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Friday
Dec162016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS: TEN SOARING SPIRITS

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS
A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

TEN SOARING SPIRITS
In a year that saw the passing of so many greats from the world of cinema, there were many more who weren’t afforded the farewell they richly deserve…

ALICE DRUMMOND, Actress (pictured, above; with Awakenings co-star Robin Williams); died November 30, aged 88.
Alice Drummond’s most beloved bigscreen moment amounted to barely 3 minutes of screen time, most of which was spent pushing a trolley around the basement archives of the New York Public Library. But Alice Drummond’s encounter with the vaporous apparition that kicks off Ghostbusters sets the tone for what would become the biggest comedy of all time. Her character didn’t even have a name in Dan Aykroyd’s and Harold Ramis’ script, so Bill Murray, as Dr Venkman, improvised, “Alice, I’m going to ask you a couple of standard questions, okay…?” From her debut in Carl Reiner’s Where’s Poppa? (1970), she carved an invaluable character actor niche for herself, which also included roles in Hide in Plain Sight (1980), Eyewitness (1981), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Awakenings (1990) and Ace Ventura Pet Detective (1994).
We’ll never forget… her deadpan delivery, turning lines like “My uncle thought he was Saint Jerome” (in Ghostbusters) or “Dan Marino should die of gonorrhoea and rot in hell” (in Ace Ventura Pet Detective) into pure gems.

DON CALFA, Actor; died December 1, aged 76.
With his distinctive looks and great character actor presence, Don Calfa spent a career stealing scenes, however small, from some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. The Brooklyn native quit high school to acquire his SAG card and began a career in front of the camera with 1968 underground oddity No More Excuses for director Robert Downey Sr. It was the first of 88 film and TV credits, working with directors such as Peter Bogdanovich (Nickelodeon, 1976), Martin Scorsese (New York New York, 1977), Blake Edwards (10, 1979), Steven Spielberg (1941, 1979) and Warren Beatty (Bugsy, 1991).
We’ll never forget… the two vividly realised comedic roles that became fan favourites - bumbling hitman Paulie in Weekend at Bernies (1989) and mortician Ernie Kaltenbrunner in Return of The Living Dead (1985).

PAUL SYLBERT, Production Designer; died November 19, aged 88.
Some of the most beautifully composed frames in Hollywood film history have been the work of Paul Sylbert, the New Yorker who designed and dressed sets during the early days of television before a distinguished film career. Following active service in Korea, he relocated to Los Angeles and was soon crafting the visual texture of such films as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Kramer Vs Kramer (1979), Blow Out (1981), Ishtar (1987) and Biloxi Blues (1988). His beautiful work was twice recognised by the Academy; he won his only Oscar in 1978 for Heaven Can Wait then, 13 years later, earned a nomination for The Prince of Tides (1991).
We’ll never forget… the combined body of work left by Paul and his twin brother, the late Richard Sylbert, also one of Hollywood’s greatest ever production designers (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Shampoo; Chinatown; Reds; The Cotton Club).

SONIA BORG, Scriptwriter, Producer; died February 4, aged 85.
Many hours of great drama during the formative years of Australian television can be credited to Sonia Borg. The Viennese immigrant landed at Crawford Productions after her Shakespearean touring troupe had brought The Bard’s work to Hong Kong, India and beyond; once in Melbourne, she produced, directed and acted in such landmark series as Homicide, Division 4, Matlock, Rush, Power Without Glory and I Can Jump Puddles (pictured, right; with actor Leonard Teale). The Australian film industry will always remember her as the writer of the classic film adaptation Storm Boy, family pics Blue Fin and Dusty and, exhibiting her versatility, the Tarantino-endorsed killer-croc pic Dark Age.
We’ll never forget… “Birds like him, never die.”

MARGARET WHITTON Actress; died December 4, aged 67.
In an acting ensemble that included Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Wesley Snipes, somehow the ballsiest cast member of them all was Margaret Whitton, as hardbitten club owner Rachel Phelps in David S. Wards’ Major League. So indelible was her impact on the testosterone-fuelled comedy, it would be the role that defined her character actor career, despite years spent on stage (she debuted on Broadway in Neil Dunn’s acclaimed  Steaming) and television (The Doctors; Miami Vice). An inauspicious debut in 1975’s Teenage Hitchhikers led to a Hollywood career that included The Best of Times (1986), 9½ Weeks (1986), The Secret of My Success (1987), Ironweed (1987) and Man Without a Face (1993).
We’ll never forget… that locker-room cool; her sexy, steel-willed persona that brought a sweaty, sweary bunch of manly men to their knees.

ALBERTO SEIXAS SANTOS, Director; died December 10, aged 80.
One of Portugal’s most respected filmmakers, Santos was elected President of the Portuguese Film Institute in 1976 at the age of 40. Beginning his career as a film critic, he studied film production in Paris and London before becoming an integral creative force in the ‘Novo Cinema’ movement of the late 60s. His first feature, the politically-charged drama Brandos Costumes, screened at the Berlin Film Festival. A committed advocate of his native film industry, he formed the film collective Grupo Zero, which encouraged free-spirited and socially conscious works.
We’ll never forget… his divisive 1999 drama Mal (Evil), a multi-strand narrative that examines gender roles and social ills in contemporary Lisbon; a Best Film winner at Coimbra Caminhos do Cinema Português and Golden Lion nominee at the Venice Film Festival.

TADEUSZ CHMIELEWSKI, Director; died December 4, aged 89.
Considered the godfather of post-war Polish comedy and one his nation’s most accomplished filmmakers, Chmielewski was shooting his breakout hit Ewa chce spac (Eva Wants to Sleep) only two years after graduating from the prestigious National Film School in 1954. When it earned Film and Screenplay honours at San Sebastian, Chmielewski became a national celebrity and outspoken advocate for his film industry peers. When not directing his own hits (Walet Pikowy, 1960; Pieczone golabki, 1960; How I Unleashed World War II, 1970), he would write for the likes of Andrzej Czekalski (Pelnia nad glowani, 1983) and Jacek Bromski (U Pana Boga za piecem, 1998). He was recognised for his unified approach to the national cinema when elected as Vice President of Polish Filmmaker’s Association (1983-1987) and was given the Medal for Merit to Culture in 2010.
We’ll never forget… his active service with the National Armed Forces during and after World War II while still in his teens.

DAVID HAMILTON, Director; died November 25, aged 83.
Ailing health and the sordid details of an alleged sexual assault kept British filmmaker and photographer David Hamilton a virtual recluse in his final years; he died from an apparent suicide in his Paris apartment. At the height of his fame, his controversial portraits of naked, often pre-teenage girls and young women were both celebrated and reviled by the mid-70s cognoscenti. Graduating from stills to film, he maintained his grainy, soft-focus aesthetic and artistic obsession with the nubile female form and blossoming sensuality. His narrative feature debut, Bilitis (1977) was an arthouse sensation; the follow-up, Laura (1979) a worldwide hit. Subsequent works Tendres Cousine (1980), A Summer in St Tropez (1983) and First Desires (1983) were more of the same and dwindled in popularity.
We’ll never forget… how he defined his subject matter when questioned in 1995: ““Nudity and purity, sensuality and innocence, grace and spontaneity; we made contradictions of them. I try to harmonize them, and that’s my secret and the reason for my success.”

SULABHA DESHPANDE, Actress; died June 4, 2016, age 79.
One of India’s most beloved character actresses, Sulabha Deshpande featured in over 73 Bollywood films and countless hours of television since her debut Silence! The Court is in Session in 1971. Much of her film work was to support her philanthropic arts, which included the groundbreaking experimental theatre group Rangayan and the establishment of new Marathi and Hindi theatre groups throughout the 70s and 80s. Her key film roles were in Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan (1978), Gaman (1978), Bazaar (1982), Ijaazat (1987) and English Vinglish (2012).
We’ll never forget… her undertaking to introduce children to the joys of live theatre, a goal that led to the establishment of the junior theatre company Chandrashala in the mid 70s.

FAN HO, Director; died June 19, aged 78.
Considered one of China’s most acclaimed photographers, Fan Ho graduated to feature directing in 1970 with the hit film Mei (Lost). He was oon signed to the Shaw Brothers stable, where he delivered such artistically pleasing and wildly popular works The Girl With The Long Hair (1975), Innocent Lust (1977) and Notorious Frame Up (1978). A split from the giant studio led to a lean period until, in 1982, he returned with the evocative works Expensive Tastes (1982), Two for the Road (1984) and Smile Again (1985). Late in his career, his tastes became increasingly provocative; his final films were the tasteful if fleshy I Desire (1987), Brief Encounter (1988), Erotic Nights (1989) aand Temptation Summary (1990).
We’ll never forget… that five of his films have been selected for preservation status, earning a spot in the ‘Permanent Collection’ of the National Film Archives of Taiwan and Hong Kong. 

Thursday
Dec152016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS: ELEVEN TALENTS RISING

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS
A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

ELEVEN NEW STARS RISING
World cinema drew upon a vast artistic community in the search for bright, fresh bigscreen talent. The worlds of live theatre, music, art and writing all contributed to a new generation of extraordinary movie contributors, who lit up the screen in 2016…

SASHA LANE (ACTRESS, AMERICAN HONEY)
Breakout Moment: Donning a bikini and hitting the beach in Miami. She was seen by director Andrea Arnold, shortlisted and cast in the lead role.
On working with the American Honey director: “We just kind of connected on a lot of things. She just saw me, she really looked at me. I’m so used to being just like all the other kids, just discarded and seen as not worthy of someone’s time, not worthy of being considered special and beautiful and different. She embraced all of that.” IndieWire 

ROYALTY HIGHTOWER (ACTRESS, THE FITS)
Breakout Moment: The New York Times photo essay, that posits her alongside Denzel Washington, Casey Affleck, Natalie Portman, Don Cheadle and Taraji P Henson as one of the Great Actors of 2016.
On the start that would lead to her casting in the dance drama: “I used to always go to my sister’s practices because she was already on a team. They were doing a parade and their coach asked me to hold the banner  and we just walked down the street holding it. I told her I didn’t want to hold the banner anymore. I said I wanted to dance, so she put me in the back of the parade and I was just dancing. After the parade, she told me to come back. I just kept coming back.” IndieWire 

ALEX LEHMANN (DIRECTOR, BLUE JAY; pictured, left)
Breakout Moment: Being selected by indie-sector champion and the film’s scriptwriter Mark Duplass to step up from camera operator to direct Blue Jay.
On script development with Duplass: “Mark being a writer and a producer on this, as well as an actor, I knew that I wanted to go off of his gut as far as what the story was, and we definitely collaborated a lot as far as making sure that we felt like the performances were honest.” SagIndie.Org 

DAMIEN POWER (DIRECTOR, KILLING GROUND)
Breakout Moment: After a long writing process, distribution dramas and funding negotiations, the thriller earns an Australian premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
On the outdoor shoot: “It's entirely set outdoors, and it rained a lot. It's set in the bush in the middle of nowhere, so it was a matter of trying to find the middle of nowhere as close to Sydney as we could. And we found this fantastic reserve in Macquarie Fields that had everything, because it wasn't just a look we were after but a very specific geography that I wanted for the film." If.com.au 

MAHERSHALA ALI (ACTOR, MOONLIGHT)
Breakout Moment: Settling on the part in Barry Jenkins’ autobiographical film, as the film to follow-up his role on HBO’s House of cards.
On deciding to accept the culturally sensitive role of drug-dealer Juan: “As a black man, it’s very difficult for you to feel good about contributing in that way…enabling and supporting certain stereotypes. (But) with this, it’s a project that is written from the inside out, people who have had these experiences and know these people as full human beings. With both Barry and Tarell being very talented writers, they can’t help but write characters that are three-dimensional.” Deadline.com 

LEVI MILLER (ACTOR, RED DOG TRUE BLUE and SAFE NEIGHBORHOOD)
Breakout Moment: Being cast in 2015’s Pan, opposite Hugh Jackman which, despite a dismal box office run, got him noticed by the Australian and American industries.
Pan casting director Dixie Chassay: "There was something about him where we just said, 'That's it.' It's very tricky. You need someone who has to be special but also that every child has to connect to. It has to be someone both ordinary and extraordinary. And Levi had that." Los Angeles Times 

RUBY BARNHILL (ACTRESS, THE BFG),
Breakout Moment: Fronting the global media following the premiere of her first film, directed by Steven Spielberg.
On working with the great director: “People always ask me if I’m in awe of him, but to me he’s just Steven, a really good friend. Someday I will probably look back and think, ‘Wow, I shared my birthday cake with Steven Spielberg,’ but I think of him as a lovely kind person, not a remote star.” Telegraph.co.uk 

