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Thursday
Oct102019

MONSTER FEST BOWS MIKE GREEN'S RED DUST SURVIVAL SHOCKER

When a window of opportunity presented itself, Mike Green needed to act fast. With one feature script on the backburner and fatherhood looming, the writer/director had to craft a bare-bones production that played to his strengths as a storyteller. The result is Outback, a grueling survival thriller starring Taylor Wiese and Lauren Lofberg as American tourists who do everything wrong when stranded in our unforgiving backyard. And Green made it work within the window – Outback was outlined in two months, scripted in four weeks and filmed over ten days. “We had a great bunch of people so it was fun, though,” the director told SCREEN-SPACE, on the eve of his film’s World Premiere at Fangoria x Monster Fest 2019 | Melbourne….

SCREEN-SPACE: The vast and beautiful 'villain' of the film, the Australian outback, is such a unique landscape to film. What was the visual aesthetic you and your cinematographer Tim Nagle needed to capture to convey just how merciless our country can be?

MIKE GREEN: We started off handheld, doco-like to give the audience a false sense of security. As we got deeper into the Outback and the drama and stakes rise we tried not to embellish the camera work because the Aussie landscape already has a built in pre-awareness for good reason. It is vast, hot and hostile. (Pictured, below; Outback stars Taylor Wiese, left, and Lauren Lofberg)

SCREEN-SPACE: Audiences understand the menace of the outback, from Wake in Fright and Picnic at Hanging Rock, to Mad Max and The Proposition, and many others. Was there a cinematic template you used in crafting the look and mood of the film? 

MIKE GREEN: My original idea was Open Water in the outback. Touching the Void was another film I looked at closely. For the use of sound, music, it’s a two-handed, the psychological breakdown of the characters. The look was going to be dictated by the landscape. We knew the red soil would play a huge part in the film. Also the blue skies. We were very selective with the use of colour in the film. Wardrobe, props, hero vehicle, locations; we worked to a restricted colour palette. Production designer/costumer Courtney Covey, DP Tim Nagle and I had in-depth conversations and planning around this. Justin Tran our colourist did an amazing job bringing together our footage. He’s got back-to-back features lined up now. 

SCREEN-SPACE: What was the key human element, the emotional arc of the story that your leads Taylor and Lauren had to remain focused upon?

MIKE GREEN: Thematically the story is about not taking tomorrow for granted. It’s how I try to live my life and it hits close to home for me. At it’s heart, Outback is a tragic love story. Originally when I cast Lauren I had her do some self-tapes. She had a relationship she was working through at the time. With her blessing, I built some of the narrative from her personal situation, which proved an effective way in and a strong anchor upon which to build the story. (Pictured, above; Green, far right, with Wiese and crew on location)

SCREEN-SPACE: Even with the MIFF success of your short Mother and time spent watching Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford as DA on Truth, was the first day of your feature film directing debut a surreal experience? Or did you know the time was right?

MIKE GREEN: I was producing, 1st AD, locations manager, directing, writing; I wore many department hats and had a three month old baby at home. I was [both] tired and focused. There wasn’t time to think beyond the task at hand.

SCREEN-SPACE: How much research was done on the physical horrors of dehydration and exposure to high-temperatures? Is there license taken, or is this as close as your audience should ever come to this kind of physical hardship?

MIKE GREEN: We did a lot of research into dehydration and the breaking down of humans in tough situations. People find themselves in sticky situations very easily and surprisingly quickly. How often do you hear people go missing or getting stuck in the Blue Mountains? And that’s in our backyard. Once dehydration takes place, your decision-making skills leave you very quickly. Silly decisions seem to make sense at the time. After people watch Outback, a lot of them tell me their close calls and horror stories getting lost or stranded in sketchy places. Lucy Woolfman our HMU & SFX Designer went to extraordinary lengths to research the effects of dehydration and the physical and textural subtitles to our bodies. (Pictured, above; Lauren Lofberg, on location) 

The World Premiere of Mike Green’s OUTBACK will screen on Saturday October 12 at Cinema Nova as part of 2019 Fangoria x Monster Fest | Melbourne, then on Saturday November 2 at Event Cinemas George Street as part of 2019 Fangoria x Monster Fest | Sydney. Ticket and session details can be found at the official website.

