Thursday, 16 July 2009

Focus on Australian Noir

The Horseman

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) will present a season of gritty, stripped-back Aussie realism when Focus on Australian Noir opens this September.

Curated by ACMIs Head of Film Programs Richard Sowada and Film Programmer Spiro Economopoulos, the program features nine films playing over ten days, all inspired by the noir genre, each one dark in style and subject matter.

"We've taken this great selection of films and looked at them through the lens of film noir. Each of them has at their heart the great traditions of the genre, but there's a real sense of playfulness and experimentation with the style, giving a unique spin to classic film noir conventions," Richard said.

"The film noir elements turn up in surprising places - the glaring sun of the outback in Wake In Fright, the maze of sky-less Melbourne laneways in The Magician, or the confines of a house in Boxing Day - all have locations which are characters in themselves," he said. "The willingness among these filmmakers to challenge and spin these customs, either by choice or necessity, makes for invigorating viewing."

The season will open with the hit of last years Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF), The Horseman (2008), where it won both Best Film and Best Director. Steven Kastrissios' gritty revenge film rewrites the book in its unrelenting vision of a grieving father who will stop at nothing to get back at the men that killed his daughter.

The season continues with another film applauded at MUFF, winner of Best Film, Director and Actor categories in 2003, The Magician (2005). Director and star Scott Ryan turns in a scorching film trailing the life of a hitman, whose twisted code of ethics is, in equal parts, loathsome and likable.

Regarded as an Australian classic, Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) plays on the fear of the unknown invoked by the outback and often leveraged in Australian films, particularly those of the 1970s. This controversial film takes uptight teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) into the outback, where one night turns into a shattering hallucination of gambling, drinking and brutality. Adapted from the novel of the same name, but simply known as Outback beyond Australian shores, Wake in Fright draws a brilliant early-career performance from Jack Thompson.

The 'bread and butter' for Australian noir filmmakers lies in ever-popular stories of crime and corruption. Carl Schultz's Goodbye Paradise (1982), is set around the years of Joh Bjelke-Peterson's National Party Government. Queensland is depicted as a cesspool of corruption and vice, as a booze-addled ex-cop attempts to solve a murder and in the process uncovers a plot for a military coup. Goodbye Paradise was recognised with two AFI Awards; Best Screenplay for Australian screenwriting legend Bob Ellis and co-writer Denny Lawrence, as well as Best Actor in a Lead Role for Ray Barrett. 

Similarly crooked characters make up Philip Noyce's Heatwave (1982). Partly based on the real life disappearance of Sydney activist and journalist Juanita Nielson, Heatwave depicts a complex web of corruption that surrounds the proposed redevelopment of a poor inner-city Sydney neighbourhood and the fight that ensues between the residents and the all-powerful property developers.

A recent Australian noir hit at film festivals across the globe, The Square (2008), premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2008 to critical acclaim. Written by one of the films' lead actors, Joel Edgerton, and Garage Days writer Matthew Dabner, The Square is the debut feature offering from promising local director Nash Edgerton and has been reviewed as a "terrific, satisfying, full-bodied Australian crime film" by The Age.     

Also screening is Kriv Stenders' Boxing Day (2007), a real-time drama about a family gathering the day after Christmas. As parolee Chris prepares lunch for his fragmented family, old tensions are ignited and dark secrets unearthed with explosive consequences as a good day spirals out of control.

Filmed in Australia, Alex Proyas' dystopic sci-fi noir Dark City (1998) is a burgeoning cult-classic set in a city run by a group of creepy beings called 'The Strangers'. Dark City tells the story of a John Murdoch (played by Rufus Sewell) who wakes up in a strange hotel with amnesia and discovers that he is wanted for a series of brutal murders he has no memory of committing. A Hollywood cast is peppered with top Australian acting talents including Colin Friels, David Wenham and Melissa George.

Naturally, a noir film needs material that lends itself perfectly to the genre so what noir season would be complete without delving into the seedy world of drugs? Drugs and drug taking are portrayed in all their brutal honesty in the ground breaking fictional film, Pure Shit (1975), about four junkies who traverse the city in pursuit of drugs and action. Director Bert Deling challenged more than audiences when he unleashed his second low budget film onto the Australian public. At the time of its release, The Herald deemed it "the most evil film ever made", no doubt referring to its no holds barred look into Melbourne drug culture. 

Focus on Australian Noir draws links with ACMI's new permanent exhibition, Screen Worlds: The Story of Film, Television and Digital Culture, opening in September. The exhibition will spotlight Australia's film history and talent. Many of the films in this season feature directorial or acting talent featured in the exhibition. "We very much wanted to time this season for the opening of the exhibition to give visitors a holistic experience while at ACMI," said Richard. "Whether you're learning about Australian film history for the first time, or simply wanting to expand your knowledge, the film program and exhibition are great companion experiences to one another."

Focus on Australian Noir invites you to melt into a gritty world inhabited by grifters, misfits and antiheros, where the innocent become the guilty and the guilty - well, they get what they deserve - when this season comes alive at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image from Thursday 17th - Sunday 27th September, 2009.

For more information and session details, please visit:


Further information

Claire Butler
Communications Coordinator
[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2415 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 654
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