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Sunday
Aug172014

SEA OF LOVE: THE GIRL SAVING OUR OCEAN'S ALPHA PREDATOR

Much is made of the notion that it must be the current generation of young people who will start to rebuild the planet, righting the wrongs of those before them. No one embodies the spirit of global change more than Madison Stewart, currently travelling the world with her documentary Shark Girl, a moving account of her life amongst the ocean’s alpha predators and a blistering indictment of the brutal exploitation they suffer. Her actions and words are generating a groundswell of global support; just don’t call her and activist…

“I hate being called an activist,” the 20 year-old Queenslander says with a laugh from New York City, where she has slotted in a few minutes to chat with SCREEN-SPACE as part of a hectic US media schedule. “People hear that term and think that what we do is part of some ultra-radical green agenda, when the truth is I am just a normal Australian person who loves our oceans. I can’t just sit down and let injustice occur.”

Shark Girl traces Stewart’s deep bond with the ocean, from her childhood living on the family boat on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to her acceptance of the role as global ambassador for shark conservation. “I spent more time growing up in the ocean with sharks than I ever did with people, so to me they are just such a normal, everyday part of my life,” she recalls. The film features footage shot by her father of a pre-teen Madison swimming with schools of reef sharks and her first dive amongst Tiger sharks. “I couldn’t imagine growing up without them.”

Offering an international perspective with footage from Mexico, Palau and The Bahamas, the film balances Stewart’s personal journey with insights into the worldwide slaughter and trading of sharks. At times, the footage is harrowing and the truths behind fishing industry claims remarkably affecting. “The laws pertaining to our oceans are allowing destruction and failing to protect the protected species,” she says, hoping that education will inspire action. “Reaction from the public is now required, the kind of reaction that I have been having for so long that it has become a normal part of my life. As long as the injustices keep occurring, we have to fight back.”

Although the filming duties on Shark Girl went to co-directors Gisela Kaufman and Carsten Olt (pictured, right), Stewart is an accomplished underwater photographer with several documentary shorts to her credit. The latest is Obstruction is Justice, compiled from footage while on location in Western Australia to cover the introduction of the controversial shark culling policy. Says Stewart, “What is happening in Western Australia is an unfair, misguided gross injustice. The culling will never stop shark attacks and any shark expert will tell you that. To see these amazing animals, these beautiful Tiger Sharks, being so randomly killed is such a tragic thing.”

The footage captures fisheries officers breaching ocean-going rules and threatening the lives of Stewart and her crew. The stakes were clearly high for both parties. “It took a rather harsh turn,” she acknowledges. “My decision to film sharks in WA turned into this much bigger thing, a movement (that) was threatened with court action. They tried to take our footage from us, just because we wanted to film what the government was doing to the shark population.” But the fierceness of the fight against the state government’s policy only succeeded in highlighting her presence and the callousness of the cull. “Taking a stance like that is becoming a necessity for the everyday person and there were a lot of everyday people who became involved for the first time while we were in WA,” she says, proudly.

Madison Stewart understands that the inherent fear/thrill response human beings have towards sharks will be hard to alter. “Sharks are one of those few animals that we have not established control over. I can understand how that can be scary for people,” she admits. It is an easily exploited avenue for a modern media seeking a fresh sensationalistic angle. “(They) still love a good shark attack story and still exploit the images created by Jaws. That kind of media is just not realistic.”

What the young documentary maker does hope to achieve with her films and growing profile is a more balanced social acceptance of the ocean’s greatest predators. “I don’t need people to love sharks or not be scared of them,” she says, “I just need to people to respect them.”

Shark Girl is available on DVD at The ABC Shop in Australia and is currently screening on the Smithsonian Channel in the US.

Saturday
Aug162014

HIDDEN TALENTS HAILED BY NEW GALLIC GALLERY

In her two decades as one of French cinema’s most influential producers, Anne-Dominique Toussaint has guided to international glory such award winners as Respiro (2002), Caramel (2007), The Hedgehog (2009), The French Kissers (2009), Where Do We Go Now? (2011) and Bicycling with Moliere (2013). While in Melbourne for the MIFF season of her latest production, Jacky and The Kingdom of Women, Toussaint (pictured, below) told SCREEN-SPACE that her latest project explores the multi-faceted creativity of the great film artisans…

“I’ve been a producer for 24 years now and have produced a lot of films but I felt it was time for a new type of challenge,” said Toussaint, a woman whose elegant, sophisticated presence draws many admiring glances during our chat in Melbourne’s Sofitel motel. “I have opened an art gallery in Paris called Galerie Cinema. We will be displaying artistic works but only those from filmmakers or other people who have a direct link to cinema.”

