DocWeek – Adelaide Australia March 2014

By guest blogger Melinda Barlow. ‘Splendour, Fear, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, Wonder, Death and all the other things you love’. This is DOCWEEK’s tagline and it accurately portrays the depth of content on show and up for discussion at Australia’s International Documentary Festival (AIDC) – DOCWEEK.

Although AIDC has been running as an industry conference for nearly three decades, this year it became DOCWEEK with an expanded program, a documentary screening festival and a whole world of interesting new things for delegates to see, do and work with.

I attended on a Media Pass for Down Under Berlin while in Adelaide for festival season and was thrilled to see so many passionate people all engaged and inspired in the industry. Regardless of any doom and gloom there may be about ‘the plight of Australian documentaries’ there is an abundance of great Australian stories being told.

There were quite a few interesting sessions in the conference part of DOCWEEK. Chairman of Screen Australia Graeme Mason delivered the opening address and gave a great overview on the state of the industry. Various panel sessions covered topics such as perseverance, funding, technological advances, creation, idea generation and branding.

There were a number of highlights for me in the festival program and really I could go on for days about them. But I won’t. So here’s just a taste for now…

Opening night premiere: The Last Impresario – Gracie Otto

The festival kicked off for me with the premiere of Gracie Otto’s very cool full length directorial debut The Last Impresario. Australian screen legend Greta Scacchi introduced the film and the audience was mesmerised by a truly fascinating story – the background on Michael White ‘the most famous person you’ve never heard of’. The film was visually very intriguing as well and gave a great example of the freedom for exploration available to today’s filmmaker with the use of graphics, and still photography woven amongst moving images.

Asia Pacific New Documentary Program

Showcasing new work from the region, almost a dozen filmmakers entered their films to a panel of documentary industry executives for the Asia Pacific New Documentary Program. Highlights for me were, of course Gracie Otto’s ‘The Last Impresario’, also the harrowing Blush of Fruit by Jakeb Anhvu and the closing night film, Clare Young’s ‘From the Bottom of the Lake’. The winners were as follows:

* Asia Pacific New Documentary Award for Outstanding New Asian Pacific Documentary Talent
Pavitra Chalam, director of Indelible

* F4 Award for Outstanding New Australian Documentary Talent
Jakeb Anhvu, director Blush of Fruit

The Needle in the Haystack: The works of Alex Gibney

What a thrill to be able to access so many amazing works from such a successful and influential documentary maker! DOCWEEK featured nine of Alex’s films throughout the festival, and we were also lucky enough to have a masterclass with him via Skype, hearing all the juiciest details of the life of a documentary filmmaker. There were packed houses for all the films, but of course the hot tickets were for the The Armstrong Lie as Opening Night Premiere, the Academy Award® nominated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and the Academy Award® winning Taxi to the Dark Side.

DOCWEEK Interactive

One of my favourite parts of the festival, the interactive program, was a free curated program of documentaries with interactive components. New media and tools allow the viewer to engage with the stories in alternative ways, across platforms and devices, as only the online space can provide. Computer terminals were set up at various locations in the city for on-demand viewing and interaction throughout the festival. My favourite was Ringbalin – River Stories by Ben Pederick. Having travelled the Murray Darling River system personally, this was a deeper insight for me into the Indigenous culture of this region and their perspective on what for years has been a much discussed issue for Australians – the future of this essential water supply. The geolocation feature that led you to storytelling on site by local Elders was really where the magic and possibilities offered by interactive features such as these was evident. Want to know more? Well you’ll just have to interact….

Check out the links for more information and let us know if you want to know more or see more on any of these topics at Down Under Berlin.

Melinda Barlow is an Australian freelance writer, dividing her time between Europe and Australia. She first moved to Berlin in early 2012 and is an avid lover of films from all over the world. Previously she was film reviewer for ABC Radio in Australia among other things and currently writes for print and online media.@melindajbarlow

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