09 May – 24 May 2017
Founded in 2016 as a way to fill select Aussie cinemas with the kind of US titles that don't usually make it to down under, the touring American Essentials festival returns for its second run with a lineup of noteworthy inclusions — 31 films and 20 Aussie premieres.
American Essentials’ mission statement is that there is more to going to the movies than just seeing the flicks that fill megaplexes, as Australia's thriving film festival scene demonstrates.
Running the gamut in terms of showcasing genres of all variations, American Essentials covers all bases, with a focus on emerging talent while paying homage and respect to the trademark storytelling and its tradition that has become idiosyncrativ for US cinema.
Fresh from earning a nod for best original screenplay at this year's Academy Awards — and garnering lead actress Annette Bening a Golden Globe nomination, too — 20th Century Women got the festival started, marking writer/director Mike Mills' first movie since 2010's Beginners. Bening stars as a mother coping with the fact her son is growing up, and calling in pals played by Gerwig and Elle Fanning to help. As promised, Gerwig also features in Todd Solondz's Wiener-Dog, which comes to the fest after having its Australian premiere at last year's Sydney Underground Film Festival.
Also on the bill, and impeccably timed given that the third season of Twin Peaks starts airing during May, is the doco David Lynch: The Art Life, while docudrama Becoming Bond keeps the factual fun going by delving into the Aussie that once played oo7.
American Pastoral is Ewan McGregor's first stint as a director; California Dreams explores the real folks trying to make it in LA, La La Land-style; G-Funk dives into the style of hip hop started by Warren G, Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg; and 2016 Cannes hit The Transformation follows a 14-year-old who thinks he's a vampire.
As well as highlighting new flicks, with Are We Not Cats' magical realism and Detour's crime thrills also on offer, American Essentials shines a spotlight on classic titles in its Masters & Masterpieces retrospective. That's where audiences can watch Lynch's inimitable debut Eraserhead for its 4oth anniversary, as well as his 2001 Mulholland Drive — plus the Carrie Fisher-written Postcards on the Edge; Andy Warhol's Bad, which is the last film the artist produced before his death; and a Charles Bukowski double of doco You Never Had It: An Evening with Bukowski alongside the semi-autobiographical, Mickey Rourke-starring 1987 favourite Barfly.
American Essentials showcases new narrative features, feature documentaries, and short works; retrospectives on crafts-people from behind and in front of the camera; guests from key US-based international film festivals; independent filmmaker guests; talks and master classes; and special event screenings and manages to not only provide audiences with a snapshot of current creative directions in the U.S., but also explores their great traditions and impact on international cinema movements.
Photos by KAVV