[FEATURE]: Sydney Film Festival
Sydney Film Festival
Artistic Director Care Stewart flashes her cinematic knickers
By Dee Jefferson
Early cinematic memories have a way of shaping our palates, if not our imaginations: for Martin Scorsese, it was seeing The Red Shoes as an 8-year-old; for Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) it was Star Wars. “I often feel quite on the outer, because growing up in a small country town without a cinema, that was not my experience at all,” Clare Stewart confesses. “I have some really good memories of going to Frankston to see Charlotte’s Web when I was five or six – and realising that films could make you cry.”
Several times during her stint as the Sydney Film Festival’s Artistic Director, Stewart has described her trajectory as being one of ‘playing catch up’ after a childhood spent more in books than in cinemas. However she was also an insomniac, so she spent her pre-teen years sneaking out of bed to watch late-night movies on her family’s black-and-white telly – which is how she discovered classics like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and the works of Otto Preminger.
Stewart is still an insomniac, but these days she sees roughly 800 films a year. It’s her dream job, but she’s also very conscious of her role as a filter for those 800-or-so films – and the effect that has on her cinematic palate. “As you see more and more films, you become harder and harder, on a personal level, to please. I get very very excited about many films, but on a personal level it’s much harder to surprise me now.”
“On the other hand, it’s like becoming a really good chef,” Stewart suggests. “You start to appreciate particular and very specific achievements and flavours, in the broader mix. It’s no longer necessary for you to be overwhelmed by the whole meal – it’s like you’re just going to hone in on one surprising and exciting new ingredient, and that’s going to be just as thrilling to you as if the whole meal was fantastic.”
Stewart is describing the distinction between films like the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, which beguile filmmakers, critics and audiences alike with their combination of craft, heart and entertainment; and films like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which screened in Sydney Film Festival’s 2010 Official Competition strand directly after winning the Palme D’Or at Cannes, and was altogether a more esoteric experience. There’s a place for both kinds of films in a public (as opposed to market-driven) festival.
When I talk to Stewart, the festival has just released a ‘sneak preview’ of 23 films from the full festival program, which is released in May. Hand-picked from major festivals like Sundance and Berlin, as well as smaller affairs like Pusan, Rotterdam and IDFA (International Documentary Festival, Amsterdam), this teaser line-up doesn’t include the handful of films that will no-doubt come straight from Cannes to Sydney Film Festival.
Stewart points to the Official Competition as the ‘backbone’ of the festival – and the section closest to her programming heart. Dedicated to “new directions in film”, the Competition strand is both a snapshot of cinema’s cutting edge, and a hotbed of discussion amongst hardcore festival-goers, who tend to see all 12 films, and root for their favourites in the $60,000 Sydney Film Prize stakes.
Of the 23 films released last week, the three Official Competition contenders are perhaps the most exciting: The Future, Miranda July’s follow-up to Me, You and Everyone We Know; Attenberg, directed by former Cinematexas programmer Athina Rachel Tsangari, who also produced Academy Award nominee Dogtooth; and the highly-anticipated screen translation of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood – which, to the relief of many, has been undertaken by Laotian filmmaker Anh Hung Tran (The Scent of Green Papaya; Cyclo) rather than the Yanks…
What: Sydney Film Festival: Preview line-up
When: buy flexipasses NOW for the festival (June 8 – 19)
More: to read more of Clare’s thoughts on Attenberg, The Future and Norwegian Wood – and to see our picks of the line-up – scoot to thebrag.com