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Monday
Jan222018

HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS?: THE EDDIE MARTIN INTERVIEW

IFFR 2018: Compiled from a lifetime of footage courtesy of the subject himself, the immense task of collating the images into a coherent whole ensures Have You Seen The Listers? is a groundbreaking feat for director Eddie Martin. That the life story of Anthony Lister should also prove such a profoundly personal insight into both the creative process and turbulent family life of the internationally acclaimed Australian artist is a remarkable cinematic achievement. “Individuals that push themselves and challenge the status quo inspire me,” says Martin, who has celebrated the outsider’s spirit in his films Jisoe (2005), Lionel (2008) and All This Mayhem (2014). The director spoke with SCREEN-SPACE ahead of his latest film’s international premiere at the prestigious International Film Festival Rotterdam

SCREEN-SPACE: When the footage became available to you, did you search for content that served a specific vision you had of Anthony’s life? Or were the twelve terabytes a kind of ‘co-storyteller’, guiding and influencing your own creativity?

MARTIN: There’s no question the available archive material will dictate elements during the making of a documentary film. However to begin the process of making this particular film, first and foremost it was about spending time with Anthony, getting to know him, his story and world. It was later when he presented me with his personal archives, I was able to evaluate the material in relation to the narrative and draw a greater sense of what l could utilise. Once I had a handle on all the elements, I was able to activate my vision for the film.

SCREEN-SPACE: Did Anthony give you free rein to tell his story through your eyes, or were there moments when he was ‘over your shoulder’ during the editing?

MARTIN: Being artistic by nature, Anthony (pictured, right) was incredibly trusting with the process and gave me the space to work independently, which I greatly appreciated. With that said I did show him an edit. I have a great deal of respect for my documentary subjects. You have to be incredibly brave to share your life with the world and it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly. I didn’t want there to be any nasty surprises and I also wanted to ensure he was okay with everything we were putting out there. There are some incredibly personal and confrontational scenes. We talked through any concerns, there were a few things we had to look into due to legal reasons, but apart from that he was happy to share his story with audiences. Anthony is a unique, highly creative individual and I’m genuinely honoured for the trust he’s given me.

SCREEN-SPACE: What was the human trait, the essence of Anthony as both a man and an artist, that you felt had to be conveyed?

MARTIN: Anthony’s a really passionate character. While he makes mistakes along the way his battle to make art accessible and understood is a honourable one. Prioritising the passion he has for his work over family isn’t uncommon. Repeating the behavioural patterns of our parents is also universal. He has the confidence to express himself and the self-awareness to be honest about his mistakes.  I think this is something to be valued.

SCREEN-SPACE: I’m interested in Anika’s involvement with the production. She seemed open and willing to discuss their time while together on-camera, yet all but disappears from the film after they separate. Was that your call or hers?

MARTIN: It was both. Firstly Anthony’s story is told in a linear fashion, once separated Anika (pictured, left) was no longer present in Anthony’s world. So it didn’t make sense for her to provide commentary. The interview she gave was what she was comfortable with. Anika is an artist in her own right. She was incredibly open in revisiting, an at times, difficult past.  For me it was extremely important to hear her side of the story, we were very fortunate to have her involvement and I think it’s a side of the story we don’t hear often enough.

SCREEN-SPACE: The subjects of your films have been immensely talented individuals, rising from tough beginnings and overcoming social stigma and personal demons, to face the world on their own terms. What draws you to these types of enigmatic personalities?

MARTIN: I’m drawn to anti-heroes on the fringes of society, especially in today’s mainstream where corporate interests stifle personality. I think it’s important to hear stories from these alternative voices that present different ways of viewing the world while also sharing lessons learnt.

SCREEN-SPACE: From chronicling the life of one street artist in Jisoe twelve years ago, to revisiting the street artist’s existence in …Listers, how have you noticeably developed as an artist/filmmaker/storyteller?

MARTIN: Jisoe was my first film and therefore a purely instinctual process. I had no budget, but I did have a camera and a computer to edit on. It was all I needed to get excited and motivated to try making a documentary film. Now twelve years later, I still rely on my instincts. But what’s changed put simply is a developed understanding of story and structure. I’m grateful to have the support to work with budgets and more importantly a team. Filmmaking is a team sport and for good reason. I have worked with some amazing people and learnt a great deal from all of them along the way. I’m still learning with every film and that’s part of the experience I value the most.

HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS? will screen at the Inetrnational Film Festival Rotterdam from January 29. Ticket and venue information can be found at the IFFR official website.

