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Friday
Jun242016

TO DIE FOR: THE ANURAG KASHYAP INTERVIEW

His best films are confronting, contemporary works that challenge India’s filmmaking culture. Similarly, Anurag Kashyap defies expectations as an interviewee; his stare is intense, but his manner is gentle, his voice clear but soft. And fast; his perfect English and fierce intelligence makes it a challenge to keep pace. The 42 year-old director, best known for the visceral 2012 crime epic Gangs of Wasseypur, is in Cannes to shepherd his latest through a Director’s Fortnight slot; Raman Raghav 2.0 is a purely cinematic re-imagining of the life of India’s most notorious serial killer, whose random brutality terrorised Mumbai locals in the mid 1960s. “He is the Jack the Ripper of India, and we stuck to the facts of the case very closely,” says Kashyap, midway through a lengthy chat with SCREEN-SPACE in a 5th floor lounge, a few blocks from The Croisette…

SCREEN-SPACE: How long have you wanted to tell this story?

Kashyap: When I got into the business of moviemaking, my first job as an apprentice was during post-production on a film based on the life of Raman Raghav. I never knew of him before, but I was writing crime short stories so I immediately became curious. I had access to all this material and was soon obsessed with making a film on Raman Raghav, an obsession that lasted 23 years.

SCREEN-SPACE: Why has it taken so long for you to realise the project?

Kashyap: We’ve had this script for the last six years, but I just couldn’t get the money to make the film. In India, we make very happy movies and a dark film like this, and a period film as well which immediately means it will cost a lot of money, no studio felt it would be feasible. But I was so invested in the story. And then, a lot of changes started to happen in India, politically and socially. Suddenly there is a lot fear in society; modern living became scarier, both in India and around the world. People have become so fearful of fundamentalism that they have become fundamentalists themselves. It was then that I realised the only way I was going to get the film made was to contemporise it. I actually had the title before I had the script! Raman Raghav 2.0, an updated version, like an iPhone (laughs). (Pictured, right; Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the title role)

SCREEN-SPACE: What was key to transplanting such a protagonist into modern day Indian society?

Kashyap: When I started writing, all these modern fears started to seep into the story. Working from my imagination and creating the mindset of the character, I realised he viewed himself as a much more pure person. Here is a criminal, a brutal criminal, who we know is going to kill, but then there is another man, a policeman who is supposed to protect me but who is also a killer, with his own reasons and conclusions. The serial killer murders because he wants to, that is easy to rationalise; it is a purity of thought. It is a complex philosophy, however warped it may be.

SCREEN-SPACE: Between Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s homicidal psychopath and Vicky Kaushal’s corrupt, unhinged cop (pictured, right), might audiences find it hard to root for anyone?

Kashyap: The audience is forced to root for the world that these characters co-exist in. I am rooting for what is outside of the room when the two of them share a scene. I hope that someday, society will learn what goes on when two people like this are together, how they manipulate reality for their own gain. That is the world today and that is what the film represents. I wouldn’t be allowed to address the politics of the story directly in my country, so I address within the construct of a genre film. Genre films have always played that purpose, subverting the politics of their society. When this film comes out in India, people will start to discuss and debate its politics. I want that discussion to take place.

SCREEN-SPACE: The two men certainly represent two sides of the same coin, as it were…

Kashyap: ‘Raman’ is the name of the villainous god in Indian mythology. But in Sri Lanka, the same ‘Raman’ is the hero. So our religion, our very belief systems, has this dichotomy about the co-existence of good and evil. In India, there is much discussion about this aspect of our existence, of belittling one belief system in favour of your own. That intolerance is what is afflicting the world at the moment.

SCREEN-SPACE: Are you concerned that the film might glorify the killer? Of turning him into a ‘Robin Hood’-type anti-hero?

