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Entries in Australian Film (3)

Thursday
Oct182018

THE AUSTRALIAN DIRECTORS WHO CHANGED THE SCIENCE FICTION UNIVERSE

2018 SCIFI FILM FESTIVAL: Despite a recent run of films that include Zak Hilditch's These Final Hours (2013), Hugh Sullivan's The Infinite Man (2014), The Spierig Brothers' Predestination (2014) and Luke Sparke's Occupation (2018), Australia isn’t traditionally known for its science fiction movies (The Time Guardian...anyone?), but there have been a number of Australian directors who have not just been world class at the genre, but helped to re-define it.


With the 5th annual SciFi Film Festival about to launch in Sydney (featuring no less than six new works from Aussie filmmaking talent), guest contributor STEPHEN VAGG looks at five local filmmakers who have glimpsed the future...

Jim Sharman with The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975): In the early 70s there were few hotter theatre directors than Jim Sharman – he was a twenty-something wunderkind whose CV included acclaimed productions of Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show. Sharman reprised his theatre work with the 1975 feature film adaptation, adding …Picture to the moniker but maintaining the raucous, anarchic energy of the stage production (pictured, right; Sharman, right, directing Tim Curry). A famous box office disappointment before becoming the most cult-y cult picture of all time, its combination of kitsch, gender fluidity, sexuality, camp and tunes spawned countless imitators and created some of the most devoted fans in cinema history. While Rocky Horror was the world of many, notably Richard O’Brien, Sharman’s stamp was all over it. It wasn’t Sharman’s only venture into sci fi; in Australia he also made Shirley Thompson vs The Aliens (1972), arguably the first local science fiction film (unless you count On the Beach, 1959 or Summer of Secrets, 1976). Despite Rocky Horror being a game changer, Sharman hasn’t made a feature since the dire reception afforded the film’s sequel, Shock Treatment, in 1981.

Peter Weir with Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975): Picnic doesn’t have a reputation as a science fiction film – people generally consider if more of a mystery or period drama.  And yet, it’s a mystery that’s never solved about an event that never happened. Natalie Dormer, star of the recent mini series remake, calls the story science fiction… and the unpublished final chapter of Joan Lindsay’s novel is definitely science fiction. What no one denies is the film’s influence – it has affected countless other works dealing with death, femininity and adolescent sexuality, notably the themes of Sofia Coppola's finest work. Weir’s earlier The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) is also kind-of-sci-fi, which seems to have directly influenced the design for Death Race 2000 (1975). It’s strange Weir (pictured, above; Weir with actress Rachel Roberts) doesn’t work in this area more often, especially considering two of his best films were science fiction-esque, The Last Wave (1977) and The Truman Show (1998).

George Miller with Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2 (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985): The Mad Max series can’t really claim to have invented the post apocalyptic road movie – that was already present in films like Damnation Alley (1976) and Deathsport (1978) – but those films remain that genre’s touchstone. Brilliantly transplanting Western tropes to a futuristic setting, they redefined the sci fi action film, especially Mad Max 2, and set new standards for world building and chase sequences which, to be honest, are still rarely matched, except by Miller himself in the most recent Mad Max Fury Road (2015). You can see the influence of Miller and Max on countless other films, books, TV series, video games, comic books, rock bands, directors… they revolutionised a genre.

Russell Mulcahy with Highlander (1986): In the mid 80s Russell Mulcahy was probably the most famous video clip director in the world thanks to his ground-breaking work with the likes of Duran Duran, Elton John, Spandau Ballet and Billy Joel, among many others (Ed: he directed the first video ever played on MTV, The Buggles’ 'Video Killed the Radio Star'). He made his feature debut with the visually stunning Razorback (1984) then followed it with this fascinating swashbuckler-sci-fi-fantasy-time-travel hybrid, starring Christopher Lambert (the US-born, Swiss-raised Parisian playing Scottish) and Sean Connery (the world’s most famous Scot…playing Spanish). The film was a box office disappointment at the time but became a major cult success, leading to a franchise of sequels (Mulcahy returned to helm the much-derided #2 in 1991)  and TV spin offs. Mulcahy backed away from sci-fi during his busy Hollywood heyday (Ricochet, 1991; Blue Ice, 1992; The Real McCoy, 1993; The Shadow, 1994), only to return to the genre in 2007 with Resident Evil: Extinction. (Pictured, above; Mulcahy, left, on-set with Connery).

