Antenna Documentary Film Festival is back from 10 – 15 October with an eclectic program of the very best non-fiction cinema from Australia and around the world. Descend into war-torn Syria, follow the life of jazz titan John Coltrane, attend an erotic casting call in Copenhagen, and catch a series of art-focused docos at your favourite Circular Quay art institution.
To give us a little bit of inspiration and pave the way for the soon-to-come cinema binge, Festival Co-Director Rich Welch shared a few of his life changing films with us.
Steve James’ Hoop Dreams was an epic in every sense of the word, opening the genre to a whole new audience in the process, myself included. What began as a 30-minute documentary became a nearly three-hour epic that chronicled five years in the lives of William Gates and Arthur Agee – two African-American teenagers aspiring to break into professional basketball. It took the fiction genre another 20 years to achieve something similar. I knew nothing about basketball (and still don’t), yet this film gripped me in a way few films had and looking back today, it was really my gateway drug into documentary cinema.
Shot during the mid-1990s, Dark Days follows a group of people living underground in an abandoned section of the New York railway system (the so-called Freedom Tunnel). This film resonates with me on so many levels – from the guerrilla approach of first-time filmmaker Marc Singer: Singer lived underground, subjects doubled up as crew, and the film – yes, film – was sourced from off-cuts. The film and the score, which included work by DJ Shadow, combine to such an effect that they are now inseparable to me. However, what resonated most was how it made us look, connect and care with people that on an everyday level, we shy away from.
The Power of Nightmares was a TV series but it should be seen as a film. It was broadcast long before on-demand platforms existed, and yet it is in this space which it truly belongs. It demands both binge and repeat viewings (I actually recorded it on VHS and watched over and over again). The series was ahead of its time in so many ways; its scale and ambition, its stylistic approach and its themes – exploring the notion of truth and mistruths from government and media alike. Sound familiar?
Before moving to Sydney, I was here on a trip and had the serendipity of turning on the television to find this gem of a film on. I was struck by the relationship between Indigenous elder and actor (and one-time heroin addict and cat burglar) Jack Charles and filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson; and the film’s raw, yet beautiful honesty, both visually and narratively. Although very much a character-study, in many ways Bastardy also served as a guide for me about the complexities and challenges of modern-day Australia, and I am forever grateful for the experience.
We’re showing Amiel’s latest film The Silent Eye at Antenna on Saturday 14 October.
This groundbreaking dramatised documentary about British playwright Andrea Dunbar is both compellingly authentic and yet conversely, utterly stylised. With its roots in Verbatim theatre, filmmaker Cleo Barnard’s unique approach achieves that rare feat of immersing you fully in a story, whilst continually shifting the ground of what the perceived rules are. In doing so, she creates a film that lingers long after watching, and serves as both an intimate character-portrait and a social commentary on a country undergoing rapid change.
I came across this documentary – which celebrates the power of music in the face of adversity – whilst living in South Africa. Mixing interviews, which range from joyous to heart-wrenching with archive and musical renditions, the film reveals the role that music played in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. At the heart of the film is the underlying power of art and its ability to affect people in ways that can bring about societal change that is often hard to believe – until it happens.