Young filmmakers' erections and reflections

Mireille Juchau

Lisa Rowe, James Inabinet, Ink Runs Out

Lisa Rowe, James Inabinet, Ink Runs Out

Botched attempts at family ritual, the absurd or impossible ‘noughties’ relationship, conceptual flights and schoolyard racism—I struggled to find neat thematic links between films at the FTO Young Filmmakers’ Fund (YFF) Festival. The films shared only their difference—in approach, form, style, genre and content—and their popularity; the (over) capacity crowd was lounging in the aisles on the plush Chauvel Cinema carpet the Sunday I attended.

The Beach Story, written and directed by Kathleen Drayton, is a spare and quietly amusing drama. Artfully shot, it peels raw the idiosyncrasies of family dynamics which a trip to the beach can intensify. Mum puts the SLAP in slip slop slap when partner Frank (Russell Dykstra) gets fresh during sunblock application, his hands like blowflies busy over her flesh. Bored and embarrassed, daughter Holly wanders off to practise a Popstars-style dance routine on a rock pitted with dark pools until she’s interrupted by a (literal) wanker reclining, naked, behind her, one hand moving in sleazy applause.

Holly flees one erection to find Frank busy with another. She watches him mould his blokey sandcastle—a replica of a car (his Triumph)—then kicks dents in the chassis. We almost feel her shudder when he reveals his serial-sculpting history: “I reckon it’s the best one I’ve ever done.” Frank meticulously photographs his sandcastle, getting greater pleasure, we suspect, from souveniring the moment, than from his ardent sculpting. Meanwhile Mum, who has dozed, sunbaked and flirted with a nearby beach-ball enthusiast, announces with delicious, ambiguous gravity, “It’s over.” She trudges wearily back to the car, her limbs draped and tangled in beach paraphernalia, like something weedy dragged up from the sea. The playful script, adept performances and lulling cinematography made this trip a memorably visceral one; I could clearly imagine their journey home: the sting of seat vinyl on sun-crisped thighs, sand in previously unexplored crevices of flesh, the old car sizzling with too much heat…

From the ocean to the concrete, spray-painted ‘burbs of Newcastle, Intersectionz is a grungy, skater drama in fish-eye focus set to the sound of local bands. The action-versus-adolescent-torpor narrative takes an awkward turn in the final moments, but the intriguing (and puzzling) inclusion of a dad who’s half-mad professor, half Big Kev, means the work escapes the neat formula of My Old China. Written and directed by Linden Goh, My Old China explores the theme of racist schoolyard bullying and is stylishly shot with a fight scene in which saliva is threateningly dangled and drooled. Yet for me, Goh’s film lacked the complexity which might have intensified and enriched the depiction of the Chinese boy’s experience.

A video documentary about the life and decline of a young, HIV-positive woman, Chrissy, won the Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival (and screened on SBS last year). Chrissy’s friend Jacqui North directed, produced and wrote this record of a life punctuated with fistfuls of medication and an acute awareness of approaching death. North doesn’t shield us from discomfort as she dwells overlong on Chrissy, battling nausea at the family dinner with a wrenching, empty smile, one sister quietly departing to return with a plastic bucket; or sister Adele, recalling Chrissy’s proud boast that her cardiac arrest was the biggest ever: “when she does anything, she does the full thing…” Despite predictable home-footage of an unsteady toddling Chrissy on a stretch of Queensland lawn, the small and intensely particular moments of Chrissy’s adult life and her family’s acceptance of her grim future are compelling and moving.

Contemporary Case Studies, directed and written by Janet Merewether, is an assured and overtly stylised exploration of a 30-something, hetero, single woman’s lament. The series of neatly designed, crisply scripted segments are intensified through the adroit use of small details. A woman mines for a splinter in the soft flesh of her foot with tweezers; another twitches with shame while coming out to her analyst as a…heterosexual!, venting her feelings with an inflatable, phallic punching bag; 2 friends commiserate on the state of contemporary men—one makes pastry, the other recites verses from poet Gig Ryan’s early 80s tirade, If I Had a Gun, while a dog whinges and gnaws at thrown scraps of dough.

If I Had a Gun…I’d shoot the man…/who comments on my clothes. I’m not a fucking painting/that needs to be told what it looks like./who tells me where to put my hands, who wrenches me into position/like a meccano-set, who drags you round like a war…

In another scenario, 2 friends exercise while discussing their romantic failures; the fervency of these musings, not their physical gyrations, seems to propel their workout, generating heat and sweat. Pithy psychological theories and depthless new age myths are mobilised; early woundings, father difficulties, soul deficits are worked over, but not worked-out. Merewether’s adept use of the split-screen exaggerates the tension and humour by forming unusual and ironic connections between disparate sources.

Ink Runs Out describes a couple’s break-up through a series of claustrophobic interior close-ups, shot with video which suits its shaky realism. The punch-line to the couple’s argument is literally inscribed on flesh and worth the wait, despite an at times wordy script. Similarly concept-driven, but with an Alice in Wonderland feel, Desire Lines details a woman’s flight/fall from a building during which she glimpses the inhabitants’ lives. Unfortunately the film’s impact suffered from being scheduled after the 52-minute Chrissy. The only appropriate follow up to Chrissy (which culminated in a funeral) seemed the reflective space of an interval. Directed by Annie Beauchamp, Desire Lines was slick, seamless and whimsical even if its imagery seemed derivative of Massive Attack’s video Protection and Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire.

The NSW Film and Television Office grants up to $25,000 toward the production cost of films shot within NSW by artists aged between 18 and 35 years. Since the YFF’s inception, 58 films have been produced; 15 of these were featured in the 3-day festival. Next year, I’ll be arriving extra early to grab a seat.

Gig Ryan, If I Had a Gun, Contemporary Australian Poetry, edited by John Leonard, Houghton Miffin, 1990

NSW FTO Young Filmmaker’s Fund Festival, Chauvel Cinema, Sydney, April 6-8

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. 18

© Mireille Juchau; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2001