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2009 Event Media Rel;ease - Message Sticks

Message Sticks, Australia’s only Indigenous film festival celebrates
its 10th anniversary

7 -10 May, Sydney Opera House

Presented in association with Screen Australia and Blackfella Films

The Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival returns to Sydney Opera House in May 2009 with its biggest program to date. The only festival solely dedicated to films made by and about Indigenous people, this year’s program will include eight world premieres, one Australian premiere and one Sydney premiere.

Since it commenced in 2000, Sydney Opera House is proud to have helped nurture Message Sticks to become a major event in the Australian cultural calendar. A significant cornerstone of Sydney Opera House’s public programs, the free festival engages with the wider community and creates a platform for public discourse as well as celebration.

Curated by Rachel Perkins and Darren Dale from Blackfella Films, the 10th annual festival from May 7 to 10 will feature 18 feature, documentary and short films by established and emerging Indigenous directors from Australia and abroad.

“Message Sticks is proud to bring together the best of Indigenous world cinema once again. The breadth and depth of films in this year’s program demonstrates Indigenous cinema has firmly established its home on the global film festival scene as international standard work that speaks with a distinctive voice,” Mr Dale said.

“For the first time Message Sticks will screen the premiere of four feature films, two from Australia and two from overseas. With seven world premiere shorts in the mix as well, we have a Festival that anyone interested in film will find compulsory viewing. You’ll be saying ‘I saw it at Message Sticks first!’ “

In a major coup, Message Sticks alumni Warwick Thornton will open this year’s festival with the Sydney premiere of his debut feature film Samson & Delilah.

Winner of the audience award at the 2009 Adelaide Film Festival, this love story set in the communities and dusty outback of Central Australia is sure to be a hit on the international film festival circuit. Both of Thornton’s last two films won awards at the Berlin Film Festival.

Thornton has a close association with the festival with all his past short films being screened at Message Sticks. This year’s program will also include a retrospective of his best short films including Greenbush, Mimi and the much-loved award-winning Nana.

Richard Frankland will make his feature film debut with the Australian premiere of his irreverent road movie starring David Page and last year’s Bob Maza Fellowship winner Luke Carroll. What happens when two blackfellas in a beat-up station wagon drive a few thousand kilometers in search of a sacred stone? This charming and hilarious ride across the West Australian desert follows the success of his short film, No Way To Forget, which was selected for Cannes Un Certain Regard.

Ivan Sen’s latest (and rumoured to be last) documentary Fire Talker: The Life and Times of Charlie Perkins will be another highlight of this year’s program. Sen’s exclusive use of archival footage from early 1960s to 2001 builds an intimate and honest portrait of a man’s life bound inexorably with the most dramatic political shifts in Australian Indigenous policy.

The 2009 line up will also include three international films (two features and one documentary) including the critically acclaimed Tibet in Song. Winner of the Sundance World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Documentary, filmmaker Ngawang Choephel was jailed for trying to preserve the cultural identity of his people.

Barking Water premiered at Sundance last year and is Sterlin Harjo’s follow up feature to Four Sheets to the Wind which had its Australian premiere at Message Sticks in 2007. Like a rhythmic ride in the backseat of a car, the film follows the tumultuous on-off relationship between an elderly Native American couple

Before Tomorrow opened the Toronto International Film Festival and won the best first feature award. The third movie created by the Inuit people, this is the story of one woman who demonstrates that human dignity is at the core of life from beginning to end as she and her grandson face the ultimate challenge of survival.

The next wave of Australian filmmakers will be showcased in The New Black, a series of seven 10-minutes dramas from emerging Indigenous writers, directors and producers that will have their world premiere at Message Sticks.

The New Black is the latest drama initiative from the Indigenous Branch of Screen Australia and features stories from Far North Queensland, Bourke, Alice Springs, South Coast NSW, inner west and western Sydney  The projects were financed with production support from  the ABC, NSWFTO and the Pacific Film and Television Commission.

"The Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival provides audiences with a fantastic opportunity to immerse themselves in work from Australia's leading Indigenous filmmakers," said Sally Riley, manager of Screen Australia's Indigenous Branch.  "We are so proud of Warwick Thornton's debut feature Samson & Delilah and know that its premiere at Message Sticks will be an event to remember.”
Writer-director Adrian Wills’ beautiful film Bourke Boy follows a man (Andrew McFarlane) taking his troubled adopted son back to his birthplace where they try to say the right words to each other before it’s too late. Michelle Blanchard’s Party Shoes highlights the difficult relationship between nine-year-old Jenny and her flawed, occasionally attentive mother Patsy.

Deborah Mailman makes her directing debut with the charming Ralph, co-written with Wayne Blair. Infatuated with Karate Kid star Ralph Macchio, 10-year-old Maddie finds out it takes more than just dreaming to survive, it takes a friend.

Written by Angelina Hurley and directed by Leah Purcell, the funny Aunty Maggie and the Womba Wakgun is the tale of a hungry family, disgruntled neighbours and a rooster with attitude. Writer-director Romaine Moreton tracks the story of a girl who sees her ancestors and her mother’s efforts to avoid revealing the truth of the past in The Farm.

Set in the 1940s, Jacob by Dena Curtis tells how the joy of a young boy’s birth quickly disintegrates when his obvious fair skin reveals a rape by a white man. Nia’s Melancholy is writer-director Sio Tusafa’aaefili’s tale of a young girl’s descent into melancholy and her journey of redemption following her sister’s suicide.

Chief Executive Richard Evans said a significant feature of Message Sticks is that the films must be by Indigenous artists and not simply about Indigenous issues. The films selected showcase excellence in the quality of performance and filmmaking, and are culturally significant works that speak to an Indigenous and non Indigenous audience.

 “Our Public Programs provide experiences that stimulate, educate and broaden the public’s interests in arts and culture, whilst enhancing their enjoyment, understanding and participation in the life of Sydney Opera House,” Mr Evans said.

“We are committed to screening the films for free in order to give access to the stories our filmmakers have to tell and to develop and encourage an Indigenous audience at the House. Another important part of the festival is the chance for audience members to meet and talk with artists.”

The winner of the Bob Maza Fellowship, with a cash prize of $10,000, and the Tudawali Lifetime Achievement Award will also be announced at the opening night gala on May 7. Every screening will be followed by a short Q&A session.


Thursday May 7
10am – 12pm: Samson & Delilah (House:ED screening)
12.30pm – 2pm: House:ED short film session
7.30pm til late: Gala Opening Night and Party: Samson & Delilah
Friday May 8
7.30pm – 8.30pm: The New Black: Bourke Boy, Party Shoes, Ralph
9pm – 10pm: The New Black: Aunty Maggie and The Womba Wakgun, The Farm, Jacob, Nia’s Melancholy

Saturday May 9
11am – 12.30pm: Fire Talker: The Life and Times of Charlie Perkins
1.30pm – 3pm: Warwick Thornton Retrospective: Pay Back, Mimi, Greenbush, Country Song, Nana
4.30pm – 6.30pm: Before Tomorrow  
8pm – 10pm:  Richard Frankland film

Sunday May 10
11am – 1pm: Barking Water  
2pm – 3.30pm: ABC TV Pitching Session
4.30pm – 6.30pm:Tibet in Song


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