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Monday
Mar022015

ENEMY MINE: THE RICHARD TODD INTERVIEW

The brutal nature of coal seam gas extrusion, in which the vast expanses of subterranean earth is fractured to allow access to the profitable resource, is the key issue facing a great many rural communities across the world. The heartless practices of the mining industry and the social cost to already struggling landowners are further examined in Richard Todd’s Frackman, the tough talking, tender hearted account of Queenslander Dayne Pratzky and his alter-ego, the titular militant agitator determined to right some basic wrongs. Ahead of the highly-anticipated 2015 Byron Bay Film Festival screenings, ‘Toddy’ (pictured below, left, with Pratzky) spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about his film, the issues it addresses and the fearless unpredictability of his protagonist…

When did you first become aware of the impact that coal seam gas and ‘fracking’ technology was having on our land?

I read about it in my local paper in Margaret River. There was a company wanting to drill through our local aquifer, 15kms from the centre of town, which sounded nuts. (It is) one of the tourism gems of Australia. I started to research the topic and that’s when I heard about CSG. That led me straight to where it was already in action, in Tara/Chinchilla. 

When the production rolled into small towns and you began to get your camera in front of the people being impacted by CSG mining, how did they react?

It doesn’t take long for people to forget I’m there because the first two years it was just Dayne and I chatting to them, rather than us sitting down for interviews. Interviews hardly happened, ever. We did less than six in four years, so it was very observational. They haven’t seen the film yet but they’ve been very responsive to rough cuts we have shown some of them. We have invited several of the main characters to BIFF, (so it) will be pretty exciting to have them there.

How would you describe the dynamic between you and your ‘leading man', Dayne Pratzky? He is presented as a fearless force-of-nature, singularly committed to the cause. How much about Dayne the man is up there on the screen?

Most of it is up there. I hope it is a fairly accurate representation of Dayne and covers most of his emotions. He is an ordinary bloke that has fought an extraordinary battle. He is a good man but it was tough for both of us. It’s bloody like Dad and Dave on the road! You laugh, you get frustrated, you get angry, you fight but when there is only two of you in one old Hilux, there ain’t nowhere to go. The stakes were high from day one and we did a lot of stressful stuff. The nice thing is we both pushed through it and we are still mates now.

When was the decision made that the narrative had found its ending?

Oh my God, we wrote three different scripts re what could happen. Of course we didn’t know. We were way into the edit when the ending occurred in real time so we went back out for one last shoot in Tara and that’s in the film. It just ended up (being) ‘the time’ re Dayne’s journey, so it actually happened quite naturally but in the middle of editing, instead of the normal ‘ end of shoot’ time.

The ‘ advocacy doco’ as a genre has flourished in the last decade, but do 'message movies' reach beyond the converted? If so, how do you ensure that happens?

I hope we are not just preaching to the choir. They will turn up, (but) we have gone for a more personal, emotive story, to avoid it being a movie just for the converted. We have been inviting the (mining) industry to the screenings and they are accepting the invitations, which is very cool. I hope all the workers watch it. It doesn’t matter whether they agree or disagree but I’m sure it will stir up some debate and conversation and that is what we hope to achieve.  It has the potential to effect social change. Only time will tell.

Like every other superhero franchise, is there a ‘Frackman 2’ in the works?

It will be up to Dayne and how long he wants to stay in CSG world. No doubt we are both welded to the subject now and that is OK, but Frackman 2…mmm, not sure about doing another lap. 

Saturday
Feb282015

HEAVEN AND EARTH: THE NICOLAS HUDAK INTERVIEW

Afforded unprecedented access to the Blackfeet reservation in Browning, Montana, director Nicolas Hudak (pictured, below) and his wife, producer Anna Hudak, set about capturing the modern experience of three young Native American people. As filming began, each was on the verge of their adult lives - Andi Running Wolf, an intelligent, independent woman about to leave the reservation for college life; Edward Tailfeathers, a philosophical backyard muso caught between a teenage mindset and his grown self; and, Douglas Fitzgerald, a softly spoken, family-oriented cowboy, working the earth of his ancestors.