Saturday
Oct052019

1BR GIVES HORRORS OF RENTAL LIVING A NEW LEASE  

David Marmor’s directorial debut, 1BR, will play well with Australia’s capital city audiences, for whom rental-house hunting is its own nightmarish reality. For Marmor's protagonist Sarah, the gated apartment community she’s found in sunny LA seems too good to be true; in true spine-tingling psychological-horror style, so it proves to be. Working from his lean, taut script and with a fearless leading lady in Nicole Brydon Bloom, Marmor (pictured, below) has crafted an intensely gripping examination of modern urban living. Ahead of the Australian Premiere of 1BR at Fangoria x Monster Fest 2019, Marmor spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the film that RogerEbert.com praised as “unique horror.” 

SCREEN-SPACE: Your understated directing style serves the simmering tension and unfolding puzzle of the film superbly. Films such as Polanski's The Tenant and Rosemary's Baby came to mind for me, as well as Brian Yuzna's Society. Who are the filmmakers and what are the films that inform your directing?

DAVID MARMOR: You hit the nail on the head with Polanski. I'm not sure it'd be possible to make a movie like this without being influenced by his apartment trilogy. I also found inspiration in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, which I think is a masterful example of subjective storytelling, planting us firmly in Nina's troubled mind from start to finish. Michael Haneke and Stanley Kubrick always influence me, and for 1BR I drew especially from Caché and A Clockwork Orange. Other influences are harder to pin down, as I think I've subconsciously absorbed lessons from so many filmmakers I grew up on. Odd as it may seem, there's probably a little Spielberg in there, too. (Pictured, right; Nicole Brydon Bloom, as Sarah, in 1BR)

SCREEN-SPACE: There's a strong thematic subtext that explores the sacrifice we have to make to conform; one of my favourite lines is, "The sooner you give up, the sooner you'll be free." Is your film a call-to-arms, to cling to your individuality and personal voice? Did you come at the story with a socio-political agenda?

DAVID MARMOR: I really don't have any political agenda. I know there's at least one reviewer out there who was convinced the movie is an Alex Jones-style paranoid fantasy, and someone else once came up to me and said conspiratorially that he understood my real meaning - that it was all an indictment of socialism. I'm actually happy that different audiences are finding different meanings in the movie, but my intent in creating the community was in fact to give it very positive underlying values--and then twist them into something terrible. That was the most frightening idea to me, and it's also the way these things often seem to evolve in real life. I don't think anybody starts out intending to create a repressive religion or a violent death cult (at least I hope not!), but when your goal is to save all of humanity, there are no limits to the means you can justify to yourself. If there's any deeper meaning underlying the story, for me it's more metaphorical than political. I think many people struggle with the tension between being true to ourselves and what we owe our family, our friends, and our society. Those obligations, as important as they are, can make us feel trapped in our lives. On some level, I think of this story as a kind of extreme exploration of that internal tension. (Pictured, above; Marmor, right, directing Bloom during principal photography)

SCREEN-SPACE: The dark psychology that goes into breaking Sarah's spirit is agonisingly specific. Is the methodology you employ based upon research or just plucked from the dark recesses of your own mind?

DAVID MARMOR: Sadly, the world has much darker recesses than my mind, and I found I didn't need to make much up. The methods in the movie are almost entirely based in reality. Many of the physical methods come directly from techniques the U.S. government has used in the Iraq War and other recent conflicts, as well as practices employed by the British government during the Troubles. I also drew heavily from my research into cults, many of which seem to share a common set of psychological tools for isolating people and keeping them dependent.

David Marmor's 1BR will screen as part of Fangoria x Monster Fest 2019 (Melbourne - Oct 13/16; other states Oct 31-Nov 3). Full session and venue details available at the official website

Thursday
Sep262019

PREVIEW: 2019 BYRON BAY FILM FESTIVAL

The free-spirited, soulful essence of the Byron Bay Film Festival (BBFF) is one of the regional event’s key assets. Those elements are there for all to see in the rich 10-day line-up for the 13th celebration of cinema on the far-north coast of New South Wales, which launches October 18. However, that deeply thoughtful approach to festival programming only exists to serve a mission statement as serious and committed as any on the circuit.

