The wizards of Oz

All sides of the land down under are on view in the ninth annual Australian film fest.

Careless Love (photo credit: Courtesy)
Careless Love
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Australia has produced a disproportionate share of the movie talent in Hollywood, with such stars as Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Cate Blanchett. But all of them got their start in the Australian film industry, and that industry continues to produce some of the most interesting films in the world, most of them low budget. It will be celebrated here by the ninth AICE Australia Film Festival, which will take place at the Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa cinematheques, starting on June 24. The festival is sponsored by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange.
The festival opens with the thriller Wish You Were Here, which also opened the international competition at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie will have a special appeal for Israelis, since it deals with tourism to the Far East.
Directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, it tells the story of two Australian couples who go on an adventuretourism holiday to Cambodia. They hang out at a resort and sample exotic foods; but when one of the men disappears, the story gets complicated. Eventually, adultery, drug smuggling and various other twists come into play to tell a suspenseful, atmospheric story.
While Cambodia has become a destination for tourists looking for an exotic beach resort, the dark history of that country lurks in the shadows and is even referenced when the friends visit a museum devoted to the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime.
But the middle-class Sydney tourists are just one side of the Australian reality. The film Toomaleh is a kind of Aboriginal Australian 400 Blows. Shot in a cinema vérité style, it tells the story of Daniel, who lives in a remote Aboriginal community. His family lives in poverty, and the community is filled with drugs, crime and broken families.
Daniel begins to be swept up into the cycle of petty crime and hopelessness but then gets the chance to step back and think.
While outsiders may think of Australia as a country composed of whites and Aboriginals, the reality is that there are many Asians from all over who live there. Careless Love tells the story of Linh, an Australian/Vietnamese university student who struggles to make ends meet and starts to work as an escort.
She tries to compartmentalize the two halves of her life, but a double life proves to be more complicated than she hoped.
Swerve is a thriller that tells a contemporary Australian version of the age-old story of a man who finds a suitcase filled with money that he can easily walk away with.
The last suitcase like this I remember seeing in the movies was the one in No Country for Old Men, and that ended up with a very high body count. No one seems to learn their lesson from the movies, so in Swerve, Colin (Jason Clarke) grabs the money he finds at the scene of a fatal car crash.
Face to Face is a complex drama about bullying in the workplace.
Snowtown is based on the true story of one of Australia’s most infamous serial killers and his friendship with a teenage boy.
Wasted on the Young is a high school revenge story, where a nerd and a jock react very differently after a friend is raped.
While most of these films are quite serious, Australians are known as people who love to party (and quite often live up to that stereotype, in my experience). So it’s nice that there is a comedy in the lineup, Any Questions for Ben? It’s about a charming 27-year-old in Melbourne who seems to have it all: a well-paid, high-profile career, lots of women, friends and time to have fun. But when he returns to his old school to speak at career day, a kid asks him a question that sends him off on a year of soul-searching.
There are also two documentaries in the lineup. Life in Movement looks at the sudden death of dancer and choreographer Tanja Liedtke and the impact her work had on her audience and her collaborators.
The Tall Man is a documentary about a 2004 incident in which an Aboriginal man was arrested and then died after just an hour in police custody.
The festival is held by AICE - Australian Israel Cultural Exchange, in collaboration with the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv.