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Saturday
Dec082018

PREVIEW: 2019 SCREENWAVE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

The strengthening of Coffs Harbour as a thriving film culture hub continues on January 10 when the 2019 Screenwave International Film Festival (SWIFF) rolls out the sandy red carpet. One of New South Wales’ most prestigious yet relaxed screening events, SWIFF has crafted a rigorously challenging roster, both artistically and intellectually, with bold new works from such fearless filmmakers as Lars Von Trier, Michael Moore, Lynne Ramsay and Gaspar Noé.

The two-pronged festival directing team of Dave Horsley and Kate Howat signal this year’s direction from Opening Night, with the hot-button social satire Terror Nullius kicking off the 16-day festival. A coarse, canny and brutally funny skewering of racism, patriarchy and social injustice, it is the work of Melbourne creative team Soda Jerk (pictured, below; Soda Jerk's Dan and Dominique Angeloro) who employ montage technique to rework classic Australian film scenes into fresh contemporary commentary. Closing Night honours have been bestowed upon Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, featuring a Golden Globe nominated Willem Dafoe as painter Vincent van Gogh.

The 2019 program statistics are impressive -60 films from 20 countries, including 14 Australian works and 30 films from women directors. Female identity and gender politics are addressed in the strand ‘Women of Action’, which highlights five films shot through the lens of women filmmakers. These include ¡Las Sandanistas!, documentarian Jenny Murray’s account of Nicaraguan warrior women; Stephanie Wang-Breal’s Blowin’ Up, an insider’s perspective of the lawyers fighting for the rights of sex workers in America’s broken justice system; and, Maysaloun Hamoud’s In Between, an Israeli-French co-production examining the clash of old and new cultures for three Palestinian women.

The vast World Cinema line-up fully justifies SWIFF’s standing on the international festival circuit, with 21 films set to unspool. Arriving uncut after inspiring shocked walkouts at its Cannes screening is Lars Von Trier’s serial killer saga, The House That Jack Built; bad boy Gaspar Noé captures a drug-addled descent into dance-party hell in Climax (pictured, top); and, the enigmatic Lynne Ramsay explores the nature of violence with leading man Joaquin Phoenix in her hitman thriller, You Were Never Really Here.

Some of the most acclaimed films from our global region will screen in World Cinema, with Ana Urushadze’s Scary Mother (Georgia/Estonia), Hirokazu Koreeda’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters (Japan) and Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum (Lebanon) all earning kudos from the Asia Pacific Screen Academy’s award body. Other countries represented include The Netherlands (Lukas Dhont’s Cannes FIPRESCI prize winner, Girl); Kenya (Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki; pictured, right); Bulgaria (Milko lazarov’s Aga); and, Poland (Spoor, from the directing team of Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik).

Of course, Australian filmmakers are at the fore with strands covering fiction and non-fiction features. Heath Davis’ crowd-pleaser Book Week, Jason Raftopoulos’ father/son drama West of Sunshine starring the late Damian Hill, and Ted Wilson’s Tassie-set drama Under The Cover of Cloud are set to screen. The documentary sector will be represented by such acclaimed works as Ben Lawrence’s riveting Ghosthunter, Gabrielle Brady’s heartbreaking Island of The Hungry Ghosts, and Ben Randall’s teen-girl trafficking expose, Sisters For Sale, as well as the World Premiere of local filmmaker Ian Thompson’s Becoming Colleen.

International factual films will be presented under the banner ‘Pop Docs’, including Fahrenheit 11/9, the latest from political agitator Michael Moore, and Daniel J Clark’s flat-earther think piece, Behind the Curve. Mixing up fact and fiction will be the always popular ‘Music and The Makers’ line-up, which this year features Brett Haley’s feel-good hit Hearts Beat Loud, with Nick Offerman; Mantangi/Maya/M.I.A, Stephen Loveridge’s fly-on-the-wall coverage of the controversial UK rap sensation; and, Stephen Schible’s mesmerizing profile on the great Ryuichi Sakamoto, Coda.

