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At the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, ‘young, handsome and talented’ chokes the footpaths. So for Romanian writer/director Bogdan Mirica to tick all those boxes and still rise above the din is no small feat. His Coen-esque debut feature Dogs (Caini) tells the story of an inheritance gone bad, when Roman (Dragos Bucur) takes control of his late grandfather’s land only to find local criminal interests need the site for their ongoing operations. Mirica’s fierce, blackly humorous western-noir earned a slot in Un Certain Regard, his command of the narrative and vision within the frame tagging him as one of international cinema’s ‘Next Big Things’. Utterly charming despite my delayed arrival, he spoke with SCREEN-SPACE on the famous Palais de Festival Balcony about mounting such an ambitious first production….

SCREEN-SPACE: What were the origins of your narrative?

MIRICA: I never start a movie with a story; I start it with a feeling. When I was a kid I would spend a lot of time at my grandmother’s home in the countryside, where I witnessed a lot of conflict between the locals; big fights, with axes and hatchets and bike chains. What I found really frightening was not the fighting itself, but the random nature of the conflict. There was no cause, no goal, no real purpose to it. With no causality, you can’t really predict what is going to happen. I kept this sense of dread, that the person in front of you might smash your face with no reason with me for a long time. After 25 years, I knew I had to make a movie to get rid of this fear. That’s what I needed to capture in the movie.

SCREEN-SPACE: The sparse landscape and the ‘good guy/bad guy’ plotting have been compared to the classic American western genre. What cinema inspired your style and storytelling?

MIRICA: Absolutely, the set-up to my film is The Good The Bad and The Ugly, the classic three-guy face-off. The vast wide shot, the cinemascope frame, is clearly taken from the great western era. But the movie is a hybrid of genres. It has western elements, but also the noir thriller, the personal drama, some social realism, some dark humour. I don’t want to be cornered as a filmmaker, as some kind of student of cinema. I am a film buff, for certain, but I am not a scholar. I watch a lot of movies but I don’t try to find theory in a film. I prefer to simply feel it, to react to it organically, especially the first time I watch a movie. If it feels right for me is the only criteria I follow when I’m looking for inspiration. (Pictured, above: Dragos Bucur as Roman)

SCREEN-SPACE: There’s plenty of praise for those ‘contemporary noir’ elements, some critics comparing the mood to classic Coen Brothers works.

MIRICA: That’s very flattering but the directors who inspire me aren’t necessarily reflected in this film. For example, John Cassavetes or Jean-Pierre Melville or Billy Wilder. These directors, amongst others, inspire a certain feeling that I then metabolise into something new, something of my own. I don’t like to quote or reference other works and use them literally.

SCREEN-SPACE: From your background in advertising, where you have lots of money to shoot over a few days, to independent filmmaking, where you have no money and shoot for 30 days. How easy was it to move between the short form and long form movie making?

MIRICA: (Laughs) You’re right! Ten years ago, I had a budget of 1millionEuro to spend in 5 days. I made my movie for 800,000Euro over 25 days. We had a lot of rehearsal time and I spent a lot of time with my DOP on the shot list. When we got on set, we knew exactly what we wanted to shoot, from what angle and with what lens. We still had to adapt to conditions and veer off those plans, of course, but at least we knew what could be changed or gotten rid of without impacting the drama. We moved lean and fast. (Pictured, above: Mirica on-set with actors, l-r, Gheorghe Visu and Vlad Ivanov)

SCREEN-SPACE: Did that help in post-production? Did having a finite amount of footage make editing easier?

MIRICA: Initially, the movie was way more epic. We shot some huge stunts and amazing scenes with lots of animals but decided to cut them out simply because the early versions were just too heavy. We went for an edgier tone that I think stemmed from the unorthodox way in which we edited. The intention was to make the first half of the film quite abrupt, to cut then cut then cut again. I wanted play with the form, to have fun and take some risks. So the editing became a huge and unique creative process that altered the DNA of the movie.