Alex Proyas with The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998): Proyas’ talent was clear from his early video clips (amongst them the Crowded House classics 'Don’t Dream It’s Over' and 'Better be Home Soon') and his debut feature, Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1988), but he was not that well known to wide cinema audiences until he made The Crow (1994), a visually dazzling work overshadowed by the tragedy of Brandon Lee’s death. Proyas confirmed his promise with the stunning Dark City (1998), which helped define “emo sci fi” of the ‘90s and ‘00s, including the films of Christopher Nolan and the Aussie-shot The Matrix (1999). He scored big with the Will Smith sci-fi starrer I, Robot (2004), but stumbled with his genre follow-ups (Knowing, 2009, with Nicholas Cage; the ill-fated Gods of Egypt, 2016). Perhaps weighted down by the studio restrictions that ironically come with big budgets (his unfilmed project Paradise Lost is one of the greatest “if only” films of Australian cinema), Proyas is still young enough to come up with a few more classic films.

STEPHEN VAGG is a scriptwriter, journalist and commentator who divides his professional time between Los Angeles, Sydney and Brisbane. He graduated from the Australian Film Television and Radio School with a Masters Degree in Screenwriting and has worked for FremantleMedia, Network 7 and Network 10. His feature film screenplays All My Frends Are Leaving Brisbane (2007) and Jucy (2010) were directed by his wife, Louise Alston. In 2010, his book Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood was published.

Friday
Nov242017

GEORGIA ON EVERYONE'S MIND AFTER APSA TRIUMPH

Warwick Thornton’s brutal Aussie western Sweet Country kept up its award season momentum by taking out Best Film honours at tonight’s Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA), held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. But it was filmmaking minnow Georgia that won over the hearts and minds of the jurors and gathered attendees at the 11th annual celebration of filmmaking from region that this year comprised 42 nominated works from 25 countries.

Servicing a population of roughly 5 million occupying a mere 70,000 square kilometres, the Georgian film community stood proud, taking three of the event’s most prestigious prizes. The drama Dede (pictured, below), a tradition-defying love triangle set in the Caucasus Mountains from director Mariam Khachvani (pictured, above: centre), was chosen to represent the Asia Pacific film community before UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee as recipient of APSA Cultural Diversity Award; a special screening of the film will be held at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters on December 12. The young director, who shot her film in the UNESCO World Heritage province of Svaneti in her homeland, was clearly moved when she took to the stage; similar displays of genuine humility and unbridled glee were indicative of all the Georgian honorees.

The Best Actress trophy went to Nato Murvanidze (above, right) for her role in Scary Mother, the riveting first feature from 27 year-old auteur Ana Urushadze (above, left). The debutant director also received acknowledgement for her assured work with an APSA Jury Grand Prize, an honour that will sit alongside 2017 statuettes earned from Locarno, Mumbai and Sarajevo film festivals. A fourth in-development Georgian project, Vladimer Katcharav’s Nene, was selected to receive a US$25,000.00 grant as part of the 2017 Motion Picture Association (MPA) APSA Film Fund.

Read SCARY MOTHER: THE ANA URUSHADZE / NATO MURVANIDZE INTERVEW here. 

The mighty Russian film sector was the other award frontrunner, also nabbing three APSA trophies. These were Achievement in Directing, bestowed upon Andrey Zvyagintsev (an APSA favourite, with wins under his belt Leviathan and Elena) for his missing child drama, Loveless; the Cinematography honour, awarded to the duo Pyotr Duhovskoy and Timofey Lobov for Rustam Khamdamov’s monochromatic dreamscape The Bottomless Bag; and, a second Jury Grand Prize for actor Aleksandr Yatsenko’s performance in Boris Khlebnikov’s Arrhythmia.

Read our review of ARRHYTHMIA here.

Thornton’s Best Picture triumph establishes an APSA milestone, with the indigenous filmmaker the first director to have had two films take the top honour; his breakthrough hit Samson and Delilah won in 2009. The only other Antipodean work honoured was Annie Goldson’s New Zealand documentary Kim Dotcom: Caught in The Web, which earned a Special Mention in the Feature Documentary section; Feras Fayyad’s Last Men in Aleppo was deemed the front runner in that category.

India celebrated wins in two major categories, both for Amit Masurkar’s polling-booth black comedy Newton; leading man Rajkummar Rao won Best Actor, while Masurkar and co-writer Mayank Tewari took Best Screenplay honours. Other winners included Kamila Andini’s The Seen and Unseen (Indonesia) for Best Youth Feature; Anne Marie Fleming’s Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming (Iran, Canada) for Best Animated Feature. Iranian actor Navid Mohammadzadeh gave an entertaining acceptance speech in his native Fasi when called onstage to claim his Special Mention honour for his lead role in Vahid Jalilvand’s No Date, No Signature.

Read WINDOW HORSES: THE ANN MARIE FLEMING INTERVIEW here.

