IT’S got a slightly corny name, but the Stronger Than Fiction documentary film festival founded during the centenary of Canberra by Deborah Kingsland and Simon Weaving always packs a powerful punch.
Now after a year out in the cold, Deborah and co-director Hannah de Feyter, who has co-curated with her since 2018, have come up with a bright idea to make sure that documentary film lovers in the ACT get together every month.
According to de Feyter, a well-known local producer, filmmaker and experimental viola player, it’s been obvious to them that this year would be different from all others, particularly with the flurry of online film initiatives, so a different model was required.
“Starting in January, the two of us started thinking about a different shape, one film a month so that this year we could have some sense of continuation,” she says.
“We’d like to have a regular community of people who see a movie together once a month… instead of a big, two-week blowout in August.”
But Kingsland is quick to confirm that the festival will include, as usual, Q&As with directors and experts, local musicians performing and opportunities to meet like-minded people and discuss films over a coffee or glass of wine. Added to that would be additional offers like free childcare and audio description, made possible thanks to a grant from the ACT government.
As co-curators, de Feyter and Kingsland got together at the end of 2020 and attended, virtually, the Berlin Film Festival, watching hundreds of movies together, so they were spoilt for choice.
They won’t tell us everything that will happen this year, but there’s a certain providence in the ones already lined up for April and May.
On April 25, for instance. The festival will kick off at Dendy with “The Mole Agent” by Chilean filmmaker Maite Alberdi – recently nominated at this year’s Oscars for Best Documentary Feature.
“It’s unusual for this festival, in that it’s a story-movie but it’s also true,” de Feyter says.
In it, a woman worried that her mother is being subjected to elder abuse in a nursing home goes to a private detective agency and hires 83-year-old Sergio to be a mole and infiltrate the home.
Sergio’s own family have concerns about this new career, in which he must learn new techniques involving spy glasses and a microphone pen. But his handsome good looks make him a big hit and the plot unravels.
“What’s so strong is the way it pictures older people, respecting and honouring their emotions,” de Feyter says.
And there’s a real treat for cinematography buffs, since much of it is shot through slanted blinds as Sergio carries out his investigations – “a really inventive way of talking about this issue”.
It’s with some difficulty that we squeeze out of her details of the next film. As she says, “the film landscape has changed and we can stay flexible by not planning for the whole year”.
Be that as it may, we can report that showing at the end of May is the documentary, “Mayor”, focusing on Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor of Ramallah during his second term in office.
She likens it to US TV sitcom, “Parks and Recreation”, only this one is set on the West Bank, as it turns the lens on a public servant who is doing a really good job – “amazing”, de Feyter says.
“He’s funny, he’s committed and he’s so engaged, hell-bent on making a difficult situation more bearable.”
The film follows his immediate goals to repave the sidewalks, attract more tourism, and plan celebrations, but the grand plan is to end the occupation of Palestine.
If it sounds like a grand plan by Kingsland and de Feyter to open with two films about fabulous men, it’s not.
Through accidental but serendipitous timing, they found themselves looking at films about men who could make a difference and become role models.
“It’s very clear that a lot of male leaders need that,” de Feyter says.
“The Mole Agent”, Dendy Cinemas, 2pm, Sunday, April 25. Book here.