Pike’s “black” festival lingers in the shadows

Joan Fontaine in the title role, left, and Judith Anderson as the terrifying housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, in ‘Rebecca’ (1940).

CANBERRA seems to be awash with film festivals, but the oldest of them, the Canberra International Film Festival, is determined to mark its territory as the one that really watches what cinema is.

I catch up with veteran producer and festival director Andrew Pike as he prepares for an intense three-day event that will focus on the dark and brooding “black” movement in filmmaking, a movement that goes back far beyond the Popular Scandi movies running on SBS.

This year, Pike and his team of dedicated cinephiles, cinephiles Isabelle Faure, Gino Moliterno and Russell Smith, are focusing primarily on outstanding Australian talent who have found success overseas.

“Most of our festivals have themes and this year one of our themes is a celebration of Judith Anderson as an Oscar-nominated Australian in Hollywood with a powerful career in the 1940s and 50s, so we are opening with ‘Rebecca’,” Pike said.

I confess to Pike that the 1940 Hitchcock movie starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine is my favorite movie of all time.

Judith (Dame Judith) Anderson portrays the terrifying governess, Mrs Danvers, a role to which she adds sexual overtones, horrifying Hollywood censorious prudes of the time but securing her legendary status among LGBTQI moviegoers.

Although the Adelaide-born actress is already famous on stage, the role of Danvers gave Anderson a chance to grace international cinema screens. She went on to win two Emmys and, for playing the title role in Euripides’ “Medea,” a Tony.

Later in the festival, Anderson also surfaces alongside Robert Mitchum in Raoul Walsh’s 1947 film, “Pursued”, where she plays the matriarch of a rural estate trying to keep a family functional in order to preserve the vulnerable character. of Mitchum, haunted by childhood trauma.

Pike says Australian sociologist and historian Professor Desley Deacon, author of “Judith Anderson – Australian Star, First Lady of the American Stage”, will present the two films in which Anderson appears and also do a question and answer session to his topic.

Robert Mitchum in John Farrow’s “Where Danger Lives” (1950).

Four sessions of the Canberra International Film Festival will celebrate the work of another Australian, director of some fifty Hollywood films yet long forgotten, if we do not count the fact that he fathered Mia Farrow.

John Farrow, Oscar-winning master of black, is celebrated in the festival through the documentary “John Farrow: Hollywood’s Man in the Shadows”, a title with double meaning since, as a master of black, he used shadows and darkness as his cinematographic tools.

“His specialty was film noir, so we decided to pick three of the best film noir classics,” says Pike – “The Big Clock”, “Alias ​​Nick Beal” and “Where Danger Lives”.

Although he is one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, he left Australia very early, says Pike, so many people don’t even realize he was one of us.

If that sounds like black overload, the team has programmed Ernst Lubitsch’s 1946 American romantic comedy “Trouble In Paradise,” once described by “The Village Voice” as “amoral carefree,” as well as “Cluny Brown by Lubitsch, where Jennifer Jones plays a plumber.

Unlike the new Capital Film Festival, the Canberra International Film Festival is targeting a 45+ demographic, says Pike, but they sure would like to increase interest from younger filmmakers who he is sure could benefit from the program. .

On the one hand, most young filmmakers have no idea of ​​films made before the advent of digital effects, understanding little of the potential of darkness and shadows used so masterfully by people like Farrow.

“Apart from the Hitchcock, everything else in the festival is low-budget, very cheaply done but spectacular on the big screen,” says Pike. “You don’t need big budgets or digital technology.

“I fear that for many people, cinema is an art form that has no past, because the critical field is obsessed with the present.”

And he’s betting none of those movies will be on Netflix. I checked, and he’s absolutely right.

Canberra International Film Festival, Arc Cinema, NFSA, Acton, 26-28 August.

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Ian Meikle, editor


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