Having worked with so many of the talents synonymous with European cinema, it seemed a natural progression for the producer to find an outlet for the full scope and scale of her colleague’s visions. “There are so many people in the world of film who are creative in so many ways, such as photography or sketching or painting, so to discover this side of these talented people is so gratifying and so much fun,” Toussaint says.

Her latest curation will launch in September with a display of photographic art from French director Cedric Klapisch (L’Auberge Espagnole, 2002; Russian Dolls, 2005; Paris, 2008; Chinese Puzzle, 2013). After a two month run, Galerie Cinema will present a tribute to the works of photographer Cindy Sherman from the American actor James Franco (pictured, right). Says Toussaint, “It is a very different creativity to what I am used to, the production and creation of films, but it is also the same thing, helping to bring the visions of talented people to an audience.”

Although the end result may be hung on a wall or stand on the gallery floor, Toussaint is determined to keep the link to her filmic roots intact. “It is still about cinema,” she says. “For me, it will always be about the world of cinema, but it is another type of relationship with the world of film.”

The unique endeavour is situated at 26 rue Saint-Claude (pictured, left) in the French capital’s artistic 3rd arrondissement. The exhibition space has a long history with the display of creativity in many forms; until recently, it housed the renowned Eric Mircher Gallery as well as operating as a creative community hub known as ‘sometimeStudio’.

As is the case with all the most successful film producers, Anne-Dominique Toussaint does not lack for ambitious vision. Should the Paris location prove successful, expect a Galerie Cinema near you. Says the producer, “It is my dream to open up a Galerie Cinema in cities all over the world, in New York, and maybe here in Melbourne, and one in Beirut, a city that I love.” 

Full details of the exhibition schedule for Galeries Cinema can be found on their Facebook page here.

Wednesday
Aug062014

POSSIBLE WORLDS OFFERS IMPOSSIBLE ROSTER OF FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

Given the bracing originality and unique visions of the films programmed, there is a sweet irony to the almost clichéd progression of the Possible Worlds Film Festival. The annual celebration of offbeat US and Canadian works began as a small, passionate project for Matthieu Ravier and his non-profit cultural collective, The Festivalists; nine years later, it is one of the key film events on the Australian social calendar. In 2014, an even split of nine US titles and nine Canadian features means audiences are spoiled for choice. To help your decision-making, here are the five standout films that SCREEN-SPACE rank as Possible World’s ‘must-see’ movies…  

YOUNG ONES (Dir: Jake Paltrow; 100 mins; pictured, above
What’s it about? Water is to director Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones as ‘guzzoline’ is to George Miller’s Mad Max. A landowner living in the dustbowl that was once civilization must protect his family from the ruthless drifters of the desert planet. But could the ultimate threat come from within the very walls of his own home?
Why should I see it? ‘Post-apocalyptic Western’ is reason enough; the striking trailer, another. An indie-sector dream cast (Michael Shannon, Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult and Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee) working dark and dusty with such grand themes of survival, morality and desire, perched on the edge of a new, dangerous world landscape.

TRIPTYCH (TRIPTYQUE; Dirs: Robert Lepage and Pedro Pires; 94 mins)
What’s it about? Robert Lepage’ theatrical head-scratcher Lipsynch become a live venue sensation (it played to sellout crowds at the 2009 Sydney Festival). Interweaving three vivid inner-city narratives – the bookseller, the jazz singer, the neurologist – into a compelling, confounding whole proved revelatory theatre. The celebrated Lepage, with co-director Pedro Pires, now brings his work to the screen, both honouring its stage roots while embracing, with new vigour, the technologies of the new canvas.
Why should I see it? Because I have absolutely no idea what to expect! Having earned an Ecumenical Jury Special Mention at Berlin’s Panorama strand, it is clear that this deeply personal vision will be a challenging experience. Lepage has the astonishing creative credentials to make this something special…

WHEN JEWS WERE FUNNY (Dir: Alan Zweig; 89 mins)
What’s it about? Documentarian Alan Zweig takes a typically idiosyncratic stab at understanding how the cultural history of the Jewish people fuels the hilarious acts and inspirational neuroses of some of the greatest comedians of all time.
Why should I see it? Both the old (Rodney Dangerfield, Henny Youngman, Jackie Mason) and the young (Howie Mandel, Marc Maron, Andy Kindler) are called upon to analyse the heritage that has helped them form their acts. It is not often that the words ‘exhaustively researched’ and ‘hilariously funny’ can be used to describe the same movie.

