For the second year running, nearly a third of the 20 feature-length films selected for Possible Worlds, Sydney’s seventh annual Canadian film showcase running 13-19 August at Dendy Opera Quays, Dendy Newtown and St. Stephen’s Church Hall, are documentaries.
Specifically, six non-fiction titles, all save two a Sydney premiere, will vie alongside 14 dramatic features for the first-ever Possible Worlds Award. The prize is a return trip from Canada to Sydney for the winning filmmaker (full disclosure: your correspondent is one of the three judges, alongside film journalist Alice Tynan and Canadian writer/producer David Fedirchuk).
“What I like to do with the program is to have some degree of representation,” explained festival director, Matt Ravier in phone chat a few weeks prior to opening night. “Because we’re trying to create a snapshot of what Canadian cinema looks like at any given time, it wouldn’t be fair to either exclude documentaries or have too many of them. So we try to go for a balance.”
Ravier and his team see, “about a hundred feature films every year, a mix of documentary and fiction. We tend to select one out of every five that we see… It’s really based on what good documentaries I see that are worth including.”
Typical of the inquisitive and broad-reaching Canadian cinema, the half-dozen selected documentaries represent a diverse and broad-ranging roster of subjects and approaches to their issues. “Canada has a really interesting tendency to make films around the world and to tackle very topical subjects,” Ravier explains.
In 40 Days at Base Camp, Vancouver-based director Dianne Whelan observes, in Direct Cinema style, the kind of men and women drawn to strive for the summit of Mount Everest—and what the various issues that have sprung up surrounding the sheer number of people on that quest say about humanity.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, a handful of independent video game designers sweat the protracted delays and eventual releases of their labours of love in Indie Game: The Movie. This is one of Ravier’s particular recommendations: “you know,” he confesses, “if you haven’t played a video game, like me, since the days of arcades, then you’ll be, I think, quite impressed. Unless you’re a hard-core gamer, your first reflex is to go ‘really? Is that of any interest?’ It absolutely is.”
Another favourite of the director is Pink Ribbons Inc., presented in an encore screening following it’s Sydney Film Festival regional premiere. Swiss-Canadian Léa Pool’s enquiry into the politics and big business behind the breast cancer awareness movement is “an incredibly accomplished piece of investigative journalism,” Ravier says, “a story that is relatively new and very well articulated. Quite a shocking expose.”
Painting on a larger canvas is Surviving Progress, an ambitious and contemplative adaptation of Ronald Wright’s best-seller A Short History of Progress. Directors Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks also made The Corporation, and the film is executive produced by Martin Scorsese.
Ravier notes “another film I think is quite interesting is United States of Africa: Beyond Hip Hop. On one level it's a fascinating look at Africa’s burgeoning hip hop scene, but beyond that it takes stock of what post-colonial African identity looks like and how the political consciousness of young people across the continent is informed by African artists. It’s a multilayered documentary and we’re excited to show it.”
Also reprised from the SFF is Indian-born and Toronto-based director Nisha Pahuja’s acclaimed The World Before Her, which juxtaposes the very different worlds of two Indian women—one an aspiring beauty queen, the other a fighter in training at a militant Hindu fundamentalist enclave.
Fresh off his coordination of the multi-media Festival Hub for the Sydney Film Festival, Ravier continues his distinctive blend of film festival and social mixer in the 2012 edition of Possible Worlds. “We think that one thing Canadians are known for are their hospitality,” he says. “We’re kind of known as one of Sydney’s friendliest festivals, and half our screenings do include a free drink on arrival.”
“So there’s always a little bit of a bonus,” he continues, “whether it’s a Q&A with a visiting filmmaker or some live performances. For instance, The United States of Africa screening will feature live performances from Australian-African artists.” For Indie Game: The Movie, Ravier’s arranged to have the games from the film available to be experienced hands-on in the cinema lobby after the screening. “We’re hoping that some people will be inspired to play them,” Ravier says, with an admirable degree of understatement.
“We want to put the ‘festive’ back in festival,” he avows. It’s all about having a good time, having a social space in which to talk about the films, to meet the filmmakers and to meet the programmers. For me, it’s not a real festival unless that environment is created.”
To see how Ravier’s done that—as well as which screenings offer that free drink as enticement—visit the website for showtimes, pricing information, a roster of events and festival blog.
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