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Sunday
Apr212019

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MATI DIOP*

*APART FROM BEING THE FIRST BLACK WOMAN DIRECTOR IN THE HISTORY OF THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL TO HAVE A FILM SELECTED IN COMPETITION FOR THE PALME D’OR.

The announcement this week that Atlantique, the feature film directorial debut of 36 year-old Mati Diop, will play In Competition at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival poses the question - who is this Paris-born Senegalese filmmaker and how has she arrived at the centre of this landmark moment in film history…?

SHE IS THE NIECE OF THE LEGENDARY SENEGALESE FILMMAKER DJIBRIL DIOP MAMBETY: Alongside contemporaries Ousmane Sembene and Malian filmmaker Soulemayne Cisse, Djibril Diop Mambéty (pictured, right) was a pioneer of early African cinema, daring to challenge the impact of colonialism and the social struggles of his people in films that are now seen as artistically and narratively groundbreaking. He directed five shorts (including his final film, 1999’s global festival hit The Little Girl Who Sold The Sun) and only two features, but they remain films that define Senagelese cinema on the world stage – Touki Bouki (1973), a fateful, funny, endearing teenage love story; and, Hyenas (1992), a biting satire of wealth and status that earned Mambéty a Palme d’Or nomination. In 2013, Mati Diop directed the documentary short A Thousand Suns, which examines the impact her uncle’s landmark film Touki Bouki had on Senegalese culture. The family is rich in talent – her father is renowned jazz musician Wasis Diop.

SHE IS ONE OF HER NATION’S MOST RECOGNISABLE ACTRESSES: Mati Diop began directing short films at the age of 22, supplementing those early years with acting work. She was directed in her first feature by no less than the legendary Claire Denis, who cast the then 25 year-old actress as ‘Josephine’ in her 2008 drama, 35 Shots of Rum. She would do much of her on-screen work in Europe, working for such directors as Sébastien Betbeder (Yoshido, 2010); Thierry de Peretti (Sleepwalkers, 2011); Antonio Campos (Sundance Grand Jury PrIze nominee, Simon Killer, 2012, which she co-wrote); avant garde visionary Benjamin Crotty (Fort Buchanan, 2014); and, Argentinian Matías Piñeiro (the US-shot Hermia & Helena, 2016).

SHE ADAPTED HER 2009 DOCUMENTARY SHORT ‘ATLANTIQUES’ INTO HER FIRST FEATURE FILM: At a point in Senegal’s history when the poor and exploited were taking to the sea in crowded, poorly-maintained boats, Diop embedded herself with a group of young refugees (including her own cousin, Alpha) as they prepared for the perilous journey (pictured, right). The group were among the tens-of-thousands ofSenegalese who fled for Spain in the mid-2000s; in 2006, it was reported 15,000 Senegalese were apprehended by Spanish authorities, while as many as 1000 died at sea. The short, the first of five she has directed, became a film festival favourite, winning prestige honours at Cinema du Reel and the Rotterdam International Film Festival. The plight of Senegal’s displaced was also addressed in La Pirogue (2012) by a fellow first-time feature director, Moussa Toure.

HER FILM IS IN WOLOF, HER NATION'S MAIN DIALECT: Her feature retelling, co-written with Olivier Demangel (Moussem les morts, 2010; Rattrapage, 2017), was shot in Wolof, the predominant language of the Senegalese people. A co-production between funding bodies from Senegal, France and Belgium, Diop undertook a seven-week shoot with DOP Claire Mathon (Stranger by The Lake, 2013) on the Atlantic coast of the capital, Dakar. Website Cineuropa provides the following plot summary: “(The landscape is) dominated by a futuristic-looking tower that is about to be officially opened. The construction workers have not been paid for months, so they leave the country via the ocean, in search of a brighter future. Among them is Souleiman, the lover of Ada, who is betrothed to another. Several days later, a blaze ruins the young woman’s wedding and mysterious fevers start to take hold of the local inhabitants. Little does Ada know that Souleiman has returned…”

HER EARLY WORK WAS FEATURED IN THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE’S EXPERIMENTA STRAND IN 2016: Alongside Atlantiques, the BFI programmed Diop’s early shorts Big in Vietnam (2011) and Snow Canon (2011) in their renowned festival’s Experimenta line-up, featuring works that challenge conventional narrative and aesthetic filmmaking; the BFI website described her films as “a revelation”. When asked about her interpretation of the refugee experience in Atlantiques, she said, “I chose not to treat immigration as a subject but as an individual and sensitive experience, as a kind of time travel.” Her delicate drama Snow Canon (featured, above), an examination of an innocent liaison between a teenage girl and her babysitter, evoked her response, “I just hope people leave the film with a special feeling or mood, one that you remember like a melody for days, weeks or forever, rather than just remembering the story itself.” In January 2018, the London Institute of Contemporary Arts screened four of her shorts (including 2015s Liberian Boy; pictured, right), describing the collection as "...phantasms of the mind...nakedly human, peopled by characters who are fearful yet resolute, consumed by desire." 

