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Thursday
Aug092018

PREVIEW: 2018 SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL

The latest from New Zealand’s ‘New Wave of Comedy’, a German film student’s thesis being hailed as one of the most exciting debuts in years and a triptych of punkish retro classics are just some of the avenues that adventurous patrons can wander down at this year’s Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF). The 12th annual celebration of cinema that shocks, confounds and seduces kicks into gear September 13 at its spiritual home, the iconic Factory Theatre in Sydney’s inner-west.

The 4-day soiree leads with the Australian premiere of Mega Time Squad, a crowd-pleasing, off-kilter romp from across The Ditch. Having won hearts at the genre confab Fantasia (rogerebert.com called it a, “sci-fi mini-odyssey with lots of creativity and even more laugh-out-loud gags”), writer/director Tim van Dammen’s time-loop comedy features Anton Tenet as a wannabe gangster who stumbles upon mystical jewellery that allows for time-space shenanigans. Co-star Jonny Brugh, who stole all his scenes in What We Do in The Shadows, will attend Opening Night ahead of hosting the Screen Acting & Improv Workshop on Saturday, September 15.

The feature film roster runs to 27 idiosyncratic visions, including 11 Australian premieres. Most notable amongst the 2018 line-up is Tilman Singer’s Luz (pictured, top), a film-studies thesis project shot on 16mm that Variety lauded as, “equal measures demonic-possession thriller, experiment in formalist rigor, and flummoxing narrative puzzle-box.” Other sessions certain to rattle adventurous Sydney patrons include Reinert Kill’s Norwegian yuletide slasher epic Christmas Blood; director Ethan Hawke’s Blaze (pictured, right), a deconstructionist musical-biopic of redneck country music star Blaze Foley, starring Benjamin Dickey in the title role alongside Alia Shawkat and Sam Rockwell; Wang Jinsong’s How Far Tomorrow, one of the first Chinese films to address drug addiction and in doing so, defy the strict censorship laws governing the nation’s filmmakers; and, Lucio A. Rojas’ appropriately-titled Chilean home-invasion horror ordeal, Trauma (read our full review here).

Underground icons represented this year include Canadian badboy Bruce La Bruce with The Misandrists, a lesbian-anarchy patriarchal takedown that deconstructs feminist ideals; Sion Sono, whose buckets-of-blood mini-series opus Tokyo Vampire Hotel has been re-edited into a still-epic 144 minute theatrical cut; and Winnipeg’s favourite son Guy Maddin who, with collaborators, Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson, presents his latest montage masterwork, the Vertigo-inspired The Green Fog.

SUFF will also recognize one of the lesser-known DIY giants of alternative art in the form of Stephen Groo, a micro-budget auteur whose output of over 180 films of next-to-no quality has earned him cult(ish) status and fans such as Napoleon Dynamite filmmaker Jared Hess, screenwriter Mike White and Jemaine Clements. Scott Christopherson’s profile-doc The Magic of Groo will screen ahead of the World Premiere of Groo’s latest effort, a remake of his own 2003 film The Unexpected Race, which this time around has ensnared Jack Black in a lead role (pictured, right).

The always-popular retrospective sessions include a 30th anniversary screening of William Lustig’s cult ‘video nasty’ Maniac Cop, set to screen after the Sydney premiere of the documentary King Cohen, a profile of the legendary Larry Cohen, the film’s writer (read our review of King Cohen here); a restored print of Slava Tsukerman’s 1982 post-punk/alien invasion oddity, Liquid Sky; and, with director Alex Proyas in attendance to front a post-screening Q&A, the 1989 dystopian desert-world freak-out Spirits of The Air, Gremlins of The Clouds. Also enjoying a resurrection of sorts will be Charles Band’s VHS-fuelled Puppet Master franchise, with the latest installment Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (written by Bone Tomahawk’s Craig Zahler) having its Australian Premiere at The Factory.

The 2018 factual film program once again honours a diverse range of free-thinkers, from vanguard artists (Oren Jacoby’s Shadowman, a profile of NYC street-artist Richard Hambleton; Philipp Jedicke’s study of enigmatic muso Chilly Gonzalez, Shut Up and Play the Piano; Chuck Smith’s Barbara Rubin & The Exploding New York Underground) to left-field theorists (Daniel J. Clarke’s insight into the Flat Earther’s movement, Behind the Curve; Werner Boote’s environmental industry expose, The Green Lie). Of the 13 feature-length docs programmed, six films bow on these shores for the first time, including Josh Polon’s MexMan and Jerry Tartaglia’s Escape From Rented Island: The Lost Paradise of Jack Smith.