OUR MAN IN TEHRAN (Dirs: Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein; 85 mins)
What’s it about? Ken Taylor was the Canadian Embassy chief played by Victor Garber in Ben Affleck’s Oscar winner, Argo. A great film, no argument, but littered with dramatic licence. In this Canadian doco, the real Taylor sets the story straight about his role and the compassionate view his country took when they hid the six American diplomats at the height of the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979.
Why should I see it? For all the tweeking of facts that Affleck indulged in to make for compelling cinema, the true drama is in the feats of these very real people. Seeing their pure ordinariness and now knowing the heroes they became makes for a potent film experience. Won the Newport Beach Film Festival 2014 Outstanding Documentary trophy.

THE AUCTION (LE DEMANTELEMENT; Dir: Sebastian Pilote; 111 mins)
What’s it about? Bouchard & Sons is one of the oldest traditional lamb farms in rural Canada. But the proprietor Gaby (Gabriel Arcand), with no heir to pass the farm to and a daughter in dire financial need, is faced with the closure of his family business. Legacy, memory and the strength of tradition in a world of heartless progress are all examined in Sebastian Pilote’s moving drama
Why should I see it? Shot on 35mm film stock, the visual richness of the rustic, rural setting is reason enough; DOP Michel La Veaux won the Quebec industry Jutra Award for his lensing. A elegant, achingly melancholy script from director Pilote (which earned him the Cannes Film Festival SACD honour) and the Best Actor Genie Award for Gabriel Arcand certainly sweeten the deal.

 

The 2014 Possible Worlds US and Canadian Film Festival screen September 7-17 in Sydney with Perth and Canberra seasons to follow. For full details visit the official website.

Wednesday
Jul302014

SUFF 2014 PREVIEW: SUBVERSIVE SCHEDULE SET TO RATTLE SYDNEY PSYCHE

The 2014 Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF) enters its 8th year topped and tailed by two of international cinemas most buzzed-about films, ensuring the event, overseen by the dedicated duo of Stefan Popescu and Katherine Berger, further strengthens its reputation as a genre festival of global standing.

Opening the event on September 4 is New Zealand horror comedy Housebound, the directorial debut of Gerard Johnstone and coming to SUFF from a triumphant South-by-Southwest screening. It represents the second time this year that the Kiwi film community has snared a coveted festival slot across the ditch; in June, the vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows closed out the Sydney Film Festival.

The centrepiece of the Closing Night festivities on September 7 will be the German adaptation of Charlotte Roache’s  coming-of-sexuality bestseller, Wetlands (Feuchtgebiete), from fearless filmmaker David Wnendt (Combat Girls, 2011). Carla Juri (pictured, right) stars as Helen, Roache’s teenage protagonist obsessed with the sights, sounds and smells of her changing body. Wnendt was drawn to the project after a campaign pleaded that the novel never be made into a film due to its graphic nature; thumbing his nose at puritanical convention, the director opens his film with excerpts from the letter that kickstarted the movement.

Ten Australian Premieres highlight one of the strongest SUFF line-ups in recent memory. These include Leah Meyerhoff’s dark, fantastical spin on adolescent romance, I Believe in Unicorns, which scored the Grand Jury honours at this years Atlanta Film Festival; the highly-anticipated Amazonian cannibal epic, The Green Inferno, from horror maestro, Eli Roth; Zack Parker’s prickly pregnancy thriller, Proxy, starring Joe Swanberg and Alexia Rasmussen (pictured, top); the bleak, bare-bones misfit romantic odyssey Shadow Zombie, from filmmaker Jorge Torres-Torres; Richard Bates Jr, whose debut effort Excision wowed Sydney Film Festival audiences in 2012, returns with his sophomore effort, Suburban Gothic; and, Japanese ‘Guru of Gore’ Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, a relentlessly energetic, fiercely original assault on the senses from the director of the SUFF 2011 entrant, Guilty of Romance.

