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Tabula Rasa

The 2003 EyeScream Film Festival

A review by David Carroll and Kyla Ward

Last year was the debut of the EyeScream short film festival, held on Hallowe'en in the somewhat surreal surrounds of the TAP art gallery, with a good selection of entries. This year the festival has gone on to bigger things, including a real cinema — the Valhalla at Glebe — so we dutifully went along to see what was what.

The event itself was a bit disorganised, running late and with some problems of presentation (and we still haven't worked out what happened with the audience voting, since they announced the results without asking for anyone in our row, at least, for their slips). But the films are what it's all about, and we're happy to report they were well worth the trip, with a stronger line-up than last year, and some good variety. If there was a theme for the evening, it would undoubtedly be the vulnerability of flesh -- female flesh in particular.

Another perhaps surprising commonality was that there were many good performances to be seen. Mary Worth (Luke Banyai) was a good example. The story was slight (think Candyman in small house), but the actors and some effective direction pulled it off. It was apparently made quickly one weekend, but it took out the Audience vote. A Grave Mistake (Joe Villanti) was another one that lived by its actors, and probably the tightest editing (indeed, the best production values) of the evening.

Some of the films were studies in stalking, though most ended up on the obscure side. We've no real idea what happening in Espier (Hugo Lazo), but it involved a woman being terrorised in her house. That's pretty much the same description of Post Cognition (Tim Dennis and Amanda Brown), but the ending seemed to be more interesting, even if we had to make some cognitive leaps to work it out. The opening movie La Femme Fatale (Alison Walker) was also in this category and worked better, with a twist or two embedded in all the artiness. A serial killer, a mysterious brunette and blood upon naked breasts. Are they all the same person, or not?

A rather more fun variation on the stalker theme was seen in Full June (Andrew Wholley), which managed to walk the fine line of comedy descending into horror very well. We did have a man being stalked, by a mysterious pile of pebbles in By Night (Paul Alexandrou). Echoes of Blair Witch perhaps. Kyla worked out what it all meant, but David didn't. The runner-up in the official prize giving was I Can Help (?) (Darrell Giles), a short and effective look at psycho-therapy, perhaps the film that most successfully presented an entirely straight look at predation.

$150 Profit Margin (Katie Byrne) and Last Man Standing (Sax Cucvara) were cheerfully cheesy, and managed an effective moment or two. The first involved a haunted bed, and was again supported by good performances rather than story. We're not entirely sure what Last Man Standing was aiming for, and whether it only reached the status of 'black comedy' because the audience was laughing at the production values. But it was fun enough, and made us consider the difference between the entry date for EyeScream and the release date of 28 Days Later...

There was only one animated piece, Intruder (Nev White), which really didn't do anything for us. It was followed by the pure comedy of the evening, Psycho Love Song (Tonnette Stanford, winner of last year's first prize) -- a tale of betrayal and revenge, with the dialog made up entirely from the lyrics of love songs. We're not so sure about that one (not recognising half the songs didn't help), but it was made with gusto. These two were followed by this year's winner, Blood of a Woman (made by Jonathan Sequeira, who has occasionally helped out his brother's success in the comics industry). It was a strange piece, and I think the audience was a bit surprised at the decision, mostly because of a strange the mix of genres, and some acting which was not the best of the night. But it had ideas and ambition, along with the trippy visuals.

And finally we come to Severance (Bonita Grima) -- for our money the best film of the evening, and the only other one to really attempt some boundary pushing. It is a simple story of an abused wife and the revenge she extracts, but with a very powerful central idea conveyed with exactly the right amount of the seen and unseen. We're not so sure about the broad characterisation of the husband -- it could perhaps have been even more effective with a more naturalistic portrayal (although that would have lost the wonder of the first shots).

So there you go. Fourteen films in a little under two hours, with something for everyone (sort of like TropFest with even more violence than the year they had chopsticks as a theme). They even replayed last year's delirious Fridge Daemon, a definite experience for those who missed it the first time. The audience seemed to be enjoying themselves, the costume parade was somewhat chaotic but fun, and the presenter amusing enough when we could actually hear 'her' (we're sure it'd be interesting to consider the metaphorical ramifications of a drag queen presenting such a collection of flesh being carved). We hope the organisers are also happy with the night, since such things take a lot of effort to get together, and we wish them well for even more success next year.


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