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February 28, 2024

Locals enriched by exploration of wide, wild world

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A scene from the documentary Around the World.

Digby Hildreth

With the Great Disco Dong Debacle of ’18-19 behind us (raised eyebrows, bruised egos, rapped knuckles and all), we can refocus on the things the Byron Shire community is famous for, like getting behind unmatched home-grown cultural marvels such as the annual Film Festival, the most respected event of its kind in regional Australia.

BBFF, now in its thirteenth year, is one of the Shire’s great unifying forces, like the iconic Blues and Writers festivals. It was established and run by locals (with a solid base of volunteers stepping up), for locals (who continue to make up the bulk of its audiences), and in support of local filmmakers (many of whom get their first break at the festival).

As much as possible, Northern Rivers filmmakers are included in the BBFF programme, invited to talk about their work, share screenings with their friends and family, and welcomed to the rich and fertile networking events that occur over the 10 days.

Locals – such as Blake Northfield and Tom Byrnes of Bronte Pictures – may be responsible for making possible bigger budget, foreign-made films such as Around the World; a fun and inspiring documentary that’s likely to ignite a craze for freestyle football.

A scene from A Different Gallery, Jacqui Doran’s sculpture Wanderlust in Brunswick Heads. Photo Lyn McCarthy

Or, like Festival perennial Susie Forster, they may be finding, and filming, uplifting events in their own backyard: events such as the Brunswick Nature Sculpture Walk which connects artists and the community through sculpture in a much-loved environment. Susie’s 10-minute film A Different Gallery perfectly captures the joy of that community connection.

And it is the environment that drew most Byron Shire residents to the region in the first place – or kept those lucky enough to have been born here from leaving. The ocean, in particular, nourishes us all, and it is the ocean – and specifically surfing – that inspired Byron Bay residents Christian Gibson and Chris Gooley to embark on a two-year journey through Latin America.

When they set off they never intended to make a film, Christian says. ‘It was just something we had to do.’


The result is Pacifico, which evolved from a road trip into a conversation on friendship, alternative lifestyles, and how long-term travel broadens the mind and can change the trajectory of a person’s life.

Byron Bay’s slogan ‘Slow down and chill out’ could also be the motto of this happy, mellow, candid film, which opens with a monologue from Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts and follows roads-less-travelled to show the benefits of taking time to observe the world mindfully.

Christian is a passionate photographer and filmmaker, and founder of Gobe – a conscientious photography accessories brand. Some of his still and time-lapse photos are at the quiet heart of the film, showing the magnificent Andes mountain ranges, volcanoes and deserts in all their monumental glory.

The surf that rumbles through Pacifico was rough and cold at times, but nothing compared with the harsh bone-chilling waters of the North Atlantic explored in Nordurland, made by born-and-bred local Ishka Folkwell.


Like Pacifico, Nordurland is the story of friends travelling to remote places in search of waves, this time Northern Rivers locals Torren Martyn and Laurie Towner, as well as needESSENTIALS founder and designer Ryan Scanlon.

The isolated, snow-covered coastlines they seek out and surf at are beautifully captured by Ishka, while Torren’s narration offers a personal reflection on the trip.

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Byron Bay landscape artist Jack Bailey has a similar need for the ‘raw, rugged, elemental’ regions of the world, and seeking them out has become something of a mission for him, summed up in a favourite quote of his, from the acid pioneer Timothy Leary.

The motivation behind Jack’s 30-minute film Continuum 01 South in Self Exile is to provide a cinematic meditation, a chance, he says, to ‘disconnect from the demented devices’ that distract us constantly. ‘Lift your head beyond your lap and witness the unfiltered wonder of the natural world. The more time we spend removed from the mediocrity of society, the less we depend upon it. Turn on, tune in, drop out.’

It is a manifesto that will resonate with many in the Bay, including those who are growing tired of its being over-loved.

Jack takes that fatigue a few steps further: ‘I find solace in empty landscapes, void of human interference. I find the company of the wild far more affable than that of modern man,’ he says.

Recorded during a six-week journey in South America, South in Self Exile traces clouds crossing the sky, or flowing around rugged mountainscapes, accompanied by entrancing electronic music. It is a film to gaze at, rapt, like watching the ocean.

Audiences will lose themselves too in ‘Black Moon’ Trent Mitchell, a visually stunning and emotive short film by Northern Rivers-born Robert Sherwood that focuses on the passionate Australian photographer Trent Mitchell and his experimental pursuits with his camera. It expresses both men’s creative efforts to capture the essence of nature – and bodysurfing.

Meanwhile, Bangalow’s Poppy Walker zeroes in on remoteness in the desert, in Dust Devil, a short film with a big heart, about the life of a former Broadway dancer, and how she brought her dream of freedom to life in a Death Valley ghost town.

The Byron Bay Film Festival is an international event: filmmakers come from all over the world to attend. But it is proud to highlight the work of local people, including those who journey beyond our shores and return enriched. They share their experience of the big wide world, and remind us that there’s no place like home.

BBFF flexi-passes and gift vouchers make it easy for you to join us in celebrating our home-grown talent and share your pride in being local with family and friends.

• The Byron Bay Film Festival runs from October 18–27. For details and tickets, visit bbff.com.au. 

More on Byron Bay Film Festival 2019

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