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How to navigate the St Kilda Film Festival

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From 17 - 26 May, covering ten days and two weekends, the St Kilda Film Festival becomes an imagination gym for short filmmakers. It is a different world.
How to navigate the St Kilda Film Festival
Image: still from Hasta los huesos aka Down to the Bone, written and directed by René Castillo.

The St Kilda Film Festival is a venerable institution, honed by adversity and burnished by acclamation over 35 years. Going to see it is like falling into a vat of lollies and eating your way out. 

This year's trailer is a hoot.

All the information is on the Festival site

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This is how the festival works:

1. The Opening Night

It is the quintessence of festival opening nights. Thousands of people go do the Palais next to the beach, form a dense gossiping clump of black and shinies outside, and trickle through the spectacular foyer and up the stairs. 

There are speeches. State politicians, agency dignitaries, a roaming mayor, all wrangled by a local comedian. This is St Kilda so the cattle prod is deftly wielded. 

It is not possible to work out why this is attractive but the event is THE event which brings out the grown-up creatives from around Port Phillip plus the younger ones with the native wisdom to know they somehow have to do this. 

Then we watch films. Artistic director Paul Harris selects them from the other programs and he has learnt over the years what we really want to see. These days all the films are really schmick. He often throws in bits of cultural history which makes the oldies reminisce about flavoured cardboard straws and school milk, all from the National Film and Sound Archive Collection. 

The evening ends with a party in the Sea Baths among the ghosts of older Central European refugees heaved out to make the soulless dunny it then became. 

2. The Town Hall. 

For decades the festival has wandered around St Kilda looking for venues, chased by renovations, closures and the vague sense of pursuing criminals. 

Now it builds a pop-up cinema in the white Town Hall opposite the library in Carlisle Street. Just follow the smokers to the clump at the front. With a tennis bleacher set of rows covered by the rescued remains of a cinema in North Melbourne built in 1938, it has a great screen and a lovely sound system. The general effect is ace and the solution is close to perfect. 

The Carlisle Street Arts Space in the town hall is transformed into the Festival Lounge which is good for relaxing, making friends and puncturing pretensions. Once you find the toilets you will feel like an amateur topologist because there are unexpectedly curvey corridors. 

3. Decide how much you want to see.

Short films have the freedom to take risks, to stand or fall on their imaginative world. At their best they are nuggetty brain stretchers which keep the rest of us fresh. Is that what you need?

4. Australia's Top 100 Short Films

That's a lotta flicks.. given a certain intensity by a $50,000 prize pool. The winners generally reflect the best films of the year that turn up in some categories at the big festival competitions,  Flickerfest, and the AACTAs. 

They are an excellent way of keeping up with trends and standards, and meeting the people you may end up sitting with in a snowdrift in Vladivostok celebrating victory for your first feature in an international festival. I suggest you call it, My Rotting Submarine is Full of Ghosts.

5. Excellent Guests.

St Kilda is very good at inspiring guests who do not believe that shorts are just a way to make features or get a deal to make episodes two and three of Netflix Original Everything Has Already Happened and Sex Doesn't Exist.

This year, the festival has Australia's most wonderful wild man filmmaker, David Batty, who is really a group of people comprising a) the Aboriginal filmmakers who invite him in, b) his partner Jenny McMahon, c) additional helpers, d) various dogs and e) a heap of motorcycles. 

The session is called Bush Mechanics and Other Journeys - join David Batty as he reflects on 35 years of filmmaking in remote Aboriginal Australia. 

Also, the festival will present Nina Rodriguez who has been Head of Programming at the Guanajuato International Film Festival in Mexico for twelve years. She has respectable qualifications as a film archivist, runs support programs for filmmakers, and livens up the international film circuit with showcases and jury duty. 

6. Specific programs 

SoundKilda is a tradition by now and showcases ace music videos, which are often small bags of innovation. They demonstrate that Melbourne has lots of very craftful, loonladen brighthearted filmmakers who are happy in Brunswick warehouses. 

Under the Radar is a free screening which 'showcases the country's best emerging talent from filmmakers under 21 years of age.' They are the future. 

VR. Of course. 

Family friendly screenings.  Because so many shorts are not. 

Closing night. People get prizes. Wild with excitement, they make speeches. Mum's reconcile themselves to the fact that their formerly practical tots are lost to the world of sensible commerce forever. 

7. The Big Picture

This is the filmmaker development strand, which covers a huge range of topics, creating horrible choices on the key day of Saturday 19 May at the St Kilda Town Hall. It is a mixture of practical experts trying to acquire more angles and tips and inventive emerging filmmakers finding surprising uses for known technology and methods.

Some sessions are about vital stuff which veterans know really matter, like health and safety and legals and accountancy. 

There are more sessions each night of the festival in the same venue. 

8. The Idealistic Bit

Nina Rodriguez answered some questions on the festival site. This is what she said about the value of short films.

'Short films have always been a genre that by definition allows for more risks and experimentation, a freedom that is often mixed with intensity: a lot of the good short films have so much more to say in 10 minutes than most features.

Of course, it’s much easier to work independently and move freely when making a short film so there’s a more rough and pure way to presenting any artistic vision than in a huge production.

Especially in a country like Mexico where it’s still incredibly hard to find financial support for any type of film project and there’s only two major film schools that admit ten students per year, short films are an important medium and way for aspiring filmmakers to start working, not only to get their names out but also to learn by doing.'

The whole of Down to the Bone is here -

 

Hasta los huesos / Down to the bone (Short Film) from Producción de Cine on Vimeo.

About the author

ScreenHub​ is the online home for emerging and experienced Australian screen professionals.

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