Fourteen films will have their Australian premiere as part of the brand new Essential Independents: American Cinema, Now festival coming to Palace Cinemas in May. The two-week festival, curated by artistic director Richard Sowada, will showcase the past, present and future of independent cinema from the United States and its impact on the international screen industry.
With a diverse program of 32 films, across five categories, Essential Independents celebrates new narrative feature and documentaries and includes a retrospective on first films from now major international filmmaking talents, including Kelly Reichhardt, Kathryn Bigelow and Sofia Coppola.
Oren Moverman’s Time Out Of Mind, starring Richard Gere, will open the festival, but take a look at some of our highlights from the program after the jump. Note: blurbs credited to the official website.
The Keeping Room (Australian premiere) – A rip-snorting big screen western with a welcome sting in the tail. With great attention to art direction and period detail, The Keeping Room is set deep in America’s South during the Civil War. Here we come across three women (played by Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and Muna Otaru) doing their best to eek out a subsistence living from their increasingly unmanageable land. With all the men at war the women – two sisters and a one-time slave – live as simply as they can in their crumbling farm house. Unfortunately for them, things are about to get a whole lot tougher as two scouts from the Union army (one played by Sam Worthington) cross paths with the women, forcing a situation not too different to that of the Rod Lurie classic Straw Dogs. Violence and revenge ensues as these women do whatever it takes to survive and win – but not without cost. It’s great to see women characters dominating so strongly in the most masculine of film genres.
Jane Got a Gun – This one has it all. Nasty looking, whisky-swillin’ bad guys, great wide-screen vistas, thundering action, gun fights a-plenty, a gutsy heroine and a gritty laconic off-sider… and in this case it’s also got Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor. Jane Hammond (Portman) lives on an isolated homestead but when her once outlaw husband returns from ridin’ the range she realises there’s trouble a brewin’. He’s riddled with gun-shot wounds and she soon learns that life is about to get just that little bit harder. Hot on the heels of her husband is John Bishop and his marauding gang looking for revenge. Her only hope is to enlist the services her reluctant gun-slingin’ alcoholic ex, Dan Frost (Edgerton).
Too Late (Australian premiere) – A lean noir styled work where world-weary detective Mel Sampson (John Hawkes) investigates the murder of a young girl on a lonely hillside in the LA hinterland. As per classic noir, there’s layer upon layer of relationships and motivations from all the characters. There’s sleaze, there’s seedy and shady characters, there’s lots of cigarettes and smooth music and there’s plenty of great strip clubs, drive-ins, LA mansion locations. The extra kicker is that each part of the story (five chapters) is told in five single 20-minute unbroken takes on 35mm. The dialogue is smart and sharp, there’s great chemistry, and in between all characters there’s plenty of contemporary atmosphere and groove.
Fresh Dressed – Hip hop in all its forms and all its elements has had a profound effect on culture globally and while the music and identities that inhabit that space have been the primary food for its cinematic examinations, here the fashion that takes centre stage. Fresh Dressed captures an essence of New York rarely seen as we investigate the places and people, the past and present, the famous, the infamous and the unknown and combined, their involvement in the development of the scene. Featuring appearances by Damon Dash, Nas, Karl Kani, Pharrell Williams and more, Fresh Dressed is packed with great humour, great music and great characters.
Essential New York
Cruising + Interior Leather Bar (Double bill) – Pacino is excellent in one of William Friedkin’s most unusual films. A young Pacino plays Steve Burns NYPD patrolman on the trail of a serial killer stalking the gay S&M bars and hangouts of the 1970s and 80s New York. As you’d expect from Friedkin (who also directed The French Connection in this program) the violence is upfront and there’s leather ahoy as Friedkin paints a detailed and tactile backdrop to this crime story – chaps squeaking and fantastic soundtrack throughout! Cruising has a very real sense of authenticity – something Friedkin was famous for – and its storytelling is no holds barred. Completing this double bill is James Franco and Travis Mathews’ cinematic and performance experiment, Interior. Leather bar. In order to avoid an X rating, 40 minutes of S&M footage was rumoured to be cut and destroyed from the 1980’s film. Here Franco and Mathews attempt to reconstruct what may have been as well as explore performance itself . As such it’s a film about filmmaking as much as it is about an exploration of sexual and creative freedom.
The French Connection – Everything about it is ripped from true-crime headlines as hard nosed NYPD detective “Popeye” Doyle goes to the very limit of the law and beyond in trying to break a French-based heroin ring. Set almost entirely on the New York streets and in the subways, Gene Hackman turns in a career defining performance as Doyle. As his partner Buddy “Cloudy” Russo, Roy Scheider puts in a star turn and squarely claimed his place as one of the blockbuster actors of the 70s…3 years later he was starring in Jaws and 5 years later in Friedkin’s muscular thriller Sorcerer. Through its frenetic action, The French Connection includes some of the most memorable images of New York committed to celluloid – and one of the great action/chase sequences of all time.
Midnight Cowboy – Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Midnight Cowboy represents a simply brilliant turning point in American cinema. Featuring career best performances from Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, it’s also a fantastic snapshot of 1969 New York. Joe Buck (Voight) works in a kitchen in a lonesome American small town with dreams of all that New York has to offer a handsome cowboy stud. A Greyhound bus ride later (which in itself is a wonderful cross-section of American life) finds Joe filled with hope and walking the streets looking to score with any and all the wealthy Park Avenue ladies…but New York and its myth isn’t all it seems. Enter “Ratso” Enrico Rizzo (Hoffman) – scam artist, homeless and a kind of fallen angel with broken wings. Together the oddest of couples find their own dream and along the way introduce us to the genuine New York article.
The Warriors – A true cult film, The Warriors has got it all…rough and rugged action, a soundtrack full of funk and soul and of course evocative New York street and subway locations. Cyrus is the charismatic leader of the Riffs – the most powerful gang across all of New York. Calling a meeting that includes all the New York gangs, Cyrus is forming an army – and the gangs are all for it. Things at the rally don’t go according to plan and by accident the Coney Island based gang – the Warriors – become targets of every gang in the city. Caught miles away from their turf the Warriors have to make the perilous journey back to Coney Island with every gang member in town in pursuit.
This program is too awesome to list here. All of the films are fantastic; the debut features from the Coen Bros (Blood Simple), Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark), Kelly Reichhardt (River of Grass), Richard Linklater (Slacker), Jim Jarmusch (Stranger than Paradise) and Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides). All are exactly as the festival claims…essential viewing.
Here are the festival dates by state:
Tuesday 17 May to Wednesday 1 June – Sydney
Wednesday 18 May to Wednesday 1 June – Melbourne
Thursday 19 May to Wednesday 1 June – Brisbane and Canberra
Thursday 26 May to Wednesday 8 June – Adelaide
Explore the full program and book tickets at the official website – http://essentialindependents.com/