Fancy yourself a bit of a film buff? If you look at Kate Howat’s CV, it would be fair to say – literally – that you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The Coffs local, and co-founder of the region’s flagship film organisation Screenwave, has bragging rights to being a true culture vulture. As artistic director and curator, Kate watches hundreds of films a year for Screenwave – on top of cramming in as many as four a day when she goes to capital city film festivals scouting for new talent with partner Dave Horsley.
Having started Screenwave in 2014 with a small fringe festival of surfing films and driving around a portable pop-up cinema in their small hatchback car, the couple are passionate about continuously bringing an international film festival experience to Coffs Harbour.
Now they have made the Coffs Coast the home of the largest film festival in regional NSW, Screenwave International Film Festival (SWIFF), as well as fortnightly Cinematinee screenings, SWIFF Film Club (a monthly social club for film buffs), state-wide youth short film competition and festival REC Ya Shorts, and finally Satellite Cinema, which this month is presenting Vive La France! Film Festival.
Many of Screenwave’s critically acclaimed film offerings have had their state and national premieres at SWIFF, as well as fanfare from star guests including actor Bryan Brown.
Kate’s face is hugely familiar around town, not least because she is up on the Jetty stage several times a fortnight to introduce films and interview guests. The couple are also heavily involved in community and industry collectives and fundraisers. Does she ever stop to relax?
“Being a small business owner there’s an awful lot of hats that you wear – including watching a heck of a lot of films – but also administration, logistics, partnerships, negotiations, relationship building,” she said. “Having a love and passion for what you do is always the driving force.”
“It’s exciting. With curating it’s the love of being behind the scenes as well as the thrill of the chase – being the film detective. Especially landing a big title, that’s pretty exhilarating.”
Kate, a Coffs-born girl who discovered her love of drama and theatre at Toormina High School, moved to Brisbane to study film at Queensland University of Technology. She then landed an internship at Queensland Art Gallery and the curatorial department at Australian Cinematheque.
From there she got her big break – as print manager and programmer at Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) where she worked for four years, mostly under the mentorship of Richard Moore, the veteran former director of Melbourne International Film Festival. “Under his guidance I learned a lot about the curatorial process and found a real love for putting together programmes,” said Kate.
She then felt the call of a seachange and moved back to Coffs with Dave, to try to bring the film festival spirit to the region. “It started with Call of the Surf,” she said. “We did that at the Jetty Theatre in 2014. It wasn’t as scary as I expected and we thought, ‘maybe this has some legs here!’”
Around the same time, Kate and Dave ran something of a two-man gonzo film festival from the back of their hatchback. “We’d drive it around with a little deck in the back with a media hub and BluRay player inside, a couple of speakers on stands and our screen. We went around to Coffs, Bellingen and Sawtell and held little screenings in cafes, bars and pop-ups. It was really fun but very small, and not really sustainable!”
Screenwave developed from there, as the couple continued to put more film programmes together. “Coming up with the name Screenwave took some debating,” says Kate. “At first it was a surfing reference – we really wanted to acknowledge where we came from and the connection to the ocean, but also a connection to film, the changing nature and technology of film.”
In that pioneering spirit, this month, from 23 to 27 August, Screenwave has brought back its Vive La France! Film Festival for a second year, expanding the eclectic programme to 15 films, including a new French Extremity programme strand, and a 50-year anniversary remastered copy of the erotic classic Belle De Jour.
“I was conscious of wanting to have more female voices in there and take some bigger risks, having some genre films and late night films,” said Kate. “We’ve also introduced some family films such as the Oscar-nominated animation My Life As A Zucchini that are quite real and innovative as well and delightful to experience.
“There’s definitely a lot of that quirky, madcap, farcical French comedy but not too far away is the dark side too. I really wanted to have a mixture of both.”
Are there any dark horses on the programme Kate thinks audiences should look out for? “I’d love people to keep an open mind about Raw,” she said – an R-rated film so visceral in its themes that audience members fainted at its Toronto International Film Festival premiere.
But Kate insists it’s more than worth a watch. “It’s a debut for its female director Julia Ducournau, who is really exciting voice – she’s a very raw filmmaker,” she said.
“There’s a great amount of black humour in there, it’s that light and dark that she captures so well. It won the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes last year for breakout talent. It’s rare to come across such raw talent and she’s got it in spades. It’s visceral but it also has some great humour and beautiful cinematography and really tight writing – it’s very exciting!”
For programme details and tickets for Screenwave’s Vive La France French Film Festival, visit http://screenwave.com.au/vivelafrance/
Thank you to Eve Jaremka of Louden Up for bringing us this story.