Kashyap: Indian people know the story of the real Raman Raghav and they won’t confuse this movie’s version of him with the terrible person he was in real life. I’m doing more than projecting him as an anti-hero. I’m using the fact that audiences who flock to see him already view him as an anti-hero. This film is not a ‘whodunnit’, it is not about who is the serial killer; audiences go into the film knowing who the protagonist is. You know, I showed my actors and crew two films, Let the Right One In and We Are What We Are. These are neo-realistic films, about vampires and cannibals, which barely touch on the horror of their existence. I wanted to stress that we did not want to make a film about a serial killer, but about an individual trying to survive in a society with which his belief system is entirely at odds. (Pictured, right; Kashyap, centre, during the shoot).

SCREEN-SPACE: Your leading man, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, said this of you: “When he is behind the camera, I feel his supportive hand pushing me to break new ground and redefine boundaries…”

Kashyap: He is the clay I need to mould a character. Graciously, he allows me to do that. That trust comes from 17, 18 years of struggle together. In the early years, I promised him that we would make a film together and I would put him at the centre of it. I cast him in his first speaking role, two lines as a waiter in 1997 (laughs). We have such a comfort zone together. And that level of understanding and communication was crucial, as we only had three weeks to shoot. I sat down during pre-production and separated scenes and allocated dollars. All the sequences in the street were shot with a crew of four. We literally jumped out of a van, shot the footage, and left (laughs).

Raman Raghav 2.0 debuts Friday June 24 in worldwide release.

Tuesday
Jun212016

FRESH FACT-BASED FEST SET TO WARM SOUTHERN CINEPHILES

The cinematic landscape of Australia’s most cosmopolitan capital develops further with the launch of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. From July 9, the three day event will transform the Howler Art Space in the inner-city hub of Brunswick into a forum for local and international factual filmmakers, all vying for competitive honours in what promises to be a true celebration of short- and long-form documentary skill. The man in charge is Festival Director Lyndon Stone, one of the southern city’s most respected film curators after stints with the Made in Melbourne and Melbourne Underground film events. “I wanted to pay Melbourne back and provide opportunities for others,” Stone told SCREEN-SPACE when we chatted about his aims and ambitions for the new event…

SCREEN-SPACE: What was the key programming goal you set for the festival?

STONE: The central quality or theme that makes Australian cinema so powerful and so iconic is irreverence. I don’t define irreverence as being disrespectful, it’s just that our films don’t take themselves too seriously and are playful with cinematic conventions. Whilst I love ‘showcase’ documentary film festivals, I find their schedules and programming to be incredibly serious. So, we wanted to do something a little bit different. We wanted to look at creating a fun and exciting documentary film festival like Sundance, SXSW or DOC NYC, (one) that was playful with the documentary genre. My goal was to put together a festival that showcases documentaries that are relevant, thought provoking, moving and have a broader appeal to a majority of Australians.

SCREEN-SPACE: Curating a documentary festival carries with it inherent social value, given the genre’s ability to confront often unspoken truths...

STONE: We wanted to do some social good. We want to present a socially liberal film festival comprised of a diverse and challenging slate that supports and promotes women, Aboriginal, Asian and LGBTI documentaries.  Despite our time constraints, I think we have been successful for the most part. Clearly, there are some ongoing inequalities in the film sector and we are utilizing media like We Are Moving Stories, Documentary Drive and Women in Film Melbourne to promote the documentaries submitted by women. As it stands, approximately 25% of the films screening at Australasian festivals are directed by women; our final total was well over 40%. We have an award for best Aboriginal Feature or Short to encourage greater indigenous participation. More can be done, of course, and the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival wants to be part of the solution, making the film sector a more inclusive, equal and fair place for all. We also want to ensure that what matters the most is not who directed the documentary, how old they are, what sex they are, what religion they are, where they come from, what ethnicity they are, but that it is simply the best documentary that was submitted to the festival. (Pictured, right; A scene from Goodnight Brooklyn The Story of Death by Audio). 

SCREEN-SPACE: What most surprised you about the submissions you received this year?