Thursday
Dec282017

THE WOUND: THE JOHN TRENGROVE INTERVIEW

The very existence of a film like The Wound (Inxeba) within the South African film sector is remarkable. Johannesburg-based writer-director John Trengrove crafted the gay-themed narrative to, “push back against clichéd stereotypes of black masculinity perpetuated inside and outside of African cinema.” Central to the film is the tribal circumcision ceremony called Ukwaluka, a rite-of-passage tradition practiced by the Xhosa men during which teenage ‘initiates’ are mentored by young men (khankathas), who nurse them through the trying ordeal. With The Wound building momentum ahead of the US award season (at time of writing, it is shortlisted for the Foreign Film Oscar), Trengrove spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from Sao Paolo, Brazil, about the controversial and frank drama that questions and challenges the perception of the male-dominated African society…

SCREEN-SPACE: When you first started shopping the script around, what reaction did you get from the South African film industry as whole, and perhaps most importantly, the Xhosa people. Was this kind of depiction of their young men something they were immediately open to exploring?

From the beginning there was a strong traditionalist resistance to the idea of the film. We were seen as audacious for even suggesting that same-sex behaviour happens in these kinds of spaces. Of course, all our research showed the opposite, and there was, from the onset, many champions of the project, both from within and outside the Xhosa culture. From an industry standpoint, many colleagues thought we were committing commercial suicide. Who would watch a gay African film? Ironically it's precisely that intersection - a story about same sex desire set in the context of a traditional African custom - that has given the film all it's traction.

SCREEN-SPACE: You create a very volatile dynamic - a depiction of repressed homosexual passion within the context of a brutal and traditional passage into manhood. Was the search for your leads a particularly difficult period? Finding actors to explore the darker aspects of this narrative?

It was a long process. We knew we wouldn't be able to attract mainstream actors, for fear of a public backlash. For this reason we auditioned many non-professionals. We took more than a year and put hundreds of young men on camera. We had a rule...everyone we cast had to be first language Xhosa speakers and had to have first hand experience of the initiation. All three of the leads are very special individuals who, for their own personal reasons, decided to participate. They knew they'd face criticism, but they also believed in what the film was about. (Pctured, above; lead actor Nakhane Touré, centre, in The Wound).

SCREEN-SPACE: What discussions were had when deciding upon the degree to which the film would depict the circumcision ritual?

The community in the film are a real Xhosa community who practice the ritual twice a year. They had complete carte blanche to represent themselves and the ritualised sequences were shot as documentary with no directorial intervention. The most sensitive and taboo details of the practice were omitted. We were never interested in making an expose. 

SCREEN-SPACE: Comparisons are inevitable to Oscar-winner Moonlight. Are there films that have influenced you as a storyteller that we can see in The Wound?

Many films along the way. In particular I was watching a lot of Carlos Reygadas (Japón, 2002; Silent Light, 2007; Post Tenebras Lux, 2012) while I was writing the film. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The ritual takes place within a traditional tribal setting, but there are highways and power lines, and one very funny sequence about the social status of Blackberrys vs. iPhones. This old-vs.-new societal depiction strengthens the duality of the films themes, yes?

Absolutely. It was very interesting to explore the ways in which this ancient ritual rubs up against a westernised industrial world. There is another idea in the film, which is that individual freedom and self-identifying as gay is a middle class privilege. Also, from a traditionalist perspective, that being urbanised intersects with notions of whiteness and softness. (Pictured, left; co-stars Niza Jay Ncoyini, left, and Bongile Mantsai in The Wound).

SCREEN-SPACE: You use very tight framing, very intimate camera angles. When you go wide at the end, as the two protagonists look out over the highway, it is quite a shock. How would you describe the filming style you and your DOP employ?

We wanted to resits the "National Geographic" approach of fetishizing bodies against the African landscape. To put it bluntly, the characters of our story don't care about the landscape in the way that outsiders might. The story is about these men's bodies and what their bodies mean in a social context. For this reason it made sense to stay close to the characters rather than keeping an observational distance. I also liked the sense of claustrophobia this created. We needed to feel confined in spite of the wide, open spaces. On the few occasions when we did use wides, the effect is jarring rather than harmonious, as you suggest.

THE WOUND begins its Australian season on February 8 in select cinemas via distributor IC/OT Entertainment.

Saturday
Dec162017

PREVIEW: 2018 SCREENWAVE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

As summer temperatures reach seasonal highs on the New South Wales north coast, the Screenwave International Film Festival (SWIFF) will afford adventurous film lovers respite from the heat with its annual programme of bracingly bold and socially conscious features from the global film community.

