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SXSW: Clean

Sandra Pankhurst was an incredible woman. She lived through so much trauma in her early years, more than anyone should bear. Sandra knew how trauma could effect people and was inspired to start her business: Specialized Trauma Cleaning Services in Melbourne, Australia. Her team specializes in all kinds of cleaning, in particular hoarding cases and trauma clean-ups after suicides, murders and other sudden deaths. Having to deal with the death of a loved one is already such a burden, Sandra felt that she could help people by taking on the responsibility of cleaning up the aftermath. When she began her business in the 1990s, trauma cleaning was not an available service and she saw a crucial need that she could fill. Sandra and her team never judge or meddle. They’re just there to provide a valuable service.

Directed by Lachlan McLeod, Clean takes a two-prong approach telling the story of Sandra Pankhurst’s difficult life journey as well as that of her business. The subject of trauma cleaners is a fascinating one and anyone intrigued by the subject will find the documentary very rewarding. Sandra herself was charismatic and endlessly interesting. So many aspects of her life are explored including her traumatic adoption story, the search for her birth mother, her journey as a transgender woman, her health struggles and her triumphs as a business owner and public speaker.

The documentary feels disjointed, depends a bit too much on reveals and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Sandra was fiercely private in regards to some aspects of her life so there are some things that the filmmakers just couldn’t show. With that said, the filmmakers show a lot of respect for their main subject Sandra as well as her cleaning team and their clients. While the film might leave viewers wanting more, it’s still well worth a watch.

Clean had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

The Dry

Based on the bestselling novel by Jane Harper and directed by Robert Connolly, The Dry follows Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), a federal agent who returns to his hometown to investigate a gruesome homicide. What looks to be a murder-suicide, leaving a father, mother and son dead and an infant child an orphan, is slowly unraveling to be something quite different. Falk is no stranger to the community but is ultimately unwelcome given his connection to the mysterious death of a teenage girl some 20 years ago. The story alternates between the two mysteries as Falk finds himself trying to solve both.

An enthralling drama, perfectly paced, the mystery unfolds so methodically that it keeps its viewer enthralled. Eric Bana carries this movie beautifully.  A must-see for any true crime fanatic.

The Dry is distributed by IFC Films.

Double Exposure Film Festival: Burning

The Australian bushfires of 2019/2020,  aka the “black summer”, was one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history. It would have been one of the defining events of 2020 had the COVID pandemic not spread like wildfire around the world. Over 59 million acres burned causing mass devastation to homes, forests and wildlife and 33 people lost their lives. This catastrophic event is a prime example of the consequences of climate change but many, including Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison, continue to ignore the warning bells.

Directed by Eva Orner, Burning is a sobering look at the effects of climate change. It’s brutal, unflinching and unfortunately necessary to watch. I’m not sure climate change deniers will be convinced that this situation is real and not caused by “arsons”. But it is enough to wake up anyone even remotely worried about the future of our planet.

Trigger warning: there are images of raging fires and dead animals that some viewers will find disturbing.

Burning was part of the 2021 Double Exposure Film Festival.

Slamdance: Slip Road

A man drives down a slip road into the woods. With him inside the vehicle is a mysterious creature. They exchange no words. The car stops when the man encounters children, all dressed in white, who proceed bang on the car from the outside. Once they disappear, he makes his way through a group of adults who are partying in front of a bonfire. The creature is waiting on the other side of a muddy pond. It’s time for the man to fulfill his end of the bargain with the creature and continue his journey.

Slip Road is an ominous and mysterious short film that begs the viewer to extrapolate their own meaning from the series of events in the story. I saw the film as a metaphor for creation and sacrifice. The slip road and the children represent a birth. It’s also the first sacrifice the man must make. He must ignore the children, and the prospect of being a father. He then makes his way through the party but choses not to participate. When he brings a sacrificial offering to the creature, a baby wrapped in a white blanket, the creature drowns him and another version of the man appears. To me this represented more sacrifice. The man must abandon the party life if he wants to fulfill his end of the bargain with the creature and become a creator. I also reinterpreted the whole film as the abandonment of one way of living in order make way for another.

Slip Road was written, produced and directed by Australian filmmaker Raphael Dubois. It stars Izaak Love as the man ‘Wendell’ and Sohaib Zaman as the creature. There is no dialogue but some powerful yet quiet performances from the two stars. It’s beautifully shot with stunning imagery. I was very excited to see this after watching the trailer and it was even more mysterious than I expected.

Slip Road premiered at Slamdance 25 as part of the Anarchy Shorts series.

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