It's not often that a small, independent film comes along that packs as much punch as a Hollywood blockbuster. In fact, scrap that, yes it is - it happens all the time. The problem is that, with many groundbreaking and superb indie films struggling on a shoestring and with no extra budget for mass marketing or grandiose national tours, we rarely get to see them in the mainstream media.
That sucks! As a film lover, I feel cheated by the movie-making community at large, knowing that there are so many mindblowingly amazing films out there that I'll never get to see simply because the poor creators can barely buy beans on toast, let alone float an international release.
Thankfully, we in Byron Bay are lucky enough to have the Byron Bay Film Festival. Itself an event built on volunteer hours, the Byron Bay Film Festival offers an international consortium of filmmakers a forum upon which to showcase their work and us popcorn-munchers the opportunity to step out of the blinding Hollywood omnipresence and into something a little more humble, and often superior because of it.
Here are just a few of the 220 films being screened across five venues from February 28th to March 9th:
Nordfor Sola: Not Your Conventional Surf Film
Surfing in Norway is questionable enough. Fighting blizzards, frozen wetsuits and ice cream headaches that could split your skull in two, Norwegians Inge Wegge and Jørn Ranum take that degree of dedication to a whole new level. The pair of film students (and very talented ones at that) must have been wasted when they decided to move north of the Arctic circle for the winter. Living on a small island, totally isolated in a secluded bay with a beautiful left-hander out the front, the pair were determined to live on the cheap, collecting expired food from supermarkets and very proficiently creating a timber cabin from nothing but the driftwood they found on the beach.
With only a couple of hours' sunlight each day at the peak of the winter, they are challenged by climate, temperature, loneliness and their own sanity which, given that they undertook this breathtaking project, was pretty thin on the ground in the first place. Nordfor Sola nothing short of is stunning. Beautifully shot, ecologically minded (the pair collected and removed over three tons of garbage during their stay), a little bit spiritual, this movie has inklings of Into The Wild, but with surf, stoke and a very profound message of consumerism and the price of true happiness.
The Landing: Dramatically Diminutive
The gravity of The Landing (no pun intended) is astounding. Every scene oozes subtext and deep emotion, the confusion of a young boy whose already frayed relationship with his father is challenged further still by the sudden crash-landing of a UFO. Forbidden to explore for himself, the boy watches as his dad hauls a large bundle into the barn of his Kansas farm and bolts the door behind him. Skip to present day and the boy, now a greying man, still battles with the truths of these curious circumstances. In desperation, he returns to the home of his childhood to lay the ghosts of his past to rest.
Each dark and brooding scene is wracked with tension and mystery: what was in the UFO? Why is the father so abrasive and secretive? Why is the boy in present day still so traumatised by this childhood experience? Slowly, like pages of a book blown in a breeze, the truth reveals itself one layer at a time - and it's not what you think. Local filmmaker, Josh Tanner, builds as much intrigue, plot and drama in this 17-minute piece as you'll find in the average, full-length movie.
2 Degrees: Armageddon in Our Hands
Former Greenpeace campaigner and local Byron filmmaker, Jeff Canin, conveys the stark reality of global warming and our political leaders' hand-washing negligence in addressing this very real threat to humanity and the environment. Taking the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference as its platform, the documentary uncovers the staggering ignorance of the key players, those willing to stick their fingers in their ears and shout "la-la-la" as scientists and dignitaries from around the world express the desperate need to act now. Interviews convey the desperation of nations such as the Seychelles, only two metres above sea level and already seeing the impact of rising sea levels, the lengths to which activists will go to to make people listen and the exasperated frustration as superpowers delay, procrastinate and eventually turn their backs on the planet itself.
The difference between 2 Degrees (named after the global temperature rise after which irrevocable damage will be done) and other similar docos is that it searches for a solution. It isn't a tale of doom and gloom with no real cure, it shows that, in South Australia for example, the locals, the you-and-I's of the world can stand up, make a difference and overthrow the powers that be, fight and win for a healthy planet and create the only rational outcome that our brain dead, greed- and money-driven, criminally corrupt, political leaders fail to recognise.
Terrifying in its subject but with a powerful message of hope, 2 Degrees is a film everybody should watch for their own awareness.
Pretty Brutal: Net Tights and Cat Fights
The sport of roller derby is a Jekyll and Hyde world. Graphic designers, personal trainers, teachers and office workers by day, these girls go all out to draw blood when they step inside the rink.
Pretty Brutal documents the rise and rise of New Zealand's fledgling girls' roller derby league. From a single band of girls calling themselves the Pirate City Rollers to national roller derby fever, Pretty Brutal follows every step, or roll, of the collection of likeminded ladies.
Sporting on-rink monikers such as Pieces of Hate, Miss Trust, Blonde Bloodlust and Liv or Die, they are more than just tattooed chicks in fishnets and knee pads. Taking the sport incredibly seriously, they build media attention formulate a regulations manual, induct dozens of interested girls spanning a 25-year age bracket and embark on a national promotional tour.
But it isn't all smooth rolling. While they may all be pals outside the arena, when these girls strap eight wheels to their feet and gear up, nothing will stand in their way to victory. Busted knees, bruises the size of watermelons and concussions are all an accepted part of the program. Things get personal, making for an interesting reflection of the human spirit in the aggressive lives of girls on wheels. League founder, Pieces of Hate, draws us into this world of dual personalities and reveals highly personal aspects of her life that have driven her to succeed at igniting the professional world of all-girls roller derby.
Burra Jurra: Redefining 'Locals Only'
One for the locals, Burra Jurra (Arakwal for ocean and shore) is the documentary of an indigenous program designed to bring the true Byron locals back into the community. Using surfing as the impetus, Arakwal leaders, local surf coaches and celebrities of the surfing world, including Adam Melling, Pauline Menczer and Layne Beachley, stand in solidarity and equality, giving indigenous youth a sense of self, of community and of purpose.
What Burra Jurra lacks in technical merit it more than makes up for in warmheartedness and a profound message. This film should be watched. We should make it compulsory viewing for our school kids and bring far greater awareness to the problems, the history and the significant prejudice that remains in the aboriginal communities of this nation to this day.
Find out more about the incredible work being done by the Burra Jurra program at arakwal.com.au
This little collection is a snowflake on the tip of the iceberg of filmic offerings commencing this Friday, 28th February. Check local press, the Byron Bay Film Festival guide or their website, www.bbff.com.au, for further details and schedules.