Documentaries come on strong in the capital – Stronger Than Fiction @ Palace Electric

Ariel Larkey 30 July 2018
Genesis 2.0

Genesis 2.0, Winner of the Special Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival 2018. Photo: Stronger Than Fiction website.

Back for its fifth year, Stronger Than Fiction is stronger than ever. Canberra’s own homegrown documentary film festival has gone from strength to strength since its humble beginning and will bring true stories from across the globe to Palace Electric for four days between August 2 August 5.

With 13 different offerings this time out, there is a real wealth of both quality and quantity to devour across the four days of the festival. The festival will be bookended by two special events to celebrate opening and closing nights, and also include a special Q+A with Australian director Catherine Scott following the screening of her documentary Backtrack Boys.

The wealth of content on display, and the origins of the featured documentaries, throws up cultural showcases from across the world: France, USA, Australia, Switzerland, as well as some interesting co-productions involving Sri Lanka, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Brazil, Romania, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Lebanon and Syria.

This Thursday, Opening Night presents a special gala screening of French documentary Speak Up which follows French university students as they prepare for the annual Eloquentia public speaking contest. The French have a penchant for producing inspiring youth-driven films/documentaries à la The Class and Être et Avoir and this looks to be no exception. Arrivals from 6:30 pm with screening scheduled for 7 pm. Thanks to the solid slew of local sponsors on board this year, enjoy a post-film party with some tasty treats courtesy of Ainslie IGA, along with a selection of Eden Road Wines and Capital Brewing Co. beers. Tickets are $45/$40 for non-members/members respectively.

Friday night’s screening of Backtrack Boys will give audiences the chance to pick the brain of director Catherine Scott in a special Q+A following the screening. Her latest feature finds three Aussie boys just outside Armidale enrolled in a groundbreaking program designed to help keep youths on the straight and narrow. Zack, Russel and Alfie – under the watchful guidance and tutelage of Bernie – travel across regional Australia as part of crack-team of dog-jumpers. Fresh from winning the Audience Award at the Sydney Film Festival, it screens at 8:30 pm.

Two more Q+As will accompany screenings of What Walaa Wants (Saturday at 6:30 pm) and Island of the Hungry Ghosts (Sunday at 3 pm). As part of a special presentation from the High Commission of Canada, director Christy Garland will be on hand for a Q+A following Canada/Denmark co-production What Walaa Wants about a Palestinian youth and her quest to join the police force. Three-way Australian/Danish/British co-production Island of the Hungry Ghosts Winner of Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival 2018 – is a captivating and experimental meditation on asylum seekers, a trauma therapist named Poh Lin, Christmas Island and its famous migration of red crabs. Both Poh Lin and debut director Gabrielle Brady – who studied at the International School of Film and Television in Cuba – will be part of a Q+A directly after the screening.

The mix elsewhere is eclectic with subjects as diverse as digital censorship (The Cleaners); physical intimacy (Touch Me Not – Winner, The Golden Bear, Berlin International Film Festival); Labrador guide-dog training (Pick of the Litter); mammoth cloning (Genesis 2.0); political rapper, M.I.A. (M.I.A., MAYA, MATANGI); and “competitive hobbyhorse” (Hobbyhorse Revolution).

Look out for Minding the Gap – a multiple award-winning portrayal of adolescent masculinity centered around a group of skateboarding buddies; and Of Fathers and Sons which is sure to stoke debate in its challenging observation of a Syrian Jihadi’s family life – in particular, the upbringing of his sons. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival, 2018.

Closing Night rounds out the festival with an intimate portrait of the life and work of a man who really needs no introduction: Ian McKellen. In McKellen: Playing the Part, the legend of screen and stage, and of unmistakably iconic roles such as Gandalf, Magneto, King Lear, and Richard III, among countless others, regales us with tales of his personal and professional life. To close the festival right, festivities will commence at 6:15 pm with delicious treats, Eden Road wines and Capital Brewing Co. beers. Tickets are $35/$30 for non-members/members respectively.

Pick up the Official Programme at Palace Electric Cinemas or visit the festival’s Official Website for more information. Tickets to any individual session can be purchased online or at the Palace Electric box office. Discounted 3 & 5 film passes are also available but may only be purchased at the box office.

Local Sponsors: Australian National University; Ainslie IGA; Palace Electric Cinemas; High Commission of Canada; Capital Brewing Co.; Eden Road Wines; Mantra MacArthur Hotel; Elect Printing; Screen Canberra; Audio Network.

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