SCREEN-SPACE: Amidst all the darkness, the weighty themes dealing with machismo and violence and so on, there is the wonderfully absurd, almost surreal moment with the foot…

I’d written seven, maybe eight feature scripts and two TV series before I wrote Dogs. And all of them were comedies! It is hard to prevent myself from writing funny, silly stuff (laughs). Sometimes my sense of humour is shit, the kind of humour that has people saying, “What the fuck…?” Now, the scene with the foot, which was a very difficult tracking shot that had to be done very carefully, was initially envisioned as a series of ‘macro’ shots that captured detail and texture, like toenails and skin. But we decided that the scene should not be about the foot specifically, but how it bonds the protagonist with the nemesis. The tracking shot captures that particularly well, I think. And that sequence was originally much longer, like 10 minutes or more of tracking. But the economics of the movie dictated otherwise.

SCREEN-SPACE: What is it about the people and issues of this remote Romanian rural setting that will be relevant to international filmgoers?

(Laughs) But some Romanian people said to me, “Why are you making this movie, which is more like an American western or Australian outback film?” One of my favourite films is John Hillcoat’s The Proposition. I listened to the soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis all the time while I was writing Dogs. Another favourite film of mine is Wake in Fright, which not many people in my country know about. These films were more than the sum of their elements, more than just films set in the Australian outback, and I hope my film amounts to more than just a Romanian outback story. I hope it speaks to audiences everywhere about humanity’s corrosive and corrupted nature. That is something mankind must come to terms with in all parts of the world.

Dogs (Caini) is currently in limited release in selected European cinemas; other territories to follow. 



For 17 years, Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) festival director Richard Wolstencroft has programmed his event fearlessly, often counter to that which is considered socially acceptable; in 2010, he defied a government ban and had his home raided in the wake of a ‘protest screening’ of the gay undead shocker, LA Zombie. But in 2016, has he pushed too far? Does the ominously familiar festival tagline ‘Make The Australian Film Industry Great Again’ imply the unthinkable? Is MUFF and its headline-grabbing founder declaring an allegiance with (cue ‘Imperial March’) Donald Trump…?

At first, Wolstencroft (pictured, below) laughs off the suggestion. “The ‘Make the Australian Film Industry Great Again’ line is more about how the industry is just lousy now and not like the dynamic 70's and 80's,” he says. That may be so, but SCREEN-SPACE points out that four of the eleven narrative features playing this year – Marcus Koch’s 2007 clown-horror B-classic 100 Tears, Aussie alt sector icon Mark Savage’s Stressed to Kill, Paddy Jessop’s revenge-themed Shotgun and the closing night pic, Revenge of The Gweilo from Nathan Hill – all riff on the Trump-ish obsession with denial of white man privilege and patriarchy.  

“Sure, there's a bit of that,” he admits. “I'm a bit that way and I run MUFF. But (any) accusation that MUFF does not embrace diversity in filmmaking is wrong. Of the 80 films showing (this year), about a quarter are made by women. The mix of white directors and those of mixed ethnicity is about the same.” He notes that the festival was co-founded with a woman, Rebecca Sutherland; selection committees and staffing has always reflected Melbourne’s distinct social complexity; and, the event’s assistant director role has been filled by young men of Lebanese (Hussein Khoder, 2011-2015) and Indian (Roshan Jahal, 2016) heritage. Says Wolstencroft, “MUFF is a far more diverse festival than many ‘indie’ ones around, who may preach PC-ness but be made up of entirely white crews.”

There can be no denying the 17th annual MUFF line-up, which unspools September 9 at both the Alex Theatre and Backlot Studios in the southern capital, comprises a vastness of vision, with long- and short-form works from home and abroad across fiction and factual genres. Opening the feisty 9-day programme is the world premiere of The Perfect Nonsense, director Addison Heath’s off-kilter romantic odyssey starring Kristen Condon and Kenji Shimada. Other Australian auteurs under the MUFF banner in 2016 are Daniel Armstrong (SheBorg Massacre; trailered, below); Enzo Tedeschi (A Night of Horror Vol 1); Dee Choi (Mui Karaoke); Todwina J. Moore (Rock in a Hard Place); and, Rohan Thomas (The Other Option). Accompanying 100 Tears as part of a retro-themed sidebar presented by the cult film website will be Alec Mill’s Blood Moon (1990), a late and under-appreciated entry from the Ozploitation era.

