat.

“This year, following in the footsteps of Lynette Wallworth and Leah Purcell, we also look forward to naming our third outstanding NSW screen practitioner with the Sydney UNESCO City of Film Award.”

Create NSW will award the $10,000 cash prize to the winner at the Closing Night ceremony on Sunday 17 June. Selected highlights of the festival will visit nine regional NSW areas as part of the Travelling Film Festival in August-September 2018 and March 2019.

The 2018 Sydney Film Festival runs 6 – 17 June. For more information, visit: www.sff.org.au for details.

Image: Backtrack Boys (film still)

Create NSW-supported projects showing at the 65th Sydney Film Festival are:

Family Film:
MAYA THE BEE: THE HONEY GAMES: Directed by Noel Cleary
Maya the plucky bee returns in this charming animated adventure. A colourful tale of buzzy derring-do for kids aged three and up, directed by top Sydney animators. Bubbly Maya (voiced by Coco Jack Gillies – Oddball, Mad Max: Fury Road) is set a challenge when she accidentally embarrasses the Empress of Buzztropolis. The little bee must win the prestigious Honey Games to save her hives’ honey harvest.

With her best friend Willi (Benson Jack Anthony) beside her, she meets her ragtag team, including old friends Arnie and Barnie (David Collins and Shane Dundas of The Umbilical Brothers). She also encounters a jealous bee called Violet, who’s determined her team will come out on top. Maya eventually learns how to get the best from her insect crew, with a little advice from Flip (Richard Roxburgh) and his band, and Justine Clarke as the wise Queen Bee.

Feature Documentaries:
CHINA LOVE: Directed by Olivia Martin-McGuire
A fascinating exploration of contemporary China through the pre-wedding photography industry – a billion dollar fantasy world. Just over 40 years ago, marriage in China was arranged by the state – romantic love was seen as a capitalist concept and was not allowed. Wedding photography (if there was any) consisted of one black and white passport photo of the couple (dressed in Mao-style outfits) as proof of the marriage.

Now, China has fallen in love with love and its exploding wedding industry is worth 80 billion dollars. Pre-wedding photography is one of the most significant and curious parts, and something every couple marrying in China is eager to partake of. From underwater shoots to traditional costume, imagination and budgets can run wild, for soon-to-be or long-wed couples. Olivia Martin-McGuire is a widely-exhibited Australian documentary photographer based in Shanghai. She completed an AFTRS documentary-making course and has previously made two short films.

BACKTRACK BOYS: Directed by Catherine Scott
Three Aussie boys are on a rocky path towards jail until they meet a rule-breaking jackaroo and join his legendary dog jumping team. Bernie Shakeshaft is a rough talking jackaroo who runs a youth program from a shed on the outskirts of Armidale, NSW. When everyone else gives up on troubled kids like Zach, Alfie and Rusty, they head to BackTrack. It’s a place where they can feel safe and continue their education, but most importantly, it’s where they learn to support each other and pursue their dreams.

Follow the teenage trio as they hit the road with Bernie’s legendary dog jumping team and travel to rural shows across NSW. Filmed over two years, this inspiring story reveals the challenges these young people face as they try to find their place in the world – with the help of Bernie and his trusted dogs. Catherine Scott has directed and produced documentaries for broadcasters in Australia, Canada, France and the USA for over 20 years, including Scarlet Road (SFF 2011).

FINKE: THERE & BACK: Directed by Dylan River
Blood, sweat and tears shed across central Australia at the iconic Finke Desert Race, Australia’s fastest and deadliest off-road motorsport event. The Finke Desert Race is the largest off-road motor race in the Southern Hemisphere and Australia’s fastest and deadliest off-road motor sport event. The route from Alice Springs to the Finke River looks spectacular, but the track is rife with soft sand and corrugations.

Finke is more than a race; it is a way of life. Director Dylan River (a competitor himself) explores the race from within: the contestants, organisers, paramedics, and the drive to win against the desert at all costs. It’s a visual adventure of inspiration and danger, excitement and spills. Dylan River, based in Alice Springs, won SFF’s Documentary Prize in 2013 for his debut, Buckskin. His 2015 short, Nulla Nulla, screened at SFF and the Berlinale.

OYSTER: Directed by Kim Beamish
A delightful portrait of a NSW South Coast oyster farmer, his family and the precarious three-year journey it takes to bring his Sydney rock oysters to market. A punt glides over Merimbula Lake on the NSW South Coast, with passionate young oyster farmer Dom at the helm. It’s a romantic picture of tranquil beauty and a life close to nature. But Dom and fellow locals swear the water’s getting warmer and the storms more severe.

The Sydney rock oyster takes three years to mature and is highly vulnerable to pollution, diseases and changes in water temperature and salinity. Oyster follows Dom and his wife Pip at home, their work shed, and on the water, to see what it’s like to raise two energetic young boys, while you’re working long hours to keep a few million oysters alive. Kim Beamish won awards for his 2015 film, The Tentmakers of Cairo. He is an educator and tutor in cinematography and editing at the University of Canberra.

TEACH A MAN TO FISH: Directed by Grant Leigh Saunders
This autobiographical fishing trip follows an emotional journey of Aboriginal filmmaker, Grant Leigh Saunders, coming to terms with his identity in his mid-40’s. Despite a promising artistic career, Grant has secretly wanted to be a fisherman, just like his father Ray and his grandfather Horry before him, and on the eve of Ray’s retirement, Grant finally convinces him to pass on the family trade. As Grant learns to catch fish he casts questions about the history of his family’s triumph over trauma that allowed him to be a third-generation Aboriginal fisherman.

Screenability Series (Shorts):
BROKEN: Directed by Stevie Cruz-Martin
In this superb, understated film, writer-actor Daniel Monks (Pulse, SFF 2017) plays a gay man unsure if it’s his partner or his disability causing their relationship to fail.

INTIMATE ENCOUNTERS 20 YEARS ON: Directed by Dieter Knierim
20 years ago, an exhibition caused shockwaves with photos of people with disability proudly displaying their sexuality. Now, the models speak about changing attitudes.

TIP OF MY TONGUE: Directed by Samia Halabi
Writer-director Samia Halabi explores her struggles with speaking in this touching story of a Muslim teenager trying to rekindle friendship with a childhood playmate.

Short Film:
ASIAN GIRLS: Directed by Hyun Lee
Chan is a Chinese factory worker who lives alone. Every night, she suffers from horrific nightmares involving the woman in the apartment next door, a Japanese office lady.