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The Flickerfest mission goes online

Veronica Gleeson

As it has been for the last 11 years, the Flickerfest International Short Film Festival launch party is held inside the Bondi Pavilion, a long adored community venue for everything from yoga to children’s parties. On this occasion it’s one of the windiest of Bondi evenings in living memory; enormous gusts hammer the doors and windows with such fortitude that most guests don’t brave the famed balcony. The Olympic volleyball era (during which the Pav was commandeered by the state government, the building closed to the public and a large section of the beach scraped out by bulldozers) has passed, and things haven’t changed unduly. Better office facilities here and there, newer doors maybe. In an era of barely legal privatisation and near-sighted sell-off, the fact that the Pav still exists for use by Flickerfest is more comforting than it should be.

The more polite variety of social photographer snaps local celebrities; in typical Sydney style everyone else downs beer and ignores them; the crowd moves inside the endemically musty screening room and Bronwyn Kidd, helmswoman and Artistic Director, announces this year’s program. There are the usual sections: Australian and International competitive, various masterclasses and workshops, plus a special tribute to Hitchcock. Kidd also mentions that 2002 will usher in a first for the festival; an online program dedicated to computer-generated and digital short films, for which punters will be able to vote on the website. Also this: the films will be available for viewing online. Speeches over, the auditorium darkens and a selection of 2002 shorts is screened. As ever, there is a very audible whirr as the projector cranks into life, also the creak of seats decades older than the people sitting on them. There’s something about the conscious choice not to mask the decrepitude of our surroundings that is also comforting.

Ideas regarding the consequence of putting films online have been bandied about for some time now. Some filmmakers have either embraced the digital coding and uploading of their work as a further means of distribution, others have rejected it outright on the basis of its inappropriateness to the medium both technically and creatively. And while the recent, culturally important ‘tech wreck’ has temporarily (but perhaps not literally) put paid to fears artists have re the potential evils of corporate colonisation of their work, there is still a discussion worth continuing about what viewing film out of its original context can mean. When, for example, does a festival stop being a local, shared and site-specific event and start to become something other? Does putting a few shorts on your website prefigure a major paradigm shift? Probably not, says Kidd.

Putting films on the website, she argues, is simply one way of broadening awareness of Flickerfest, reaching interested audiences and filmmakers who are physically remote from Bondi and "introducing a new generation to the festival. But obviously it’s completely different to actually being here [at the Pavilion]. Flickerfest is a community event. We have flags flying on Campbell Parade–there’s a huge awareness and support for the fact that we’re here now. People prefer to come together and share the experience–they don’t really want to sit in a little room looking at a little screen waiting for a film to download."

Hence the fact that the international Flickerfest program is packed up and taken from Byron Bay to Gunnedah (with 12 country and capital cities in between) over the course of 2 months. This isn’t just some kind of post-festival wanderlust, nor is it simply a concession to publicity mongering until enough people have a broadband connection. Kidd is committed to defeating what she recognises as elitism within the industry–a commitment which extends to providing access geographically as well as virtually. This recognition of a prohibitive hierarchy is part of the reason for the including films shot on DV, or rendered entirely from computer. "35 mm is an elite form of filmmaking. Hardly anyone can afford to do it. But now with DV we’re seeing a whole new range of films and filmmakers emerging."

And is the technology altering the kinds of stories artists want to tell? "No. They just get to do it more cheaply. Although the films we’ve featured on the website are largely dialogue free, because they’re quicker to download." An afternoon’s offline viewing of the online program is testament to both diversity and unification through new media. A great number of the films are silent, or feature minimal dialogue, but beyond that there’s not a lot of similarity between crack, a rough-as-guts mockumentary about a support group for men with trouser problems, Synchronicity, an eerie wordless PC-generated cyberdance, and Les Grenouilles, an RMIT student’s musical animation featuring 2 lovelorn, ice-skating frogs. And at the risk of sounding like a soft Left nostalgic, there’s something very comforting about that.

Flickerfest 2002, 11th International Short Film Festival, Bondi Pavilion, Sydney, Jan 4-12; for touring dates visit their website

RealTime issue #47 Feb-March 2002 pg.

© Veronica Gleeson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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