Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Sydney Underground Film Festival in review

The festival trooping, tea drinking, pajama aficionado and Blogger Dale Slamma, was requested by snuffboxfilms to uncover the Sydney Underground Film Festival - not being a film expert I suggested she go for it in her own style which I find quite charming as I'm sure you will too. I think we should request Dale write up many events completely ecclectic, everything from children's clown parties to late night Italian poker games.

So, this is Dale investigating SUFF from the inside for the outside.


The insatiably explorative Dale holding her SUFF security ID.

I arrived in a fluster and a tiny bit late due to drinking too many shandies whilst reading Hunter S Thompson books but I was soon swanning about wearing a shiny new media pass. The venue was in the arse end of Marrickville and close to exactly nothing, it was isolated and isolating, a concrete-fronted legobrick of a building facing onto a main road. Inside though it was quite plush and two huge glowing orbs suspended from the ceiling added a sense of theatre.

Before the festival began I was imagining a shining flickering neon tower of new Australian film but saw instead inside the box of what was and the intricate trails to what is. Each segment made more solid with the comfort and context of filmmakers like Albie Thoms or David Lynch. The quality of the new films was such that these old masters slipped into the program with a wink and a sigh.

There was always a mouthful of empty rows and I am still wondering why. Perhaps APEC chased the crowds away? The program was immense. Each session a beautifully curated abject pebble to turn over and over in my wondering hands. Some a love letter from rejection to dysfunction and despair, others a plunge into affect and the gorgeous absence of time and space. By the end I was overwhelmed and lined with red velvet.

I love a festival atmosphere. It is a time for belonging. Back to back screenings, one location and the isolation of the venue built a dome around us and I found myself happily immersed and locked arms with a sense of community. There are adventures to be had in such a situation. There was a man with an astonishingly beautiful handbag. I briefly followed him around trying to take a photograph of it but in the end was too shy. There was another man who is everywhere in Sydney all at once, in a hat. He said hello to me, having seen me regularly at gigs over the last week or so. The last time I saw him he was dancing with abandon in the front row at a gig stopping once in a while to square his shoulder and photograph the band. I asked him if he was a photographer and he said “No. I am just an ordinary man”.

The festival was not without controversy. Almost half of the audience walked out on the first night, nausea being the main culprit. Tin Can Man proved to be more than most could stomach. The isolation of the venue may have helped develop a sense of community but a lack of available food was a problem, the growling of my stomach and the chattering of my teeth distracted those around me more than once. I learned from my initial mistake and on the second night came armed with sandwiches and a large shawl to wrap myself in. It was freezing in there, simply arctic. The awards presentation was shambolic and the lack of stairs meant that to receive a prize filmmakers had to perform a giant leap to arrive on stage. The men performed this admirably most of the time but more than one woman braved an undignified scramble in a hitched skirt.

There were moments. Sometimes I forgot the flesh of myself and only resurfaced because I had forgotten to breathe. It was the absence of the strictures of mainstream that caused such elation. What divine joy to dive under the rules of narrative or to spend an hour or so in the land affect or rediscover my humanity in the desert dwelling of Salad Fingers. The program was well balanced; just when I thought I had lost the threads of linearity some strong narrative push would right my balance. The closing night feature The Memory Thief was close to brilliant and I’m planning on trooping out to the cinema to see it again.

The majority of submissions were from overseas but there was a strong buzz coming from filmmaking punters so this might not always be the case. Not being a person of research I was astonished to discover that this was in fact the first official Sydney Underground Film Festival. The festival fit like a glove and ran without a hitch. I would not be at all surprised if next year there is standing room only.

Report by Dale Slamma

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