Film and TV

We chat to The Sydney Underground Film Festival about their weirdest and most wonderful edition yet

The Sydney Underground Film Festival is back for another year from the 14th-17th September and is packed full to the brim with choice selections of weird and wonderful cinema from all over the world.

This year, you can expect a huge array of workshops, special events and guest speakers alongside the films themselves. Festival directors Kath Berger and Stefan Popescu are gearing up to get the show on the road and reveal everything that global underground cinema has to offer.

We caught up with them both to discuss the upcoming event, what their picks are and what we can expect from the plethora of events they’re throwing along with the festival.

sydney underground film festival
Art by Reg Mombassa

The Sydney Underground Film Festival is back again in 2017 – its 11th year running. We caught up with the festival’s directors to see what’s in store this time around.

HAPPY: I think a question a lot of people have when it comes to film festivals is how do you choose? Can you speak a little to the process that goes into curating the line-up for this upcoming event?

SUFF: Programming is about making a lot of decisions and whittling away a lot of great films into a core selection list and in the case of shorts, into a tight 90 minute session. A lot of factors come into play such as thematic fit, duration, audience demand, balance, diversity etc. With only so much screen time during a four day festival it is a tricky task and most screening decisions need to be unanimous amongst our programming team.

HAPPY: You’ve included not only the films in the festival but also a series of discussions and workshops. How have these been received in the past and what can people hope to gain from getting involved?

SUFF: They have been received really well. It’s just nice to be able to offer workshops and Q&As with visiting filmmakers to the SUFF attendees as we know a lot of people are interested not just in watching films but getting to know about what goes on behind the scenes, how they can make their own films or learn about new developments within the filmmaking field.

HAPPY: The Cereal Cartoon Party. Great idea and back by popular demand, and now with a grown up version in the evening. How did this idea com about?

SUFF: Whilst I was an undergrad at a Canadian university I would spend many a night doing my assignments, eating cereal for dinner whilst watching their version of the ‘adult swim’ channel, which was much more twisted and messed up. I kinda missed that late-night wacked-out cartoon fix so we thought we’d put our own on.

HAPPY: The festival is travelling, Wollongong and Newcastle too this year, can these guys expect the same lineup?

SUFF: Sadly, we can’t bring the whole festival to each city so it just has to be a taster, bit of a best of kinda thing. But our aim is to keep it fun.

HAPPY: The program includes a fair bit of horror and some darker themes. Do you find that each year it varies in its tone, or was this a coincidence?

SUFF: It does vary in its tone from year to year and the horror and darker films are always somewhat deceptive at first glance, and this year is no different. What I mean by that is though a film might be a ‘horror’, it is definitely no just straight horror – take Kuso, It Stains The Sand Red or The Evil Within as examples.

Though very abject, Kuso is typical David Firth humorous insanity. It Stains The Sand Red is not your typical zombie film, it’s also part romance and family drama. And The Evil Within has a whole backstory to it, which makes it part comedy.

Directed by Andrew Getty, the unemployed, meth-addicted heir to the five-billion-dollar J. Paul Getty oil fortune, the film represents his attempt to fulfil a life-long dream to become a legendary horror filmmaker.

Self-funding the movie to the tune of $6 million dollars, shooting began in 2002 and stretched out over five years, with Getty personally creating all of the sets, camera rigs and elaborate animatronic robots. Post-production then lagged for almost a decade as the eccentric, wannabe director tirelessly laboured over every single frame before an overdose in 2015 tragically ended his life.

The result is the story of Dennis, an intellectually impaired man who is driven to kill by his own demonic reflection, which is about as un-PC and ill-advised as it sounds. The film is equal parts confounding and hilarious.

HAPPY: The festival includes a bunch of International films. Where are you seeing some great productions coming out of and where should we be looking for the next great film makers?

SUFF: Yes – this year we have a varied lot of films from around the world including Italy, Poland, Norway, Japan Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Canada, UK, Australia and the U.S – It is very exciting, because they all have their own type of ‘weird’.

The most surprising and if this film is any indication I would be watching productions coming out of here – it’s KFC from Vietnam. I was blown away by it on so many levels. High production values, bizarre, brave and skilled story telling ability and a raw, unflinching sensibility that cut you to the bone. I’m not sure what is going on with Vietnam’s censorship boards at the moment, but I’ve never seen this type of subject matter explored in this way come out of any country, let alone out of a communist one.

HAPPY: It’s always hard to choose which films to go see, what are you most looking forward to this year?

SUFF: Tragedy Girls – the movie is extremely funny, fast-paced, very clever and turns the slasher genre on its head.

HAPPY: Can you speak a little to the choice of closing night film, Kuso, and why this was the standout?

SUFF: How can you pass up a film that is made by David Firth and Flying Lotus and has Tim Heidecker in it? And, its infamous for being the grossest film ever made. It’s not for the faint hearted and you have to leave your prude-ness at the door for this one. When I first watched it I literally cried from laughter – it’s a heck of a crazy acid-dungeon ride.

Beyond the shock value and absurdist humour, this filmic equivalent to the George Bataille literature classic Story of the Eye. Not in content but by how it transforms the audience. I think if you can survive the first three minutes of it without passing out, vomiting or walking out you will enter an abject-transcendental-cinematic state and experience this masterpiece in all its comedic madness and glory.

HAPPY: The Found Footage Festival live on stage, and all the way from the US; this is sure to be a really exciting event. How did these guys come on board?

SUFF: We originally found out about these guys and their live show via Aspasia and Jaimie from MuMeson Archives. Although, we had only ever been treated to live tapings of their show, we have probably bought up the idea of having them at SUFF for probably the last 7 or so years.

It turned out that one of the short documentaries we were screening this year in the Reality Bites program by legendary Mark Borchadt of American Movie fame (one of the greatest films ever made), which is called THE DUNDEE PROJECT was actually produced by Nick and Joe of the Found Footage Festival!

So, it got bought up again and it turned out they were doing a bit of a world tour, had never toured Australia before (and they have been touring extensively for the last 15 years or so) AND they had a window to fit us in! So, finally all stars aligned and we could make it happen. We are VERY excited for not one, but two shows.

HAPPY: You have a bunch of volunteers and partners, if someone wanted to get involved in SUFF next time around what can they do?

SUFF: To become a volunteer, head to our website and sign up using the form and bada bing bada boom you could be one of us! To become a valued partner of the festival, reach out to me at [email protected]

There is so much going on at SUFF this year and we would hate for anyone to miss what’s one offer. For more info and the program, head to the website.