The 2nd Sydney Underground Film Festival under review
September 21, 2008
Here’s my little review of the Sydney Underground Film Festival, which the crew at SUFF were nice enough to bring me up to Sydney for, and give me a cool hotel room, so I could drink the bar fridge dry with Matty Clayfield, etc.
As those in the know know SUFF had an odd beginning after Stefan Popescu and I agreed to do a Sydney version of MUFF together at the 2006 festival, and then he went ahead and did it on his own. But in retrospect, I’m damn glad he did! SUFF is different to MUFF and that couldn’t be better. Stefan has gone the more traditional underground film festival route, a path that MUFF has been criticised occasionally for not following. Its a path that I’m glad we didn’t follow at MUFF, but that I’m glad someone has in Oz screen culture. To our critics we can say, hey, got a problem with MUFF, then check out SUFF! Also, Stefan really is a nice chap all things said, well spoken, a rebel and a real go-getter. His SUFF program focuses on experimental, Indy and avant-garde works, lots of shorts (not many features), some cult cinema retro’s and plenty of well meaning documentaries. Not only that Stefan has a female team, to do a lot of the work for him, all the while he gets to boss them around and look like a feminist at the same time. Ah, the cunning post modern male!
One thing should be said, though SUFF is well organised. Stefan’s femme’s have the place running better and more efficiently than Bergen Belsen. Staff run around with walkie-talkies officiously making SUFF run like clock work and ‘shhhing’ the likes of Kristen and I, as we get pissed in the lobby during a short we didn’t like. If anything I was a little jealous of the efficiency of it all. MUFF has always been a tad too shambolic for its own good, especially considering my liking for disziplin und ordnung!
Anyway, what were the films and program like? For a start George Gittoes Miscreants was a masterpiece and real coup for SUFF. I tried to get it for MUFF, but after Georgie boy said, “Yes!” on the night, some distribution snafu means a MUFF berth is apparently out of the question. But fuck it; you should have been at SUFF! Miscreant’s rocks. Think Jodorowsky making a documentary on contemporary Pakistan. George Gittoes has major balls with this film, too. Really, this mad bastard goes into Taliban held Pakistan territories, which would make Morgan Spurlock shit his diapers, to make a film against censorship and fanaticism. A bold and brave film is the result. He is clearly in danger about five or six times. Like cutting off your head style, in danger. What’s funny is that the film is meant to be anti Bush, etc., but these Taliban cocksuckers are portrayed as being so Evil…and they are by the way…that you leave the cinema thinking, well if you have to take out a few innocent villagers to get at these pricks, so be it. And forget water boarding, lets torture these Taliban bastards like they did during the dark ages, a time they are obviously so fond of still living in! I’m serious that’s the message of the film, apart from, a few umming and ahhings about the complexity of the situation. Gittoes starts his film at some mosque with a bunch of silly cunts on both sides killing each other. You have to admire Gittoes cahones for getting in amongst it. Then suddenly the film turns surreal and brilliant, as Gittoes discovers these cool wacky weird Bollywood style genre flicks, all made on the cheap, featuring loads of violence and sexy dancing gals. Gittoes rightly digs the fuck out of these flicks, seeing them as fellow artists, and decides to commission, make and act in two films. But of course wowser wankers at the Taliban hate these films, and literally bomb the local DVD stores that hold them. Like the OFLC but with plastic explosive. Gitteos then turns his film into an anti Taliban crusade, as they are revealed as being little more than barbaric animals, worthy only of Kurtz’s dictum, “Exterminate all the brutes”. Don’t believe me? Well, the Taliban replaces these cool Pakistani genre flicks with, wait for it…snuff movies, yes, snuff movies. No shit. We see a terrifying glimpse of one, with a twelve year old boy (!!) going to cut the head off some Taliban offending man, we are told he happily does saw it off for five minutes with a grin, and we see him afterwards lifting it up gleefully, all smiles. Gittoes does rightly cut this out, because it is a snuff movie. I’m sorry but liberal humanism leaves me here. I say send in the search and destroy troops, Pakistan or not! Jack Sargeant and I chatted in the lobby about it. He had mixed feelings saying he didn’t know what he felt the film was trying to do. To be a doco on Pakistani troubles, a documentary on these cool genre flicks, or an anti Taliban tirade. I see what he is saying, but felt in a sense, its no sense, made sense. The world in Miscreants is totally off ‘the axis’, if you know what I mean? An almost literal vision of the end times. Gittoes fearless bravery to get this footage and his deep political analysis, beyond the touchy feely left wing crapola, i.e. that we should do nothing but mercilessly hunt down these retrograde and devolutionary bearded creeps, is spot on. Be sure to see this amazing doco when Madman releases it in the future!