The traditional five-tiered Short Film program returns, under the banners Love/Sick, LSD Factory, Ozploit!, Reality Bites and WTF! Most intriguing amongst the eclectic agenda is Allen Anders Live at The Comedy Castle Circa 1987 (pictured, right), a now legendary stand-up session meltdown that was thought to have been lost to time but which has resurfaced in all its grainy, white-knuckle glory thanks to director Laura Moss.

The 12th edition of SUFF will close out with one of the hottest genre titles on the 2018 festival circuit, Panos Cosmatos' bleak and brutal headscratcher, Mandy. Starring Nicholas Cage in one of the most critically-praised roles of his contemporary career, Cosmatos takes on 80s-style revenge-fantasy cinema with a pulsating urgency and nightmarish bent that Sight and Sound described as, "a mind-melting genre orgy of cosmic proportions that’s ridiculously fun."

The 2018 SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL will run September 13-16 at The Factory Theatre, Marrickville. Session and ticket information can be found at the events’ official website.

Tuesday
Jul242018

RUSSIAN WWII MASTERPIECE RESURRECTED FOR SYDNEY AUDIENCES

And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” - The Book of Revelations, Chapter 6: Verse 7-8.

Elem Klimov was a young man when the German military seized Stalingrad, forcing what was left of his family to flee; with his mother and younger brother, the teenage Klimov crossed the Volga River in freezing temperatures on a makeshift raft.

With co-writer and fellow World War II survivor Ales Adamovisch, Klimov drew upon the horrors he witnessed under Nazi rule for his 1985 film Come and See (Idi I smotri), now widely considered one of the most harrowing depictions of wartime suffering ever filmed. Australian audiences have a rare opportunity to see the film courtesy of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival, who will be screening a digitally remastered print this Sunday, July 29 in Sydney and Brisbane.

Come and See depicts the journey of a young man named Florya, played by 14 year-old non-actor Aleksei Kravchenko (pictured, top) in one of international cinema’s most remarkable film debuts. Klimov (pictured, right) and Adamovich present Florya as an idealistic freedom fighter, determined to rid his Eastern European homeland of Byelorussia (modern Belarus) of the German occupiers. As the young man’s narrative unfolds, the audience endures through his naïve experiences horrific acts of genocide, destruction and cruelty. Almost every moment in the film is based upon documented fact; Adamovich hailed from the region during the period and Klimov shot much of his film on the very soil that the atrocities took place.

Prior to his wartime masterpiece, Elem Klimov had forged a respected career for himself within the Russian sector with films such as the popular satires Welcome, or No Trespassing (1964) and Adventures of a Dentist (1965); the docu-drama Sport, Sport, Sport (1970); and, the troubled historical epic Agony The Rise and Fall of Rasputin, which debuted in 1981, despite principal photography having wrapped in 1976. In 1979, Klimov lost his wife, fellow filmmaker Larisa Shepitko in a car accident; he dedicated the early 80s to producing a short feature in her honour, named Larisa (1980) and finishing her own dream project, a social drama called Proshchanie (1983).

Many critics and film scholars have surmised that it was the grip of this dark period of grief that inspired Klimov’s use of language, sound and visual motifs in Come and See. Florya, young innocent Glasha (Olga Mironova; pictured, below) and much of the support cast spend their roles directly staring into the camera as their world and loved ones disintegrate before them; Klimov’s audience is party to the nightmarish escalation of violence and brutality via the first-person technique, resulting in a world of horribly-skewed disorientation yet rendered in vivid, stark honesty. The director’s soundscape has been lauded as revolutionary; the use of impressionistic surrealism to interpret torture and murder on a vast scale proves inescapably confronting for both Florya and the viewer.

The film was released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Russia’s WWII victory and drew some criticism from quarters who thought it was propagandistic. The portrayal of the German officers (based upon the infamous 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS) is unforgiving, yet Klimov stated vehemently many times that the film is anti-war and anti-fascism but not anti-German. Come and See became a box office sensation in its homeland, was submitted as Russia’s Foreign Film Oscar entrant (although was not selected) and would earn two major trophies at the 1985 Moscow International Film Festival.

