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AACTA Film Fest | Best Indie Film Candidates Blow Open the Gates of Cinema

Article by Melbourne Film Fest host Clem Bastow.

If you’ve ever tried to keep a film diary and tried to both quantify and qualify your “bum on seats” time in any year, you’ll be aware of the bittersweet reality of a cinephile’s life: even the most committed moviegoer may find there are films that slip through the net.

Maybe they have limited release, or are film festival exclusives, or only screened in a city miles or states away from you; whatever the reason, you just didn’t manage to catch them. Pour one (cup of post-mix) out for your fallen cinematic homies. 

That’s what’s so exciting, to me, about AACTA’s Film Fest: aside from being a comprehensive way to take the pulse of Australian cinema in 2018, it’s also the only way you can see some of these films.

That last point is especially thrilling when you consider that this is the first year when films in competition for the 8th AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel include a discrete category of feature films made for under $2 million. While some independent and lower-budget films have indeed triumphed at the AFI and AACTA Awards in the past, this year’s Film Fest shines a determined spotlight on the film practitioners working in low- and micro-budget filmmaking - indeed, there are films in competition that could have been made five or ten times over for the cost of one of their flashier counterparts. 

Crucially, inviting lower budget films into competition inevitably means an increase in diverse stories and filmmaking teams. As the enthusiastic response to initiatives like Screen Australia’s Gender Matters and the Equity Foundation’s Diversity Showcase has demonstrated, the issue of representation both on screens and behind cameras remains a pressing one for Australians. 

Though our film industry is making great strides towards more inclusive screen stories, created by diverse teams, barriers both structural and imagined remain a reality for many actors and film practitioners. For filmmakers keen to tell stories that fall outside the expectations of traditionally-male “hero’s journey” individualism, or to explore themes and communities thought (usually incorrectly) by many gatekeepers to be too niche for broad audiences, the journey to cinema screens can be feel Sisyphean.

That’s why it’s so important to celebrate those films that, in spite of everything the world stacks against them, do get made, and do allow audiences a chance to both explore worlds different to their own and discover that certain themes are universal even if they’re not delivered by a matinee idol in a mega-budget blockbuster. (I hasten to add that it would be remiss of me, as someone about to do a PhD in part about matinee idols in mega-budget blockbusters, to stick the boot into those big screen confections too hard.)

How exciting, then, to have films like THE FIVE PROVOCATIONS in competition. Angie Black’s magic realist queer drama has a majority-female team that includes editor Kelly Dingeldei, costume designer Lucia Gertos, and production designer Amanda Morris. If you hadn’t made it to the 2018 Melbourne Queer Film Festival or For Film’s Sake Festival, you might never have seen it. 

Based on Damian Callinan’s acclaimed stage show, THE MERGER is at first glance a light-hearted comedy in the well-mined vein of other beloved Australian sports films. However, the film explores the plight of both recently settled refugees and hard-up workers in small-town Australia. 

Or, look at PULSE, an assured feature debut that repurposes the well-worn speculative fiction “body swap” trope to bring queer disabled stories to the screen. Directed by Stevie Cruz-Martin, PULSE is written by Daniel Monks, who also stars as Olly, a disabled queer teen whose consciousness is transferred into an able-bodied young woman, played by Jamiee Peasley. Honest depictions of disability are rare in Australian screen media, let alone ones presented by actors and filmmakers who are themselves disabled.

These are just three examples from a wide field of films in competition that explore the dynamics of Australian culture (and, at times, its global equivalent), touching on everything from race and gender to class and faith.

Though these films, at least if viewed through a purely commercial lens, may exist at the fringes of the market, they offer a crucial insight into contemporary Australian cinema - and you are the lucky cineastes who get to see them all in one place.


THE FIVE PROVOCATIONSTHE MERGER and PULSE were screened in cinema in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane during September 2018 as part of AACTA Film Fest. The films will be available for members to watch online via AACTA TV until 11 October 2018.

For your complete guide to the feature films competing for a nomination for the 2018 AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel, download the Film Fest Guide here (6MB).


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