One of the Asia Pacific’s most respected film curators, Festival Director J’aimee Skippon-Volke adheres to an ethos that ensures the event, ‘fuses artistry, entertainment and innovation, enhancing our worldview and collective social dialogue through the power and storytelling of film.’ That means a feature film roster in 2019 that includes three World premieres, four International premieres and 11 Australian first-runs, set to screen at nine diverse venues.

“I think with any film festival it comes back to programming. The films selected set the tone and the message of the event,” revealed Skippon-Volke (pictured, right), who forges the festival’s path with partner Osvaldo C. Alfaro. “Being able to support the filmmakers who are changing the world one screen at a time, and sharing stories that need to be seen, is part of what drives our team to put their energy behind BBFF.”

Opening Night will add star wattage to the already celeb-heavy Byron surrounds with the New South Wales Premiere of Paul Ireland’s contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Australian acting great Hugo Weaving heads a strong local cast (Daniel Henshall, Christie Whelan, Harrison Gilbertson) in the drama, which transports one of The Bard’s most challenging works to Melbourne’s criminal community. The prolific Weaving is on double-duty at the festival, with Ben Lawrence’s acclaimed drama Hearts and Bones also set to screen.      

In programming the opener, Skippon-Volke acknowledged the ambitious project ideally suited the festival mindset. “We support Australian filmmakers and Measure for Measure has everything - established stars and new faces on the rise, glossy cinematography, topical interest, and a resolution that is a satisfying balance of joy and pain,” she says, “Shakespeare would recognise the dichotomies and applaud.” Other Australian titles in the line-up include Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy and Punch, Abe Forsyth’s Little Monsters and John Sheedy’s H is For Happiness.

Fifteen narrative features will comprise the main program, including such internationally acclaimed works as Celine Sciamma’s Cannes triumph Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Franco Lolli’s Critic’s Week premiere Litigante and Australian director Josephine Mackerras’ Alice, the SXSW Grand Jury Prize winner.

Making their Australian debuts will be new films from Ecuador (Jamaicanoproblem’s A Son of Man), Ukraine (Roxy Toporowych’s Julia Blue), North America (Josh Melrod’s Major Arcana), and Brazil (Hique Montanari’s Yonlu). Closing out the 2019 festival will be the Australian premiere of Tom Waller’s The Cave, the Thai film industry’s account of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue of a trapped junior football team.

Such commitment to global cinema means the Festival Director spends a large part of her year overseas, sourcing content while representing the festival and the region. “From the very beginning we've worked hard too to build our international reputation,” she says, “By having that focus we've been able to accelerate BBFF's ability to shine a spotlight on our region as a creative and innovative hub. We give our filmmaking community, [which] has been home to Australia's largest regional film sector for decades, an opportunity to be part of an international stage and meet their peers from around the world.”

The festival has always been a showcase for both the long- and short-form documentary format. In 2019, an impressive schedule of factual films will include two World Premieres – Louis Josek’s study of teen lives in transition, Out Deh: The Youth of Jamaica; and, Catherine Marciniak’s Planet Fungi, an ode to the magic of mushrooms from North East India. The centerpiece documentary event will undoubtedly be INXS: Live Baby Live, a 4K ultra high-definition re-master of the iconic Australian band’s legendary 1991 concert at Wembley Stadium. 

These remarkable works will screen alongside the Australian debuts of Andreas Geipel and Christian Gibson’s coastal odyssey, Pacifico; Tenzin Phuntsog and Joy Dietrich’s study in passive protestation, Rituals of Resistance; David Hambridge’s heartbreaking Kifaru, a profile of the final years of the last male northern white rhino; and, Juan Pablo Miquirray’s An Island in The Continent (pictured, above), a dreamlike love-letter to California’s Baja Peninsula.

