Delete/Ignore: locating gremlins and glitches in the machine. Or, how I met the humans and parasites of Planet IFFR

This year’s invitation to “Meet the humans of Planet IFFR” was about locating the humanity in cinema and cinema-going. For me, it reflected poignantly on how each of the micro worlds we create, such as a film festival like Rotterdam, participates in and wrestles with the wider global matrix. At its most hopeful, the theme demonstrates how there is more that unites us as humans than that which tears us apart.

My full report from this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam can be read in Issue 86 of Senses of Cinema, online journal. Includes musings on; The Cleaners, I, Tonya, Piercing, Insect, Inside the Machine, Possessed, The Return, My Friend the Polish Girl and more. 

Piercing

Sweet Country Video Essay

In October last year at LFF, I saw Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country and was completely blown away. Stunning cinematography comes together with a story full of truth and heartache to create one of this year’s finest films. I found the work deeply moving as it engages with the complex and painful history of Australia. With the help of video essayist Jonathan Bygraves, who edited this for me, I created my first ever video essay, which you can watch on my new Vimeo channel, here: https://vimeo.com/259302371

The following short text accompanies the video:

Filmed in the MacDonall Ranges in central Australia, Sweet Country is based on a true story. Fiction and history intersect in this stark and painfully honest depiction of a country in conflict.

The story is of Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) and his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey Furber). Though they weren’t exactly free before his arrival, things get decidedly worse when war vet and violent alcoholic Harry March (Ewen Leslie) comes to town.

Cinematographer and writer/director Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah, 2009), brings an untold story from Australian history to the fore, highlighting the need to revisit what is known in Australia as The History Wars.

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A battle for who gets to tell a story raged in the 1980s, 1990s and into the early 2000s, until it was hushed by politicians and the media grew tired of the topic. With a movie camera as his weapon of choice, Thornton takes aim at the heart of this issue and explodes it onto the screen with great power and poise. Sweet Country is a righteous retelling of 1920s Australia, with potent nods to the American Western, marking a new page in the country’s (film) history books. The History Wars, Thornton is saying, may not be front page news anymore, but they are far from over.

Furthermore, Thornton uses one of the most famous entries into Australian film history to make his point. Contrasting one Kelly with another, he uses footage from the first feature film ever made, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906). The white chorus in the film sit outside, under the stars and in front of a pub to look and laugh at its moving images. The scene is a literal and figurative lesson in how white Australia has projected its own mythology onto the cinema screen and into the history books. Today, much of the actual film remains missing, and some of it has physically decayed over time; a fitting metaphor for the surviving accounts of Australian history itself.

Sweet Country, then, is a fictional film that proudly wears its truth on its sleeve, just as it puts its Indigenous characters front and centre. Sam and Lizzie Kelly may have the weight of history against them, but Thornton makes damn sure they have the audience on their side. It may be fiction, but the peoples and the cultures that Sam and Lizzie come to represent cannot be erased from our collective memory anymore: they are the very heart of this film.

 

Re-inventing Mitchell & Kenyon: Local Films for Local People at IFFR 2018

At this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, as part of the Critics’ Choice IV programme, Dr Peter Walsh & I staged a contemporary cinema-going film experiment.

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Bringing the films of Mitchell & Kenyon to life, with a live cinema event, we showed several of their films on 35mm at Rotterdam’s amazing venue, WORM. We also filmed our very own ‘living pictures’ the day before the screening, with the assistance of camera operator Lichun Tseng, on 16mm. The event was a one-off to raise questions and conversation about scarcity, cinema-going, selfie culture, photochemical film and the execution and authenticity of an historically researched and engaged live event cinema. Peter and I both thoroughly loved deepening our critical and historical engagement with cinema through practice and owe a huge thanks to Dana Linssen and Jan Pieter Ekker who co-ordinated the event as part of Critics Choice IV.

This event has already taken place. To learn more about future events from us, follow @JudahandWalsh on instagram. 

Cinema Rediscovered Blog

At this year’s Cinema Rediscovered we launched our inaugural talent development programme in the shape of a critics day – The State of Things: Film Critics Day.  

Ahead of the programme, film critic Mark Kermode visited the Watershed to deliver the Second Annual Philip French Memorial Lecture, which I wrote about for the CR blog: An Honourable Art. 

Following the festival, participants created written articles and video essays for submission on the CR blog. Each of the articles have been edited by me and a further three articles were selected for publication on MUBI’s Notebook.