Film fanatics were treated to cornucopia of events celebrating the magic of the silver screen for the first Inverell-hosted North West Festival at the town hall last weekend.
Academy award nominated director Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Ladies in Black) and stand up comedian Damian Callinan headlined the event; which included film screenings, awards and workshops with industry professionals. Screenings of Damian’s lighthearted footy flick The Merger and Bruce’s visually stunning Mao’s Last Dancer were the highlights for many.
Also featured was filmmaker and former local Tim Dennis, editor Rhiannon Windred (originally from Gravesend) and Uralla-based filmmaker Suzie Wicks, who shared their experiences with film-making in the country.
Former Inverell Times editor Michèle Jedlicka made a long-lasting impact on Friday night attendees with her intense film It’s Still Happening, which reflected on 20 years of school shootings in her home country, the United States.
Michèle was awarded Overall Best Film for the challenging piece, which recorded her creation of a tribute to the scores of victims as she pinned their smiling photographs on a gum tree, mingled with harrowing audio clips of the many 911 calls.
“I started it as a personal project back in May after the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas when I wanted to put faces to the incidents, and began researching all the single deaths, and suicides, and those stories stretching back past Columbine High School,” she said.
“I didn’t set out to make a statement, but maybe just to express how torn up I feel, and how I know so many Americans feel about this very unique and unending national tragedy.”
On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Moree’s Merri-May Gill drew giggles for her lighthearted piece on a complimentary crowd-for-hire, The Moree Society of Claquers, which took out the Community Narrative section.
Her humorous profile piece Nathan the Builder, following a labourer’s quest to build the ultimate beach house in Moree, was a crowd favourite.
Moree Secondary College also did their town proud, winning the Short Shorts section with A Discovery.
Lucas Cafarella’s music video about a toxic romance To Me You’re Taboo won the Community Purely Creative section, closely followed by Rob Beaney’s piece on Inverell’s Diwali celebrations and Ged Gibson’s montage Show Us Your Cards.
Luke and Connor Bryant were thrilled to pick up the Animation Secondary award for their fun Lego stop motion Pizza Man.
The festival lived up to its inclusive reputation, with several films from school support units and disability support services. Suzie shed new light on local Michael screening Hurt People Hurt People, a collaboration with Inverell Ability Services focusing on the long lasting impacts of bullying.
Armidale elder Steve Widders shared his surprising optimistic story on losing his sight in Steve, A Vision For the Future. “I’ve done more since I lost my sight than what I would have done if I were a sighted person,” he said.
O’Connor Catholic College also focused on the value of perseverance in the face of difficult obstacles in their film No Ordinary Hero.
Suzie also explored the stories of Glen Innes residents with disabilities in the touching film A Sense Of Place. The actors spoke about their favourite locations in the town, from the church where one young woman had been married to the popular Standing Stones monument. A Sense Of Place will be screened again at the Glen Innes Chapel Theatre on December 3 from 10am to commemorate International Day for People with Disability.
On Saturday, burgeoning filmmakers enjoyed workshops on acting for camera and screenwriting, and quizzed Suzie, Tim and Rhiannon about their work.
“What you guys have in this region is great community networks,” Suzie said. “You’ve got great assets here to make that sort of stuff that reflects back.”
Tim encouraged young creatives to remain open to every opportunity available to them, and Rhiannon said there wasn’t anything else quite like North West Film Festival in the city.
Damian and Bruce were front and centre on Saturday afternoon, and quickly disarmed starstruck audience members with their down-to-earth approaches.
“They couldn’t have been more genuine and pleased to be there. I think both of them were genuinely happy and expressed their wonderful praise for the event,” organiser Sandy McNaughton said.
“Their opportunity to talk to the filmmakers and the community members really gave them that insight into the community and also what the event means to the people in the community.”
Damian discussed the transformation of his once one-man show about a footy player working to unite his small town team with newly arrived refugees, into the feature length film The Merger; which was then screened to a very receptive audience.
“It absolutely resonated,” Sandy said.
“People could see themselves on screen.”
Bruce shared everything from tidbits on Hollywood stars to practical filmmaking advice in an in depth interview on his 50-year career by Sandy, before showcasing his widely acclaimed film Mao’s Last Dancer.
“We can relate to his films and his work and therefore maybe feel we have a relationship with him because we’ve all been touched by the work that he’s made. It’s had some impact on our lives, some way, somehow, it’s different for everybody,” Sandy said.
“There’s a lot of love in the room at that festival, and I think there’s something quite magic that happens. And it’s being able to express our stories in ways that aren’t necessarily available to us through other means that I think really resonates with the community.”
She was deeply grateful to the community for their support of the event.
“I’ve had so many emails and texts from people who genuinely enjoyed the experience, and that’s terrific to hear. Without their support, it wouldn’t happen, and I want to thank them really from the bottom of my heart, most sincerely,” she said.
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