Jun 162015


The 2015 Sydney Film Festival is all over and done with. I’ve spent most of the day catching up on sleep, and now here is the final installment of my diary as a daytime subscriber. I’ll review the final batch of subscriber films, and offer my thoughts on the festival overall.

Subscribers took a break from ARABIAN NIGHTS in the morning to watch the irony-laden rom-com ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, which won the main prize at Sundance earlier in the year. Responses to the film have ranged from love to hatred, and my own reaction falls somewhere in between. The ‘me’ of the title is Greg, a high school student with a passion for classic film who tries to avoid notice at school and is an awful self-centered whinger. He’s the least interesting character in the film. Earl is present largely for purposes of rhyming convenience, and works with Greg on creating an extensive collection of parody films. The dying girl is Rachel, who has leukemia. Greg is forced by his mother to befriend Rachel due to her illness.

Some of the writing here is really funny, as befits a film with that title. Interesting touches to the cinematography elevate this above the standard comedy release. There’s enough going on here for me to recommend the film, but not whole-heartedly. Greg is an awful character, and I wish the film had focused on somebody else. Some of the film parodies are amusing, but the movie is absolutely drowning in quotation and reference. I tend to think somebody having created a film is enough evidence that they like movies. The endless battle for Criterion-cred is an unnecessary distraction. The film uses a narrative trick I found transparent and a little distasteful. So there’s as much wrong here as there is right, but I’d still rather watch this than a standard blockbuster comedy.

And then there was ARABIAN NIGHTS. Parts 2 and 3 played back to back, completing the over-six-hour film. Part 2 is a huge improvement from Part 1, which you might remember I was unimpressed with. The three stories here are more creative, more visually impressive and present more interesting characters. A fantasy courtroom sequence is the highlight of the trilogy. After Part 2 my interest was renewed. I was ready for another two hours of a film I had previously been dreading. Miguel Gomes had me, then he deliberately lost me with Part 3.

ARABIAN NIGHTS: VOLUME 3, THE ENCHANTED ONE is an aggressively anti-audience experiment. It lulls us into a false sense of security with an opening half-hour which focuses on the storyteller Scheherazade herself, in a really enjoyable set of creative and funny situations with great musical accompaniment. Then the director’s true intentions are revealed, as the remaining 90 minutes (the full length of a regular film) are dedicated to alienating the audience, becoming duller and duller in a way which seems deliberate and malicious. This is an especially cruel way to treat an audience who has decided to spend six hours with your work, and I found myself getting angrier and angrier as the film limped to a conclusion. Since we are talking about the end of a movie, I’ll avoid detailing the specifics in the body of the article, and will spoil the horrible trick at the bottom of this page. I am sure Miguel Gomes thinks this is a really funny way to end a six-hour film. What a waste of time. As the credits rolled, I was furious, and I wasn’t the only one.

ARABIAN NIGHTS (all of it) has won the Sydney Film Festival’s official competition, and with it the $62,000 prize. I have nothing to say about that.

The Sydney Film Festival is my favourite two weeks of the year, and this year was no exception. While I’ve used this diary to describe the experience of a daytime subscriber, that pass was merely a starting point for my attendance this year. I saw 53 films over the 12 days of the festival, 34 of which I’ve written about.

While I saw many films I liked on the daytime pass, most of the best films I saw were those I added to my schedule, with THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY and THE FORBIDDEN ROOM the absolute highlights.

There are many benefits to being a daytime subscriber. It’s easily the cheapest way to see a lot of films (they work out to around $8 each). You are shown a good mix of narrative films and documentaries, and you are likely to find gems among the films you might not have considered seeing otherwise. Your spare time is left free to add as many extra films as you like, which is not a luxury available to night subscribers, since most of the films available in their spare time are repeats from the pass

There is one significant drawback to the daytime pass as well, which I didn’t mention during the festival to avoid sounding like a grumpy lecturer. The audience at the State Theatre during the daytime is filled with talkers and phone-users. It’s an epidemic. During my previous four years at the festival, I’ve had to deal with approximately one phone and one group of talkers each year. This year I had to deal with both multiple times in almost every screening. If you’re sensitive to this the way I am, I can’t possibly recommend you subject yourself to this disrespectful crowd. The extra screenings I took at the Event Cinema at night were a wonderful relief.

Out of 53 movies, I saw around 40 which I liked and several which I really loved. I’ll take those odds any day. The Sydney Film Festival continues to be a wonderful experience under the direction of Nashen Moodley, whose contract with the festival has gladly been renewed for another four years. I had a great time discussing a collection of interesting films with a lot of people I’d never met outside of Twitter before, which is always one of the best things about the festival. A special thanks go out to Sam and Andrew of An Online Universe for hosting this diary.

Now, I would spend my first day post-festival relaxing, but JURASSIC WORLD is out, and I haven’t had a chance to see it yet. So I guess I’m heading back to the cinema.

Thanks for reading, and goodbye!

Shaun Heenan




The second story of Part 3 is a documentary about the capture and training of chaffinches, during which we hear endless tweeting. The segment, if treated like any of the other stories in the compilation, would have been one of the weaker ones. Perhaps the very weakest. By the time it finishes, we are completely, absolutely sick of it and are glad to move on.

The third story of Part 3 is a fake-out. We spend around three minutes hearing in voice-over the story of a Chinese migrant to Portugal who falls in love with a police officer. The film then mockingly declares, “Scheherazade then returned to the story of the chaffinches.”

The film ceases all commentary, and the remaining 40+ minutes of the film are essentially B-roll footage of people standing around waiting for a chaffinch competition to start. Seriously. It’s intensely dull and it’s my earnest belief that it is intended to be. Gomez is mocking us for attending his enormous film.