I have become a huge fan of the Irish documentary sector, which I found incredibly well made, socio-realistic and exciting. I’ve also come across a rare type of film called A Billion Lives by director Aaron Biebert, a social justice documentary about vaping, e-cigarettes and big tobacco that tackles some very complex issues in a very accessible way. Bullied to Death, from Italian director Giovanni Coda, avoids the preachy or didactic, instead presenting an avant garde reality for many honest Australian families; bullying in Australia is an epidemic and needs to stop. Karen Collin's Beep is a great documentary about the history of video-game sound. And Marketa Tomanova's Andre Villers, a Lifetime in Images (pictured, top) tells of a selfless, humble, introverted and talented photographer who is worthy of further examination.



SCREEN-SPACE: Tech developments have taken the genre to new heights, but is replacing the unique aesthetics of shot-on-film docos of the past a good thing? Has the 'artform' been altered irreparably?

STONE: What I find so interesting and intriguing about the documentary genre is that the more it changes, the more it stays the same. Like horror and sci-fi, documentary is a genre that is continually innovating and moving forward into different areas but the more documentary changes as a genre, the more the filmmakers seem to adhere, or at least pay homage, to basic guiding principles. Some of my favourite documentaries, like Waltz with Bashir, still push genre conventions but at the same time stay true to the form as well. The documentary is never stagnant. What I would hate to see is for documentary and reality TV to somehow converge, but we won’t let that happen.

SCREEN-SPACE: What does a competitive festival like the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival mean to the documentary community, both in Australia and abroad?

STONE: We want to put Melbourne on the map for documentary. By having a competitive film festival solely dedicated to factual filmmaking, we have already been lucky enough to attract works and directors from the best documentary film festivals in the world.  We also want to support local documentary filmmakers and give them the impetus to keep honing their craft. As you know, in this business you have to be a fighter and incredibly resilient. I have not had the elevator to success in the film sector. I have to take the stairs every day, but it’s made me more empathetic, more humble, kinder and more forgiving. I remember recently late one night I received an email from a local Australian filmmaker who had been doing it tough, which simply read, “I have really wanted to be a documentary filmmaker and being accepted into your festival has given me renewed motivation to keep going and to keep striving towards my dream.” Feedback like that is incredibly heartening. (Pictured, right; A scene from Tanya Doyle's Waterlilies)

The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival runs July 9-11. Session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.

Thursday
May262016

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES: THE BRUNO DUMONT INTERVIEW.

The words 'Bruno Dumont' and ‘comedy’ are not often spoken in the same sentence. The French auteur’s films have largely been bleak, desperate studies of flawed characters struggling with tragic lives (The Life of Jesus, 1997; L'Humanite, 1999; Twentynine Palms, 2003; Flanders, 2006; Hadejwich, 2009; Camille Claudel 1915, 2013). But the 58 year-old plunges into the blackly ridiculous with Ma Loute (Slack Bay, in English territories), a Monty-Python-meets-Downtown-Abbey slice of magical surrealism in which he dissects the Gallic class divide as it existed in the summer of 1910. Set amidst the dunes and estuaries of his beloved northern French coastline, Dumont constructs a murder mystery that pits the vacationing upper class and clearly inbred Van Petegham clan (amongst them, Fabrice Luchini and a gloriously over-the-top Juliette Binoche) in conflict with local river-folk/cannibal peasants, The Bruforts (led by the titular teenager, played by Brandon Lavieville). “I always had comedy in me but I couldn’t find the right place to express it,” the director told SCREEN-SPACE (via an interpreter), while snacking on pistachios at the UniFrance tent as the Cannes Film Festival buzzed around us…

SCREEN-SPACE: Does this new willingness to explore comedy suggest a change in your own perspective of the world? Why a comedy now?

