A festival is a gateway to parallel universes to possible worlds, where you might see stories that are familiar but told from a completely different perspective,” says Matt Ravier, artistic director of Possible Worlds Film Festival.

The festival name is a tribute to the movie Possible Worlds (2000) by Quebec filmmaker Robert Lepage, starring Tilda Swinton, but it also has a deeper meaning. “We thought Possible Worlds is a good name for a festival that offers you 18 opportunities to immerse yourself in a different world, to expand your horizons, to consider the world in a new way and your place in it in a new way that you might miss out on if you stay at home and watch Masterchef.”

The French born cinephile started Possible Worlds in Sydney in 2005, at a time when Canadian cinema was non-existent in Australia.

“I fell in love with cinema and festivals while studying in Toronto when I was 20. I was doing an MBA with a specialisation in arts administration, as part of that I did an internship at the Inside Out film festival, which is Toronto’s gay and lesbian film festival.”

“Here was a film festival created and run by passionate individuals and it felt like we were fighting for a cause, actually two causes, representation of queer characters on screen and for a defence of independent, art-house cinema, and it was exciting, it felt like something worth doing. During that year I watched so many Canadian films, I felt a kinship to Canadian filmmakers.”

“When I moved to Australia I thought, this is a country that is trying to answer very similar questions in terms of its filmmaking and yet has very little access to Canadian cinema. Australia has so much in common with Canada and you’d feel like there should be more exchange of cultural work.”

As predicted Australian audiences reacted in a warm way, embracing the Possible Worlds festival from the start.
 “They got the humour and this form of story telling that echoed their own in a way, perhaps because Australia, like Canada, is struggling to define its cultural identity in the shadow of a very loud and persistent neighbour…the US.”

“Fast forward nine years and Canadian films are on fire, there were three Canadian films in official selection in Cannes this year, there’s Canadian films nominated at the Oscars and in Australia there’s Canadian films that are being released theatrically like Gabrielle (which I really wanted for the festival) but it got a theatrical release which is fantastic and even better.”

Now in its 9th year the festival has built a strong level of trust amongst its audience, enabling it to be more daring with its programming.

“A festival reaches that point because audiences have had great experiences there and they are willing to take a chance on something they’ve never heard of.
 At least if they don’t like it they know it’s been chosen carefully, it won’t leave them indifferent.” Two years ago the festival expanded to include American films.

“It doesn’t mean that we are showing big blockbusters, the focus is still squarely on independent cinema and especially on filmmakers who have a bold, original, personal vision, whose movies aren’t crafted primarily to reach as wide an audience as possible.

“Karina Libbey is my co-programmer, she tends to programme the Canadian films and I tend to programme the American films, we both try to watch everything and then bounce ideas off each other. In terms of choosing films we travel to the Toronto and Vancouver film festivals and to South by Southwest in Austin, we also get a lot of films sent to us and we have a network of scouts in the US and in Canada who let us know when they think there is something that should be on our radar.”

“In preparation for this year’s festival we saw about 250 films and we chose 18 for the programme.”

Out of those 250 movies, Matt and Karina chose Ricardo Trogi’s 1987 to open the festival and Land Ho!, co-written and directed by Dir Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens to close it.

“Because we are covering two different countries I like to open with a country and close with another. We like to open the festival with something upbeat, something fun and celebratory because that’s what a festival should be, it should be a celebration. And that’s what 1987 is, it’s a very fun coming of age movie from Quebec about the summer in the life of 17-year-old Richardo Trogi who’s out to discover the world.”

“His mission for the summer is to get a job, get a car, get laid and get into bars. It recreates the era of the 80s with love and care, from the production / design to the kick-ass soundtrack. But while it’s a very successful, fun and even commercial film it’s still a very personal film because Ricardo Trogi is also the name of the director and writer and it’s no coincidence, it’s a biographical film.”

“I’m sure he’s embellished it somewhat but this is his 17th summer and that’s what we look for, personal stories, whether they’re made on a very broad scale or on small personal scale. What all of these films have in common is they’re very personal stories, this is something that has been lost in the big blockbuster realm.”

Land Ho! I chose because we open with a 17-year-old and I thought it would be great to close with 70-year-olds. 1987 is about a young man wanting to be an adult, Land Ho is about old men wanting to recapture their youth, so together they make great bookends for the festival.”

“Also, Land Ho! echoes 1987 because it is a throwback to 80s buddy comedy movie which is a very 80s genre, two mismatched buddies who are having shenanigans and adventures. But while it’s a tribute to those films it’s not a broad comedy, it’s much more subtle and restrained and all the more charming for it.”

Boasting an impressive, eclectic range of movies, Possible Worlds is going to have something for everyone, and offer an atmosphere that you just wont get sitting at home watching downloads.

“We provide a space for people to discuss the film, and argue with us the programmers, we’re always on site looking to meet the audience to discuss what they thought. In some cases we’ll have the filmmaker present to continue that discussion. To me that’s what really makes a festival, what distinguishes it from a series of screenings at the local art-house cinema is the space in which first of all you can meet people who love film as much as you do and celebrate cinephilia basically.”

“The popularisation of streaming is going to make it harder for festivals to reach their audiences because you’ll be able to see some very good, independent films in the comfort of your own home. But I think that’s a good thing because it will educate audiences, it will broaden their horizons and develop a passion and an interest for good cinema. They will be more willing to take a risk on a film they might not have heard of before when they are paying just $10 a month on a streaming service. But also, it will force festivals to think hard about why they exist, what they want to bring to an audience and how they differentiate themselves from that very comfortable experience of watching film at home.”

“Festivals will have to be more inventive, to bring an experience you can’t find at home. This year Possible Worlds is holding a trivia night around genre film after the premiere of Young Ones – that’s a way to hang out with friends, have a drink, discuss films that you love and make new friends.”

With audiences now being exposed to such good cinema, will this be the end of the big Michael Bay type blockbuster?
“No, I think the blockbusters are here to stay,” says Matt.
“It’s great if we can nurture a love for bold and original, risk taking cinema in audiences. But at the end of the day it’s always going to be a struggle to rival global companies that treat cinema as a product and are able to spend incredible amounts of money marketing it, saturating the media with incredibly savvy promotional messages.”

“But that’s not a bad thing, one of the things that stimulates independent filmmakers is the generic nature of mainstream blockbusters, and the need to create work in opposition to that.

“In every culture, in every medium you need something that is mainstream in order to define what the alternative could look like. While their budgets make them a bit out of our reach, they are still filled with inventive ideas and things to borrow and learn from, so I’ve nothing against mainstream cinema, but I feel like festivals have a duty to defend a cinema that would die out and not be seen if they didn’t exist.”

Possible Worlds Film Festival
SYDNEY 7th-17th August
CANBERRA 20th August
PERTH 22-24th August

written by Niamh Byrne | images by Kathy Luu