Flickerfest: Launching The Careers Of Aussie Filmmakers For 29 Years

8 January 2020 | 3:32 pm | Felicity Pickering

Felicity Pickering talks to Flickerfest festival director Bronwyn Kidd, 2020 festival entrant Michael Shanks, and Jake Nielsen, the 2018 winner for Best Australian Short Film, about the vibrant Aussie short film festival.

Flickerfest in Sydney

Flickerfest in Sydney

Aussie short film festival Flickerfest has embedded itself in the Australian film calendar as a welcoming and unpretentious – yet still deeply glamorous – yearly milestone, taking place at Sydney’s Bondi Beach, before a national tour. 

As the festival director Bronwyn Kidd says, the festival is a truly unique event. “I don’t think there’s another film festival in the world where you can go straight from a refreshing swim in the surf into immersing yourself in the freshest new cinema the world has to offer.”

Flickerfest has been running for 29 years now. In those 29 years, it has launched the careers of many Australian writers, director and actors, from Rachel Griffiths to Nash Edgerton, Jennifer Kent to Wayne Blair.

Being featured in Flickerfest can lead to great things, which 2018 Best Australian Short Film winner, Jake Nielsen can attest to. Nielsen’s film On Hold had its world premiere at Flickerfest in 2018 and was awarded the Academy-accredited Flickerfest Award for Best Australian Short Film, and toured Australia with Flickerfest.

The musical short, On Hold, focused on a young woman working at a call centre while pursuing her dream of becoming a composer.

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“We were absolutely blown away by the reception,” Nielsen says. “The response was so overwhelmingly positive throughout the tour that it gave me a bit of faith, ‘cause I really didn't think the message of the film would go down so well. It’s basically about irresponsibly pursuing art, leaving your bootlicker job on a whim, rejecting the idea of family, and doing what you want.

“We’ve had the opportunity to screen the film all over the country from huge cinemas to drive-ins, and see it appreciated by such different audiences, which has been the best thing.

“We also got to do some good press and TV when we were Academy Award-qualifying, which gave me the opportunity to just prattle on about musicals constantly…"

The film went on to be a finalist at the Short Film Awards at Sydney Film Festival, and is now preserved in the National Film And Sound Archive Of Australia.

Nielsen, whose new stage musical Miss Westralia tours around WA this year, came on to direct the Flickerfest trailer for 2020. He describes the trailer as “a kind of classic musical, a big chorus number, a bite-size spectacle".

Flickerfest has a youthful and exciting feel, thanks to the calibre of its emerging and established filmmakers, many of whom will be present at the screenings and will introduce their work.

Kidd tells audiences heading to Flickerfest for the first time to be ready to be “totally engaged by the passion of our filmmakers who are present to introduce their films and are super excited to be sharing their films with you, the audience, on the big screen”.

“Our fabulous festival bar overlooking Bondi Beach offers so many opportunities to connect and catch up with the filmmakers and their teams who are present, all adding to the intimacy of our event,” she says.

It’s the perfect to place to hob-nob with the industry players and rising stars. 

“I don’t think there’s another film festival in the world where you can go straight from a refreshing swim in the surf into immersing yourself in the freshest new cinema the world has to offer.”

Those rising stars include Michael Shanks, whose film Rebooted will have its Australian premiere at Flickerfest this year, competing for Best Australian Short Film. The short uses a mixture of live action and traditional animation techniques to tell the tale of an ageing movie star, who just happens to be a stop-motion animated skeleton.

Writer and director Shanks describes the film as “a love letter to the history of Hollywood special and visual effects creations”.

“Not only is the story of Rebooted a fun way of showcasing a bunch of crazy non-human characters, but it’s also the perfect story to show off the methods by which these characters used to be created. Our skeleton monster? Stop-motion animated. Our dinosaur? Animatronic. Our retro black-and-white animation? 2D. Our mid-‘90s liquid metal man? Appropriately crappy.”

While animation can often be synonymous with big budgets and huge teams, Shanks made the film “on the smell of an oily rag, but an oily rag soaked in love – the best kind of love you can think of: oily rag love".

Other highlights of the program include Chicken, a delightful cross-cultural comedy by Papuan New Guinean-Australian writer-director Alana Hicks; the Australian debut of White Echo, directed and written by Chloe Sevigny (The Dead Don’t Die, Kids, Bloodline); and the only Australian short selected for Sundance this year, Backpedal, by artist and filmmaker Dani Pearce.

For those looking to laugh, Kidd recommends Division Series, “a kooky Korean animation featuring Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump and a host of other world leaders all battling it out across a bucket of fried chicken”.

There’s a special place in Kidd’s heart for documentary shorts. She recommends Patrick Fileti’s Inferno, set in Mexico in a town immersed in the culture of pyrotechnics, and Mateo’s Story, by German-American director Malona Badelt, “an incredibly heart-wrenching and insightful story about the current immigration situation in America”.

After the festival is over, a selection of the Flickerfest films will tour around the country. “We have been touring for over 25 years now and we are a much anticipated cultural event in over 50 towns across the country that we visit,” Kidd explains. “The fresh new short cinema that Flickerfest screens provides an unfiltered world view and the ability to connect with people's lives and experiences across the world and at home, representing a real diversity – and this is truly what Flickerfest is about."