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Monday
Jul172017

GLOBAL DOC SECTOR FETED AT M.D.F.F. AWARDS NIGHT 

2017 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL: Top honours at the 2nd annual Melbourne Documentary Film Festival were bestowed upon Jedd and Todd Wider’s God Knows Where I Am at an informal closing ceremony at the southern capital’s arthouse venue Cinema Nova last night. In line with the festival's objectives, winners across the award categories hailed from The USA, Russia, Norway, New Zealand, The U.K. and, of course, Australia, in what became a true celebration of international factual filmmaking... 

Narrated by actress Lori Singer, the heartbreaking reconstruction of a woman’s life after her remains are found in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse earned jury honours in a competitive field that also featured international festival hits Miss Kiet’s Children and The Cinema Travellers. The Best International Documentary prize was shared between Charlie Tagget-Adams’ hard rock doc Placebo Alt Russia and Richard Wyllie’s refugee crisis account Five Days on Lesvos; the Best Australian Documentary was taken out by Mat de Koning’s Meal Tickets, a decade-long account of the fortunes of his high school mates and their musical dreams. (Pictured, top: a scene from God Knows Where I Am)

The points-based scoring formula used by the festival committee to determine winners meant that ties were not uncommon, but no one begrudged multiple trophies given the quality of factual filmmaking present at the 2017 event. The Meal Tickets filmmaker shared the Best Emerging Australian Director category with Ivan Hexler for his ‘people power’ protest work Tunnel Vision (also deemed the festival’s Best Melbourne Documentary). Stephanie Clattenberg’s fiery takedown of music sector sexism, Play Your Gender, and Ben Davis’ warm-hearted look at Nordic house beat history, Northern Disco Lights (pictured, right), were both deemed Best Music/Art Documentary. 

Best Environmental Documentary honours were shared by Heather White’s Complicit, a harrowing expose of production line worker abuse in China, and Johanna B Kelly’s alternative diet study, The Gateway Bug; White also shared the International Emerging Director gong, this time with J.J. Garvine for Film Hawk. Garvine’s biography of independent cinema giant Bob Hawk afforded organisers the opportunity to award their inaugural Heroes of Cinema honour to the film industry legend, whose influence has helped forge the careers of filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, Edward Burns and Oscar-winning documentarian, Rob Epstein (The Times of harvey Milk, 1984; Common Threads: Stories from The Quilt, 1989).

   

One Heart One Spirit, director John Pritchard’s first-hand account of the meeting between Native American rights advocate Kenneth Little Hawk and Australia’s indigenous elders, won the Best Indigenous Documentary. The rather lofty honour of Best Expanded Interdisciplinary Project went to The Road Movie, Dmitrii Kalshnikov’s ground breaking social essay constructed entirely from footage captured by Russian dashcams. New Zealand factual filmmaking great Costa Botes (pictured, below) rightfully earned the Best Editing award for Act of Kindness, a moving account of one young man’s odyssey through Rwanda cut together from over 30 hours of non-pro footage.

The Festival Audience Award went to Jewel’s Catch One, director C. Fitz’s rousing disco era celebration of LA nightclub icon, Jewel Thais-Williams. The study of a musical legacy also earned Patrick Buchanan the Wildcard/Avant Garde Award for Lunar Orbit, his intimate look at ambient house music giants, The Orb.

Festival Director Lyndon Stone acknowledged both the committed talent who fronted for their screenings (amongst them New York-based Mariah Wilson, who was present to collect the International Emerging Director honour for her short Eeya) and the passionate Melbourne documentary audiences. Attendance figures showed a year-to-year rise in patronage, including several sold-out events, despite chilly evenings that saw the temperature often dip into single digits. 

