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Friday
Jun152018

SWAGGER OF THIEVES: THE JULIAN BOSHIER INTERVIEW

As portrayed in Julian Boshier’s hard-rock doc Swagger of Thieves, life within New Zealand’s legendary metal band Head Like A Hole…well, it hasn’t been easy. One of the country’s most respected music video makers and documentary cameramen, Boshier has spent a fair share of the last 25 years close to band members Nigel ‘Booga’ Beazley and Nigel Regan. Their time in each other’s company has provided Boshier with unprecedented access to some of the most remarkable footage ever filmed of the wild rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle; Swagger of Thieves runs the gamut from ‘young, self-destructive artists in their prime’ to ‘dads and husbands determined to keep their dream alive’. Ahead of his films’ screening at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, Boshier spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the men, the band and his destined-for-cult-status film…

SCREEN-SPACE: In presenting a personal portrait of the lads, what aspect of them as artists and as men had to be conveyed? What was the truth you wanted to tell?

BOSHIER: A documentary should take the audience to a place that they don’t usually have access to. A lot of people love the idea of getting close to a band, of experiencing a tour, or being backstage. So I wanted to get the audience into those normally restricted places, exposing the rehearsal space, the bickering, the tension and the feeling of what it is like being in or around Head Like a Hole. I didn’t really set out to expose the deep inner workings of these guys; how much they were going to reveal [of] themselves on camera was up to them. As time went on the layers revealed themselves and some semblance of them and their truth was laid out. My intention was to present a portrait of them, that they had presented to me. I do feel that they presented the truth, or at least their version of the truth.

SCREEN-SPACE: What is so unique about this band? Why does this documentary tell a different story to other heavy music rock docs?

BOSHIER (picture, right): My relationship with the band allowed me a level of access and intimacy that maybe other music documentary makers have not obtained. This band is not that unique in what they have achieved, but as characters or people, they do possess very unique attributes. This is a mix of dysfunction, unprofessionalism, fractious relationships, incredible humour, toughness, vulnerability. I wanted to approach this project in a different way to your average band profile documentary.  I wanted it to be about people and people living their lives; the backdrop was the band. This approach is why the end result is probably quite different to other rock documentaries.

SCREEN-SPACE: You’ve been around a lot of musicians whose careers have ebbed and flowed, but who push on. What are the character traits – good or bad - that are constant in all these music industry veterans?

BOSHIER: Actually quite a few of the bands I have made music videos for have split. The only two bands that have survived are Head Like a Hole and Shihad. Their paths have run a different course from one another, but both bands have lasted twenty-five odd years and both continue to this day. Head Like a Hole are certainly not the darlings of the New Zealand music industry and they do personally struggle at times to continue with their art, financially and otherwise. But their motivation seems to continue; their quest to produce a great new song, or a great performance continues. I guess that motivation comes from the music itself, the power of creating. All members of Head Like a Hole have flexible full-time jobs, and with that flexibility it allows them to take time out to reverse, record and tour. They operate in bite size chunks and that allows them to continue. (Pictured, above; from left, Nigel 'Booga' Beazley and Nigel Regan)

SCREEN-SPACE: Drug addiction all but destroyed the band; the scenes in which the much younger men shoot up are tough to watch. Was it ever considered a step-too-far including the footage? Why did it have to be in there?

BOSHIER: When I first suggested the idea of a film to Head Like a Hole, we all agreed immediately the approach had to be warts and all. Nigel Regan describes it as being ‘one big wart’. There was no other way to make this film; it couldn’t be dulled down or censored. It had to be a true representation or what was the point. Head Like a Hole have a reputation in New Zealand as a wild bunch, as ‘outlandish outlaws’. So it was important to the integrity of the story that needles were a part of it, as they have been a part of their lifestyle. The audience would have been expecting this type of footage, as their habits are common knowledge. The film would have had a glaring omission without the needle content. (Pictured, above; Boshier, centre, with band members)

SCREEN-SPACE: How did your feelings for these guys and your experience being part, however small, of their history influence how you told their story?

BOSHIER: Knowing these guys for a long time, I felt a huge responsibility undertaking this project. I had to be accountable to the band, to their music, their fans, their families, the movie-going public and to myself. New Zealand does not have many bands or musicians that are worthy or that can offer the myriad of ingredients that go into making a film, so this was something that I could not screw-up. But I have always trusted my own instincts, tastes and atheistic. I’ve always kept a professional distance from these guys and that continued during the filming; the band didn’t quite know what I was doing, and neither did I, but I backed myself. I suppose I took the cut to the edge, allowed no mercy. But this film is about a unique band; they deserved no mercy, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s true and real. (Pictured, above; Head Like a Hole frontman Nigel 'Booga' Beazley)

SCREEN-SPACE: How are the band’s fans reacting to the revelations in the film?

