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Sydney Underground Film Fest Director’s Top Picks

Written by Lauren Carroll Harris on September 1, 2011

Film buffs, unite! Sydney Underground Film Festival is just around the bend, and it’s about to leave in its wake all those whingers who say independent film is dead. Last year’s SUFF premiered Oliver Stone’s mucho controversial South of the Border, and this year’s program looks no less exciting.

Music Feeds chatted with SUFF director Katherine Berger and asked her about her top five picks of this year’s crop, and her current top cult films. So, here you go, straight from the horse’s mouth:

KATHERINE’S TOP 5 PICKS FROM THE 2011 FESTIVAL:

1. Profane – Usama Alshaibi

Usama Alshaibi is your archetypal underground filmmaker; making films off basically his own steam and people that he has built up good working relationships with (he often uses the same actors). He pushes his ideas, which are often quite risque and explores sexuality with no boundaries. He clearly lives for his art and Profane is no exception. His visual direction (and often his characters – particularly in Profane) are nothing short of captivating. Profane is a story of Muna, a Muslim sex worker undergoing a spiritual crisis – contentious yes, but a realistic portrayal of a young woman dealing with both Middle Eastern and Western politics. Usama is a filmmaker to watch!

Pixel Pirate 2: The Director’s Cut – Soda_Jerk

Soda_Jerk are modern day cut-up heroes, fighting for artists’ right to appropriate and SUFF has always been a strong advocate for works who push the notions of copyright. Pixel Pirate 2: The Director’s Cut is a film that goes above and beyond copright law and even makes fun of copyright throughout the wild concoction of a storyline in their film. Soda_Jerk have labouriously used no less than 300 samples to create this Frankenstein film from popular, iconic films and characters! See the Karate Kid, Hulk, Elvis, Ghostbusters, Moses and more! This film is really a lot of fun.

Last Days Here – Don Argott & Demian Fenton 

This film tells the story of Bobby Liebling, who was once the frontman for an undergound 70s band called Pentagram. With some hardcore fans, Bobby is pulled kicking and screaming from his 40 year drug addition. Strangely you feel so much for this subject, despite his crazy, drug addled paranoias and you can’t help but want the best outcome for Bobby. This story is captivating from start to finish, even when we just see Bobby smoking crack, he has this strange humour and persona that just sucks you in.

Guilty of Romance  – Sion Sono

The Japanese sure know how to make a good film and Sion Sono is up there with the best. Guilty of Romance is original, transgressive, wildly-constructed and certainly a “mess with your head” film with its psycho-sexual, twisted story and characters! I really liked this film for its layering, how it played with ideas of sex and death, with morals and societal rules. You can’t beat a film that let’s you get lost in some great scenes, dialogue and makes you think.

Better This World – Kelly Duane De La Vega & Katie Galloway

This documentary is remarkable. Not only is the story told in such depth, but we see this real story unfold before our very eyes. Two young boys from Texas get caught up in wanting to “better this world” after meeting a charismatic revolutionary who seems intent on leading these boys on an aggressive protest at the 2008 Republican Convention. Their idealism gets them caught up with the FBI and the film plays out like fiction, although sadly for the two boys, it’s not. I was on the edge of my seat during parts of this film, talking to the screen – “No way! I don’t believe it!” When that happens you know it’s a good film!

KATHERINE’S TOP 5 FAVE UNDERGROUND/INDIE FILMS

Decasia: The Decay of Fiction – Bill Morrison

It’s one of the greatest films of all-time. The film by American filmmaker, Bill Morrison is constructed entirely from found decaying footage from the early 1900s. The imagery is almost alive, bubbling and pulsating. This film is unbelievable, one of the most profound cinematic experiences and commentaries on the nature of film and time you will ever see. It is so otherworldly, magical and plays alongside the most wonderful, disturbing score.

Outer Space – Peter Tscherkassky

Another “found footage” film, this time Tscherkassky uses an old Horror film “The Entity” from 1960s, where Barbara Hershey is now literally violated by an unknown “entity” through the experimental effects Tscherkassky chooses. The materiality of the film is Tscherkassky’s medium for terrorizing Hershey as the images fracture, tear, glitch, and scratch as Hersery screams. A hugely epic cinematic feast told through some very successful analogue practices.

Polyester in Odorama – John Waters


There has to be a John Waters film on the list and I especially love this film for its successful gimmick of Odorama! We screened Polyester at SUFF in 2009 with original Odorama cards, and I have not enjoyed a film screening so much. The enthusiasm, colour and outrageous perversity that Waters injects into his films saturates every viewing and extends beyond the screen – the rapturous laughter would have been heard out on the street when we screened this!

Heavy Metal Parking Lot – Jeff Krulik

A fave film that we are also screening at SUFF this year alongside the new offering “Heavy Metal Picnic”! Heavy Metal Parking Lot is a short 17 minute film that you can watch over and over – we see young people hanging out in the carpark of a Judas Priest concert and if this didn’t capture the feeling and culture of the times, I don’t know what does! The “characters”, although all real, are the craziest and most entertaining bunch of metal-heads ever. If you haven’t seen this cult classic film, you must!

The Taint– >Drew Bolduc & Dan Nelson

This film was entered into SUFF last year and it has to be on of the most perverse, entertaining, and ridiculous films I have seen. Think John Waters on crack. It was made by two young guys, Drew Boldoc and Dan Nelson from the states who did this amazing job with little money – the horror and gore effects are really impressive! The premise is gold – the water is tainted and poisons the minds of mens to become raging misogynists whose aim is to “kill women”. You must see it for all its kitschy-horror-goodness!

Sydney Underground Film Festival is from September 8-11 at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville.

Check out the full program and pick up tickets over at their site.

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