Audience members fainting is par for the course with Sydney’s annual festival of extreme, marginal and adventurous filmmaking. Partners and co-directors Katherine Berger and Stefan Popescu lift the lid on the ninth year of SUFF
Sydney Underground Film Festival is a place for ultra-violence, taboo sex, paranoia and extreme behaviour, but its creators, Katherine Berger and Stefan Popescu, are about as lovely and normal a couple as you could meet. “It’s true the festival attracts colourful people,” Popescu tells Time Out, “but they’re all quite sane and friendly.”
Says Berger: “We get people who say, ‘I still can’t stop thinking about that film that you showed a couple of years ago,’ and that makes us feel good.”
Guys, it’s your ninth year. What are some of those magic moments from the past eight festivals?
Katherine Berger Definitely the donkey movie. [laughs] The year before last we showed Donkey Love [about the Colombian practice of sex with donkeys as a rite of passage]. People were gobsmacked that this actually is a thing, going on in another part of the world.
Stefan Popescu Then there was Gaspar Noé’s [psychedelic drama] Enter the Void three years ago.
KB After Enter the Void, a girl came out who was there on her own and said, “do you mind if I just stay here with you for a bit, because I just need to, like, be with some people.”
SP And at Wetlands last year, we had three people pass out. It was closing night and the party was meant to be happening, and we had the ambulance there.
Gaspar Noé’s new film, Love, is your opening night film this year. I believe it’s, um, a 3D porno?
SP It’s autobiographical – the lead character is modelled on Noé. He really contextualises the sex. He says: “Life’s about blood, semen and poo, so every film should have those in it.” At that moment, you get why he’s doing it. It’s about love, and you can’t separate that from intimacy and physicality.
Camp, schlocky movies can be much more entertaining than well-made but cliché films. Any schlock highlights this year?
SP Bunny the Killer Thing from Finland. A guy is kidnapped and injected in some weird lab in the middle of the snow with this green stuff.
KB It’s always green stuff.
SP He gets super-human strength and escapes. He ends up in a bunny suit wanting to rape people with a really giant penis and you don’t know why.
KB It’s a crowd pleaser.
You’re having a 50th anniversary screening of Russ Meyer’s girls-on-a-rampage cult classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Is it a personal favourite?
KB Those Russ Meyer films are about everything I’m not. It’s that feminist thing where you want to be this super-ultra-sexy, strong woman.
SP I like the idea of Russ Meyer, because he wasn’t anywhere close to being a feminist, but in being so misogynistic, he kind of became like a feminist.
KB We’re celebrating a few anniversaries this year. We have documentary Back in Time, because it’s the anniversary of Back to the Future.
And Larry Clark’s Kids – for the 20th anniversary.
SP I love [Kids screenwriter] Harmony Korine. It’s more about Harmony Korine than Larry Clark for me. Kids was one of the first dark, neo-realist works of the ’90s.
KB I remember being a teenager on holidays with my friend and hiring Kids and it was like: woah! What did we just watch?
Raiders! looks like fun.
SP That’s a fun documentary because it’s not just about these kids who remade Raiders of the Lost Ark in their teens: it’s about them going back to complete it in their forties. This time they have a real budget, and they realise filmmaking is easier if it’s gonzo and DIY.
KB Money takes the fun out of it.
SP We are filmmakers and we kind of realised that too – that films are more fun if they’re lo-fi. We just made Vixen Velvet’s Zombie Massacre for under $10,000.
KB The film we did before [Nude Study] was very arty and heavily scripted. But this was written in ten days, we shot it in ten days. We wanted to do something fun.
You’re not tempted to screen Vixen Velvet’s Zombie Massacre at SUFF?
KB It would probably go down well, but we vowed when we started never to screen our own work. It’s not meant to be a platform for us.
Are you full-time filmmakers when not organising the festival?
KB The film festival is my career, but it’s not one I get renumerated for. And I’m a mum, of course. But Stefan’s a teacher, he teaches film studies at Sydney College of the Arts and Sydney Film School.
Remake, Remix, Ripoff shines a light on the Turkish film industry, where lax copyright laws meant that, for years, every Hollywood movie was being remade in Turkey.
SP Have you seen any of those Turkish remakes? They are just so ridiculous. I saw the Turkish remake of The Exorcist. They ripped off the soundtrack and reshot it with really bad prosthetics, and it’s ridiculous. The Turkish take on copyright is really interesting. They’re like, “of course we had to rip it off. We can’t compete with Hollywood.” And it does reveal how we’re trained to think about intellectual property. Because maybe they’re not wrong – it’s just the way you look at things.
Closing night film, Eli Roth’s, Knock Knock, looks like a classic vagina dentata situation, with Keanu Reeves playing a family man whose home is invaded by two sexy women.
SP It’s really good in a surprising way, because Keanu gives that kind of Bill and Ted sort of dopey performance, and that becomes part of the fun of the film.
And there’s a Bill and Ted connection with [actor] Alex Winter directing a documentary you are screening.
SP Yeah! Deep Web. It’s a little bit scary – that one and Killswitch. They’re about the web and the politics of the web. It’s scary, especially with Australia having passed that filter where they can ban websites. They show that it’s part of a larger project globally to control the net.
What’s new in the program structure this year?
KB We have the two-days of Masterclasses happening, which is cool. In conjunction with Sydney College of the Arts we are going to host eight sessions on anything from using drones in filmmaking to scriptwriting to alternative distribution models.
Any favourite short films this year?
SP Oh yeah. [laughs nervously] In the Reality Bites session, there’s a short doco, ‘Dolphin Lover’. It just left me gobsmacked. It’s about a guy who thinks a dolphin seduced him and it’s his soulmate. They actually explain the anatomy of it too. It answers all your questions.
KB All in 15 minutes.