Cinefile: Aussie storytelling

At the fourth Australian Film Festival in Israel, you'll have a chance to see some of the latest work from Down Under.

baby kangaroo 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
baby kangaroo 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Australian film industry has weathered some ups and downs over the past few years, but it always seems to come up with a few thought-provoking, low-budget independent films - the kind that have grown rare in the US. At the fourth Australian Film Festival in Israel, you'll have a chance to see some of the latest work from Down Under. This festival will be held at the Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa Cinematheques from June 25-July 14 and will present nine feature films and four documentaries, none of which have been shown in Israel before. As in previous years, the series is being sponsored by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE). Sue Maslin, artistic director of the festival, will be on hand at some of the screenings, and writes on the AICE Website that the theme of this year's festival is "telling stories" - that is, the blurring of documentary and feature filmmaking. One example is Ten Canoes, Rolf de Heer's quasi-documentary about the indigenous people of the Arafura swamp. The surprise winner of the 2006 Grand Jury Award in the prestigious Un Certain Regard section of Cannes, the movie used a cast of non-professionals. The festival will open with Jindabyne, starring Irish actor Gabriel Byrne and American actress Laura Linney - an example of how borders have also become blurred when it comes to casting. It's directed by Ray Lawrence, who made the haunting feature Lantana six years ago. Jindabyne is a loose adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story "So Much Water So Close to Home," transposed to Jindabyne, a small Australian town. In that story, a man and his buddies go on a long-anticipated fishing trip, and see no need to change their plans when, on the first day, they find the body of a young woman. When the husband (played by Byrne), comes home and tells his wife (Linney) about it, she is horrified and becomes obsessed with finding out more about the victim. The story is one of the most famous by the late Carver, and for good reason. It's strange that more of his stories haven't been made into films. The one well-known Carver adaptation, Robert Altman's Short Cuts, blended several of his stories together, with mixed results. Another highlight of the festival will be Gillian Armstrong's latest film, Unfolding Florence. Armstrong, who directed such films as My Brilliant Career and Little Women, has made a documentary about Florence Broadhurst, an Australian artist known for her wallpaper prints. Born in a rural Australian town, she was a dancer and boutique owner in Shanghai who eventually became an artist. Her 1977 murder was never solved. Alec Morgan's Hunt Angels (produced by festival guest Maslin) is a docudrama about Rupert Kathner and Alma Brooks, described as the Bonnie and Clyde of the Australian film industry because the filmmaking duo often ran out of money and spent years on the run from creditors and police. Toni Collette, the versatile actress who burst onto the international movie scene in Muriel's Wedding and was last seen pushing a van in Little Miss Sunshine, stars in Like Minds, Gregory Read's look at a forensic psychiatrist trying to decide if a high-school student (Eddie Redmayne) accused of murdering his friend is competent to stand trial. Althought all these films walk the line between fact and fiction, they are meant to entertain and most have played at festivals around the world, where they've won awards. Just as Israeli films have come of age in the past few years, so have Australian movies, as the variety of these recent films show. THE TRAILER for the Coen brothers' latest, No Country for Old Men, has just been released, and it looks like a return to the spirit of their earliest feature, Blood Simple (1984). Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, it has echoes of the classic The Treasure of Sierra Madre, as Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and Josh Brolin play heavies fighting over a stash of $2 million and some heroin. No Country wasn't a winner at Cannes, but winning a prize there is no guarantee that a film is enjoyable. Unfortunately, it won't be coming our way until next fall.