Dungog

We drove up to Dungog on Saturday – Penny, her brother Chris and I – to visit a nonagenarian second cousin of theirs. We stayed at one of the Dungog Country Apartments, which was inexpensive (by Sydney standards), light and airy, with a roomy kitchen, pleasant furniture, a balcony with a view of the pub, and Norman Lindsay cheek by jowl with Norman Rockwell on the wall.

There was weather, so we didn’t go for the walk we’d planned on Saturday afternoon. And none of the town’s recommended eateries was open, so we ate some huge steaks at ‘the top pub’ (which must make the hotel opposite our apartment the bottom pub) before striding off to the James Theatre, Australia’s oldest still running purpose built cinema, just in time for the evening session of Flickerfest.

Flickerfest has been an annual event at Bondi for 19 years now, but I’ve never been to it. The prospect of several days of short movies just hasn’t had enough drawing power. In fact, just about the only short-film programs I’ve seen have been ones where a friend or offspring had made one of the films. But we were in Dungog, and apart from the trivia quiz at the Menshed and billiards and jukebok at the top pub there wasn’t a lot else on, so we were quite pleased that there is now a travelling, pocket-sized Flickerfest, that Dungog is among the 24 venues it visits around the country, and that Saturday was Dungog’s day.

I’m not a convert to short-film nights. Bring back the days when there was a short before the main feature, I say. In that context, almost any one of the films we saw – the Best of Australian Shorts – would have been perfectly adequate, and some would have been hard acts to follow. One, Miracle Fish by Luke Doolan, was not only nominated for an Academy Award this year but also was shot in the primary school my sons attended, so had a certain holding power (though it was far too long). Maziar Lahooti’s Crossroads stood out for me, partly for a beautiful moment of inarticulate masculinity after a display of heroic competence (that’s the second short film of his I’ve seen and loved), and Dominic Allen’s Two Men, all four minutes of it, is perfect – translating a 160-word piece by Kafka into Aboriginal English and setting it in a remote community with absolute sureness of touch.

The Dungog Film Festival is in May. For four days, as Penny’s second-cousin-once-removed told us on Sunday, black-clad movie lovers turn the main street of Dungog into little Newtown. It might be just the thing for disgruntled ex-Sydney Film Festival goers.

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