Review Special: 2019 CinefestOz Film Festival, Western Australia

I was very privileged to have experienced the CinefestOZ Film Festival down in the beautiful Margaret River region in South West Australia recently. It is a neatly-styled, homegrown festival with a community feel and a strong focus on Indigenous film-making. It mainly showcases Australian films, but with a tinge of international influence from the likes of New Zealand and France. The festival was established in 2008 and has grown larger with every year, attracting big Aussie names such as David Wenham and Bryan Brown as special guests. The setting of the Margaret River wine region along an Indian Ocean coastline makes it very attractive for visitors indeed. This year the festival screened over 200 films (both short and feature-length) at more than 40 venues. The big-hitters competing for the top prize were go-karting romp Go!, a Hugo Weaving film, Hearts and Bones, another Hugo Weaving film, Measure for Measure, a dark comedy with Mia Wasikowska, Judy and Punch, and the eventual winner H is for Happiness. Many other films were enjoying their World or Western Australian premiere at the festival, such as Dark Place (a horror anthology by Aboriginal filmmakers), Emu Runner (a film about an Aboriginal community dealing with death), The Naked Wanderer (says what it does on the tin!) and Ride Like a Girl (focusing on the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup).

I didn’t get to see as many films as I would have liked but I did see plenty, and these were mainly short films. It was great to witness such a diversity and range of talented filmmakers and actors, almost all of which are based here in Australia. It was particularly encouraging to see the level of quality being produced with Indigenous themes and Indigenous actors. The other great thing about this festival was having the chance to listen firsthand to the producers, actors and directors after the screening. It adds a whole other level to the film experience when understanding the struggles for funding and opportunities that goes with making it. Here is a potted selection of the films I got to see:


Directed by Dan Riches and Luke Riches. Featuring Clarence Ryan, Bjorn Stewart, Genevieve Morris and Mark Coles Smith.

Bearing more than a fleeting resemblance to Adam McKay’s The Other Guys, this impressively-produced short comedy (shown recently on ABC) deals with two Aboriginal police detectives bumbling their way through a meth drug case in the northern suburbs of Perth (Koondoola, Girrawheen and Balga). The feel of the film is very much localised, but the comedy is universal. In fact, it is hilarious. I would be very surprised if this idea is not formed into something bigger, perhaps even fleshed out into a series on ABC. If not, the lead players in Ryan and Stewart (who you may have seen in recent Aboriginal TV shows Cleverman and Black Comedy respectively) deserve bigger and better things in the film industry.


Directed by Emma Vickery.

A subtle black and white short comedy about two funeral undertakers whose hearse breaks down on their way to the cemetery with the body of a former flying doctor called Barry in the back. The film is only 15 minutes long and it has a limited and simple narrative, but it makes out brilliantly with what it has. The cinematography and the camera-placing is expertly done, and the comic timing by the actors is superb. The enthusiasm shown for a bit of hard-core rap music on the way to a burial was a highlight!


Jadai: The Broome Brawler
Directed by Curtis Taylor and Nathan Mewett. Featuring Clarence Ryan, Ruben Yorkshire and Lauren Clair.

Set in Broome (in the Kimberley, of northwest Australia) in the 1970s, this short drama follows a brief period in the life of Aboriginal boxer Jadai Taylor. Having fought successfully for years, he has vowed to his wife and family not to do it anymore, but one night after defending himself from an attack by a drunkard, he is arrested by corrupt police and made to fight for his freedom. This is a harrowing and sometimes brutal film, but the production values are truly impressive, and it is a rewarding watch. There is a subtle social commentary and the visuals adapted for a flashback sequence (Sin City-esque) is brilliant. Also, Ryan’s performance (yes, the same guy in KGB) is electric.


Happy Android
Directed by Jaina Kalifa

This 25 minute documentary about an aging street performer in Melbourne is carefully crafted and sensitively presented. Its director, Jaina Kalifa, clearly has a dab hand at moulding a narrative around a real-life story. Paul Cooper, whom the documentary focuses on, appears at first to be nothing more than an eccentric artist who dresses up in some naff robot costume to make kids laugh at Melbourne’s Luna Park. But slowly, and without prompts, we are enveloped into his anxiety- and depression-ridden life behind the mask. For such a short space of time, we are marvellously transported into Cooper’s world, both as himself and his alter ego, Tubby the Robot, and it becomes very clear how that daily transition, as well as his relationship with his children, keeps him alive.


Directed by Tony Briggs

Elders is a beautifully-shot and tender treatise about the coming of age of an Aboriginal boy in a modern day world. The young boy, dressed up in his Sunday Best, is out in the bush following two older men on a trail. Without an audible word spoken, just a few knowing looks and nods, the elders lead the boy through the wilderness and then instructs him to stay and wait in what appears to be a test of his survival skills. There is nothing sinister about it. It is just quietly powerful and inevitably uplifting when the boy realises what he has to do. Notwithstanding some great acting, the most impressive thing about this short is the utilisation of natural sounds: the squawks of the cockatoos and the hum of the cicadas are all wonderfully effective. This was probably my favourite film of the festival.


Standing Up for Sunny
Directed by Steve Vider, Featuring: RJ Mitte, Philippa Northeast, Italia Hunt, Sam Reid and Radha Mitchell.

This feature film will likely get a widespread release once it has completed the festival circuit this year. It is a feel-good, crowd-pleasing love story and it has enough woke sentiment to ensure it will be a hit around the world with audiences. Set in the outer suburbs of Sydney, it focuses on a reclusive and anger-driven young man who has cerebral palsy. His life takes on a different direction when he sticks up for a girl at a bar who is trying her hand at stand-up comedy but is being heckled by misogynistic jackasses. In the process, he becomes a comedic hit himself, with his hard-hitting brand of humour earning him a chance at the bigtime. In essence, here we have an indie-styled romantic comedy that hits all the right marks. In the lead role is RJ Mitte, famous for starring as Walter White Jr in Breaking Bad. Having cerebral palsy himself, Mitte strongly and soulfully embodies his character and really hits home on many a pertinent point about the way disabled people are seen and treated in every-day life. It is a sweet and often funny film, and one that forces you to not just laugh out loud but to think and empathise.

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