For its first iteration as an annual event, the Adelaide Film Festival invited audiences to “see in the dark”. Enticing hot-pink branding accompanied a program that consisted of over 130 Australian and international selections. From the opening night screening of Kitty Green’s outback thriller, The Royal Hotel, to Adelaide Film Investment Fund premieres such as two new music-related documentaries by Australian director, Scott Hicks (The Musical Mind: A Portrait in ProcessMY NAME’S BEN FOLDS i play piano) or the retro-styled, true-crime documentary, Speedway (Luke Rynderman, Adam Kamien), it was clear that AFF wanted to deliver a highly populist program by bridging international titles with its usual emphasis on local production and Australian independent filmmaking.

Queer Cinema

From the riotous Spanish road movie, On the Go (Julia De Castro & María G. Royo) to the Macedonian queer familial drama, Housekeeping for Beginners by the Australian/Macedonian director Goran Stolevski (Of an Age, 2022), the global diversity of queer storytelling was central to this year’s AFF. For me, one of the most profound, subtly political stories to feature was a local film, set in the Adelaide Hills.  Seeded by the AFF Investment Fund, director Marion Pilowsky’s first feature documentary, Isla’s Way, is a modest undertaking. The film centres on Isla: a quick-witted, droll 87-year-old country girl and a horse carriage driving champion. Isla is a “true-blue dinky-di Aussie!” as described by Pilowsky.1  Despite her family’s concerns for her health, she persists in carriage driving with her horse, Rocky.  Fiercely protective of her own agency, Isla’s dedication to leading an authentic life on her own terms is deeply moving. 

What I treasure about Isla’s Way is its ability to pull you into Isla’s world, finding the poignant in her small-town life. Tranquil scenes between Isla and her beloved horses and archival childhood photos of the great-grandmother on horseback offer us a moving insight into why she refuses to give up her equine passion. The film’s cinematographer, David Magarey Roberts (Isla’s own grandson) gives us intimate access to Isla’s personal moments. As Pilowsky’s film guides us through a year in Isla’s life, it feels as if we too are being welcomed into the comfort of her family.  

Despite not explicitly referring to itself as queer cinema, Isla’s Way is a documentary that has attracted attention from LGBTQ+ audiences (also featuring at this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival). Isla shares her life with Susan, her companion of 38-years. Yet she continues to assert she’s not gay: Susan is. While Pilowsky builds initial expectations for a heartfelt coming out scene, Isla resolutely maintains, “I’m not a lesbian, I’m Isla Roberts!” Isla’s faithfulness to her own sense of self defies attempts to label, understand or define her sexuality. Instead, we appreciate her as the outspoken octogenarian she is. What never fails to be shown by Pilowsky, however, is the unwavering love that Isla and Susan have for each other.

With representations of older women often limited to constrictive “granny” stereotypes, Pilowsky’s depiction of Isla comes across as a peaceful act of rebellion. As I watched Isla’s Way, Isla’s infectious laugh seemed to fill the cinema twice over.  Then I heard real-life Isla and Susan chuckling, seated just a couple of rows behind me. Seeing them in the flesh reinforced Pilowsky’s dedicated efforts to rectify the invisibility of older women in our cultural consciousness. As the credits rolled, I turned and thanked Isla for her gift, and I was pulled into a sincere embrace. Like the enduring track lines of her horse-drawn carriage, Isla’s charm and the film’s authenticity left a lasting imprint on me.

Another memorable title of queer programming (and my top pick of the festival) was Andrew Haigh’s haunting masterpiece, All of Us Strangers. Expanding upon his acclaimed filmography (Weekend, 2011; 45 Years, 2015), Haigh crafts an emotionally devastating, ghostly fantasy-drama. A loose reworking of the novel, Strangers (1987) by respected Japanese author, Taichi Yamada, its queer retelling centres on the experience of growing up gay in the 1980s.

All of Us Strangers

Orphaned screenwriter, Adam (Andrew Scott), leads a solitary life before a chance encounter sees him meet Harry (Paul Mescal), another tenant in his near-empty London apartment block. As they find comfort in each other, there is something that is heart-wrenchingly lonely about Haigh’s portrayal of their love story. Eerily vacant halls and elevators and the near-apocalyptic setting of the isolated tower acts as an unnerving “manifestation of [Adam’s] aloneness”, as Haigh explains.2 Similarly, the film’s beautiful but uncanny visual motif of mirrors and distorted reflections sees the two forlorn characters looking out onto the world for solace, only to be met with reflections of their own lonely faces. 

Trying to find inspiration for his current script, Adam pores over his childhood photos. He catches the train back to his suburban, childhood home where he finds his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell), just as they were 30 years ago, before their tragic deaths. Shot on 35mm film, the hazy, 1980s scenes in Adam’s family home feel as though they were conjured up somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. All of Us Strangers’ nostalgic pull is in its powerful catharsis: what would it be like to reinvent your relationship with your parents? One particularly endearing scene sees Adam crawl in between his mum and dad in bed, wearing an adult-sized version of his childhood pyjamas. In these ostensibly unbelievable moments, it is the emotionally charged performances from Foy, Bell and Scott that help bring the film to life, inhabiting the roles of parents and son with impressive conviction. 

A ghost story about queer and familial love, All of Us Strangers is anchored in the specific circumstances of the 1980s gay generation, living in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic. Haigh approaches Adam’s coming out to his parents in these circumstances with honesty and sensitivity. Drawing from his own upbringing, the director chose to stage certain scenes in his own childhood home. With many furnishings left untouched (and the home’s walls steeped in Haigh’s own memories), the film’s nostalgic, ghostly scenes feel rooted in truth. While the 1980s context may feel distant to some, the often-alienating experience of finding a place in the world as a queer person is an ache that echoes across generations of LGBTQ+ communities.  Similarly, the profound, passionate relationship between Adam and the younger Harry shows us how empathy and a sense of common ground can be found between intergenerational queer folk. Many were moved to tears in my screening, and I think it could be said that Haigh’s film struck a deep chord with AFF audiences, as it has elsewhere. 

