The movies have always seen multiple films about the same topic reaching us at the same time. Two movies about asteroids? Two movies about volcanoes? Two movies about long distance runner Steve Prefontaine?
How about two movies about ageing Australian women expressing their increasing sense of isolation from the world they’ve known?
That’s a cheeky way to get us into our preview of the documentary shorts screening at this year’s ReelGood Film Festival (RGFF), which will play at Lido Cinemas in Hawthorn on Saturday, April 22nd. You can get your tickets at the RGFF website, which you can find here.
Indeed the first two films we’ll discuss are structured from the perspectives of their primary characters, women who have more sunrises behind them than ahead of them — and one of whom may soon not be able to see the sunrise at all.
The first is The Sweetness, Jessica Barclay Lawton’s 12-minute short focusing on an organic farmer living in rural Australia. The woman lost her husband when he was only 39, and her turning 40 — which is some years in the past now — made her contemplative about the finite nature of existence. She’s also estranged from her children, though it sounds like she doesn’t mind a life of feeling different from others.
Lawton’s film lovingly takes in the woman’s environment as she tends to the needs of her organic farm and lives out simple day-to-day pleasures. It’s likely to leave the viewer in the same contemplative state as its main character.
Then you have Blind Body, Alison Chhorn’s 15-minute short that feels similarly experimental in nature. Chhorn uses out-of-focus photography to approximate the encroaching loss of vision of its main character, an elderly Cambodian woman living in Australia and reflecting on her own life, which started in Cambodia in 1943 before ending up on Australian shores. The other character we see on screen is her infant great granddaughter.
Chhorn captures details and moments from the woman’s life, blurry though they may be — a thoughtful consideration of how our own lives and memories lose focus as we age, even when we don’t lose our sight.
Onions bears some similarities to The Sweetness in that it examines rural Australian farming culture. It’s a portrait by filmmaker Emmy Clifton of her own father, an onion farmer, who walks the audience through the philosophies of how to cultivate onions to bring the most out of them — as well as a few life philosophies thrown in for good measure.
Clifton documents a full year in the growth of this vegetable, as well as sweet interactions over the phone and in person with her father, though the filmmaker herself is never seen on screen. We get calming and soothing shots of fresh onions being laid out and cleaned, as well as a sense of the affection that exists between this pair, even though she has moved on to Melbourne and is no longer part of the farming life.
Finally the program reaches a high point with A Day in the Life, the longest short in this year’s program at just over 32 minutes. The film is from director Elizabeth A. Povinelli and the Karrabing Film Collective, and it continues the experimental strain in this year’s documentaries by charting a series of typical daily events in the life of an indigenous community in the Northern Territory.
Told generally through the eyes of Ricky but existing as a genuine ensemble experience, A Day in the Life uses snippets of indigenous poetry and hip hop, repeating through as sort of an incantation, accompanying that with the archival voices of Australians who have been on both the right and wrong side of indigenous rights over the years since the White Australian Policy was implemented, through the Stolen Generations. This is not narration, but rather atmospheric dialogue accompanying the images of the lives of Ricky and his friends and extended family, as they experience small joys in the midst of larger disappointments. Povinelli’s lively visual approach involves tweaking and looping the images in the editing room, making for a distinctive and vital work.
Given its length, A Day in the Life will receive a special showcase in the program, playing on all screens simultaneously during one session.
You have just more than two weeks to still get your tickets for RGFF23, which you can do by going here.