Arbour Festival to host film festival in the forest

At the end of this month the Woodland Film Festival will return as part of the ongoing Arbour Festival, with both local and international filmmakers highlighted during the Snowy Valleys-based event reflecting on the Dunns Road bushfire.

On January 30 the Woodland Film Festival will break its four-year hiatus and screen a number of shortlisted entries from across the globe during a 5-hour event at the Pilot Hill Arboretum. 

The film festival will include films such as ‘Sweet Tooth’, the last film made in the Sugar Pine Forest and narrated by Cate Blanchett, and ‘Ronnie the Magic Garden Gnome’, filmed in Tumut at the Murray Glen Village featuring residents in Covid-19 lockdown.

John Riddell, co-director of Woodland Film Festival, said that he is excited the festival is back for a “really good cause” after its hiatus.

“The only reason it’s been brought back out now is because we were approached by Arbour Festival to be part of it, and we wanted to be part of it,” he said.

“We just feel very privileged to be part of something bigger than ourselves and if it means that we can be part of a community wanting to get together and heal after the fires, then we’re very proud of that and feel very lucky to do what we do.”

Mr Riddell said that almost two hours’ worth of footage will be screened during the event.

“Ever since Woodland started, we always wanted to give preference to local filmmakers,” he explained. This year there was a short window to submit entries, but Mr Riddell said they were still spoiled for choice when choosing what to include.

“We still got over 100 entries and we picked probably the best 18 out of those,” he said.

The evening will include the Woodland 2021 Award Presentation, with winners going home with a sentimental keepsake this year.

“We were lucky enough to work with the Tumut Men’s Shed,” Mr Riddell said.

“Usually we give a cash prize, but because it’s all sort of happening very quickly we got together and made some beautiful trophies which are actually made from the Sugar Pine [Walk timber], which the festival is in part commemorating, so it’s very special.” 

Manager of Tumut’s Murray Glen Village, Michelle Boyd, said that she and everyone else involved in creating ‘Ronnie the Magic Garden Gnome’ are thrilled to be included in the Woodland Film Festival.

“The excitement when I came to the village and told the residents that one, we’d entered the film… and then the day I found out that they were playing our film up there; look, we were all up on the clouds, you could not bring us down,” she said.

The idea was first sparked by Ms Boyd during the Covid-19 lockdown when residents of the village were stuck in lockdown.

“I was getting really frustrated by how lonely the residents were and how limited they were with what they could do, they just couldn’t go anywhere,” she said.

The short film features a red garden gnome, Ronnie, who helps residents pass the time during lockdown. The gnome belonged to a resident who sadly passed away just before the pandemic began.

One day Ms Boyd was looking at the gnome in the office, and the idea for a short film grew from there. Ms Boyd reached out to residents of the village to get involved, and to the Community Actors Small Theatres (CAST) group, of which she is a founding member. 

Ms Boyd said that the entire process gave a boost to those in the village, and the CAST members, throughout lockdown.

“It meant a lot because they had nothing to look forward to,” she explained.

“They had to look forward to when they would be filmed… then they had to look forward to when we had the movie premiere.

“As the village residents would continue to gather for morning tea, when they were allowed to…it was the talk every week. How’s that editing going Michelle? When’s our movie night?

“The pressure was on!”

Ms Boyd and director Michael McSweeney are excited to attend the film festival this month, along with film’s star and village resident Dell Bellchambers.

“It’s a testimony to everybody trying to overcome their boredom during lockdown and having a bit of faith in a bigger project, something that’s bigger than themselves,” Ms Boyd said of the project.

The film festival will feature live music from Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentleman on their 20th anniversary tour. There will also be special guest appearances from celebrity chef Paul West, actor and producer Katherine Shearer, founder of Sculpture by the Sea, David Handley and visual culture academic Dr Neill Overton. Local craft beers, ciders and wines will feature, along with gourmet delights from Tumbarumba’s famous Nest Cinema Cafe.

Arbour Festival continues through February 15, a 50-day run, exactly one year after the Dunns Road Fire wrought havoc in the region for 50 days, growing new possibilities as the community commences a new year beyond the fire that changed everything.  Woodland Film Festival tickets are on sale now and the full Arbour Festival program can be found at their website.