Devastatingly beautiful, All of Us Strangers’ ending portrays queer love as a shifting, endless constellation: like countless, untouchable stars in the night sky. 

– Sid Christie

Special Presentations

Following the introduction of AFF’s popular Special Presentations in 2022 featuring Martin McDonaugh’s The Banshees of Inisherin and Todd Field’s TÁR, it was a thrill to see this strand continue. 2023’s line-up included the Australian film premiere of major international titles such as Yorgos Lanthimos’ much-anticipated Poor Things (the AFF Audience Award for Feature Fiction), New Zealand’s Uproar (Paul Middleditch & Hamish Bennett) and Pedro Almodóvar’s queer western/black comedy short, Strange Way of Life, among others.

Following his multi-award-winning Apples, which screened at AFF in 2020, Greek director Christos Nikou made his English-language debut this year with the emotionally intriguing Fingernails. Affiliated with the Greek Weird Wave, Nikou’s filmmaking aligns with the movement’s origins in being a small budget project that explores cultural and political issues, such as with Lanthimos’s Dogtooth (2009) or Panos H. Koutras’s Strella (2009). A characteristic of Greek Weird Wave films is the exploration of themes in unsettling, absurd, and confronting ways while still maintaining a plausible emotional core. 

Fingernails takes place in a world where a couple’s love can be scientifically proven or disproven by removing and testing their fingernails. Anna (Jessie Buckley) starts a new job at a company that develops exercises to help couples prepare for their “fingernail” test. While in a happy, loving, scientifically confirmed relationship with boyfriend Ryan (Jeremy Allen White), Anna begins to question her feelings and the soundness of the fingernail test as she develops a new relationship with her co-worker, Amir (Riz Ahmed).

Despite the film’s, at times, predictable plot, a talented cast make Nikou’s examination of what it means to be in love – and the nature of love itself – a joy to watch. A surprising appearance from Luke Wilson in a smaller role as Duncan (founder of the company where Anna and Amir work) alleviates the film’s tension thanks to his subtle comedic sensibility. The characters’ relationships and struggles are authentically portrayed, allowing the audience to sympathise with them. Several of the film’s supporting characters are outright terrified of the removal of their fingernails – as most people would be. During the fingernail-removal scenes, some of the more squeamish audience members could be heard wincing. Yet the raw nature of these scenes was reflective of the film’s overall message – that love and relationships are messy, painful, and sometimes unpleasant, but often worth pursuing and persisting with regardless.


While the film’s ending feels melodramatic and unnecessarily punishing towards some of the characters, overall, Fingernails is a sweet love story with a sci-fi twist. Nikou explores human themes via plausible and nuanced characterization within the film’s otherwise fantastical premise.

Pushing human characters to their limits is also the focus of Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn – the director’s follow-up to her Academy Award-winning debut feature Promising Young Woman (2020). After premiering at Telluride, and selected for the opening night gala screening of LFF, Saltburn played to a sold-out session in North Adelaide’s Piccadilly Theatre.  

Like her debut, Saltburn is a glossy, psychological thriller, employing bold lighting, stylish colour palettes, and sleek, tight framing. The result is an amusing, thrilling, and at times perverse dive into the world of British high society, as seen through the eyes of a middle-class outsider, Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan). While studying at Oxford University in 2006, Oliver becomes immediately enthralled by the popular, charming and wealthy Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). The two become unlikely friends. When Felix invites Oliver to stay at his family’s estate over the summer (the ominously named Saltburn), Oliver leaps at the opportunity. The film then becomes a mysterious guessing game as to who is really in control through the story’s frequent twists and character revelations.

Fennell’s darkly comedic script allows the cast to demonstrate their respective talents. Barry Keoghan as Oliver is, as always, incredibly watchable in terms of his expert restraint. Here, he continues his track record of inhabiting characters with a darker nature lurking beneath their surface (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Yorgos Lanthimos 2017; The Green Knight, David Lowery, 2021). Elordi’s Felix Catton is perfectly cast – the type of character we might love to hate due to his incredible privilege. Yet Elordi’s effortless movie-star charm ensures we can entirely understand Oliver’s love for Felix. Even smaller character parts (particularly Rosamund Pike as Felix’s obliviously rich mother, and Carey Mulligan’s brief but unforgettable cameo) are played with conviction, each actor understanding the film’s satirical tone.

As with Promising Young Woman, Fennell again plays with radical tonal shifts, moving the film from teen romance to comedy, from coming-of-age drama to mysterious thriller, sometimes bordering on horror. An ever-present tinge of black comedy makes Saltburn endlessly watchable fun, despite its deliberately confrontational nature. Many graphic sequences are shot in close-up, and, as the film is also captured in the Academy aspect ratio (1.37:1), it feels all the more confronting. A cringe-inducing encounter with used bathwater, or a particularly messy bout of cunnilingus, roused gasps from the audience, only making the “shock” viewing experience all the more enjoyable. 

Broader themes – of love, obsession, and the performances we give in different contexts; class and gender relationships and society’s expectations of these respective groups – are exaggerated but deftly explored. In Fennell’s attempt to balance several distinct styles and the plot’s twists and turns, the film lacks the profound social commentary it hopes to demonstrate, but that doesn’t make the viewing experience of Saltburn any less delightful: it’s hedonistic fun. Fennell privileges perverse enjoyment can keep the audience guessing right up until the film’s conclusion. And what a climax! In itself, Keoghan’s memorable, long-take finale (accompanied by an era-appropriate needle drop) makes Saltburn entirely worth seeing on the big screen.

On the final night of the festival, we were treated to prolific Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s Strange Way of Life. Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal star as long-separated lovers in an atypical western/black comedy. While Almodóvar’s stylish film is an enjoyable exploration of masculinity and queerness in the old West, I wish the film had been extended into a feature. The characters, world, story and chemistry between the two lead actors could all have been further evolved. Still, Strange Way of Life was a pleasant, if rushed, end to the selection of Special Presentations at the festival. 