BABAK ANVARI (DIRECTOR, UNDER THE SHADOWS)
Breakout Moment: Securing the final funding for what would become Iran’s first official horror film release.
On the films that inspired him: “I think when it comes to getting inspired by films, it’s not about sitting there and saying, ‘I want to take this. I want to take that.’ You basically watch the film and let it affect you, and however it affects you, you keep that in mind and try to do similar things. So it’s about using those elements but making them your own. It’s really hard for me to tell what I got from The Tenant or Repulsion or Rosemary’s Baby. It was just the general mood of it and the whole idea of everything being set in an apartment.” Film Comment 

ODESSA YOUNG (ACTRESS, THE DAUGHTER)
Breakout Moment: Her Best Actress AACTA award for her first movie role.
On her first encounter with her character, Hedvig: “It is really rare that you read female teenage characters that have complexity and depth to their personalities. When I read the script the first time, I was entirely blown away by this character I was reading which I actually had to think about. I had to try and analyse who Hedvig was rather than it be spelt out in front of me.” Girl.com.au

GARANCE MARILLIER (ACTRESS, RAW)
Breakout Moment: The ‘finger scene,’ destined to become an iconic horror film sequence.
On working with director Julia Ducornau: “Julia and I have exactly the same strong character. There is a very friendly and symbiotic relationship between us (which) always helps in a collaboration like ours. We do not need to talk for hours to understand and very soon we know what the other expects. Everything is simpler so obviously it makes you want to continue working together.” Cinema Club (France) 

FERDIA WALSH-PEELO (ACTOR, SING STREET)
Breakout Moment: Meeting with director John Carney (Once; Begin Again).
On acting for the first time: “I was a musician who didn’t act (laughs). John (Carney, director) cast me in the film and I’d never acted before. I’d done a few stage things, I was a boy soprano when I was younger, so I did a few operas. I was so driven with music I never had time to think about anything else. Then I got Sing Street and I started really adding to the whole acting thing.” IndieRevolver.com 

Wednesday
Dec142016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS: TWELVE VIRGIN VIEWINGS.

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS
A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

TWELVE VIRGIN VIEWINGS
Contrary to the big-mouth know-it-all image I project, I’ve not seen every film ever made. But some day, I will have. To that end, in 2016 I caught up on some olde time flicks that had forever eluded my gaze…

LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (Dir: Richard Brooks, 1977)
A dismal, dirty dive into a young woman’s sexual awakening, Diane Keaton’s headline-grabbing drama is a nasty piece of shock-value cinema disguised as social commentary; tinged with mid-70s gender and homophobic undercurrents, it’s a time-capsule relic that doesn’t play well today. Still as hot as ever, though, is the chemistry twixt Keaton and a smokin' Richard Gere (pictured, top). Rating: 3/5 When: July 13, on YouTube.

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (Dir: Mario Bava, 1965)
60s Euro-kitsch has finally attained the status of high cinematic art, if you are to believe Nicholas Winding Refn, who oversaw the 4K restoration Mario Bava’s outer-space horror odyssey. Hard to argue once you glimpse the rich tones and deep shadows of the Italian giallo auteur’s long-neglected B-movie masterwork. Rating: 3.5/5. When: May 17, at the Cannes Film Festival; fully restored print introduced by director Nicholas Winding Refn. Read Cannes Classics Bows Refn’s Restoration of Bava Brilliance here.

EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Dir: Georges Franju, 1960)
Few films can match the evocative, nightmarish compositions that pepper Georges Franju’s timeless tale of tragic regret and homicidal devotion. Borrowing from German film expressionism and pulsating with the early energy of a French industry on the cusp of its ‘New Wave’, this tale of a doctor who kills to find the perfect face for a daughter his own negligence has left maimed is still shocking, 50-odd years later. Rating: 4/5. When: January 29, on the Criterion Collection channel on Hulu.

