Sydney Film Festival 2011: Day 11 and Closing Night

Beginners - Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor

SFF LogoAfter 12 days, 161 films and countless amounts of snacks consumed, the 58th Sydney Film Festival came to a close with a gala awards ceremony last night and the Australian premiere of the Mike Mills film Beginners.

The jury of the Official Competition, led by Chinese filmmaker Chen Kaige (Sacrifice), awarded Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation the Sydney Film Prize. It beat out films such as Terrence Malick’s Palme d’Or-winning The Tree of Life, The Future and Sundance-winner Take Shelter to win the $60,000 prize. Kaige noted that “The 2011 Official Competition Jury has been mindful of the key criteria for this prize: we award a film which best demonstrates emotional power and resonance; a film which is audacious, cutting-edge, courageous and goes beyond the usual treatment of the subject matter”. Special mention was also made of Cairo 678 for “its courage in using a popular form of cinema to successfully communicate the frustration and anger of women in Egypt with sexual harassment, and their determination to change this. It’s a film that resonates the world over”.

A Separation still

Local animation pioneer Yoram Gross made what may be the speech of the night before awarding Nullabor, by Alister Lockhart and Patrick Sarell, the Yoram Gross Awards for Best Animated Short. The Dendy Award for live action short went to Anthony Maras’ The Palace. Keep an eye on these films: the winner of last year’s Yoram Gross Award, The Lost Thing, went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Short at the 2011 Academy Awards. Life in Movement also won the Festival’s FOXTEL Australian Documentary Prize.

The Great Bear (Den kæmpestore bjørn) posterThe Great Bear

Despite a few boost to Danish cinema with Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist and Susanne Bier’s In A Better World, Denmark is not really known for its animated output. The Great Bear aims to amend this with the story of Six-year-old Sophie and her older brother Jonathan, who are whisked away into the untouched forests around their grandfather’s home in the paws of the titular caniform. Several storeys high with mighty oaks growing out of his back, the fearsome beast is actually quite gentle, especially to Sophie. However, when a crazed hunter uses the children to track down and kill the furry one, things go all bear-shaped. Despite the dodginess of the English dub presented at the Sydney Film Festival, with Dreamworks and Disney presumably securing all the A-List talent, the CG animation is gorgeous, especially on the Bear. Both a strong cautionary tale about the environment and a rollicking adventure in the vein of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, The Great Bear may also be the only place to see a mini-moose in the near future.

The Reel Bits
Liberated from the perils of stunt casting, The Great Bear is a genuinely fun and touching animated story.

The Great Bear does not currently have an Australian release date.

Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel posterCorman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

The renewed interest in all things retro shlock that the likes of Machete, Grindhouse and Hobo with a Shotgun have come with a corresponding appetite from audiences for those films that inspired the tributes. A corresponding number of excellent documentaries on the era, in particular Australia’s own Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed have given us a glimpse into this wacky world, but it is arguable that Roger Corman – a man with almost 400 production credits to his name at the time of writing – could tell you more about exploitation cinema that all of those documentaries put together. The man himself is a contradiction, a well-spoken and intelligent gentleman who is also responsible for bringing later Bergman and Fellini films to US cinemas, the list of graduates from his films may be his greatest legacy, as interviews Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier and an emotional Jack Nicholson will attest. Shot partly on the set of his then-latest film Dinoshark, and using the Corman ethos of getting the interviews wherever they can (Bruce Dern is getting a haircut), filmmaker Alex Stapleton crosses some ground fans of Machete Maidens Unleashed will already be familiar with. Yet it is a loving tribute and a wake-up call to all budding filmmakers.

The Reel Bits
From The Fast and the Furious to Dinoshark, Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel is a loving, informative and often outright hilarious journey through the highs and lows of a career that has spanned six decades – and shows no signs of slowing down.

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel does not currently have an Australian release date.

Beginners posterBeginners

The Festival has historically picked something a bit lighthearted and quirky for its closing night offering, and Thumbsucker helmer Mike Mills’ latest effort would appear to tick all the right boxes in this regard. The basic  juxtaposed storylines of Oliver (McGregor) dealing with the death of his father Hal (Plummer), who decided to come out as gay at the age of 75 following his wife’s death, and Oliver’s relationship with Anna (Laurent) are enough to buoy this likable feature – but only just. However, Mills, like his wife Miranda July (whose The Future screened in competition at this year’s Sydney Film Festival) have a taste for the eccentric, and the subtitled talking dog lifts this up out of standard romance-drama territory. However, there is a certain level of emotional disengagement to the narrative that, while often true to the emotionally disconnected characters (especially that of Oliver), makes this a tough film to be fully embraced by a mainstream audience. Either way, it hits most of the right notes when it needs to, and no animals were harmed in the making of this picture.

The Reel Bits
A lighthearted, albeit also lightly plotted, affair with some stellar acting from a collection of highly watchable players.

Beginners is due for release in Australia on September 1, 2011 from Hopscotch.

The Sydney Film Festival ran from June 8 to June 19, 2011.

For more news and reviews from the Sydney Film Festival, check out our coverage of previous days of the 2011 event:

By the way, if you think our numbering has been off, it’s because we counted Opening Night as ‘Day 0’.