When aged 12, Steven Spielberg became a boy scout and fulfilled a requirement for the photography merit badge by making his first nine-minute 8mm film entitled The Last Gunfight. It wasn’t a box office hit, unlike just about everything in years to follow.
Now 60 years on, there is a film festival in our backyard that presents screen-breaking opportunities that, who knows, may also lead to something of epic notoriety. Of course, Spielberg, an American director, producer, and screenwriter considered as one of the founding pioneers of the New Hollywood era, will remain a stand-alone star, but nonetheless he also started with a dream.
Our third annual Fleurieu Film Festival – this year at Serafino Winery, McLaren Vale on Friday, February 9, and the following night at the Yankalilla Golf Club – has again attracted international attention. There are entries from France, Iran, the United Kingdom, and one from Russia, a love story involving a hostage situation, which is a top-10 finalist.
When Stephen de Villiers won the first Fleurieu Film Festival in 2016 organisers hoped 50 people would attend the awards night. There were 100 with a waiting list of another 100. A year later they expected 200 and switched to another venue to accommodate 500.
More people are hearing about this fabulous event lined with intriguing eight-minute maximum films thanks to much-appreciated support from so many, including an amazing City of Onkaparinga, which first realised this wonderful opportunity, and SA Tourism. And now the name Stephen de Villiers is also becoming widely known in Australian movie circles – Scout’s honour.
Amazing talent indeed, but in this movie game the credits often start with the director. Meet Alison Alcock, of Aldinga, who came up with this festival concept that is now attracting so much positivity in a tough, often cruel industry.
Alison also had a dream of being a famous movie director 20 years ago, starting with home-made short films. “They weren’t great,” she concedes. “It was a hard game then and it still is; you have to rely on volunteers, use your own money because grants cannot ever be enough. You have to hire equipment and a venue.
“At the end of it all I had to get a job, in mental health care, but the dream never leaves you. It’s what I love about the 100 or more people who pay $30 to enter something in our festival with the hope of being recognised in the top 10.
“I guess I saw the need; what our beautiful Fleurieu region has to offer the industry, and the City of Onkaparinga picked up the idea and ran with us.
“We are still in our early years, but we feel a sense of pride. A lot of people have written to us and said what it means to them. I get goose bumps thinking of young film makers giving us responses like, thank you so much even if I don’t make it to the top 10 I am just so thrilled to be part of this festival.
“The young film makers are so grateful; you have no idea. Yes, it adds to the responsibility, but that’s good, isn’t it?
“They all have a new avenue now. After last year’s event a guy wrote a passionate letter to us about how there was no award for the best film scoring (music) saying this element holds a film together, so now we have one. Again, we’re talking about people searching for an opportunity to show their talent; live their passion.
“We feel proud as a group that we give young people hope. It’s also about promoting the Fleurieu Peninsula as a destination. I am sure entrants from overseas look up what our region has to offer.”
The Fleurieu Film Festival has a remarkably dedicated committee of eight – they’re all stars in their own right, including Chris Warman, a young technical director who edits the promos and makes the ads to help raise the $30K it takes to produce this event, and Jon Lemon, who is regarded as one of the top four sound engineers in the world and was aboard the Pink Floyd World Tour 2017.
Erik Thomson, a Scottish-New Zealand actor known for playing Hades in the television series Hercules and more recently 800 Words, is patron of the festival. Award-winning playwright Andrew Bovell is involved, as is another local, emerging brilliant actor Eugenia Fragos – of recent TV series The Slap – who will be a guest speaker on this year’s opening night.
The network is wide-reaching, including a Flinders University film team that produced a top-10 entry in conjunction with an acclaimed MAPS (media arts production school) program at Hamilton Secondary College, Marion.
Alison recalls waking up one morning in 2016 thinking she had enough of the four years she worked in mental health. “I’m over this, I said to myself… I’m going to start a film festival,” she adds. “It was a lightning bolt moment, but it was something I just had to do.
“It was simply a matter of having a vision, but this festival isn’t just about me; it’s all the great people on our committee, those who support us with sponsorship to meet the cost of advertising our festival worldwide to get the entries and to eventually put on the awards night.
“We also have wonderful support from the South Australian Film Corporation. This is all much bigger than one person or a few people.
“What Australia doesn’t have in the film industry – because of money – is the way America advertises its movies. They market their films and television productions so remarkably well. I like to think our film festival is making inroads because of generous support, but there is still a long way to go.
“Through all this I have met some amazing people who also just want to live their dream; I mean people of hope and with character. It’s not all about making money; it’s the passion and the people involved.
“I know what they are thinking. I have entered short art-house films in festivals that have never won anything, which is disheartening, so I know the feeling of rejection that would-be directors suffer.
“I know what it is like for someone to make a film, and to sit there and watch it with strangers and expose yourself to their criticism is just awful. It crushes you. You hear of actors or actresses who don’t watch their own film, and I fully understand why. It’s hard to take that criticism.
“But it never amazes me how none of us can get it all out of our system. When this festival is over we will spend six months on the next one, and in between I am going to make a pilot movie – something apocalyptic – and hopefully sell the concept to someone like Netflix. Yes, it’s that same dream. It can be my eight minutes of fame, I guess.”
For the record, the oldest Best Film director to win an Oscar is Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby in 2004 when aged 74 years and 272 days. Alison and friends, you still have time. Keep up the great work.
The Fleurieu Film Festival awards presentations and films at Serafino Winery on Friday, February 9 6.30-11.30pm costs $25 general admission, $30 concession, $25 students. Any threat of rain will see the event move inside the wine barrels room. Heck, there are live bands and even a fire twirler. On the Saturday night the best films for 2016-18 will be shown plus an inspirational documentary on the Yankalilla and Deep Creek CFS at Yankalilla Golf Club outdoors from 7-10.30 with tickets $15 and $10 with 18 and under free.