12 movies to catch at SWIFF 2021 | Movie News

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I first heard of the Screen Wave International Film Festival four years ago, and since attending the regional film festival in 2018, I’ve made an annual pilgrimage to the NSW Coffs coast ever year since. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have a film festival by the beach, but the main drawcard is SWIFF’s program, curated by two film lovers, Artistic Director Kate Howat, and Festival co-Director Dave Horsley. They cherry pick the best of the films from the world’s arthouse and festival circuits, to make for a thoughtful and vibrant film event for the regional community (Coffs Harbour is situated in northern NSW, about halfway between Sydney and Brisbane), and its budding filmmakers. Dave and Kate have a real knack for picking the Oscar nominees, meaning that every year, SWIFF comes up with the goods to fill in the blanks on my own pre-Oscars checklist. This year is no exception. 

As the festival gets set to launch on 14 April, here’s what’s on my 12-film pass. 


Another Round

A group of male high school teachers in the depths of mid-life crises, undertake an ‘experiment’ to test a scientific theory that we’d all be living much fuller lives if we operated with a steady stream of alcohol flowing through our veins. Sure, it sounds like a boozy boys’ own adventure – and there’s a bit of that to be sure – but in the hands of Mads Mikkelsen and his The Hunt writer/director Tomas Vinterberg, this ode to day drinking becomes something much more rewarding. There’s something for everyone in 2021’s Danish Oscar nominee (whether you’re on the sauce or not). 





Mogul Mowgli

Riz Ahmed is outstanding in this raw story he co-wrote with director Bassam Tariq, that brilliantly articulates an experience within the British-South Asian diaspora. He’s Zed, a British Pakistani rapper with a career that’s on the up and up in New York, who makes a reluctant trip back to the UK to visit the family he’s been avoiding for years. The trip coincides with a health crisis that jeopardises both his career and his sanity, when his pain is compounded by the physical manifestations of the generational trauma he’s used to making the subject of his provocative and quippy rhymes. 



The Furnace

It’s a tale of the Gold Rush era of Australian history, but not as you learned it in school (and for that we can be grateful). The so-called ‘Afghan Cameleers’, and their enduring bonds with the Indigenous communities they passed through, finally get their due on the big screen. WA-based Roderick Mackay weaves a cracking tale of a gold heist gone wrong, into a tribute to the Middle Eastern and South Asian men, whose work hauling supplies on their beasts of burden, laid the literal foundations of Australia’s transport network. In moving scenes, the film features the revival of the previously ‘sleeping’ Badimaya language. 





How do you dismantle a system of depraved corruption within a nation’s healthcare network? It’s the daunting challenge at the heart of this masterful Romanian documentary by Alexander Nanau, which has earned each of its 2021 Academy Award nominations (International Film and Documentary Feature). A national tragedy gives way to outrage when fatalities from a nightclub fire continue to add up, and a crack team of investigative journalists connect the mystery to a head-spinning case of graft and disregard for public safety. A corrupt politician is replaced by a reformer with a history in patient advocacy, but can he withstand the backlash when he doesn’t know how widespread the rot has set in? 



Maddy The Model

A profile of someone who rocks a runway sashay and sends a positive message of inclusivity and diversity in the beauty industry? Don’t just stand there. Let’s get to it. Follow Madeline Stuart as she and her mum/ agent/supporter-in chief try to capitalise on Maddy’s headline making debut at New York fashion Week, to get Maddy signed to an agency as the world’s first professional model with Down Syndrome. 





Lee Isaac Chung’s wonderful film is inspired by his own parents’ efforts to forge a new life in rural Arkansas in the 1980s, for their young family. It’s an absolutely gorgeous story about the risk and reward of the migrant experience, and of what makes a house a home. The entire ensemble – Steven Yuen, Ye-ri Han, Noel Cho, and scene stealers, Yuh-jung Youn and Alan S. Kim – plays in perfect sync. (Interview with Lee Isaac Chung) 




Never Rarely Sometimes Always

There’s not a false note anywhere in this observational story of the complex problems teenage girls face, especially when they happen to be pregnant. With no viable options in her small town, Autumn (Sidney Flanagan, outstanding) makes a clandestine trip to New York to seek out an abortion, accompanied by her friend/cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder). Their plans are complicated by a series of setbacks big and small, and the best-worst decisions they have to make on the fly have a genuine ring of truth as the kind of things their characters would do in such a real-world predicament. It’s a film about choices that takes its title from the format of a real questionnaire template, and the scene which gives the film its name is quietly devastating.




Welcome To Chechnya

A vital account of the state-sanctioned persecution of LGBTQI+ communities across Chechnya, and the extraordinary network of activists doing everything possible to help people flee. Investigative reporter and filmmaker David France (How To Survive A Plague, The Death And Life of Martha P. Johnson) bears witness to violence and trauma in a disturbing call to action, protecting his participants by employing deep-fake technology (by superimposing the faces/voices of New York-based queer activists to cover for the anonymous Chechens whose lives are in grave danger). 



Only The Animals

Dominik Moll’s droll and twisty thriller is filled with spot-on observations of human nature. A woman is missing and absolutely everyone has something (or someone) to hide. The clever screenplay drip-feeds information on a need-to-know basis. Just as it reveals one person’s wild secret, it exposes an even bigger, weirder case of deceit. The less you know going in, the more fun you’ll have.



The Mole Agent

Maite Alberdi employs stylish film noir cinema techniques in her Oscar-nominated account of the true misadventures of an elderly spy, whose role is to infiltrate a Chilean aged care facility. Though it starts as a cracking yarn about a bumbling Bond-wannabe, there is a necessary undercurrent of sadness throughout. about the loneliness and depression experienced by seniors.  Definitely one to watch with a crowd.  




For Brazil’s astute political storytellers Kleber Mendonca Filho (Aquarius) and Juliano Dornelles, it’s not a stretch to take the rise of the hard right to its natural end point: a Mad Max-y near-future. What starts out as a profile of a curious community in northern Brazil gets progressively weirder, and when Udo Kier shows up in the second half, you know shit’s about to get real. 





What can the adventures of three stray dogs tell us about human civilisation? Well, quite a lot actually. Filmmaker Elizabeth Lo crouched on all fours for six months to capture the comings and goings of three street dogs across Istanbul, a city that used to kill strays on sight, but which now protects them under landmark legislation. Lo’s camera locks onto these roaming symbols of resistance, to invite a new way of seeing the world.  




Screen Wave International Film Festival takes place in Coffs Harbour from 14 – 29 April. Full program details here.   

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