Bestiality, homicidal fantasies, substance abuse and the maddening process of filmmaking. These are among the “off-the-wall” documentary subjects Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF) will be presenting this year. Eleven documentary features, ranging from the subversive to the downright bizarre will screen from September 6-9, at the Factory Theatre in Sydney.
“We have everything for the adventurous, cinematic spirit,” says festival director and head of programming, Stefan Popescu. “There’s humour, excitement, experimentation, babies being shot, Home and Away’s Alf Stewart in a rape dungeon, toes in bums ... depraved treats for all the family.”
Films of this nature seem to find their way easily to SUFF. “When there is a documentary that is really contentious, most festivals won’t touch it with a ten foot pole,” says Popescu. "A prime example is Oliver Stone’s South of the Border, or Donkey Love. We have a reputation amongst filmmakers that we have the balls to go where no other festival dare tread.”
Perhaps the most characteristic of SUFF’s left-field doc selections is The Substance – Albert Hofmann’s LSD. From the birth of LSD in Hofmann’s chemistry lab, through to CIA experimentation during the Cold War to recreational usage within the counter-culture movement, The Substance chronicles the history and development of the drug. With a tagline like “one drop changes everything,” this Swiss doc naturally explores the philosophy behind Hofmann’s creation as well as the possibilities the hallucinogenic offers contemporary psychiatry and neuroscience.
Continuing the theme of taboo substances is P. David Ebersole’s Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel. A window into the heyday of American grunge culture, Hit So Hard profiles Patty Schemel, the lesser known member of all-girl band Hole. Presumably the title's ‘near death’ reference refers to Schemel’s struggle with heroin, a common side effect of Seattle’s alternative rock scene during the early ‘90s. The element that perhaps sets this film apart from other rock'n'roll documentary profiles is the inclusion of home movie footage, shot by Schemel herself, at home with Kurt Cobain and during Hole’s Live Through This world tour in 1994.
Gonzo documentaries and docs about the filmmaking process have experienced recent popularity and are well-represented at SUFF this year, Stefan Popescu explains. “I find this trend quite interesting and think it’s somewhat symptomatic of this hyper-real era we are living in – where we document, imagine and re-imagine ourselves every day, several times a day through digital technology.”
Unmade in China and Despite the Gods are two ‘making-of’ docs on the SUFF bill which investigate the often painstaking process of feature filmmaking. In a similar vein to American Movie, Unmade in China takes an amusing look at a filmmaker’s determination, and frustration in shooting a horror movie. American director Gil Koffman struggles through a series of adverse conditions and discovers the obstacles thwarting filmmakers in communist China.
In Despite the Gods we are transported to Mumbai, the home of Bollywood cinema and the set of Jennifer Lynch’s latest film project, Hisss. Having emerged from a 15-year filmmaking hiatus following her directorial flop Boxing Helena, Lynch returns to the director’s chair in a problem-riddled Bollywood film. In the doc, Australian filmmaker Penny Vozniak is able to capture Lynch’s struggle to stay sane as she guides the production through a minefield of disasters.
Other SUFF documentary highlights include Francophrenia, actor James Franco’s musings into the world of celebrity; Donkey Lovers, a doc whose name says it all, bestiality; and finally Zero Killed, which looks at people who harbour murder fantasies.
The Sydney Underground Film Festival runs from September 6-9, 2012. Visit the official website for more information.
*Image from The Substance – Albert Hoffman’s LSD.
About this writer
Physicist and author Brian Greene, brings us a mind-blowing new exploration of space, time, and the very nature of reality.
Acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history.
A fresh perspective on the birth of civilisation in the Near and Middle East and its dynamic influence on the West.