Another film festival I attended in February, my first month in Melbourne, was one with a thematic focus a little closer to home than the Europa! Europa Film Festival, namely the Melbourne Women in Film Festival. It was, I gather, the seventh edition, and it’s not a big festival — there were only a handful of films, along with the screening of an old Clara Law film (itself hived off from a larger celebration of Law’s work that’s been screening over the last few weeks), and a couple of programmes of shorts as well as workshops and discussions. I only attended the opening and closing night films, but both came with unexpected (to me, because I hadn’t read the website closely) free drinks, and a generally celebratory atmosphere which is always welcome! Long may the festival continue.
Focusing on a young First Nations woman, Murra (Shantae Barnes-Cowan), who has been let down by her family — most immediately her drug-using and wildly erratic mother — Sweet As blossoms into a really wholesome film that I certainly hope connects with the right audiences. Murra finds herself pushed into going on a group trip with other troubled kids, where they are encouraged to discover their voices via old-fashioned film cameras that one of the guides, an enthusiastic Nicaraguan guy (Carlos Sanson Jr), is particularly keen on. Naturally this idea of photography as a way into taking control of one’s own story means the pressure is on the film’s cinematographer to capture something beautiful, and there’s definitely a sense of some tourist board-approved visuals here, though I suppose you don’t have to work hard in this bit of Western Australia to find something stunning to photograph. The core of the story, though, remains focused on Murra and the way she first resists and ultimately bonds with the others on the trip, as a sort of coming of age road trip. Perhaps it does all feel a little bit soft pedalled (and it fits rather neatly into a familiar generic framework), but this is ultimately a very hopeful film about restoring connections with other people and with the natural world.
Director Jub Clerc; Writers Clerc and Steve Rodgers; Cinematographer Katie Milwright; Starring Shantae Barnes-Cowan, Pedrea Jackson, Mikayla Levy, Carlos Sanson Jr, Ngaire Pigram; Length 87 minutes.
Seen at ACMI, Melbourne, Thursday 23 February 2022.