11 May, 2023
Film fest a hit!
A mix of community spirit, resilience and humanity was the theme of all three short films, show at Saturday’s inaugural Gilgandra Film Festival.
The audience in
the packed Gilgandra Shire Hall, witnessed
the local premiere of the Tooraweenah-
based documentary by filmmaker
Simon Target, “Warrawong - The
Windy Place on the Hill’, and his moving
film about the Polish support of
Ukrainian war refugees in ‘Masha and
Valentyna’. In between was another
Australian-based documentary about the
journey of a transgender teen in “The
Dreamlife of Georgie Stone”.
Over 230 people attended the film
festival which was a welcomed result for
the novel festival idea. The festival was
opened by Uncle Ralph Naden, providing
the Welcome to Country, following
with a short address by mayor Doug
Mayor Batten described a film festival
(admittedly with a bit of help from Dr
Google) as a platform for filmmakers to
“introduce their work and discuss topics
shown in the film as well as filmmaking
He welcomed the audience and
dignitaries. He praised the involvement
of the Country Women’s Association
(CWA) in the event, and their work in the
community before introducing festival
director and co-star of the first film Sue
Mrs Armstrong couldn’t praise the
community and the organising committee
enough for their support of Gilgandra’s
first proper film festival.
were amazing,” she said.
support of the community in sponsoring
the festival - local businesses, Gilgandra
Shire Council, the Bendigo Bank and the
efforts by members of various CWAs - it
wouldn’t have been able to happen at
all,” she said.
Mrs Armstrong also praised the work
of filmmaker and the festival’s artistic
director Simon Target, who shot the
Warrawong film at Sue and Brian Armstrong’s
property of the same name. The
film gave viewers an “unscripted” insight
into the couple’s life on the land, living at
the foothills of the Warrumbungle National
Park. British-born filmmaker Mr
Target provided the following introduction
to the festival:
“What's it really like
to live on a remote farm out here? What's
it really like to be born a boy but spend
your whole life wanting to be a girl?
What's it really like to be woken up in the
morning and told ‘No school today; the
Russians are coming. Pack your whole
life into a suitcase. We're going to
Poland’. Tonight (April 22) we're showing
three short stories about real people.
Now, these are documentaries. Not dramas.
There's no script no acting or pretending
no special effects or convenient
cheesy endings just like our own lives.
These films try to be honest and intimate
and sometimes that's hard to watch. But
maybe you'll recognize a bit of yourself
in some of these people living very different
lives and very different places.”
‘Warrawong’ was selected for competition at the Kraków Film Festival in Poland last year and at the Sydney Film Festival, but until Saturday had not been shown in Gilgandra, where it was made. The film is an honest reflection of a couple, who after farming on their property for decades, are now contemplating a retirement plan.
With no family-interest
of succession, the Armstrong’s story
depicted many familiar events for those
living in the Gilgandra shire. From selling
livestock, having to get the fourwheeler
out to get to town (because the
road was too wet), COVID haircuts, the
occasional ‘hostage situation’ involving
an outdoor loo and a black snake, a forgotten
birthday, and the dreaded memories
of the mice plague; the film no doubt
resonated with the audience.
What was also of strong resonance in
the film, was the presence of Tooraweenah
CWA and the ensuing connection
with community. This was also evident
at the film festival event with the
attendance of the state CWA president
Joy Beames, state international officer
Jenny Chobdzynski, and the support of
local CWA groups in catering for the
The second film, ‘The Dreamlife
of Georgie Stone’ (also available on
Netflix) from director Maya Newell, was
another very personal insight into the life
of an Australian transgender teenager,
and her transition journey.
The film spanned a decade and
showed glimpses of Georgie’s childhood
(a happy family upbringing with her parents
and twin brother) and harder teenage
years (parent’s divorce, and puberty),
paired with her present self and her advocacy
for transgender children to be
spared further trauma by having to attend
the family court to access to hormone
treatments – of which they were successful.