Dumont: When I finally settled upon the story of Ma Loute, commissioned the actors and set about scouting for locations, it was very liberating as it felt like I was about to fulfil a long-held desire. It ultimately fulfilled something that was lacking in my body of work, something (of which) I had not been fully aware. Comedy allowed me to more fully cover the spectrum of human experience that I had been striving to depict. Humour, (that) ability to find comedy in our lives, is something that had been lacking in my films. Also, my nature is to be adventurous, to try things that I have not done before, and that is not always easy in an industry that wants you to stick to what has been successful in the past. My next film is going to be a musical*, because I’ve never done that before.

SCREEN-SPACE: Did you feel that you and ‘comedy’ were a natural fit?

Dumont: I add irony to make the drama at the heart of my work explode. (Just) changing my approach I make it more comedic. I also think I bring my own reputation down a peg by trying some comedy, too. So it feels good to have found an outlet. (Pictured, right; l-r, Juliette Binoche, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Fabrice Luchini in La Moute)

SCREEN-SPACE: Setting the film at the turn of the century recalls the beginning of cinema; much of the physical comedy recalls the great pratfalls of silent era comedians. Why this period?

Dumont: Setting the film in this period helped me deflect the question of ‘realism’ that always dogs me. Being in the past, made it easier to look more like a metaphor. The year of 1910 represents a poetic metaphor; a time and a place that does not exist anymore, so contemporary audiences can define it as an allegory. The advantage in recreating that period is that everything is very extreme; the difference between the poor and the rich is very visible. It is already comic, in a way. Comedy works on simplification and here the contrast is already simple. I am always looking for a means by which to use distortion and exaggeration, and this time can be easily represented as ridiculous. The costumes, for instance, and how the wealthy behave in each other’s company appears extreme and ridiculous by current standards.

SCREEN-SPACE: You pitch much of the dialogue very high, demand some very broad, boisterous performances from your cast, none more so than the wonderful Juliette Binoche. The film represents a fresh tonality in your work.

Dumont: Cinema is, by definition, something quite stiff. The frame and the mise en scene is something quite organised, necessitating structure. But once you have that structure, inside it you can let creativity and inspiration flow in. That’s what I did with the characters and with certain elements of the plot. I like having professional actors only if I can distort their performances. If I can’t there is no point taking them on. I don’t like them or need them for what they are. I would never take professional actors for the fisherman family, for example, because they would really piss me off, trying to ‘create’ fisherman characters. With the non-professionals, I don’t need to believe in their ‘normal’ acting, or in my asking them to do what they can’t do. I only take them if they are relevant to the subject matter, and here I had a bunch of crazy eccentrics. It was fun to work with them and to distort their performances. (Pictured, above; Juliette Binoche as Aude Van Petegham in La Moute).

SCREEN-SPACE: You find the grotesque in both the pompous Petegham family and the brutal Brufort household. But you don’t draw a conclusion on whose existence represents the better life.

Dumont: Cinema is not inherently a moral field. Cinema has to be above the good and the bad otherwise there is no way to reflect upon it. The clash of social classes in my film is so exaggerated, so grotesque, so beyond the limits, it is hard to take very seriously. On one side they are cannibals, on the other they are an inbred family, totally nuts and impossible to relate to either. But within the spectrum that audiences bring to a film, the characters represent a mirror of sorts to our self. We all have this primitive, rural human being in us, and we possess the potential to be a totally stupid bourgeoisie. I wouldn’t be stupid enough to take one side over the other. (And) these are cinematic characters, clearly not real people.

SCREEN-SPACE: Overnight, Variety published their review of Ma Loute and critic Peter Debruge called you ‘a grump’, the ‘misanthropic filmmaker’. How do you respond to that perception of you and your work?