No sidebar speaks to the festival’s progressive nature more than the ‘Extended/Cross Realities’, or XR, Program, the Virtual Reality showcase now in its fifth year. Says Skippon-Volke, “Osvaldo and I have had a longstanding interest in Virtual Reality and we've built it into the heart of the festival through activation of content, workshops, conferences and in recent years a diversity focused talent accelerator. I believe strongly that the screen mediums of tomorrow will evolve from immersive media and that modern VR provides an amazing opportunity to play and experiment as visual storytellers.”

In 2019, donning the BBFF XR headset will transport you to The Amazon (Awavena, the latest grand vision from Australian Lynette Wallworth); offer a glimpse inside the creative mind of a children’s book author (Pete Short's Lucid); examine the majesty of religion’s birthplace (The Holy City, co-directed by Timur Musabay and Nimrod Shanit); and, courtesy of Weta Workshop, become a hero in a cool, retro-themed outer-space adventure (Greg Broadmore's Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders; pictured, right). “VR holds a power to literally allow someone to see through new perspectives and take them to new storytelling realms,” says Skippon-Volke. “We'll always be a film festival but this technology really does fuse artistry, entertainment and innovation.”

The 2019 BYRON BAY FILM FESTIVAL will run October 18-27. Full session and venue information is available at the event's official website.

Wednesday
Aug072019

NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND: FIVE TO BOOK FIRST FROM SUFF 2019

The Sydney Underground Film Festival enters its teenage phase; the 13th annual festival of warped, wicked celluloid is set to unnerve and entertain from September 12-15. The tone is set from Session 1, with ageing enfant terrible Harmony Korinne’s raucous celebration of self-medication The Beach Bum, starring Matthew McConnaughey-hey-hey, set to open the festivities, complete with skank-scented smoke machines (yeah, that’s right). There is a myriad of alternative content on offer - 23 narrative features, 12 documentaries and 45 short films, as well as strands dedicated Virtual Reality, Nigerian cinema and splendidly splattery no-budget effects wizardry.

But if you need your mind quickly blown, just where should you focus your secret, sordid cravings for the offbeat and unusual? SCREEN-SPACE zeroed in on five features from the 2019 SUFF line-up that may satiate those urges, for a while at least…

BRAID (Dir. Mitzi Peirone | 82mins | USA)
Program Prose: A candy-coloured, hallucinogen-fueled lunacy binge, (debut director Mitzi perone) makes one hell of a first impression, applying
a dizzying sense of dream logic and an uncompromisingly feminist edge to a Gothic, almost fairy tale-like psychological horror.
Critical Condition: “What sort of mind would concoct something this peculiar and undeniably personal, and fill it with gaslighting, torment, torture, disfigurement, murder, slapstick, and scenes of adults playing dress-up like kids? I came away feeling that I'd seen, if not a major film, then a film by major talents.” – Matt Zoller Seitz, RogerEbert.com
Screen-Space thinking…: Buzz is this is a stylistic companion piece to Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, with narrative echoes of The Killing of Sister George and Daughters of Darkness. Tick, tick and tick…

Mope Trailer from LUCAS HEYNE on Vimeo.

MOPE (Dir. Lucas Heyne | 105mins | USA)
Program Prose: In the world of pornography,
the term ‘mope’ refers to a low-level, wannabe porn actor who perhaps isn’t quite well endowed or attractive enough to achieve the success granted to “bigger”-name porn stars…Heyne crawls right under the skin of this grimy landscape, crafting a melancholy portrait of two misguided souls seeking love and acceptance, just like the rest of us.
Critical Condition: “Mope is a ballsy movie.” – Kyle Brunet, Boston Hassle
Screen-Space thinking…: Full disclosure – pornography and the machinations that produces it hold an ugly allure; it is why I am drawn over and over to not only Boogie Nights, but also sad, sickly tales like Auto Focus, Lovelace, Inserts and Wonderland. Critics are citing the very human connection that Heyne draws from his characters, which is something new for this sub-genre…. 