BOSHIER: The reaction in New Zealand has been quite incredible. Both the media and the public have been entertained, shocked and enlightened by this film that has come out of left field. It has drawn quite a broad audience, [which says] to me that I had not wasted many years and a huge amount of money making it. This film deals with friendship, addiction, personal demons, struggle but also the brighter side of life – love, music, fun and laughter. International audiences will have no preconceived notions about this band or film, so it could be a surprising discovery for them. This film is genuinely funny and entertaining; it [comes from] a darkness but also [has] a positivity that I hope international audiences can relate to.

SWAGGER OF THIEVES will screen at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 14. Full ticketing and venue information can be found at the official event website.

Swagger of Thieves Trailer from Trench Film on Vimeo.

Thursday
Jun072018

PREVIEW: 2018 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL

The celebration of a passionate man dedicated to a life in the service of cinema seems entirely appropriate as the Opening Night offering at the 2018 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. The eclectic 9-day programme of long- and short-form factual films have been collated by a devoted curation team under founder and festival boss Lyndon Stone, whose time and energy in bringing the latest from the documentary field to Victorian audiences will be rewarded when the latest incarnation launches July 6.

First night honours go to Filmworker, director Tony Zierra’s profile of the enigmatic Leon Vitali, the bohemian Brit who chose to forego a career in front of the camera and dedicate his life to being right hand man and ultimately gaurdian for the great Stanley Kubrick. Offering profound insight into a man so drawn into the maddening genius of Kubrick’s vision that he altered his own destiny to serve the director, Filmworker has been embraced by critics (“A brisk, compelling movie that’s pure candy for Kubrick buffs,” said Variety) and promises to energise audiences.

Zierra’s crowdpleaser will screen under the banner ‘Film Buff’ with two films that also address that heady mix of destiny and talent – Anjelica Huston on James Joyce: A Shout on The Street, the actress’ recollections of the author’s career (Huston, pictured, right, starred for her father John in the Joyce adaptation, The Dead); and I am Famous, a melancholy look at the post-Back to The Future life of Thomas Wilson, aka trilogy bully Biff Tannen.

The 2018 program reflects the vast field of vision that documentaries afford the conscientious moviegoer. Over 60 films will screen, including two world premieres and ten Australian premieres, across six venues. In addition to ‘Film Buff’, there will be twelve themed strands (including two dedicated short-film and Melbourne-centric sessions). These include such banners as ‘Australian Art’ (which includes Black Anzac, director Tim Anastasi’s coverage of the creation of a mural by artist Hego depicting an Aboriginal WW1 soldier); ‘Geopolitics’ (featuring Timothy George Kelly’s EU-exit takedown, Brexitannia); ‘Social Justice’ (read our review for Dawn Mikkelson’s Risking Light here); ‘Animal/Environmental’ (with one for the musophobics from Chris Metzler called Rodents of Unusual Size); and, 'EDM Docs' (with Glen J. Scrymgour’s dance-party culture-clash study, Decks and The City).

Closing out the event will be the ‘Rock Docs’ strand, a collection of three films geared towards building momentum heading into the after-party. New Zealand filmmaker Julian Boshier will be in attendance to front the screening of his feature Swagger of Thieves, a behind-the-scenes account of struggling bandmates determined to overcome their own shortcomings and find a successful music sector niche. It will screen with Adam Farks’ The Music Stops Here, which addresses how gentrification and over-development can kill off musical culture; and, Samantha Holder and Nathan Richman’s Turn It Up!, a then-and-now study of the Sydney live music.

In addition to Boshier, several filmmakers will brave the chilly Southern capital in support of their works, with masterclasses and Q&A panels on the agenda. Those attending include Jackie Ochs, whose exposé Out of My Head reveals the shocking facts behind that crippling modern ailment, the migraine; Thor Neureiter, whose investigative piece Disaster Capitalism uncovers profiteering practices in the global aid network; and local lads David Elliott-Jones and Lachlan McLeod (pictured, right), the minds behind the wildly entertaining ‘viral fame’ experiment, Big in Japan.

Also scheduled is a presentation by people-powered exhibition outfit FanForce on the benefits and processes on self-distribution, an increasingly potent avenue by which documentarians can get their films seen by a broader audiences. 

2018 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL runs July 6-14 at verious venues across the city. For ticket sales and session details, visit the official website.

SCREEN-SPACE is a media partner of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Editor Simon Foster will be hosting Q&A events throughout the festival as a guest of the organisers.

