SWIFF Festival Co-Director: Dave Horsley
Whenever I go to other film festivals, I always like to pick a line-up that provides a good cross-section of different experiences. Challenging, informative, light-hearted, devastating – these are the films that stick out to me as unmissable. For those feeling a little spoiled for choice, if you choose a few of these in your line-up, I’m sure you’ll love them too.
DINNER IN AMERICA
If you’ve got a bit of rebel in you or love humour with a dark twist, Dinner in America should be on your hit list. For me, it nailed the mundane suburban nightmare perfectly, was genuinely really funny with little glimpses of Napoleon Dynamite and Cheap Thrills in there, and had solid chemistry between the two leads Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs – who we will definitely see more from soon. It’s just a lot of fun. Do yourself a favour, book it, and have a giggle.
Possessor is quickly becoming my favourite film of the last year. Gripping original story, phenomenal performances (particularly Christopher Abbott), and this captivating rocking back-and-forth between visually sublime sci-fi thriller and mesmerising experimental art piece – all without distracting from story. I will mention it is super violent…and I mean that as more of an advertisement than a disclaimer. Go see it – you will be talking about it for days after.
SWIFF LIVE: WAKE IN FRIGHT (FEATURING RHYECE O'NEILL BAND)
I have seen Wake In Fright – but am looking forward to see it get a new breath of air in the lungs thanks to Rhyece O’Neill Band performing a live soundtrack. Wake In Fright has just as much story off screen to admire. It’s hard not to get romantic about a film nearly getting lost to time – get selected TWICE for Cannes (only 1 of 2 films ever!) – and then to cement its place as one of Australia’s most iconic and controversial films. This session will be electric.
For me, Another Round just highlighted what I love about watching a lot of European cinema – it’s an approach that isn’t black and white as the only options on the spectrum. Thomas Vinterberg casts all of these moral and ethical shades of grey throughout his film, which really is brought to life by the four main cast members – all portraying Danish school teachers that have lost their zest…and try to find it again at the bottom of a bottle. We are constantly hit with messages about living a perfect, healthy life – so it’s refreshing as well to see filmmakers tackle the benefits having the odd beer or bubbles can have on us.
YALDA, A NIGHT FOR FORGIVENESS
It’s an absurd premise by western morality. Iranians convicted of capital crimes in Iran can, in some cases, be granted clemency from execution by victims’ families. Where Yalda goes down the rabbit hole, as a dramatic fiction based on a true story, is that the guilty can appeal to their victims’ families on nationally-broadcast television – which is where Yalda takes place. In Hollywood, it reads like the plot of a Roger Corman exploitation B-movie – but in Iranian cinema it is handled with nuance and precision.
ASMF SWELL CHASERS - TO SWELL AND BACK
Harley Ingleby once tried to teach me how to surf. Yeah, it didn’t take. The majesty and beauty of the immense, open ocean got sucked out of me after getting dunked for the 10th time. So it’s a bit strange that I absolutely love surf cinema. Tim Bonython is internationally renowned for what he does, catching massive waves, camera in hand – and seeing him piece together a set of five big wave short features, shot all around at the world’s biggest breaks, just makes captivating cinema. Being in the audience, you will inadvertently start holding your breath.
While down in Melbourne, pre-COVID, I got a chance to first see Saint Maud at Fantastic Fest Australia. Keep an eye on Rose Glass. It makes me excited when a director’s debut feature film is this good. Vibes from The Exorcist, The Omen, and drama-rich classic horrors, it has the poise and pace to keep you rapt without reducing to cheap scare tactics. While the ‘horror’ is more slow-burning trepidation, the drama and story just sucks you in and doesn’t let go until the end credits. Will definitely leave you short of breath. It’s amazing.
What I find so gripping about good journalism docos is that they always start at someone pulling a thread – but it’s not so often that thread ends up toppling senior political figures at a national level. Collective is about the power of the truth coming out. What starts as reporting on a deadly nightclub fire leads to revealing widespread corruption in the health system. No surprises that it has been Oscar-nominated. You will be enthralled.
A THOUSAND CUTS
In case it wasn’t clear with Collective, I REALLY love a good journo doco. Maria Ressa, one of the Philippines most respected political reporters, has been targeted by the Duterte government, as Ressa uncovers the details behind the bloody, widespread government crackdown in their drug war. A Thousand Cuts is about fighting for truth – and in a world of misinformation and fake news, we need incredible stories like this. Australian Premiere at SWIFF too.
THE PAINTED BIRD
There are films that are entertaining, and then there are films that are just important to see. This is the latter. Absolutely harrowing – it is films like The Painted Bird that make the festival experience memorable. When we talk about stepping outside your comfort zone, this is what we mean – and SWIFF audiences will be the first in Australia to see it.
THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF
As an arts lover, it was very easy to get wrapped up in this soulful doco. If we talk about art and its power to connect, The Painter & The Thief shows us it also has the power to redeem. It’s an incredible story. How can you not fall in love with the idea of an artist convincing the man that stole her artwork to sit down as her next portraiture subject? It’s a beautiful human story, and watching their relationship develop is a joy.
CLOSING NIGHT: MOGUL MOWGLI + AFTERPARTY
Dan Gibson’s Nightcrawler is still up there with one of my favourite films – so seeing Riz Ahmed go from strength to strength to strength has been a joy. Now Oscar-nominated for Best Actor for Sound Of Metal, we selected Mogul Mowgli as our Closing Night Gala film because it’s a very personal story for Riz. The cultural contribution of first and second generation immigrants can get sidelined, despite making all our lives culturally richer, so we want to celebrate that contribution through this film. Booking Coco Varma, who has played over 500 shows in Europe as our afterparty live music set was a big win too – and he’s bringing Bobby Singh and Ben Walsh, each as accomplished in their own right, with him. It’s going to be a great send off to this year’s festival. Can’t wait.