Arts & Entertainment

Cinema On The Sand

James Robert Woods, Stephanie Jane Day Photo: Mark Dickson

By Mark Morellini

COVID-19 may have cancelled or forced many film festivals to be screened online this year, but the Flickerfest International Short Film Festival returns for its milestone 30th anniversary on Bondi Beach in January 2021.

Over 2,700 entries were received from around the world of which 200 of the very finest will be screened across 10 days and nights. The 2021 festival program boasts 36 world premieres and 56 Australian premieres across the Academy Qualifying Competitions.

“The really important thing with film festivals like Flickerfest is that they are all about celebrating independent cinema,” explained Festival Director Bronwyn Kidd. “I mean we are inundated with Hollywood blockbusters and what Flickerfest allows us to present is an incredible diversity of voices, not just from Australian filmmakers but from filmmakers around the world.”

This year 64 Australian short films will screen across the Best of Australian Competition. Jasmin Tarasin is an Australian filmmaker and her first entry into Flickerfest, The Story Of Lee Ping, will be screening in the competition. She has been an accomplished filmmaker for 15 years working full time as a director making documentaries and commercials and was recently listed in the top five directors worldwide for her commercial work in Ad Forum.

The Story Of Lee Ping is set in 1918 and tells the story of a young Chinese refugee who is brought to Australia as an exotic dancer by a man who treats her as his own and puts her in circus-like shows. “She doesn’t have much contact with the outside world and then by a freak accident she meets Jack who is an Aboriginal soldier and they both see each other as being outlaws of that time. She finally feels that she wants to live a free life. It’s about freedom and finding your tribe, your family – that kind of thing.”

This short film was in production for six months and Tarasin is excited that it will have its world premiere at Flickerfest. “I think Flickerfest is a fantastic short film festival and I’m really excited for my film to be part of that because whenever I have attended this festival it’s always had such a high caliber of films and it’s also such a great environment.”

When asked whether making a film can best be described as a labour of love owing to the difficulty in receiving financial backing, Tarasin quickly responded that “It’s beyond a labour of love – it’s insanity! I don’t know how feature films get made and as for short films, there are four funding rounds per year. We had private investment and self-funding for this short – it costs so much. It’s an impossible task but there’s always a way.”

Having one short film screen at Flickerfest is an honour but Sydneysider Peter Skinner incredibly achieved a rarity, having two shorts selected for screening. Skinner who attained his masters in film studies has been writing/directing on television shows, reality TV, films, narrative short films and is currently writing his first feature film. He had his first short film screened at Flickerfest in 2018.

Lost Boy is probably the bigger film whereas Staring Contest is far more intimate, but I would say they’re both relationship dramas and engineer the idea of identity and the identity you have within a relationship. Lost Boy looks more at the complex conversation around toxic masculinity and how that can be fostered in a relationship. Staring Contest is about the kind of relationships you have in your lives which don’t seem to work out.

Flickerfest is great. They showcase a variety of work and to have not one, but both of my shorts screened is an honour and it shows the range I have as a filmmaker.” Skinner explained that he plans on being in attendance for each screening of his short films at the festival to gauge the audience’s reaction. “You want other people to see your work and when you see how they react sometimes it can be quite unexpected. You might see a laugh where you predict a laugh is going to happen, but it’s something about it that makes it feel real and it’s no longer your film but it’s everyone’s film.”

Skinner explained it’s important that his short films screen at Flickerfest not only because Sydney is his home town, but also because of that sense of accomplishment filmmakers receive screening their films to family, friends, the people who were involved in the film’s production, and the public.

“As an artist, you want to get your work out there. I think Flickerfest is a good platform for so many different filmmakers but why do you make a film? To watch on your laptop? No. You want to see it in a room full of people. Also, I found the most exposure I received compared to other festivals was actually from Flickerfest, where most were reaching out about my work overseas, especially from America for some reason.”

James Robert Woods and Stephanie Jane Day are husband and wife filmmakers who live in Sydney. What may very well be a first at Flickerfest they will both have their short films in competition to be crowned the Academy Qualifying Best Australian short at Flickerfest.

Woods directed A Problematic Gesture Toward Auteur Theory in which his wife served as producer. “It’s basically about the struggles of realising a strong artistic vision in the modern film landscape. I wanted to make a bold statement about the importance of an essential authoritarian voice in a film project.”

Day’s short film entitled An Athlete Wrestling A Python deals with a filmmaker attempting to make a masterpiece which ultimately proves an unfulfilling experience.

Both filmmakers are honoured that their films will be in competition at Flickerfest, but is the pressure on for husband and wife competing against each other? “While our films circle around similar themes it never feels like competition because we make very different work and we help each other,” Woods explained.

“Not at all,” Day quickly responded. “We both love each other and want to see each other succeed. I believe in what James is trying to do, he’s so unique and so intelligent and if I can help bring his work to life that’s amazing to me and I know he feels the same about me, so it’s not a competition.”

Jan 22-31. Bondi Beach. $22 -$75 + b.f. Tickets & Info: www.flickerfest.com.au

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