Opening Night for the three-day Australia Independent Film Festival 2019 (AIFF) in Brisbane was Friday Nov 1. It featured the festival’s best short films, or “Australian shorts” as they call it. I know almost nothing about film and wanted to see what good short films are like. The thought that I might even meet someone involved at the seminal stage of such works hadn’t even occurred to me. I’m so glad I went…
Doors opened at 6.00pm at the Metro Arts building on Edward Street, so I met actor and model Sen Shao an hour earlier for drinks. I haven’t decided whether taking selfies with Sen is good or bad. I want pictures with him before his career really takes off and he doesn’t remember me, but it’s hard to look good next to him because he really is rather fine. Ah well, here we are.
We sat by the window of nearby Doo-Bop jazz bar, and I had a retro Montparnasse moment as local jazz pianist Wil Sargisson walked past us on the street and into the bar. Hmm, where’s my gin martini and elegant cigarette holder?
Back at the Metro Arts building Sen ran into Amanda Kaye, writer, producer and director of one of the featured shorts, “Norm”. It took me a few minutes to figure this out, as is the case when nice people don’t blow their own trumpet. My mind did a slow realisation: here is someone who actually wrote a film I’m going to see tonight. Bells went off in my head, but I managed to restrain myself and asked, as casually as you like, “How do you start writing a film script?” Amanda said the hardest part for her was coming up with the idea for a film. “Once you have the idea, everything else after that comes really fast.” There you have it, from the mouth of a genuine and proven creator.
Amanda suggested I meet Tim, the composer of the film score, who is based on the Gold Coast. Then we went inside. AIFF had laid out a very pretty array of canapés, perfect for munching and mingling. Someone asked Sen, “Have I seen you before, in a film?” (I bet it happens to him all the time!) Paula Jayne had come from Gympie, where she is the manager of the annual Heart of Gold International Short Film Festival (HOGISFF).
Paula said the remit for HOGISFF is to find good films with an uplifting narrative. They don’t have to be upbeat but there needs to be an element of hope or optimism. The community of Gympie is directly involved in the film selection process, she added. I wondered if this had a positive impact on the way Gympians viewed the arts in general, and Paula said she believed it did. How cool is that! A bell rang, and we all headed for the screening room.
There was a very warm and informal introduction by the two festival organisers Richard Lawton and Jeremy Rigby. This was a happy and intimate gathering of people, many of whom were closely connected with these films. I thought of Amanda and what joy she must be feeling. This was the evening’s line-up; nine very different and thought-provoking short films.
It has been decades since I saw a film in an art house. I can pinpoint the end of that era to a day in North London in 1998 when I took my three-year-old to see “Barney’s Great Adventure”. So in the interval, when the elegant woman next to me said, “I liked Daily Bread. Those women loved their children so much, despite their situation. It was very uplifting! What did you like?” I cannot tell you how far I had to reach into the recesses of my mind to articulate a response.
“There was hope at the end of Cooee, right at the very end,” I managed. Rebecca Wang, who is a dance educator, agreed. “Yes! At the very end!” It was like a tap turned on in my mind. I thought about Cooee: that shadow of a girl’s smile was just a twitch of her mouth and the only smile seen in a dystopian universe. A millisecond, and it changed everything. Genius.
“I’m not sure about the connection between the kids playing football and the men talking,” Rebecca continued, referring to Flip. “Maybe it’s like the kids are pretending to fight over the soccer pitch,” I ventured. “But really they want to play together. The men pretend to be interested in each other, but they don’t care about each other at all.” How fun is this!
In the lobby, Amanda Kaye (bless her cotton socks) said, “Come and meet the musician I was telling you about.”
Tim Pitchford is a composer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, producer and sound engineer. We chatted about the need to wear a few hats to survive in the arts, and I mentioned teaching piano and living in the Scenic Rim.
“Well funny you should say that,” Tim said. “I was at an event called Arts Ablaze in Kooralbyn last month. I was doing the sound for…”
“OMG! Tim the sound engineer! You were the sound man for the Haystack Mountain Hermits! I saw them. They were fantastic!”
Suddenly we had an understanding. Tim is based in Tamborine, same as the Hermits, which are a family of superb musicians. I have been chomping at the bit to write about them, but I reviewed Arts Ablaze for a platform, and it’s stuck in a cyberspace pipeline, so I can’t write more until that’s out. But I uploaded a video of them to YouTube, and it’s here.
After the interval, we finally saw Norm. Here is a paragraph from Amanda’s Director’s Statement on her website:
With the subject matter being that of a serious nature I felt a need to communicate the film’s story in the form of a dark comedy to reach a broader audience. A favourite form of storytelling, dark comedy allows the humorous idiosyncrasies of characters to transpire into the serious situations that evolves throughout the film, thus creating serious thought and self reflection as well as amusement for the audience. This is where I believe true comedy lies and where the world of ‘Norm’ should reside.Amanda Kaye
Norm was gripping from start to finish, funny and chilling at the same time. Amanda and her crew walked that fine line with artful precision. I thought maybe this was about personality disorder, not being able to trust what is real and how frightening that is. But I don’t think that’s mentioned on the website. Of course I listened intently to all the music! Amanda said Tim came up with the music for the end credits in one take, and I heard his dulcet tones over a kind of wonky piano bar blues, “I’m Norm, but I’m not normal…” Superb!
Update: After this post came out Tim said, “I definitely can’t take all the credit! Big huge thanks to fellow composer and sound designer Brent Henshaw for the incredible work and effort. The film won People’s Choice at the festival, and I couldn’t be more proud of Amanda and the effort her and the crew put in. Stoked to be apart of it. I feel big things on the horizon for Brent and I and is definitely the start of a long career of composing and writing together.”
What a great night meeting creatives. Brisbane – the Goldilocks city, not too big, not too small. It’s just right.