Greg Smith is the director of the Forster Film Festival and a short film maker. He studied Philosophy at Newcastle and Macquarie Universities, film editing at MetroScreen and supports himself as a cartoonist.
> Firstly, how did the Forster Film Festival come about?
A couple of years ago some kids burgled my flat while I was asleep, stole my car, and wrapped it around a tree. They said they did it because they had nothing better to do. Forster Film Festival came about thanks to those kids.
The concept that the kids’ energy might be better spent making short films instead of B&E and car theft received huge support from local businesses, including Community Resources, who underwrite the Festival, and Great Lakes Council.
Forster Coastal Patrol came on board and provided us with a spectacular venue for the Festival. It’s right on Forster breakwater; you walk out the front door to a pod of dolphins.
The Festival has two missions: to make available a venue and event where locally-made short films can be shown to the general public, and to encourage and support the learning of skills involved in film making – especially where students are young and Aboriginal and at risk of incarceration.
The Festival workshop has already completed one prize-winning short film “Painted Black” about alcohol and drug abuse in the local Aboriginal community.
Some of the people who took part in our workshop have now moved on to further filmmaking projects, which is exactly the kind of creative growth the Festival is about.
> The Festival is now in its second year. How is it shaping up compared to last year?
There has been massive growth since our inaugural lift-off; this year is much bigger. In response to public demand, last year’s winners Best Of The Fest short films have also shown at Pacific Palms Rec Club, Great Lakes Library, Wingham District Memorial Services Club, Manning Regional Art Gallery Taree, Forster Bowling Club, Tea Gardens Grange, Elands Hall, Laurieton United Servicemens Club, Tea Gardens Hotel, Stroud Country Club (September 6), and Gloucester Barrington Hall (September 13).
The prestigious NSW Film & Television Office have supported us with a grant, as has local eco-development, Seven Mile Beach. Added to the ongoing contributions from our previous supporters, this means we have even more prize money to award, which in turn means we have an even higher standard of finalists in the Festival.
Last year we employed entertainers Lovelorn Living to spruik on the streets during the Festival weekend.
This year we are fortunate to be utilising the amazing talents of world class magician Jay Scott Berry, who will be presenting the theme of Magic and Creativity. (Please see: www.jayscottberry.com and www.magicandmakebelieve.com.)
> What prompts so many entries from overseas?
Withoutabox.com is a site run from New York, with an Oz base at Gympie in Queensland. They send out Festival blurbs to some 200,000 filmmakers around the world.
Forster Film Festival is modelled on the Gympie Heart Of Gold Festival, whose judges are biased towards positive, upbeat, life-affirming films.
> What categories offer prize money?
There is prize money for three categories: Under 1 minute, under 10 minutes and under 30 minutes. Most entries are in the under 10 minute category. We offer over $3,000 in cash prize money, which makes us the biggest on the Mid North Coast. For residents within 100km of Great Lakes shire, entry is free.
> What criteria must the films meet to be accepted in the festival?
Our judging categories are Entertainment, Originality, Creativity and Low Budget. First and foremost is Entertainment. If they’re not entertaining, then not much else matters.
Though winners are intelligent and adult, they must be able to be viewed by all ages, which means no sex, violence or swearing.
> How easy is it to get out there to make a film and submit it?
Making a film is soooo easy. Given enough coffee, a dedicated group of amateurs can put quite a good film together in a few days. The most important thing is the idea. Once you have that, it’s just Lights … Camera … Action!
> The festival runs for three days. What is the timetable of events?
The festival goes over the September/October long weekend, which this year is October 4, 5, and 6. Saturday and Sunday have 4pm and 7pm sessions, Monday night has Awards at 7pm, with light snacks and drinks available.
> What have been some of the recent films?
“My Mate’s Mum”.
Mental illness affects about 1 in 5 Australians every year (The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing,1997). My Mate’s Mum investigates the issues surrounding mental illness. The material has been designed to fit in the Personal Development, Health and Physical Education syllabus, Year 9 (Stage 5).
The film and booklet are designed to help students understand mental health issues and open up a forum for the class to discuss the stigma often associated with mental health problems.
Great Lakes College campus provided real school rooms for the shoot, Deputy Principal Tony Koch playing himself in his office confronted by Drama Teacher Marion Johnson acting a brilliant role as a person suffering from schizophrenia.
The level of violence appropriate to Year 9 students was an issue in the fight scene; we followed a previously successful Dept Education school video which had a bloody nose-punch. The actor in the film has every right to look pained: we did a lot of takes, and the ‘screen blood’ which he spits from his mouth is 30% detergent.
Great Lakes Library Manager Chris Jones gives a great performance as an alcoholic father suffering from depression. Both Grant Maloney, who plays his son, and Amy Johnson, who plays a schoolkid with a mum suffering from schizophrenia, have continued to appear in Film Festival productions. They will both be seen soon on a television commercial encouraging residents to recycle their waste.
Everything you do has a consequence. Deal with it, or it deals with you.
Some years ago there were a number of car crashes and deaths of young people in the local area, and the ripple effect flowed throughout the entire community.
Funded by a grant from Family & Community Services, this film dramatises local counsellor Mary Drake’s book on Vicarious Trauma.
The film opens at a funeral with local choir, Company Of Voices singing Mozart’s “Ave Verum”, led by musical genius Lachlan Dorse on violin.
The film backtracks from that funeral, fitting together what led up to the death. Out partying in a small town on the Mid North Coast New South Wales, a young man has to make a simple choice that will alter the lives of everyone around him. Ripples is about the effect of that decision.
Vicarious trauma is the psychologically disturbing ripple effect an unusual event like a car crash can have on the people indirectly associated. The profound extent of vicarious trauma is only beginning to be recognised in regional Australia, where – quietly and powerfully – lives are being destroyed.
> “Painted Black”
Having won the 2007 Mayor’s Award with this movie, the cast donated the money back to the Festival Workshop to make another Aboriginal movie. Currently in pre-production, this movie is called “Respect” and involves Aboriginal youth interacting with their elders.
Alcohol & drug abuse is a major problem in all communities. Recognition of the problem is step one in its solution. What started out as a film-making workshop by a group of Aboriginal young people turned into a confronting documentary tackling their community’s biggest problems: drink, drugs & violence.
> Thank you Greg.
See www.forsterfilmfestival.com.au for more details.