READ the Screen-Space WORLD CINEMA/SENEGAL Feature here.

Saturday
Mar022019

PREVIEW: GOLD COAST FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Any notions that the Gold Coast Film Festival (GCFF) is still the ‘little festival that could’ on Australia’s film event calendar are well and truly dispelled with the announcement on Friday of the 17th annual program. Boasting a roster of 107 films, including three world, ten Australian and four Queensland premieres, the 12-day event can proudly stand alongside its fellow film celebrations in the nation's capital cities; the 2019 edition launches April 3 amongst the sun, sand and surf of the east coast tourist mecca.

In recent years, the GCFF has confirmed its status as a unique cultural event with a broad audience focus, ambitious programming and globally recognised brand. “I’m a firm believer that the best film festivals offer the public so much more than just the chance to watch movies and we have once again raised the bar on that front,” said Festival Director Lucy Fisher (via press release). “From unique pop-up cinemas on the water, in the bush and on urban streets to daily workshops for children, our massive program of events and screenings allows people to immerse themselves in film and have a little fun along the way.”

The Opening Night slot has gone to the speculative docu-drama 2040, actor/director Damon Gameau’s highly anticipated follow-up to his 2014 hit That Sugar Film. Envisioning a future in which all the right decisions about making a better society were implemented 20 years prior, 2040 will have its Australian premiere on the Gold Coast following its World Premiere at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival earlier this month.

The Gold Coast Film Festival’s own global firsts include Caitlin Farrugia and Michael Jones’ Maybe Tomorrow, a crowdpleasing comedy/drama about young filmmakers balancing the urge to create with the responsibilities of a newborn; Locusts, a noirish outback thriller from writer/director Heath Davis (Book Week, 2018); and, Storm Ashwood’s Escape and Evasion, a powerful portrayal of wartime horrors and PTSD, which was shot on the Gold Coast and has secured Closing Night honours for the young director.

Amongst the Australian premieres are David Robert Mitchell’s Cannes entrant Under the Silver Lake, the director’s follow-up to his cult horror hit It Follows and starring Andrew Garfield (pictured, top); the family drama Mia and The White Lion, director Gilles de Maistre’s remarkable account, three years in the making, of a friendship between a lonely girl (Daniah De Villiers) and the titular beast; and, the animated Brazilian film, Tito and The Birds, a story of courage and faith in the face of a global threat that employs CGI, traditional cell animation and oil painting techniques from directors Gabriel Bitar, Andre Catoto and Gustavo Steinberg.

Also debuting for local audiences will be Tony D’Aquino’s The Furies (pictured, right), an Aussie bushland spin on the classic ‘slasher in the woods’ genre. The Odin’s Eye acquisition will be the centerpiece of ‘Horror in The Hinterland’, an outdoor screening event that plonks daring horror-hounds in front of a pop-up screen somewhere on Springbrook Mountain; Drew Goddard’s 2011 cult-horror classic The Cabin in The Woods, with Chris Hemsworth, will also contribute to a new kind of horror film-watching experience for the stout-of-heart.

Other high profile titles across the 2019 line-up include Wayne Blair’s rom-com Top End Wedding, starring Miranda Tapsell, fresh from its triumphant Sundance sessions; Imogen Thomas’ heartwarming Emu Runner, the story of an indigenous girl who seeks out the spirit of her late mother by befriending her totem animal, an emu; French director Claire Denis’ first English language film, the sci-fi thriller High Life, starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche; surf cameraman Tony Harringtion’s spiritual saltwater odyssey, Emocean; and, Yen Tan’s Texas-set coming home/coming out drama 1985, with Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis.

The GCFF values the history of cinema, with several retro-screening events scheduled. The ‘Laneway Cinema’ initiative combines Asian cuisine with two Jackie Chan films, Karate Kid (2010) and Drunken Master (1978); Lady Parts podcast hosts Aimee Lindorff and Sophie Overett, with guest Maria Lewis, will dissect Wes Craven’s landmark horror pic, Scream (1996); the luxurious Spirit of Elston riverboat will host this year’s Floating Cinema event, with a romantic rooftop session of the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore flick, 50 First Dates (2004); and, the Burleigh Brewing Co. are lending their profile to a special event screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997).

