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Friday
Apr062018

R.I.P. SUSAN ANSPACH

Actress Susan Anspach, who skirted mainstream fame in favour of richly rewarding roles in critically acclaimed dramas for much of the 1970s, has passed away in her Los Angeles home. She was 75.

Her son Caleb Goddard announced his mother’s passing in a statement to The New York Times. The cause of death has been attributed to coronary failure.

Born November 23, 1942 in Queens, New York, Anspach left a troubled home life at age 15 and was raised by a family in Harlem, aided by contributions from the local Catholic church. She trained in theatre and music at Catholic University in Washington before heading back to New York City, where she quickly built a professional reputation as one of the most talented young actresses of her generation.

Anspach was at the forefront of a new wave of American acting talent. Her contemporaries included Jon Voigt and Robert Duvall, with whom she made her Off-Broadway debut in Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge (pictured, right), and Dustin Hoffman, who appeared alongside her in Ronald Turgenev’s The Journey of The Fifth Horse. She also played the lead role of Sheila in the final Off Broadway production of the iconic musical Hair.

After steady work in television series such as The Defenders and The Patty Duke Show, Anspach made her film debut opposite Beau Bridges and Lee Grant in Hal Ashby’s The Landlord (1970). That same year, she found her breakout movie role opposite Jack Nicholson in Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, a major box office hit that earned four Academy Award nominations.

Anspach projected a rock-solid independence, a personification of the free-spirited counterculture woman of the 60s; as ‘Catherine Van Oost’, the engaged woman who has a torrid fling with her fiance’s brother, Jack Nicholson’s anti-hero ‘Robert Dupea’, she became synonymous with the fierce, free-willed woman taking control at the start of the new decade.

Her acclaimed performance led to a string of films for which she earned industry credibility. She went laugh-for-laugh with Woody Allen in Herbert Ross’ 1972 adaptation of Allen’s play, Play It Again, Sam. She followed that with her most acclaimed performance, the role of ‘Nina’ opposite George Segal’s cuckolded schlub in Paul Mazursky’s Blume in Love (1973; pictured, below); Roger Ebert called her performance one of “a very complex charm”.

Anspach found work in television through much of the 1970s (she starred in four telemovies at the height of the long form drama’s popularity), yet appeared only occasionally on the big screen. She co-starred with Richard Dreyfuss in Jeremy Kagan’s private eye romp The Big Fix (1978); played the love interest of marathon runner Michael Douglas in Steven Hilliard Stern’s Running (1979), reteaming with the journeyman director for the Elliott Gould/Bill Cosby comedy The Devil and Max Devlin (1981). The same year, she was the lead in Les Rose’s broad satire, Gas.

It was also the year in which Susan Anspach undertook the most challenging role of her career, as ‘Marilyn Jordan’ in Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev’s Palme d’Or nominee, Montenegro. As the bored, wealthy housewife who unleashes her wild side in the company of bohemian European revellers, Anspach was as fearless before the camera as any actress of her generation. Says Ebert, “Anspach, who is not robust, and who is in fact rather shy and frail, may not seem like a likely candidate to enter this world, but she undergoes a transformation in the movie.”

Anspach would work steadily for the rest of her career, mostly in television. Her movie roles were often in quality films that were box office underperformers (Jerry Schatzberg’s Misunderstood, 1984, opposite Gene Hackman and Henry Thomas; Ulli Lommel’s Heaven and Earth, 1987), or in paycheck parts in B-movies (William Fruet’s Blue Monkey, 1987; John Kincade’s Back to Back, with starlet Apollonia and Bill Paxton, 1989). Her final role was in Nikolai Müllerschön’s Inversion in 2010.

Susan Anspach was married twice; to actor Mark Goddard (1970-1978) and musician Sherwood Ball, whom she divorced in 1986. She is survived by her son Caleb, fathered by Jack Nicholson (despite the actor’s claims to the contrary), daughter Catherine and three grandchildren.