– Daniel Kopeikin

Lost Female Voices: Music on Film

Judee Sill is one of the best female musicians you’ve likely never heard of. A contemporary of luminaries such as Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, and Graham Nash, she released two achingly poetic, rich albums in the ’70s that mused over her relationship with God and love during her short career. Sadly, her life was fraught with trauma and tragedy and her work faded into obscurity before her death in 1979.

In Lost Angel: The Genius of Judee Sill, directors Andy Brown and Brian Lindstrom revive Sill’s story from the musical archives, sharing her brilliance onscreen for the first time. After premiering at DOC NYC in 2022, the film screened alongside several other music documentaries at AFF, as a part of its Music on Film series.  In many ways, Lost Angel follows the typical trajectory of a music documentary, mapping Sill’s rise and fall through archival materials, talking head interviews and her music itself. Where Lost Angel diverges from a traditional music documentary, however, is in the value that it places on Sill’s own words. The majority of the film’s narration is narrated by Sill herself, drawn from archival audio or from excerpts of her personal diary. This is no mean feat, considering how little information or documentation there is on Sill’s history outside of this film – to date, there is not even a published biography on her.

Lost Angel: The Genius of Judee Sill

Like so many other female musicians of the era, the music industry’s inability to take women seriously resulted in Sill’s talent being overshadowed by the “gossip” of her life – her drug use, traumatic young adulthood, and sexuality. Listening to Sill’s words, Lost Angel provides an intimate insight into someone who was far more complex and intelligent than those gossipy tales would suggest. By placing the primary focus on Sill herself, Brown and Lindstrom allow her to finally have agency over her own story. It is at once heartbreaking and magnificent to be allowed to possess such an in-depth insight into the kind of artist Sill dreamt of being but could never become.

Shining a light on Sill’s considerable musical talent, the film animates Sill’s early lyric drafts and depicts copies of her self-taught orchestral arrangements, illustrating her profound musicality. A number of contemporary fans (Weyes Blood and Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker) also pull apart why Sill’s songs continue to resonate, discussing the magical balance that they strike between sexuality and spirituality. Songs like her 1972 ‘The Kiss’ (a masterpiece) are accompanied by animations on screen that visually illustrate just how deeply they make your heart ache and sing.

Lost Angel’s focus on Judee Sill’s talent and own words also goes some way to atone for attitudes that damaged the careers of so many female musicians during the classic rock era. So few of Sill’s female contemporaries were permitted the serious musical validation that their fellow male artists were lauded with at the time. For fans of classic rock music, or for anyone who wants to learn about an incredible woman who was denied a voice for so long, Lost Angel is an unmissable experience.

Another popular title in the Music on Film series was Mutiny in Heaven: The Birthday Party. Directed by Ian White, the documentary marks the first time that the remarkable story of the Birthday Party – the art-punk band headed by a young Nick Cave in the late 1970s and early 1980s – has been brought to the big screen. The culmination of decades of research on the behalf of White, the film utilises the band’s own words alongside never-before-seen live footage and animated illustrations. It premiered at MIFF earlier this year and has since screened around the world after showing at AFF. 

As a collage of images, videos, and sound, Mutiny in Heaven is a thrilling sight to behold. Watching White’s documentary is the closest contemporary viewers will get to the band’s original performances, in all their exultant, unhinged glory. Much of the film simply juxtaposes rare and unseen footage of the band in concert, without any analysis. White’s choice to eschew the traditional talking heads format allows the musical ferocity and power of The Birthday Party to speak in its own right.

Like the illustrations and animations used within Lost Angel, Mutiny in Heaven employs animated drawings by Reinhard Kleist to depict some of the band members’ wildest, most debauched tales. By using Kleist’s drawings, White imbues the documentary with the maverick spirit of Australian culture, contrasting the international ambitions of the Birthday Party with their pub culture roots. 

But whereas Lost Angel excelled in providing an emotional voice for its main subject (Sill), Mutiny in Heaven fails to have the same resonance. Whilst the band’s voiceovers briefly reference the drug addiction and mental health issues that plagued their career, these mentions come across as shallow. Little attention is paid to the relationships within the band, including the tumultuous friendship between Cave and Howard. The film would have had deeper significance it had delved deeper into the psychological make-up of the band, alongside its rousing portrayal of their music. 

Even more egregious is Mutiny in Heaven’s almost complete erasure of the women within The Birthday Party’s narrative. For example, Anita Lane (Cave’s creative and romantic partner at the time, co-writer of many of The Birthday Party’s songs) is never even mentioned by name.3 Her face is only unceremoniously shown in a photomontage of the band’s girlfriends. Genevieve McGuckin (Roland S. Howard’s partner and another co-writer of their songs) suffers the same treatment. More disturbing still is the film’s uncredited use of Lane’s art. Lane’s portrait of Tracey Pew is shown, unacknowledged, alongside drawings by Cave and Howard – implying that her intellectual property belongs to her male contemporaries. Whereas Lost Angel tries to correct the historic, systemic silencing of women within the music industry, Mutiny in Heaven illustrates how these attitudes remain prevalent within the industry today. 

A thrilling love letter to one of the most artistically audacious bands to ever come out of Australia, Mutiny in Heaven would be far more memorable if it had paired its love of the bands’ music with deeper insight into their emotional lives – and if it had not completely erased the women who were so important to their success. 

– Adela Teubner

Shifting Truths

A standout of AFF’s World Cinema strand and a film that has garnered significant critical attention was the Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Anatomie d’une Chute (Anatomy of a Fall, Justine Triet). A cerebral thriller and courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Fall obscures its truth at every turn. The film centres on a famed German novelist, Sandra (Sandra Hüller), who is suspected of murdering her French husband (Samuel Theis) after his body is discovered by their visually impaired son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner). Whether Sandra’s husband jumped, fell, or was pushed from an attic window is not Triet’s primary concern. Instead, what we are offered is a gripping portrait of a complex woman and a collapsing marriage as we attempt to unravel conflicting expert opinions and Sandra’s ever-shifting account.