The two honorary awards were amongst the highlights of the slickly-staged show, hosted by Australian television identity Lee Lin Chin and actor David Wenham. The FIAPF Outstanding Achievement in the Asia Pacific honour was awarded to Filipino producer Bianca Balbuena (Beast, 2015; Singing in Graveyards, 2016), whose rousing speech was the best of the night (“May we never get tired of being storytellers because the world needs us now”). The APSA Young Cinema Award, a recognition of emerging Asia Pacific talent, went to Azerbaijani filmmaker Ilgar Najaf’s Pomegranate Orchard.

 

Thursday
Jan292015

WILL THE BABADOOK HAUNT ALL COMERS AT THE AUSSIE OSCARS?

Only a few short hours before the red carpet turns a muddy purple under the heels of Sydney’s sodden socialites (it has really rained this week), SCREEN-SPACE takes a last minute stab at who will take home an AACTA Award at tonight’s Oz industry gala event, to be hosted by AACTA ambassador Cate Blanchett (pictured, below; at the 2014 event) and actress Deborah Mailman… 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nowhere is the paucity of well written female characters in modern cinema more evident than in this years’ Supporting Actress category. This in no way reflects on the nominees, who all gave fine performances, but closer inspection indicates that the material was pretty thin. Jacqueline McKenzie emoted her heart out in what amounted to about 40 seconds of screen time in The Water Diviner. Ditto the wonderful Susan Prior in The Rover; why she is not an awards-laden international star is incomprehensible given her talent and resume. It looks like two solid if slight comedy turns from Josh Lawson’s The Little Death will fight over this one. In a coin toss, Kate Mulvany over Erin James.
Who should win
– Angourie Rice who, as the innocent swept up in society’s destruction, was the heart and soul of Zak Hilditch’s otherwise grim These Final Hours. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
No such luck for The Little Death here – ensemble players TJ Power and Patrick Brammall will cancel themselves out. Kudos to Robert Pattinson for his bizarre, brazen psycho in David Michod’s The Rover, but it was a performance that earned just as many brickbats as bouquets. Veteran Turkish character actor Yilmaz Erdogan (pictured, right) thouroughly deserves the trophy for his stoic, honourable defeated warrior opposite Russell Crowe in The Water Diviner. One side note – why isn’t The Mule’s Hugo Weaving in this race?
Who should win
– Noah Wiseman, whose troubled, enigmatic, horrified character Samuel will rank alongside the kid stars of The Shining and Poltergeist as one of the horror genre’s MVPs.

BEST ACTRESS
What’s with all these acting noms for the raunchy sitcom vibe of The Little Death? Kate Box is making up numbers here. But a winner is much harder to pick from the remaining three nominees. If the night becomes a ‘Babadook Sweep’, Essie Davis will win and deservedly so. But Predestination has three tech awards already, so there’s a lot of love for Predestination, thanks in no small part the wonderful Sarah Snook. And there was a lot of early Oscar buzz for Mia Wasikowska’s transformative journey in John Curran’s Tracks…
Who should win
– A tie is not out of the question; Davis and Wasikowska might split it. We’ll lean towards Davis (pictured, left). 

BEST ACTOR
The great skill of Russell Crowe’s performance in The Water Diviner is that he was able to rein in his movie-star grandness and play an everyman so convincingly. Did he make it look too easy, though? Damon Herriman is an industry favourite, but The Little Death won’t contest in this category (he should’ve been awarded for 100 Bloody Acres). The Rover’s Guy Pearce did his best Clint Eastwood and was very good at it. But with a Cannes gong and an APSA honour already to his name for Charlie’s Country, this is David Gulpilil’s night.
Who should win
– David Gulpilil. 

BEST DIRECTOR
Rolf de Heer’s sublimely understated direction of his lead actor and friend in Charlie’s Country is superb, but the Best Original Screenplay award may be where his contribution is honoured. David Michod (The Rover) and brothers Michael and Ian Spierig (Predestination) have long, worthwhile careers ahead of them, but will take a back seat Jennifer Kent tonight. Horror is not always favoured by the high-minded who hand out industry kudos, but The Babadook is a superbly crafted, emotionally resonant work from an exciting new auteur.
Who should win
– Kent (pictured, right), but Zak Hilditch for the end-of-days thriller These Final Hours can feel unloved given the category had time travel, dystopian future and fairy tale horror contenders front and centre.

BEST PICTURE
The lack of Best Director consideration will nix the night for The Water Diviner and The Railway Man; so too Tracks, though John Curran’s brilliant work was wrongfully snubbed. Charlie’s Country is a serious ‘actors’ piece, and will earn its trophy in that category. A week ago, The Babadook was a lock, it must be said, but Predestination’s slew of craft trophies may have tipped the scales back in in its favour.
Who should win – The Babadook.

The 4th annual AACTA Awards will be held at The Star Event Centre in Sydney’s Darling Harbour precinct tonight.