Also of that period is filmmaker Mark Savage, a kindred spirit of Wolstencroft’s and prominent underground identity in Melbourne, having directed such defining low-budget cult items as Marauders (1986), Sensitive New Age Killer (2000) and Defenceless: A Blood Symphony (2004). In programming Savage’s US-shot thriller Stressed to Kill, Wolstencroft has honoured a peer and friend of four decades standing. “I think Mark is one of the most important voices in Australia cinema of the last 35 years,” he says. “He made Super 8 films about violence, rape and the darkness of the human spirit; totally out of this world for Australia back then. (His films were) aggressive, exciting and completely contemporary and 30 years ahead of the game.”

While staying determinedly committed to Australian talent, the short film program dubbed Mini MUFF and programmed by Seamus Ryan and Michael Taylor will screen works from six international territories including Canada, The U.S.A., The U.K. and France. From Spain comes the supernatural story of a ‘soul taker’ in Eva Doud’s El Lardon del Luz; Irish underground cinema is represented by Robert McKeon’s Wifey Redux (pictured, right). One of the highlights will be the opening night screening of A Thin Life, an Australian production from 1996 that was believed to be lost forever until Wolstencroft and director Frank Howson tracked down and reassembled the original negative; the session on September 9 will be the completed film’s first-ever screening.

Despite a commitment to avoid labels (“I don’t really give a shit about definitions”), Wolstencroft does note that the underground scene has irrevocably changed since the term was coined. “Underground is the new word for ‘indie’,” he states. “Sundance films all star George Clooney and Brad Pitt and are not real ‘indie’ anymore. Underground film festivals play the real independent films.” In this years program notes, he concedes that only a select few festivals (SUFF, Revelations and Monster Fest) imbue the truly counter-culture filmmaking spirit in Australia. “At MUFF, we foster mostly low-budget to micro-budget genre cinema. We don’t look for production value; we look for ideas, spirit and an aggressive, self-promoting attitude. We look for something out of the ordinary. I have selected films for MUFF based on the personality and drive of the filmmaker alone.”

The 17th Melbourne Underground Film Festival runs September 9-17. For all ticketing and session details, visit the event’s official website.



Works from alternative sector giants Todd Solondz, Sion Sono, Richard Tuohy and John Waters and the world premiere of Australian director Ben Ferris’ urban decay documentary 57 Lawson highlight the 10th anniversary line-up of the Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF).

Harbour City audiences attuned to the subversive, political and shocking have been well-served by the internationally recognised event, still programmed by founder Stefan Popescu and wife, Katherine Berger. The 2016 gathering, running September 15 to 18, will present 35 feature-length screenings, including 20 documentaries, 12 narrative features and 3 retrospectives, with 20 Australian premieres in the mix. As in past years, the event will stretch beyond the darkened rooms of its spiritual home, The Factory Theatre in Sydney’s inner-west, and offer masterclass tutorials, exhibition content and panel chats from a diverse range of academic and artistic guest contributors.

Opening night honours have been bestowed upon Weiner-Dog (pictured, top), the latest dramedy of discomfort from underground icon Todd Solondz. Other high profile features include Mexican auteur Emiliano Rocha Minter’s We Are The Flesh (pictured, right), hot off a triumphant screening at Fantasia 2016; SUFF alumni Richard Bates Jr (Suburban Gothic, 2014) with his offbeat shocker Trash Fire, featuring a career-redefining role for Entourage star Adrian Grenier; Japan’s prolific enfant terrible Sion Sono delivers The Virgin Psychics, a raunchy teen-telepathy romp that Variety called a “cheerfully gutter-minded supernatural farce”; and, the Sydney premiere of Billy O’Brien’s cult-bound nightmare-piece, I Am Not a Serial Killer, featuring a welcome (if against type) return to the bigscreen for Back to The Future star, Christopher Lloyd.

Closing out the festival will be the highly-anticipated, fully restored print of the iconic John Waters’ 1970’s trash classic, Multiple Maniacs, featuring Waters’ muse Divine in one of the roles that solidified her counter-culture reputation. Other retrospective sessions include a 25th anniversary screening of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, starring Peter Weller as William Burrough’s drug-addled protagonist; and, a 40th anniversary honouring of Brian De Palma’s high-school horror classic Carrie, which will screen in support of the documentary De Palma, an in-depth career appraisal overseen by A-list fanboys Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.

