Justin Kurzel

Films at Aus & NZ Festival 2015

Still from Picnic At Hanging Rock (Weir, 1975)

Following the success of the inaugural Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts in 2014, the ANZ Fest gang return to London later this month. This year’s line-up is bigger and better than 2014, and the film strand is no exception. Boosted by the recruitment of Film Coordinator Neil Mitchell, it too has expanded in both scope and volume, with this year’s festival serving up a veritable feast of Antipodean films, old and new, playing across two weekends at Hackney Picturehouse (HPH) and the Strand campus of King’s College London (KCL).

A World FirstDetail of a production still from The Story of the Kelly Gang (d. Tait, 1906)

Often billed as the world’s first feature-length dramatic film, much of The Story of the Kelly Gang (d. Tait, 1906) [30 May – 4pm – KCL] has been lost to the ravages to time. To celebrate the film’s centenary, however, Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) pieced together the remaining fragments from collections and archives (and rubbish dumps!) in Australia and Britain.

Those seventeen or so minutes (plus additional stills and contextual information) will be screened at a very special ANZ Fest event, followed by an extended discussion with Angus Forbes, the grandson of Charles Tait, who is often credited as the film’s director. To discuss the film’s production, exhibition, disappearance and rediscovery, Forbes will be joined on stage by Dr Ian Henderson, director of the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies and Stephen Morgan (that’ll be me!), PhD candidate at King’s College London.

The Last New Wave/s

A firmly established classic and a (somewhat) neglected masterpiece constitute ANZ Fest’s mini-tribute to one of Australia’s finest filmmakers, Peter Weir. Celebrating its 40th birthday in 2015, Weir’s breakthrough classic Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) [31 May – 5:45pm – KCL] – the hauntingly picturesque mystery of disappearing schoolgirls set on St Valentine’s Day 1900 – is shown here in an anniversary screening authorised by Weir himself. Another masterwork of the Australian film renaissance, released two years after Picnic, The Last Wave (1977) [24 May – 4pm – HPH] sees Weir turn his attention to a contemporary mystery, as a Sydney lawyer is drawn deeper and deeper into a labyrinth of indigenous mysticism and apocalyptic visions.

Looking back at New Zealand’s own post-1970 film renaissance, ANZ Fest will also screen Geoff Murphy’s anarchic road movie classic, Goodbye Pork Pie (1981) [24 May – 1pm – HPH], one of the first Kiwi features to get a UK-wide release in the early 1980s.

Antipodean Stories

Recently released in the UK by Soda Pictures, the epic Rob Connolly-produced portmanteau film The Turning (d. Various, 2013) [29 May – 5:45pm – KCL], brings seventeen filmmakers – experienced hands and newcomers alike – together to adapt a collection of loosely connected short stories by Tim Winton. With on-screen appearances from Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Rose Byrne and many more, and segments directed by the likes of Warwick Thornton, Justin Kurzel, Mia Wasikowska and Shaun Gladwell.

Poster for All This MayhemAlso released in Britain last year, breathtaking skateboarding/brotherhood documentary All This Mayhem (d. Martin, 2013) [23 May – 1pm – HPH] relates the meteoric rise and tragic fall of Tas and Ben Pappas, the Melbourne brothers who escaped the city’s rough western suburbs to rank amongst the best skateboarders in the world. This screening of one of the standout documentaries from 2014 also features a Skype Q&A with Tas Pappas.

Meanwhile, commemorating the centenary of ANZAC involvement in the First World War, The Waler: Australia’s Great War Horse (d. Vines, 2015) [31 May – 1:30pm – KCL] shows that there was far more to equine involvement in the Allied effort than the war horse of Michael Morpurgo’s book (or the subsequent stage and feature film productions). Over 130,000 Australian horses served during the Great War, and this documentary traces their origins, their feats and what became of the 50,000 or so that survived the battlefields.

From the past to the very present, and a last minute confirmation in Frackman (d. Todd/Stack, 2015) [30 May – 6:30pm – KCL], an observational documentary – and antipodean companion to Josh Fox’s fracking expose Gasland (2010) – which follows the story of pig-farmer and accidental activist Dayne ‘Frackman’ Pratzky, as he fights multinational corporations seeking a quick buck in the global race for coal seam gas.

Tales of Aotearoa

Stories from indigenous Australia will feature prominently elsewhere in Britain in the coming months, allowing ANZ Fest to focus on tales of Maori life from across the pond. Hard-hitting family drama Once Were Warriors (d. Tamahori, 1994) [30 May – 1:30pm – KCL] is already a well established Kiwi classic, as is New Zealand’s highest grossing hit, 1980s-set comedy Boy (d. Waititi, 2010) [31 May – 3:45pm – KCL] takes a rather more lighthearted approach to growing up Maori. New Zealand also had a relatively healthy share of its homegrown box office in 2014, and ANZ Fest will show the second and third highest grossing Kiwi films of last year, the Cliff Curtis-starring chess and anti-violence drama The Dark Horse (d. Robertson, 2014) [23 May – 4pm – HPH], and pre-Euro blood and thunder actioner The Dead Lands (d. Fraser, 2014) [30 May – 3:45pm – KCL].


