By Mark Morellini
David Rokach is the Festival and Artistic Director of The Antenna Documentary Film Festival and has carefully curated a captivating program of 38 feature-length documentaries and 10 shorts from 23 countries around the globe. His passion for documentary films is evident as he speaks about documentaries, the festival and his cinematic recommendations…..
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THIS DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL?
Antenna’s main purposes are to promote and support documentary film culture in Australia, providing access to some of the most talked-about documentaries from around the world and introducing audiences the endless possibilities of what non-fiction cinema can be.
IS THIS FESTIVAL’S POPULARITY ON THE INCREASE FROM YEAR TO YEAR?
Every year the festival continues to grow. This year, additionally to Palace Cinemas and the MCA, we’ve established a new partnership with Dendy newtown and added screenings, so that now the inner west documentary lovers could have easier access to the festival.
BRIEFLY TELL ME ABOUT YOUR FAVOURITE 3 MUST-SEE DOCUMENTARY FILMS SCREENING AT THIS FESTIVAL?
Our opening night film, Putin’s Witnesses, follows the rise of Putin in the early 2000s. It’s a pulse-pounding political expose, with unprecedented, nearly unbelievable personal access to the president. The film is made by exiled filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, who is a guest of the festival which we are very excited about.
One of the most daring, challenging films in the program is Astra Taylor’s What is Democracy? In a time where issues of race and gender inequality are paramount, Taylor examines the deep roots these problems have in what we call ‘democracy’ today. What I particularly like about this film is the way Taylor challenges our very limited understanding of the term democracy, showing us how it is used and abused, and makes us ask whether what we call democracy is even worth fighting for.
América is something completely different. It’s a quiet and strongly heartening film about three brothers that have to come together to look after their 93 year-old grandmother. As we witness the beginnings of a Royal Commission into Aged Care in this Country, the film emotionally pulls us in, challenges us, and inspires us to think of the ways we and our society cares for our ageing family members and loved ones.
AUSTRALIAN DOCUMENTARY FILMS ARE PROMINENT AT THIS FESTIVAL – TELL ME ABOUT ISLAND OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS & THE EVICTION (ON THE ROCKS)
This year we have 16 Australian films screening at the festival which shows the diversity of talent that exists here.
We are very excited to hold the Sydney Premiere of one of the strongest Australian documentaries of the year – Island of the Hungry Ghosts. The film follows Poh Lin who is a trauma counsellor living on Christmas Island and her job is to offer asylum seekers advice and support while they are detentioned indefinitely. As Australian government policies make her job harder and harder to carry out, she finds herself increasingly powerless to help her clients. It is very cinematic and poetic film. It won the best documentary award at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival and Alex Kelly the producer will be here for a Q&A session after the screening. So If you watch only one film about how we treat asylum seekers in this country, then this is absolutely the film you should watch.
The Eviction is a film about the well-known public housing evictions at Millers point in Sydney. Young filmmaker Blue Lucine gets behind the headlines to portray a passionate fight of a small community trying to save their homes. The film shows the human aspects of a community being broken as tenants fight against being pushed out of their homes – homes that they have lived in for years.
WHAT IS THE DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER’S RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ITS AUDIENCE?
Documentary, like any art form, is a medium used to reflect and ask questions about the world around us, and ultimately about us ourselves. The filmmaker’s responsibility then is not simply to record and present a ‘true story.’ Their responsibility is to show us how they see that story. It’s this voice that makes a story poignant, challenging, or revelatory, and that gives a story its significance.
DO YOU THINK THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEVERENDING SUPPLY OF INTERESTING STORIES THAT CAN BE PRODUCED INTO DOCUMENTARY FILMS?
One of the most exciting things about documentaries to me is that every single story, from the massive canvas of global climate change to the miniscule material of a parent’s relationship to their children, becomes interesting and important through the unique voice, and perspective, with which it is told. For this reason, there are endless stories, and endless ways to tell them.
HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND TO SOMEBODY WHO ASKS “WHY SHOULD I WATCH A DOCUMENTARY AT THE ANTENNA DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL WHEN I CAN WATCH DOCUMENTARIES ON TELEVISION?
Antenna’s program is the result of viewing thousands of the latest documentaries from all around the world and carefully curating 38 films that we believe represent the depth and breadth of documentary cinema today. Film festivals have become the only way for people to catch these films. Documentaries today are made for the big screen and the filmmakers use the same tools as their fiction colleagues. Antenna provides a theatrical experience that does justice to these films, so that their dazzling visuals and immersive soundscapes can be experienced to the fullest. And when the lights come up, the buzz of a festival crowd, the Q&As and the discussions that can emerge, allow the audience to enter the larger world of documentary culture.
SHOULD MOVIEGOERS WHO HAVE NEVER ATTENDED THIS DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL PASS ON A MAINSTREAM FLICK AND WATCH A DOCUMENTARY FILM AT THIS FESTIVAL INSTEAD?
I wouldn’t necessarily put Antenna in opposition to mainstream films which I do like as well. Instead I would say that Antenna provides access to a different part of the filmmaking landscape that some cinema lovers haven’t been exposed to. So if you love cinema, don’t pass on the mainstream, but take this opportunity to discover new cinematic possibilities.
Oct 9-14. Chauvel Cinema, Verona Cinema, Dendy Newtown, Museum of Contemporary Art. $20-$90+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.antennafestival.org