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troublemag | June 25, 2024

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How To Run An International Film Festival: SURVIVAL GUIDE

How To Run An International Film Festival: SURVIVAL GUIDE

Neil Boyack

Community Engagement Coordinator &
Director, CAFS Survival International Film Festival

You might think that social welfare organisations and film festivals have little in common, but it has become apparent to me, as both a writer and organiser of film and literature festivals and a professional in the social services sector, that these two disparate entities actually share strong connections in narrative and theme.

As an artist (writer/musician) who enjoys some infamy as one of Australia’s emerging “grunge” authors, I have been involved in many and various festival events since the early 90s, from appearances as a guest speaker to an organiser and Director of events such as the Newstead Short Story Tattoo and the Castlemaine International Film Festival. But in my day job I am a professional in the social services sector, currently employed as the Community Engagement Coordinator with CAFS (Child and Family Services Ballarat Inc.). CAFS is commemorating its 150th year of continuous operations this year, being known originally as The Ballarat Orphan Asylum (in 1865). CAFS launched their own “innovation fund” a few years back, which is an organisational fund that backs bright ideas and the furthering of the CAFS Vision of “wellbeing, respect and safety for all children and families …” In any case, my idea was to create a film festival that not only brought social services sector professionals together to celebrate, discuss and engage, but to fill a gap in the cinematic market in Central Victoria and create Ballarat’s only international film festival.

I penned the CAFS SIFF mission statement, which is to share stories of survival, inspiration and endurance in the context of social justice, community living, Aboriginal peoples and human strengths. This mission statement goes hand in hand with the experiences that occur in our own communities, neighborhoods, and families, every day. Through CAFS SIFF I want to highlight issues such as family relationships, violence against women, feminism, human endurance and inspiration through films that have strong narratives; films that can be beautiful, or challenge the way we think and view the world.

This year CAFS SIFF boasts three Australian premieres, and can hold its own alongside any film festival in the country. It should be noted loudly and proudly that the Regent Cinemas in Ballarat have assisted CAFS greatly in facilitating this festival in 2015, and that the event is an annual fundraiser for CAFS, a 150 year-old non-government, not for profit organization.

In curating and selecting films for the festival I adhere to the mission statement, but do lean towards a healthy inclusion of local filmmakers and local stories. My network is studded with widely varying influences – from artists, filmmakers, film distributors and writers, to sheep farmers, teachers, community leaders and business people – so the mix is always interesting. The Middle East has a strong tradition of powerful storytelling through film, and I always try to include stories from that region. Indigenous Australian storytelling and filmmaking in particular is always strong and meaningful, and it is mandatory for CAFS SIFF to both acknowledge and activate thinking around Indigenous cultures, politics and issues – this year we have Indigenous folk superstar Frank Yamma and David Bridie performing live in Ballarat as a part of CAFS SIFF.



Engaging with the bigger established international festivals, as well as the smaller, experimental and independent festivals, and scanning for films that may not have been screened or distributed in Australia, I try to contact film makers and distributors directly and we go from there. The CAFS SIFF schedule in 2015 is diverse, powerful and colourful, and I am very proud of bringing these films together.

As I have stated, the emotional landscape and subject matter in many of these films rests close to the heart of my work, as well as the practice of CAFS in the Ballarat region for the last 150 years. In viewing these films we are engaging with inspirational storytelling and the myths and symbols that punctuate our lives, our wellbeing, our “human-ness”.

With regards to highlights and standouts for CAFS SIFF, I am certainly conflicted. There’s simply too many to talk about, but if I had to choose, I’d certainly see Wild Life, the story of a father living rough for years with his two sons “on the run” (an Australian premiere) as a standout. This film is wonderful because it doesn’t really takes sides, it just tells a fable-like story. It is a great example of contemporary filmmaking that borrows from tradition. To be honest, I can’t really understand why no Australian distributor has picked this up. It is challenging, yet uplifting.

Screening on Wednesday 11th November is The Nice House, the story of the Batty family in the lead-up to Luke Batty’s shocking murder at the hand of his own father. This is something we need to view, something to make us uncomfortable in order for our thinking, our acting, to change for the better. This film is insightful and personal, showing home video of the Batty family simply living their lives; with commentary from Rosie Batty, this film is simply unmissable and relevant to all of us.

The Lobster offers relief subject matter in some ways, yet reminds us of how irrational humans can act when the end is near. Le Paradis, another Australian premiere, is a masterpiece of visual poetry, and an inspiration to all novice filmmakers, showing what is possible with a hand-held camera and some innovative narration. Readers may already know of the spunk in Kitty Green’s Ukraine is Not a Brothel: The FEMEN Story, yet may not have seen her more recent short The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul, which is a seven minute powerhouse. Timbuktu is also an amazing insight into the here and now of ISIS and the conflict that dominates our world; and one of the most spectacular films in terms of visuals you can imagine.


CAFS Survival International Film Festival, Regent Cinemas Ballarat, 49 Lydiard Street North, Ballarat (VIC), 10 – 13 November –