In an ideal world, I would have not have suffered an energy-zapping cold all the way through the festival. I would have solved all programming clashes where films I badly wanted to see ran up against other must-sees.
The State Theatre mezzanine would not have induced narcolepsy by trapping rising heat beneath the overhanging balcony of the Dress Circle. The Dendy Opera Quays would have more than two air-conditioning settings, normal and stifling. And cheapskate film sales agents would have shown respect for audiences by not subtitling films with white subtitles against a white background.
However, as the 2010 Sydney Film Festival comes to an end, an even more crucial issue has been bugging me. How come so many films this year featured beekeepers? What the heck is going on in the zeitgeist? Exhibit (a): Honey, a meditative, visually beautiful film from Turkey about a young boy living with his beekeeper father on a wooded mountainside. This was a gorgeous example of the poetic, long-take filmmaking that's been emerging from Turkey with the rise to international prominence of director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates; Three Monkeys) and would have made a respectable competition entry.
Apiary exhibit (b) was Colony, an award-winning documentary from Ireland's Ross McDonnell about the dwindling bee population of the US. This I sadly managed to miss (Memo to SFF: now you're at the end, please restart from the beginning so we can all catch up on every film we didn't manage to fit in). Beekeeping also turned up in Thai competition entry Uncle Boonmee, and I'm sure I caught a passing reference in Claire Denis's White Material, set on a colonial farm in an unnamed, civil war-torn African country – though by this stage I was possibly hallucinating.
The Denis film, starring Isabelle Huppert as a stubborn settler farmer who refuses to leave the land despite clear threats to her and her family's lives, painted a vivid picture of European settler mentality muddied with narrative obscurity. The film has its rabid fans, but after Denis's previous African tale, the spellbinding Beau Travail, I found it one of the festival's more profound disappointments.
On a double bill of the weekend's two other African stories, each lasting roughly an hour, second-billed Soul Boy (director Hawa Essaman) proved not only the standout but also one of the festival's brightest discoveries – a delightful, gloriously photographed tale set in a Nairobi slum, about a boy on a quest to cure his ailing father who has lost his soul to a witch. The film was the result of a German-Kenyan workshop project aided by executive producer Tom Tykwer. Top-billed companion item Saint Louis Blues proved a tiresome Senegalese road movie-cum-musical, burdened with bizarrely inappropriate, sub-Michel Legrand songs and can't-be-bothered dance performances.