Fests hope to fly above challenges

Costs, sponsorship, competish affects Oz festivals

SYDNEY — Australia’s film festivals are grappling to stay afloat in the face of rising costs, dwindling sponsorship, a crowded worldwide circuit and the international airline crisis which claimed Australia’s second domestic carrier, Ansett, in September.

The Brisbane Film Festival kicked off July 9 with the Oz preem of Henry Jaglom’s “Festival in Cannes.” Program innovations include a children’s mini-fest and an extensive retrospective of Brit avant-garde — but the event is light on international guests.

Director Anne Demy-Geroe admitted the demise of Ansett, previously a sponsor, had crippled that aspect of Australia’s most geographically isolated fest.

The Sydney Film Festival was stung in December when its planned three-year sponsorship deal with the Ansett-affiliated Star Alliance fell out. SFF, which unspooled June 7 to 21, lacked big-ticket international guests. Ho-hum programming, in part due to fest’s refusal to pay rental fees, saw B.O. fall, director Gayle Lake admitted “We’re getting to the point where we’re going to have to (pay fees).”

Competition from other festivals — the Shanghai fest now collides with Sydney — has increased rivalry for prints. And the surge in local monocultural film festivals (such as the new local French, Spanish and Asian film festivals) increases competition for auds, sponsorship and pics.

Only the Melbourne Film Festival is bucking the trend. Australia’s oldest and most prestigious fest unspools July 23 with the world premiere of Rolf de Heer’s “The Tracker.”

Melbourne’s program is peppered with international guests, and festival director James Hewison is instituting strategies to avoid some of the new impediments. Like Sydney, the Melbourne fest balks at paying film booking fees, but the rule is flexible, and Hewison has employed a facilitator to arrange meetings between sales agents and local distributors.

The service proved handy, as there is no official Oz film market — more than 12% of the 160 pics at the 2001 fest without a local distrib were picked up following the event.

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