Leveraging Triet’s background in both documentary and fiction filmmaking, the film’s unembellished tone and style contribute to its dynamic realism. Extended, uninterrupted courtroom hearing scenes, shaky footage, and a richness of legal details all help to evoke the atmosphere of an actual case. As dialogue spans English, French and German languages, the idea of the truth being confused or lost in translation is skilfully explored.4 Language itself becomes yet another obstacle throughout the trial that confuses testimonies and leaves the film’s characters feeling misunderstood.

Ultimately, the film could be characterised as a “truth tale” – a form of courtroom storytelling that recognises that there is never only one ‘true’ story to be told of an event.5 Triet withholds any privileged insight into the events leading up to the death.  Despite seeking answers earlier on in the production, Hüller never learnt whether her character was guilty of murder. Instead of focusing on establishing innocence or guilt, the actor’s main objective became to portray Sandra as a multifaceted character. This purposeful ambiguity is what makes Hüller’s gutsy performance so masterful, inviting the audience to embrace her character while remaining sceptical.

Triet skilfully balances the uncertainty surrounding Sandra by shifting the film’s perspective to Daniel, her young son. As the director herself has observed, “In my previous films, children were present but silent, merely existing in the background”.6  In Anatomy of a Fall, however, Daniel emerges as the character we empathise with the most. “I have to understand”, he says at one point, fighting tears – an absorbing pursuit audiences share throughout, however futile. A particularly memorable image places Daniel at the centre of the courtroom. Opposing lawyers argue back and forth while the camera oscillates between them. Like Daniel, we are torn apart by our inability to discern a ‘true’ account of events. Anatomy of a Fall deliberately leaves its audience with unanswered questions. Triet’s formidable film is a powerful reminder that the minds of others can often remain impenetrable mysteries.

– Sid Christie


Warped perspectives are also central to Kore-eda Hirokazu’s coming-of-age thriller, Kaibutsu (Monster), a thoughtful film that follows three different characters and their struggles regarding purpose, love, and identity. The film’s narrative is broken into three separate segments, each a retelling of events from a different character’s point of view. Winner of both the Queer Palme and Best Screenplay at Cannes, Korea-eda’s latest met with a remarkably positive reception at AFF, as it has around the world, as was evident from its sold-out screenings and word-of-mouth appreciation for its queer representation. 

Monster begins by delving into the troublesome dynamic between, Saori (Ando Sakura), her son Minato (Kurokawa Sōya) and his teacher, Michitoshi Hori (Nagayama Eita), as they strive to uncover the reasoning behind each other’s unusual behaviour. 

Monster marks Kore-eda’s return to Japanese cinema after spotlighting the cultures of other countries for several years. Together with screenwriter Sakamoto Yuji, he presents a film that “reflects a rift we now see between people, countries, and ethnic groups around the world.”7  Like Shoplifters (2018) and Broker (2022), the suspenseful yet benign nature of Monster can be aligned with shomin-gekia genre of Japanese realist filmmaking that focuses on small but meaningful moments.

Typically, Kore-eda achieves this style through endearing visuals, realistic characters, and a gentle approach to plot and pacing. Numerous scenes in Monster, particularly those with tender subject matter, feature well-lit, ambient environments, believable performances that evoke calm introspection, and a forbearing rhythm of editing that eases the audience into the characters’ headspace. During an exchange between Minato and his principal (Tanaka Yūko) in a school music room, soft blues, a beachy backdrop, and touching line delivery instil a sense of tranquillity and a warm atmosphere of acceptance. Kore-eda’s staging not only grounds the audience in the room with the two characters, but also indirectly expresses the notion of staying true to oneself (the substance of the conversation between the two).

Monster stands out from Kore-eda’s previous work due to the way in which it plays with different perspectives and its ability to create potent dramatic irony. This is most evident during the film’s final “act” where Minato and his school friend, Yori (Hinata Hiragi), take shelter in an abandoned railway carriage. Having witnessed the viewpoints of mother and teacher during the film’s first half, we suspect that the children might encounter an unfortunate fate and a dreadful undertone simmers beneath otherwise cheerful scenes. This makes for a mesmeric climatic sequence that keeps the audience guessing, as the children’s happy togetherness starkly contrasts with the notion of their impending doom.

Kore-eda’s recurring stylistic motif of weather that represents emotional states is again present in Monster where a storm rages as mother and teacher frantically search for the children. When the children are filmed frolicking through a field of lush greenery, sunshine reflects the profound joy and warmth they feel in each other’s company. Throughout, Kore-eda expertly creates a heart-warming, yet suspenseful film, one that touches on people’s differences and the damaging repercussions of secretive behaviour.

Sean Price Williams’s directorial debut, The Sweet East follows Lillian (Talia Ryder), an audacious teenager journeying the eastern cities and woods of the United States, hoping to live a life free from the troubles that plague her monotonous life. Williams, who was cinematographer for the Safdie brothers’ Good Time (2017) applies his acclaimed visual flare, creating a fever-dream-like aesthetic that helps provide insight into Lillian’s intrepid psychological state. The film is comprised of chapters, each representing a different group of radical individuals introduced into Lillian’s life. She greets and opens herself up to their absurd personalities and worldviews, often intrigued by what they have to offer, yet she always finds a reason to move on to the next person.

Williams’ gritty, up-close-and-personal camera work that builds anxiety through persistent close-ups, high contrast colour schemes, and shaky tracking shots are again present in The Sweet East, on which he is also cinematographer. But here, Williams uses it to underscore film critic Nick Pinkerton’s debut screenwriting efforts in exploring the confusion found in adolescence; the overwhelming need for independence and the desire for control over one’s life being Lillian’s primary objectives. Handheld tracking shots capture her every move; almost every shot is deeply saturated, and there never seems to be any negative space within the frame, conveying her paranoia and lack of information. 

