Dendy Cinema Canberra
31 July to 18 August 2019
To borrow a line from one of my favourite anime’s theme songs (Gigantor) – the documentary film festival Stronger than Fiction is ‘stronger than strong’ this year. Canberra is home to a cinematic treasure – ‘Stronger than Fiction’ and has been since the Canberra Centenary in 2013. This year is its sixth. I have been to three festivals, and last year attended all the screenings, as I will this year. I am now a shameless groupie.
I can attest to its power. Beware. Last year after viewing ‘The Island of the Hungry Ghosts’ I could no longer just grieve and anger in my heart and mind about offshore detention of refugees that arrive by boat in Australia. Watching the trauma counsellor on that island explain to her young daughter about her clients (the people detained), the images of sand play in her clients’ therapy that reflect their trauma, and the migration of the crabs across Christmas Island (for which all the humans stop) that seems to echo the great human migration of our times, to the rituals for the hungry ghosts of Chinese labourers who never received a proper burial, so moved me that I had to act. It galvanised all my thought and feelings and reading about this dilemma to finally act. But that is another story.
The Co-Director, Hannah de Feyter, describes the curatorial approach of Stronger Than Fiction as having no brief but excellence, but themes and tendencies do tend to emerge each year. This year the festival depicts a number of strong older women, like Hatidze the beekeeper in Honeyland, Lea Tsemel human rights lawyer in Advocate, and photojournalist Letizia Battaglia in Shooting The Mafia. The environment, the value of persistence, and how we engage with the internet are themes that have also emerged. More than half of the films are directed by women (something I like).
A feature of Stronger Than Fiction is question and answer sessions with directors and the audience. This year In My Blood it Runs’ Maya Newell (and producer Larrissa Berendht) and Midnight Family’s Luke Loren will attend and audiences can quiz them with all those questions one has straight after viewing a doco. These sessions are riveting for film lovers. Another aspect of this festival is the audience vote, which I always find a little bit difficult because I want to rate all the films as number 1. The ten top films will have encore screenings over the two weekends following the festival.
In the festival preview we viewed Sea of Shadows and were immersed in the cradle of acquatic life that is the Sea of Cortez. This film is billed as an eco-thriller, and it really is. It follows a journalist researching the illegal fishing and trade in the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, ‘the cocaine of the sea’, which is so valuable that the trade involves the underworld of Mexican cartels, the government trying to control it, and scientists and conservation activists trying to protect the sea creatures, and the exploited locals being driven into debt. It is life or death for the fisher people, the journos, the endangered porpoise the vacquita, and the crews of the Sea Shepherd. The film unravels a net as complex and deadly as the illegal nets tangled through the Sea of Cortez.
I will leave you with a link to the program and trailers, and I may see some of you lucky Canberrans there. For others, watch out for these film when they are released down the track; Stronger Than Fiction always gets it right.