Tickets for the 2015 Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts are on sale now. The core festival runs from 28-31 May at King’s College London, with satellite events across London from May 17, including a weekend of film screenings at Hackney Picturehouse on 23-24 May.

IN CINEMAS: The Turning

Still from The Turning

Hot on the heels of last week’s UK release of Julius Avery’s heist thriller Son of a Gun, comes another Western Australian tinged cinematic delight of a wholly different flavour. Produced by Robert Connolly and adapted from the best-selling short story collection by internationally renowned author Tim Winton, The Turning is a portmanteau film that subtly weaves a sparse narrative surrounding members of the Lang family, exploring the impact of the past and how futures are sometimes shaped in the smallest moments.


Australia at the BFI London Film Festival 2014

Production still from Charlie's Country

Five fiction features, four documentaries, four shorts and one omnibus film, exploring life and death – from the outback to the city – with detours into sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll – Australian cinema is set to make a significant contribution to the 58th BFI London Film Festival, which takes place in cinemas across London, 8-19 October 2014.


Australian Season in Norwich

Australian Season at Cinema City, Norwich

London may get the lion’s share of Australian film screenings in the UK, but cinemagoers in Norwich are getting a taste of Down Under this summer, with Cinema City hosting a mini celebration of recent Australian flicks to coincide with the UK release of Daniel Nettheim’s excellent The Hunter (2011). Cinema City’s Australian season kicked off on Friday with a late night screening of that most influential of cult classics, Mad Max (George Miller, 1979), and continues throughout the rest of the month with some of the best Australian films of recent years:

Monday July 16, 8:30pm: The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)

Having previously worked together on Ghosts…of the Civil Dead (1988), filmmaker John Hillcoat and rock legend (and occasional scriptwriter) Nick Cave reunited almost a decade later for this grim Australian western, in which the civilizing Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) attempts to eradicate a gang of outlaws by pitting two of the notorious Burns brothers (Guy Pearce and Danny Huston) against each other.

Monday July 23, 8:45pm: Snowtown (Justin Kurzel, 2011)

One of the best films of 2011 – from anywhere in the world – relates the gripping tale of Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), a young man sucked into the inner circle of one of Australia’s most notorious serial killers, John Bunting (played to electrifying effect by Daniel Henshall). It’s a tough, tense watch, but also a truly exceptional piece of cinema.

Monday July 30, 8:45pm: Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009)

Emerging like a bolt from the blue in 2009, Warwick Thornton’s intensely moving ‘survival love story’ premiered at Cannes, where it won the prestigious Camera d’Or for debut feature. Following the difficult lives of its eponymous duo as they struggle with life on (and off) an Aboriginal settlement outside Alice Springs, the film stood as a quiet, contemplative and resolutely a-political response to centuries of indigenous mistreatment that culminated in the notorious policy of ‘intervention’.

So there we have it, three fantastic examples of recent Australian cinema, each ripe for revisiting or a first watch. Full details and tickets for the Australian season are available on the Cinema City website. The Hunter continues to screen daily until July 19.

Snowtown, Bear, The Father selected for London Film Festival

Production still from 'Snowtown' (2011).

Announced earlier today, the programme for the 55th BFI London Film Festival features the usual clutch of big name auteur directors alongside some of the finest emerging talent that world cinema has to offer. Fitting squarely into that latter category is a recent Australian feature, Justin Kurzel’s directorial debut Snowtown.

A gritty portrayal of one of Australia’s most notorious serial killings, Snowtown examines the ‘bodies in the barrels’ murders which took place in Adelaide’s northern suburbs throughout the 1990s. Written by Shaun Grant, the film is told from the perspective of Jamie Vlassakis, a disenfranchised 16 year old pulled into the manic world of ringleader John Bunting.

After premiering at the 2011 Adelaide Film Festival (where it won the Audience Award), screening during Critics’ Week at Cannes and grossing a healthy $1m during its Australian theatrical release, Snowtown will make it’s British debut with a pair of screenings at the Vue West End during the 55th BFI London Film Festival. An evening screening on October 17 will be followed by a matinee on the 18th, ahead of a British cinema release in November courtesy of Revolver Entertainment.

Full details of the Snowtown screenings are available on the BFI website.

Australia is also contributing to the festival’s Short Cuts & Animation programme. The Do The Right Thing strand – showing on October 26 (with a matinee the following day) – features the 11-minute comedy-drama Bear, the latest effort from Blue-Tongue Films directed by Nash Edgerton (The Square), who also stars alongside Teresa Palmer and Warwick Thornton in a script co-written with Blue-Tongue cohort David Michôd (Animal Kingdom). Elsewhere, writer-director David Easteal’s 16-minute drama The Father has picked up a slot in the Small Town strand, screening on the 25th and 26th (matinee). Once again, full details for each of the shorts programmes can be found on the BFI website.

The 55th BFI London Film Festival runs 12 – 27 October at venues across central London. Following a priority booking period for BFI members, tickets will be available to the general public on September 26.