The Hudak's moving account of these lives, Where God Likes to Be, examines a world of rarely-glimpsed bonds within the Native American community - between the Montana land and its people; the old traditions and new society; and, most tellingly, between youth and adulthood. Ahead of its Australian premiere at the 2015 Byron Bay Film Festival, Nicolas Hudak spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about his unique production experience...

What was so unique yet so universal about the experiences of the three young people that led to them becoming the focus of your documentary?

When we set out to make the film on the Blackfeet reservation we did not have a specific topic or narrative in mind. The Native American stereotype across the US is one of downtrodden impoverishment and hopelessness. We wanted to show another side of the Native American experience, one that explored the feeling of somehow being between two worlds, coming of age in modern America and clinging to a sense of unique indigenous culture. Spiritual leaders, teachers and people we met on the street encouraged us to make a film that is uplifting and inspires cultural pride in their youth. The three young people that allowed us to have their voices in the film struggle with many of the issues that are universal on the Blackfeet reservation - and at the same time really try to make the best of it and create opportunities for themselves.

Was the broader reservation population open to the intrusive-by-nature arrival of a documentary crew? How did you and the production team go about ingratiating yourself with the community?

Actually no, they were initially not open to having a documentary crew there. People there have been burned so often by white people coming on to the Rez, looking for the sad Indian story, focusing on alcoholism, substance abuse and general "poverty porn". I think a lot of Blackfeet people are just sick of it. In fact, shortly before we showed up a National Geo crew was thrown off the reservation. We learned that it was important to them that their voices were heard, rather than having another film that points fingers and has outsiders talk about them. We spent almost six months talking to people without touching our cameras. Once we started filming we tried to tread lightly and stay small, which wasn’t too hard since most of the time we were just a team of two. We lived in a trailer on the reservation for six months while filming which I think helped us blend into the scene and really get a feeling for the place. (Pictured, above right; Andi Running Wolf)

How did the experience of living and studying in New Zealand shape this film and the filmmaker you've become?

New Zealand showed me how a country with a colonial history can have a different relationship with its native people, identify on a national level with the indigenous population and even have that be part of its popular image. New Zealand also awakened in me a deeper sensitivity to landscape. Obviously, it is a very picturesque land but there is a melancholy there that I had not ever before experienced in a landscape. I began to read and interpret landscape differently there and I think I took a bit of that back to Montana with me when we started working on the film. (Pictured, above left; producer Anna Hudak)

Does the film tell the story or send the message that you set out to convey? How did the film take shape as the production progressed?

We initially thought we'd make more of an activist film but that is just not what we found there. Finding a strong storyline was definitely our main challenge in post-production. In the end, the film shaped us more than we shaped it. I am happy with the message it conveys and it has been very interesting to see people's reactions to it. Often after screening Where God Likes to Be, white people will come up to me and comment on how depressing they find the film (yet) right afterwards a Native American audience member will thank me for finally making an uplifting positive film about an American Indian reservation.

Although your film is not the advocacy/call-to-action type of documentary, what do you hope the narrative inspires in audiences?

I would like for Where God Likes to Be to evoke an understanding of how deep cultural roots are for a lot of Native people and how progress is not just about providing more of the kind of opportunities we think people on reservations need. I hope it leads to small actions on a grassroots level; to more respect and understanding for American Indian people, their reservations and their situation. (Pictured, right; Nicolas Hudak and crew member Anu Webster, on location)

Finally, how did the Blackfeet people and the residents of Browning react to the film?

The Blackfeet Nation and the residents of the reservation have been incredibly kind to us and the feedback we have been getting has been overwhelmingly positive. We are lucky.

WHERE GOD LIKES TO BE Teaser from counter production on Vimeo.

Thursday
Feb262015

NO HODADS ALLOWED: THE BEST SURF FILMS OF 2015 BYRON BAY FILM FESTIVAL.

"One of the greatest things about the sport of surfing is that you need only three things:your body, a surfboard, and a wave.” - Naima Green, author.

