Zoom!: the boys are back in town

Mike Walsh

How many South Australians does it take to change a light bulb, how many to change a government, how many to make a film industry? All good questions as we gathered for this year’s election night Zoom! awards, designed as the centrepiece of SA’s film development policy.

Despite continuing problems of defining what constitutes an SA film, the good news is that the awards brought together a solid collection of contenders. Most of the winners impressed with their intelligent understanding of the possibilities of the short film. Rather than Big Themes Hammered Home or Smartarsefest gags, we saw filmmakers discovering what they can do with stylistic tools—light, framing, staging, sound—in order to explore the power of creative imagery.

The main prize of the evening went to Jack Sheridan for Day Dreams. Sheridan’s previous film, Solipsis, also featured in last year’s Media Resource Centre craft awards. It was good to see the SAFC encouraging a filmmaker who is working consistently in an environment that gives little support to his kind. (When people describe SA as the driest state, they are not just talking about water.)

Sheridan’s film also won craft awards for screenplay and performance. The protagonist is ferociously bent on self-destruction to the exclusion of any distractions in the real or imagined world. Even when these coalesce to conjure up an attacker, none of it impinges on her heroic daze. Sheridan’s sureness of touch matches his dark humour.

If last year was marked by women’s successes in these awards, this year the boys were back in town. It was a coincidence that the second-place encouragement award went to another film in which women were targets of sexual assault. Having said that, Zane Roach’s Dark City combined a keen sense of the strange economies of guilt and redemption with an eye for the pleasures of low key lighting and noir mise-en-scene.

The most striking film of the evening was Matthew Bate’s Turbulence, which took out the award for sound design. (Sound people are on the money with films about the hearing impaired, just as actors can count on roles about the mentally ill to put awards on the mantelpiece.) The film deals with a boy’s realisation of the violence within him and of the forces that separate and then reconnect him to the world.

Christian Keefe’s The Worst Day of My Life won the Best Design prize. It treads familiar territory in dealing with the anomie of the salaryman, but it works this terrain with rich visual inventiveness, converting the protagonist’s spiritual isolation into a formal game of spatial manipulation. Underplayed performances combine with careful staging and inventive use of off-screen space to explore the texture of alienation rather than simply the narration of it.

As ever, the minor part of the awards happens in the present. The terror of the future looms over the evening. Let us enjoy the moment and commend the winners to the savage and indifferent gods who rule the lives of young Australian filmmakers.

Zoom! SAFC Filmmaker of the Future Awards + Media Resource Centre Craft Awards, Mercury Cinema, Adelaide, Feb 9

RealTime issue #48 April-May 2002 pg. 14

© Mike Walsh; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2002