SWIFF understand the breadth of its local audience and has ensured upmarket film festival types and the North Coast cool kids will be able to connect through the program. The surf film strand ‘Call of The Surf’ features the latest in ocean-themed cinema, including the late Rob Stewart’s final shark industry exposé Sharkwater Extinction and The Zimbalist Brothers profile of the Hawaiian surfing ‘new wave’ of the 1990s, Momentum Generation (pictured, right). And the amusingly-titled skater line-up, ‘Make America Skate Again’, will present three films including Bing Lui’s universally acclaimed Minding the Gap, a look at three friends who bond over their boards in America’s rust belt interior.

Two retrospective special presentations will delight cinema purists. The Coen Brothers’ cult classic O Brother, Where Art Thou? will screen accompanied by live music supplied by renowned local musos The Mid North Damn; and, in honour of the 130th birthday of the late master of cinema Charlie Chaplin, SWIFF with screen his timeless political satire The Great Dictator.

Indicative of the festival’s commitment to regional cinema and support of young filmmakers, SWIFF will screen the work of the 20 finalists in the Nextwave youth filmmaking contest. A year-long statewide high-school and community initiative which has seen 50 workshops held in 11 New South Wales’ regions will culminate with the award ceremony on January 18 at the C.ex Coffs Auditorium, where $40,000 prize money will be distributed amongst the next generation of Australian filmmaking talent. (Pictured, right; SWIFF festival director Dave Horsley)

Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with Scary Mother director Ana Urushadze and star Nato Murvandze here.

Read the SCREEN-SPACE review of Book Week here.

The 2019 Screenwave International Film Festival will run January 10-25 at two locations, The Jetty Memorial Theatre in Coffs Harbour and the Bellingen Memorial Hall. Full session and ticket information can be found at the official SWIFF website.

Thursday
Dec062018

WHY PINOY BOY FROM OZ MATTHEW VICTOR PASTOR IS LOCAL INDIE SECTOR'S M.V.P.

Matthew Victor Pastor has been at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova complex since mid-morning, exhibiting levels of nervous energy entirely reasonable for a young director on the day he launches his latest feature. That said, with eleven hours until the World Premiere of MAGANDA! Pinoy Boy vs Milk Man, isn’t Matthew Victor Pastor likely to fade well before the post-screening Q&A, scheduled for midnight?

As it turns out, ‘energy levels’ aren’t a problem for the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) graduate. Pastor is out of his seat and fronting the sold-out Monster Fest session as soon as the end credits roll. Despite the early hour (closer to 12.30am, as it transpires), almost the entire audience has stayed. Having experienced MAGANDA! Pinoy Boy vs Milk Man, hearing what its creator has to say about its journey to the screen suddenly holds a deep fascination.

“I see myself as a boy from the 3174 Noble Park, who is very lucky to be making movies, happens to be of Asian heritage, of mixed nationalities, who grew up in this great country,” says Pastor, who co-wrote (with Kiefer Findlow), directed and stars in what might best be described as a social satire/B-movie homage/personal drama hybrid born of Melbourne’s underground movie scene and pulsing with in-your-face observations on race, gender, sex, family and the nature of filmmaking. “Making films is a really hard thing to do and when they come from a place that is a bit crazy and feature characters that are marginalised and the kind that you are not supposed to make films about…well, that makes it all very exciting.”

Self-effacing, polite and unwaveringly upbeat in person Pastor transforms into the tortured, insecure, struggling director ‘Angelo’ onscreen. Between desperate encounters with his ex-girlfriend Jupiter (regular collaborator Celine Yuen; pictured, above), sexual failings with a patient prostitute (Kristen Condon) and anguished sessions with his family (played by the director’s real-life mother and sister), Pastor’s protagonist contemplates with increasing frustration his Filipino/Australian heritage and the social perception of his culture.