Insider events include the Screen Industry Gala Awards, a ticketed evening hosted at the Movie World theme park/studio complex, during which the achievements of all nominees across feature films, short films, webseries and screenwriting will be celebrated. During the awards, iconic Australian actress Sigrid Thornton (pictured, right) will be presented with the 2019 Chauvel Award in recognition of her significant contribution to the Australian screen industry. Also, the festival in conjunction with Screen Queensland, will host the fifth annual Women in Film Luncheon, welcoming Greer Simpkins, producer and Head of Television at Bunya Productions, as the guest speaker.

The Gold Coast Film Festival will run April 3-14 at various locations across The Gold Coast. It is supported by its major partners Screen Queensland, the City of Gold Coast, Tourism and Events Queensland and HOTA, Home of the Arts. For all events, sessions details and ticketing visit the official website.

Sunday
Feb242019

5 REASONS WHY A STAR IS BORN WILL WIN BEST PICTURE

When A Star is Born premiered at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, it took a lightning strike literally hitting the theatre to slow the momentum of Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut. The projector blew out, the cinema went dark for ten minutes, and then…the crowd roared when the musical drama lit up the screen once again. That audience would ultimately give the film an 8-minute standing ovation, an overwhelming response that was repeated at the film’s Toronto Film Festival screening a few weeks later. The film that Variety’s chief critic Owen Gleiberman called, “a transcendent Hollywood film,” was shaping as an Oscar evening lock; it would earn a whopping 8 nominations, including Picture, Actress, Actor, Adapted Screenplay and, of course, Song for ‘Shallow’ a smash hit for the film’s breakout star Lady Gaga.

However, the road to Academy Award triumph grew bumpy – Cooper had missed out on a Best Director nomination; Green Book surged during the voting period; Bohemian Rhapsody became a blockbuster, challenging for the ‘Musical of The Year’ crown; the community of Hollywood Guild’s (Writers, Cinematographers, Editors, etc) kept nominating, but then ignoring, A Star is Born.

The journey of A Star is Born is one of triumph in the face of odds and adversity (remember the lightning?). Which is why, when the Best Picture winner is announced at the 91st Academy Award ceremony, A Star is Born will be lauded the best film of 2018. Consider these five compelling arguments for the film’s fairy tale finish…    

IT IS A TIMELESS STORY, SYNONYMOUS WITH BOTH OLD AND NEW HOLLYWOOD: The story of the down-on-her-luck singer discovered by a mega-star as his own celebrity is waning has been filmed three times, with each earning big box office and AMPAS adoration. William Wellman’s 1937 original, starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March, earned seven nominations, winning for Screenplay; George Cukor’s 1954 classic starring Judy Garland and James Mason earned six nominations; and, in 1976, Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson fronted Frank Pierson’s blockbuster, a four-time nominee and winner for Best Song, the Streisand/Paul Williams hit ‘Evergreen’. Cooper succeeded at contemporising a classic Hollywood narrative; old AMPAS voters will respect that.

IT BRIDGES THE GAP BETWEEN THE INDUSTRY, THE CRITICS AND THE PEOPLE: A Star is Born ticks all the boxes across the key segments of a film’s life cycle. Cooper took creative risks by casting the largely untested box office pull of Gaga and brought the film in around the projected budget (US$37million); critics have been almost unanimous in their praise (it currently stands at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes) and it has been a fixture on most Best of 2018 lists; and, global audiences have turned out to the tune of US$445million (not including the blockbuster soundtrack and with home entertainment revenue to come).

IT DOESN’T HAVE AN ALBATROSS AROUND ITS NECK: In a year that saw some of the dirtiest campaigning in Oscar history, A Star is Born carries with it no ugly baggage. Peter Farrelly’s Green Book came under particular scrutiny, with the director’s past as a serial exposer of his junk (for comedic effect, but still…), the co-writer posting right-wing, racist comments and leading man Viggo Mortensen naively uttering a racially-charged word at a press conference all painting the well-meaning drama in a bad light; Bohemian Rhapsody director Bryan Singer’s alleged sexual indiscretions came to the fore during campaigning; and, BlacKkKlansman’s Spike Lee refused to court favour with the Academy by curbing his outspokenness. By comparison, the adorable public displays of mutual respect and affection between Cooper and Gaga (who will perform ‘Shallow’ live during the ceremony) have endeared them to audiences and voters alike. 