For film buffs, the familiar cadence of the quote recalls the now iconic musing of French New Wave master Jean-Luc Godard, who said, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl." Both speak of the profound simplicity at the core of either activity; of the immense pleasure that can be derived from just paddling into the open sea or picking up a camera.  It suggests that artists, whether those that challenge the ocean or capture an image, share a unique bond. It is also why the five films competing for the Best Surf Film at the 2015 Byron Bay International Film Festival offer some of the event’s most beautiful images…


Learning to Float (Dir: Brendan Calder; USA, 20 mins)

At 280 pounds and living a life mired in the drug and gang culture of South Central LA, a carefree life riding the Californian beach breaks did not leap out as an option for 12 year-old Giovanni Douresseau (pictured, above). But a youth centre beach excursion introduced him to the life-giving properties of the sea, the generosity of a man that would guide his growth into adulthood and the spirituality of a life spent surfing. Brendan Calder’s thesis film has warmed festival hearts as far afield Hawaii, Costa Rica and Portugal, with Byron Bay crowds certain to succumb to its charms.

1970 Something (Dir: Rafael Mellin; Brazil, 70 mins)
With the might of a military dictatorship oppressing a once vibrant Brazilian society, a counter-culture subset opted out of life under the regime and established a movement that celebrated music, dance and, above all else, the metaphor for surfing as an expression of freedom. Rafael Mellin, who explored the bond between cinema and surfing in his Everaldo Pato biography, Nalu (2008), will be attending the Australian premiere of his vivid, retro-flavoured ode to the spiritual birthplace of Brazilian beach culture.

Tierra de Patagones (Land of Patagones; Dirs: Joaquin Azulay and Julian Azulay; Argentina, 75 mins; Official site)
Capturing the essence of ‘extreme sports’ fanaticism, brothers Julian and Joaquin Azulay trek to the freezing, hostile southern extremes on the Argentinian side of Patagonia to surf the monster swells at Isla de los Estados (Staten Island), in the Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) region. The journey becomes a constant struggle against one of nature’s most harsh landscapes while in the company of some of the planet’s most warm and welcoming people.

What the Sea Gives Me (Dir: Pierce Michael Cavanagh; USA, 63 mins; Official site)
Pierce Michael Cavanagh’s unashamedly celebratory film asks those whose lives are spent on or in the water to define their bond with the sea, its inhabitants and the increasingly lopsided role it plays in sharing the planet with mankind. Amputee surfer Andre Barbieri, activist Crystal Thornburg-Homcy, oceanographer Dr Walter Munk and ‘shark wrangler’ Brett McBride (pictured, right) are among those that share candid insight with Cavanagh’s incisive camera. One of the most enriching visions of man’s interaction with the ocean ever captured.

Oney Anwar – Chasing the Dream (Dir: Karen Donald; UK, 41 mins; Official site)
From a remote rainforest enclave deep within Indonesia, a singularly-focussed young man named Oney Anwar emerges to challenge for the surfing world championship in Karen Donald’s rousing, heartfelt human story. In addition to the majestic surf footage, Donald captures a fish-out-of-water tale that effortlessly changes gears from lump-in-the-throat tearjerker to heartwarming crowdpleaser. A star is born in the form of Oney, a driven, humble and wonderfully engaging screen presence.

Friday
Feb062015

PREVIEW: 2015 PERTH UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL

Matthew Darch is well known amongst Perth’s artistic community for his passionate commitment to all things cinema. As founder of the cult classics screening initiative 1UP MicroCinema, he brings old-school film culture to the Western capital. That role bled into shared duties as programming head of the Perth Underground Film Festival, which launches its 2015 edition on February 12 at the popular Rooftop Movies venue with the latest Oz-ploitation epic, Wyrmwood. Darch (pictured, below; at his microcinema venue) spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about overcoming those 'indie festival' hurdles, infusing the schedule with his love of movies and co-programming with the enigmatic industry iconoclast, Jimmy the Exploder

Is it tough to define the balance between 'underground' and 'mainstream'? Much of what would once be considered subversive and edgy is instantly accessible and embraced.