Klimov was named the First Secretary of the Russian Filmmakers' Union, a newly-established, progressively-minded industry body that, in the then prevailing spirit of ‘glasnost’, opened the film industry to fresh new ideologies. His masterwork would grow in stature in the prevailing years, with industry luminaries such as Oscar winning screenwriter Frank Pierson (Cool Hand Luke, 1967; Dog Day Afternoon, 1975) and two-time WGA award recipient Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, 1994; The People vs Larry Flynt, 1996) calling it the greatest war film ever made. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, Oscar winning cinematographer of Blade Runner 2019, includes Come and See as one his ‘10 Greatest Films of All Time’; Empire magazine named Come and See one of the 100 Best Films of World Cinema, stating “No film – not Apocalypse Now, not Full Metal Jacket – spells out the dehumanising impact of conflict more vividly, or ferociously.” As voted by a prestigious body of film directors, it ranked 30th on Sight and Sound’s poll of The Greatest Films Ever Made.

In an interview in 1986, Klimov (pictured, left; on-set, directing Kravchenko) addressed the responsibility of the role he had undertaken within the Union and when his next project would be announced. “I would much rather not have my present job. I didn't want this job in the first place,” he said with a laugh. “But this is a special moment right now. A lot of changes have to be made quickly. I am completely absorbed in this new job. But I hope that perhaps next year I will be able to start a new film.”

A fitting legacy, Come and See proved to be Elem Klimov’s final work. He remained committed to his work within the bureaucracy of the Russian film industry until his passing in October 2003, aged 70.

The Russian Resurrection Film Festival with present COME AND SEE at the Event Cinemas George Street Sydney and Event Cinemas Myer Centre Brisbane this Sunday, July 29. Ticketing information is via the venue's official website.

 

Tuesday
Jul172018

TEXAN HEAT WON'T FAZE FANDANGO FANS CELEBRATING 80'S BROMANCE CLASSIC

Few places on Earth are hotter than west Texas in mid-July. Despite the scorching climate, a fan group devoted to a little seen 1985 film are gathering there to relive a 33 year-old cinematic rite-of-passage pilgrimage undertaken by five young men. Event overseer Jeffery Brookings, creator of the website Ultimate Fandango, understands why fans of the film Fandango have travelled from around the world to beat the heat and attend the 4-day event, which kicks off July 18.

“Anyone that has ever done a road trip with their buddies has done one or most of the things in the movie,” says Brookings, speaking to SCREEN-SPACE from his home in Midland, West Texas, on the eve of the 2018 Ultimate Fandango experience. “I know everyone in the movie, they were my friends, they just had different names,” he says. Brookings will welcome like-minded attendees, who have warmed to the film as passionately as any fan base, for what represents the 35th anniversary of the film beginning production in 1983.

When finally released in the box-office doldrums of late-January 1985, writer/director Kevin Reynold’s debut feature barely raised an eyebrow. Despite the presence of hit-making producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, the star-making charisma of a then-unknown named Kevin Costner and warm notices from the few critics who saw it (The New York Times’ Janet Maslin said, “it successfully walks a fine line between sensitivity and swagger”), backers Warner Bros were Oscar-campaigning other films and had little time for Fandango. It landed in a mere 27 cinemas and crawled to meager US$92,000 in box office takings. (Pictured, above; Brookings, left, with actor Marvin J. McIntyre).

The film only began to connect with fans when it hit home video and cable television. Many sought it out when Costner hit big later that year in Silverado and American Flyers, then subsequently in The Untouchables (1987), No Way Out (1987), Bull Durham (1988) and Field of Dreams (1989).  