A NEW LEAF (Dir: Elaine May, 1971)
There are more laughs in the first hour of Elaine May’s A New Leaf than in every hour of every film comedy made this year. As the ailing millionaire who’ll kill to inherit the fortune of any dowager who’ll marry him, Walter Matthau is at his acerbic best (“Who do I know who’s pregnant and a good sport?”). Why May’s debut film isn’t spoken of in the company of The Great American Comedies is a mystery… Rating: 4/5. When: August 6, at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

TOKYO STORY (Dir: Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
Restrained elegance and an emotional resonance in every frame are two of the defining elements in every Yasujiro Ozu film, none more so than what many consider his masterpiece, Tokyo Story. A powerful analogy for a moment in history when the post-war society was forging ahead with scant regard for tradition, Ozu has also crafted a deeply human tale that transcends time and setting. Rating: 4/5. When: July 8, on DVD.

A PLACE IN THE SUN (Dir: George Stevens, 1951)
There’s brooding intensity and then there’s Montgomery Clift, caught here in all his tortured anguish by Hollywood’s ‘Master of Melodrama’, George Stevens. The director’s muse Elizabeth Taylor, all of a very photogenic 19, is the perfect foil for Monty’s gloomy Gus in a tale of the true cost of good ol’ American ambition. Rating: 3.5/5. When: June 19, on Australian cable.

WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (Dir: Frank Tashlin, 1957)
The oddball pairing of reedy do-gooder Tony Randall and majestic hedonist Jayne Mansfield is just one of the inspired touches in Frank Tashlin’s Faustian tale of an ad exec selling himself out for his firm’s biggest client. The comedy is uneven, but when it zings it reaches some dizzy heights. Rating: 3.5/5. When: June 18, on DVD.

CAST A DEADLY SPELL (Dir: Martin Campbell, 1991)
Before he launched a Hollywood career as the go-to guy for mainstream blockbusters (GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale), Martin Campbell directed Fred Ward as gumshoe dick Harry Phillip Lovecraft (geddit?) in this flouro-noir monster mash-up of detective genre and creature feature. Future Oscar-winner Julianne Moore seems bemused. Rating: 3/5. When: June 4, on YouTube.

VALMONT (Dir: Milos Forman, 1989)
Milos Forman’s expensive and very adult adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses disappeared in the wake of Stephen Frears’ Oscar-winning version when the two squared off in the late 80s. Which is a shame, because Forman, a superior filmmaker in every regard, captured Annette Bening, Colin Firth and Meg Tilly at their most cinematically sublime. Rating: 4/5. When: May 12, at the Cannes Film Festival.

DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (Dir: Blake Edwards, 1962)
As the boozy loser who introduces his sweet wife to the insidious grip of alcoholism, Jack Lemmon is about as tragic a protagonist as American cinema has ever offered up. Lee Remick’s transformation from prim and proper to soused and insane is heartbreaking; arguably the late Blake Edward’s best film. Rating: 4.5/5. When: May 3, on Australian cable.

THE ROOM (Dir: Tommy Wiseau, 2003)
When one finds oneself amongst the spoon-tossing insanity of the late-night cult crowd who worship Wiseau’s film, you’d think it easy to forget all critical faculties and just love the film for the good time vibes it inspires. But no; it’s a grotesque spectacle, utterly shite in every way. Rating: 0.5/5. When: September 17, at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

THE LAST BATTLE (Dir: Luc Besson, 1983)
A monochromatic, largely dialogue-free, two-hander that pits Pierre Jolivet (‘The Man’) against Jean Reno (‘The Brute’) in an apocalyptic future-scape. Besson’s thrilling psychological/action pic announced the Frenchman as a unique storyteller, an instinctual storyteller with highbrow tastes yet commercial sensibilities. Rating: 4/5. When: April 17, on DVD.

Next on the Twelve Days of Cine-Mas...ELEVEN BRIGHT YOUNG TALENTS

Monday
Nov282016

CANNIBALS, CADAVERS AND CHRISTMAS KILLERS IN MONSTER FEST WINNERS

The latest ‘New Wave’ of international genre talent was singled out for 2016 honours at the Melbourne horror celebration, Monster Fest, held at the Lido Cinema in upscale suburban Hawthorn last night. Attended by fans and filmmakers alike, the tone for the occasionally raucous event was set by evening sessions of Paul Schrader’s unhinged crime melodrama Dog Eat Dog and the highly anticipated Closing Night feature, Jim Hosking’s stomach-churner The Greasy Strangler.

