American cinema isn’t all about Hollywood; it has a thriving community of fringe and independent film makers. The American Essentials Film Festival currently touring Australia is a selection of 31 films curated by Artistic Director Richard Sowada and showcasing the depth and range of films that steer away from the mainstream.
The program includes newly released movies as well as a thoughtful choice of classics that represent significant markers on the film making timeline: The Graduate (1967), Eraserhead (1977), Annie Hall (1977), Barfly (1987), Postcards From The Edge (1990) and Mulholland Drive (2001). Of particular note is the inclusion of Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977), a rarely seen and very difficult to find cult movie.
Documentaries feature prominently in the festival and cover a broad range of subject matter and styles. The Bomb is a highly experiential film, agitating the senses in a frantic effort to alert the viewer to the very real impending threat of nuclear war. On a lighter note, Becoming Bond is the surprisingly hilarious docu-drama telling the story of George Lazenby, the unlikely Australian actor who played James Bond for one film only. It’s a cheeky, riotous mash-up of re-enactment and interviews with some candid behind the scenes revelations.
Another stand-out documentary is David Lynch: The Art Of Life, which itself has an art-house quality. It’s ostensibly about famous film director David Lynch, but more so it is a study of a man who needs to create art. Lynch effectively narrates the film as we hear only his responses in an interview. This is possibly more a film for fans of art than fans of Lynch although the latter group shouldn’t be disappointed.
Amongst new release features is American Pastoral, the film adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. It’s the directorial debut for Ewan McGregor who also stars in this sprawling saga about politics, war and shattered impressions as it tracks the evolving realities of a small town American family from 1940s to 1970s. The film also stars Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning.
Fanning’s younger sister Elle appears in another highlight of the festival, 20th Century Women which stars Annette Bening as the mother of a teenage son (Lucas Jade Zumann) who is rounding the corner into adulthood. Anxious to ensure his clear passage she enlists the help of his best friend (Fanning) and the pink-haired punk boarder (Greta Gerwig) to help him into society.
It’s a festival that gives the flavour and culture of Americana with none of the cringy tropes.
Until May 24. Palace Verona, 17 Oxford St, Paddington & Palace Norton St, 99 Norton St, Leichhardt. Info: www.americanessentials.com.au
By Rita Bratovich.