Thursday
Jul062017

LUNAR ORBIT: THE PATRICK BUCHANAN INTERVIEW

2017 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL: Since forming in 1988, The Orb have conjured the kind of ambient house sounds – an offshoot of the electronica movement that combines acid house and ambient elements – that ensured their music industry status as groundbreaking icons. For his debut feature Lunar Orbit, Patrick Buchanan enveloped himself within the inventive brilliance of founder Alex Paterson and current offsider Thomas Fehlman as they crafted Moonbuilding 2703AD, The Orb's first studio album in 8 years. “I honestly didn’t know they were working on such a phenomenal record,” says Buchanan, who spoke to SCREEN-SPACE ahead of his film’s screening at the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

Buchanan turned a deep love for the sounds of The Orb into what would become an epic yet intimate look at the band. “I was at a point in my career that I was confident that I could dedicate the time and had the passion to make a film on The Orb, [their] creative process and where it all began for them.” says the Canadian filmmaker. “They are a musical act that I’m fascinated with on so many levels. It was truly an honour to have them give me the trust and to be involved.” (Pictured, top: Buchanan, right, with The Orb founder Alex Paterson)

The director was provided unique access to Paterson and Fehlman in Berlin in 2014, capturing intimate moments of artistry by two 50-something men who still represent the cutting edge of modern music. “The fact that Alex and Thomas are still making such great music and enjoy the process was an aspiring thing for me to witness,” recalls Buchanan, who would combine the footage shot at the jam sessions with archival material and concert clips to form a profile of a musical act still as potent and relevant today as they were 30 years ago. “It’s one thing to meet your musical heroes, to be invited into their world, to follow them on tour, to spend time in their homes and studio,” says the director, “but to get to know them as human beings, as people and to be trusted to tell their stories is the biggest honour I could have asked for.” (Pictured, right; Paterson, left, with Thomas Fehlman)

The music of The Orb plays to a more select audience than the mainstream, an imbalance that Buchanan was motivated to redress. “I certainly believe they deserve much [more] attention and great respect,” he declares. “There is so much shitty, unaspiring music that gets so much media attention. Here is a window into something truly original and great, something personal, something historic. These guys are seminal. This is music created by music lovers in the truest sense.” (Pictured,left; Fehlman, left, and Paterson at work in their Berlin studio) 

A respected editor with 100s of hours of factual-TV cutting experience to draw upon, Buchanan understood the unwieldy nature and inherent power of the unstructured real-life narrative. “Documentary is a compelling filmmaking art form because it’s unscripted and the edit is where it comes alive,” he says. “Where the story is created, you can’t really script it. It’s a great challenge.” The crowning moment of Patrick Buchanan’s odyssey with The Orb was when the band invited Lunar Orbit to be part of a four-hour mega-concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall in April. “That was, honestly, a big thrill,” recalls the humbled filmmaker. “How do you beat that?”

LUNAR ORBIT screens at The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on June 9. Full sessions and ticketing information can be found at the event’s official website here. 

Wednesday
Jun282017

DOC FEST DIRECTORS PONDER WHAT "DOCUMENTARY IS..."  

Long before the conjured cinematic world of fictional narratives emerged, there were groundbreaking filmmakers objectively capturing the true wonders of the real world. It has been over 100 years since the documentary genre was born, a period that has seen the emergence of such masters as Dziga Vertoz (Man with a Movie Camera, 1929); Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of The Will, 1935)D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back, 1967); Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies, 1967); Albert and David Maysles (Salesman, 1969; Gimme Shelter, 1970; Grey Gardens, 1975); Chris Marker (Sans soleil, 1983); Claude Lanzmann (Shoah, 1985); and, Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, 1989; The Fog of War, 2003). But what does the term ‘documentary’ mean to the modern practitioners of the factual film? SCREEN-SPACE asked eight of the filmmakers screening their latest at the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival to finish the sentence, “Documentary is…” 

DOCUMENTARY IS.… “a format to shine a light, investigate the truth, record history and celebrate amazing people and places while entertaining with style. #MakeADifference”
C. FITZ, Dir:  JEWEL CATCH ONE (pictured, above; C. Fitz, left, with Jewel Thais Williams. Photo: Michael Owen Baker, LA Times)
From the MDFF program: With 4 strikes against her (black, female, poor and a lesbian), our trailblazer, Jewel Thais-Williams, helped changed laws, save lives and influence communities across Los Angeles, California as she opened her legendary nightclub's door for 42 years.