As Williams explains, the film “enjoys the fantastic truth that no one is good or bad” and that “every person contains [a] rainbow of at least two or three colours.”8  This philosophy aligns with the often-enigmatic goals and motivations behind each peculiar individual Lillian meets. Williams’ desire to veer away from black-and-white stereotypes works wonderfully in the film’s favour: the uncertainty of actions in each given chapter escalates tension, never allowing the pace to slow. 

Williams embraces unpredictability, discarding genre conventions and expectations of road trip films. Instead of focusing on Lillian’s journey, Williams spends more time on the “stops” and the people Lillian meets. Through an emphasis on tension, a dream-like tone, and an unpredictable plot, Pinkerton and Williams craft a commendable film that explores complex characters in a visually exhilarating fashion. 

– Will Singleton

Late Night with the Devil

Australian Genre Films

Last year’s festival saw the premiere of two exciting, Adelaide-based genre films, both supported by the AFF Investment Fund – Monolith (Matt Vesely), a low-budget, one-location science fiction/thriller, and Talk to Me (Danny & Michael Philippou), a tight take on the possession horror film that has met global fame. This year, the festival continued to present fresh, well-crafted examples of Australian genre filmmaking.  

Following their world premiere in the “midnight” section of Tribeca Film Festival, Adelaide duo Josiah Allen and Indianna Bell screened their debut feature, You’ll Never Find Me – a single-location, real-time psychological thriller that proves the young filmmakers are a pair to watch. Re-uniting with the two leads (Jordan Cowen and Brendan Rock) from their previous short, The Recordist (2020), You’ll Never Find Me immediately intrigues, despite its relatively simple premise. One night during a thunderstorm, a young woman (Cowen) seeks shelter in the motor home of an older, mysterious man (Rock). As the only two actors on screen for the majority of the film, Cowen and Rock deliver engaging performances with emotional depth, holding our attention as moods and sympathies gradually shift.

Penned by co-director Bell, the script initially capitalises on audience expectations – the vulnerability of a young woman trapped in an older man’s domicile – only to frequently subvert them. The relationship between the two lead characters, for example, moves from suspicion to understanding, empathy to distrust, while our own comprehension of their underlying motivations morphs in satisfying contrast. The single location remains interesting due to Allen and Bell’s confident stylistics: dramatic lighting, sleek cinematography, and an especially strong focus on sound design. Every audible moment – a teacup placed on a coffee table, a phone suddenly ringing from another room, or the endlessly raging rainstorm beating down on the thin walls and roof – penetrates the tense atmosphere inside the motor home. 

However, while the tension is initially absorbing, the film’s intentionally drawn-out editing loses effectiveness towards the final act. Artificially long pauses between lines of dialogue, lingering reaction shots, and characters’ slow movements become irritating rather than suspenseful. The explosive climax, at least, reels the audience back in to release some built-up anxiety and frustration. Despite minor flaws in pacing, You’ll Never Find Me is a competent addition to one-location, psychological thrillers achieved on a shoestring budget – think along the lines of Coherence (2013) or The Invitation (2015). As an up-and-coming duo, Allen and Bell craft their script, set, and premise without sacrificing entertainment, and the result is an atmospheric, often claustrophobic exploration of sudden shifts in gender and power imbalance.9

After debuting their third feature at SXSW – and since earning distribution rights with IFC Films and the horror streaming service, Shudder – Australian directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes (100 Bloody Acres, 2013; Scare Campaign, 2016), screened Late Night with the Devil to an enthusiastic crowd, at a fittingly late-night session. The Cairnes’ satirical take on supernatural horror sees a 1970s talk show host, Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), host of the late-night talk show “Night Owls” seeking to revive his failing ratings with a Halloween special that slowly devolves into chaos.

The film begins with a documentary-style newsreel of the 1970s. An unidentified narrator (Michael Ironside, in a welcome cameo) informs us that we are about to watch a recently discovered “mastertape” of an episode of Night Owls, together with previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage.  Weaving these segments together – as well as some well-timed, comedic “commercial breaks”- the directors balance horror and fun across a briskly paced story.

The ensemble cast help sell the film’s 1970s talk-show aesthetic. Each colourful guest on Delroy’s Night Owls is designed to increase viewers: Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), a psychic showman; Carmichael (Ian Bliss), a scholarly sceptic, ready to debunk all unexplainable occurrences and Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon), the parapsychologist and author who is studying Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), a teenager who has developed a supernatural condition after surviving a Satanic cult’s mass suicide.  In the role of Deloy, Dastmalchian’s performance is particularly welcome – usually relegated to smaller roles, here he competently leads the cast, guiding our investment as the demonic stakes grow ever higher.

While the real-time editing of live and behind-the-scenes footage works well, the film holds off on fully embracing the found-footage style that it promised in its opening narration. Rather than providing a diegetic documentation of what happened between the broadcasted segments, the Cairneses opt for a more traditional filmmaking style (multiple cameras, cuts, no acknowledgement of the camera from the characters). As a result, the documentary-like qualities that might have complemented the film’s 1970s aesthetic are unfortunately forgotten. The Cairneses’ tight script (awarded Best Screenplay at Sitges Film Festival), however, delivers a fun, satirical exploration of fame, wealth, self-worth, and love. Thanks to the film’s compelling premise, its combined practical and digital effects, and its comedic take on the era, it is easy to sit back and enjoy the ride of Late Night for the Devil as the horror ramps up. 

– Daniel Kopeikin


World Cinema Selections

A haunting, oppressive work of docu-fiction, Riar Rizaldi’s Monisme was one of six films that formed part of AFF’s Spotlight on Indonesia. A recent winner of the top prize at Indonesia’s Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival, Rizaldi’s film is a decidedly strange, occasionally confronting viewing experience. Meditating on volcanos, environmental exploitation, and the corrupting influence of power on the human soul, the film reckons with issues that are both material and metaphysical.  

