This year's Harmony International Film Festival will uncover 12 shorts promoting social cohesion.
13 Dec 2011 - 10:27 AM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:10 PM

A new batch of short positive films is now available for local government, schools and others interested in promoting social cohesion or discussing social issues, thanks to the Harmony International Film Festival (HIFF).

HIFF is a film competition that unearths or prompts the production of what founder and director Mehrzad Mumtahan (pictured) describes as films “about meaningful subjects”. For eight consecutive years he has invited entries that fit a theme – this year's was friendship, next year's is equality and he estimates about half the entries are made specifically for the festival – screened the best, then made them available more widely (filmmakers must agree to hand over some rights as a condition of entry.)

In this way HIFF has a wider impact than just on the audience in one small Sydney venue on one night each year. That said, no more than a dozen other screenings of the films have been held each year because Mumtahan is hampered from getting word out widely by a lack of resources. He would also hold more filmmaking classes for schools and outback communities, as he has in the past, if he could.

The teachings of the Baha'i Faith inspired him to set up HIFF and his passion for film drives him to continue it year after year – his day job is with working for a manufacturer of hearing aids. These two interests also came together in his own recent documentary about 75 years of the Baha'i Faith in Australia.

“The reward for us is seeing all these young filmmakers thrilled to have their work among the final 12,” said Mumtahan about HIFF. This year, Maya-Rose Chauhan, director of the finalist Dining Room Tea, drove from Fremantle in Western Australia with a group of friends to attend, he added.

“We try to be a platform for emerging filmmakers and encourage them to make more films … For many it is the first time their work has been shown at a festival.”

According to him, there is “never enough” people making films in Australia about local issues and the Australian culture and way of life. Given that some HIFF finalists have gone on to teach filmmaking in Afghanistan and Samoa, it seems his work is also indirectly creating stories from other cultures.

The new batch of available films is headlined by best film winner Masala Mama, directed by Singapore-based Michael Kam and also the crowd favourite at the December 3 screening. The comedic drama is about a young boy who loves superheroes, caught between his struggling father and the gentle Indian shop owner from whom he steals a comic book.

Kevin is …, a satire from Melbourne-based director Matt Mirams about the modern interconnected world, earned the judges' vote for the most original concept, and Greg Stehle from Rapid Creek in the Northern Territory earned an 'achievement' award for Riding in Between, about a friendship between an Aboriginal boy and his white friends.

The judges also recommended two animations: Sydney-based Jonathan Persson's Broken Wings, about two lost souls fallen to the world; and Cleo's Boogie, about two destitute old friends who walk down memory lane together, made by a Belgium collective Camera-etc.