DOCUMENTARY IS.… “a passion of mine. I love the stories, the real stories. The challenge to make a film in this genre has been one I’d aspired to for many years. I took another passion of mine, music, and decided I wanted to give it a shot. I honestly had an epiphany to make this film. I wanted to make this film.”
PATRICK BUCHANAN, Dir: LUNAR ORBIT
From the MDFF program: Lunar Orbit takes us deep into the Ultraworld of the pioneers of ambient house music. We explore The Orb's unique creative process with unprecedented studio access and delve into the story behind the music. 

DOCUMENTARY IS…. “imagining how situations will unfold then aligning yourself to capture the action.”
MAT DE KONING, Dir: MEAL TICKETS (pictured, right: Koning, left, during production in 2010).
From the MDFF program: The lives of high school band mates and their roadie who dedicate their twenties to seeking success in the music industry. From Perth to New York, Melbourne to Los Angeles we are given a back stage pass to the gigs, the tour, the conflicts and indulgences. 

DOCUMENTARY IS. “taking action. And by action I don't necessarily mean, being an activist. At some post-film discussions people call me an activist and I am quick to correct them. I consider myself more of an engaged citizen. Activist, to me, often means someone so angry (often rightly so) about an issue that I can't really have a conversation with them. So for me, documentary is taking action--but that action can be as simple as listening, asking good questions, asking dumb questions, moving in a direction to better understand something.” 
THOMAS BENA, Dir: ONE BIG HOME
From the MDFF program: On the tiny island of Martha’s Vineyard, where presidents and celebrities vacation, trophy homes threaten to destroy the islands unique character. Twelve years in the making, One Big Home follows one carpenters journey to understand the trend toward giant houses. When he feels complicit in wrecking the place he calls home, he takes off his tool belt and picks up a camera.

 

DOCUMENTARY IS…. “storytelling that can have a social impact. It can humanise an issue so people can connect, be moved and take action.”
BELINDA MASON, Dir: CONSTANCE ON THE EDGE
From the MDFF program: One family. Two wars. Three countries. What does it take to forge a new life far from home? Filmed over 10 years, Constance on The Edge is an unflinchingly honest portrayal of one refugee family’s resettlement story in Australia. 

DOCUMENTARY IS.... “an art form that gives people a voice and a chance to tell their personal truth.” 
STEPHANIE CLATTENBERG (pictured, right), Dir: PLAY YOUR GENDER
From the MDFF program: Juno Award-winning musician Kinnie Starr is on a quest to find out why only 5% of music producers are women even though many of the most bankable pop stars are female. What does it take for a woman to make it in music? 

DOCUMENTARY IS.… ”the nexus between art and social engagement in non-fiction story-telling. In recent years documentary has been re-branded by television as ‘Specialist Factual’, ‘Factual Entertainment’, ‘Docu-soap’ and ‘Reality Television’. Ratings are now the major driver for public broadcasters since the Howard government made ratings a prerequisite for government funding. And to increase ratings, the non-fiction TV doc has been restructured to make it ‘more accessible’ and easy to follow. So this is has become what most people now think of as ‘documentary’. But the great documentaries, the ones that have lasted and will continue to last, are more complex. They require real engagement from the audience. They are based on ideas and composed of open-ended explorations. And rather than relying on presenters and narrators, they explore different ways of telling a story - the language of the film.”
NICK TORRENS (pictured, left), Dir: CHINA’S 3DREAMS
From the MDFF program: China’s 3Dreams takes us deep inside the dilemmas and dreams of China’s people – without mediation from Western presenters and narrators. Featuring rare archive and extraordinary testimony from former Red Guards and Rebels, here is a powerful parable of China in the 21st century. 

DOCUMENTARY IS.... “a real story that matters today and in time becomes a record of who we were collectively.”
CLAIRE STONE, Dir: SEVEN WOMEN IN NEPAL THE BIRTH OF A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE
From the MDFF program: Seven Women in Nepal examines how one Australian created a successful social enterprise with the disabled women of Nepal and what is possible with a willingness to learn from mistakes and the right people to help.

