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Mumbai International Film Festival 2006

Unfortunately, A Stone Throw didn't win anything . . . *sniff* :(

Most of the international films that won prizes at the Mumbai International Film Festival 2006 had India as the subject / backdrop - or they were made by ex-pat Indians living abroad - or they had an Indian actor - or they were films made by filmmakers who had served on previous years' MIFF judging panels.

I'm not being too cynical. That is just the way these things go. I'd be naive to think differently. In fact, I was surprised that our little 10 minute film, A Stone Throw had been included at all. It was one of only a few non-Indian inspired films.

Having said that, a ScreenWest-funded documentary about the rebel army in Aceh won the judges hearts.

The Black Road, directed by William Nessen and produced by Andrew Ogilvie, was absolutely brilliant and easily deserved to win. In fact, William risked his life making the film. He filmed alongside the Indonesian army as they attacked Aceh - and he also filmed alongside the Aceh rebels! I'm talking gun to gun stuff. Torture stuff. There were no holes barred making this film. It's not for the squeamish. People get killed and tortured and you see the results. Big, graphical, close-ups!

William witnesses the death of some close friends, marrie sthe film's interpreter and ends up in jail (as one would expect). All these events filmed prior to the great Tsunami.

After watching the film, one might conclude that William Nessen has a death wish.

But Billy (his chosen nickname) considers himself an accidental documentary filmmaker. His main line of work is as a journalist / photographer. This is his first film and it began with him simply recording events in his life. It transmogrified into something brilliant - and very important for the world stage.

It was good to see a ScreenWest-funded film getting not one but two important awards. The Best Documentary awards were strictly for the directors, but Andrew Ogilvie also got an award for producing Billy's film. It was edited by Lawrence Silvestrin and sound-posted by the (locally) famous Western Australian, Ric Curtin.

Bloody good stuff.

While the chosen few basked in the glory of cash (up to AUS$7,000 1st prize) media scrutiny and some very impressive gold and silver conch statues, I slunk back to the hotel. My 10 minute short looked pretty good up there and the audience thought it was a wonderful part of a greater piece. A Stone Throw gave the winners a run for their money. I satisfied myself with that knowledge.

I stayed in my pokey hotel room the entire next day. Enthused by the renegade documentary makers, I feverishly returned to working on my next project. I'd managed to dodge disease, not get too-ripped off and I still had my passport. That counted for something.

When all had returned to their respective countries, I got a phone call. It was William - at a loose end. He shouted (bought) me breakfast and talked about staying in Mumbai.

Why?
I asked. There's no rebel army fighting for independence here.

He simply likes the place. The people. The hospitality. Billy strikes me as a kind guy with a big heart. I tended to ignore the many beggars here, but he happily gave them a few rupees. One poor beggar-lady told him, I don't want your money - only food. Half an hour later, Billy was lugging sacks of rice and water around for her immediate family.

Not having a background in filmmaking, he asked me for career advice. I felt humbled. And, the truth be told - a bit important. Keep your prize money. Don't give it away. Invest it in the film - in yourself, I pleaded.

I'd rather see William go out there and change the whole world with his particular brand of risky filmmaking than see one small family eat for a week. His kind of filmmaking can change the world.

The Mumbai Film festival had inspired me. Perhaps I can also do something worthwhile. Seeing films like The Black Road makes me do a double-take on my own stuff. I've only just started to make worthwhile films - films that touch other people. Hopefully, A Stone Throw is only the first step toward this and I'll get the chance to go a lot further.

It all starts with a piece of paper and a pen. I'm sincerely looking forward to seeing what filmmakers like Billy Nessen does with his pen.

See y'all back in Perth for my Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) podcast.

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