We identified this very early in our conversations. We examined 'UFF' programs (from) around the world, finding each unique in their own way. We focussed on films that existed outside the Australian distribution channels and which you could not already download, legally or otherwise. Which made it hard, because most films these days are being released on VOD the same day they are released in cinemas in the US. Given the Federal government’s proposed anti- piracy measures, we thought (the approach) was topical. And we managed to stick to these rules with nearly all the films. I began sourcing films around the middle of 2014 and many that I approached early on were keen, but subsequently were picked up by Oz distributors. But that's the programming game.

Paint a picture of the Perth audience for 'underground' cinema. Did you program for both the hardcore anti-establish types and a broader crowd who might occasionally try edgier stuff?

We were very lucky to be accepted into the Fringe World program, a fantastic time when the inner city comes alive with people from all sorts of backgrounds. Having run my own 20 seat ‘micro cinema’ for a few years, I knew what sort of prices film makers expected for screenings and knew that to recoup our costs we would need a 100-seat venue, minimum. So to have this venue, combined with the in-kind promotional deals that Fringe World offered, we were very happy. Rooftop Movies (pictured, right) traditionally play late-release theatrical films and 'cult classics' like Donnie Darko, Napolean Dynamite, Ghostbusters, Kubrick, and so on. So, yes, we did have a broader audience in mind who might appreciate the opportunity to see some edgier stuff. In that regard, we hope PUFF compliments Perth's really only independent film festival, Revelations. Monster Pictures have also done a great job over the last few years bringing a MonsterFest leg to Perth. They snap up a lot of the horror festival favourites, so we might have to let them run point on that genre.

What earned Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner's Wyrmwood (pictured, left) the Opening Night slot?

We’re very happy to have an Australian film for our opening night, particularly one that has received such rave reviews. I'm sure the screenings they have lined up around Australia will get a great response. Isn't it every filmmaker’s goal to make enough money from a film so they can fund their next one? Can't wait to see what the brothers come up with next.

Tell me about working with the enigmatic Jimmy the Exploder. How much of PUFF is an extension of his profile and personality?

Jimmy is great to work with, as is the third member of the team, Tiff Flynn. Between us we all bring different skills to the table. Our group dynamic has really made this venture smooth sailing. PUFF isn't necessarily an extension of Jimmy's personality; he is happy to keep a low profile and work hard behind the scenes. Our shared goal is to make this festival sustainable for the future. We received no grant funding or monetary sponsorship deals this time around. If we need these in the future, then we might have to talk up both mine and Jimmy's previous track records to seal any deals.

The programme suggests that eccentric, vivid central characters are important to you - Ray in Suburban Gothic; George Romero in Doc of the Dead; the dual leads in Foxy Merkins (pictured, below); Scott in Zero Charisma. How do the films and these characters serve the aims you had for PUFF 2015?

I have never thought about the films in that way. I worry that I miss picking up on things like that. I program based around what additional elements I can add to make it an event. I want to give people value for money, unlike the multiplex experience, where you sit down, watch and then leave. We want the patrons to interact. That's why most of our screenings have additional elements; a game of Film Maker Feud before Zero Charisma plus each audience member will get a Dungeons & Dragons character sheet created by a local Perth artist. We have a Valentine’s Day Perfect Match-Making Service before Suburban Gothic. We have teamed up with Pilerats and DJ Holiday Pete to provide music and atmosphere at our double-bills and we will have character actors at most screenings in the rooftop elevator. I also like to program around different subcultures, who can identify with the films. Each film in this program will appeal to different cohorts, I guess. The trick will be, will they overlap and step out of their comfort zones?

The Perth Underground Film Festival runs February 12 to 21. Full programme and tickets are available via the official website.

Read SCREEN-SPACE's review of PUFF 2015 Opening Night film, Wyrmwood, here.

Read SCREEN-SPACE's review of PUFF 2015 Closing Night film, Beyond Clueless, here.

Read SCREEN-SPACE's interview with Beyond Clueless director Charlie Lyne here.