The 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival runs July 9-16. Session and ticketing information can be found at the events official website.

Friday
Jun162017

HOLY AIR: THE SHADY SROUR NTERVIEW

Set in Nazareth, Holy Air is the story of a Palestinian named Adam, striving against the socio-political barriers he faces everyday, to achieve his full potential and a meaningful happiness. His entrepreneurial vision inspires him to bottle and sell ‘holy air’, small jars of the very atmosphere found at the most spiritual of places, Mount Precipice. Writer/director Shady Srour, who also stars as the forlorn but determined protagonist, has crafted both a wonderfully funny satire that tackles faith, oppression and gender roles, and a deeply etched portrait of a man at an existential crossroad. Ahead of the long haul flight that will bring him to the Australian premiere of Holy Air at the Sydney Film Festival, Shady spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from his home in Israel… (SPOILER ALERT)

                                                                                                                  Photo credit: Sofyan Zhalka

SCREEN-SPACE: The very notion of 'holy air' is so wonderfully absurd yet entirely believable in this age of fanatic beliefs and blind faith. When did the concept of 'bottled holy spirit, weighing one gram' first come to you?

SROUR: When I started to write the script, I wanted to create a trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - so I modeled it along three lines. The ‘Father’ is the story line with the father; the ‘Son’ is the story with the wife and fetus, which is also connected to the annunciation; and, the ‘Holy Spirit’, which is the selling of spirituality as a commodity, like the toilet paper scene. And, of course, in writing and developing the script over eleven years, all the other ideas started to be built within this frame.

SCREEN-SPACE: Your hero, Adam, is so disconnected from all that surrounds him. The traffic jam opening suggests his life is in motion, but not really moving at all. There is universality about how lost he truly is; that moment many men feel as youth fades and adult responsibility beckons...

SROUR: Nazareth is one of the most densely populated Arabian cities in Israel, with no space to expand. It’s part of an occupation plan to suffocate the Arabs inside their villages, places that look like refugees camps. So the traffic is part of our reality. The traffic jam is a motif, a symbol to say that our life here is stuck, its not moving anywhere, not politically or socially or religiously. It’s going to hell. And when Adam, who is smart and ambitious, can't fulfill his dreams and his goals because of unfair situations - because he is Arab, Palestinian - he is like everybody else, very tired and exhausted. His disconnection from his surroundings is like a self-defense mechanism, so he won't go crazy. That’s part of the character's development; starting from that disconnection from reality, he gets the annunciation that he is having a baby, so his fatherhood seeds begin to grow. He has to be rational in this crazy land, face a more rational reality. This is the tragedy; he has nothing to do but accept the reality of fatherhood. (Pictured, above; Srour, second from left, as Adam in Holy Air)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your script finds shading in the relationship between the various ethnicities and religions of Nazareth. Was making all these characters as 'human' as possible part of your plan?

SROUR: To be honest, I think I have so much anger here regarding Israel\Palestine. Every side – Judaism, Islam and Christianity - is getting more fanatical; that’s why no one is safe from my satire. I tried to make it in a smart way, because here every one is so sensitive about anything to do with religion. It’s dangerous to my life; I was boycotted and threatened for different projects in the past and I'm expecting tension for Holy Air as well. When Dante wrote the Divine Comedy, he went against the Pope but he wrote it in a smart way so the church wouldn't get rid of him. And, as you mentioned, the warm moments were intentional, because my main target was to bring the human being to the front and push back the political aspect. I wanted to challenge the audience to look at my main characters as human being and not through the stereotypical Israeli-Palestinian conflict they know from the news. (Pictured, above; Shady Srour as Adam)

SCREEN-SPACE: There is something slightly askew about the film's reality. Adam keeps disappearing into the bath, at one point for a long time as his wife talks about their baby-future. It can be theorised that your film exists in a dream-like state?

