In the almost-decade since its inception, Busselton, Western Australia’s CinefestOZ has grown in leaps and bounds to the point where it’s almost impossible for one person to encapsulate everything that goes on in the five days of the festival. There are just too many screenings, panels, interviews, Q&As, sidebars and public events to wrap your head around. Still, it’s great for the punters, who are presented with a veritable smorgasbord of cinema to pore over, and it’s great for the festival. Recent years saw the introduction of Australia’s richest film prize; a $100,000 cash incentive for the Australian film shortlisted and judged best in each year’s field. That sort of thing is going to attract a lot of talent, and talent attracts ticket sales, and CinefestOZ now sees numbers in excess of 20,000 audience members every year.
Four films vied for the prize this year: local literary adaptation Jasper Jones, directed by Rachel Perkins; South Australian theatre adaptation Girl Asleep, directed by Rosemary Myers; philosophically-inclined love story The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, directed by Cris Jones; and outback comedy Spin Out, directed by Tim Ferguson and Marc Gracie. While each film had its own distinct strengths, ultimately it was the highly stylised and surreal Girl Asleep that took top honours, a decision that jury head Gillian Armstrong said was unanimous. It was a triumphant moment on Saturday night, only slightly marred by the misspelling of the film’s name on the title card projected during the announcement (“Girl Alseep“).
Armstrong was also the recipient of this year’s Screen Legend Award, joining the likes of Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Joel Edgerton and Bruce Beresford in having her name immortalised on the footpath outside Busselton’s Orana Cinema. Armstrong joked that it wouldn’t quite be immortal, going on to describe a These Final Hours-inspired scenario where the whole street was obliterated by apocalyptic fire and dust.
The gala ceremony itself was kept moving briskly by host Ben Elton, subbing in at the last minute for an ill Magda Szubanski (similarly, jury member Emma Booth had to step down after two screenings due to a family emergency). Elton was on hand to present a screening of his new British comedy, Upstart Crow, but could just as well have been hanging around the vicinity – indeed, he made much of his status as a not-quite-accepted long-standing WA resident in his remarks. WA Premier Colin Barnett and Minister for Culture and the Arts also spoke.
Saturday night’s prize-giving and gala party capped off four days of celebration that encompassed a huge number of venues and events. The directors and available cast of each competing film took part in a separate Q&A session hosted by former film editor of The West Australian, Mark Naglazas, which saw them fielding questions in an informal setting at one of the area’s sumptuous wineries, breweries, or restaurants after a (general well-lubricated) meal. A huge number of sidebars and industry panels covered a whole range of topics from the effects of violence in film to emerging technologies. WA-based filmmakers presented a number of workshops and teaching sessions for the festival’s Cinesnaps Schools Program, and the IndigefestOZ program again presented a wealth of great Australian Indigenous-themed and -produced works, including a retrospective of the work of Mitch Torres. And, of course, there were plenty of non-competition screenings, including Goldstone, Blood Father, Burns Point, The Coffee Man, Down Under, Hotel Coolgardie and Zach’s Ceremony, plus the French cinema strand, which included Microbe & Gasoline, April and the Extraordinary World, Rosalie Bloom, and more.
Next year marks the 10th CinefestOZ, which is scheduled for August 23 – 27. Of course, this far out it’s not possible to even guess at the line-up for the anniversary event, but given the rate of growth we’ve seen in the last decade, it’s probably worth starting to plan your South West excursion already.