The rest of the program? The Anthony Hopkins’s film Slipstream was surreal and interesting, but an odd choice for SUFF. I heard great things about the Sex Galaxy film and Mock up on Mu is brilliant, which I saw at Revelation. Aussie Asylum had some really cool local shorts better than most short fests like advertising troped Trop Fest.
The God Bless America doco section I found a little painful. Homeless Keg Party was simply a depressing group of lost souls getting loaded on free piss. It reminded me of Bumfights, without the fights. I mentioned, I played Bumfights at MUFF to Stefan and he said, “Oh, but that’s exploitation”. I’d said sure, but so is this! Most documentarians are exploiting their subject. At least with Bumfights you know its cruel exploitation. Most documentarians hide it much better. The next film was about depressing things happening to a kid in a wheel chair, which was a barrel of laughs. And Trailer Trash had Kristen and I, inadvertently in hysterics, as things went from bad, to worse, to much worse… for some poor family. Literally it was like, my Nan had cancer, then on the way to the hospital my cousins got killed in a car accident, then my uncle died falling off the roof of the house and hitting my mother on the head and putting her in a wheel chair, and on and on. We left the short and started making up the most outlandish misfortunes that could befall people, then we would hear on the soundtrack in the next room the film echo these very things. It was outlandish, and I couldn’t help feel what is point of documenting this misery on tap? Not my cup of tea.
But it was soon forgotten in SUFF’s second coup the Polyester scratch and sniff program. Watching John Waters bizzaro family values masterpiece, actually with a scratch and sniff card, was a brilliant idea for SUFF 2, and a near full house to boot! The audience laughed and smelled the roses, then the farts, then the air freshener and then the poo. Classic William Castle style fun. Katherine Berger the co director of SUFF found them online years ago and waited for this opportunity. A great idea and real ace screening!
Lovesick shorts selection had a cool Larry Clarke short and the Closing Night flick Song Sung Blue finished up the festival. While it suffered from the fact that it took a bunch of freaks, a couple who do crazy Neil Diamond and Patsy Cline covers, and then stood by and watched like voyeurs as major bad shit happens to them. It’s supposed to be touching but I found it like watching a car accident with a bus full of retarded people. Interesting perhaps, but depressing. It was semi poignant at the end. But you know these peoples lives will only will get worse (those that survive or still have limbs) and the message of the film is the uplifting, “Don’t pursue your dreams, it will end in hell”. But still many people of taste like Jamie from the Mu Meesons and Jack Sargeant liked it, so what do I know…
I also did my lecture on the Tuesday as part of the SUFF Symposia, a series of forums not dissimiliar to the MUFF Academy, but done classly at the Sydney College of the Arts. The SCA campus is a beautiful old series of buildings, that used to be a mental asylum! It would make a great location for a movie. I delivered an hour lecture and Q&A about MUFF, the local Oz inudustry and various related topics. It was filmed by one of Stefan’s crew, so will hopefully turn up somewhere one day, as I thought I spoke pretty well. I also did more than preview The Beautiful and Damned. As the hall wasn’t being used after my lecture, I played the latest version right through to the end, which is still missing a grade and official credits. That was one of its first sneak peak viewings before playing overseas festivals, so thank you to SUFF for that….
I rounded SUFF out with a trip to the MCA in the rocks, where I saw a brilliant Phillip Brophy installation. He has altered video clips and added new soundtracks to make Elton John, Celine Dion, Billy Joel and even Mariah Carey seem amazingly menacing. A totally brilliant show from Brophy, amongst some video art crap, with his signature surround sound perfection.
Also, I went to the Mu Meesons Monday nights at the Annandale. I saw the Incredible Melting Man, a personal 70’s fav, on a 16mm film print and a great mini feature Future Shock, a doco about the Alvin Toffler book, made in the 70’s and featuring Orson Welles as the host no less. Brilliant! The Mu Meeson’s archive is an Australian screen culture national treasure… and should be funded by the Government I might add!
That’s it from Sydney. I also went to Matt Clayfield’s 23rd which was a hoot . I saw some amazing films at SUFF, I worked on MUFF, all good, all round. Thanks to all the SUFF team for having little old me, they have a great festival that should grow well in future years. SUFF and MUFF complement each other, and provide much needed diversity in Underground and Indy screen culture in this country.