“For me a great film’s a great film whether its 2D or 3D or virtual reality, that doesn’t change, but the way filmmakers are telling the story does change.”
Antenna Documentary Film Festival Director Rich Welch sat down to talk about the Festival’s “biggest program ever” ahead of Tuesday’s opening night. Now in its 6th year and opening at Sydney’s Chauvel cinema ahead of tours to Brisbane and Melbourne, this year’s program boasts 39 features, 14 shorts and, in a first, a total of 6 virtual reality films as part the new Horizons strand in partnership with SBS and AFTRS.
“The idea behind Horizons is to allow audiences to engage with what tomorrow’s media might look like,” said Welch of the premiere VR films, some of which have played at the Tribeca, Sundance and HotDocs film festivals. “Audio soundscape becomes very important in VR – audiences can also interact with the story differently because they can choose where they look within the story world.”
“What we’re looking at with these films is almost a potential as to where this can go… you’re going to get some really interesting and really different kinds of worlds coming out that you wouldn’t get in the traditional format.”
This year’s Festival will screen a host of Australian premieres including City 40, a fascinating documentary about one of the world’s little-known closed-cities.
“City 40 is an incredible documentary about a hidden city in Russia which has a stockpile of nuclear weapons and whose residents can’t leave,” explains Welch. “The way that it was filmed and how they got in there was almost a story within the story – they even had to smuggle the cameras into the city.”
Focused on the descendants and actual residents of Russia’s cold-war nuclear hub, the scientists and their families, many of whom remained in the city, enjoyed an unusually affluent, albeit clandestine existence in the 20th century, long before the full effects of radiation poisoning became clear.
“When you’re watching it, it looks and feels like you’ve travelled back in time. In this day and age, we often feel that we have access to almost all information on the planet, yet each year the festival program reveals that there are many stories out there that we are still unaware of,” said Welch.
Bobby Sands: 66 Days, another Australian premiere, combines archival footage and dramatic recreations of the icon’s final weeks to introduce a modern audience to the tragic period in Irish history and compellingly “connect today with yesterday.”
“Bobby Sands allows audiences to understand the political landscape at the time, providing both historical and political backdrop,” said Welch. “It allows people from numerous generations to connect, understand and have a balanced knowledge of what actually happened. The film uses some incredible archive footage but through the use of dramatic reconstructions it helps audiences to connect with an issue from the past on a more humanistic level.”
Following a well-received screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival, Sydney audiences will now have the opportunity to see horror chronicle Fear Itself. An eclectic collection of horror cinema’s greatest hits, Fear Itself will prove a treat for any horror fanatic, not least of all through its ability, in spite of being composed almost entirely of footage from previously-released films, to pack a few frights in its own especial way.
“It’s a horror documentary that’s exploring the human psyche – it asks the question; why do we like to be scared,” said Welch. “What I loved about this is it actually explores it through some of the best horror cinema, while managing to give us a fright. If anyone ever wants a ‘best of horror film’ list, Fear Itself is a great place to begin.”
Do Not Resist, a recent documentary about the “rapid militarisation of police forces in the US,” will also have its Australian premiere at Antenna.
“It’s an incredible and powerful film – revealing how things can change very quickly often through a series of small, sometimes unrelated policies that create a perfect storm,” said Welch. “Often, important legislation is being passed and altered with very little social or political discourse… which often can and does lead to many unforeseen negative consequences.”
“We tend to move on especially in news cycles these days very quickly from story to story and the beautiful thing that documentaries do is show that even though it may be out of the news and out of the headlines, these things are still carrying on years and sometimes decades later and are still affecting people’s lives in quite a profound way.”
The Antenna Documentary Film Festival will screen in Sydney from October 11-16