Thursday
May102018

RABBIT: THE LUKE SHANAHAN INTERVIEW

Cryptophasia (noun): Language and/or transmission trends formed between twins that are comprehendible only to them.

The mysterious bond that twins share has proven fertile material for some of the world’s great film directors, from Brian De Palma (Sisters, 1972) and David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers, 1988) to Spike Jonze (Adaptation, 2002) and Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper, 2016). In crafting his film debut Rabbit, the story of one twin’s descent into madness as she searches for her missing sister, Australian director Luke Shanahan joins a club of fearless filmmakers willing to walk a dark, ambiguous narrative path. The combination of Shanahan’s daring storytelling and the acting bravado of a cast that boasts Adelaide Clemons, Alex Russell and Belgian star Veerle Baetens has ensured a prominent festival profile for the thriller, shot in the South Australian hinterland.

Ahead of his film’s screening in Brisbane as part of the Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow, Shanahan spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the challenges he set himself with his first feature…  

SCREEN-SPACE: There are no easy passages, no sign-posted narrative shortcuts in Rabbit. You're not afraid to challenge, even confound your audience to tell this story…

SHANAHAN: I didn’t set out to create confusion. I’m not a fan of films that deliberately confuse. But I did see this as a film of two halves, of two twins, two stories. Then I leave it to the audience to join the puzzle together. I wrote the film as it appears and we shot the script in order. You could say the first half is more conventional than the second half and everyone seems to have a favourite half, referencing that idea of the favourite twin that Maude alludes to as her search continues. Identical twins are so intriguing that I did want the narrative journey to intrigue. Nothing is straightforward. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The film offers such a unique perspective I begrudgingly ask your influences. The 'Australian gothic' feel recalls Terry Bourke's Inn of The Damned (1975); some twists are reminiscent of Pascal Laugier's horror classic Martyrs (2008)…

SHANAHAN: You’ve nailed it in two. But I borrowed from a bunch more; throw in The Wicker Man, Rosemary’s Baby and Wake in Fright. I like horror played fairly straight and most of my ‘mood books’ I used as influence covered films that aren’t straight horror stories, with the exception of Martyrs. Drama really, played straight. (Pictured, above, from left: producer David Ngo, actress Adelaide Clemons, Shanahan, and actor Alex Russell) 

SCREEN-SPACE: When did the complex psychology shared by twins first present itself as a story concept?

SHANAHAN: I had a friend who was an identical twin and we started talking about connections. She mentioned that although at times she isn’t close with her twin, she would feel it if she was being tortured. I thought, okay, wow, that’s a weird thing to say. I then tried to examine (a basis) for a thrilling and intriguing tale. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The shoot finally happened after some convoluted financing gelled - SAFC, MIFF Premiere Fund, the Level K team, to name a few of the 'money men' who stepped up. What lessons were learnt about the modern indie film financing landscape by the time you started rolling…?

SHANAHAN: That’s a big question. I know to raise the funds, it does sound like a committee but all (the financiers) involved gave us full reign to make a truly independent film. And the most important thing that David Ngo (producer) gave me was creative freedom. Essentially, we had final cut and throughout the entire process, David and I worked together as sounding boards for each other. That may never happen again and I am truly grateful that I got to do it. The biggest lesson I learnt was to follow your gut and your instinct. When it’s just you, that’s all you've got. I like the responsibility of living by the creative choices you make. Is the film perfect? Of course not, but it was the film I wanted to make. (Pictured, above: Shanahan on set with DOP Anna Howard; photo Ian Routledge

SCREEN-SPACE: There are some bold stylistic flourishes, reminiscent of Italian giallo cinema. Firstly, the 'big red screen', that moment when the entire screen is filled with a 'Lynch-ian red'…

SHANAHAN: That was a moment that would no doubt have been pulled up by a committee or a conservative distributor. I still can’t believe we got away with a big chunk of red in the middle of the film. That makes it sound like an indulgence, which it is, but it lends itself to the dichotomy of the film and the narrative structure of two halves. It’s crucial in that respect. That signals that we’ve gone down the ‘rabbit hole’, the moment that the film shifts. I wanted to give the audience a moment, smothered with a big fat organ chord , to take that in. It’s over the top for sure, but I like it. It’s a tip of the hat to giallo and Italian horror cinema, a broad brush stroke that makes me smile. (Pictured, above: Adelaide Clemons, as Maude, in Rabbit) 

SCREEN-SPACE: And, yes, that “big fat organ chord”, that operatic wall-of-sound that you employ... 

