During his opening night address that officially set this year’s Revelation in motion, festival chairman Richard Sowada informed the packed auditorium that film was in fact just a small part of the festival, that Revelation was more about a “state of mind”, “having an opinion”, and that, “It’s not about how much [Rev] can take, but how much [Rev] can give.” Certainly, this year the festival seemed to encourage a tighter film community, more than any of its previous thirteen years – doubtlessly benefitting from Rev’s first big dive into social networking which alerted patrons to Rev’s uniqueness as a film event. This was reflected in the stronger turn-outs for each session, up a staggering 40% from the previous year. (1) I would often witness festival-goers in the lobby either tweeting about the film they had just seen (or, prematurely, during the film itself), or engaging in passionate discussions about the films offered – occasionally with the guest filmmakers in attendance, who were often approachable for a boozy chat in the Astor’s upstairs bar. Adding to this, and after a few years of settling in, Rev finally felt completely at home within the beautiful art deco-inspired Astor Theatre, which thaws out each July to house one of the most idiosyncratic film events in the entire nation, once again featuring an eclectic line-up selected by film writer Jack Seargent (Deathtripping, Naked Lens).
Opening night film Good Hair (d. Jeff Stilson) came pre-guaranteed to please and set off the festivities on a harmless, enjoyable note. Before vacating to the bar, Stilson appeared to share a few words before the film – mostly about how petrifying it can be to watch one’s own film with such a large audience. He needn’t have been concerned; the house lapped up Good Hair, a breezy slice of infotainment presented by Chris Rock and inspired by his daughter’s confusion over why she doesn’t possess “good hair” (that is, straight, silky locks). The film introduced the local audience to the “weave”, relaxer, and the thousands of poor Indian women who give their hair freely to the gods – only for it to be taken and sold at the ridiculous prices that fuel the $9 billion black hair industry. Good Hair was an active example of how the Rev team juggle risky, independent, divisive selections with more accessible fare – films that are akin to the cinematic equivalent of… lettin’ your hair down.
This year’s feature line-up included international festival-fave acquisitions and indie curiosities that were given the Rev spotlight – many of which were receiving Australian premieres. (2) Howl (d. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman), fresh from opening Sundance, offered an awkward yet involving mix of first-person biography, courtroom drama, and an animated rendering of the titular Ginsberg poem presented in displacing, anachronistic CG. Panique au village (A Town Called Panic – d. Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar) didn’t stop for breath, providing madcap stop-motion mayhem that, for two sessions only, gave every other children’s film playing in Perth a mad run for their money. Kynodontas (Dogtooth, Yiorgos Lanthimos) lived up to its international festival hype, populating a can’t-look-away suburban nightmare with cute, endearing characters – even the film’s monstrous patriarch oozed charm as he warbled, Demi Roussos-style, while his captive progeny trimmed his toenails. Dogtooth’s bizarre narrative explodes like a cloud of dust in its first twenty minutes, descending gradually to reveal an irresistible oddity that plays like a Haneke/Seidl hybrid dipped in dorky, dangerous charm (and also acts as a warning against leaving your VHS copies of Rocky and Jaws where papa can find them). “Welcome to Mars”, Cory McAbee croons in the song that opens Stingray Sam, an episodic and very off-kilter B-side to McAbee’s earlier film, The American Astronaught (2001), which also played at Rev. Stingray Sam swaggers with I-dare-you-not-to-love-me enthusiasm, bolstered by the onscreen arrival of McAbee’s young daughter. This same enthusiasm was evident when McAbee himself braced the stage for a relaxed post-film Q&A.
The rest of Rev’s feature line-up was uneven yet wielded many surprises. The mock-doc Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee, a minor Shane Meadows effort, did not gain much from a big-screen treatment save for the amplification of a hilariously awkward turn by long-time Meadows collaborator Paddy Constantine. Snow and Ashes (d. Charles-Olivier Michaud), meanwhile, combined a flashback framing device with a humourless story that descended into numb-bottom dullness in its final half hour. On the other hand, the mystery that propelled Irish filmmaker Conor Horgan’s One Hundred Mornings, a desperate character piece that explored the personal side of the post-apocalyptic, remained engrossing until the final frames, as relationships cooled then collapsed amidst the direst of circumstances. It was unfortunate, then, that the first questions fired at Hagan in the post-screening Q&A sought answers for his deliberately mysterious questions, to which the understandably befuddled Hagan retorted with the classic, evasive defence: “Well, what do you think happened?” Perhaps the festival’s biggest mystery was the ghostly La casa muda (The Silent House, d. Hernandez), this year’s “secret screening”, which remained nameless until it unspooled. Shot entirely on a Canon EOS 5D Mark SDR digital camera following haunted protagonist Laura in real time, like a ghost peering over her shoulder, The Silent House’s minimalism gives an incredible simplicity to its scares – including one sequence featuring nothing but a black screen and the flash of a Polaroid camera that has earned a special place in my nightmares.