“It can be very hard to both create and live with that kind of character and then to ask an audience to sit with him for two hours,” admits Pastor, refreshingly frank in his assessment of his lead character. “When Angelo says, ‘I wonder what it would be like to wake up in a white man’s skin, with a white man’s cock,’ he reveals a character that is so self-deprecating and hates himself so much. The challenge was to bring some empathy for a character that can outwardly be so unlikable.” (Pictured, left; Anthony Lawang as 'Pinoy Boy')

Pastor pitches his performance in the upper range, but assures his audience that the character’s anxiety and increasingly unhinged persona comes from research and experience. “I spend a lot of times in online forums, reading a lot of people’s comments about identity politics. ‘Angelo’ is the combination of different ideals in that sphere,” he says. “He’s actually a lot more common than you think; a lot of what he says and who he is comes directly from discussions on Asian identity in those discussions.”

It is the third of Pastor’s films to explore the Asian experience in Australia, specifically from the Filipino point-of-view. Dubbed the ‘Aus-Filo Trilogy’, it began with his VCA Masters project, I am JUPITER I am the BIGGEST PLANET (2016), followed by the music video-influenced docu-drama Melodrama! Random! Melbourne!, which premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival in October.  Says Pastor, “I am making films from a different perspective, in the context of the diaspora of Asian cinema, and that’s the space that I am happy and proud to occupy.”

If MAGANDA! Pinoy Boy vs Milk Man is sounding a lot more serious than its title might suggest, the laughs come in the form of Pastor’s film-within-a-film. Recalling the scratched-negative aesthetics of VHS-era Filipino actioners, the subplot stars Koki Kaneko as a racist dairy farmer/serial killer, clad entirely in a white bodystocking, targeting Asian women on his murderous spree; on his trail is Pinoy Boy (Anthony Lawang, aka Lamaroc), a Filipino super-cop, and two local scumbag detectives, Shannon (the great Glenn Maynard) and Noll (fellow Melbourne underground auteur Stuart Simpson).            

There are moments in Pastor’s film where the improv comedy stylings (“We improvised a lot,” he laughs) and lo-fi stunt work inspires eye-rolls and giggles, but the director assured his audience that the themes and issues that he set out to address were always paramount. “It is about two worlds coming together,” says Pastor. “I don’t necessarily offer any resolution, but instead create an entry point for those worlds for the audience. There are multiple layers to achieve that - it could be the A-film, the more arthouse aspects, or the B-film genre stuff, but they both represent the same story told via different cinematic language. Is that not what coming from ‘two worlds’ means? This film is about what its like to fall between the cracks of those two worlds.”

MAGANDA! Pinoy Boy vs Milk Man will screen throughout Australia in 2019. It is currently seeking representation in overseas markets.

Saturday
Nov172018

STAR WARS IDENTITIES: THE LAELA FRENCH INTERVIEW

One of the defining thematic elements of the Star Wars films is ‘identity’. Our hero, Luke Skywalker, seeks the truth about his heritage; before him, his father Annakin is torn between destinies forged by the duality of The Force. Origins, influences and choices are central to their heroic journeys, just as they are to us all. STAR WARS Identities is a new exhibit that asks visitors to create their own Star Wars characters based upon key developmental stages – our genetic make-up, cultural influences, parental guidance, and adult belief system. Laela French, Director of Archives at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and one of America’s pre-eminent art historians, oversaw the exhibition from concept to creation and has brought over 200 original Lucasfilm artefacts to Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum for the Australian season of Identities.

“It is an exhibit that communicates the story of us, of who we are,” she said at the launch of the event last Thursday at the iconic Powerhouse building. “It helps us explore the universal factors that helped shape not only the Star Wars characters, but also that shapes us.” Ms French sat with SCREEN-SPACE to discuss her latest project… 

SCREEN-SPACE: How did the concept for STAR WARS Identities take shape?

FRENCH: We’re always looking ahead, wondering what it is that we can do that’s new. When someone pitched the ‘science of identity’ within the Star Wars universe, the response was immediate. Annakin and Luke’s story arcs were a great through-thread, then putting the visitors into the experience and having them create their own identity took shape.