GREENER GRASS (Dir. Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe | 95mins | USA)
Program Prose: Eschewing all decorum and boundaries, Greener Grass mercilessly shreds all the institutions western society holds dear… this deranged lovechild of John Waters and Tim & Eric grows more inappropriate, unhinged, and surreal by the frame.
Critical Condition: “It’s basically the best ‘Saturday Night Live’ movie that Saturday Night Live never made, and if Lorne Michaels were half the talent scout we believe, he’d hire both DeBoer and Luebbe on the spot.” – Peter Debruge, Variety
Screen-Space thinking…: Skewering the faux morality and middle-class nightmare that is American suburbia is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, but when the filmmakers go for broke and the satire is razor-sharp, film classics are born (Blue Velvet; American Beauty; The Graduate). Fingers-crossed…

THE WOLF HOUSE (Dir. Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León| 75mins | Chile)
Program Prose: Inspired by the infamous Colonia Dignidad, a German commune that doubled as a clandestine torture camp under Augusto Pinochet, The Wolf House distils the horrors of history into a hellish folktale… a dark, compelling, enigmatic puzzle box of a film that will continue to burrow deep into your subconscious long after the credits roll.
Critical Condition: “Sometimes reminiscent of an Eraserhead-style Lynchian nightmare turned into sculpture, paintings and stop-motion, beasts become human, a body forms out of a head like something out of science fiction, and inside every constrained girl is an eager bird desperate to fly free.” – Sarah Ward, Screen Daily
Screen-Space thinking…: The burning passion for ground-breaking animated storytelling that defines the brilliant career of Jan Svankmajer is a clear influence. Good enough for us…

USE ME (Dir. Julian Shaw | 91mins | Australia)
Program Prose: Australian filmmaker Julian Shaw (as himself) travels to the United States to direct a documentary featuring ‘mental humiliatrix’ Ceara Lynch (as herself)… what was meant to
 be entertainment becomes a matter of life and death.
Critical Condition: “A sort of post-truth thriller which feels deeply era appropriate and cleverly engages with its subject matter.” – Anthony O’Connor, FilmInk.
Screen-Space thinking…: Shaw has demonstrated with his past docos (Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story, 2007; Cup of Dreams, 2011) that he’s a deft hand at first-person factual filmmaking. He inserts himself into the narrative he constructs about his real-life subject, which is creatively fraught with risk, yet finds unexpected insight and honesty. He makes really interesting films…

The 2019 Sydney Underground Film Festival will be held at The Factory Theatre, Marrickville from September 12-15. Session and ticket information is at the event's official website.

Thursday
Jul182019

FIVE OF THE BEST FROM MELBOURNE DOC FEST

If you have left decision-making about your yearly documentary indulgence until the eve of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, the 12-day program may seem daunting, even insurmountable. You might be drawn to the star power (look closely and you’ll find the likes of Alicia Vikander, Willem Dafoe, Francis Ford Coppola.…Jim Belushi); or, the stunning locations (on July 20 alone, you can bound from South Australia to Chile to West Africa to The Bahamas to N.Y.C.); or, the cool music (seat-groove to Tommy Emmanuel, The Sonics, Teddy Pendergrass or KISS, amongst many others).

SCREEN-SPACE Editor Simon Foster, who will be fronting a full first-weekend of panels and QAs, has deep-dived into the 2019 line-up and surfaced with five films that ought not fly under anyone’s radar, just due to the sheer number of great factual films on offer. (All films screen at Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St., Carlton)  

RIGHT TO HARM (Dirs: Annie Speicher, Matt Wechsler; 88 mins, U.S.A.)
FROM THE PROGRAM: Exposes the devastating public health impact that factory farming has on many of America’s most disadvantaged citizens. Known formally as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations - or CAFOs - these facilities produce millions of gallons of untreated waste that destroys the quality of life for nearby neighbors. Fed up with the lack of regulation, these citizens turned activists band together from across the country to demand justice.
SCREEN-SPACE says: The ‘Capitalism Killing The Heart of America’ doco is now its own sub-genre/artform, so vast and heartless is the insidious grip of Big Business. Gasland Parts 1 (2010) & 2 (2013); If a Tree Falls (2011); Food Inc (2008) – just a few of the thoroughly researched, acutely executed investigative works that expose the corporate bloody-mindedness and political profiteering choking The American Dream. This year, that film is Right to Harm, which reveals the horrendous industrial farming practices of ‘Big Ag’ and the elected bureaucrats who back industry over voters. 
WHEN: July 28 at 4.15pm.