                             Pictured, above; Olivia DeJonge and Levi Miller in Safe Neighborhood

The festival’s coveted ‘Golden Monster’ Award went to Raw, Julia Ducournau’s teen cannibal drama that wowed critics and audiences at Cannes, where it won the FIPRESCI Critics Prize, before earning similar kudos at festivals across the globe. A guest of Monster Fest since her film opened the event last Thursday, Ducournau was present to accept the award, along with the Best Effects nod, a hotly-contested category that saw Ben Wheatley’s squib-epic Free Fire and Dain Said’s Malaysian vampire folk-lore tale, Interchange, challenge for the prize.

Best International Feature was awarded to Andre Overdahl’s terrifying morgue-set nightmare, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, starring Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch (pictured, right). The Norwegian filmmaker’s follow-up to his cult hit Troll Hunter was shortlisted in several categories, but a particularly competitive field kept the trophy tally to one.

It was a unanimous jury decision to award the Best Australian Feature to Chris Peckover’s Christmas season splatterfest, Safe Neighbourhood. The Australian-shot, US-set black comedy also earned budding teen star Levi Miller (Pan; Red Dog True Blue) the Best Actor nod, for his wildly inventive, against-type portrayal of a good kid turned horribly bad, opposite Ed Oxenbould and the equally impressive Olivia DeJonge. The Best Actress honour was awarded to Mackenzie Davis for her spin on the sociopathic ‘single white female’-type in Sophia Takal’s Always Shine.

Polish director Bartosz M Kowalski earned Best Director for his scorching portrait of alienated teen psychopathology, Playground; the spiritually-infused ‘black magic’ thriller A Dark Song, from Irish feature debutant Liam Gavin, earned dual mentions for Cinematography (Cathal Watters) and Score (Ray Harman). At the behest of the festival jurors, a Best Documentary slot was created to honour Sympathy For The Devil: The True Story of the Process Church of The Final Judgement, director Neil Edwards’ study of the British occult movement f the 1960’s. A humble and truly surprised Edwards was on hand to acknowledge the honour.

Jury members also singled out for ‘Special Mention’ the cast and crew of Rohit Mittal’s Autohead, an Indian found-footage film that follows a repressed rickshaw driver’s descent into homicidal madness. The Monster Innovation Award went to Alice Lowe (pictured, right), the star and director of Prevenge, a ‘pregnant femme-fatale’ satire that the British actress conceived and shot while in the late stages of her own pregnancy. Festival director Kier-la Janisse had the honour of bestowing the Audience Award upon local-lad Addison Heath’s grindhouse shocker, Mondo Yakuza. 

Sunday
Oct092016

DOC CRUSADER TARGETS PARENTAL ALIENATION EPIDEMIC

“[Parental Alienation is] the deliberate attempt by one parent to distance his/her children from the other parent and in doing so, the parent engages the children in the process of destroying the affectional ties and familial bonds that once existed." - Reena Sommer, Ph.D. M.Sc. (Family Studies), Ph.D. (Psychology & Family Studies); author of "Children's Adjustment to Divorce: The Case of Parental Alienation Syndrome"; 2004.

As soaring divorce rates in the 1970s left a previously uncharted emotional impact on a generation of children, studies began to identify a new form of abuse that would come to be known as ‘parental alienation’. Yet it has only been in the last decade that mental health advocates, child protection officials and, slowly, progressive family court judges are acknowledging the detrimental effects of the deliberate manipulation of a child’s emotional and mental state. One of the most vocal and determined advocates in the battle to have parental alienation unreservedly accepted by the legal and medical communities is filmmaker Ginger Gentile. Her 2014 documentary Erasing Dad (Borrando a Papá), an examination of gender bias and self-serving officialdom in the Argentinian family court system, was initially denied a release when said officials objected to their portrayal as perpetuators of a broken system that ignored family suffering in favour of hugely profitable court congestion. For her follow-up film Erasing Family, she will examine the global scale of the parental alienation problem and the effort to reunite those families torn apart by the insidious practice.

