Feb 16, 2014

Review of Peninsula Short-Film Festival 2014


The Peninsula Short-Film Festival (‘PSFF’) based on the beach-side town of Rosebud on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, holds a special place in my heart. As a local Rosebudian I’ve witnessed the birth of this Festival from that drizzly evening back in 2011 and its growth spurt the following year – but what of its 3rd birthday? In an abrupt summary, this party was a let-down. There are many factors why this year failed to excite me including set-up, atmosphere and the films themselves.

Like many short-film festivals PSFF has strict time limits, no longer than 8 minutes, which is fair enough as some shorts can be pretty dull and tiresome even at four minutes. However, there was a common theme than ran through all finalists. Although this is a short-film competition, each film felt…like…well, a short-film! What I mean is although short-films have to have concise and easily reconcilable plots, because there’s little time for extensive character and story development, but this doesn’t mean a short can’t have layers of complexity. I felt that this year’s selection was a manifestation of this ‘one-line story’ premise. PSFF’s selections weren’t intriguing or thought-provoking, unlike the fantastic Tropfest 2013 Inside (clickhere to read review) or Lamb from Tropfest 2002. PSFF chose films that were very ‘by-the-numbers’.

PSFF’s selection included The Hatinator, a young dating couple’s rift over an unusual hair accessory and Makeover, about the extremes an old man goes when he starts dating again. The stories were stale and endings unsurprising. Although there were some excellent cinematography and colour schemes used in Makeover, it wasn’t that funny because we’ve seen similar shorts like it before.

Another tedious film was Pint, a typical wedding-mishap short-film where a dim-witted oaf drinks too much beer then needs to use the bathroom during the speeches. I won’t deny it, this film did have some funny moments but overall it was unsatisfying. I felt the same way about Modern Intruder, a thriller with a comical twist. It was unconvincing from a technical aspect – the filter used could not be too dark and grainy as it would have reduced the comical effectiveness of the ending. Reconciliation was another unconvincing film, thanks in part to the over-acting of the young soldier and under-acting of the father. However, the worst film had to go to Baby did a bat bat thing, horror gore/rock-n-roll hybrid comedy where Bonnie & Clyde meets Resident Evil – a very sick film.

I was a little confused why Kings won first prize – yes it did have the best cinematography at the Festival, but the ending? Perhaps the guy had enough of the mobster life as subtly hinted at the start with the apron scene, but to shoot his partner? Turtle had perhaps the worst acting of the night. I think it was chosen because it ended with a scene of the grandfather and grandson fishing off a pier, drawing a connection with PSFF. Overall, none of the films moved me. Even the audience as a whole reacted lukewarm to most of the films.

PSFF’s six ‘Best of the Rest’ films seemed to be of better quality than the finalists. My favourite was Awake. Fantastic cinematography and direction, effectively transporting us into the surreal dream realm: the sound of the scene shot rotating, the word ‘Awake’ appearing on screen commanding the man to wake up and the racing night sky. It was a simple story but engaging – a man wakes up to find his wife missing from his bed. He leaves his farmhouse and wanders through a corn field to find a large box. He opens it and we don’t see what’s inside but his expression tells us his worst nightmare has come true – he then awakes and finds his wife beside him. Upon falling asleep the screen short rotates and the dreaming, or nightmare, will start once again. To me this film was trying to say that we cannot escape nightmares, unless we don’t sleep. I absolutely loved this film. I only wish more of this calibre were selected; however, that would be unlikely as majority of the audience were families who may find such films tiresome. Then there was Montage to Melbourne, which used the zoomed-out, miniaturised technique to film the living organism that is Melbourne. Although I felt it didn’t quite capture the essence of the city it was still a mesmerising and beautiful film to watch.

