12th November 2019

The Road of Progress
is Reaching a Dead End

In 2017 Dead End Film Festival launched its first program with these words, deciding that something had to change in the way of the traditional film festival experience, in order to move forward. Since then, the initiative has been challenging standards around what a film festival can or should look like each year, and they are about to embark on their third season of exploration…

They have veered away from media walls and they have steered clear of any catered VIP after-parties. In fact, they have rejected a generic cinema space altogether. For their last two programs, DEFF have hosted their screenings at the Coburg Drive In. Groups of keen cinema goers, and young, eclectic creatives, flocked to the drive in, watching films under blankets in the back of their SUVs.

“The location seeks to reimagine the space of the drive-in cinema as a strange desolate symbol of the decline in cultural appreciation towards cars, Hollywood and the cinema,” the curators explain. Co-director of the festival, Charlie Freedman, further divulges that “the Coburg Drive-In is, in part, a play on the 1987 ozploitation film Dead-End Drive-In, where countless misfits are held captive at Drive-In with police slashing tires and conspiring with the venue administration to entrap them. It captures a community that bind together in the face of oppression and we’ve always tried to foster a similar spirit at Coburg.”

A combination of cinema, installations and performances; live music and readings, DEFF is more like a large party than a film viewing. In their program, they insist: “cinema isn’t bound to individual and contemplative experience, it is equally prepared for collective celebration”… And poring over images of the festival, the scene embodies these platitudes. The ambiance resembles something out of Dazed and Confused; it pulses with a free-spirited, adolescent energy. And although the crowds are not teenagers themselves, they possess the same desire for shared experience and resistance to convention.

In less than three weeks, DEFF will be hosting it’s third annual festival. Each year curators search internationally for distinct films, begetting a hyper-cosmopolitan result. This year’s program is made up of 12 short films, sourced from the likes of Syria, France, the Philippines, Australia, the US and more. A combination of non-fiction and narrative productions, it is clear that the films have been selected with care. Tid bit descriptions in the program all pack punch and intrigue, including “an informational short documentary that stitches together incidental footage to shed light on ‘regret’ in the twenty first century”, or: “a man enters a CD store in Syria to discuss the audio quality of his recent purchase.” As an initiative that promotes resourceful filmmaking, all films at DEFF are shot with unconventional film mediums or display alternative modes of storytelling.

…Too often it seems that local or national festivals are trying to mimic big game players like Cannes or Venice, and in doing so, an opportunity to celebrate the unique qualities of the country or town hosting the festival, is lost. So too, festivals pressure themselves to display more mainstream content with promise of wide appeal. DEFF’s refreshing rejection of commercial standards allow for a unique celebration of Australian community and subversive cinema at the Coburg Drive-In.


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