Film reviewer and filmmaker, CJ Johnson, looks at the 2014 Dendys after Metro Screen’s Dendy Filmmakers Q & A at the Sydney Film Festival.
Having chaired a panel on Women In Film at the Sydney Film Festival a week before the Dendy Shorts this year, gender representation was on my mind, and this year’s films were an interesting counterpoint to the last couple of years. In 2013 Best Film went to Miranda Nation’s Perception and the field (of the seven live action films) had two female directors; in 2012 there were four; this year, none.
I don’t mention this with a gender agenda – it is inevitable that gender representation will ebb and flow – but it was interesting to see a batch of films this year that took an intense dramatic look at masculinity. Four of the live action dramas were focused this way, with one – Richard Hughes’ bold and original MAN – wearing its theme proudly in its title. Straight Drama – as opposed to genre – was the order of the day this year.
Comedy was once again woefully under-represented, with only one live action film – Dave Wade’s extremely funny Welcome To Iron Nob – absolutely a comedy above all else. I don’t know whether this is indicative of the films being made, the films being submitted or the films being chosen, but whichever it is, it shows that, when it comes to the Dendys, the funny remains very much out of fashion – neither of the last two years were full of laughs either.
The films were long this year, with an average of twenty minutes – a full five minutes longer than previous averages – and production values were at an all-time high. None of the films had a “hand-made” feel, separating the Dendys from more rough-hewn – and perhaps more open-minded? – festivals. These, after all, have to screen at the State Theatre – or they used to (and a patron urged me to make the case for them returning there next year – so case made).
One element that I noticed of particular maturity was the sound design, which, across the board, was artistically challenging, creative and rewarding, the best I’ve experienced at the Dendys. One film – Samuel Leighton-Dore’s Showboy – used a sound design by Brooke Trezise, incorporating a score by David Pritchard-Blunt, that truly set the film – and the audience – on edge, making this Snowtown-meets-Priscilla tale of a young man’s secret drag identity almost unbearably suspenseful, despite the seeming (deliberate) banality of its early visuals.
Overall, though, the films were less formally daring than in the last two years, placing plot and character well ahead of style and experiment; in so being, they inevitably were (for the most part) clearer and more straight-forward on a narrative level. Compare 2012’s Best Film winner, out-there telekinesis thriller Yardbird, and 2013’s moody Perception, with this year’s very straight-forward, crowd-pleasing, twenty-eight minute piece on male grieving, I Want To Dance Better At Parties.
Ultimately, this year’s batch were examples of “well-made filmmaking”: easy to follow, with impeccable production values and acting, superb sound, very confident direction, and not an enormous amount of stylistic ambition. More Cineplex than Arthouse, and, perhaps, in their linearity and lack of ambiguity… more male?
CJ is the host of Movieland on the ABC Radio Network – you can download the Podcast at here. He is the movie reviewer for Tony Delroy’s Nightlife on the ABC and the founder of popular film blog Film Mafia