Tuesday
Mar272018

HEIMWEH: THE ERVIN TAHIROVIC INTERVIEW

In 1992, Ervin Tahirovic was 10 years old when his hometown of Foča was all but destroyed by invading forces during The Bosnian War. An idyllic rural existence, strong community ties and enriching family life was torn away from Tahirovic, who fled with his family, ultimately resettling in Vienna. Twenty-one years later, Ervin Tahirovic was overwhelmed with the need to reconnect with his roots and returned to Foča; his feature directorial debut Heimweh (Nostalgia) documents his quest to reconcile the fading memories of his past with the sadness of his present. As Heimweh continues its festival circuit rollout (it premiered in December at the Sarajevo International Film Festival and recently sold out two sessions at Austria’s prestigious Diagonale event), SCREEN-SPACE spoke with Ervin Tahirovic about his experience making the film, a work that is one of the most moving accounts of the complexities of a displaced person’s struggle ever filmed…

SCREEN-SPACE: Why did you need to make this journey at this point in your life? What compelled you, at an age when most young men are focused on career and adventure and romance, to re-engage with your past?

TAHIROVIC: I always had the feeling that something was holding me back and that I couldn't really progress in my life because of that. It took me 20 years to rebuild a ‘normal’ life, to have a steady job, a serious relationship with someone. I think that at this point, where I thought that everything was fixed and ‘like it should be’, I somehow realized that something was still painfully wrong. There was something deep inside me that made me so unhappy and unbalanced, so that after a while, the only thing I thought about anymore was the question "what the hell is wrong with me?". In my mind, there was no serious space for a career, girls, or anything else that ‘normal’ people do, I couldn't enjoy these things at all. There was just this pain in my soul and recurring nightmares about Foča, and I just had to find out if and how these two are connected to each other.

SCREEN-SPACE: What aspect of your journey back into your homeland proved most warmly familiar? 

TAHIROVIC: Everything there was familiar, and everything was still so deeply engraved in my heart and gave me this feeling of coming home, that I have forgotten so long ago. As soon as I saw my mountains, my river and as I heard that certain dialect the people speak in the region around Foča, I was blown away. So many emotions came back at once, that I simply wasn't able to process them cognitively, they just threw me back into being a child again, and for the first time in 20 years I felt that everything is going to be alright. I somehow felt a calm and knew that from this point on everything will change in my life. (Pictured, right; Tahirovic overlooking his hometown, Foča)

SCREEN-SPACE: And what, in hindsight, was the most surprising, even shocking?

TAHIROVIC: The most shocking thing was the realization that I'm really traumatized, and that that's the reason why I always felt so unhappy and wrong. It felt as if I'd awakened from a deep dream in which I lived for years, only to realize that in the meantime I have lost ‘my life’ and that I'm scarred for life. That was a hard thing to swallow. When I returned to Vienna, I got very sick because my thyroid completely broke down and I had to take some serious medicine for about three months; my heart was regularly skipping beats, which was a very scary feeling. My doctor said, “Whatever you did, you freaked out your body so much it's now trying to eat itself.”

SCREEN-SPACE: Without a horrible war to put the country in the headlines, western audiences know little about contemporary life in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Was it ever an aim of yours to convey a fresh perspective on your homeland? 

TAHIROVIC: Not really, I didn't know that much about contemporary Bosnia before I returned there. I wanted to return with the memory I had of it and let everything that has changed surprise me. The concept was to do no research but to be naive and to catch up with time by exploring the surroundings and meeting people. (Pictured, above; an emotional moment for Tahirovic, in Heimweh)

SCREEN-SPACE: While it is a deeply personal film - one man’s story, set in a specific region with specific history - it is also a narrative that embraces classic pilgrimage mythology; of returning home, rediscovering and defining oneself by seeking out a lost past. 

TAHIROVIC: I tried hard to make this film follow a classic ‘hero’s journey’ plot, It was obvious to me that it is the right format for this story, even though it is unusual to use this kind of plot in documentaries. And this kind of plot is indeed very old, because humans always used to lose their homes and had to keep telling these kinds of stories to save their identity from breaking apart. Not long ago, I read in a Bosnian newspaper that more than the half of Bosnian citizens are not in the country, but spread all around the world. They are foremost the audience I would like to reach with this film. I want every Bosnian to know about this movie, because there are so many out there who never returned to their homeland and probably never will and I would like to inform all of them how important and beautiful it can be to return home. (Pictured, above; Tahirovic rediscovering his hometown of Foča)

SCREEN-SPACE: What do you hope your film will convey about the experience of the many displaced persons in the world today?