An impressive 20 mid- and feature-length docos will screen at SUFF, which has rattled cages with rare, occasionally outlawed factual films (in 2012, Keith Allen’s Princess Di conspiracy theory piece, Unlawful Killing, played in defiance of ongoing legalities). In 2016, it has yet to be determined if the suited heavies appointed by Tommy Wiseau, director of the bad-movie classic The Room, will force the festival to withdraw Rick Harper’s making-of doc, Room Full of Spoons, as happened to organisers of the recent Melbourne Documentary Festival (pictured, right; Wiseau, far right, with Harper and crew).

Social issues tackled by the SUFF documentary schedule include internet misuse and abuse (Irene Taylor Brodsky’s Beware the Slenderman; Neal Broffman’s Help Us Find Sunil Tripath), the psychology and passion of the artist (Jai Love’s Dead Hands Dig Deep; Thorsten Shutte’s Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words; Laura Israel’s Don’t Blink Robert Frank; Jason Pine and Jason Georgiades’ Desert Age: A Rock & Roll Scene History; Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny), human rights in destabilised societies (Nanfu Wang’s Hooligan Sparrow; George Gittoes’ Snow Monkey) and mental health (Justin Schein’s Left on Purpose; Roberto Minervini’s The Other Side).

On a lighter note, all-age audiences can enjoy a vivid wander down memory lane courtesy of renowned author and curator Kier-La Janisse, who offers a two-hour celebration called Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat Cereal Cartoon Party. Pyjama-clad patrons can dine on bowls of retro cereal, bursting with sugary anti-goodness, while watching classic animation and giggly PSAs (content details are top secret, apparently).

Since its inception, SUFF has supported the short film sector and in 2016 once again offers its popular short film sessions under the banners of ‘Love Sick’, ‘LSD Factory’, ‘Ozploit’, ‘Reality Bites’ and ‘WTF’. The legacy of the festivals commitment to makers of short films is celebrated in a ‘SUFF Blast From The Past: Short Films 2007-2015’.

For those that embrace the truly cutting-edge, SUFF will present Re:Cinema, which organisers describe as “a program of experimental video and film work that examines the notion of the ‘cinematic’ in relation to the contemporary imagescape.” This will accompany a retrospective of the works of Richard Tuohy and his collaborator, Dianna Barrie (pictured, right), titled Hand and Machine; Tuohy will also host The Chromaflex Experimental Colour Film Workshop at the Sydney College of The Arts. Finally, filmmaking skills will be examined in the Masterclass sessions, with contributors Gordy Hoffman (screenwriting), Ross Grayson-Bell (producing), George Gittoes and Helen Rose (documentary techniques) and Ben Ferris (directing).

The 10th Sydney Underground Film Festival will commence its 4 day schedule on September 15 at The Factory Theatre, Marrickville. Session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.



Revisiting elements of his 2010 drama Hospitality, writer-director Kôji Fukada crafted one of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival’s breakout titles with his latest, Harmonium (Fuchi ni tatsu). The chilling, slow burn pyscho-drama tells of the disintegration of a seemingly stable family unit when a visitor from a dark past settles amongst them. Cited by Variety as a work of “cinematic and intellectual rigour”, the film earned the Japanese auteur the Un Certain Regard Jury prize. In the wake of the triumphant screening, the 36 year-old director sat with SCREEN-SPACE in a sunny, manicured yard just off The Croisette to talk about his current work, which has it’s Australian premiere next month at the Melbourne International Film Festival

SCREEN-SPACE: You’re cinema is elegant, refined yet deeply affecting. Names such as Eric Rohmer and Robert Bresson have been cited as key influences. Which filmmakers have inspired your work?

Fukada: To be spoken of in the same sentence as those masters is too great an honour. My first influence was my father, as he was a huge film lover. I was exposed to international cinema from a very young age. My childhood home was filled with VHS tapes. I’ll never forget one night, when I was about 14 years of age, I watched two films back-to-back – Marcel Carne’s Chicken Feed for Little Birds and Victor Erice’s The Spirit of The Beehive. Over time, I have recognised that one of my key influences has also been Theo Angelopoulos, a master and pioneer of cinema. His social commentary and artistic achievements come from the highest cinematic level.