No more defining figure captured the complex purity of the underground cultural movement than William S Burroughs. SUFF, in conjunction with scholar and longtime supporter of the Festival, Jack Sargeant, will honour the great man with the Special Event screening of Andre Perkowski’s Nova Express, a radical, confrontational vision based upon the Burrough’s sci-fi novel of the same name.

Fifteen factual films make up the Feature Documentary strand of the program, including several hitting our shores for the first time. The bizarre, blood-soaked career of the ultimate shock-rocker is examined in the Canadian pic, Super Duper Alice Cooper, from co-directors Sam Dunn, Reginald Harkema and Scot McFadyen; Matt Wolf traces the evolution of the first century of youth culture in his demographic defining work, Teenage; Phil Healy’s and JB Sapienza’s character study ode to American oddness, My Name is Jonah (pictured, right); and, direct from its world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival, Michael Dahlstrom’s meditative, unforgettable study of food industry practices, The Animal Condition.

The craft of filmmaking and the warped personalities that populate the fringes of our cinema landscape feature in several SUFF sessions. The enigmatic visionary that is director Leos Carax (Holy Motors; The Lovers on The Bridge; Pola X) is afforded his own mesmerising semi-hagiographic study in Tessa Louise-Salome’s Mr X; having wowed audiences in across the world, Andrew Leavold brings to Sydney his obsessive study of The Philippines’ biggest, smallest film star in The Search for Weng Weng; and, Allison Berg and Frank Kerauden study the warped, wonderful life of John Wojtowicz, the real-life anti-hero and hedonistic icon whose short career as a bank robber inspired the classic film, Dog Day Afternoon.  

The vibrant global short film community always welcomes the annual SUFF gathering, which provides rare big-screen sessions for films that are often on the very edge of the experimental and avant-garde. Six different short film strands are scheduled this year, with works from the US (including the World Premiere Paul Turano’s Toward the Flame); Sweden (Sara Koppel’s provocatively-titled Little Vulvah & Her Clitoral Awareness; pictured, right); Brazil (the World Premiere of Julia Portella and Melina Schleder’s Damn You, Vougue); Canada (Veronica Verkley’s The Working Cat’s Guide to The Klondike); and, Austria (the first Australian screening for Markus Wimberger’s Bloody Monster).

And continuing an alliance established several festivals ago, SUFF will screen a selection of works from the Fetisch Film Festival, which unspools annually in the German city of Kiel and presents works of confronting eroticism. This year, the strand presents Jan Soldat’s BDSM-themed A Weekend in Germany; Canadian Matthew Saliba’s humiliation-vs-true-love drama, Eroticide; and, Loops, an episodic Danish work from Steen Schapiro which poses the question, ‘Why do we separate daily life and sexual needs?’

The 2014 Sydney Underground Film Festival runs Thursday September 4 to Sunday September 7 at The Factory Theatre, Marrickville. Full details can be found at the official website here.

Monday
Jul212014

A CHANGE OF SEASONS: THE JEFF CANIN INTERVIEW

With the wealth of debate on key issues and the availability of broadcast quality technology, the 'enviromental documentary' has become a ubiquitous genre. To rise above the new wave of 'message movies' takes keen insight, a fearlessness in one's filmmaking and a commitment for the long term. Director Jeff Canin is at the forefront of green-themed 'advocacy cinema'; his works with Cathy Henkel, most notably 2008's The Burning Season, have been recognised internationally. His first solo directorial effort, 2 Degrees, realeased under the banner of his recently-formed company Green Turtle Films, tackles the injustices brought upon the planet by world leaders at the Copenhagen 2013 Climate Change Conference as well as one small township's brave effort to tackle the issue of global warming. Ahead of a screening of his film at Sydney's Chauvel Cinema on August 20, Canin (pictured, below; with DOP, Damian Beebe, in the South Australian hinterland) spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the all-consuming passion that the environmental documentary demands...    

What were the motivating forces that inspired the 2 Degrees film and intiative?

My previous film, The Burning Season, ended at the Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2007. I was struck by the enormity of what governments were trying to achieve and fascinated by the machinations of the whole process.  Machiavelli would have had a field day. I've always been motivated by the desire to make a difference, and felt it was important to follow the negotiations until the meeting in Copenhagen, which was supposed to produce a legally binding agreement for significant cuts in carbon emissions. The working title was ‘The Road to Copenhagen’. But all through 2009, the mantra repeated over and over was ‘2 degrees’ and how vital it was to keep global temperature rises to below 2 degrees. Yet even this was controversial, because the small island states believe that any rise above 1.5 degrees is the kiss of death. But the industrialized countries believe that they can survive a rise of 2 degrees, and economically, anything below this will be too difficult and expensive. So the title of the film is also somewhat sardonic.  