TAHIROVIC: Of course, I would like to reach other refugees with the same problem, no matter where they are from. I think that's the realistic part of what I can hope for the film. And then there is this unrealistic part, where I hope that the people who hate refugees and blame them for everything, see this film and understand that refugees are not some kind of ‘bad tourists’, but people who have often suffered the unspeakable and now need love and all the help they can get. At this right-winged time in Europe, that would be my greatest wish.

Tuesday
Mar202018

KANGAROO A LOVE/HATE STORY: THE KATE MCINTYRE-CLERE INTERVIEW

The directing team of Kate McIntyre-Clere and her husband Michael have travelled the world with their searing expose Kangaroo A Love/Hate Story, a challenging documentary that examines Australia’s complex, often exploitative relationship with its national icon, the kangaroo. The film has drawn protests from culling industry advocates, who are determined to expand import markets and don’t need footage revealing a multi-million dollar industry steeped in misinformation and cruelty. With their film now in Australian cinemas, SCREEN-SPACE spoke to Kate McIntyre-Clere about some of the hotbed issues raised in her fearless film (WARNING: Some content is of a graphic nature)…

SCREEN-SPACE: When did you and Michael become aware of the breadth of issues faced by the kangaroo population?

McINTYRE-CLERE: We set out to explore the wonder of this magnificent and unique animal. We knew opinion was split and that would make an interesting story but once we started the research and interviews we were surprised to learn that millions of kangaroos are shot each year and sold for profit. It seemed incongruous to us that Australians, who are immensely proud to hold up the kangaroo as their beloved national symbol, would sanction their nightly killing, with so little interest in questioning what is going on.

SCREEN-SPACE: There would be a global outcry if your footage - killing of young animals, often still on the teat; killing of breeding females - impacted any other form of wildlife. Why are those in power largely turning a blind eye in the case of the kangaroo?

McINTYRE-CLERE: That is the question the Australian public need to be asking their government: to come clean about all the permitted killing of kangaroos that is happening across the country. We think Australians do not know that killing kangaroos is the largest terrestrial wildlife kill on the planet. Or that kangaroos are killed and eviscerated in the bush and carried on the back of open trucks through the dusty tracks for hours until refrigeration. Most Australians do not know how cruelly the baby joeys are treated, or how many kangaroos are mis-shot and left to die from horrific injuries. We believe Australians will be shocked to hear how their beloved national emblem is being sold for pet food, sausages and soccer boots. It’s time they did hear. We have found from making the film that the government and civil society has let the kangaroo down. (Pictured, above: Kate McIntyre-Clere)

SCREEN-SPACE: Was there ever a concern that some of the content might just be too much for your average viewer?

McINTYRE-CLERE: Every shot was discussed fully. We decided that the audience needed to witness what is happening to kangaroos. Much of the footage has been stylised, leaving the audience with an impression rather than the gruesome details. We left many more violent images out of the film.

SCREEN-SPACE: Have you been surprised by the coverage from some mainstream media? Several outlets have sided with the industry and sought to discredit the claims you present.

McINTYRE-CLERE: It is a much more balanced film than some press have stated, but it seems to have hit a sensitive nerve. We worked to get a cross section of voices, including politicians, scientists, farmers, shooters, kangaroo industry leaders and indigenous Australians. If the audience doubts the treatment of kangaroos or if people have strong opinions, we recommend they see the film to learn more and make up their own minds. There is very little open discussion in mainstream media of the population (levels), hygiene or cruelty surrounding our misuse of our wildlife.

SCREEN-SPACE: How are US audiences, who perhaps see the kangaroo as a more mythical, iconic creature, reacting to the film?

