The 20th anniversary of the Rencontres Internationales du Cinéma des Antipodes launched on October 8 under torrential rain, showers of champagne and a cascade of congratulations.
Academy and Cannes Film Festival award winning writer/director Jane Campion was there on opening night to offer St Tropez Festival Director, ABIE member Bernard Bories, her appreciation of an event that has stood the test of time.
“You’ve done so much for our film industry”, said the New Zealand born Campion, who studied cinema in Australia. “And we all thank you.”
Her words echoed in the dozen video messages of congratulations that flooded in from around the world from the country’s top directors and actors: Messages summed up by the inimitable Australian actor/producer Bryan Brown: “Mate, it’s the best film festival in the world!”
For the first time Australia has put a value on the cinema industry. According to a report by Deloitte, Australian films, TV shows and documentaries attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. Deloitte estimates that 230,000 tourists visit or extend their stay each year as the result of these viewings, generating about $A725 million in additional spending.
Successful films such as Max Max, Fury Road and The Water Diviner generate good export earnings : $250 million in 2014/15, of which 72% came from international box office earnings.
Back in St Tropez, cinema full signs went up for nearly every séance. Since the Festival began, entries number 550,000 and nearly 600 films and documentaries have been shown.
This year’s Jury President, international film and stage actress Greta Scacchi was born in Italy but raised in Australia. “The important years”, she calls them. Her first job, she told us, was on a vast sheep station when, aged 17 and just out of school, she answered an ad calling for “someone who spoke Italian and could ride a motorbike.” I could do one, and soon learned the other. I loved it.”
The jury’s choice for best film went to the Australian film West of Sunshine, a prickly tale of a gambler’s bad choices and the devastating effect they have on his family.
Best actor went to two adolescents in Breath, Samson Coulter and Ben Spence, who brilliantly play inseparable friends, crazy about surfing and culture surrounding it. Breath is the directing debut of Simon Baker (The Mentalist), who brings Tim Winton’s book to the screen. Beautifully filmed in the deep jarra forests of Western Australia, and out in the mountainous surf along the South-West coast, it is a story of friendship and risk and the paths one takes. A surprise is the beautiful voice over – it is Tim Winton himself!
There was a top crop of documentaries, including Ray Argall’s film of the iconic rock star/activist Peter Garrett, once Australia’s Minister for the Environment, and a quirky portrait of what it means to be French today by Australian team Les McLaren and Annie Stiven. And if you ever ask yourself why you love/hate to live here, the films answers many of the questions.