Bringing Canadian Culture To Oz
With Possible Worlds: 3rd Canadian Film Festival opening this weekend, 3D’s Daniel Crichton-Rouse spoke with festival director and genuine cinephile Mathieu Ravier.
Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself- What do you love about film and how did you become involved in the world of cinema-
My dad took me to Battleship Potemkin when I was four years old. I loved the gunships. I think he got in trouble with my mom for doing that, which is how I discovered that cinema could be both exciting and dangerous. Since then I’m become obsessed. I watch about 500 films each year, I blog about film, I dream about film, and for the past eight years I’ve been programming film festivals too. I think reality is overrated. Things are always better written in the movies. Most of what I’ve learned about the human condition I’ve learned in a cinema. When I moved to Sydney three years ago [from France] I was shocked by how little access there was to quality independent cinema: it seemed every moviehouse showed the same three films. I decided then and there I’d do what I could to bring exciting, unseen cinema to Sydney. Film festivals are a good way to do that, and the growing audiences for such showcases prove that there is still an appetite for good cinema in Sydney, especially in the context of an interactive and festive event.
Simple question (maybe): Why is the festival called Possible Worlds-
The festival is named after a fantastic but little-seen metaphysical thriller by Canadian playwright and filmmaker Robert Lepage, which starred Tilda Swinton. Cinema, more perhaps than any other medium, offers a window into other worlds, a colourful and unpredictable alternative to our daily routine. Canadian cinema is like Australian cinema’s long lost twin. Both countries share a lot culturally and historically, and both film industries try to exist in the shadow of American cultural imperialism. Watching a good Canadian film is like stepping into a parallel universe where everything seems familiar yet strangely different. It’s a way to look at the world from a new perspective, a gateway into other possible worlds.
Why did you choose Canadian cinema to focus on- Is it because of your French background-
Not at all. I spent some time in Toronto when I was younger, studying and working in film festivals. I discovered and fell in love with Canadian cinema then. Sadly I had to leave, I couldn’t stand the winters. But I’ve taken this passion with me and I’m thrilled to get a chance to introduce Australians to the many pleasures of films made north of Hollywood.
How many Canadian films do you think you’ve seen in total since last year’s festival, and how did you select which ones you wanted for this year’s Possible Worlds-
I’ve seen about 80 features and documentaries in the past 12 months. Some were submitted to the Festival for consideration, others were handed to me by my programming scouts in Canada. Each September my colleagues and I fly to the Toronto International Film Festival and try to watch all the local titles there too. We’ve selected 16 titles which we think are the best, and the most representative of the extraordinary diversity of Canada’s impressive film output.
What are some of the characteristics that make a film Canadian- Or is it enough that they are simply produced by Canadians- (For example, David Cronenberg is Canadian, but I wouldn’t consider his films ‘Canadian’ as such.)
The films we consider for inclusion in the program are made by Canadian directors. Most cast a uniquely Canadian perspective on their subject, while sometimes borrowing actors from Hollywood and beyond. Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne, Ann Savage, Diane Kruger, Mena Suvari and Stephen Rea are all featured in this year’s program for example.
Can you tell us a couple of the standout events you have scheduled through the festival- We hear you’ve got a few filmmakers coming out and some wild parties planned...
We’re screening 16 films, 11 of which are Australian premieres. The Festival will open on 27 November with Days of Darkness, Oscar-winner Denys Arcand’s follow up to his acclaimed Barbarian Invasions. It’ll close six days later with the Australian debut of Everything Is Fine, perhaps the best film in the program – a powerful teen drama which owes a debt to both Larry Clark and Gus Van Sant.
Beyond the Festival hub, situated at Dendy Opera Quays, there’s a series of site-specific screenings taking place around town. Global Metal, a documentary about metal culture around the world, will screen at Utopia Records followed by a party featuring live bands Daysend, Five Star Prison Cell and Our Last Enemy. Naughty comedy Young People Fucking will be shown at Bobbi’s Pole Studio alongside DJ sets, steamy live performances and a series of short silent sex films made by filmmakers of Sydney’s Kino collective. Finally architecture documentary The Museum will be shown at the Australian Museum, followed by a Q&A with Canadian director Kenton Vaughan. If I had to choose one hidden gem in the program, it’d be low-budget charmer Only, a no-frills love story set in wintry Northern Ontario and featuring some of the best indie bands of the day. Director Simon Reynolds is flying to Sydney to present this one. The Festival tries to offer a lot more than just films. There will be a lot of surprises throughout, including live performances by Sydney band The Rouge Balloon and a French Ensemble Choir, free drinks to take into the cinema at selected screenings, DVD giveaways, photo exhibitions, Q&As with visiting guests and more…
Have you got any crazy plans for future festivals- What else is on the cards-
Yes I do, but I have to keep them under wraps for now. I’ve been running Kino Sydney for two years now, an open-mic night for Sydney filmmakers which has been going from strength to strength… 2009 will see Kino Sydney take part in a large-scale experiment in spontaneous filmmaking in partnership with Kino Adelaide and Kino London. Watch this space.
Finally, have you seen The Necessities of Life, Canada’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film consideration for the 81st Academy Awards- Thoughts-
I have seen it and I think it’s a great choice for submission to the Best Foreign Language category. Not least because it features a cute kid in leading role – something Academy voters often go ga-ga over. It’s a wonderful drama which brings together two vastly different worlds – Inuits of Nunavut in Northern Canada and 1950s’ Catholic Quebec – in a dramatically rich clash of cultures. I’m hoping to bring it to Sydney audiences as part of Possible Worlds 2009.
Possible Worlds: 3rd Canadian Film Festival runs from Thursday 27 November to Tuesday 2 December. For full programme, session times and film information visit possibleworlds.net.au.