“As I was making Erasing Dad, I realized that I had suffered alienation when my parents divorced, and was still suffering, even as I made the film,” Gentile told SCREEN-SPACE from the US, having returned to her homeland after 12 years in Buenos Aires, where she co-founded San Telmo Productions with producer Gabriel Balanovsky (pictured, right; with Gentile). A father denied access to his daughter for five years despite having a visitation agreement in place, Balanovsky would become the inspiration for the documentary. “As filmmakers, we used his experience as the jumping off point for our investigation,” says Gentile, who shared directing duties on Erasing Dad with Sandra Fernández Ferreira (pictured, below). “We discovered many other fathers just like him, who were suffering from what we call ‘Family Bond Obstruction’ and that the courts were not doing anything about it.”

Gentile revealed the backward attitudes and shocking actions of child and family therapists, perpetrated in the name of the deeply prejudicial court system they serve. She recalls, “interviewing professionals who did court ordered reunification therapy who did everything possible to not reunite dads with their kids.” So systemic was this practice, says Gentile, “they admitted to it, with pride, on camera. One psychologist even said, ‘the most dangerous place for a child is her own home, due to the presence of a man, her father.’ It was shocking to here this spoken so openly, and this is what shocked our audience.”

The findings of the documentary point to outdated ideologies being propagated by those with professional self-interest. As Gentile puts it, “[The notion that] one parent is better, or gender biases that can work against moms and dads, combine with the personal interest of the professionals involved who make more money the longer the case goes on.” Other factors include the availability of government subsidies that encourage sole custody and the over-reporting of alleged abuse, be it entirely false or the elevation of small incidents to imply violence. In one case, recalls the director, “one father is accused of violence because he speaks Russian to his child.”

When Erasing Dad premiered in August 2014, the inflammatory nature of the film’s conclusions brought extensive media coverage, as well as a wave of litigation – from the very individuals in the film. “These professionals got a civil court to censor the film in Argentina, saying that it made them look bad,” recalls Gentile. “We still have problems showing the film, because once people see it they cannot look at the family court system in the same way.” Undaunted, Gentile turned the legal actions against the litigators, promoting the film via social media sites and Parental Alienation advocates both in Argentina (the Spanish language Facebook page has more than 38,000 followers) and across the world.

“We changed the debate,” says Gentile. “Family bond obstruction is not about parents fighting, it is about a system that profits from prolonging family conflict, and a society that stands by and does nothing to stop it. Parents who cannot see their children aren't the bad guys; they and their children are victims of institutional violence.” In the wake of the film, Gentile points out, “Argentina enacted joint custody legislation, and some judges began to reunite families. Some kids even saw the film and found their erased parents. The big lesson is that before the powerful take notice, first society must take notice.“

Erasing Dad engendered such passionate support, a sequel-of-sorts that further explored the parental alienation epidemic and the potential for the reunification of erased families was always likely. “Erasing Dad focused on fathers because in Argentina custody automatically went to the mother, until our film was released,” says Gentile, “ so our first idea was to make (a follow-up film) international and include stories of mothers as well.” Extended family members, including erased sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, will also be featured in Erasing Family. (Pictured, right; Gentile with actor Jason Patric, founder of the parental rights advocacy cause, Stand Up for Gus.)

Most importantly, the film will be about the journey faced by children, young or old, of erased parents. “Erasing Family will have the children themselves as the protagonists,” states Gentile. “They will discover that they were not abandoned, but were loved. The worse part is often when they reunite with their erased parent and extended erased family, the parent who did the erasing rejects them, often cutting off contact with siblings as well. So Erasing Family will follow the adult children as they reunite with their erased siblings.”

From one man’s story set against the archaic Argentinian family court system, Ginger Gentile and the San Telmo Productions team are coalescing a global movement that is on the verge of true social change. “Millions of children are obstructed from loving parents by the family court system,” she states. “Moms and dads alienated from their kids after divorce dream that their children will learn the truth about how hard they fought against forces that were intent on ruining the parent-child bond. The Erasing Family project will reunite families by creating a feature documentary film, interactive content and an awareness campaign that will show adult children of divorce how a perverse system stole a loving parent from them.”

Donations to help fund the production of Erasing Family can be made at at www.erasingfamily.org. Follow the project at www.facebook.com/ErasingFamily or via twitter and instragram @erasingfamily

Parental Alienation Awareness Day Australia will take place on Wednesday October 12. For more information and to register your support, visit https://www.emmm.org.au/ and http://www.parentalalienationaustralia.org.au/