Interview: Adelaide Film Festival CEO Mat Kesting • Glam Adelaide

Interview: Adelaide Film Festival CEO Mat Kesting

CEO/Creative Director of the Adelaide Film Festival, Mat Kesting, talks about this year’s exciting program, and the challenges of running festivals in a COVID world.


Mat Kesting took a long time to decide what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Originally from Adelaide, Kesting went to Melbourne to study media and cinema studies.

“I took cinema studies as minor because it was a passion, never thinking that it would become my working life. I guess it happened organically. I started a short film festival with a friend, worked in cinemas, volunteered on a variety of projects including film productions. One thing lead to another and I ended up becoming the program manager at the Brisbane Film Festival. I worked on the AFF twelve years ago, then ran the Mercury Cinema, the whole time thinking ‘Oh I’ll just keep doing this until I figure out what I’m going to do with my life’. But I think I’ve actually landed in my dream job now!”

Mat Kesting, Adelaide Film Festival CEO

Kesting’s dream job is as CEO/Creative Director of the Adelaide Film Festival, which this year faces challenges aplenty. Due to the uncertain nature of the world currently, Kesling and his team came up with no less than five different incarnations of the festival.

“We had plans A through to E. And I’m very pleased that we’re able to proceed pretty much with plan A. In terms of COVID safety we will be adopting a checkerboard seating arrangement, we’ll keep people moving through foyers, have hand sanitizer stations and covid marshalls. And our parties will be seated and appropriately spaced. We will be partying like it’s 2020!”

This year’s program has been affected by the slow-down in production and distribution around the world. But despite that, Kesting and his team have pulled together an extraordinary selection of works both local and international. For anyone struggling to know where to start, he recommends going to the competition.

“A film festival is really a cross-section of filmmaking at any one point in time. So you’re going to get a really good sample of the best films from around the world if you go to the competition. There are twelve films in there, six documentaries and six fiction features. In the fiction section you’ll find films from Australia, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Uzbekistan, and Georgia. So if you’re looking for a holiday, this is a great way to do it: be transported in the cinema!”

I Am Woman

The Adelaide Film Festival has always taken a great pride in showcasing work of Indigenous and First Nations filmmakers, and this year is no exception.

“Two that I will draw focus to are Firestarter and High Ground. Firestarter is about Stephen Page and his family. It really tells the story of the origins of Bangarra and also a lot of very intimate background on Stephen and his brothers, both of whom, unfortunately have passed. That’s addressed in a very respectful way in this documentary, which is directed by Wayne Blair and Nell Minchin. High Ground stars Simon Baker, Jacob Junior Nayinggul, Witiyana Marika and Jack Thompson. This is a retelling of a certain part of Australian history that could do with a bit of a re-write! It premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier in the year.”

High Ground

One of the distinguishing features of the Adelaide Film Festival is its investment fund: one of only a few around the world. And this is something of which Kesting is justifiably proud.

“We’ve invested in over a hundred projects since its inception. And this year, despite a few being postponed due to COVID, we’re unveiling ten projects. These include: the opening night film, 2067 which stars Kodi Smit-McPhee and Ryan Kwanten, and made here in the Adelaide studios; I am Woman; and When Pomegranates Howl. My touch on the investment fund has been a diversification of the stories. So we’ve included two sporting documentaries including a film about the Port Adelaide Football Club which is one of the oldest sporting clubs in the world. Move over Yankees and Manchester United!”

Opening on October 14th with gala screenings of 2067, and suitably distanced parties, the 2020 Adelaide Film Festival is just what we all need in these crazy times.

Check out the full program here.

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