By JAMES WF ROBERTS
The inaugural Oz International Film Festival wraps up tonight at the historic Alex Theatre in St Kilda, having provided a showcase for Australian and International films that local audiences wouldn’t normally get a chance to see.
The festival director, legendary Australian filmmaker writer and producer Frank Howson, said the festival wasn't a competition, but was there to celebrate the best of local and international filmmaking.
"The festival will honour the bold, brave and adventurous new voices in the world of cinema and hopefully help some go on to be the new vanguard of the next generation of important filmmakers,” he said.
“This is a film festival that is open to everyone, to all filmmakers and audiences. This is not in competition with Monsterfest or MUFF, there’s plenty of space for everyone to be involved and get their films seen by as many people as possible.
“We take no sides politically. Our only criteria in selecting a movie is whether it is well made. We are a festival that celebrates diversity of all kinds and respects free speech.”
The festival opened with a bang from the Choir of Hope and Inspiration led by its founder Jonathan Welch (of Choir of Hard Knocks fame) with the Hymn of Saint Kilda written by Howson and musical director and festival judge Warren Wills.
Featured was Travis Bains’ film Landfall (see review), starring indy actress Kristen Condon in a highly regarded performance, acting legend Tony Bonner and Mad Max’s Vernon Wells.
Other festival standouts include the Jewish documentary Operation Wedding; the controversial and timely documentary LEAF about the benefits of medical marijuana; and the premiere of Welch’s emotionally charged documentary Choir Man in Africa, which tells of Welch and his choir travelling to Uganda to perform at the anniversary of the country's independence.
Howson said the festival had received thousands of entries from "more than 100 countries, in every genre from thriller to comedy, from jazz documentaries to short comedies.
“St Kilda is a natural place for an international film festival – the first two feature films in the world were made in Melbourne; The Story of the Kelly Gang and The Stations of the Cross was made by the Salvation Army in St Kilda.”
Howson told Beat magazine that the festival aimed to “shine a light on categories that most other festivals don’t, such as Indigenous works, student films, and gay rights".
The organisers are already planning next years’ event. Howson said the quality of the work was the only criteria when it came to accepting submissions.
The categories will be the same as they were this year: Australian Independent Feature Film, Australian Short Film, International independent Feature, International Short, Documentary, Australian Indigenous Work, Animated Feature, Animated Short, Student Work, Screenwriting and Music Video.