WORLD CINEMA CAPTIVATES PERTH
Madeline Bates, Program Manager of the Lotterywest Festival Films, has just launched her second season of international films to screen this summer at the Somerville and Joondalup Pines outdoor cinemas as part of the Perth International Arts Festival. It’s an iconic Perth activity to pack a picnic (including a good bottle of wine) to enjoy with friends on the lawn before settling into a deck chair to watch the big screen.
Carola Akindele-Obe: You’ve been here in WA for over a year now – what are you enjoying about it, or not?
Madeline Bates: Well, I’m writing this from the Leeuwin Ridge in Augusta looking out over native bushland and the coastline and to say it’s magnificent looking is a bit of an understatement…
I think Perth has a great youthful energy and is home to a lot of creative people and coming from Europe, in the midst of a deep depression, I appreciate the relatively stable position of the Arts community here.
CAO: It sounds like a very glamorous life to be a Film Festival Program Manager. What is it really like as you clock up enormous air miles travelling to exotic locations, meeting colourful and famous people?
MB: Well, sometimes I steal conversations with some very talented people. My favourite chance encounter this year was sitting next to Ken Loach and his wife in a French bakery and having a chat about….
But, in all seriousness, while it may sound glamorous to travel to other film festivals I have to burst the bubble of that impression, as it’s actually hard work. On an average day at Cannes I would watch about four films in-between meetings. Cannes is a major film market (a huge film trade fair, if you like) as well as a red-carpeted showcase for world cinema. I spend the majority of my time running between cinemas, standing in queues, watching highly accomplished yet emotionally demanding work, and fielding questions and sometimes pressure from distributors about which films we may select for the festival. Cannes is an environment where major deals are brokered in a big dollar yet volatile industry, so you can imagine there’s a lot of pressure and quick decision-making. But that’s also what makes it exciting and fun.
CAO: Which other film festivals did you visit over the last year? Which most surprised or excited you, and why?
MB: As well as Cannes, I travelled to Sydney this year. Cannes is always unpredictable and full of surprises.
CAO: Which countries are producing the most exciting films at the moment and why do you think so?
MB: Where to start?! I try not to be too determined by where a film is from but in a nutshell….
Asia – a continent not a country but widely one of the most important areas for new independent film. In particular, Iran – we have another film by the talented director Asghar Farhadi this year, his previous film to A Separation, About Elly, which is having its first theatrical release in Australia in 2013. Perth is one of the few lucky places where the film will be screened and it’s a master class in suspense and intelligent drama. For me, Farhadi is a hugely important director as his work demystifies Iran to the West and I think, indirectly, that is of great political importance.
Again, not a country exactly, but Spanish language cinema has a very rich history and often manages to be passionate, artful, intriguing and brilliant. We’re representing some excellent and diverse Spanish language films this year from Spain, Mexico and Chile.
And then, of course, the French industry is famously prolific. You should never really underestimate French cinema as French society generally has such a respectful and esteemed attitude towards the arts and how important they are to a healthy society; an attitude that I admire greatly and which can produce unparalleled work.
I also think there are some great independent filmmakers in the US who aren’t being driven by the commercial prerogatives of Hollywood and whose work feels authentic and personable. I find independent American cinema tends to be very perceptive at telling intimate stories.
CAO: The 2011-2012 program was a great success, how has your experience of that program influenced your focus for the forthcoming season?
MB: I think my first program was a case of getting to know our audiences better and fortunately they responded to it really well. Perth is a global city with a serious and sophisticated demographic who equally appreciate being challenged as well as the lighter side of life. I hope that I’ve captured that in the 2012-13 season.
CAO: Do you consciously try to strike a balance of genres as well as established and emerging directors and actors across the program? And if so, what are your priorities?
MB: Absolutely, balance is really important, which means that many great films don’t make the final cut simply because of timing and the aim to balance out genres and regions. I think it’s important to combine established, respected and greater-known talent with the work of emerging filmmakers and actors yet to be known outside the industry and the independent scene. That’s our job as a festival to bridge that gap. I attempt to represent the best examples of the entire spectrum of style, subject, geography and genre in the program. I also think it’s our job as an international arts festival to support the brave films – the filmmakers and actors who are really brilliant and stick their neck out for what they do.
CAO: I noticed in last year’s season that some of the films were more of a ‘documentary’ style; is this a growing genre and should we expect to see more in the upcoming season?
