If last month’s horrific Naaru file revelations were not enough to convince you that Australia isn’t all white-teethed surfers and cute kangaroos, the 20-plus films showcased at this year’s Down Under Berlin festival (September 14-18 at Moviemento) will further challenge the Antipodean myth of sun and surf with a blend of socially conscious films and deeply troubled protagonists.
Documentary The Drowned Dreams tells the story of Iranian asylum seekers to Australia, tracing their journey en route. Composed of interviews and video footage, the film portrays the asylum seeker experience beyond the treacherous boat journey: having to give up all their money to customs officials in Jakarta; spending two years in detention in the notorious centre on Christmas Island. What The Drowned Dreams lacks in style it makes up for in clarity, giving migrants the chance to tell their own story. It’ll be followed by a discussion with Dr. phil. Babette Gekeler from Berlin Charité’s Institute of Medical Psychology.
One can see why festival favourite Fantail has garnered so much attention since its release in 2013. Its characters, flawed, smart and cool, make up for what is, at times, a contrived comedic touch. The film begins with a haunting opening sequence, tracing the mythology of the fantail in Maori folklore through the reading of a bedtime story. A tense undercurrent carries throughout. Endearing, natural and touching, Fantail is a dramatic story up to its devastating climax.
Another stand-out feature is Spear (photo), chosen to open the festival. Told entirely in dance and ritual, with the help of Sydney’s Bangarra Dance Theatre, the film traces the journey of Djali, a young Aboriginal man, as he sets off on a journey of initiation. Acclaimed choreographer Stephen Page’s touch is omnipresent in this European premiere.
While treading into Aussie and Kiwi cinema without prior experience can seem intimidating, the familiar face of Sam Neil is there to alleviate any qualms you might have. Long before he was fighting off dinosaurs in Jurassic Park or portraying the antichrist in The Omen III, Neil was making his name as a Kiwi thriller specialist in Roger Donaldson’s 1977 film Sleeping Dogs. The film accompanies the German premiere of Taika Waititi’s blockbuster comedy-adventure, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, based on a story by the late New Zealand novelist Barry Crump, also starring Neil in a memorable role.
For some lighthearted viewing, check out the animated feature The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead, starring two germaphobic creatures who are shocked at the discovering of a state of city dwellers.
Highlights from the ‘shorts’ section include “Foal”, with its sweeping tracks and panoramic views of Australia’s Snowy Mountains serving as a backdrop to a tale of love and infidelity in a farming homestead in 1915, and “The Disappearance of Willie Bingham”, a dystopian view on criminal justice, whereby bereaved families are able to inflict surgical punishments on prisoners (such as the eponymous protagonist).
Down Under Berlin, Sep 14-18 | Moviemento, Kottbusser Damm 22, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Schönleinstr.