McINTYRE-CLERE: The film was very well received and got rave reviews from the press including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Variety. The US audiences were shocked to learn how Australians treat their national icon. They have no idea that kangaroos are killed, often treated as pests instead of the wildlife they are and exported for pet food, human consumption and leather goods. Some states have very strict laws about the importation of wildlife so there was concern about this at government levels.

SCREEN-SPACE: Disregard for our iconic wildlife is not without precedent – koalas only exist is pockets of population due to deforestation. What action needs to be taken to ensure the best outcome for the kangaroo population?

McINTYRE-CLERE: Interestingly, the kangaroo is similar to the koala in its low slow breeding capacity, and kangaroo’s woodland and shrub land habitat has also been cleared since colonisation. We want Australians to be interested in the treatment and future of the kangaroos. We want them to notice when kangaroos are no longer in areas and be more critical and knowledgeable. We hope to initiate a robust, transparent, national conversation that brings together all concerned scientists, indigenous people, land owners, politicians, animal activists, citizens and give the kangaroo the respect it deserves as our national icon that has lived on this continent for 25 million years. (Pictured, above: Kate and husband/co-director, Mike McIntyre, with their star) 

SCREEN-SPACE: What might be the worst outcome?

McINTYRE-CLERE: Australia already has the highest loss of biodiversity in the world after Indonesia, and the highest rate of terrestrial mammal extinctions in the last few hundred years. Kangaroos are slow-growing, have low fecundity and high juvenile mortality.  Their habitat continues to be cleared and environment damaged, and industrial-scale killing has only got more efficient and organised since colonisation. When people see a mob of kangaroos in a video or image and don’t notice the rest of the landscape is completely empty, then perhaps that is the disturbing answer to this question. As filmmakers, we think the worst possible outcome is we sit on our hands and don’t do anything.

KANGAROO A LOVE/HATE STORY is in Australian cinemas now.

Saturday
Feb102018

PREVIEW: 2018 BRUSSELS INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL

Two short films from the distant shores of Australia are amongst the line-up of the 2018 Brussels Independent Film Festival, which relaunches after a six year hiatus in Belgium’s de jure capital this weekend. Morteza Halimi’s animation Drifting Away, an ethereal, dream-state ode to cubism and sportscars, and Melina Maraki’s moody retail space thriller Tricks, already an international festival circuit favourite, will vie for festival honours from the week-long program comprising 67 films culled from over 2000 submissions from 23 countries.

The re-emergence of the Brussels Independent Film Festival is cause for celebration amongst auteurs whose works have a more idiosyncratic, individualistic aesthetic. Founded in 1974 as the Festival International du Film Independent de Bruxelles, its primary aim was to celebrate experimental cinema shot on Super-8 film, before expanding its vision to include many different forms of cutting-edge filmmaking styles. It ran in its original incarnation for 38 years, during which it welcomed the likes of Pedro Almodovar, Francois Ozon and Nanni Moretti, before funding and resource shortfalls forced its closure in 2012.

In addition to the two-pronged Australian contingent, the 2018 roster of films includes the World Premiere of Anshul Chaunan’s Bad Poetry Tokyo, starring Shuna Iijima as a broken woman reconnecting with her past in countryside Japan; a Valentine Day session of Brazillian Luciana Canton’s confronting examination of modern sexual mores, Public Intimacy (pictured, left); competitive-eating legend-turned-offbeat film visionary Crazy Legs Conti’s cult short Soulfinger vs Goldfinger, which stars Denzel Washington and Al Pacino, somehow; co-directors Mark Olexa and Francesca Scalisi’s Half-Life in Fukushima, a documentary on farming practices in Japan’s radiation red zone; and, Belgian filmmaker Nathalie Teirlinck’s feature Past Imperfect, the story of a high-level escort forced to suddenly deal with the responsibilities of motherhood.

The Brussels Independent Film Festival has also paired with the arts initiative l’Heure d’Hiver (Winter Time) to present the Belgian premiere of Flatland, a video installation by Iranian artists Alireza Keymanesh and Amir Pousti. The special presentation runs in conjunction with a series of short films from the Islamic Republic of Iran, including Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s When a Kid Was a Kid, Omid Adibparvar’s Die Hard and Asma Ebrahimzadegan’s Common Hole.

