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[Sydney Film Festival 2010] Review: GasLand

In Arts, Film Reviews, Sydney Film Festival 2010 on June 8, 2010 at 11:22 am

GasLand (USA)

Next screening: Saturday June 12 / 2:00pm /  Dendy Opera Quays

Josh Fox’s GasLand, winner of the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance 2010, joins a host of recent films designed to scare the bejesus out of their viewers; Inconvenient Truth, The End of the Line, Food inc.. Taking us on a pollution road trip, the very likeable documentary-maker tours natural gas drilling sites in 24 States across America, looking at the consequences of the under-regulated practice of hydraulic fracturing on local water and air quality.

Fox’s documentary undertaking is a direct result of proposed drilling in his area (Catskills/Poconos region of Upstate New York and Pennsylvania). When a natural gas company offers him US$100,000 to lease his land, this puts Fox slap-bang in the centre of the issue. As the film’s protagonist he examines the environmental and social impacts of drilling.

His investigation takes him to many housholds affected by having drilling on their properties or in the vicinty.  Their tapwater is flamable- infused with toxic chemicals used in fracing, victims live with chronic illness and their pets and livestock also suffer. Despite a wealth of damning evidence, natural gas companies remain wilfully ignorant and the government refuses to intervene.

This documentary explores how the industry was and is able to expand so quickly and importantly how laws were manipulated to expediate the flow of natural gases in an attempt to counterbalance America’s reliance on foreign oil. The film also highlights the tragic reshaping of the natural environment across America, with its beautiful mountainous landscapes dotted with drills and heavy machinery.

GasLand should anger, exasperate and shock its audience. Co-presented by the City of Sydney’s Green Campaign and the SFF, the problems revealed in this film may exist much closer to home than we would like. Visit the Hunter Valley Protection Alliance to see what is happening in our own backyard. [BETH WILSON]

[Sydney Film Festival 2010] Review: New Beijing: Reinventing a City

In Arts, Film Reviews, Sydney Film Festival 2010 on June 8, 2010 at 11:21 am

New Beijing: Reinventing a City (AUSTRALIA)

Screened Sunday June 6, no repeat.

As we discover in Georgia Wallace-Crabbe’s brisk 52 min doco, the metropolis of Beijing is currently in a state of flux. Like many large cities, it’s a city of levels. On one, there’s the architectural splendour of the Olympic “Birds Nest Stadium,” the Watercube and the National Theatre dome, buildings which represent the prosperous, world-superpower image of China the government wants you to see. On the other, there’s the slums, traditional areas with hundreds of years of history that are slowly being swallowed up by this rapid development.

In some cases, it’s clearly pointless – the facades of buildings on an historical boulevard have been knocked down and replaced by tacky Hollywood-style versions, turning history into a tourist attraction. In others – such as the skewering Z-shape of the CCTV (state television network) building – the audacity of the design is a powerful symbol of innovation and progress even if some others would prefer they’d instead “just make better television programs.”

Whether or not that “progress” is a reality is another matter. One such dissenting voice comes from photographer Zhang Jinqi. He runs the “Memories of China” photographic project which documents the precious historical areas of Beijing still remaining. He’s our spokesperson in this debate, an endearingly funny chap with a real love for his city and memories of his childhood. And when ones sees Arup engineering execs gloating over frivolous gifts while nearby locals are forced to prop up their homes’ unstable walls with girders, it’s not hard to be sympathetic with his point of view.

As Wallace-Crabbe, on hand to field questions after the screening, revealed, the film was pulled from competition mid-way through a festival in China; it seems the communist government knows these engineering marvels, layered against the patchwork Beijing skyline, are as much wish-fulfilment as symbols of the real China. [JB]

[Sydney Film Festival 2010] Review: The Waiting City

In Arts, Film Reviews, Sydney Film Festival 2010 on June 8, 2010 at 11:19 am

The Waiting City (AUSTRALIA)

Next screening: Wednesday June 9 / 8.00pm / George St, Event Cinema 9

India seems to hold a certain attraction to Westerners unused to the chaotic bustle of the city streets, the huge divisions of class and wealth, and their culture’s underlying spirituality. For the Aussie couple at the centre of Claire McCarthy’s second feature (the first, Cross Life, featured at the festival in 2007), it takes a while for those charms to take hold.

Aussie Hollywood star Radha Mitchell plays Fiona, a hotshot lawyer who’s travelled to Calcutta with her chilled muso-boyfriend, Ben (Joel Edgerton), to rendezvous with their newly adoptive daughter. They’ve been waiting two years, and are understandably miffed when the adoption agency keeps delaying their appointments. But as in Australia, bureaucracy is bureaucracy, only more so, and in the anxious wait, unresolved relationship issues begin to emerge.

The Waiting City bares the stamp of someone familiar with India’s charms, quirks and relativistic sense of time – and it is: McCarthy spent months working in orphanages and Mitchell was raised in the Hindu-Vaishnavite tradition by her parents, but the narrative is uneven. For every astute moment of observation – mostly from hotel clerk Krishna, played delicately by Samrat Chakrabarti – there’s a jarring transition in the central couple’s relationship. Part of the problem is McCarthy’s overly vacuous dialogue, which, with all its, “well, you know,” daily-colloquialisms feels underwritten.

But the lensing by Denson Baker, using the RED digital camera, is exquisite, and, when not short-changed by the plot, Mitchell and Edgerton are believable as two ultimately vulnerable people, outside their comfort zone, searching to give their lives meaning.

Isabel Lucas also stars as an attractive ex-pat musician. [JB]