Georgie’s story was also one of
resilience and finding connection; to herself
and to a community of support – one
which she had to build herself. Georgie is
also the first openly transgender actress
to appear on ‘Neighbours’ and was a
high school leader. Georgie was unable
to attend the Gilgandra Film Festival in
person due to another event. The film
was chosen by Mrs Armstrong, after they
watched it, and their own film, at last
year’s Sydney Film Festival.
The theme of the third film ‘Masha
and Valentyna’ was bolstered by the
attendance of the Polish Embassy’s Vice-
Consul Łukasz Graban and his wife
Joanna. The film follows the story of two
women who left Ukraine for Poland during
the first week of the Russian invasion
In introducing the film, Vice-Consul
Graban said that over 10 million people
had left Ukraine, some two million have
remained in Poland. These people were
supported immediately by the Polish
government, for shelter, health and work
rights. Many were taken in by Polish
families – such were the film’s subjects
Maria ‘Masha’ Parfeniuk and Valentyna
Filmmaker Mr Target found the two
women during a trip to Poland, as his
wife is Polish. The women filmed their
ongoing experiences of adjustment on
their phones and sent the footage back to
Mr Target to compile with his own.
18-year-old Masha began her journey
with her sister’s 10-week-old baby in her
arms as she and family members crossed
a freezing border point into Poland. She
was later lovingly ‘adopted’ by a Polish
family, attended high school, and has
remained in Poland to study at university.
Valentyna, a teacher, came to Poland
with her two sons while her husband was
fighting in the Ukrainian army.
also found a new temporary home before
returning to Ukraine after five months.
Valentyna began the process of rebuilding
her school and community before her
husband was injured while disarming
land mines left by the Russian army.
The support given by the Polish government
and people was outlined by
“For freedom, and
independence, we [Poland] have engaged
in comprehensive assistance on an
“Poland remains one of the top military
donors to Ukraine alongside the US
and the United Kingdom. Furthermore. We are a living voice in the European
discussion on further delivery of military
equipment. Although numbers do not
necessarily reflect the whole spectrum of
the atrocities caused, they might help us
to better understand the sheer scale of
Vice-Consul Graban said recent numbers
as of April 18 show approximately
10.5 million people crossed the Polish
border, some of them went back to later
to Ukraine, some travelled to other countries,
even to Australia. 2.3 million have
stayed in Poland. Total humanitarian aid
to Ukraine is at one-and-a-half per cent
of the GDP [Polish], compared to a
Polish defence budget of two per cent
“Almost 80 per cent of Polish people
have been directly engaged in one way or
another in helping Ukrainians,” said the
As seen in the film “many
of them invited those Ukrainians to their
homes and what it's more important, is
that we [Poland] are ready to support
Ukraine as long as it takes.”
The Vice-Consul also brought a special exhibition of
children’s artworks to the film festival. The display
titled ‘Mum, I Don’t Want War’, was a combination of
children’s artworks preserved from 1946 in Poland (during
WWII) with artworks of the children currently experiencing
the war in Ukraine.
The display was set up at the festival and again at the
Coo-ee Heritage Centre on Sunday.
The exhibition has not previously been shown outside
a metropolitan city and was a fitting accompaniment
to the last film’s chilling and moving story of displacement
due to warfare, and its affect on the mindset
After the festival Mrs Armstrong said the event had
certainly set a high benchmark.
“I do think we have the
opportunity to expand,” she said.
“We have had a fantastic
learning curve; we have learnt so much putting it
together this year. We have other embassies interested in
showing films, a connection now with the Polish
Embassy and we will be attending the Sydney Film
Festival for ideas. It was a fantastic community event,
and I can see room for growth over time.
“We were so fortunate to have Simon Target as festival
artistic director – also the support and expertise of
his family members.
“We were also particularly grateful for the immense
job that Peter Gaff did for the festival in providing and
operating the audio/visual equipment and film screen,”
said Mrs Armstrong.
Janet Cheal also provided a musical
accompaniment during the festival.
For those who have seen ‘Warrawong’, this reporter will leave you with a hot tip - Brian’s birthday is December 2.