Despite a diverse line-up, the 14th Revelation International Film Festival will doubtlessly be remembered as the year of David (Stratton) and Margaret (Pomeranz). The presence of such iconic Oz film royalty in the Astor lobby confirmed Rev’s incredible growth from the Greenwich basement to a truly distinctive national film event. As with the previous opening night selection, Good Hair (Jeff Stilson), a crowd-pleasing documentary was chosen to kick off the festival. Fire in Babylon (Steven Riley) charts the rise of the West Indies cricket team during the ’70s and early ’80s, an underdog struggle to bring an athletic, proud and reactionary spin to a sport seemingly dominated by boorish, fat white men. While Fire in Babylon received a warm response, the night really came alive after the film, when Pia May (Bridezilla) and Jasper Fenton (Decoder Ring) emerged on-stage from a smoke machine haze to belt out a dreamy mix-tape of songs from the films of David Lynch.

This year’s feature line-up was dotted with the usual mix of popular acquisitions and obscure word-of-mouth gems. Minimalist Oregon Trail tale Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt), Nordic monster-mash Trolljegeren (TrollHunter, André Øvredal), Richard Ayoade’s smug Submarine, and kitchen-sink drama Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine) all arrived with pre-packaged buzz to full screenings. Smaller highlights included the confrontational Irish indie Charlie Casanova, whose vicious protagonist prompted a number of walkouts before the eyes of director Terry McMahon. Perhaps in response, McMahon delivered a blistering, exasperated post-film speech about the tricky uses of language in the Irish government (“they fucked us”) and how his film was intended to prey on audience unease as we “sit here in silent acquiescence and let [Charlie] get away with it”. Other gems included Small Town Murder Songs (Ed Gass-Donnelly), in which a haunting personal crisis is punctuated by earth-rumbling gospel music, and Mars (Geoff Marslett), a pseudo-rotoscoped slacker-sci-fi-rom-com hybrid. The drop-dead sexy Vacation! (Zach Clark), about four ex-University friends and their weekend adventure at a beach-house, was everything a contemporary “chick flick” should be.

The “Late Night Horror” line-up returned for a second year, led by “Drive In Nightmares!” presented by Variety critic Richard Kuipers. Kuipers enthusiastically sold “the sizzle”, a selection of vintage horror drive-in trailers, before serving up “the steak”: an appropriately yellowing, bruised print of Jorge Grau’s 1974 zombie classic Don’t Open the Window. Horror hounds craving more conventional splatter found it in Hobo with a Shotgun (Jason Eisener), which aimed for trendy neo-grindhouse heights but settled for disposable Troma-esque silliness instead. Delicious Belgian faux-documentary Vampires (Vincent Lannoo) was far more satisfying, combining the cringe-worthy awkwardness of reality television with the timely socio-political commentary of observational documentary. Even in the most highly chargedmoments – a wank with a blender that evolves into self-exorcism, or a bonkers tripping sequence to rival Dumbo (Ben Sharpsteen, 1941) – Vacation exhibited a raw confidence that wholly embodied the “fuck you, so what” ethos of Revelation. Komaneko: The Curious Cat (Tsuneo Goda) supplied a charming mix of stop-motion and cell-animation for younger film lovers keen on a festival fix. Chronicling the episodic adventures of the titular kitty and her video camera as they encounter ghosts, UFOs and the Abominable Snowman, Komaneko was impossible to watch without a big Cheshire Cat grin slapped across your face.

Speaking of which, this year’s documentary line-up was, as always, a varied, often-surprising mix of observational pieces and bio-docs. SXSW hit Dragonslayer (Tristan Patterson) delivered a deceptively simple character study of washed-up skater Josh “Screech” Sandoval, affectionately dubbed “random chaos” by friends. Through Patterson’s lush visuals (and also a grungier flip-cam operated by Sandoval himself), Dragonslayer’s defining image is of Sandoval swooping aimlessly in an abandoned swimming pool, trying to casually ignore the grown-up walls of responsibility closing in around him. This year’s selection also included a focus on queer documentary, with The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (Marie Losier), Bear Nation (Malcolm Ingram), and the Bruce LaBruce bio-doc The Advocate for Fagdom (Angelique Bosio). An essential companion to LaBruce’s work that left me wishing it was accompanied by a retrospective, The Advocate for Fagdom featured talking heads from a who’s who of queer and underground cinema, including John Waters, Gus van Sant, Harmony Korine, Richard Kern, Vaginal Davis, and Rev’s program director, Jack Sargeant. The delightfully quirky Nesvatbov (Matchmaking Mayor, Erika Hníková) followed a personable mayor as he organises a matchmaking event in his dwindling Slovak town in a bid to encourage the town’s unmarried singles to sow their oats. Last Days Here (Don Argott and Demian Fenton), arguably the most powerful documentary in the line-up, presented a poignant snapshot of Pentagram front-man Bobby Liebling that perfectly illustrated the old adage that in order to get to heaven, you must trudge through hell first. The Redemption of General Butt Naked (Daniele Anastasion and Eric Strauss), told the bizarre story of Joshua Blahyi, an ex-General of the Liberian Civil War who emerges years later as a born-again preacher. The present-day ramifications of his past life dog the former general as he revisits the villages his army once violently ransacked with cutlasses. Blahyi offers an olive branch of peace to his shattered, traumatised victims, but grows increasingly troubled by the fact that his outwardly sincere sorry-sermons can’t whitewash a history of barbarity. Anastasion and Strauss do not admonish directly, but through their intimate, observational lens, the deluded Blahyi is revealed to be far less self-assured than he thinks he is, echoing Idi Amin inadvertent buffoonery in Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait (Barbet Schroeder, 1974).