Dumont: (Pause) I am absolutely the opposite of that. I wonder how they can see misanthropy, when I’m glorifying my characters cinematically. Some people say the opposite (to Variety’s opinion), that this director is not misanthropic and is a lover of human nature, so the problem is not with me but with the reviewer. (This is) an immediate reaction to what they saw, and fails to see the metaphor; it bases their understanding of the film on a first impression. When I film a jerk, my aim is to elevate him to a saint, but they just see the vehicle, the first layer of characterisation. While some say the character of Ma Loute is ugly, some say he is a beauty; interpretation does not depend on me but depends on the viewer. I am not a philanthropist but nor am I a misanthrope. I remain neutral, in creating my characters with my actors. I hear it, like you do, but what can I do? Cinema has nothing to do with reality, it is a representation, so all these moral questions and talk of misanthropy are meaningless for me. (Pictured, above; Dumont with his cast at the Cannes Film Festival premiere of La Moute)

*‘Jeanette,’ a musical drama based on Charles Peguy’s play Le Mystere de la charite de Jeanne d’Arc, will be produced for French television and play theatrically overseas.

Australian distribution of Ma Loute (Slack Bay) will be via Sharmill Films, who acquired the title in Cannes; release date to be confirmed.

Sunday
May222016

CANNES FAVOURS PAST WINNERS WITH 2016 COMPETITION PRIZES

One of the favourite sons of the Cannes Film Festival, veteran British director Ken Loach, has won the 2016 Palme d’Or for his working-class battlers drama I, Daniel Blake.

It is the second time the top honour earned by that the master of social realism, with his 2006 revolutionary story The Wind That Shakes the Barley also impressing the festival jury; in 2012, he won the Jury Prize for The Angel’s Share. The 79 year-old (pictured, above, accepting the honour) was first nominated for the Palme d’Or in 1981 for Looks and Smiles and has amassed 14 festival trophies in total. "Our breath has been taken away, as we weren't really expecting to come back (with this film)," said Loach, "We are all quietly stunned."

Aside from Loach’s well-received film, the weight of critical opinion held very little sway with Jury President, Australian director George Miller, and his fellow judges. French-Canadian enfant terrible Xavier Dolan’s critically reviled drama Juste La Fin Du Monde (It’s Only The End Of The World) took home the Grand Prix, an honour awarded last year to 2016 Jury member Laszlo Nemes for his holocaust drama Son of Saul (Dolan was a Juror in 2015). "After an experience like this evening, we realised that the film's message got through," said Dolan in the press conference.

The best-reviewed film of the festival, Maren Ade’s blackly funny drama Toni Erdmann, travels home empty-handed. “We avoided at looking what other people were saying,” said Miller, when asked about the perceived snub. “We did the best we could after many, many hours of conversation.” (Pictured, above; Xavier Dolan accepting the award).

The Best Director honour was split between Frenchman Olivier Assayas for his wildly divisive supernatural drama, Personal Shopper, and Romanian helmer Christian Mungui for Bacalaureat (Graduation). Both were past Cannes attendees, with Assayas previously nominated for 4 Palme d’Ors while Mungui earned three trophies in 2007 for 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days. British director Andrea Arnold took home her third Cannes gong (after Red Road, 2006; and Fish Tank, 2009), winning the Jury Prize for her American road movie odyssey, American Honey. (Featured, below; the trailer for Christian Mungui's Bacalaureat) 

As dictated by the current voting guidelines, which demand films that win the top honours cannot vie for further honours, jury love was shared across many contenders. Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi (Palme d’Or nominee for The Past, 2013) won the Best Screenplay Award for The Salesman, his tension-filled drama also earning Best Actor kudos for his leading man, Shahab Hosseini. Best Actress winner was Jaclyn Jose for Brilliante Mendoza’s Ma Rosa, the jury called upon to deflect questions that the performance was more a stunning support turn than the lead role.

The Camera d’Or for best debut film was won by French filmmaker Houda Benyamini for Divines, a contemporary look at the problems faced by young women in Paris.