The Silent House’s daytime secret screening would have been more at home within Rev’s new Late Night Horror line-up, led by horror festival favourite The House of the Devil (d. Ti West), a nod to American horror cinema of the 1970s that reveals itself to be far more rewarding than just a throwback pastiche. La Horde (d. Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher) was a cocksure yet ultimately snoozy Gallic zombie tale whose lack of originality could have sent it directly to DVD without much fuss. Finally, Australian comedy-horror The Loved Ones (d. Sean Byrne) premiered at Rev, followed by a Q&A with its producer (Mark Lazarus), whose terrible trade-speak of tracking numbers for the film’s trailer felt sorely out of place at a proudly indie festival like Rev. The Loved Ones centres on a handsome, haunted teen misfit who is kidnapped and tortured by the class psycho bitch and her weasel-like father, and is an undeniably pleasurable romp. The film’s potentially unique Australian flavour, however, appears diluted and formulaic; this is adequate for a late-night hooting horror screening, and yet, by ignoring the possibly interesting questions the film poses in favour of novelty thrills, its eventual longevity is surely neutered.
Rev’s documentary lineup is always as eclectic as its feature selection, and this year was no exception: the sold-out sessions of Cat Ladies (d. Christie Callan-Jones) offered plenty of pitiful point-and-laugh moments which escalated to heartfelt poignancy, while Teenage Paparazzo (d. Adrian Grenier) displayed a surprising boldness to dive deeper than its titular subject into the reasons why we consume celebrity like fame soup, acknowledging its own self-reflexivity by concluding with the camera willingly being switched off. Cropsey (d. Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman) moved between documentary modes with a degree of unease (including a bizarre Blair Witch-esque sequence that briefly reduced the film’s thesis to a cheap fright-fest), eventually closing on an anticlimactic we-leave-it-up-to-you beat that dampened the creep-tastic promise of the opening twenty minutes. Disko ja tuumasõda (Disco and Atomic War, d. Jaak Kilmi) took a stately approach to the little-known subject of Estonian piracy of Finnish TV broadcasts during the height of the Cold War, interjecting archival footage with gorgeously shot recreations. One tableau-style sequence, featuring a group of poe-faced Estonian teenage girls busting out Xeroxed disco moves during gym class, could be the basis for a feature film all its own. Kansakunnan olohuone (The Living Room of the Nation, d. Jukka Kärkkäinen) examined a number of lonely Finnish individuals through gradual turning points in their lives, shot primarily from their living rooms; Living Room may have been more successful as a short doc, as the few subjects on offer were thinly spread over a feature running time. Taking its cue from the Hitchcock quote, “They say when you meet your double, you should kill him… two of you is one too many”, Double Take (d. Johan Grimonprez) posits itself against the backdrop of the Cold War – kick-started, in the film, with footage from the bizarre 1959 “kitchen debate” between Khrushchev and Nixon. Grimonprez offers a dreamy meditation on Hitchcock’s doppelgänger quote, cutting between archival footage, coffee advertisements, professional Hitchcock double Ron Burrage, and hilarious footage of Hitch himself from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. As the film tumbles further down an experimental rabbit hole, it eventually settles on a timely, abject warning: what we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat.
The short films on offer at this year’s Rev were either completely complementary or painfully at odds with the features they were supporting: while Waiting For Women (d. Estephan Wagner) perfectly prepared the audience for the desperate loneliness of Cat Ladies (as well as providing a masculine antithesis on the same theme), the embarrassingly over-earnest I Am Not Someone Else (d. James Schlesinger) couldn’t have been more at odds before the devilish delights of Dogtooth. My personal favourite short of the festival was Fur (d. Sophie Boord), described in the program booklet as a story about a girl who “walks upstream into surreality”. (3) Shot on rough-and-tumble 16mm and complemented by a haunting, minimalist post-synched soundtrack, Fur was a mysterious, obtuse slice of nowhere-Australiana that perfectly displayed film’s ability to bypass reason and settle into pure feeling.
