Golden girls gone wild

Despite being a grandmother herself, the latest film to hit Australian screens from the Oscar-winning actor Olympia Dukakis, is probably not one to watch alongside your own granny.

In Cloudburst, a 2011 Canadian road movie, she plays a tequila-swigging, cantankerous, lesbian octogenarian with a vocabulary so liberally peppered with profanity it would make a hardened sailor wince.

In one scene her character, Stella, is hitchhiking and bags a ride. In a matter of minutes she's kicked out of the car when the good Samaritan takes offence at her potty mouth. ''What are you, crazy?'' she asks him, when he asks her not to use the C-word. ''C--- is for punctuation!''

When looking through the script, were there any lines that she baulked at? ''Not a one,'' says the 81-year-old Massachusetts native down the phone from the US. ''Not. A. One.''

Cloudburst is one of 20 films in this year's Sydney Canadian Film Festival and is a prime example of the originality and derring-do of the films featured.

In it, Stella and her girlfriend of 31 years, Dot (played by fellow Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker), head off on the run from the US to Canada to get married after Dot's ''c---face'' granddaughter gets a court order to get the ailing Dot put into a nursing home.

While the film confronts the themes of an ageing lesbian couple and gay marriage, the overwhelming story is a universal one of love, companionship and the fight to retain them among the challenges of life.

''It's not a polemic,'' Dukakis says. ''It's about human beings … The political aspect of it doesn't punch you in the face, but god knows it's painfully there.''

It's the third film Dukakis has made with the US-born, Canada-based director, Thom Fitzgerald, and she says she had no reservations about signing up. ''I don't think of it as Canadian or American; I just think it's a damn good film, you know, about something that really matters - people's efforts to carve out a life for themselves and hold on to the things they feel are important, like love and independence and justice.''

While she hopes it will get a wider distribution beyond the international festival circuit - where it's been showered with awards - she admits it is a head-scratcher for film marketers. She has been buoyed, however, by a review in the industry bible, Variety, which says it has ''considerable crossover appeal''.

The director of Possible Worlds: Sydney Canadian Film Festival, Mathieu Ravier, says the beauty of the event is that it can bring the magic of the nation's vibrant and prolific film industry to a wider audience. While there are more mainstream features on the program - such as the ice-hockey comedy Goon, featuring American Pie's Seann William Scott, and Starbuck, which is being remade in the US with Vince Vaughn as the lead - overall it's a surprising mix of world-class cinema.

''It's a discovery festival,'' Ravier says. ''It's a chance to discover a national cinema that we know very little about and yet produces an incredibly diverse and interesting body of film.

''It's refreshingly different from most of what we see on our screens. It's just as entertaining as American cinema, but usually a lot less formulaic. There are a lot more personal stories, which are less driven by the marketplace and more driven by the need to tell certain stories that reflect a certain cultural identity.''

Another film on the program is so unfocused on commercial success, it's not actually intended for viewing beyond the festival circuit and not for sale to distributors. I Am a Good Person/I Am a Bad Person is by Ingrid Veninger, who Ravier says is the ''reigning queen'' of independent Canadian filmmaking.

Her film, about the challenges filmmakers face in touting their wares, is a raw and bleak portrayal of life on the international film festival circuit, and features captivating performances from Veninger and her real-life daughter, Hallie Switzer, as they grapple with life-changing decisions while overseas.

Veninger says she sees the film, its screening and then subsequent Q&A with the audience - she will be in Sydney for festival, alongside other big names including acclaimed actor and filmmaker Martin Donovan - as all part of the entire ''art proposition'', which counters the 24/7 availability of access to films online nowadays.

''This film, I see almost as a stage piece,'' she says from Toronto.

''It's almost like a very limited performance when it's at a festival: this is the window of time you get to see it, like a play, and if you miss it, it's gone. We will only show it in this context, where I can come up before and afterwards and speak about the film and there can be a dialogue with the audience. That's it.''

POSSIBLE WORLDS
The seventh annual Canadian Film Festival runs August 13-19 at venues including the Dendy Opera Quays and Newtown. Tickets $16. For more details of the full program, see www.possibleworlds.net.au.

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