By Dov Kornits

“I was expecting with the COVID situation that we’d have a lot less entries, but once again, filmmakers have surprised me,” Flickerfest director Bronwyn Kidd tells FilmInk. “They’re incredibly resilient. They’ve managed to finish things and we’ve got some remarkable films. It’s a really, really strong program. Hopefully, Flickerfest this year will give people an opportunity to celebrate the resilience of the arts and the importance of cinema for coming together and sharing stories. And particularly this year where we can’t travel the world, we’ve not only got our Australian program of films from across the country, but also an incredible international program that will allow us to escape for a minute and travel outside of our immediate lives. Hopefully, it will also allow us to feel hopeful for the future, because a lot of the films are very optimistic and uplifting.  Short films are already difficult to produce, and you have to have a lot of faith and passion for your project. That’s really shone through for me this year in these more challenging times: just how truly dedicated and passionate the film industry is.”

Flickerfest director Bronwyn Kidd.

In its storied, richly varied thirty-year history, Flickerfest – like the rest of the world – has never seen anything like 2020, the ugly tendrils of which are now reaching into 2021. Ever since it began thirty years ago – yes, thirty years ago! – Flickerfest (which has been under the steady and creative guiding hand of Bronwyn Kidd for most of its history) has been a vital entry on Australia’s film event calendar. Boasting the best in short film from around the world, the festival has become synonymous with the glistening sands of Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach, unspooling in the legendary surrounds of The Bondi Pavilion. Australia’s first short festival to be accredited for entry into The Academy Awards, Flickerfest has seen the debuts of many top-tier filmmakers, and has also grown way, way beyond its Bondi roots. Under Kidd’s stewardship, Flickerfest now tours through Australia’s metropolitan and regional centres, taking short film right across the country.

Flickerfest 2021

Now, Flickerfest faces its biggest challenge yet in the face of COVID-19. 2020 has seen all of Australia’s (and indeed the world’s) film festivals either cancelled or reconfigured as online events. With COVID now abating, however, Flickerfest is set to roll out nearly-as-per-normal. “We’ve survived many challenges,” says Bronwyn Kidd. “This year, of course, will be our most challenging ever. We will be presenting a COVID safe event in the current environment, but we’re also very committed to hosting films on the big screen, and to showing Flickerfest in the ‘community centre’-type environment where people come together and celebrate storytelling. That’s what Flickerfest has always been about. Flickerfest is about celebrating new talent and enabling audiences to see their films on the big screen with an audience. We want audiences to discover that talent. That’s the critical and important thing for us this year.”

The Bondi Pavillion Amphitheatre.

Another critical element to this year’s event will be the location. For the first time in many years, The Bondi Pavilion is currently out of action, with the historic site (which boasts an outside amphitheatre, the principal site for Flickerfest’s screenings) undergoing major renovations. Flickerfest will now happen in the park adjacent to the site, under the umbrella of a very famous performance space. “We’ve got this beautiful bespoke festival garden at Bondi, which has been supported by the local council,” Kidd explains of the physical changes happening this year. “We’ve got The Famous Spiegeltent, and we’ve got an outdoor cinema too. In fact, we’ve got a really perfect COVID safe venue this year. Because The Bondi Pavilion is being renovated, we’ve been forced to work with the council to create a whole new venue, but it’s actually worked out really well because it’s given us a lot more space with regards to COVID. We would have had to be locked down to stop us from going ahead, because it’s critical that people have an opportunity to come together in a COVID safe way where you know that somebody else has totally drilled down every single detail of what needs to happen to make that event safe.”

This year’s programme also reflects a shift in worldwide attitudes, with many films coming from female filmmakers, including I Am Woman star Tilda Cobham-Hervey (who debuts her short, Roborovski) and Tomorrow When The War Began leading lady Phoebe Tonkin (who turns director with Furlough). “We’ve always been over 40% in terns of female directors, but I think this is the first year where we’ve tipped the 50%,” explains Kidd. “That’s pretty exciting, but it certainly wasn’t planned. We didn’t go, ‘Okay, well, we’re going to select this many female directors and this many male directors.’ It was just the way that the Australian program came out by the time we’d reviewed everything and done the final selection. That was pretty exciting.”

Phoebe Tonkin

In fact, this year’s program is a wholly diverse one. “What we’re seeing at Flickerfest is really significant,” Kidd says. “We are seeing a lot more voices, and that’s really exciting. It’s also interesting being 30 years old and looking back. We launched our Flickerfest 30th anniversary collection on SBS On Demand in January 2020, which is a collection of 49 shorts from across the years. It really shows the depth and breadth of talent. It’s a diverse program, once again, and it’s been really cool to take a step back and look at all of these incredible films that have been showcased at the festival. We’ve seen significant changes during the run of Flickerfest. There’s been a real development of the Australian industry, and a greater diversity within our storytelling. There’s been the shift from film to digital, which has obviously opened up filmmaking to a lot more voices across Australia, including many indigenous filmmakers.”

And some of those new filmmaking voices might turn out to have major futures in the industry, with Flickerfest having played host to early shorts by David Michod (Animal Kingdom), Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah), Kieran Darcy-Smith (Wish You Were Here), Rachel Ward (Beautiful Kate), and Joel and Nash Edgerton (The Square). “All of those various people coming through over the years have gone on to shine as incredibly talented directors. They have used those short films as a real sign of what they can do and where their talent can lead them. Although it’s  been challenging, it’s always worth it because Flickerfest is important to not just the next generation of filmmakers, but to a whole lot of filmmakers that have come through over the years, and also to audiences.”

After a long and arduous thirty years, with many ups and downs, Bronwyn Kidd is more than happy with the niche that Flickerfest has ably and bravely carved out for itself. “We’re not trying to take on the world,” she says. “We’re just trying to do the best that we can here in Australia. What I’m passionate about is the grassroots stuff that we do in the small towns and the regional centres, and the places that don’t get a whole lot of independent cinema on their screens. That’s what really excites me still, not just the festival in Bondi and the filmmakers and the quality of the wonderful films coming through, but also being able to work with the smaller communities on the big screen. I’m not interested in some kind of online take over. Everything then just becomes really homogenised. We can encourage people in local communities to think that they can make films too. It’s not all just about the big city and it’s not all just about Hollywood. There’s a whole range of storytelling. That’s what we do. That’s why I work in short films – I love the independence and I love the creativity and I love the fact that it’s not commercial and it’s not about the box office. I’m really happy to be in the niche that is Flickerfest. This is what my big passion is.”

For more information on Flickerfest, head to the official website.


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