It's movie time, mate

The 2008 Australian Film Festival kicks off a marathon of diverse contemporary cinema from Down Under.

aussie film 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
aussie film 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The fifth annual Australian Film Festival, sponsored by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange, kicks off Sunday, June 15, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, but the official opening will not be until June 22 in Sderot - to honor the city in its struggle against terror. In addition, the festival will be held into early July at most of the country's other cinematheques, including Tel Aviv, Haifa and Rosh Pina. As in past years, the festival will present the best of contemporary Australian cinema, and this year offers nine new features, two documentaries and a selection of animated films and shorts. Producer Sue Maslin, the artistic director of the festival who is leaving after this year's event, comments on the unique character of Australia, which colors the tone of the country's films: "Our history over the past 200 years reflects that of immigrants struggling to find their places within this physical and cultural landscape. Dislocation can be found in both urban and rural settings and the physical landscape is a place of both awe and terror." The opening-night film at the Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv festivals, Unfinished Sky, is set in rural Australia and tells the story of a woman from Afghanistan fleeing her troubled past and seeking asylum, finding refuge with a farmer. According to Maslin, the film "illuminates our recent past when we closed the door on asylum seekers escaping political persecution and poverty." Lucky Miles, the opening film at the Sderot and Rosh Pina cinematheques, also focuses on recent immigrants to Australia. It tells the story of a group of Cambodians and Iraqis who are abandoned by an Indonesian fishing boat on the coast of Western Australia and are told that a bus will pick them up soon. As they wander the desert searching for that promised bus, most are arrested, but a few manage to stay on the run, pursuing their dreams of a better life. Israeli audiences will have a special interest in The Lighthorsemen, an epic film (that has been called the most expensive Australian film ever made) about a regiment of Australian mounted light infantry fighting in Palestine with the British in 1917. Celebrating the 90th anniversary of the battle known as the Charge of the Light Horse Brigade and the recent inauguration of the Park of the Australian Soldier in Beersheba, special screenings will be held of the film throughout the festival. THE REST of the films reflect themes both particular to Australia and universal. They include Romulus, My Father, a film based on a best-selling novel about a boy coming-of-age in the Fifties. Eric Bana plays the boy's adored and eccentric father, while Franka Potente is the boy's mentally ill mother. Kodi Smit-McPhee, who won the coveted role of Viggo Mortensen's son in the much-anticipated film version of The Road, plays the young boy. Clubland stars Brenda Blethyn as a down-on-her luck nightclub entertainer trying to keep her troubled family together. In a cross between a psychological thriller and a horror film, Black Water is the story of some adventure tourists who are forced to fight for survival after their party is attacked by a man-eating crocodile. And in The Jammed, a woman from Melbourne is drawn into a world that horrifies her when she helps a Chinese mother find her missing daughter. This is one of the first Australian films to deal with trafficking in women, which is as much a problem there as it is all over the world. Meanwhile, Forbidden Lie$ is an intriguing documentary about a woman who perpetrated a hoax concerning a serious issue, similar to the controversy over James Frey's fabricated memoir, A Million Little Pieces. The film is about Norma Khouri, who lives in Queensland, Australia, and wrote a best-selling book, Forbidden Love, about an honor killing in Jordan that she supposedly knew of first-hand. The book turned out to be a work of fiction and its author has gone into hiding. A journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald exposed the fraud. The obvious diversity of the films being presented this year is explained by Maslin: "The outstanding program we are presenting in 2008 realizes the central aim of AICE, which is to foster greater understanding between our two countries through the exchange of culture and ideas." For more information on movies, tickets and schedules, go to the festival's Web site: