The Darwin International Film Festival is dedicated to bringing cutting-edge cinema from across the globe to Top End audiences. Usually an annual event in September, the team at DIFF were determined not to let the interruption of COVID-19 rob them of presenting their 2020 edition.
Presenting a week-long program of new local works, stories from neighbouring nations in Asia, and other global gems, the return of the stylish Capricornia Film Awards and plenty more, there’s plenty to discover at DIFF 2020: Take Two (2-9 May 2021).
In the leadup to DIFF 2020: Take Two, we spoke with Festival Director Blandine Ruffo about her personal highlights in this year’s program and the importance of supporting local cinema.
Congratulations on the upcoming Festival! The program looks fantastic. Has your role as Festival Director and curator changed since COVID?
“Thanks so much, it’s been a journey! We’ve all had to adapt rapidly since COVID, and although the essence of my role, which is strongly mission-focused, has not changed, some of the logistics have. The most obvious one lies with our decision to do two festivals in one year. Having an extra edition in May (our standard date is in September) has come with a set of different dynamics with our industry stakeholders. It made us realise the importance of calendar placement, and has presented some new opportunities, but also some unexpected challenges.”
Activism and social justice look like key themes of DIFF2020: Take Two, in both documentary and other forms. Are there one or two stories in particular that you’re really looking forward to sharing with your audiences?
“There is no agenda in our programming as far as activism and social justice go. Our programming committee reviews films which we believe can impact our audience by their artistic qualities, and a powerful story definitely participates in this.
“We live in times where everything is more accessible to the everyday person, and that includes activism. Mainstream media and interpersonal conversations have merged, the digital revolution has resulted in unlimited access to information, as well as unlimited access to public forum. By the same token, both filmmaking and film consumption have become more affordable and accessible.
“But artists, including filmmakers, have always used their voices to advance current issues; either actively by taking a position, or passively by holding a mirror on their own times and societies. You can find subjects to debate within any movie, without them necessarily being about politics.
“Two Australian films that we have programmed can be great examples of this. Unsound is a sweet coming-of-age story, and can be completely appreciated for that. But placing this film in the context of its society, aka a media and cultural landscape where representation of minority communities (LGBTQ and deaf community in this case), or lack thereof, is very much a growing debate, and adds a new dimension in which the film can become part of a bigger story than its own.
“Same with Greenfield, which is a fictional film as well, but was designed with an impact campaign in mind, revolving around male mental health and toxic masculinity. Still, the film itself is a stylish small-town drama featuring incredible acting, a killer soundtrack and immersive cinematography.”
Can you tell us about one or two personal highlights of this year’s International selection?
“I feel particularly proud of our South-East Asian section “Neighbour Asia” which features two Filipino films; Circa, which is an Australian Premiere, and Filipino legend Anita Linda’s last work before her passing last year at the age of 95; He Who Is Without Sin is a psychological thriller set in the world of TV news, and will be an International Premiere.”
Supporting local filmmakers is obviously a key goal of DIFF. Can you tell us a little about what emerging (or established) filmmakers can expect from the NT Screen Summit?
“The NT Screen Summit is always a fantastic forum for networking, and this year it will be filled once again with incredible speakers, practical workshops and maybe a surprise or two. Headliners Molly Reynolds, Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr will host a Q&A on their career and creative relationships. These guests have had such an impact on Australian – and even world – cinema, it will be without a doubt an inspiring event to be part of as a filmmaker.”
We’re seeing more of a tendency for Australians to support local – local restaurants, local art, small businesses etc… In your experience, has this translated to film?
“100%. It has been our experience completely at DIFF even before COVID, but also all year long at the Deckchair Cinema. Our audience consistently favours local productions. The NT is a tight-knit community, the pride and support is truly palpable at such screenings. The fact that our industry has been notably punching above its weight with the likes of Sweet Country, Top End Wedding, In My Blood It Runs, and more recently High Ground, is probably also a big factor in this local preference!”
And otherwise, how has the landscape changed for Territory filmmakers since COVID?
“Well, to be honest it hasn’t changed as much as we initially feared. There’s been delays and uncertainty, but it is looking very hopeful, and we are more than ready to see what the future holds for this exciting community of talented Territorians!”
Featuring a great program of outstanding and award-winning films from Australia and across the world, DIFF 2020: Take Two will light up screens across Darwin from May 2-9, 2021. Tickets are on sale now at www.diff.net.au.