Ms Pearce’s final product, filmed over two days in 2018, juxtaposes an American story with Australian visuals – like a Hills Hoist and a fibro shack. Static, photo-like shots obsess over the intensity of human facial expression, matched by a disturbing soundscape.
In a sign of how things are done in the 21st century: director and poet have never met – doing all their work together over Skype.
It’s all part of the changing face of short film – and of Sydney’s premier short film festival, Flickerfest.
When the festival started out, female directors were far outnumbered by the men. But now, according to festival director Bronwyn Kidd, 47 per cent of the filmmakers are women.
Diversity is one of the biggest changes, Ms Kidd says. “[This year] we had entries from across 100 countries. We have an LGBTQI category.”
The scale of the festival is another change. From humble beginnings, Flickerfest has grown into a giant of the Australian cinema scene. Now in its 29th year, the festival saw 3200 entries and after its January run, will tour 50 Australian cinemas.
The festival is also Academy Award-accredited, meaning its films have a shot at an Oscar.
But some things don’t change. Despite an explosion in size, Flickerfest tries to stay true to its independent roots. That’s rare in an age of studio blockbusters and lucrative action movies, Ms Kidd says.
“Nowadays it’s harder to access independent storytelling. [But Flickerfest] is less about the financial industry and more about the story industry.”
Dani Pearce agrees. “The thing with short films is that you can delve so deeply into a deeper kind of idea […] sharing them in a way that’s true to you and your voice.”
She was “absolutely thrilled” when Backpedal was chosen for this year’s Flickerfest, one of only 200 films to qualify.
The film has also been selected for Sundance, one of the world’s premier film festivals, hosted in Utah every year.
“It’s stupidly exciting,” Ms Pearce says. “I submitted and I never expected to hear back.”
But it’s not uncommon for Flickerfest directors to go on to great things.
Rebeca Griffiths, Kieran Darcy-Smith and Joel and Nash Edgerton each had breaks at the festival early in their careers.
“People know when they come along to Flickerfest they are going to see these great talents,” Ms Kidd says. “They’re going to say ‘Oh I remember their short film’ and now maybe [the director is] winning an Oscar.”
This year, the festival’s focus is on works that “push the conventions of film and narrative to deliver surprising, exciting and groundbreaking results.”
Freshness, plus the diversity of subject matter, is a winning combination, Ms Kidd says.
“They’re all interesting, they’re all contemporary. There’d be none that you could say were alike.”
All signs suggest Flickerfest is set for even greater heights, with short film becoming ever more popular.
“The reality of our globalised and connected culture is that we have such a short attention span,” Ms Pearce says. “Being a really smart and economical storyteller makes you stand out.”
Flickerfest opens on Friday 10 January, 7.45 pm, at the Bondi Pavillion. Full programme.
Janek Drevikovsky is an intern journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.