A sensually overwhelming study of Mount Merapi (one of Indonesia’s most active volcanos), the film is by turns contemplative and enraged as it takes corrupt government institutions and the senseless violence of nature to task. True to its title (an invocation of the oneness of all things), Monisme suggests that the grace of nature and the violence of men are part of the same terrifying tapestry. The film’s bleak, unflinching worldview made for punishing viewing at times (one scene, for example, connects perpetrators of sexual violence to the mountain itself). Even the film’s most transporting moments (a lyrical long take through the mountain’s varied ecosystems) feel stained by despair. If respites from the all-consuming atmosphere of corruption and degradation were few and far between, Monisme remains vital and compelling for its formal invention and the sincerity of its scream into an unforgiving void. 

– Daniel Tune

“Daring” and “risky” are two words that could be used to describe Gina S. Noer’s Like & Share, another title featured in the Spotlight on Indonesia. Lisa (Aurora Ribero) and Sarah (Arawinda Kirana) are two teenage girls living in Jakarta who create ASMR videos. Lisa is addicted to pornography and Sarah becomes involved with an older man, much to Lisa’s disapproval. An incident involving Sarah and its fall-out then further complicates their relationship.  

Due to censorship limitations within Indonesia, Noer shapes Like & Share with humour, visual aesthetics, and clarity. The film opens with intoxicating, well framed and executed shots food preparation and eating (a metaphor for sexual content) by cinematographer Deska Binarso. Reminiscent of the colour palette of a Pedro Almodóvar film, the film’s aesthetic beauty contrasts with the ugliness of some of its themes. The saturated palette is expressive, metaphorically, of a time in an adolescent girl’s life, which should be fun, full of hope, brightness and excitement for the future. At first, maintaining an online sexual presence and porn addiction is portrayed in a manner that left AFF audience members laughing, giggling and squirming in their seats. This quickly changed in the latter half of the film when the plot shifted to explore the more serious nature of sexual exploitation and abuse. As a result, the saturated colours change and the film takes on a literal dark, sombre feel. Behind the laughs there is deep-seated pain for both girls (for different but similar reasons) – the façade of likes and shares on social media are Lisa and Sarah’s way of dealing with conflict in their lives.  

Considering the wider messages in Like & Share (the feeling of entrapment as a victim, vigilance and reconciliation with oneself and others), the two lead actresses show a vulnerability that needs to be commended. Sexual references and some of the film’s more disturbing sequences are also shot with sensitivity. At a post-screening Q&A, lead actress Ribero and producer Orchida Ramadhania spoke of an awareness among the cast and crew of using the film as a mechanism for change and as a platform through which to address a variety of themes, especially in terms of manipulation brought about through the lenses of cameras, phones and social media. While Like & Share includes challenging subject matter, Noer delivers a well-constructed film with a strong pedagogical message.

In Apolonia, Apolonia, Danish filmmaker Lea Glob takes us on a more light-hearted journey of creativity through the life and struggles of French Bohemian painter, Apolonia “Api” Sokol.  The film itself is a 13-year journey that started in 2009 when Glob and Api first met through a mutual friend. What began as a short film project became something much larger.

Early in the documentary, Glob states: “No motif has caught my eye like her.” The film exhibits Glob’s fascination with her subject by placing us in Api’s shoes, constantly on the move, tracking her daily movements. Born in an underground theatre in Paris to theatre owning parents, Api was naturally going to fall into the creative arts. In her 20s, she studies at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris, one of the most prestigious schools in France for highly talented artists.  Api’s talent does not translate to immediate success, however. The film follows Api as she journeys around the world to build respect and the appreciation of her peers. Her endeavour and work ethic culminate in her winning a residency at Villa Medici in 2020 – a highly recognised award for French artists.

Relationships and the connections shared between women are among the main themes of Glob’s at times experimental documentary. The ease with which the documentary flows is complimentary to the pair’s special relationship, in front of and behind the camera. Over the film’s 13-year period, Api and Glob experience many life-changing moments on camera. The most impactful relationship is the one that Api has with herself through the camera, as she touches on womanhood, the artistic world in which she was born, and the struggles of women surrounding her. Like the characters in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014), we watch Api grow over time as a woman and as an artist, overcoming obstacles in her daily life and the barriers imposed on female artists by a patriarchal art world. As with the documentary award winner at AFF in 2022 The Hamlet Syndrome (Piotr Rosolowski, Elwira Niewiera), the intertextuality of Apolonia, Apolonia will strike a chord with audiences who appreciate art, through the coming of age of a wonderful artist. At one point in the film Api says, “I flirted with intelligence and not the art market”. Glob’s film is a flirtation with life, a portrait of an artist, walking with life itself. 

– Travis Jenner

The Shadowless Tower

Zhang Lu’s Bai Ta Zhi Guang (The Shadowless Tower) offered less boundary-pushing than either Monisme or Like & Share. For those familiar with China’s rich tradition of arthouse cinema, the film treads familiar territory. A low-key, atmospheric drama, the film follows the middle-aged Gu (Xin Baiqing), a food writer who is consumed by lingering regrets and the spectre of urban alienation. Both ideas are symbolised potently by the titular tower, a recurring white pagoda that looms over much of the film’s action, as inescapable as it is banal. Zhang’s thematic reflections on time and “progress”, together with his cast of aging characters and occasional hints of magical realism, bring comparisons to Jia Zhangke (Still Life, 2006; Mountains May Depart, 2015) quick and easily to mind. Zhang’s film sits in a similar emotional register to Zhangke’s films, but it never quite reaches the same level of feeling or atmosphere. There are still pleasures to be had in its variations on familiar themes. A gentle sense of melancholy and undeniable craftsmanship make for a film that is as warm and inviting as self-conscious, moody Chinese art cinema tends to get. Beneath its glumly serene surface there also runs a low ebbing mystery. It is this pleasantly indefinable quality that makes The Shadowless Tower worth seeing. 