Looking back to previous finalists, I wonder if the PSFF is becoming a victim of its own success? I believe it’s trying too hard to become the next Tropfest as both are capable of catering large, outdoor audiences. PSFF appears to be doing this by adopting the same selection criteria. In its first year, PSFF screened some fantastic shorts with great narrative and direction. PSFF is intimating Tropfest’s selection method by choosing films that are ‘easy to watch’ in order to attract large audiences. Both festivals don’t want their audience to get bored so they need to choose films that have wide appeal, unlike smaller, theatre-based festivals (Flickerfest or MIFF) where audiences are willing to pay to see more thought-provoking films. Although PSFF is free, audience members are also free to walk off and neither Tropfest nor PSFF can afford to let this happen. However, the films are only part of the Festival. Next issue: atmosphere!

PSFF’s first year was set in Rosebud’s glorious yesterday-year Old Broadway Theatre, the first cinema on the Mornington Peninsula (c. 1923). It is full of art-deco charm and super high ceilings with gourmet food sold on the night in the lobby, such as chutney bratwursts and fancy-sandwiches. Over 300 people crammed into the theatre (myself included) with over 100 people being turned away. This enthusiastic response set PSFF’s sights on greener pastures – hence, the Village Green! The second year established the Festival as an outdoor event with no expense spared. Unfortunately, this year I was hugely disappointed by the lack of fanfare.

Where were the chauffeur driven cars that transported the likes of Firass Dirani (House Husbands) down a 20 metre motorcade to Nikki Osborne from Channel Nine’s Postcards? This year was a lot less atmosphere. I’m referring to the unadventurous food stalls such as the coconut van, Flying Calamari Brothers, Dutch pancakes. Added to this, the entertainment was simply the standard fare of country singers and flamingo dancer. Melbourne is the most multicultural city on the planet, I would have loved to have seen PSFF attract more exotic food & drink stalls like Thai or Spanish, cuisines that could satisfy appetites on a warm summer’s night and more lively ethnic dance groups, like Greek or Asian. Although these stalls did attract consumers a greater sense of cultural diversity and festivity would have generated a more vibrant atmosphere.  

Though the hyped-up fanfare of the previous year may have been toned down, PSFF did once again have Lachy Hulme (Howzat, Offspring) and Kerry Armstrong (Seachange, Prisoner). It was also great to see lots of Australian talent such as Debra Byrne (Fat Tony & Co) on the judging panel along with Australian director Fred Schepisi as a guest of honour.

One of the new changes to the Festival was the use of a giant LED screen enabling an early screening time even in daylight. This was an ingenious idea – many audience members were families with young children who are prone to leaving early so an earlier screening time would ensure an earlier finish plus greater audience retention. However, this year’s PSFF was plagued with several technique glitches. First off, there was the surprise wedding proposal video that was accidentally screened before it should have been, although she still said yes! Later, during the award ceremony the camera used to broadcast the proceedings onto the big screen was placed on an extreme angle enabling the audience to get a great side-profile of the filmmakers and guests faces. Then came my favourite glitch when the camera suddenly became loose and rotated all the way up towards the heavens then all the way down to the ground. As least the audience got a great shot of the starry night sky and Kerry Armstrong’s legs!

Winners from Pint
But putting these technical bloopers to one side, PSFF did have the new exciting initiative of a one day filmmaking workshop. I think that this was an awesome idea, not only turning the Festival into a two-day event but providing upcoming filmmakers with industrial know-how and networking opportunities. Not bad for $5 entry.

You may ask after reading my rather harsh review whether I would attend next year? The answer is, of course and every year after that! Not only is this a great community event for little Rosebud, but it also gives local and Australia-wide filmmakers more opportunities to have their work screened and be discovered. Despite my grindings about film selection and technical mishaps, the truth is what film festival doesn’t have these issues? As long as PSFF doesn’t forget who they are and how unique this Festival is, there’s no reason why PSFF can’t be as great as Tropfest, but in its own way. A film festival by the beach, how awesome is that?

 

Reviewed by Chris Vlahonasios
Edited by Kyriaki Fuss
1st PSFF - 2011


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