Friday, June 11, 2010

Belshaw's World - New England films feature Dungog film festival

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 2 June 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010

I have been drawing up a list of things that I must do in New England before I die.

That’s not being morbid. I suddenly realised that the list of things I haven’t done is now so long that it is going to take years to catch up!

One current priority is to go to the Dungog Film Festival, a celebration of Australian film. The fourth festival was on last weekend.

This Festival has been a quite remarkable success. Part of its interest lies in the way it deals with film making from script workshops to rough cut views to final releases.

Given my own interests, it won’t surprise you that I looked for activities with a New England connection.

One script workshopped this year was by Marcus Waters.

A Kamilaroi man, Marcus Waters is a writer and film maker now lecturing at Griffith University.

The script tells the story of Elijah Waters and his younger sister Katie. Reared in the Aboriginal boxing tents by his grandfather, Waters returns home after 17 years to find his grandfather’s legacy in tatters.

A drunken useless father has died leaving the family property under foreclosure. Elijah also discovers he has a younger sister (Katie) trapped in an abusive foster care system. Elijah’s own life is in ruins. Now, finding Katie, he breaks her out and together they go on a journey of discovery. The only way that Elijah can support them is to become part of the brutal and violent world of underground bare fist boxing, where gambling and high stakes dictate loyalty and support.

I was interested in this one not just because of the Kamilaroi connection, but also because the plot links to the show boxing round.

Boxing troupes such as Jimmy Shaman’s used to be a main feature at the Armidale Show.

The drum would start beating to draw the crowd. Attracted by the noise, my brother and I would come drifting across the rutted dusty ground towards the stand. There we would stand, while the spruiker expounded the virtues of the fighters.

"Come on, come on, come on. Give it a go. Survive three rounds and we will give you five pounds."

Each fighter would be brought forward and introduced to the crowd. "Surely some of you blokes can beat him. Three rounds, five pounds." The locals would hold up their hands and be called into the stand to be fitted out.

Many of the boxers were Aboriginal, for this was one way in which Aboriginal people with limited opportunities could achieve success.

Dungog also saw the showing of the rough cut of Bathing Franky.

Described as the edgy debut feature of director Owen Elliot and writer Michael Winchester (both also produced), the film was shot in Dungog and around the Hunter Valley

Steve, (Shaun Goss) a young man on parole, is finding it hard to deal with his time in prison. He meets Rodney (Henri Szeps), a wildly irrepressible older man, who is the full time carer of his mother Franky (Maria Venuti). An intimate friendship between Steve and Rod develops, leaving Rod torn between the love and loyalty that he feels for his ailing and dependent mother, and his desire to lead his own life.

I am not sure about this one, I get enough human dramas anyway. I was more attracted to Lou, a new feature due in cinemas on 17 June.

Shot in and around her hometown of Murwillumbah by writer/director Belinda Chayko and based in part on her own family, the film tells the story of eleven year old Lou.

Lou’s life is turned upside down when her father walks out. Afraid to let anyone hurt her again, blaming her mother for her father’s departure, Lou builds a tough shell around her heart.

Life suddenly changes when her estranged Grandfather moves in to the family's rented home. Doyle is ill and befuddled. Confused, he mistakes his granddaughter for his long departed wife. Lou, intrigued, plays along, using her bond with Doyle against her mother. As the game progresses, Lou's tough exterior is chipped away; ultimately she understands what it is to be loved and in the most unexpected of circumstances.

In all, three very different works showing a different aspect of the modern New England experience.

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