From the hedonistic high-seas steaminess of The Burning Wigs of Sedition (Anna Fitch and Simon Cheffins) to the warm life-during-wartime comedy Via Gori (George Barbakadze), this year’s shorts were as eclectic as the features they supported. The London Short Film Festival led a grim selection that could have been subtitled “pretty girls with shitty lives stare into space” if not for the inclusion of Alex Taylor’s wistfully anarchic Kids Might Fly and the mind-blowing natural wonder of Murmuration (Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith). ScreenWest’s annual short film showcase “Get Your Shorts On” displayed a wide range of local talent, as did this year’s “Animation Showcase”, which leaned towards Australian works and was of a particularly high standard. Highlights included the mischievous and carnivalesque The Show, beautifully animated and directed by RMIT graduate Rebecca Hayes, and the beguiling and sinister Polo’s Robot (Peter Lowey).

A retrospective Q&A session with David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz kicked-off this year’s RevCons. Chaired by Kuipers, Australia’s most recognisable film critics ran through their mutual history from The Movie Show to At the Movies, emphasised Western Australia’s role in their early success, and candidly discussed their sometimes uneasy working relationship. The full auditorium was even blessed with a glimpse of Pomeranz’s infamously spirited distaste of film (and pornography) censorship. The post-screening Q&A for the heady, Reichian bio-doc Heaven + Earth + Joe Davis (Peter Sasowsky) entered the realm of the surreal when philosopher/scientist Davis, dressed in a hoodie, jeans and cap, stepped off the screen and into reality. Davis responded to every question with cryptic rambling that ranged from the baffling (“I think I have 46 kids”) to the incisive (“Reality is stranger than any movie”). The eccentricities continued in the upstairs bar where Davis could be seen perched atop the bar, demonstrating the ease of removing his prosthetic leg for a pretty young admirer. Finally, this year’s “State Of Independents” panel very casually discussed a range of topics from iconoclastic approaches to copyright law to the ever-shifting definition of “independent”, and was thankfully bereft of the needless industry chatter that marred last year’s panel.

The one-off live performance Gravity was Everywhere Back Then (Brent Green) used an organ, cello, guitar, sound effects and voice to bring to life a bittersweet story of a man who builds a house as a healing machine for his terminally ill wife. Not even the distracting foley or frequently wimpy spoken-word narration (“the dandelions glowed around you like silent film projectors”) could hinder the wonderfully driving, rich instrumentation. The music offered a melodic and melancholic bed for the whimsical visuals – pixilated live action with a dash of animation, frequently lit with warm amber hues. Celluloid was also subverted for the fifth annual installment of Keith Smith’s energising Revel-8 8mm film festival, guest-judged in its fifth year by David and Margaret. Experimental filmmaker Dirk de Bruyn’s Flusser’s Death Rattle posited de Bruyn as a mad scientist as he flitted between four 16mm projectors that simultaneously unspooled a variety of wonders, twisting this and adjusting that, occasionally jarring the soothing flickering of projectors with a loud howl as if the celluloid itself was screaming for air. For an hour, Cinema One became the inside of de Bruyn’s head, and it was a real treat to have front row seats to this celluloid nightmare. Sydney-based plunderphonic artists Soda Jerk rode into town to present the director’s cut of Pixel Pirate 2, an insane treatise on film copyright that tangled around itself like a live-action Avalanches record and left an indelible impression on the assembled lucky punters in Cinema Two. Elvis, The Incredible Hulk, the girls from Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975), Monkey, and motley bunch of VHS superstars all made gleefully illegal appearances, sparring off one another in an irresistible mash-up of sight and sound that I never wanted to end. In fact, the only drawback was that Pixel Pirate 2 only received a single screening – as soon as I emerged from Cinema Two, reeling, I wanted to recommend it to anyone I ran into. Bold, artistic anti-copyright declarations are rarely this much damn fun.

All in all, I saw 37 sessions at Revelation in 10 days. If this seems, at a glance, like festival overkill, then I cannot overstate the complete necessity of Revelation in a small state capital city like Perth where a thriving film culture is hardly in abundance. Film lovers on this side of the continent need Revelation, and Revelation needs a small city like Perth where few eyebrows are raised over the riskier acquisitions and selections. I overheard grumbling in the lobby between sessions about technical faults delaying a screening or two for a few minutes, which, to my ears, bordered on the blasphemous. A one-of-a-kind festival, engineered from a musty projection room manned by real people, housed within a beautiful, old art-deco cinema located in an artistic hub and screening films seen nowhere else – really, that extra five-minute wait just boils anticipation. During his opening address festival chairman Richard Sowada likened Rev to a petulant, rebellious teenager, but Rev is not merely a festival for misfit cinema. Rev is also an annual haven for a community of misfit film lovers, the ones Truffaut was thinking of when he said “film lovers are sick people”, and it’s a delight to see the same faces at each screening, meet the filmmakers, and share opinions. I’m already counting down the days till Rev 15. Hail cinema.

This festival report was commissioned and edited by Adrian Danks, Australian Cinema Co-Editor.

The Revelation Perth International Film Festival
14-24 July 2011
Festival website: www.revelationfilmfest.org