The filmmaking wizards of Oz

The Australian filmfest opens on June 6 at a cinematheque near you.

Jucy 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
Jucy 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
Israel is a tiny nation and Australia is a huge continent, but both countries are developing distinctive and distinguished film industries. The best of Australia’s contemporary films are celebrated every year here in the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange Australian Film Festival. This year, it will take place from June 26-July 9 at the Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv cinematheques.
The festival includes feature films, documentaries and short films. The opening attraction this year will be the film Red Dog. The film’s producer, Nelson Woss, will be on hand to tell the story of this unusual and charming film. The title is not a metaphor – it’s really about a dog that turned up in a remote mining village in northwest Australia in the 1970s and touched the lives of many of the residents. Based on a novel by Louis De Bernieres, it’s about how this people-loving cattledog (kelpie) appears one day in this rough town, populated almost exclusively by male miners, and helps transform it into the kinder, gentler and prosperous city it has become. There is a statue of Red Dog in the actual town upon which the film was based, and a visit there helped convince Woss, a producer who divides his time between Perth and Los Angeles, to delve into the story and make the film. The film’s trailer is on YouTube; but if you love dogs, you’ll also want to see the clip there of Koko, the dog who got the lead role, auditioning. The dog can act, and he proves it even in this brief glimpse. Josh Lucas, who stars in the upcoming American comedy The Lincoln Lawyer, plays a bus driver who develops a special bond with the dog, while Keisha Castle- Hughes, the young actress who received an Oscar nod for her role in Whale Rider, is also in the cast. The film, which won the Audience Award at the Vail Festival, was also an official selection at the Berlin Film Festival.
True Blood fans will be excited to learn that Ryan Kwanten, who plays Jason on the HBO vampire series, stars in the film Griff the Invisible.
Kwanten gets to display some range as a shy, nerdy office worker who has fantasies of being a great crime fighter and tries to live them out.
Beneath Hill 60 is a war drama set during World War I when an inexperienced group of Australian mining engineers is sent behind German lines to defend a leaking tunnel system. Jucy tells the story of Jackie and Lucy, two high school misfits who have trouble breaking free of their adolescent misadventures. John Hurt stars in Lou, the story of an 11-year-old girl, the daughter of a working-class single mother, who finds her life turned upside down when her Alzheimer’s afflicted grandfather moves in. Saved tells the complex and international story of a woman who becomes the advocate for an Iranian detainee and becomes attracted to him, which threatens her marriage. The Loved Ones gives an Australian twist to such American high school films as Carrie and the Scream series. The high school prom excites passions that run just as deep Down Under as in the US. The three documentaries promise to be just as entertaining as the feature films. Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! is a look at the Australian genre films that became popular around the world in the 1970s and ’80s. In 1971, the censorship rules were loosened and filmmakers had greater freedom than ever. Australian filmmakers made arthouse classics like Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career, but there were all kinds of thrillers and action films made, such as the Mad Max movies (starring a young Mel Gibson). Contact looks at an Aborigine woman who was 17 in 1964 when she and her family, who had been living in the Great Sandy Desert, met white men for the first time. Now in her 60s, the woman recalls her first, frightening contact with whites, who forcibly removed these nomads from their home. Mrs. Carey’s Concert is about a teacher who believes in the transformative power of classical music and prepares her reluctant students for a concert at the opera house. You can learn more about the festival on the AICE website at or on the Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv cinematheque websites.