SROUR: Since the whole idea of Holy Air is trippy, I was trying to play with the reality, or what’s called magic-realism. You can ask yourself is it for real or not, and I wanted to give the film a hallucinatory aspect. That’s why Adam gets into the bathtub at the beginning and at the end there is a shot of the bathtub empty; does Adam stay in the bathtub from the beginning till the end and all of what happened to him is only in his head? In scenes where Adam smokes weed, and drinks whisky, I was playing within a thin line between reality and not reality. By the way, rarely has the audience taken it this way but I wanted them to instinctively feel it.

SCREEN-SPACE: As ‘Lamia’, Laëtitia Eïdo has a wonderful chemistry with you. As issues such as politics, history, religion and patriarchy unfold, what did her character ‘Lamia’ convey about gender in modern Nazareth?

SROUR: In general, the stereotypical Arab women in Nazareth are the women wearing hijab, but the modern Arab woman doesn't get much representation in cinema. So imagine in a conservative society such as the Arab society there are also Palestinian women like Lamia. Politically speaking, the society expects Palestinian women to sacrifice and be strong, filled with pride so she doesn't collapse. I wanted to convey that it’s legitimate to show her weakness sometimes, as it is something that makes her even stronger. (Pictured, above; Srour with co-star Laëtitia Eïdo)

SCREEN-SPACE: Superbly timed, often very small moments provide big laughs - the 'confessional sales pitch'; the 'papal banner'; the 'take 10%' sequence. Whose comic sensibilities have influenced you?

SROUR: Oedipus by Sophocles, Macbeth by Shakespeare, The Wild Duck by Ibsen, Tartuffe by Molliere, Divine Comedy by Dante and the Bible, are mostly my inspiration. I came from a theatre background; I did my B.A in Theatre Acting, and my M.F.A in Cinema, and I'm a university lecturer in theatre analysis. I believe in the continuation of theatre, so my inspiration comes from theatre. My big inspiration was Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, so this film has the existentialist conflicts, circular principle and forced pairings between all the characters of a tragi-comedy. ‘Lamia’ was inspired by Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, while Adam was designed as a ‘Hero’, employing elements from old Greek theater. For instance, he has kind of supernatural powers, that’s why he speaks five languages. Like a ‘hero’, he focuses on a target and he goes for it until the end. There is also the conflict between Rationalism and Idealism. Adam is spacey but uses the corrupted system in a rational way, while Lamia is a feminist, a humanist so idealistic that she wants an abortion. Hers is a destructive idealism. And of course, this is a story happening in Nazareth, so there are some references from the bible; it’s a kind of a new annunciation after 2000 years. When Jesus said he was the Son of God and was kicked out of Nazareth, he fled to Mount Precipice. So for Adam, it's a place where he can get fresh air and be a little spiritual, away from his negative city. My inspiration for the story has many layers that don’t have to reach an audience with this clarity of vision, but I was trying to have it in the background so that the audience had a sense of it.

HOLY AIR screens June 17 and 18 at the Sydney Film Festival. Session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.

Tuesday
Jun132017

REMEMBERING FRED J. KOENEKAMP

One of the great journeyman cinematographers of the last half-century, Fred J. Koenekamp passed away on May 31, aged 94. At a time when Hollywood was opening its doors to continental artists like Vittorio Storaro, Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond, Koenekamp was a local craftsman who graduated from television (Gunsmoke; The Lieutenant; The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; Mission Impossible) to become a master of bigscreen spectacle.

Debuting as an assistant on the Jane Russell vehicle Underwater! (1955), Koenekamp would work the studio roster, shooting such films as the Sandra Dee/George Hamlton romp Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding? (1967), Elvis Presley’s trippy Live a Little Love a Little (1968) and the western comedy The Great Bank Robbery (1969). When 20th Century Fox asked him to meet with director Franklin J Schaffer and discuss a project that would become an American cinema classic, a career of high-profile projects was set in motion…

PATTON
“Frank asked me how I worked on a set. ‘Do you like multiple cameras?’ ‘Yes, I’ve always liked multiple cameras, and I like a handheld camera on the set all the time. You never know when you’ll need it.’ We probably talked for an hour, and it seemed to go very smoothly. About a week later I got a call, and they said they wanted me for Patton.” – Interview, American Cinematographer, February 2005