What were your goals heading into production?

My goal was to make the highly convoluted United Nations process accessible for the general public. And through our interesting characters, inspire them to look at their own lives and ways they could reduce their own personal carbon emissions.  

The toughest lines to walk in an advocacy piece are between the message-based aims and what makes it ‘entertaining’. What were the ‘dos and don’ts’ you adhered to provide that balance in 2 Degrees?

We knew that a whole series of talking heads would kill the film. But how else do you explain the incredible complexity of what was going on? So we tried to interview people on the run, in situ as it were, rather than formal sit down interviews. We also tried to interview as many women as we could, as it was mostly men in suits. And to show the colour of where we were, especially outside the negotiations, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ecuador, for instance. Showing footage of forest dwellers and their struggle to survive, especially in the Congo (pictured, right).  Those images humanize and give a face to the issue.

The lack of action at Copenhagen 2013 in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence made for some gut-wrenching scenes; experts who base their entire lives substantiating truths were clearly shaken when the inaction of our leaders became evident. What was the experience of being there like?

It was your classic multi car pile up on a freeway, but in ultra slow motion. We watched the delegates struggling through this tortuous process, often negotiating right through the night, desperate to produce an outcome that was more than cosmetic and result in real emission reductions (pictured, left; the press corps assembled in Copenhagen). And to watch in complete disbelief as the world leaders arrive and spend two days making posturing speeches purely for the TV audiences back home, instead of sitting down to iron out the remaining issues. It was unbelievably frustrating, and was only tempered by how exhausted we all were.  

2 Degrees is a film of two distinct halves - the Copenhagen 2013 coverage and then the intimacy of the Port Augusta scenes. How did you settle on the structure of the film?

We tried to weave the two stories together from the beginning, but it just didn't work. When it's so complicated, you have to keep it flowing or people lose track.  We needed the Port Augusta story to provide the inspiration and counter the depressing saga of Copenhagen. So we set up the problem: the almost insurmountable task of getting 194 countries to agree on anything substantial. Then we contrast that with communities taking action and not waiting for world leaders to act. (Politicians) are not leaders, they are followers, and will not do anything that is an electoral risk. They will always follow behind the public, which is why we need to take action first and pressure our governments to follow. 

The strong central figure of Port Augusta mayor Joy Baluch (pictured, below) paints a crucial picture of the passion needed to fight for this, for any, cause. How would you best describe both her contribution to the film and being in her company during filming?

Joy's contribution to the film was immense. She is such a great character, and also because of her impact on us. Her courage was extraordinary. She was dying of cancer and in immense pain all the time we were filming her, but you would never know it from the footage.  We'd arrive to film and she would be in agony, but she wouldn't hear of delaying the shoot. "I'm in pain whether I'm in bed or doing the filming, so let's do it," she’d say. She was willing to do whatever she could to help the film come to life. It was so hard to see, yet we were so moved by her courage and determination to fight to the end. It was very humbling, and constantly put things into perspective. People find her incredibly inspiring, and I feel very lucky to have met her.

Are you ever concerned that in the future 2 Degrees will become a kind of ‘I told you so’ document, used to chart the terrible decline of our planet? Or is their still time for significant change?

I'm not a climate scientist so I don't know if it’s too late. I'm not sure anyone does. But in case it's not, we have to do everything we can to reduce our own personal carbon emissions, and pressure our governments to do more. And vote in governments that are going to take action, instead of kowtowing to the fossil fuel industries and letting them off the hook. The ‘big buck’ actions need to come from governments: banning all future coal exploration, phasing out existing coal mines, rapidly developing of solar thermal power and other renewable energy sources. Setting emission reduction targets that match what the science demands. We have to stop electing leaders like Tony Abbott who thinks, in his words, "climate change is crap.” It's extremely difficult to get anything significant through the UN process, when any one country can derail the negotiations. But having Governments there like the current Australian one guarantees the top down UN led process will fail. 

Catch a glimpse of the 2 DEGREES movie from Green Turtle Films on Vimeo.