SHANAHAN: Mike Darren (composer) and I sat down at the start and I told him that no idea would be taken off the table. Be bold. Be loud. We’re making a wild film and I like soundtracks that aren’t just backing music or wallpaper. Music is a character for me and that’s my Kubrickian reference. I can turn the picture off and hear the film. I love that. I’m a big collector of soundtracks and I hope that we’ve reared a nice one here too. 

SCREEN-SPACE: Rabbit relies upon a very precise structure to convey the themes of memory and connectivity and loss. Do you adhere to the old adage that the editing process is the final draft of the script?

SHANAHAN: I guess I do. Stu Morley (editor) and I have been working together for many years. We always would speak about the breath and flow of the drama. It’s what we relied upon. He has such a beautiful manner when it came to working scenes in the edit. He’d make a broad cut and then we’d finesse. He told me to concentrate on what information I needed to convey from each scene. This was invaluable, as I’d sometimes get caught up with the flourishes, as you do shooting your first feature. We also had voiceover that we needed to guide the audience through a lot of the third act. It was a juggle but early preparation meant that most of what we set out to do didn’t throw too many curveballs within the edit. Our aim was to make sure we gave the audience enough information to understand the story without pulling back the curtain completely.  You’ve got to have that chat in the cafe or bar after the film, don’t you?

RABBIT will screen May 25 at Events Cinema Myer Centre as part of the 2018 Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow. Details can be found at the official website. A North American release is being planned through distributor The Orchard.

Saturday
Apr282018

HEALTHY PLANET DOCS TO SCREEN AMONGST SERENE OZ SCENERY

The advocacy documentary movement thrives through the passion and determination of people like Kevin and Lowanna Doye. The planet-conscious proprietors of a wholefoods superstore in the picturesque northern New South Wales township of Bellingen will launch the Kombu Food Film Festival on May 12, a single-day presentation of four environmentally-themed factual films that the parents-of-four hope will inspire their audience to build a healthier, happier future for all our children.

“Watching films, particularly informative documentary films, in a collective environment is really powerful,” says Brit expat Kevin, who established Kombu Wholefoods in 2004, having relocated with his Australian wife from the U.K. to Sydney in 2002 before heading to the Bellingen hinterland. “It can be a trigger for generating real change and feeling reassured that there’s a community of people who feel the same way on some of these issues.”

Fighting the good fight on behalf of the planet is an ongoing commitment for the Doyes (pictured, right; at home, with their children). Their journey from Oxford to Sydney took the road less travelled, for example; over 18 months, Lowanna and Kevin peddled the Bike2Oz challenge, riding 12,000 kilometres across Europe and Asia to negate the carbon footprint that air travel would have rendered upon the Earth.

The key objective of the Kombu Food Film Festival is to spotlight like-minded people from around the world who are committed to positive change in the generation and responsible harvesting of our food supply. “We’ve selected films that offer solutions,” says Kevin. “They reveal what some of the problems are, but they’re also highlighting discussion points from which we can move forwards.”

The 2018 line-up of films includes:

Living The Change: Inspiring Stories for a Sustainable Future (Dirs: Antoinette Wilson and Jordan Osmond, pictured right; 85mins, Australia/New Zealand). The latest work from the film collective Happen Films, Living The Change explores solutions to contemporary global crises through the stories of people pioneering change towards a sustainable and regenerative way of life (official website).

Unbroken Ground (Dir: Chris Malloy; 26 mins, U.S.A.). Unbroken Ground examines how food can and should be a part of the solution to the environmental crisis – grown, harvested and produced in ways that restore our land, water and wildlife. Profiled are four groups pioneering such practices as regenerative agriculture and grazing, diversified crop development and restorative fishing (official website).

A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity (Dir: Jordan Osmond; 78 mins, Australia). Follows an Australian community who responded to the global crises through the implementation of simple living practices. Throughout the year, the group build tiny houses, plant community gardens, employ ‘simple living’ techniques and define and overcome the challenges of communal living (official website).

Seed: The Untold Story (Dirs: Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel; 94 mins, U.S.A.). In the last century, 94% of seed varieties have disappeared. From the activist film group Collective Eye Films and featuring such high profile voices as Jane Goddall and Vandana Shiva, Seed reveals the challenging and heartening story of passionate seed keepers as they wage a David and Goliath battle against chemical seed companies, defending a 12,000 year food legacy. Executive produced by Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (official website).

The Kombu Food Film Festival screens May 12 at the Bellingen Memorial Hall from 1.00pm. Entry is free; a gold coin donation is appreciated. All proceeds will be donated to the Kombu Community Garden, Bellingen. Event information can be found at the official website.

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.