Bill Bennett Speaks

He Should STFU

It’s a special kind of disappointment reserved for the film industry when an industry figure who got the most out of the previous funding regime and still made a parade of commercial flops comes out and pretends he has street cred because he’s never been to the Sydney Film Festival.

I have to make an admission. I have been making feature films for 29 years and have never been to the Sydney Film Festival. And I’ve never watched Citizen Kane, either. At least, not all the way through.

I think if I did, it would somehow spoil my belief that it’s the greatest film ever made. If anyone ever asks, and sometimes they do, I always put Citizen Kane in my favourite top 10 films of all time. Along with Casablanca, which I have seen all the way through, except I forget how it ends.

I once had a film play at the Sydney Film Festival. And the Melbourne Film Festival. And Brisbane, too, I think, but that doesn’t really count. I remember the distributor telling me he wanted my film to open the Sydney festival. I argued that it was the kiss of death. People who go to these festivals don’t want to see an Australian film. They can see them at the Dendy on Tuesday and pay half-price. Or even less with their Seniors Card.

No, people who go to these festivals want to see foreign films with subtitles. They want to see the films that have come out of Cannes or Sundance with buzz. They want to see the new Lars von Trier. Or the new Michael Haneke. Or the new Mike Leigh. (His films don’t have subtitles but they’re still considered art, probably because they feature working-class people who shout at one another.) The last thing an opening-night film festival audience wants to see is an Aussie flick.

And if it’s foisted upon them by a jingoistic festival director, they react the only way they know how. They trash the film.

You see, most people who go to the opening night of a film festival aren’t really cinema lovers. They’re party people. They’re social people. They’re Important People. They go for The Occasion. To meet likeminded folk who they’ll next see at Peter Carey’s launch of his new book at the State Library. Or the Museum of Contemporary Art’s next fund-raiser. These people are bankers and barristers and arts bureaucrats and celebrities who read the weather.

They don’t go to the opening of the Sydney Film Festival to watch the movie. In fact, if anything, the movie is a bit of a nuisance. They have to sit still and be quiet for two hours – sometimes longer because it’s an art film – and that interferes with their networking.

They figure if the film is any good, it’ll come to their local cinema soon enough, but they’ll probably wait until it comes out on DVD where they’ll find it in the “world movies” aisle after it comes off new release. That’s if they want to watch it at all, which they probably won’t.

And so on it goes.

I think in this day and age of DVDs and downloadable movies and whatnot, it’s a CRIME for any working director not to have seen’ Citizen Kane’ right through at least 3 times. So really, Bill “The Dill” Bennett is derelict in his duty as a director already. Besides which the crowd that goes to the Sydney Film Festival may not have seen Citizen Kane either in which case they’re equally the kind of movie-philistine as Bill himself. Of course in their case, they haven’t seen it because they think ‘Citizen Kane’ is mere mainstream Hollywood confection, totally undeserving of its mighty, Orson- Wellesian, Hefty reputation.

Perhaps that’s beside the point. Recently Bill Bennett was in the SMH with a spray at auteur directors who allegedly ruined the film business in Australia. It’s a laughable entry where BIll throws such luminaries as George Miller, Peter Weir and Jane Campion under the bus for being selfish auteurs and then champions the Hollywood model of film making where writers and directors are split up, and where the businessmen treat both with disdain and contempt.

All this coming from a man who has made flop after flop after flop after flop on public monies.

The thing about Bill Bennett’s films is that they’re so far from entertaining that it strains credulity that he thinks he’s siding with the populist ‘movies’ crowd by bashing the ‘cinema/cineaste’ crowd at the festival. Bill and his ‘quirky’ Australian product has always been in with a better bet with the Sydney Festival ‘cinema/cineaste’ crowd than the Hoyts Cinemas on George St. crowd. It’s only recently that the commercial imperative has visited itself upon the funding bodies and Bill is now twisting himself into a director for the common man – In fact it’s bizzarre that he’s taking up this posture in the light of his own damnable, execrable career.

So Bill, please, Shut The Fuck Up and Go AWAY.

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