Perth's annual film festival offers a stand-out program of challenging films.
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2 Jul 2012 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2012 - 12:00 AM

Patrons of Perth's Revelation International Film Festival have come to expect the 'unexpected' from their annual celebration of film culture. It's in the title, after all.

“A lot of people come to us now to see those kinds of oddball, indie documentaries, left field things that they might not get to see anywhere else,” says program director and UK-expat Jack Sargeant. “People expect certain things, like 'Oh yeah, Jack's going to put on this mad horror film or whatever.'”

The thing with Perth is that it is just that little bit more remote, meaning you can sort of do what you want.

Sargeant has selected movies for the festival for five years and shared organisational duties with its founder Richard Sowada and he assures us he's upped his game again in 2012. This year's program, which kicks off July 5 with Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister in the Opening Night slot, is filled with titles that promise to entice, enrich and no doubt, confuse Perth's film buffs.

As evidence of the surprises in his program, Sargeant suggests we look to Way of the Morris, a UK documentary on the history and still-thriving traditions of Morris dancing, perhaps best described as an English folk dance/rhythmic stepping routine. “I don't think anyone will expect that from us!,” he says with a laugh. “The thing about sourcing unusual films is that it's always been my job so I know where to look. Where it is hard for me is to look in new places. If there is a skill to what I do, it is to continually find the odd things that will surprise people.

Other films that capture the essence of what Revelations represents include: Neil Berkely's Beauty is Embarassing (left), a reflection on the life of eccentric free-thinking radical Wayne White; Stephen Kessler's ode to '70s pop culture, Paul Williams Still Alive, starring the diminutive songwriter; and Martin Witz's The Substance: Albert Hoffman's LSD about... well, you get the picture.

The festival became synonymous with the western seaboard's capital once its intention became clear to audiences. “People have really begun to take ownership of the festival,” he says.

“They are into it and they are getting more into it. They understand what it is, what we are trying to do, and now feel like it is their festival. To us, that's really important, that it is embedded as part of Perth's winter culture. That's crucial to us, that degree of community support. That allows it to be what it is.

Though he is speaking to SBS in a cafe near his east coast base in Sydney's Kings Cross, it is clearly apparent that he's a man itching to head back west. “The thing with Perth is that it is just that little bit more remote, meaning you can sort of do what you want. In Sydney and in Melbourne, audiences may be a little more cynical, but we're just not. We don't have a red carpet. We don't turn it on for stars or celebrities.”

The festival team is small but works as a unit to cover the event's annual growth. “I think the days are almost gone where we clean our own cinemas, though if we have 700 people at a screening and we have to all jump in and clean the room before the next session, we'll do it,” he says with a smile. “It is a small team and we are all very hands on.”

The organising committee takes very seriously the film education and discussion panel sections of the annual event, which this year includes a seven-film retrospective of visual effects pioneer Georges Méliès (A Trip to the Moon), multimedia presentations from performance artist Noko and Hollywood actor/iconoclast Crispin (Hellion) Glover and a selection of avant-garde work from the great Jeff Keen (to be introduced by his daughter, artist Stella Starr).

It's this mixed approach to programming that has helped Revelation and Sargeant stake a claim in the national festival landscape. “These things make us special in WA but also special in Australia,” he says. He points to the much-loved Revel-8 screenings, which celebrates “the magic of celluloid's smallest gauge on the big screen,” according to this year's program notes. “You have 600 people in a theatre watching Super 8 films, which is amazing. To see this sense of awe and wonder people have at seeing the format is wonderful.”

Sargeant estimates that he watches around 350 features a year and even more shorts. “We get submissions from all over. We got a short documentary submission this year from Greenland, and we are screening that one (Greenland Year Zero). We work a 13-month cycle; we've already got our first film for next year.”

Along with high-profile US works such as Oren Mverman's Rampart and Alex Cross Perry's mumblecore masterpiece, The Color Wheel (left), countries represented in the main feature film strand include Slovenia (Jan Cvitkovic's Archeo), France (Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo's Livid), Ireland (Paul Fraser, in attendance with his film My Brothers), Denmark (Birger Larsen's Those Who Kill: Shadows of the Past) and Japan (Tak Sakaguchi and Yudah Yamaguchi's Yakuza Weapon). Australian works this year include Stephen Amis' The 25th Reich (main picture, top) and Tom Conyer's The Caretaker, as well as documentaries Buff and Mongolian Bling.

Sargeant is not above welcoming guest-programmers into the Revelations family. “It's good to have different voices. Richard Kuipers is returning for a second year,” says Sargeant, whose love for the macabre and grotesque has led to a close friendship with Australia's leading midnight-movie expert. “And one of our films was discovered by our office manager, Mary, who said we really should watch this film. It's called Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines and she was right and now it's in this year's program.”

Sargeant also teaches and spends time on the lecture circuit and is fiercely proud of Australia's film culture. When asked if enough quality genre work is produced to warrant a presence at the festival, a nerve is clearly tapped. “There's a good healthy independent Australian scene out there. Who are we comparing ourselves to? Hollywood? Because they make so much great stuff? We should be proud of the films that we make here. People are picking up cameras and they are making stuff. What matters to me is that a lot of people have the urge to make cinema.”