THERE IS A ‘CONFLUENCE OF COINCIDENCE’ AMONG NOMINEES THAT HAS CUT A PATH FOR IT: Green Book is stumbling, the Best Picture trophy it was on track to win now seeming a little to much praise for a film that earned good-not-great notices; Spike Lee will earn the Best Director trophy, taking his ultra-angry film out of the Picture race; Alfonso Quaron will take rightly Foreign Film and Cinematography categories, negating its Best Film slot; Vice, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody are officially rank outsiders. What remains is a face-off between Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, an arthouse hit that few outside the urban centres have seen (US domestic box office total – US$31million) or one of the biggest critical and commercial hits of the year. With AMPAS desperate to appear relevant to mainstream audiences (remember the ‘Best Popular Film’ fasco?), rewarding a four-quadrant hit like A Star is Born seems a no-brainer.

IT WILL AFFORD SAM ELLIOTT HIS TIME ON OSCAR’S STAGE: Elliott won’t win for Best Supporting Actor – Maheershala Ali for Green Book is the night’s odds-on shoe-in – so a Best Picture nod will get the 74 year-old onstage with his fellow cast and crew to share in the glory. When Cooper utters, “And, oh my God, working with Sam Elliott,” the room will go fucking crazy.

Thursday
Feb212019

FORM, BEAUTY, AMBITION CELEBRATED IN MELBOURNE DESIGN WEEK FILM FESTIVAL

The third annual Melbourne Design Week will this year examine how cinema and design co-exist as art forms with a screening program of films celebrating vision, invention and ambition. The unique festival-within-a-festival has been constructed by Richard Sowada, a programmer whose status as one of our best curatorial minds was honed overseeing Perth’s Revelation and Sydney’s American Essentials seasons. “There's some real spirituality in many of the titles and they're filled with beautiful clean lines and wonderful philosophy,” he told SCREEN-SPACE, ahead of the 10-day schedule set to unfurl in Australia’s first UNESCO City of Design…

“The brief for this program was ‘experimentation’ and that's precisely what these films are about,” says Sowada (pictured, below), who has chosen films from such fields as architecture, photography, industrial and product innovation, futurism, urban planning and the history of design, as well as the aesthetics of the natural world. “They're about experimentation with space, philosophy, mechanics, texture, people, psychology and colour. With those parameters, cinema and design exist in the same space and place.”

Among the 11 films that will screen as part of the Melbourne Design Week Film Festival are Adrian McCarthy’s Portrait of a Gallery, an all-access insight into The National Gallery of Ireland’s enormous refurbishment project; Rob Lindsay’s Relics of the Future, photographer Toni Hafkenscheid’s study of iconic 1960s architectural structures once considered ‘futuristic’; Mies on Scene. Barcelona in Two Acts, a stirring account of the history of the iconic Barcelona Pavillon from directors Xavi Camprecios and Pep Martin; and, Chad Friedrich’s The Experimental City, which explores the plans to construct a full-size eco-friendly city from scratch in the isolated woods of northern Minnesota.

“The films have a different kind of character to other documentaries and they by and large marry style and content very well,” says Sowada. “They are works of art/design in their own right, filled with light, space and texture.” He points to two examples in particular as most synonymous with his programming objectives – Mark Lewis’ Inventions, a whirling tour of cityscapes that pays homage to the City Symphony films of the 1920s; and, Homo Sapiens (pictured, top), a breathtaking, heartbreaking testament to forgotten structures from Austrian visualist Nikolaus Geyrhalter. “No dialogue, true symphonic pieces that demand to be seen on the big screen in the highest fidelity,” he say, noting, “This is one of the things I think films in this genre embrace - scale.”

Further emphasizing the theme of scale and mankind’s relationship to both the natural world and landscapes of our own creation are Jennifer Baichwal’s Watermark, a visual essay on our often tenuous co-existence with water, as shot by the great photographer Edward Burtynsky; Mark Noonan’s biographical feature on arguably America’s greatest living structuralist, Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect; and, In Between the Mountains and The Oceans (trailer, below), a chronicle of the building of the great Japanese temple Ise Jingu as captured by acclaimed photographer Masa-aki Miyazawa. (Pictured, above; a still from Rob Lindsay's Relics of the Future)

Richard Sowada hopes that his line-up of films will strengthen and more clearly define the common bond between cinema and design construction. “Ultimately, they're about emotion and connection with the viewer/user,” he says. “If they're to have a lasting effect they need to come from an authentic place and have a reason to be. These deeper connections cut across time and borders - they are understandable in a universal way. They’re so clean and pure but also are filled with drama and challenge.”

The MELBOURNE DESIGN WEEK FILM FESTIVAL will run from March 14-24 at the Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn, and Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick. Full session and ticketing details can be fount at the official website.

