AT THE opening night party of the Dungog Film Festival, organiser and guiding light Allanah Zitserman was agog that in only the event’s second year "We had our own train!"
They did, too. It was a booze- and lamington-fuelled Countrylink XPT filled with film folk such as actor Rhys Muldoon, documentary maker Andrew L. Urban and producer Al Clark (Priscilla, Chopper, Thunderstruck) that magically turned the three-hour trip to Dungog, from Central’s Platform 9 3/4, into a mere four hours.
I have an XPT of my own now, too. It was in the goodie bag that graced the seats in the hall of the James Theatre, where we gathered that night to watch the premiere of director Peter Duncan’s new film, Unfinished Sky, starring William McInnes. That film was preceded by Brother Boys, a short film about friendship and football co-written by the Herald‘s very own sports reporter, Jessica Halloran.
The VIP train was memorable for the amount of free-flowing booze and the alacrity with which we made it disappear. By the time we arrived in the lovely little Hunter town of Dungog to a hearty welcome from a small crowd that included kids from the local school and a band, some of the XPT’s inhabitants were a little worse for wear and Dr Nikki Williams – the chief executive of the event’s major sponsor, NSW Minerals Council – had had her huge bouquet of flowers stolen.
The train was also the scene of a rolling 2020 summit, during which people were invited to the front carriage to stand up and a) explain what was wrong with the Australian film industry and b) what should be done to fix it. As one movie eminence grise was heard to say later, it was "the perfect metaphor for the industry: everybody in one carriage shouting at each other".
We loved, too, the party game that was a cross between a trivia quiz and pass the parcel. (Yours truly didn’t partake because there was something wrong with that 10th Byron Bay ale and I was feeling not at my best.) Funnily enough, for a train speeding slowly towards a celebration of Australian film, the prizes were DVDs of Little Miss Sunshine (Toni Collette, perhaps), The Piano (NZ but we’ll claim it) and Jackass (which brings us neatly back to the 2020 "summit" but it really isn’t Australian by any stretch of the imagination). Perhaps next year.
By any standards the festival has been a stunning success. From minuscule beginnings last year, Zitserman and her gruff co-founder, Stavros Kazantzidis, this year screened 18 feature films, 10 documentaries, 52 short films, five script-in-progress actors’ readings and many other seminars and workshops. Among the movies were The Tender Hook, starring Hugo Weaving and Rose Byrne, The Black Balloon, the world premiere (one of three) of The Nothing Men (with Colin Friels), Black Water, Cactus and All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane.
At the opening night party, in a large white marquee in the middle of a fog-shrouded Dungog Showground, we spotted Matthew Newton, who for some reason seemed to have dressed up as a gangster, complete with black trilby and white hatband; Australian acting stalwart Chris Haywood; and the neat ’50s-style haircut of Benjamin Gilmour, whose excellent movie Son Of A Lion had a private, invitation-only screening ahead of its official launch at the Sydney Film Festival on Monday.
Other celebrity spotting over the weekend included Pia Miranda, who lobbed up to help spruik The Tender Hook, film critic Margaret Pomeranz, veteran Aussie actor Roy Billing and cartoonist Bruce Petty, whose "documentary fable" Global Haywire was a festival highlight.
As this year’s witty poster put it so succinctly: "Done Sundance. Done Cannes. Dungog."