MB: I select films based on their accomplishment rather than type but I do think the documentary approach can be as fascinating and as cinematic as fiction. When it’s done well, the results can be of astounding resonance for audiences and ultimately if it’s a good story, well produced, the genre doesn’t matter.
While we don’t have a specific documentary strand this year, we are opening Somerville with one of the best documentaries of the year and there are other films influenced by the documentary approach such as Shadow Dancer, a fictitious account of 1990s Belfast but directed by James Marsh, one of the most successful and accomplished documentary makers of recent times.
CAO: Which top three films do you recommend to the Friends of the Art Gallery?
MB: A very hard question to answer as our appreciation of cinema is also dependent on our immediate circumstance; our mood; what’s happened that particular day and what else we’ve been watching recently. It’s like comparing people!
However, amongst all the brilliant and diverse films on offer – three I’d recommend for art lovers in particular are::
Caesar Must Die – The Golden Bear winner at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival is a genre-defying look at a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in a maximum-security prison in Rome with real-life Mafiosi being given an opportunity to express themselves without limits through the conduit of Shakespeare. Powerful stuff.
Blancanieves – A gorgeous, funny and cheekily grotesque love letter to European silent cinema and a reinterpretation of the Snow White story that sees the eponymous heroine re-imagined as a female bullfighter in 1920s Seville.
Tabu – Another beautiful black and white film that recalls earlier forms of filmmaking (a very interesting trend in contemporary cinema). Tabu is part love-story, part ironic critique of colonialism and rather magical.
Other special mentions include NO, a brilliant and funny political drama about how advertising changed Chilean political history and The Patience Stone, a mesmerising visual poem-like film about a woman’s spiritual awakening in Afghanistan. Beautiful, haunting and sensual.
CAO: Can we expect to see Australian and local WA content?
MB: Yes. I’m very pleased that we have the Australian Premiere of Satellite Boy, which is not only Australian but also set near Wyndham. Satellite Boy had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and I’m delighted that we’re screening it first in Australia and celebrating a WA story at the same time. On opening night (10 December), we’ll be hosting various guests from the film as well so that would be a great night to come.
It’s a beautiful story about childhood and ingenuity and casts two young WA boys as lead characters as well as the legendary David Gulpilil as one of the boy’s grandfather.
I also think it’s important – as a major showcase of international cinema – to be supporting emerging WA talent so I’m also pleased that we’ll have the WA premiere of a short film (playing in front of the feature Safety Not Guaranteed) directed by Zak Hilditch, Transmission.
CAO: Are there any other highlights you can share with us?
On the subject of geography – we’ll be celebrating the Asia Pacific region this year as an official screening partner of the 2012 6th Annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards, which means we’ll be presenting two of their award winning films in special one-off screenings at our Joondalup Pines venue in January (see our brochure and website for more details). That’s a really exciting and unique relationship that I’m very proud of.
We’ve also got some great cross art-form collaborations this year in the Festival. Perth Writers Festival and Lotterywest Festival Films are bringing to the Writers Festival a special focus on the art of great TV – OUT OF THE BOX; we will have a special series of films about artists at PICA; and one of our special guests this year in the music program has also been a major contributor to film history (and soundtracks) so we’ll be hosting a special onstage interview with him about his work on film composition.
Regarding the cinema program specifically, all our films are WA premieres but we also have four Australian premieres in the program (Satellite Boy, What’s in a Name?, Blancanieves and The Patience Stone); it’s great that we’re bringing these films to Perth audiences as they are all acclaimed and excellent examples of their kind and genre, so I hope everyone enjoys them.
I don’t program with the intention of representing particular themes as the program is too selective (with only 25 films to represent 18 months of world cinema) but looking at the program once it’s finished it’s always possible to draw out themes. I think, as always, love is a major theme – whether romantic, familial or platonic.
I hope everyone enjoys the program!
Lotterywest Festival Films run from 26 November 2012. For details visit http://www.perthfestival.com.au/
The ‘short’ version of this interview was published in the December 2012 edition of Artifacts, the magazine of the Friends of the Art Gallery of Western Australia and is published courtesy of Perth International Arts Festival. Carola Akindele-Obe is an editor and writer at The Write Business.
1. The Somerville cinema is set outdoors amongst the shady Norfolk Island Pines at the University of Western Australia. Photo: Michael Chesnutt.
2. Madeline Bates, 2013. Photo: Scott Weir.