SCREEN-SPACE: How did Harmonium develop?

Fukada: It started with a simple synopsis that I wrote in 2006. I had difficulty getting finance for it so, in 2010, I made a film called Hospitality. It is essentially the first half of what you see in Harmonium, like a pilot version of it. It’s also about an intruder coming into the life of a family and disrupting their relationships. When our producer, Koichiro Fukushima, saw Hospitality he came on board and Harmonium began to take shape. It took us 10 years to make the film, so it is a thrill to finally present it here in Cannes. (Pictured, right: a scene from Harmonium with, from left, Kanji Furutachi, Tadanobu Asano, Mariko Tsutsui and Momone Shinokawa).

SCREEN-SPACE: Is there any aspect of your story or characters that will resonate most profoundly with Japanese audiences?

Fukada: If anything, it is the husband/father character of Toshio, a patriarchal figure who does not comfortably verbalize his emotions or communicate with the other family members. He is that traditionally conservative Japanese father figure, though I’m sure they exist in other countries as well. Something intrinsically Japanese is the role that the husband undertakes when children arrive, adopting the father role to a much greater extent that the husband role. Similarly, the wife very much becomes the ‘mother’ figure. Instead of coalescing as a unit, a ‘family’, they become individuals bound to the expectations of their new roles.

SCREEN-SPACE: Is this duality, this thematic strand that suggests even the most closely-knit unit is only as strong as the individual, indicative of your beliefs?

Fukada: It is very difficult to distinguish myself from my work. They represent how I view the world and how I view humanity. In this story, we have a community of people we call a ‘family’, the very smallest kind of human community that exists. But what I wanted to explore was how the individuals within this seemingly close community still possess an essential solitude. That represents my view on human beings. (Pictured, right; Fukada, far right, with his actors Kanji Furutachi and Mariko Tsutsui attending the 2016 Cannes Film Festival).

SCREEN-SPACE: You draw naturalistic performances from the cast. Were you able to work with them for long periods in the development of the script and in rehearsal?

Fukada: We had a short rehearsal period, perhaps 2 or 3 days, but with such a modest budget and with the time constraints that rehearsals place on actors, our planning was limited. But there were many hours of in-depth discussion with the cast, especially Kanji Furutachi, with whom I have collaborated on four projects. I don’t want my actors to just do a read-through, or be bound by their actions in a single room. I don’t feel there is a lot of value to rehearsal unless it is very near to the on-set experience, so I will prefer to rehearse on location or on a finished set. And that’s very difficult and expensive to do, to be on-set and not be filming.

SCREEN-SPACE: Are your sets collaborative environments or are you very clear with your cast as to their roles in your vision?

Fukada: I don’t want the actors to be an alter ego of me. I want them to exist as individuals who are living in the moments they create. So rather than ask of them to build a character in a particular way, be that physical or emotional, I ask them be present, with their cast mates, just as you and I are now. It is essential that they not act, but react and interact with each other. That all begins with my role as writer and director. I must ensure the actors are honest and truthful in any moment (and) that complexity has to be there in my screenplay. (Pictured, right; a scene from of Harmonium).

SCREEN-SPACE: You eschew close-ups, maintaining a very respectful distance between the actor and your lens. Why so?

Fukada: I keep the relationship between the actor and the camera very simple. My camera keeps a certain distant from the actors because being in close proximity feels as if I am trying to explain or define the intent of the scene to the audience.

SCREEN-SPACE: Looking more broadly at your homeland’s film industry, is it a happy place for independent cinema and your auteur peers?

Fukada: It is very difficult for arthouse films in Japan. We don’t have an organising body, like France’s CNC or South Korea’s KOFIC, which negotiates subsidies and provides administration for the sector. Bodies like that exist to promote diversity, which is crucial to a vibrant film sector. These organisations understand audience needs, so a genre film can be produced and marketed to a large audience at the same time that an arthouse film with specialised needs can be promoted to a niche sector and succeed. That balance allows for a very rich cinematic culture, both commercially and critically. In Japan’s economic system, it is very difficult to make such a system work; if a film does not recoup its cost, it becomes very hard for the creative people involved to survive.