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
Koenekamp signed on for his first film after Patton, convinced (as was much of the industry, including 20th Century Fox) that bad boy Russ Meyer’s sinful and sordid shocker would be the new decade’s cause celebre. The DOP clashed badly with the director, who was used to lensing his own low-budgeters; Koenekamp found himself framing X-rated scenes that were unlikely to make the final edit. He ultimately dodged many of the bullets critics aimed at the notorious film, and reaffirmed his post-Patton/pre-Dolls buzz with films such as Billy Jack (1971), Skin Game (1971) and the Raquel Welch hit, Kansas City Bomber (1972).

PAPILLON
"To this day, I still think Papillon is one of the best pictures I shot. I think it had a good look, the actors were terrific. There were no battling egos on the set, which I thought might have happened, but it didn't. They would talk to each other, off to the side, then come and talk to the director. I think Dustin made Steve work harder and, I think, that made Steve do one of the best jobs he has ever done." - Cinema Misfits, October 2011. 

THE TOWERING INFERNO
“I got a call saying Irwin Allen wanted to talk to me at Fox. Oddly enough, I’ve been a fire truck buff all my life. I don’t know why, I just love them. I talked to Irwin, and he said he wanted me to do Towering Inferno. They already had Joe Biroc on it, and Irwin said, ‘Joe’s going to do the second unit with you, but you’ll do the first unit with director John Guillermin.’- Interview, American Cinematographer, February 2005. Koenekamp shared the Academy Award for Cinematography with Biroc, and would go on to work with Irwin Allen on the Swarm (1978) and When Time Ran Out… (1980)

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
Koenekamp (who had the Sydney Poitier/Bill Cosby comedy smash Uptown Saturday Night in cinemas alongside …Inferno) parlayed Oscar glory and his strong commercial instincts into years of top-tier US studio work. His directorial collaborators throughout the 1970s included Michael Anderson (Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975); Kirk Douglas (Posse, 1975); Jonathan Kaplan (White Line Fever, 1975); Ralph Nelson (Embryo, 1976); Ted Kotcheff (Fun with Dick and Jane, 1977); his Patton partner, Franklin J. Schaffer (Island in The Streams, 1977); Stanley Kramer (The Domino Principle, 1977); Charles Jarrot (The Other Side of Midnight, 1977); Stuart Rosenberg, (Love and Bullets, 1979); and, Franco Zeffirelli (The Champ, 1979). The decade ended with his biggest hit since The Towering Inferno, the horror classic The Amityville Horror (1979, for Rosenberg).

THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION
Koenekamp kept working thoughout the1980s, although the projects he aligned with found all manner of notoriety. He shot a clearly unwell Steve McQueen in his final film, Buzz Kulik’s The Hunter (1980); Buck Henry’s little-seen satire First Family (1980), with Bob Newhart; the racially-themed comedy Carbon Copy, featuring a young Denzel Washington; and, Ronald Neames’ First Monday in October. He helmed two critically mauled star vehicles – the reteaming of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, Two of a Kind, for John Herzfeld; and, once again for Schaffer, the Luciano Pavarotti showpiece, Yes Giorgio. Cult film devotees will always hold Koenekamp in high regard for his work on W.D. Richter’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a project that allowed him a rare opportunity to experiment in the early days of genre film special effects technology.

FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER
His final work would be John Milius’ gung-ho military actioner, Flight of The Intruder, in 1991, retiring at the age of 67. “When I walked off the set that last night, it was a real sad night. My wife was out of town, and I went home and sat there and had a drink. I thought, ‘Is it really over?’ For six or eight months after I retired, I’d get calls every once in awhile, and finally everyone realized I wasn’t working anymore. I didn’t miss a lot of things, but what I did miss, and still miss, is the camaraderie of the crew.” - Interview, American Cinematographer, 2005. (Pictured, right; Milius and crew farewell the DOP on his final shooting day. Photo copyright: American Cinematographer, 2005)