ADOPTION PENDING (Dir: Liam Fouracre; 10 mins, Australia)
FROM THE PROGRAM: Adoption Pending is the story of George, a 2 year old staffy cross husky, who is surrendered to an adoption home. George struggles to adapt to the new environment, showing signs of stress and separation anxiety. and must pass a behavioural test with other dogs to determine whether he needs training and treatment. What follows is an emotionally compelling experience into a dog's journey toward a new start to life.
SCREEN-SPACE says: A ‘flea on the wall’ glimpse at the anxiety experienced by a fit, fun young fella just desperate to be loved (Ed: this sounds very relatable). Fouracre captures the heartbreak, daily disappointment and – spoiler alert! – pure exhilaration of life as a dog on the fringe. Impossible to not be affected by this simple, sweet dog’s tale; might even crack a tear of joy from cat-lovers.
WHEN: July 21 from 11.00am.

UNCAGED: A STAND-IN STORY (Dirs: Blake Johnston, Kelso Steinhof; 11 mins, U.S.A.)
FROM THE PROGRAM: Marco Kyris worked as Nic Cage’s stand-in for a decade on 20 films on everything from Cage’s break out role in Leaving Las Vegas to the blockbuster franchise National Treasure. In Uncaged: A Stand-in Story, Marco talks about his early life as an actor, his journey into the entourage of Nic Cage, and what it was like working in the shadow for one of Hollywood’s Legends of Cinema.
SCREEN-SPACE says: Affords the serious film buff some all-too-rare insight into a Hollywood fringe player’s journey on the inside. An engaging and likably self-effacing presence, Kyris puts on a brave face recounting the career he never quite had and positively beams when recounting his two decades as Cage’s stand-in. One hopes Blake Johnston’s and Kelso Steinhof’s respectful portrait of ambition unresolved finally makes a star out the man; he’s earned it.    
WHEN: July 19 from 11.00pm.

SILENT FORESTS (Dir: Mariah Wilson; 108 ins, U.S.A./Cameroon/D.R.C.)
FROM THE PROGRAM: An intimate, character-driven portrait of conservationists and activists who are struggling to stop forest elephant poaching in Africa's Congo Basin region. As passionate and tenacious as these conservationists are, they are up against huge institutional challenges like corruption and lack of funding that threaten to derail all their attempts to fight for the future of the forest elephant.
SCREEN-SPACE says: Casts an understated yet heroic glow over the people fighting elephant poaching at the forefront - one of Cameroon’s first female eco-guards, a grassroots wildlife law enforcement group, a Congolese biologist studying elephant behavior, a reformed elephant poacher, and a team of anti-poaching sniffer dogs led by a Czech conservationist. Tempers one’s feelings of anger and injustice with a sense of hope that the people of the region are up for the fight.
WHEN: July 21 at 4.15pm.

ACCIDENTAL CLIMBER (Dir: Steven Oritt; 67 mins, U.S.A)
FROM THE PROGRAM: Jim Geiger, a retired forest ranger and amateur mountaineer, attempts to become the oldest American and first great grandfather to summit Mt. Everest, aged 68. His transformation from a weekend hiker to attempting one of the most extreme and physically demanding feats known to man is driven by a desire to prove that age is just a number. What ensued, however, forever changed Jim's life.
SCREEN-SPACE says: In telling Geiger’s remarkable story, Oritt affords Chomolungma the awe and respect that has been missing from recent developments regarding the mountain’s exploitation. Geiger’s focussed and driven everyman has his priorities sharply refocussed when challenged by Everest, which is exactly how the story of one man’s story set against such magnificent nature should play out. Once in Nepal, covers similar ground to Jennifer Peedom’s 2015 film Sherpa (the Australian director can be glimpsed in one scene).
WHEN: July 27 from 11.00am.

THE 2019 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL runs July 19-30. Full session and ticketing information can be found at the event's official website.