Set in 1971 and dealing with the shadow cast over America’s young men by the ongoing Viet Nam conflict, Fandango featured an eager ensemble who brought the bloke-y banter and cocky machismo, but also a sweet emotional resonance that lifted it beyond the coarse college comedies that were dominating the post-Porky’s box office. In addition to Costner’s firecracker man-child Gardner Barnes, the cast included Sam Robards (son of Jason) as sensitive soul, Kenneth; an against-type Judd Nelson as eager draftee, Phil; Chuck Bush as the gentle giant, Dorman; and, Brain Cesak soporific drunk, Lester. The narrative’s romantic pulse is provided by the beautiful Suzy Amis as ‘The Girl’, the comedy beats coming from hippie pilot Marvin J McIntyre and his wife, the late Glenne Headley. (Pictured, above; Costner, left, with Robards)

Brookings agrees that it is the chemistry generated by the cast that has ensured the enduring appeal of Fandango. “Some of it has to do with our age, the Viet Nam war and the draft, but mostly [it’s] the relationship between friends,” he says, noting that those in attendance are reacting to more than the film’s nostalgic all-American aesthetic. “Our fans are all ages and from all over the U.S. and the world,” he points out. “Every Fandango fan feels the same about the movie. It was not a box office smash hit, but we all love it.”

Brookings will lead the Ultimate Fandango attendees on a 1,000 mile odyssey, starting from his hometown and taking in key locations such as the Marfa cemetery, where Gardner and Kenneth flash-forward to ‘Nam during a fireworks fight; the gas station in Marathon, where Phil feels the cleansing qualities of a high-pressure car-wash hose; and Alpine, home of the drive-in theatre on the corner of E. Holland and N. Garrett streets, where Gardner woos Judy (Elizabeth ‘E.G.’ Daily).

The road trip will make camp in Alpine on Thursday night for a screening of Fandango at the Rangra Theatre, where Brookings and his followers will welcome cast members McIntyre, Bush, Cesak and actress Robyn Rose for a pre-screening QA session. For Jeffery Brookings, it will be the culmination of a decades-long dedication to Fandango. “First hand stories from four of the actors and a chance very few of us had to see the movie on the big screen,” beams the ultimate fan, anticipating a night celebrating the “common camaraderie” that Fandango inspires. (Pictured, above; actor Chuck Bush at the gas station in Marathon, Texas, featured in Fandango) 

Monday
Jul162018

MELBOURNE DOC FEST HONOUREES CAPTURE THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Wrapping its nine-day celebration of factual film last night, the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival announced works that run the gamut from tragic loss to inspirational triumph amongst the winners of its 2018 award roster.

Director Stefan Bugryn’s short film War Mothers (Матері Війні), a harrowing account of how three women have dealt with the deaths of their sons in the Ukrainian warzone, was afforded the prestigious Special Jury Prize. Burgryn (pictured, above; with war mothers Svetlana and Galina) embedded himself with the grieving mothers in high-conflict combat zones along the Eastern Front, crafting a deeply empathetic account of loss and sorrow; that dedication to truth and his craft also earned the young Melbourne-based filmmaker the Best Director (Short Film) trophy.

The Best International Short Award was bestowed upon Ex Nihilo (pictured, right), director Timo Wright’s multi-national co-production that examines via a non-linear, three-tiered narrative scientific advancements in the fields of cryonics, robotics and our own mortality. The Best Australian Short Award went to Wolfe, director Claire Randall’s examination into the psychology of a young man whose imaginary friend revealed deep secrets about his existence. A graduate of Queensland’s Griffith University, Randall has found universal acclaim for her remarkably assured debut, having already secured a Crystal Bear trophy at the Berlinale earlier this year.

The Supreme Jury Prize for Feature Documentary went to Jack Yabsley’s Kings of Baxter, a rousing account of two Shakespearean-trained actors who set out to create a version of Macbeth using teenage detainees being held at the Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre near Gosford on the New South Wales central coast. The director also secured the Best Director gong for his work, made in conjunction with the revered Bell Shakespeare Company and his production company shingle, Grumpy Sailor.

The Best International Documentary prize was awarded to Susanna Styron’s Out of My Head, an in-depth study of the truths, lies and latest revelations about migraine headaches. Afforded a personal perspective via the struggle faced by her daughter and featuring interviews with high-profile migraine sufferers such as writer Joan Didion, Styron’s documentary presents a modern medical emergency that science is only now beginning to comprehend.

The recent Australian theatrical release Kangaroo, from husband-&-wife co-directors Michael Mcintyre and Kate McIntyre-Clere, earned the Best Australian Documentary nod. The controversial examination of the nation’s love/hate/abusive relationship with the beloved marsupial has itself experienced polar opposite responses from for-and-against advocates for its often shocking exposé approach. The hometown award for Best Melbourne Documentary went to Fish Out of Water (pictured, right), filmmaker Israel Cannan’s profile of two upwardly mobile types who forego their career paths to row a wooden boat the length of the North Atlantic Ocean. 