SCREEN-SPACE: There is a fascinating ‘meta’ element about the Star Wars universe peeking inside the minds of its fans…  

FRENCH: And every fan wants to step into Star Wars, that’s really the essence of their fan fascination. That’s why we have legions like the 501st and the fan clubs and that’s always been the focus of our exhibits. But the exhibits also have to be educational; that’s of paramount importance. Above all else, we have to ensure they are rooted in science, whatever we are working on. So we had a huge scientific committee, working from the perspective of psychology or biometrics, utilising every iteration of the human experience that we could think of. 

SCREEN-SPACE: Identities seems to particularly reflect the living, breathing ‘human quality’ of the Star Wars story… 

FRENCH: When you pick your ‘identity quest’ you get to pick your alien species. But there are no robots there, which caused a huge debate, with some arguing, “Oh, but the kids will want to be R2,” while others rightly argued, “But it’s an artificial intelligence, and this exhibit is about organic evolution versus exactly that.” So, it was decided that, well, the kids will be disappointed but there’ll get it. The aim was to help them learn about science by putting them in the driver’s seat of the ‘identities experiment’. 

SCREEN-SPACE: Put on your ‘art historian’ hat for a moment. When do ‘pre-production drawings’ and ‘conceptual paintings’ servicing a film cross the line into ‘contemporary American art’?

FRENCH: That line was crossed the minute the stuff was made. Back in 1975, when George had this idea to create a ‘space western mythology’, he was making art. Anytime a filmmaker sets out to make something, they are creating art. My argument is that this has always been artwork, and we are just letting everyone else catch up to that way of thinking. I’ve been touring these exhibits for many years and in the early days, we were getting slammed by the art curators. Every new museum boss would scream, “This doesn’t belong in a museum, it’s not art.” In the ‘Identities’ exhibit alone, there are 200 artefacts, half of which are sketches and paintings. How can anyone not call that artwork? Just showing people the degree of artistry that goes into every film, and preserving that work just like any museum would preserve a Da Vinci or a Rodan sculpture, is one of our main aims (pictured, above; Laela French, in the Lucasfilm Archive). 

SCREEN-SPACE: How has Star Wars defied the effects of time? Why don’t those 40 year old films seem overly kitschy or quaint?

FRENCH: The answer lies in George’s original vision. Like all true visionaries, he wove a few magic moments together. The timing was amazing; in the mid-70s, there was a kind of emptiness in films, a void where a strong imaginative vision should have been. No one was doing what George envisioned. The epic visual effects, which have been talked about to death, were off the charts. He refused to settle for what was good enough at the time, instead pushing his entire special effects team to ‘create’. The hidden ingredient that’s harder to see is that the design aesthetic – all the costuming, the planets, the vehicles, everything within his field of vision – was pulled from cultures across the globe. Even the smallest element has some tie to some culture from some point in time. That means they take on a familiarity, before you’ve even seen the film, and ultimately reflect that timeless quality you refer to. Of course, the story itself is the classic ‘hero’s journey’ and brings together all those associated archetypes, so its rooted in a traditional literary formula that stays viable and meaningful forever.

SCREEN-SPACE: How would define the term ‘narrative art’ as it pertains to the Star Wars universe?

FRENCH: Narrative art is simply visual storytelling. Lasco cave paintings? Narrative art. The Last Supper? Narrative art. As technology evolves, so does the type of narrative art that we share with each other. In George’s mind, film is narrative art, taken to an epic level by advances in technology. So that’s how this exhibits fits beautifully into the Lucasfilm definition of narrative art. It is why George has created a narrative art museum; he believes the museum world is stuck in a kind of 19th century mindset and, being the kind of visionary able to see a reality much further down our time line, he wants pop culture to be treated as great art, narrative art, that resonates and that humans will respond to for years to come. It’s what defines ‘pop culture’; not everyone responds to a contemporary painting, but millions of people respond to film.