This year’s Special Events were kicked off with local 8mm guru Keith Smith’s annual Revel-8 film festival, where local filmmakers are encouraged to shoot an 8mm short in-camera, which is then given to local composers to score. The overall quality of the films (particularly the compositions) had improved from the previous year, and it was a treat to see such well made and haunting short works, trapped within the gorgeous 8mm frame. Another treat for local audiences was the return of nearly forgotten Australian sci-fi metal-musical Sons of Steel (Gary Keady, 1989), introduced with mad enthusiasm by Jamie Leonarder. While Steel was unquestionably unique (this presentation even featured cast member Jeff Duff appearing before the screen to sing along during the film), the slightly bitter, disheartening Q&A session with Keady that followed left a sour taste in the mouth. The Russ Meyer double bill that played the following evening kept audiences attentively erect through two of Meyer’s greatest hits (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, 1965, and Vixen, 1968). It was a rare luxury to enjoy these naughty pleasures with such a large, active audience, many of whom were diving into Meyer’s sleazy universe of square jaws and big tits for the first time. It Came From Kuchar (d. Jennifer Kroot) paired an informative doc about underground cinema legends the Kuchar brothers with one of their best known works, Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965); this brief taste made me want for a more comprehensive retrospective. This year’s Animation Showcase was a mix between imaginatively twee works like The Lost Thing (d. Shaun Tan) and works altogether more esoteric. 7×3 (d. Daniel Winter and Barry Hale), which began the showcase, could have been considered avant-garde but it was probably more likely that someone had left the screensaver on in the projection booth – the film’s seemingly unending repetition whipped the audience into an unforgiving frenzy.
This year, Rev held its conference series (RevCon) primarily within the Astor’s smaller cinema, which gave the panels a more intimate flavour. Mark Lazarus returned for Where is Australian Film At?, providing epithets about what is working and isn’t working in contemporary Australian film, for example: “If films are for audiences, they should be made by audiences”. The discussion ranged from Screen Australia’s interest in genre, whitewashing culture in Australian cinema for the ease of international audiences, making one’s “neg costs” back tenfold, and being jealous of your neighbour’s yacht. Luckily, for the State of Independents panel, Lazarus’ industry chatter was countered by a number of differing filmmaking ideologies from around the world – he was joined by Katherine Berger and Stefan Popescu (producer and writer/director, respectively, of Nude Study), Jennifer Maas (director of Wheedles Groove), Conor Horgan (writer/director of One Hundred Mornings) and Cory McAbee (writer/director of Stingray Sam). These filmmakers provided heartening stories of self-made gusto and the laid-back panel touched upon a range of topics, from the lack of philanthropy in Australian cinema, to the chutzpah of the Australian Nude Study team making a bare-bones feature in rural Canada, to the (eventual) benefits of the Mumblecore movement. Another RevCon featured Jim Morton, author of influential exploitation film tome Incredibly Strange Films, presenting a reel of what he called his favourite “guilty pleasures”. This included anecdotes about his by-proxy interview with Doris Wishman (she wouldn’t allow a male to interview her), clips from the bizarre Deutsch 60’s beach film Heißer Sommer (Hot Summer, Joachim Hasler, 1968), his excitement about the freedom of film distribution on the internet, and his fascination with “train films”, where a camera is mounted to a European train and travels from station to station, running for over four hours at a time.
Even before this year’s Rev drew to a close it was apparent that the festival was more successful than ever in terms of audience turnout and participation (over a dozen sessions were completely sold out), even if the films selected were no more or less strong than in previous years. However, echoing Sowada’s opening address, if Rev is about more than just films, then this year more patrons than ever before shared its “state of mind”; and, as film critic Shannon Harvey pointed out in an open email following the festival, Rev is putting “Perth on the movie world’s map”. (4) Certainly, it’s a treat to get involving, hardcore film culture here in Perth, if only for a few weeks – for film-lovers this side of the pond, Rev truly is Christmas in July, and an inevitable Boxing-Day melancholia sets in once it ends. Bring on Rev XIV and its inevitable surprises. Hail cinema.
Revelation Perth International Film Festival
8-18 July, 2010
Festival website: www.revelationfilmfest.org
- Revelation Film Festival Media Release: audiences up 40% at Revelation Perth International Film Fest 2010.
- However, and somewhat at odds with previous years, not a single Asian film was to be found amongst the whole bunch.
- Revelation Perth International Film Festival Booklet, 2010.
- An Open Letter From Film Critic Shannon Harvey.