One of the great things about the Australian Film Institute Awards is that during the build up to the awards night people actually start talking about Australian cinema and the industry gets a bit of media attention. The bad thing is that this has increasingly resulted in a stack of inaccurate and unfair criticism being thrown at Australian cinema for it being too miserable and not mainstream enough. Whether in the comments found under articles about the industry or in the actual articles themselves, too many people love to characterise Australian cinema as arty doom and gloom stories set in the inner city. This is apparently the reason Australians don’t go to see Australian films.
This time last year I started writing a piece that was eventually titled “Some of the finest films”, published in issue 1999 of Overland Literary Journaland then posted online here by Overland and here by myself. The thrust of my argument was that the industry is significantly suffering do to the perception that Australia only makes worthy dramas. This prevalent perception is simply not true but that doesn’t stop uninformed commentators dismissing everything this country produces as doom and gloom.
Not everybody is going to like every film that Australia produces and it’s unrealistic to expect every film to be a hit. Our industry caters to a broad range of audiences, but the intense negativity and lack of support means that frequently those films don’t always reach those intended audiences. This has been recently demonstrated with the poor levels of interest in The Loved Ones and Red Hill, which according to many commentators are supposedly exactly the types of genre films that Australia should be making more of.
The knee-jerk reaction that Australia only produces depressing films is unfounded and unfairly puts people off seeing films that deserve to be seen.
Starting a new job is always tough but on his first day on the local force in a small country town, police officer Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) has to contend with his hostile boss Old Bill (Steve Bisley) and the imminent arrival of a very angry and very well armed escaped convict.
Red Hill is an Australian action indebted to the films of spaghetti western maestro Sergio Leone and writer/director Patrick Hughes has done a marvellous job adapting the iconography of the western to a rural Australian setting. Casting The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith lead actor Tom E. Lewis as the avenging outlaw is an interesting choice that allows Hughesto touch on issues concerning crimes against Indigenous people.
Tonally Red Hill sometimes slips awkwardly between gritty revenge thriller and something a little more self-consciously comedic with one unnecessary element that appears late in the film feeling very out of place. While the early action scenes are extremely tense and exciting, Red Hill does eventually become a slightly generic series of scenes featuring people getting blown away. Nevertheless, this is a fun film that introduces Hughes as a director to look out for.
Red Hill is an Australian thriller/action/western written, directed, produced and edited by Patrick Hughes, making his feature film debut. When I spoke to Hughes he talked about working with actors Steve Bisley and Tom E. Lewis – legends of the Australian film industry – and star on the rise, actor Ryan Kwanten. Hughes also discussed the legacy of the western and how Australia’s history and environment make it such an ideal country to set a modern day western in.
This interview was recorded on Thursday 11 November 2010 and then played on Film Buff’s Forecast (Triple R, 3RRR 102.7FM) on Saturday 27 Novmeber 2010.
MIFF is now underway I’ve seen a Danish film about gay Neo-Nazis, a Japanese film about an inflatable sex doll that comes to life and two Australian genre films: a sex-comedy where you get to see Steve Bisley’s naked ass in the opening minute, and an action/Western where you get to see Steve Bisley being a badass with the only banging coming from his gun.
Before the festival started I was sent some DVD screeners and Brotherhood was the only one I had time to watch. It’s sort of a forbidden love story where the lovers are men who are active members of a Neo Nazi club. It is let down by some slightly unconvincing character development including one of the men very quickly adopting the violent ethos of the gang despite previously being against it and with the lovers very rapidly surrendering themselves to their passions despite it being so substantially contradictory to their bigoted attitude. However, performances are very strong and the homoerotic nature of male bonding is explored in some interesting ways. The sex scenes also have an energy to them that is both tender, raw and not often depicted in such an honest way. However, this is no Brokeback Mountain and it is certainly no Romper Stomper, American History X or This Is England either.
The Wedding Party
A multi narrative Australian film with interconnecting stories about love and sex, The Wedding Party is like a Melbournian Love Actually. This is not a good thing. It is overlong, too tame and not really that funny, sexy or romantic. The acting is very good with Nadine Garner and Adam Zwar in particular turning in really strong performances but overall I had trouble enjoying The Wedding Party despite really wanting to. Maybe it is simply not my sort of film but from what I’ve heard from most other people that I’ve spoken to I don’t think I am alone in feeling so disappointed about this year’s opening night film.
On the other hand, seeing the Australian Red Hill was a lot more enjoyable but this time I think I am somewhat in the minority for simply liking it rather than absolutely loving it. However, I mostly did enjoy this small town revenge story and the heavy use of Western iconography in the film’s visual style, music and narrative worked really well. There were just one or two elements that pulled me out of the film’s gritty tone but Red Hill is still a strong film and I can’t wait to see what writer/director Patrick Hughes does next.
I was looking forward to seeing Air Doll, a drama about an inflatable sex doll that “finds a heart” and comes to life. The film is mainly observational with the doll being a deliberately obvious metaphor for having an empty life, allowing your life to be defined by others and the ways people find substitutes for real intimacy. Air Doll is not whimsical or light hearted, and one macabre scene towards the end of the film almost ruined it for me, but it overall possesses a very tranquil sweetness. By the time the film reached the very end I was surprised by just how moved I was by its gentleness and sadness.
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