Prior to this evening’s ceremony, awards were announced for other programmes strands. Un Certain Regard jury president, iconic Swiss actress Marthe Keller, issued a statement on behalf of her fellow judges,, noting, Every film turned out to be rich in cinematic discoveries and insights into our world, addressing themes of family, politics and cultural differences." The top honour in this strand, Prize of Un Certain Regard was awarded to Juho Kuosmanen’s Hymyileva Mies (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki; pictured, right), a monochromatic boxing biopic, shot on 16mm, that represents a triumphant debut feature for the Finnish director. The French/Japanese co-production La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle), a dialogue-free animated drama from Studio Ghibli and Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit took the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize, with the low-key thriller Fuchi Ni Tatsu (Harmonium) from Japanese director Fukada Kôji earned the second-place  Jury Prize. Individual trophies were awarded U.S. director Matt Ross for his upbeat family drama Captain Fantastic, starring Viggo Mortensen, while screenplay honours went to French siblings Delphine and Muriel Coulin for their military drama Voir du Pays (The Stopover).

Three prizes are awarded by the international critic’s organisation FIPRESCI. Cannes sensation Toni Erdmann, the darkly funny German/Austrian drama from Maren Ade, took Best Picture trophy for an In Competition title while Caini (Dogs) from Romanian Bogdan Mirica earned the corresponding honour from the Un Certain Regard line-up. The Best Picture winner from the Director’s Fortnight/Critic’s Week programme was the breakout horror hit from the festival, Julia Ducournau’s sibling rivalry/cannibal shocker Raw (scene clip, above).

The Cinefoundation strand honours short film contributions by student filmmakers, with 18 films (14 live action, 4 animated) shortlisted in 2016 for the three trophies. Jury president Naomi Kawase awarded first prize to Anna, directed by Or Sinai from Israel’s Sam Spiegel Film & TV School; second prize was awarded to In The Hills, directed by Hamid Ahmadi, from The London Film School. Jury members could not split a third placegetter amongst the hotly-contested category, dividing the honour between A Nyalintas Nesze, directed by Nadja Andrasev, of Hungary’s Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, and La Culpa Probablemente, directed by Michael Labarca from Universidad de Los Andes, Venezuela. (Pictured, above; the Cinefoundation filmmakers)      

Wednesday
May112016

NOTES ON A SCANDAL: THE SCOTT HICKS INTERVIEW

Brilliant, often troubled personalities consumed by the power of music have yielded rewarding cinema for director Scott Hicks. After conquering the world and earning two 1996 Oscar nominations for his David Helfgott biopic, Shine, the Adelaide-based filmmaker delved into the complex genius of Philip Glass in his 2007 documentary, Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts. His latest journey into the flawed brilliance of musical obsessiveness is Highly Strung, an intimate portrait of the Australian String Quartet in the grip of member conflict and of the all-consuming power of the classic Stradivarius and Guadagnini string instruments with which they ply their trade. Ahead of the film’s Australian season, Hicks spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about his latest ‘music on film’ opus…

SCREEN-SPACE: As someone with a layman’s comprehension of classical music, Highly Strung was a very accessible film.

Hicks: That’s always heartening to hear because one of the great challenges was to how to make a film about these rare instruments and the rarefied world in which they exist and what fascinating obsessions drive it. Obviously, it enhances it a bit if you know a little bit about classical music, but this is a story about people who are possessed by these ideas.

SCREEN-SPACE: Given the events that unfold as the shoot progresses, how close to your original vision for the film is in the final mix?

Hicks: (Laughs) Oh, no, the whole nature of the film changed as I was making it. That represents the purity, the lifeblood, of documentary filmmaking. You can set out with a plan, with an idea; you have to have some sort of concept of what you are trying to do. But, at the same time, life has a habit of unfolding in its own direction and you have to follow where the film takes you. I had in mind something that probably would’ve been a bit more historical, with a bit more information about the instruments. But I got caught up in the day-to-day world of these individuals and went with that, and some unexpected developments happened. (Pictured, above; ex-ASQ first violin, Christian Winther, in Highly Strung)

SCREEN-SPACE: Did you envision the clash of personalities that ultimate played out?

Hicks: I filmed the very first concert of the Australian String Quartet’s new line-up, with these four magnificent Guadagnini instruments, and from day one I began to get an idea of the tensions that underlie these musicians. What a struggle it is to find a band that can stay together! Which I guess is true of any type of music. What do The Rolling Stones have over any other band? They stayed together (laughs).