Ticket and session information for Melbourne International Film Festival screenings of Harmonium can be found attheevent's official website.



Fans of the eclectic slate for which Perth’s annual Revelation International Film Festival has become known won’t be disappointed in 2016. West coasters can choose from the experimental non-dialogue horror of Atmo Horrox, the goat gland documentary Nuts! or the seductive sorcery of The Love Witch, to name a few. Unexpectedly (perhaps even reassuringly), peering out from the darkness will be the pointy-green grin of one of pop culture’s most endearing characters, Kermit the Frog, and the warm, gentle features of his creator, Jim Henson.

Muppets, Music & Magic is Revelations’ sidebar celebration of Henson’s remarkable contribution to showbusiness, featuring eight separate retrospective documentaries that track the development of his unique universe of characters. Also being screened are two of his visionary features, his Tolken-esque fantasy adventure The Dark Crystal (1982) and the cult classic, Labyrinth (1986). The collection is presented in conjunction with The Jim Henson Legacy, an initiative formed in 1992 to preserve and perpetuate the work and spirit of the late genius.

“It’s amazingly comprehensive,” says Revelation Festival Director, Richard Sowada, who recognised that elements of the collection spoke to his festival’s agenda. “I think it’s the deep experimentation and the clarity of vision that’s so appealing to Rev. These artefacts have meaning and purpose and ultimately make a difference to the culture and its inhabitants and they do it in such a lovely way.”

In 1955, Henson was a freshman arts-major at the University of Maryland with drive enough to negotiate a late-night TV slot for his satirical puppet concept called ‘Sam and Friends’ (pictured, right). These early years are explored in the 73-minute presentation ‘Commercials & Experiments’, which features rarely-seen works ranging from corporate training shorts to commercials to avant garde oddities, each revealing an artist exploring and defining his passion and talent.

Although his playfulness is evident in these works, the ‘Jim Henson’ that would become synonymous with children’s entertainment is only fleetingly glimpsed; the radical social change and fearless approach to artistry of the 1960s comes through in works such as Youth ’68, The Cube and his Oscar nominated short, Time Piece. Revelations has included a programme warning that some of the content is for mature audiences (below; a scene from Time Piece).

It was from these early, experimental years that the timeless, occasionally subversive comedy of Sesame Street was launched. At the time of Henson’s passing in May of 1990, then-Chairperson of the show’s producers, The Children’s Television Workshop, Joan Ganz Cooney, said of her friend, “He was our era's Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, W. C. Fields and Marx Brothers, and indeed he drew from all of them to create a new art form that influenced popular culture around the world.” The development and impact of the show is chronicled in His Sesame Street Years, a delirious celebration of Henson’s vision and the dynamic he formed with early collaborators Frank Oz, Fran Brill and Caroll Spinney, each masters of the craft in their own right.

Two clip-compilation documentaries capture the growth of Henson as a performer and the artistry with which his beloved creations were developed. In Performance captures the man honing his comic timing in rare footage of the early years when then voices and personalities of Kermit, Rowlf and The Swedish Chef were cultivated; Behind the Seams looks at the ensemble of world class puppeteers and craftspeople who fell under Henson’s spell and helped create some of the most iconic showbiz moments of all time (pictured, right; Henson in conference on-set with his leading man).

Rounding out the sidebar are two compiles screening under the Mini Rev banner and the State Library of Western Australia. Tales from Muppetland presents the Muppet players take on classic fairytales, with some timeless comedy care of the sesame Street News team thrown in for good measure; and, Muppet Musical Moments features the glorious staging that was created to accompany musical guests from The Muppet Show, including such names as Linda Ronstadt, Julie Andrews, Elton John and Liberace.

(The collection) is a great reflection of Henson’s character and personality,” says Sowada. “There’s no ulterior motive behind any of his work aside from bringing people together. That feeling transcends generations and gives his work real meaning.”

Muppets, Music & Magic: The Jm Henson Legacy screens July 9-15 as part of the 2016 Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Ticket and session details can be found on the events official website.