Possible Worlds US & Canadian Film Festival
The 9th Possible Worlds US & Canadian Film Festival showcases some of the best new independent cinema from those countries and is heading back to Australia in August. Damon Collum has a chat to Festival Director Mathieu Ravier (pictured, below left), to find out more:
Possible Worlds Film Festival has really covered a lot of ground since it started in Sydney. Venue wise, is the move from the Dendy to Event Cinemas a reflection of the growth of the festival?
The festival has grown a lot over the past nine years. It’s built a solid reputation amongst North American filmmakers as a small, friendly festival with a great film-savvy audience, a good place to launch a film in Australia. As a result, we’ve been able to secure some great titles this year, including the world premiere of Air Sex: The Movie, and most films in the line-up will be screening in Australia for the very first time.
Likewise the audience has grown. It’s particularly exciting to take over Event Cinemas this year, which has done wonders to diversify its programming recently and become a destination for a diverse cross-section of film lovers. I also get a small subversive kick out of screening incredibly personal independent films such as Faults or The Mend on wall-to-wall state-of-the-art screens, in a multiplex built for Guardians of the Galaxy.
You’ve had Toydeath play, had interactive video games and all manner of guests and Q&A sessions over the years. Are there some special guests for this year’s festival?
There are indeed. New York-based Sydney filmmaker Dave Regos will be in town to present the Australian premiere of his inspiring documentary Divide In Concord, which follows a woman’s attempt to ban the sale of plastic bottled water in her town. LA-based Australian actor Callan McAuliffe will be at opening night. His coming-of-age film Beneath The Harvest Sky is having its Australian debut at the festival.
The premiere of post-apocalyptic sci-fi Western Young Ones will be followed by film trivia, hosted by genre film guru Josh Wheatley and his opinionated film critic puppet Harvey Feltstein. Our screening of The Grand Seduction will include a blind date service for film lovers looking to meet up.
Several films will include a complimentary drink on arrival – we like to meet the audience and chat about the films that they’ve seen. They include opening night coming-of-age comedy 1987 from Quebec, and closing night road movie Land Ho!, but also Air Sex: The Movie which will be preceded by a bit of raunchy stand-up comedy by Cameron James & Jared Jekyl.
Air Sex: The Movie is a hilarious documentary about the Air Sex World Championships. You’ve heard of air guitar? Well in Air Sex, which has taken the US comedy circuit by storm, contestants don’t play an imaginary instrument, they mime outrageous sexual acts with imaginary partners. It’s set to music, and it’s part stand up comedy, part performance art, part sporting event. Should be a fun night!
I think this is a really fantastic element of the festival, because you are not simply providing a schedule of films over the course of the event, but a much more enriching experience that involves the audience with the filmmakers and elements of the films themselves. I still think being a part of the Steve Ostrow audience last year was one of the great experiences I have had in many years. When you look back over the festival, what memories stick with you the most?
Watching gay rights activist Steve Ostrow last year invite audience members to hug it out at the premiere of Continental last year was definitely a highlight. I have fond memories of our psychedelic party following the screening of Ron Mann’s Know Your Mushrooms a few years back, and of the live link-up with novelist Margaret Atwood a year later, for his documentary In The Wake of the Flood.
On the more serious side, we’ve had great industry workshops, including transmedia sessions with multi-platform producer Gerry Flahive and acting with filmmaker Ingrid Veninger. And one of the wildest things we’ve ever done was screen Canadian comedy Young People Fucking in a pole dance studio, complete with pole dancing demonstrations and workshops.
Mainstream media love to run with the ‘video killed the radio star’ analogy when discussing the impact of the internet and the patronage to movies, and the purchasing of DVD content. Do you see that this has impacted the festival over the years or is there a strong culture of film appreciation in Sydney, and the cities the festival tours?
The arrival of the NBN and the popularization of Netflix and other film streaming services will no doubt create formidable competition for film festivals, especially when online film catalogues grow to include the latest arthouse and independent films. However, I’m not worried. I think these services will complement rather than replace the communal experience of watching a film in a darkened theatre. They’ll serve to open people’s cinematic horizons, making it easy for us to access a wider variety of titles and take a chance on smaller films that don’t benefit from Godzilla-sized marketing campaigns. I may be optimistic, but I think online film streaming will help grow the audience for smart, independent, global cinema.
I also see this as an opportunity for film festivals to raise the bar and provide an even richer experience, to ensure their event offers enough interactive thrills, quality programming, engaging guests and great atmosphere to lure film lovers away from the comfort of their couch and flat-screen TVs.
Back to the opening night, ‘1987’ is a light hearted and approachable film that will no doubt be a great lead-in to the festival (for those new to Possible Worlds you will get a chance to vote for your favourite film). Do you find it hard to set a ‘pace’ with the program, and are there a wealth of films to draw from to create Possible Worlds?
There is a wealth of Canadian and American independent films to draw on when programming Possible Worlds. That doesn’t mean that as a programmer, you get your pick of anything you see. We’re a small festival in competition with festivals all around Australia and the world for the latest films. Some titles we can’t afford, others we miss out on as they wait to premiere at festivals like Toronto or Venice.
Having said that I’m proud of the line-up we were able to assemble this year. We watched some 250 films to come up with the 18 titles that make up Possible Worlds 2014. From documentaries to fiction, from comedy to science fiction, there’s something here for everyone. Even the broader comedies with wide appeal, like 1987, are personal, autobiographical films with a lot of personality, miles away from some of the more generic offerings of commercial American cinema.
Interestingly this year, we open and close with two comedies that pay tribute to genres made popular in the 80s, the teen movie and the buddy comedy, though both do so from a very contemporary perspective. 1987 is a nostalgic film about being young and wanting to be older, Land Ho! is a film about older people trying to recapture their youth. Both pay tribute to the past with their gaze squarely set on the future.
No doubt Possible Worlds will deliver first class filmmaking from Canada and America, and showcase a range of movies that we’d otherwise have not found via mainstream programming (a blessing for Australian audiences any way you look at it). What is the future of the festival and can we expect to see Possible Worlds again in 2015?
2015 is our 10th anniversary, so we’ll definitely be back for that, bigger and better. Watch this space!
The 9th Possible Worlds US & Canadian Film Festival takes place in the folloing cities on these dates: August 7 -17 (Sydney) | August 20 (Canberra) | August 22-24 (Perth). For more information, visit www.possibleworlds.net.au
Mathieu Ravier interview by Damon Collum.