Monday
Jul022018

FIVE MUST-SEE AUSTRALIAN SHORTS AT THE MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL

The best film festival programs should prove daunting at first glance, be that in terms of the sheer number of films or the challenging themes and narratives they offer. The subset of Australian documentary short films on offer at the 2018 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival is itself breathtaking in scale, so we thought it best to drill down on a relatively random five that you should try to see out of the many great local efforts on offer…

BUT HONEY, YOU LOOK FINE
Strand: Sports Docs / Aussie Shorts
Screening: Tuesday, July 10 from 7.00pm at LOOP
Synopsis: A young filmmaker documents her closest friend Gabby's struggle with bulimia, from the earliest signs of the disease through to its life-threatening nadir, using footage they recorded together over the course of their friendship (pictured, above; Gabby Bennett).
From the filmmaker: “Unfortunately, this story is more common than it is rare. And it turns out the forces against us had been at work since before we even realised it. So we figured, in order to get better, we need to unpack what’s going on inside already, and figure out where it all came from. Was it innate within us or thrust upon us?” – Jennifer Leonforte, Director (official website)

DRUMMER GIRL
Strand: Short Sessions 1
Screening: Sunday July 8 from 12.00 at Howler
Synopsis: Renee Kelly is a prodigious rock drummer, who's also completely blind. Moving between past reflections and future dreams, Renee's story reveals a passionate and determined artist, set to a bold musical score.
From the filmmaker: “We first came across Renee a few years ago, and we knew instantly we wanted to tell her story in a short-film format. An exceptionally gifted, humble and determined musician who’s been playing the drums since age three, Renee is also profoundly blind, with no access to image or light. We wanted the audience to feel a real intimacy with Renee and for her music to be heard. We wanted her story to be told and to convey a feeling of her experience of the world and her place within it.” – Poppy Walker, Producer (read the full interview at Screen NSW)

 

WOLFE
Strand: Short Sessions 2
Screening: Tuesday, July 8 from 3.00pm at Howler
Synopsis: Unlike most kids, Nick had an imaginary friend he could really hear. His voice sounded gruff and old, and no one else could hear him. Mister Wolfe became Nick's constant companion, but before long a darker side emerged. Featuring animated scenes and a candid interview with the now 24-year-old Nick, the film portrays a collage of his psyche. Winner of the Berlinale Crystal Bear award for Best Short Film in the Generation14plus category
From the filmmakers: “My goal was to present a film about mental illness from the perception of the person experiencing it. I used a very personal story, so for it to resonate with audiences around the world is amazing.” – Claire Randall, Director (courtesy, Griffith University)

ACT OF TRANSLATION
Strand: Sports Docs / Aussie Shorts
Screening: Tuesday, July 10 from 7.00pm at LOOP
Synopsis: "Which story do you want to hear? The one I tell my parents…or the one I tell my friends?” Twenty international students are propelled out of their comfort zones through theatre workshops and performances. By learning to tell their real stories they challenge and transform the narrative about Melbourne’s international student community (pictured, right; students featured in Act of Translation)
From the filmmaker: “We were unsure what the outcome would be, or if students would even show up. I knew I was in for a shooting ratio that would be a killer in the edit, filming conditions that would be in less-than-desirable neon-lit humming air conditioned spaces...but also some golden and transformative moments.” – Irene Metter, Director (read the full interview at We Are Moving Stories)

TURN IT UP! FINDING SYDNEY’S SOUND
Strand: Closing Night Rock Docs
Screening: Saturday July 14 from 7.00pm at Backlot Cinemas
Synopsis: The live music scene in Sydney has seen some amazing artists get their break and establish successful careers. Sadly, venues have been closing across the city, and the culture has been irrevocably altered. So what does the live music scene in Sydney look like today, where do artists go to perform, or is the Sydney scene dead?
From the filmmaker: “We want to break the narrative that Sydney is a dead town. The more noise we can make about it, and the more people we can get supporting live music and going to gigs, the better.” Samantha Holder, Co-director (read the full interview at We Are Moving Stories)

The 2018 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL runs July 6-14 at various venues around Melbourne. Check the official website for ticketing and session information.