Saturday
Jan262019

THE PRODUCER WHO SEDUCED THE PRESS AND WON HIS WIFE A GOLDEN GLOBE

Will the passing of a 95 year-old businessman in Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv finally provide closure to a scandal that has plagued the Golden Globes for 38 years?

Israeli businessman Meshulam Riklis died quietly with his family by side on Friday, January 25. He spent most of his childhood in the city, having arrived there with his family from Istandul, where he was born in 1923. From these humble beginnings, Riklis would prove himself an astute money market manipulator, launching and destroying business enterprises riding a wave of investment surges and bankruptcy purges on his way to a US$1billion empire. 

In 1977, while holding court in Las Vegas as co-owner of the iconic Riviera Casino, the 49 year-old left his wife to woo and ultimately wed a 19 year-old starlet named Pia Zadora. Within three years, his wealth and influence had carved out for her a career before the camera, a remarkable achievement given her somewhat limited range (her only previous on-screen role was in 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, at age 10).

His grandest gesture was funding director Matt Cimber’s adaptation of James M. Cain’s 1946 novel, Butterfly as a vehicle for her. A sexed-up thriller about a devoutly religious coal-miner (Stacey Keach) who has an incestuous romp with his nymphette daughter (Zadora), the film featured some old Hollywood legends (Orson Welles, Stuart Whitman, June Lockhart) but was mauled by critics; in one of the kinder reviews, The New York Times referred to the “sleazy melodrama” as a “camp classic”, noting that “Miss Zadora is not a convincing actress,” calling her “spectacularly inept.”

However, Meshulam Riklis lived by the creed, “Whatever Pia wanted, Pia got,” (including photo shoots for Playboy and New York Magazine). Riklis cosied up the Golden Globe voting body, The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), as only an ‘80s billionaire could do; he took an initial group to see Pia perform at the Riviera ahead of a lavish banquet and private screening of his wife’s comeback film, before repeating the hospitality for a larger HFPA contingent at his Beverly Hills mansion. (Pictured, above; Pia Zadora as Kady in Butterfly)

When that year’s nominations were announced (and with the film still awaiting a US release), there was Pia Zadora’s name shortlisted as The New Star of Tomorrow. She would then compete - and win - against fellow nominees Kathleen Turner (Body Heat), Howard E. Rollins Jr and Elizabeth McGovern (both for Ragtime), Rachel Ward (Sharkey’s Machine) and Craig Wasson (Four Friends). When presenter Timothy Hutton read her name, the room seemed to drain of air; there was almost total silence.

When the film was released six days later, and it became all too obvious that Zadora was perhaps the least likely to win an award for her onscreen presence, public and industry backlash became vitriolic. So stained by the rumours that the award had been bought and that the HFPA voting group were approachable, broadcasting partner CBS bailed on their ongoing screening contract; ABC and NBC networks also passed on the now floundering show (after 12 years in the broadcasting wilderness, it returned to network television on NBC in 1995). The Golden Raspberry Awards, aka The Razzies, redressed the balance somewhat, awarding Zadora the Worst Actress and Worst New Star honours.

Meshulam Riklis continued to accumulate wealth and blow it on Zadora’s acting projects. The same year as Butterfly, he produced Fake-Out (also for director Matt Cimber), a dire thriller not quite so awful as Butterfly but still unwatchable by any standard. In 1983, he bankrolled The Lonely Lady, a vulgar, trashy Z-grader in which Zadora (as a Hollywood screenwriter, no less; pictured, right) is raped by Ray Liotta…with a garden hose; it swept that year’s Razzie awards. Riklis bought his wife some studio time with Jermaine Jackson; together they recorded the duet When the Rain Begins to Fall, from her 1984 scifi-comedy romp, Voyage of The Rock Aliens). Riklis and Zadora would divorce in 1993; he left the film business, she retired from acting in 1999.

The late Israeli producer has always denied anything underhanded occurred between himself and the HFPA. “These rumors are ridiculous,” he insisted, when asked the time. “The by-laws say okay to a screening in the home. Other people take the judges out to fancy restaurants—what’s the big deal?” Perhaps; and, frankly, the HFPA have not done their credibility any favours with some left-field choices in the intervening years (let's say…Dudley Moore in ’85, for Mickey & Maude, over Ghostbusters’ Bill Murray and Beverly Hills Cop’s Eddie Murphy). There is no denying, however, that Riklis’ clandestine actions turned the name of his young wife into an industry punchline that lasts to this day. (Pictured, left; Riklis, right, with wife Tali Sinai and friend in 2011)