New Oz fest directors take on challenges

Stewart, Moore try to strengthen events

SYDNEY — Australia’s two leading film festivals, the Melbourne Intl. Film Festival (MIFF) and the Sydney Film Festival (SFF), have new directors at their helms this year. Both have inherited events with rising stars, but nevertheless face stiff challenges.

Distributors are becoming increasingly protective of titles, including Aussie pics, demand for prints internationally is competitive and the tussle for state and private support is ongoing. Then there’s those fickle auds and the ever-increasing demands on their attention.

New Sydney director Clare Stewart takes over from Lynden Barber, who in his second and final year (2006) managed to ensure the fest finished with a surplus and a good critical wrap.

Now Stewart, former manager of film programs at the Australian Center for the Moving Image, must continue to strengthen the event’s financial base while re-engaging with Sydney-siders. She needs to boost support from a state government that has close to zero interest in the arts, and try to raise the international profile to enable her to access A-list talent and titles.

“There’s a lot of strengthening for us to do,” she admits.

“I’m committed to being here for some time, so as much as I’m an impatient girl, it’s about enhancing that build.”

In Melbourne, Richard Moore was appointed director just months before the event received a A$2.4 million ($2 million) windfall from the state government to establish a market, expand its touring program and launch a film investment program.

“I’ve fallen into clover,” Moore told Variety. Now the former documaker and curator must figure out how to best maintain it.

Melbourne is Australia’s oldest festival and most profitable, it receives solid government support, attracts big and enthusiastic audiences, sponsorship is strong, and each year it generates interest that is the envy of Sydney, based in what traditionally has been Australia’s filmmaking hub.

Details of Melbourne’s planned investment strategy, loosely modeled on the Adelaide Film Festival’s successful 5-year old fund, will be announced before this year’s event, July 25-Aug. 12.

Melbourne’s film mart, the first in Australia, has been informally developed over several years but will be formalized in 2008 thanks to a $330,000-per-year grant. Details will be announced at a launch event at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Melbourne’s program traditionally features about two dozen A- and B-list Cannes titles, Moore intends to continue this tradition.

“We recognize the wonderful advantage we have over Sydney (in this regard),” he says.

Sydney unspools June 8-24, too close to Cannes for that fest to be a great source of new films.

“The program is a survey of the last year of world filmmaking,” Stewart says of the lineup to be unveiled this week .

“There’s quite a lot of Berlin content and a few titles out of Cannes last year and this year.”

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