The competition categories are spread across all forms and disciplines, with festival organisers set to honour Best Narrative Feature Film, Best Documentary Feature Film, Best Narrative Short Film, Best Documentary Short Film, Best Animated Film, Best Experimental Film and Best Belgian Film. The trophy awarded to prize winners is one of the most coveted European festival gongs; the seven winners will receive their own edible monument to the national landmark The Atomium, crafted from 100% Belgian chocolate by local culinary legend Wim Vyverman.

The Brussels Independent Film Festival runs February 11 to 18. Admission is free of charge at the event’s screening venues, the Atomium (Atomiumsquare, 1020) and Cinema Galeries (Galerie de la Reine 26, 1000; pictured, above).

Saturday
Feb032018

THE WIDOWED WITCH TAKES TIGER TROPHY AT IFFR 2018

The 2018 Hivos Tiger trophy for Best Film at the 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) has been awarded to Cai Chengjie’s The Widowed Witch. In a statement issued by the official Jury, Chengjie’s remarkably assured debut feature, “is a film of epic dimensions with a narrative that is greater than one person or moment. Its bold vision, created by a lyrical layering of cinematographic elements, makes [the] film stand out.”

Also singled out from the eight films in contention for the Tiger honour was Muayad Alayan’s The Reports on Sarah and Saleem. Screenwriter Rami Alayan earned a Special Jury Award for the personal and politically charged drama, the Jury declaring, “The screenplay intertwines the personal and the political and it manages to balance a complex plot with convincing characters.” An international co-production between Palestine, The Netherlands, Germany and Mexico, the film also won the coveted Hubert Bals Fund Audience Award, a €10,000 cash prize named after the late festival founder. (Pictured, below: IFFR 2018 winners include, from clockwise, The Widowed Witch, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, Nina, Azougue Nazaré)

The Bright Future Award, a €10,000 endowment to a first time feature director, went to Tiago Melo’s mystical Brazilian drama Azougue Nazare, a work that employed a non-pro cast from the film's remote location. Malene Choi Jensen’s The Return was also singled out by the Jury for Special Mention for its depiction of, “a personal quest [that] gradually transforms into a reflection on loneliness, belonging, and existential homecoming.”

The most popular film of IFFR 2018 was Gustav Möller’s The Guilty (pictured, right), which took out two honours – the highly-prized Audience Award and the Youth Jury Award. The tense police procedural subverted plot and genre conventions to deliver a thriller which delivered, in the words of the Youth Jury members, “a master class in suspense.” From a program of 20 short films from 18 countries, Oscar Hudson’s Joy in People took out Voices Short Audience Award.

The other audience honour is the VPRO Big Screen Award, chosen by a jury of five audience members that ensures the winning film plays in Dutch theatres and is broadcast on national television. In 2018, that film was Nina, from Polish filmmaker Olga Chajdas.

The local filmmaker chosen by the Circle of Dutch Film Journalists as the festival’s Best Dutch, or Dutch co-produced work was Lucrecia Martel’s Zama. The body of international critics deciding upon this year’s Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique (FIPRESCI) honour chose Ere Gowda’s charming Kanarees language Balekempa. 

 

The NETPAC Award for Best Asian film having its World Premiere at IFFR 2018 was Shireen Seno’s Nervous Translation. The NETPAC Jury stated, “its singularly original representation of childhood beautifully captures a unique view full of contradictory interactions, introspection, social and political dissonance, and disquietude. With this film, the director has succeeded in creating an unforgettable cinematic universe.”

The Found Footage Award, an inaugural category introduced to honour those filmmakers employing archive or recycled footage to create fresh narratives, was awarded Slovenian Nika Autor’s mid-length feature, Newsreel 63: The Train of Shadows. 

Festival director Bero Beyer (pictured, right) thanked, “The crazy, daring, outspoken and warm people” of both IFFR and Rotterdam for ensuring the event reached new heights. Several aspects of past festivals were reworked and relaunched in 2018, most notably the Cinemart professional marketplace. The festival has one full day of screenings left before Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin closes out the 2018 program.