Sydney Fest Opens, Premieres "Winter Dark"
by Steve Montal with Lisa-Marie Schroyen
This year, the 45th Sydney Film Festival runs from June 5-19, and this
it features a terrific combination of Australian and international
films. The Sydney Festival has grown a great deal in the past decade,
becoming one of the prominent worldwide festivals for showcasing
independent film and fascinating retrospectives.
The festival opened on June 5th with the worldwide premiere of “In The
Winter Dark” (James Bogle, Australia) in Sydney’s historic State
Theatre. Bogle’s first venture out of low budget filmmaking brings to
the screen Tim Winton’s novella of the same title. Set in a rural farm
community of Australia, the film follows the secluded lives of four
people faced with the imminent threat of an unknown force that is
savagely killing livestock and wild animals. Superbly cast with Brenda
Blethyn (“Secrets and Lies“) who plays the wife of a farmer (played by
Australian film icon Ron Barrett) obsessed with discovering who is
killing his animals. Blethyn and Barrett become engaged in a terrifying
emotional drama with the only two other people in their community
(played by rising Australian stars Miranda Otto and Richard Roxburgh).
Martin McGrath’s cinematography of rural Australia is phenomenal and
complements Bogle’s directing to create this harrowing portrayal of the
dark side of human madness. “In the Winter Dark” was preceded by a short
film, “Fetch” directed by Lynn-Maree Danzey (Australia).
The premiere was followed by the festival’s famous black tie reception
at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. This much-toted social event went until
the early hours of the morning as festival-goers and filmmakers danced
the night away in one of the coolest technology museums around.
The Sydney Festival showcases both shorts and features. Highlights of
the program include the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films; a
tribute to the work of filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus; a
special night of new Vietnamese cinema; the Cinema Africa program which
features films from north and west Africa; a Classic Album night
featuring “Don’t Look Back,” “Monterey Pop” and “The Band“; and features
ranging from “The Apostle,” “Funny Games” (Austria, dir. Michael
Heneke), “Fireworks” (“Hana-Bi“) (Japan, dir. Takeshi Kitano) and
“Hephzibah” (Curtis Levy, Australia).
While Sydney is a competitive festival, it does not have a market
attached to it and functions mainly as a significant Australian cultural
event. Innovations of the festival include flexible ticketing, which
allows passholders to share tickets. Paul Byrnes, the festival director
for the past decade, received a standing ovation commending his efforts
to develop the festival on opening night when he announced that this is
his last year as director.
Keep an eye out for upcoming festivals in Australia in the coming months
including Melbourne and Brisbane. Australia also has some hot short film
festivals that are getting quite a lot of attention including
Flickerfest (takes place in January) and TropFest (takes place in