RICHARD SOWADA, REVELATION FILM FEST The X-Press Interview

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Between packing films, hard-drives, and tuxedos (Becoming Bond), Festival Director Richard Sowada managed to talk to DAVID O’CONNELL about the history of Rev, and what makes it a unique experience. It’s a Revelation 20 years in the making, you might say.

In 1997 Sowada was behind the first screenings of The Revelation Independent Film Festival. For a few years previously he’d screened other film festivals, 16mm films in clubs and pubs in Perth and Melbourne under various titles, experimenting with different formats, but it was Rev that found it’s footing. It grew from trying out those ideas, and that experimentation is something that has become part of the growth of Revelation.

“A natural progression, one idea to another to another,” he says. “It’s (Rev) never the same. Never the same structure, never the same programming, constantly exploring ideas that we had ourselves, but also incorporating other people’s ideas. So it can be as alive and diverse as we can make it. Very organic, allowed to be itself, not forced. They are there for a reason.”

Over the years Revelation has grown from a handful of films into over 200 (not including professional workshops and events). “It’s evolved, and certainly grown over the years,” Sowada says. “At the start it was just me with the projector. Now we have a really good team, and it’s a year round operation. When the event is on, with the volunteers, we have around 50 people involved, in one way or another. Certainly evolved in terms of scale, but also this year we’ve been able to commission our own work. An instillation at St George’s Cathedral (Suspended Voices). The event has moved to more than just an exhibit of ideas, but an initiation of ideas in itself.”

As to what makes Revelation unique, Sowada feels it is the expression of self that the team puts into the festival.

“There’s a lot of editorial comment with the program,” he says. “Expressing our own artistic and political views. We look at the films working with each other to tell a broader snapshot of what’s going on in the world (in our view). That deeper curatorial approach is one of those things that sets it apart. It’s about a particular perspective. This is what we think, what do you think? A real conversation about the things we believe that need to change both socially and in film.”

To give you some idea of what that curatorial process is like, Sowada would watch around 500 films in the call for entry. He’d narrow that down to 30%, which would be sent through to Jack Sargeant (Program Director). Then there’s an extra 300 that they would ask the distributors if they could see. So from September to April they would consider about 800 films.

“See some amazing things, you also see a lot of shit. That’s the way it is.”

Asking Sowada for recommendations once the films are programmed is a bit like Sophie’s Choice. “I’ve a personal link with the films,” he says. “Which is why they’re in the program. From my perspective, I love Watch The Sunset. It’s a single shot debut feature, that plays out in real time. An ambitious thriller.

“I also love Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, about the relationship people have with their environments. As a fan Radio Birdman I really love Descent Into The Maelstrom. Speaking of rock docos, Meal Tickets is amazing!”

Finally he recommended Free Fire by director Ben Wheatley (High-Rise), a director Revelation has had an ongoing relationship with since screening his first film (and every film since).

As for the future, well it’ll certainly see more big things for Rev. They’ve developed a partnership with the City of Perth that will see installations and events running throughout the year. They also have a major announcement as part of tonight’s Opening Night celebrations, which looks to add another big component for 2018. See you there.

The Revelation Perth International Film Festival runs from July 6-19.

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