Amanda Duthie and Sophie Black

In 2013 the Adelaide Film Festival moves to October, partnering with the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. In charge of this sibling experiment are two women accustomed to being at the forefront of national ideas and entertainment: Amanda Duthie and Sophie Black.
 

In 2013 the Adelaide Film Festival moves to October, partnering with the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. In charge of this sibling experiment are two women accustomed to being at the forefront of national ideas and entertainment: Amanda Duthie and Sophie Black. Amanda Duthie It’s really hard to make a film,” Amanda Duthie, the new Director of the 2013 Adelaide Film Festival (AFF), tells me. It’s a revealing comment, for while Duthie’s passion for the film industry is palpable, what I find even more striking is her empathy for filmmakers and for audiences.Sure, she has a professional obligation to spruik the festival. But when she describes “gently walking up to this mountain of good material” to decide what to include in the program,there’s reverence in her voice. Duthie brings a broad definition of ‘film’ to her task, one that hints at a diverse program with a digital edge. “The Adelaide Film Festival is about celebrating film, it’s about work that you can see on the small screen in your living room, it’s about your phone, it’s about the gallery,” she says. What’s particularly appealing about this promised diversity is that instead of asking whether the ‘best stories’ are being told in film or on television (or, for that matter, in books, photographs, theatre or gaming), it shows that great stories can appear in any medium. Duthie praises the legacy of distinctive and challenging festivals forged by inaugural AFF director Katrina Sedgwick (the two women effectively swapped jobs, with Sedgwick now ABC television’s head of arts). She states categorically that the AFF’s international reputation stems principally from the various projects it has commissioned and/or helped fund. “People in the film industry, in that international circuit, know Adelaide because of those commissioned films. So they might not be able to find it on a map but they definitely know that the Adelaide Film Festival is a hotspot.” The full 2013 program will not appear until late August, but the teasers released so far all involve projects that the AFF has helped commission and/or fund. Perhaps most significantly, the feature film Tracks will premiere on the festival’s opening night. Tracks recreates the true story of Robyn Davidson, who as a young woman travelled 2700 kilometres from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with camels, her dog and — intermittently — an intrusive US photographer called Rick Smolan. Duthie lauds the film, adding “I remember reading the book when I was younger and just falling in love with it. Living in Alice Springs for a while and being able to imagine the start of that journey.” While Duthie’s enthusiasm for Tracks is unsurprising, the personal connection she feels with the story will resonate with many people: Davidson is revered and her book much-loved, while Smolan’s photographs have left an indelible visual record of a remarkable trek. All of that cultural baggage makes it an exciting — but also risky — story to film. Three projects funded by the HIVE Production Fund will also premiere at the festival —including The Boy Castaways, a rock musical dramatic feature film directed by Michael Kantor and starring singer Megan Washington in her first acting role (if you don’t count The Voice). Duthie stresses the innovative qualities both of HIVE’s funding model and its facilitation of cross-art collaboration. Certainly, the degree of the AFF’s involvement in such projects amounts to an intriguing — and brave — rejection of playing it safe: it matters more if audiences dislike the films. This year, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton from ABC television’s The Movie Show will serve as festival patrons. I ask Duthie if it is possible to be simultaneously patron and critic. “Those two can be anything they want to be,” she says. “Yes, they’re critics but you know what, they’re champions of Australianfilm. And I just want them to come and hang out in Adelaide for as long they possibly can.” Duthie suggests that Pomeranz and Stratton remain relevant and popular because “they do feel that responsibility to properly engage with the work and not just go ‘it’s a rotten tomato’”. She’s right, which is exactly why I hope Adelaide gets to witness first-hand their unexpurgated, feisty critical judgments. The AFF has moved to an October timeslot in part to enable a close creative and administrative collaboration with the Adelaide Festival of Ideas (Duthie also serves as the Festival of Idea’s CEO). Perhaps still reeling from ‘mad March’, I unsportingly ask Duthie if Adelaide might be in danger of becoming ‘over-festivalled’. Her rebuttal is firm but characteristically positive: festivals are, she insists, Adelaide’s “beating heart”. Sophie Black Employing my best impression of an investigative journalist, I attempt to shake loose details about the 2013 Adelaide Festival of Ideas — themes, a guestlist — from its director, Sophie Black. She declines to provide specifics — the programremains a work in progress (and for what it’s worth, I’d make an ordinary journo) — but in the meantime we chat about the festival’s legacy and future, the appeal of great minds,and the troubled state of Australia’s national conversation. A former editor of the daily online news and opinion site Crikey, Black was appointed as Director in May and remains based in Melbourne. As a rusted-on Adelaidean I find convincing — and much-needed — her suggestion that her outsider status might be an advantage “because you approach a city with fresh eyes. You don’t take anything for granted.” When I ask Black if she misses the cut-and thrust of the news cycle, she is equivocal. “I do miss the adrenaline rush sometimes. It was pretty productive.” But she also suggests her former and current jobs aren’t as different as they might seem. “Editing Crikey was a matter of hosting big ideas and debates and provoking conversations. That was my brief on a daily basis. This has a bit of a longer lead-time. It just has one giant deadline.” Like many people (and irrespective of individual political ideologies and affiliations), Black expresses frustration with the state of political discourse in Australia. “We look set,” she says, firing up, “to be treated to an election that is about buzzwords, yet again. Despite how clear the public made their feelings known last election and how turned off they were. People are turned off by negativity. They’re turned off by the paltry state of our political rhetoric. Or if it’s not paltry, it’s poisonous.” A festival of ideas seems a fine antidote to soundbites and never-ending opinion polls. “It’s a really lovely luxury in a lot of ways,” Black says. “To be able to take the long view, to rise above the white noise, and to really think about some of the longstanding issues. And to tap into people’s brains who are dedicated to one particular field and to really deep thinking in that one particular field. That’s a real privilege.” Those words — luxury, privilege — offer a pointer, I think, to an odd phenomenon: a downbeat and sometimes angry mood pervades contemporary Australia even though, in a global sense, the nation has a great deal going for it. Black’s task as a curator of ideas seems often to come down to a balancing act between abstract theories and concrete solutions; between the global, national and what she calls the “hyper-local”; between the serious and the seriously fun. She agrees with my suggestion that some experts aren’t much good at communicating their ideas to non-experts. “That’s one of the challenging things about presenting a program. You need people who are great on the page but they have to be able to present their thinking in an engaging way.” This raises questions worth pondering about those brilliant minds we’ll never hear from, and about whether natural entertainers are more likely than plodding ones to convince an audience. Black talks with enthusiasm about provoking genuine conversation with audiences. While it’s an unsurprising aim — these days, it seems, everybody has a brief to be ‘interactive’ — Black’s Crikey background gives substance to the aspiration. “As an online editor I have always had a pretty immediate relationship with the audience in the way that a print editor wouldn’t. It’s always been a conversation, and almost instantaneously. You asked me about the daily deadline but I think that conversation is more addictive than anything else.” The Festival of Ideas will run from October 17 to 20. For the first time, it has forged close links with the Adelaide Film Festival. “There’s enormous scope for our programs to intersect and complement each other and feed off each other, and for audiences to do the same,” Black says. Again, there’s that emphasis on audience involvement. This I think — more so than bums on seats — will be the (unmeasurable) measure of the festival’s success: not merely whether audience members ask questions or tweet or participate in online forums, but whether ideas permeate into the community. Whether they stick. The Adelaide Film Festival Thursday, October 10 to Sunday, October 20. adelaidefilmfestival.org The Adelaide Festival of Ideas Thursday, October 17 to Sunday, October 20. adelaidefestivalofideas.com.au

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