A Film by Peter Carstairs

Dates and Venues Thursday, 27 Sept 3:00pm
Empire Granville 7-1 | Friday, 28 Sept 7:15pm Empire Granville 7-2 | Saturday, 29 Sept 7:00pm Ridge Theatre

This stylish coming-of-age film with a twist explores the nature of friendship and the destiny of a country through the symbolic relationship between two 16 year-olds, Ed, a white Australian (Xavier Samuel, left) and and Paddy (Clarence Ryan), an aborigine. The space race, on in earnest, serves to underline how competition and visionary ambitions are both central to change.

Sensitive and pointed without being cloying or preachy, the film, set in Western Australia's outback wheat belt in 1968, hits hard at racism's soft and repugnant underbelly. The metaphor of boxing serves to establish life as conflict, but the film is also, quietly, about hope, as Ed and Paddy refuse to repeat the terrible destinies of their fathers, beaten-down men who live lives of reticence and grim-lipped desperation, glued together in a feudal economic relationship.

In part an ode to male feeling -- that elusive mateship that makes up the Australian character -- the film is as interior, understated, and reticent as its main characters, who eke out life from a rugged and difficult, if quietly beautiful, land. Peter Carstairs's gently moving and thoroughly impressive film handles both historical questions and the larger human ones with rare intensity and assured skill. Carstairs also urges out finely nuanced performances from his cast, particularly from the two youths at the film's centre. Luminuously filmed, this is no less than an exultant, but determinedly non-flashy, triumph.

A Film by Daniel Karslake

Dates and Venues Thursday, 27 Sept 9:45pm Empire Granville 7-2 Sunday, 30 Sept 3:30pm Empire Granville 7-2

It's no news that religious fundamentalism, based on ignorance, breeds bigotry and intolerance and that biblical literalists are dangerous people, especially when they mingle their odd beliefs with politics and money. Daniel Karslake's overly long documentary does not quite dissect these with a scalpel, although he shows many ranting, hate-filled people whose mouths spew nonsense. The film begins with the "pieing" in 1977 off the notorious bigot and religious fanatic Anita Bryant, but its touch is almost as light as the fruit-pie that ruined her helmet hair-do and plastic smile.

The techniques are familiar -- videoclips, interviews, stills, even a humourous cartoon on gender identity is tossed in -- with Karslake pursuing his theme through several individual lives. Gene M. Robinson, now New Hampshire's gay Anglican bishop, Dick Gephardt, American politico, and Bishop Desmond Tutu (an enormously compassionate and charismatic figure here) are familiar faces from the news, but the unknowns are really this film's beating heart, and their pain and courage its core.

The story of the once homophobic mother who rejected her daughter and had to deal with her later suicide is deeply moving. There are the theological experts, the railing religious loonies (Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham), and the courageous university students and ministers who do battle with their culture on a daily basis. More judicious editing would have made this a tighter , more hard-hitting film. The opening segments are almost too fast paced, while the middle sags. There's sincerity galoree, some insight, and a good deal of hope proferred, since the distance traversed since 1977 is enormous -- even in the bible-lovin' US of A.

A Film by Brillante Mendoza

Dates and Venues Saturday, 29 Sept 6:00pm Empire Granville 7-5 Sunday, 30 Sept 1:30pm
Empire Granville 7-5

Coming in the wake of The Masseur (2005), this gritty film firmly establishes Mendoza as the bard of the Manila slums, recreated here from ground level with an authencity and authority that pretends to no authorial or directorial intrusion. Things are simply what they are: from the systemically corrupt regime politics of this tropical hell with its self-seeking police force to the daily grind of petty theft, prostitution, drug-taking, hunger, and a weido version of Catholicism thrown in for good measure.

There's neither hope nor despair in Mendoza's exposé of this wide circle of hell, nor are there any comments about possible change, as the camera remains breathtakingly in its neutrality and in its closeness to its subjects. The narrative line is equally fluid; there's no plot, no central characters, just whole community, so beatdown that it is hardly alive to its own misery vivisection.

The opening brilliant sequences of a nighttime police drug raid agressively plunge the viewer into a world of fear, power, and predation, but the hand-held camera forbids any stable viewpoint, and all alike are victims and predators. This is a tour de force of cinema verité : Mendoza chillingly achieves objectivity, and we, too, can only look on voyeuristically, removed from either sympathy or identification.

© 2007 JH Stape