STAR WARS Identities runs at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum from November 16. Ticketing and all venue details can be found at the official website

Wednesday
Oct312018

PREVIEW: 2018 VETERANS FILM FESTIVAL

Since its 2015 launch as a short film screening series on the hallowed grounds of the Australian War Memorial, the Veterans Film Festival has grown into a feature-film event with strong ties across the military community. In 2018, Festival Director Tom Papas welcomes mental health advocates Beyond Blue and weapons manufacturer CEA Technolgies into VFF alliances, alongside principal partner RSL National and supporters The Australian Defence Force and The Military Shop.

On Thursday November 1, the 4th annual festival launches in the national capital, Canberra, honouring the 100th anniversary of the end of The Great War with five features that encompass the breadth of experience that our service men and women undertake to ensure our freedoms… 

JOURNEY’S END (Directed by Saul Dibb; Written by R. C. Sherriff and Simon Reade; U.K.; 107 mins) OPENING NIGHT
Plot: March, 1918. C-company arrives in the front-line trenches of northern France led by the war-weary Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin). A German offensive is imminent, and the officers (Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham, Tom Sturridge) distract themselves in their dugout with talk of their lives back home as Stanhope unable to deal with his dread of the inevitable, soaks his fear in whiskey. A new officer, Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), has just arrived, fresh out of training and abuzz with the excitement of his first real posting.
What the critics say…: “Claflin projects pain and heartbreak, and surgically excises Stanhope’s defenses through the film’s third act…a deeply felt catalogue of the behaviors of men who know they’re about to die.” – Chris Packham, The Village Voice.

TRANSMILITARY (Directed by Gabe Silverman and Fiona Dawson;
Written by Jamie Coughlin and Gabe Silverman; USA; 93 mins)
Plot: Chronicles the lives of four individuals - Senior Airman Logan Ireland, Corporal Laila Villanueva, Captain Jennifer Peace and First Lieutenant El Cook – committed to defending their country’s freedom while also fighting for their own. The four put their careers and livelihoods on the line by coming out as transgender to top brass officials in the Pentagon, determined to attain equal right to serve. The had the ban lifted in 2016, the group now face an administration trying to reinstate it; their futures hang in the balance, again.
What the critics say…: “[A] persuasive plea for tolerance in an arena where, it seems, the most destructive bigotry is coming from outside.” – John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter

SPITFIRE (Directed by David Fairhead and Ant Palmer; U.K.; 99 mins)
Plot: Credited with changing the course of world history, this is the story of the Spitfire – told in the words of the last-surviving combat veterans. With stunning aerial footage from the world’s top aviation photographer, the film also contains rare, digitally re-mastered, archive footage from the tumultuous days of the 1940’s when her power in the skies was unrivalled.
What the critics say…: “The film succeeds in making you understand how these young men saved the country from enemy occupation and how desperately close it was…every one tells a fascinating, often gripping, story.” – Angus Wolfe Murray, Eye For Film.

SGT STUBBY: AN UNLIKELY HERO (Directed by Richard Lanni; Written by Ricahrd Lanni and Mike Stokey; USA; 84 mins)
Plot: With the war to end all wars looming, young army upstart Robert Conroy has his life forever changed when a little dog with a stubby tail wanders into camp of the 102nd Infantry Regiment. Soon, Stubby the dog and his human companions find themselves in the trenches of France and on the path to history. Undertaking an epic journey through harsh conditions and incredible acts of courage. For his valorous actions, Stubby is recognized as the first canine ever promoted to the rank of Sergeant in U.S. Army history.
What the critics say…: “This may be the first cartoon in history designed for this particular overlap of audiences: military buffs and the very, very young.” – Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

ANNA’S WAR (Directed by Aleksey Fedorchenko; Written by Aleksey Fedorchenko and Nataliya Meshchaninova; USSR; 74 mins) CLOSING NIGHT
Plot: Soviet Union, 1941: a Jewish girl regains consciousness under a layer of black earth. Anna is six years old and hides herself in the disused fireplace of the Nazi commandant’s office. From there, she views the war and life passing by, with the threat of discovery constant. Her ingenuity, the items left behind by the slowly alternating visitors and the treasures she discovers in the adjacent rooms help her survive.
What the critics say…: “A remarkable central performance from a six-year-old child carries pretty much the entirety of this nail-biting tale of wartime survival. Marta Kozlova is quietly devastating…The child’s eye view brings a fantastical and sometimes bizarre quality to this lean, urgent story of resourcefulness born of desperation.” – Wendy Ide, Screen Daily.