– Daniel Tune

In Los Colonos (The Settlers), Chilean director Felipe Gálvez Haberle delivered a new perspective on the revisionist western with his debut feature, highlighting the ruthless cruelty and racism of Chile’s European colonisation. Now submitted as Chile’s official contender for Best International Film at the Academy Awards, the film re-tells Hollywood western tropes – shots of wide-open, untouched country, an “epic” story, colonial men on an expedition rife with unromanticised violence and death –  through the lens of 1893 colonial-era Chile, with a focus on the genocide of the Indigenous Selk’nam tribe. The Settlers follows Segundo (Camilo Arancibia), a half-European/half-Indigenous Chilean, MacLennan (Mark Stanley), an English soldier, and Bill (Benjamin Westfall), an American mercenary. The men are on a journey to reclaim the land that “belongs” to their boss, the Spanish businessman José Menéndez (Alfredo Castro). Vastly different from one another, the men’s hatred for each other, coupled with the film’s infrequent bouts of brutal violence, set the tone for the punishing time period.

As the film shifts from simple governmental expedition to violent Indigenous genocide, Haberle’s quiet, sparse filmmaking remains beautiful and deliberate. Shot in the new, full frame of digital cameras aspect ratio (1.50:1 / 3:2), the film leaves us nowhere to hide as it intertwines sprawling, uncrowded landscapes with unrelenting bouts of violence – one particular sequence sees two non-Indigenous characters gunning down an entire village of helpless Selk’nam people. Filmed through a thick morning fog, the extended, slow motion scene is haunting.

As haunting as it is beautiful in its minimalism, The Settlers makes for an important addition to the revisionist western tradition, especially for those unfamiliar with Chilean history. By focusing on the almost silent Segundo’s perspective throughout the film, we are encouraged to sympathise with him. At the same time, the invading settlers around Segundo embrace various forms of self-serving depravity in the name of business and politics. Segundo involves himself in his surroundings as little as he can. The film’s ending – while not as violent for him as it is for other Indigenous characters – is just as bleak and tragic in its implications for the European colonisation of Indigenous Chilean communities. 

– Daniel Kopeikin

The Hidden Spring

Australian Indies

Following its world premiere at MIFF, The Hidden Spring was a personal highlight among Australian documentary and independent offerings at AFF. The feature debut of Jason Di Rosso (best known as host of Radio National’s The Screen Show), The Hidden Spring was produced with consumer-grade equipment as part of Di Rosso’s doctoral thesis. These humble origins belie (or are perhaps the cause of) the film’s rich depth of feeling. A personal documentary in the essay film tradition, Di Rosso explicitly draws on director Chantal Akerman to craft a portrait of his relationship with his terminally ill father Luigi. Like Akerman’s News from Home (1976), The Hidden Spring produces a profound richness of emotion through its disjunctions between sound and image. While Di Rosso’s terse voice-over narration refers to his emotionally and literally distant father (Jason lives in Sydney, Luigi in Perth), his camera lingers on immaculately composed shots of empty spaces: from the director’s home in Sydney to the train tracks that lead inexorably towards his father on the other side of the continent. 

The essay film’s characteristic formal distance between speech and vision (what André Bazin once called “horizontal montage” with regards to the pioneering film essayist Chris Marker) is also wielded well by Di Rosso.10  Throughout the film, formal disconnection helps Di Rosso reflect upon a variety of distances: the distances between himself and his father (a largely absent presence in the director’s adult life); between his father and the Italian homeland he left as a youth and between the inner and outer worlds that define lived experience. The film’s small scale, combined with its rigorous formalism, creates a profoundly intimate vantage point on the amorphous questions of loss and absence that silently define the tracks of our lives. By the time The Hidden Spring reaches its conclusion, the intimately empty spaces and the unspoken emotion that lurks beneath the film’s brisk narration accumulates a quiet, melancholic transcendence. It is a type of transcendence that is only possible in such a profoundly small, personal film – one that a more “professional” production could never hope to access so fully. 

While operating in an entirely different register, Australian independent stalwart Bill Mousoulis demonstrates the distinct inventive and affective possibilities of Australian micro-budget cinema in his new film, My Darling in Stirling. Premiering at the festival as part of the South Australian Independent Voices program, My Darling in Stirling pays homage to Jacques Demy’s sung-through musical, Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 1964), chronicling young love and loss against the backdrop of the titular Adelaide Hills town.

With typical shoestring ingenuity, Mousoulis crafts the film’s soundtrack out of royalty-free backing tracks, a mixture of professional and non-professional singers, and a lyric sheet consisting primarily of everyday banalities. As a filmmaker, Mousoulis has long been preoccupied with exposing the surreal, the bizarre, and the ecstatic that lurks just beneath the surface of everyday reality.11 This preoccupation reaches a new apotheosis in My Darling in Stirling through its wonderfully strange approach to the musical. The combination of the backing tracks’ prefab smoothness and the earthy, shambling mundanity of the lyrics, for example, borders on the surreal (even within the ‘impossible’ context of the musical genre). Through this strangeness, Mousoulis slyly manages to recall the newness (and yes, weirdness) of first love as it is experienced. A crew of committed collaborators helps Mousoulis along in his quest for innocence. Cinematographer Werner Lach gets the most out of the textures of prosumer gear, making great use of several Adelaide sights and locations: from the gorgeous autumnal red leaves of the township of Stirling to the suffocating dullness of the city’s central mall (serving, very realistically, as a setting for teenage breakdown) or the literally and psychologically transportive effect of metro-services, bound for the Hills. Meanwhile, the film’s cast, tasked with an admittedly eccentric assignment, lock into the film’s singular rhythm. Lead Amelie Dunda delivers a standout performance as the film’s emotional centre and its moral core. Delightfully odd, the film’s micro-budget magic renders it all the more touching for those who are willing to surrender to its singular tone. 

