Thursday, 16 August 2007

Black Sheep and Closing - MIFF

Black Sheep was the last of my MIFF screenings for this year. A New Zealand comedy/horror aided by Peter Jackson’s/Lord of the Rings’ Weta workshop (animatronics, special effects, models) is a long way from the mountains peaks and fast flowing rivers of Middle Earth. Set on a rural New Zealand sheep farm, this film takes off when sheep-phobic Henry returns to the family home to collect a settlement cheque for his half of the property, left to him and his “evil”, agri-science brother Angus. Angus has been performing experiments on sheep and when a genetically mutated sheep foetus, designated for the destruction pit, is robbed by an environmentalist protestor and his girlfriend, is duly liberated, and eviscerates said protestor, the story line is ‘on’ in earnest. The assistance of Weta cannot be underestimated in the making of this picture. Appropriately gory zombie sheep and their human victims keep fans of this genre (that would be the blood-splatter flick genre) enjoying the jokes and the set-ups and not sidetracked through laughing at poor effects. This is very similar in tone and style to Jackson’s Braindead (a mentioned early influence on debut director Jonathon King). What might otherwise be considered scary or gruesome is clearly not – they’re sheep for heaven’s sake. People eating sheep, sure, but still silly, lovable, mostly stupid sheep. An absolute must see when it makes its commercial release.

The Festival as a whole was very enjoyable. I was (understandably) exhausted after my long weekend (8 screenings across the three nights) and was glad to be commuting from Hawthorn during that weekend, somewhat closer to the city. Teeth and Black Sheep were enjoyable, perverse comedies. The Australian dramas were thin on the ground in the program and I supplemented my local diet with two documentaries, In the Company of Actors (with Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving) and Bob Ellis’ Run, Rabbit, Run on SA Premier Mike Rann’s re-election of 2006. Both docos were competent and even interesting but they weren’t dramas which I prefer. I will try not to overload my schedule with docos next year. The Ballad of Narayama was excellent and the free lecture on the work of Imamura I attended prior to it was worthwhile. My favourite screening of the Festival however was another Japanese drama, Hana. The story line was ostensibly about a young samurai on a mission to avenge his father’s death. The supporting cast may have been a little wide with the necessary resolutions to each of their storylines pushing the finish time out as a result. However the ‘real’ story was about a young man finding his true calling in life (as a teacher, not a fighter) and becoming a true role model as a father and husband. Perhaps in a comment on Japanese culture, this film, filled with samurai, does not have one sword fight and no blood is spilt. A wonderfully mature drama.
Many sessions were sold out but the theatres can easily accommodate the number. Often I arrived at start time, joined the very end of the queue and enjoyed the feature from the back of the cinema. My wait time was minimised and my seating almost always excellent. Only the second row at ACMI (Fed Square) was the least comfortable experience. The electronic scanning of tickets is efficient and deals with the long queues quickly. The hardest part of the Festival is finding the spare time in my regular life to see the films I want to see. This year I was able to take breaks from my work during the day, watch one film, and then come back to finish the day – all with my employer’s consent mind you, and that worked very well. Watching screenings back to back was likewise an efficient use of my time but exceptionally tiring beyond two films.
Roll on 2008 !

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