A Festival of Wordly Adventure

By Sebastian Rasmussen 

In the lead-up to the fourth annual Australian Film Festival (11.09. – 14.09., Berlin), I caught up with Festival Director Frances Hill to find out what makes this year so special.

Sebastian: Down Under Berlin starts on the 11th of September at Kino Moviemento (Kottbusser Damm 22). The opening night features the outback comedy-drama Red Dog

Frances: …Yeah Red Dog (2011) is great. It screened at the Berlinale and saw great success with young and old audiences, so it’s an extraordinary family film. It’s such a nice adventure story, with this wonderful dog. Set in the late 70s in Western Australia, a period which saw a lot of people from all over the world come to work in the mines – you get that feeling of multiculturalism, people kind of not being able to understand each other so perfectly at the beginning, making a few social mistakes and stepping on each others toes. They come together as a community, thanks to this dog.

Sebastian: What else can we expect to see? Are there any films which you are particularly looking forward to?

Frances: I also really like a documentary that we’re screening – it won the Foxtel Documentary Prize at the Sydney Film Festival last year – Buckskin (2013). It follows Jack Buckskin, a man in his 30’s teaching the once-extinct language of his people, Kaurna. Through song he teaches school kids, speaks with his daughter in this language and really tries to use it in every day life – to make it a real part of modern and indigenous identity.
We’re also showing student films from the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) of Sydney, one of the most respected film schools in the world and from the Edith Cowan Western Australian Screen Academy from Perth.
Finally, our closing film Bran Nue Dae (2009) brings up one of the themes of the festival – music. It’s a musical about an aboriginal boy who gets sent to a mission, does something naughty and runs away. So it’s like an adventure – it’s a bit, of you know, some bad guys, some good guys and a musical. We have quite a few music documentaries from Australia and Berlin – Busking for Berlin (2014) is one of those.

Sebastian: Speaking of which, Busking in Berlin is one of the movies that will screen as part of this year’s special program Aussies Abroad…

Frances: That’s right. The Aussies Abroad section will feature filmmakers from Down Under who create films in other countries. As part of this we will be hosting a discussion with Australian filmmakers, asking why they choose to produce films abroad and what inspired them to do this. So we’ll get to chat with them and find out their ideas, their inspiration.

Sebastian: Having seen the festival programme, I became very interested in Jan Bauer’s graphic novel presentation. Can you tell me a bit about it?

Frances: Sure – he’s doing a reading from his graphic novel, the Salty River (Der Salzige Fluß). Jan’s a talented animation artist who also produces animation films. In his graphic novel he tells his story of escaping to the other side of the world to seek refuge from a difficult break-up, loss and dealing with his grief. Therefore the storyline is very personal. The drawings are fantastic, creatively capturing the beauty of the Australian outback. Jan will also be hosting a comic workshop at the festival. From my perspective, that’s what I like to see. Somebody from this side of the world who goes over and discovers for themselves how great Australia is – so I don’t have to tell everybody how great it is!

Sebastian: Where do you see the festival going – what do you want to do next year? The next five years?

Frances: In 2015, we’ll certainly look at some films around the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, which is of course a tragic but important part of our ANZAC history. It will be interesting to show our audience how Australia and New Zealand became part of this global movement and joined in the world war when really we’re so far away we could have been left out of it, or chosen to stay out of it. So we would look at the politics behind that, but also the culture. We’re also looking into the genre of the Australian Western.
Getting to ten years – that would be fantastic. To make the connection stronger between us, between distribution companies, filmmakers, to try and get more filmmakers to come over would also be a plus. And maybe expand, maybe we could do a tour of the festival. We’ve often thought about this – because the quality of filmmaking that comes from Australia, from the past and now, is definitively worth showing people.

Sebastian: Thank you for your time, Frances!

Sebastian Rasmussen is a post-graduate political science student at the Free University of Berlin. Having moved from Australia in 2010, Sebastian has been a member of the Down Under Berlin team since 2013.

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