Wednesday
Jan282015

WHATEVER...: THE CHARLIE LYNE INTERVIEW

Charlie Lyne, a culture blogger and film critic, has directed the stunning ‘clip-umentary’, Beyond Clueless, which deconstruucts and analyses the 90s/00s teen movie craze with incisive clarity. From 1995, when Amy Heckerling’s Clueless kickstarted a new wave of teen movies that lasted a decade, the genre tackled teenager life at the turn of the modern century, when uncertainty about the future was rife and the outsider angst of those teenage years seemed more universal than ever. From his London base, Lyne (pictured, below) spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the films that both reflected and guided the teenage experience of the late 1990s and how they would inspire his feature directing debut….

Most great teen films from any period - Rebel Without a Cause, The Graduate, Carrie, The Breakfast Club - take on alienation, rebellion, coming-of-age, blossoming sexuality, etc. What point of difference do the films from the 90's-00s display?

Lyne: I agree with you that the thematic preoccupations of the teen genre have been relatively consistent over the years and decades, but I think the 90s/00s era offered a really diverse range of approaches to tackling those subjects. Whereas before, the teen genre had been defined by a few key players - James Dean, Molly Ringwald, and so on - now it was blown wide open, and those key concerns you mention were being expressed through the mediums of horror, comedy, drama and a thousand other modes of storytelling.

1994-2004 was a period of immense social change and uncertainty. The end of the millennium was nigh; the Net in particular and technolgy in general was expanding exponentially. How were teen films influenced by, and reflect the teenagers place in, this new world?

Lyne: I think one of the greatest assets a teen movie can have is insularity, so that whatever major social, political and technological movements are happening in the background are rendered relatively insignificant compared with the minor emotional problems of our teenage protagonist. So events like Columbine, 9/11 and the rise of the internet certainly left their mark on the genre, but in quite an oblique way — they were refracted through characters, rather than being portrayed directly.

You top-and-tail the film with two big hits - Clueless (pictured, above) and Mean Girls - but many of the films referenced did not register at box office. It could be argued that this was the period when teens, consumed with new personal devices and video game tech, starting turning away from cinema-going. Were these films undervalued by their target audience at the time?

Not at all. There was no major decline in teenage cinema attendance in the 1990s as compared with the 1980s; it's just that teenagers in the '90s had a far wider range of teen films to choose from, with relatively few 'big hitters' to soak up all the box office. So instead of something like The Breakfast Club becoming a behemoth, the same amount of money was spread between Swimfan, Down To You (pictured, left), The Rage: Carrie 2 and a bunch of other movies that made more modest sums at the box office.

The melding of montage and the music of Summer Camp is a highlight of the film. Tell me about that process; did the visuals or the music come first? At what point were the band members involved?

Lyne: We worked in tandem throughout the whole process, so sometimes I would take the lead on a montage, sending them a short reel of footage, and sometimes they would send me a demo and I'd start cutting to that. It created a kind of feedback loop, where we just kept playing off of each other's ideas until we reached something that felt right. And they were involved from the very beginning, so this process went on for nearly a year.

Recall for us securing The Craft's Fairuza Balk as narrator? How was the project pitched to her and what were her reactions?

Lyne: Fairuza (pictured, right) had always been my number one choice for the narrator — she has that perfect blend of 'outsider' and 'insider' encapsulated in her voice — but for various reasons we couldn't bring anyone on board until the film was nearly complete, so there was always a part of me that worried we wouldn't get her. Thank God she said yes once we eventually asked, otherwise I'd have had to reimagine my whole perception of the film.

What did you discover about yourself in revisiting the films that helped form the film lover you are today?

I still love the teen movies of my youth as much as I did ten years ago, only now I recognise all the lessons I unknowingly learned from them — some good, some less so. The whole process taught me just as much about myself as it taught me about the oeuvre of Devon Sawa.

Beyond Clueless will screen as a double feature with Andrew Fleming's The Craft as the Closing Night event at the Perth Underground Film Festival; read the SCREEN-SPACE review of Beyond Clueless here.