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Bringing a festival to the festival city: interview with Katrina Sedgwick.

FEBRUARY 2003 MARKS THE return to Adelaide of an international film festival. Slotting into the Writers Week space in off-years for the Adelaide Arts Festival, the film festival marks an election promise by the Premier, Mike Rann, a self-confessed cinephile.

Although South Australia is the site of the first of Australia's state film bodies, the South Australian Film Corporation, which was the home of much of the heroically innovative production in the 1970s renaissance, Adelaide's screen culture has limped along of late with its last film festival being mothballed in the 1980s.

Charged with the responsibility of regenerating the festival is Katrina Sedgwick. She comes to the job fresh from a triumph as director of the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2002. Set against the troubles of Peter Sellars' main festival, the Fringe went through the roof, establishing a great popular and commercial success.

In the following interview, Sedgwick discusses her short-term and long-term goals for the festival.

MW: Why does Adelaide need a film festival?

We have a history of presenting great multi-artform festivals that traditionally explore theatre/opera/dance/music/ literature/visual art, but not film--with the 2002 festival as the sole exception to this. Given that film was 'the art form of the 20th century' and that the screen, in its myriad of formats, will host the artforms of the 21st century, it's time to have a festival that takes film as its staring point and explores the breadth of artistic practice in contemporary screen culture.

Adelaide is a great place to present a festival--the intimacy of the city, the lack of an ongoing critical mass of cultural activity, and the history of active community engagement all mean that Adelaide's Arts Festival, across the artforms, garners a response from an audience who, in a festival context, love to engage in not only consuming contemporary, innovative, challenging and diverse culture, but who also relish the discussion and artist/audience engagement that happens around the events. Our city can be transformed by a festival in a way larger cities can't. And its intimacy means you can easily engage with all parts of the festival. So from a programming perspective it's a joy to develop and pull together a programme here.

MW: What is your vision for this festival? Will them be any elements which will make it stand out from other film festivals?

Our focus is contemporary screen culture. We have as our core an in-cinema screening programme, but we surround that with a breadth of ways to engage with and explore screen culture. Along with feature/documentary/shorts/ animations we have a film and live performance programme, and a variety of strands that look at other areas of screen practice: music video, computer gaming, new media, video installation, online and broadband content.

We are unusual in that our event is held during the summer, so we have a free outdoor screening programme. Our sister event is the world music festival, WOMADelaide, which kicks off just as we finish, and that has inspired a strong strand looking at music in film, on film and film for music, and our festival club programme reflects that. We also have events that are unusual in their structure: the Spaghetti Western Experience involves watching a classic Leone/Morricone feature, followed by a performance from the Ennio Morricone Experience as we serve the audience bowls of spaghetti. There is also a Horror Sleepover, where you stay overnight at the theatre and watch three Dario Argento horror flicks back to back.

We have commissioned Brisbane artist Craig Walsh to create a video installation piece in Rundle St, and have invited LA-based C-Level, who are a theatrical group working with computer gaming as a spectator sport, to present three nights of interactive events.

Plus we have a range of guest film-makers who will participate in our forum programme either on panel sessions or through Meet The Film-maker conversations. As in Writers Week in Adelaide, we want to foreground the accessibility of creative producers as a highly visible part of the festival experience.

What do you see as the highlights of the Festival at this stage? What are the themes or strands that will be given special emphasis?

I'm very excited by the programme's breadth and quality;. We are delighted at the way our core screening programme has come together with over forty Australian premieres of some of the finest work from around the world. We are showing around eighty-seven feature. length programmes over the eight days of the festival, along with special events and forums.

As I've already said, music in/on/for film has been a key strand and also our work in looking at 'New Screens': music video, gaming, installation, and other forms of new media.

Our approach to a film festival is to incorporate and contextualize all these different forms as art forms that have evolved' out of cinema. These will reflect where we are now and where we are going in screen culture and what is unique in Australia and the world. This allows for a range of discussions and, importantly, for practitioners to gain access to each other's crafts for crossover and inspiration. It provides a platform for a breadth of practice to be given equal voice, and through this juxtaposition, encourages our audiences to explore the quality of screen consumption that is relentlessly delivered to them every day. Plus we get to see and discuss a fabulous programme of films that we would not otherwise get to see in a critical mass.

It must be daunting to run a festival for the first time. Do you have a set of performance indicators that you are aiming to achieve?

I have directed two very different festivals previously--Come Out [1999] and the Adelaide Fringe [2002]--in the past, and thankfully the broad rules apply to all three.

I have tried to develop a structure that is relevant to Adelaide, the city, its audiences and its media industries. We worked to produce a festival which is not replicating existing national events; that is a celebration; that is accessible to a broad cross-section of the community; and that develops ongoing partnerships which are local, national and international.

It is a priority to foster audience development, not just in terms of numbers but also in their choices of what they choose to see, along with industry development. This means creating opportunities for seeing each others' work, meeting each other and being inspired. And I wanted to create an event that is fun and memorable but also challenging in terms of the work that is presented and the artists and artforms represented. We'll see what happens!

Where do you anticipate that your audience will come from? Has the organization done much market research in the lead up to the festival?

We hope that the audience will come from a broad demographic spread. In programming the festival, we've been at pains not to be exclusive in our targetting and focus. The aim is to invite patrons from all ages, styles and tastes, and to challenge them with a range of striking screen practices.

My experience with festivals in Adelaide has shown that if you create a strong and innovative programme an audience will come, hungry to be challenged and excited. Responses to date from interstate and from our partners and sponsors have been strongly encouraging. I think the fact is that everyone has an opinion and passion for film and/or screen culture.

Do the time of year and the biennial cycle of the festival pose potential problems for you?

This time of year in Adelaide is glorious for a film festival. It's often stinking hot by day (perfect to be in a cinema) and full of energy at night to see films and then go out to our clubs and events to talk, debate and discuss.

I think that the biennial nature of the festival is a positive thing. It allows a two year process to develop each programme, it consolidates our resources and it further differentiates us from the annual film festivals. We are a festival in the Adelaide sense of the word--biennial in nature, and an event that allows a range of 'entry points' to its broad programme.

What is your background, and will any parts of the festival strongly reflect your personal tastes?

I have a background as an actor and festival producer. I've been involved in film over many years, variously as a performer, crew, producer or programmer. I'd say that the breadth of the approach in this festival reflects my interests generally. I really enjoy the impact of technology across the arts, the ways it affects the conceptual basis of an idea, and the means by which an artist communicates that to an audience. But more generally, great storytelling is a great skill, suspension of disbelief is a rarity, genuine innovation a wonderful surprise. All of these factors have influenced how my team and I have developed this event and the choices we have made for its content.

You're on board as director for the 2005 festival as well. What are your longer term objectives for the festival?

In 2005 I would like to be able to consolidate the strengths of the event in 2003. Given that we have two years lead up instead of the eight months that we have had this year, we'll be aiming to present an even more substantial and imaginative programme both inside and outside the cinema. And hopefully to get the team I have been working with for this event back for the next one!

The Adelaide International Film Festival runs from 28 February to 7 March. Details can be found on the web site at http: //www.adelaidefilmfestival.org/

This interview was conducted in Adelaide, December 2002.

Mike Walsh is a Senior Lecturer in Screen Studies at Flinders University, Adelaide.
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Title Annotation:Festivals/Shorts/Alex Zamm And More
Author:Walsh, Mike
Publication:Metro Magazine
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:1645
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