A more lushly resourced but no less energetic film in this strand was Emotion is Dead by Pete Williams – another Adelaide coming-of-age story. Shaped by the defiant, adolescent textures of its pop-punk soundtrack, Williams’ feature debut follows a disaffected, emo-obsessed youth named Brock (played fantastically by Jude Turner). The son of a dead race-car driver who once served as promotional mascot for the now-closed Holden Factory, Brock’s life is lived in the shadow of inequitable class dynamics and late-capitalist despair. The film is largely set around the economically depressed suburb of Elizabeth where Brock lives, a location that was sustained by the Holden factory until its closure in 2018. Like his protagonist, Williams also grew up in Elizabeth. Here, he makes full use of the location to help him embody his film’s mournful reckoning with disenfranchisement and decay. 

One of the film’s most moving sequences occurs early on, when Brock skates through the disused ruins of the Holden Factory in a series of beautifully staged tracking shots. This sequence, along with Williams’ righteously angry employment of retro commercials for the newly founded suburb, constitutes a powerful reckoning with class in South Australian-based filmmaking. As it progresses, the film becomes increasingly reliant on genre thrills, as Brock becomes inadvertently entangled with a powerful and violent drug cartel. These elements and the melodramatic climax they lead to, ring less true than Emotion is Dead’s sensitive and affecting early sequences – the film’s unreservedly triumphant ending in particular feels beamed in from a different film entirely. That said, it is easy enough to argue that such an ending might be a necessary balm for the film’s extremely sympathetic characters (caught in a cavalcade of everyday humiliations) and for the audience itself.

Red Earth

Now a fixture of AFF, the Made in SA gala screened some great local work. In a program that consisted of largely conventional productions, however, two experimental works were absolute standouts: Derik Lynch and Matthew Thorne’s Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black, an AFF Investment Fund feature) and Bryce Kraehenbuehl’s Red Earth. The former, an autobiographical experimental documentary about Lynch, has already received international acclaim, winning both the Silver Bear Jury Prize and the Teddy Award for best queer short at the 2023 Berlinale. Beautifully photographed and laced with potent emotional texture, the film builds to a stunning finale featuring the single most arresting image of the entire festival. Kraehenbuehl’s film is just as visually resplendent but is a decidedly more subdued work. The film is a poetic, largely non-narrative reflection on climate catastrophe in the context of South Australia’s stunning natural environments. Shot entirely on the soon-to-be-extinct Aerochrome film stock (made famous by photographer Richard Mosse), Red Earth makes use of the stock’s surreal infrared colours and its scarcity to photo-chemically imagine the future of a doomed natural landscape. As Kraehenbuehl’s camera tenderly photographs both sweeping vistas and inquisitive wildlife, a poignant melancholy develops out of his film’s uncanny refractions of the natural world, threatened by corporate interest and ecological destruction. Kraehenbuehl’s evocation of the future in the present is as hopeful as it is sad – even a seemingly scorched earth is full of possibility. From my perspective, the striking impact of these two openly experimental works served as microcosm of the festival itself, where marginal, micro-budget and independent films (in form, theme, or mode) made by Australian filmmakers, consistently outpaced mainstream-oriented productions.  

– Daniel Tune 

Adelaide Film Festival
23 October – 03 November 2023

Program Note/Credit: This report emerged from the “2023 Emerging Screen Critics Program”: a Screen Studies collaboration between participating students and mentors at the University of South Australia (UniSA), the University of Adelaide and Flinders University.  Thanks to Saige Walton, Senior Lecturer in Screen Studies at UniSA for assisting with the development of this report.


  1. Pilowsky in “Creative Processes, authenticity and connections to real people: Marion Pilowsky writes about her new film, Isla’s Way”, Cinema Australia, 7 November 2023.
  2. Searchlight Pictures, All of Us Strangers production notes, 2023, p.9.
  3. Lane co-wrote songs such as ‘Dead Joe’, ‘Kiss Me Black’ and ‘A Dead Song’. She has been described by Cave himself as the “brains behind the Birthday Party”. Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files
  4. Sandra is forced to testify in broken French rather than her native German while an audio recording of a heated disagreement between her and her French husband reveals English as their neutral ground.
  5. Jessica Sibley. “Truth Tales and Trial Films”, Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, 40, no. 2 (2007): p. 563.
  6. Mk2 Films, Anatomy of a Fall production notes, 2023, p.3.
  7. Madman Entertainment, Monster production notes, 2023, p.2.
  8. The Match Factory, The Sweet East production notes, 2023.
  9. Matthew Eeles, “Interview: Indiana Bell and & Josiah Allen”, Cinema Australia, 16 August 2023.
  10. Jennifer Stob, “Cut and Spark: Chris Marker, André Bazin and the Metaphors of Horizontal Montage.” Studies in French Cinema 12, no. 1, 2012, p.36.
  11. For example, see Mousoulis’ vastly different account of young romance in Lovesick (2003).

About The Author

Sid Christie is a film critic and a filmmaker who is undertaking a Bachelor of Film and Television at UniSA. They are interested in probing gender, sexuality and class in cinema. Travis Jenner is a mature-age student undertaking Honours in Film at the University of Adelaide. His thesis topic focuses on the French New Wave. Daniel Kopeikin is completing a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Screen Studies at UniSA. You can read his short fiction at his website. Adela Teubner is a graduate of Film and Musicology at the University of Adelaide who is interested in exploring the intersections of music, fashion, gender and sexuality with the cinema. Daniel Tune is a Screen Studies student at Flinders University. He is an emerging filmmaker, critic and co-founder of “Moviejuice”, an Adelaide collective devoted to screen artists outside the mainstream. Will Singleton is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Screen) at Flinders University, focusing on film production and analytical writing.

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