SCREEN-SPACE: The sheer diversity of personalities that are possessed by this love of classic string music, and of the Stradiviri and Guadagnini instruments in particular, is remarkable.

Hicks: The music is the language of the film. Everyone in the film speaks the same language, but they all have their own agenda, whether they are musicians or dealers or collectors or craftsmen. Everything about their lives is filtered through these incredibly well engineered pieces of wood that are 300 years old. The passion was so infectious, none more so than in the hedge fund dealer in New York who, while cradling his Stradivari, says “Of all my investments around the world this is the only one I can touch.” And then he proceeds to play it! It is this passion that I was certain audiences could connect with regardless of the knowledge of classical music. (Pictured, above; Cremona-based luthier, Roberto Cavagnoli, right).

SCREEN-SPACE: Between the flawed, maddening genius of Christian and the grace and dignity of Roberto, your film finds its yin-yang, attains a fine balance.

Hicks: There is an amazing thing that emerges when you are making films and it applies as much to the documentaries as it does to the dramas I’ve created, and it’s called casting (laughs). I had no way of knowing what these people would be like on this journey, but it turned out that there were these archetypal figures, the yin-yang as you say – the passionate, flawed genius of the first violinist in Christian, set against the almost ‘old world’ feeling of Roberto, the luthier from Cremona, crafting by hand an identical copy of a Guadagnini cello from a plank of wood. Between those forces, that ‘force field’, there is a universe of ideas that I found fascinating.

SCREEN-SPACE: And acting as a kind of matriarchal spirit is the charismatic figure of Ulrike Klein…

Hicks: Well, Ulrike was the starting point for the film. She came to my wife Kerry (the film’s producer) and said she was collecting the four Guadagnini instruments, to loan to the ASQ in the hope that they would achieve an even greater standing in the world of international music. She said, “Do you think there is a story in this?” and immediately I could see the complexities that existed between all the diverse passions at play in this small world. What was so intriguing was that I began to ask myself what was intrinsic to Ulrike that lead her to this philanthropic, cultural idea. What happened, as you see in the film, is what I like to call a kind of ‘Rosebud’ moment, when it is revealed that her passion stems from a thwarted childhood desire. (Pictured, above; the director with Ulrike Klein)

SCREEN-SPACE: Which, in many ways, recalls a crucial part of the narrative of Shine…

Hicks: Exactly. In Shine, the first kind of ‘musical’ film that I made, there was a story element that was central to David Helfgott’s upbringing. In the film, his father says something like, “When I was a child, I saved and saved for my first violin, which I wanted more than anything, and when I got it, my father smashed it.” It was a thwarted musical instinct, just like that which emerges about Ulrike, that was so much part of the Shine story.

SCREEN-SPACE: Have you ever drawn a line between the artistry and talent of your subjects and the artistry and talent you bring as the filmmaker?

Hicks: (Pause). When I made the film about Philip Glass, on the very first day of shooting I pulled out my camera and started filming Philip cooking us pizza in his kitchen at Nova Scotia. In the process of cooking, he kept turning around and talking to me behind the camera, saying things like, “Do you like garlic, Scott?” And I’d answer, “Well, yes, but stop talking to me, Philip, I’m the documentarian” (laughs) But as the shoot progressed, I began to realise that that was the film and that he was inviting a relationship with me and choosing to ignore the fact that I was holding a camera. That created a tremendous sort of intimacy. What began as me thinking ‘Well I won’t be able to use this,’ actually dictated and drove the tone of the film. The same thing sort of applies in Highly Strung, in that you’re not pretending you are not there because the presence of the camera impacts upon every situation. And it would be crazy to imagine otherwise. It is, essentially, an attempt at some level of honesty about your engagement and involvement with these people as people. I think somewhere in there I answer your question, partially (laughs).

HIGHLY STRUNG begins a limited theatrical season in Australia on May 19 via Sharmill Films.