The 2018 VETERANS FILM FESTIVAL screens November 1-3 at Canberra's Capitol Theatre (An Event Cinemas venue). Full festival schedule and tickets can be found at the events official website.

Sunday
Oct212018

PROSPECT, REFLECTIONS IN THE DUST EARN TOP SCIFI FILM FEST HONOURS.

The SciFi Film Festival has named Prospect the 2018 Best Film winner at an informal ceremony on the Closing Night of the 4-day event in Sydney. Set for a November 2 launch in the U.S. but still awaiting a distribution deal in Australia, Christopher Caldwell’s and Zeek Earl’s retro-futuristic thriller/coming-of-age drama also earned the Best Actress trophy for star Sophie Thatcher, the teenage actress headlining her first feature.

Jury member Jonathan Ogilvie, who adjudicated alongside fellow filmmakers Julietta Boscolo and Brian Trenchard-Smith on the three-person festival jury, praised Prospect for the homage it paid to the great westerns of Hollywood’s heyday. “[It is] a tense and involving space film that mines the same vein of greed and betrayal that the earthbound The Treasure of Sierra Madre did so many years ago,” he noted, adding, “Sophie Thatcher is terrific in the lead role.” (Pictured, below; Sophie Thatcher in Prospect)

The Best Actor honour was awarded to Australian character actor Robin Queree for his frightening and fierce performance as ‘The Clown’ in Luke Sullivan’s divisive dystopian drama, Reflections in the Dust, opposite Best Actress nominee Sarah Houbolt. “Wow, this is heavy,” said the actor, referring to the weighty crystal trophy but also clearly surprised and moved by the honour. Addressing his young director, 23 year-old Luke Sullivan, Queree declared, “This all belongs to us. Me, you, Sarah, the cast, everybody was fantastic.”   

Hector Valdez’ blackly-funny time-travel romp Peaches led the Best Music/Sound category, with composer Fran Villalba and sound designer David Mantecón set to share the award. The Best Visual Effects honour, one of the most prized categories at an event celebrating the fantastical, went to U.K. filmmaker Daniel Prince for his short Invaders, a delightfully mischievous spin on ‘alien invasion’ mythology that wore its Spielberg-ian influences proudly on its sleeve. (Pictured, below; Robin Queree, in Reflections in the Dust) 

Tasked with choosing two standouts from the vast short film line-up at the festival, jury members singled out Lebanese filmmaker Fadi Baki Fdz’s steampunk-influenced automaton fable Manivelle: The Last Days of The Man of Tomorrow for the Best International Short. Young Victorian filmmakers Shane Gardam and Xavier Brydges took Best Australian Short for Westall, a recounting of this country’s most well documented yet eternally mysterious UFO encounters. 

In the wake of a particularly strong field of performances by actresses across the 2018 screening schedule, program director Simon Foster created a special Festival Director’s Award for French actress Zoe Garcia for her lead role in Charlotte Cayeux’s short Those Who Can Die. “There were several great acting turns by women in this year’s films, contributions that reflect a strength that has always been central to the best that this genre has to offer,” he said, citing Sarah Houbolt (Reflections in the Dust), Maria Guinea (Peaches) and Kestrel Leah (the short Andromeda) as some of the festival’s other highlights. “Ms Garcia’s performance was one of forceful yet dignified resistance in the face of oppression, which is both timely and timeless,” he said.

The 5th annual celebration of local and international speculative film fiction entertained an enthusiastic and committed audience sector, despite squally Harbour City thunderstorms that kept the inner-city hordes huddled indoors at key moments on the schedule. The Closing Night feature, a retro-themed screening of 1989’s Miracle Mile, was introduced by director Steve de Jarnatt in a spot pre-recorded especially for the event at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, one of the key locations from the film. (Pictured, above; Zoe Garcia from Those Who Can Die)