Dungog is hidden in a valley in the foothills of the Barrington Tops. Usually it's a sleepy country town with dairy farmers, loggers and miners living the hard-working and quiet life.
In 2007 all that changed. For four days every May the Australian Film Industry and its fans swell the population by up to 5000.
Festival director Allanah Zitserman and filmmaker Stavros Kazantzidis founded the Dungog Film Festival to foster a greater appreciation of homegrown content amongst local audiences and to strengthen bonds within both the film and television industries.
The festival celebrates Australian films past, present and future in a non-competitive environment. The showcasing of new screen content increases appreciation of screen culture and heritage and gives the chance to recognise leading Australian filmmakers.
The usually quiet main street, Dowling Street, comes alive with filmmakers, actors, critics and film lovers soaking up country charm. Locals join in and welcome the festival and throw open their doors for homestays to accommodate the growing numbers.
Natalie Gruzlewski talked with Michael Idato, a film critic and writer who gets a buzz out of the four-day festival. Even he is surprised by the numbers of well-known people in such a small area. Being in a rural setting, everything is laid-back while being a world-class experience.
Everyone has the chance to see new features, restored masterpieces, documentaries, cutting-edge shorts, premiere television and live script reads.
It all kicks off with a street parade at 11am on Saturday. The entire town becomes involved in the celebration. School children march proudly down the main street and even local livestock make an appearance.
The James Theatre, known as the Dungog Cinema, is the oldest operating purpose-built cinema in Australia. It opened in 1913 as an open-air theatre under the control of James Stuart. In 1914 it was roofed and in 1930 underwent extensive reconstruction with a Spanish mission-style facade being added, as well as being equipped for talkies.
There was seating for 650 and the front section was flat floored for dancing. It still retains the simplicity of a cinema built in a small country town during the Great Depression.
Chillbillies is a family restaurant serving modern cuisine. They offer al fresco dining and in cool months an open fire is warming. During the festival you just don't know who might be at the next table.
Dungog, 230km north of Sydney.
Chillbillies is open every day except Monday. It's licensed and BYO.
For further information
Dungog Film Festival
PO Box 112
Ph: (02) 4992 2420
Dungog Film Festival Sydney Office
2/4 James Street
Ph: (02) 9698 9088
PO Box 2011
Neutral Bay 2089
Ph: (02) 9904 2733
The Dungog Cinema
6 Brown Street
Ph: (02) 4992 1191
205 Dowling Street
Ph: (02) 4992 3272
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