From January 10 to 25, the 2018 line-up will unspool at The Jetty Memorial Theatre in the holiday haven of Coffs Harbour, five hours drive north of Sydney; a second screening venue is located in the rainforest township of Bellingen, situated in the region’s magnificent hinterland. Now in its third year, the SWIFF experience has expanded on the back of strong local community support, festivalgoers willing to travel and an increasing number of industry figures, all of whom have responded to an event that Festival Director Dave Horsley describes in his program notes as, “a weird, ephemeral beast”.

The Opening Night honours have been bestowed upon Greg McLean’s South American survival epic Jungle, starring Daniel Radcliffe. The true story of Israeli tourist Yossi Ghinsberg’s descent into hallucinatory madness while lost in the Amazon represents a tour de force role for Radcliffe and addresses the relationship between man and the natural world in its most breathtaking and unforgiving form. Closing the Festival will be the Sydney odyssey Ellipsis, the directorial debut of attending guest David Wenham; the romantic drama, which follows two strangers (pictured, right; Emily Barclay, left, and Benedict Samuel) as they meander from Bondi to their inner-city digs, has drawn comparisons to Richard Linklater’s ‘Before…’ trilogy.

Over the festival’s 15 days, 73 features will screen, including six Australian premieres. These are Paul Farmer’s crusading medicos doc, Bending the Arc (USA); Donkeyote (Germany, Spain), Chico Pereira’s account of a man and his mule’s journey across the US; Johnathan Olshefski’s Quest (USA), an inside look at the experiences of an African American family striving for a unified community; The Judge (Palestine, USA), Erika Cohn’s drama that exposes the challenges faced, both professionally and personally, by the first woman appointed as Judge in a Shari’a court of law; French director Ilan Klipper’s debut film, The Starry Sky Above Me (France), a humanistic character study of an ageing author with deeply ingrained neurosis; and, the SXSW sensation A Bad Idea Gone Wrong (USA), a contemporary heist comedy thriller from director Jason Headley.

Artistic Director Kate Howat, who calls her 2018 roster, “15 days of cinematic immersion and discovery”, has undertaken to highlight women and LGBTIQ projects in her programming. The strand 'Hear Me Out' includes six films highlighting the experiences of sexual minorities, including God’s Own Country (UK) from Sundance Best Director winner Francis Lee, and Pulse from Australian director Stevie Cruz-Martin (who will attend with the film’s star Daniel Monks). The female voice will be heard loudly via the sidebar 'Women in Action', a five film strand that includes Mouly Surya’s revenge thriller Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts (Indonesia, France), and the female-maori empowerment drama Waru, from eight of New Zealand’s women directors.

Twenty films comprise the largest of the SWIFF strands, 'World Cinema', with works coming to Coffs Harbour from as far afield as Mexico (Michel Franco’s Cannes honoree, April’s Daughter); China (Liu Jian’s animated action romp Have a Nice Day); Lebanon (Philippe Van Leuw’s Syrian-set family saga Insyriated); Hungary (Ildiko Enyedi’s Berlin and Sydney prize winner On Body and Soul); and, Bulgaria (Valeska Grisebach’s Western). The Nordic film sector is afforded it’s own spotlight, with five films screening from the chillier climes of Europe, including the 2017 Cannes Palme d’Or winner The Square, from Ruben Ostlund.

Of course, a Coffs Harbour film festival would not be worth its weight in board wax if it did not embrace the omnipresent beach culture. The ‘Call of the Surf’ strand will feature one of the highlights of the event – a live soundtrack performance from Band of Frequencies to accompany the screening of Shaun Cairn’s Men of Foam and Wood (pictured, right), an epic documentary that chronicles the Australian surfing scene of the 70s and 80s. Also screening for what is sure to be a receptive audience is Nathan Oldfield’s The Church of The Open Sky, with the director in attendance; Ross Whitaker’s Between Land and Sea, a rare glimpse inside Irish surf culture; and, the double feature session comprising Alena Erenbold’s Blue Road and Chris Bukard’s Under an Arctic Sky.

The 2018 SCREENWAVE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs January 10-25 in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales. Full program and session details can be found at the event’s official website.

Thursday
Nov232017

SCARY MOTHER: THE ANA URUSHADZE / NATO MURVANDZE INTERVIEW

2017 ASIA PACIFIC FILM AWARDS: Ana Urushadze is a 27 year-old writer/director who hails from Tbilisi in Georgia. Her debut film, a stark and challenging drama called Scary Mother, may be the finest first effort of 2017. The titular matriarch is Manana, a mother of three whose ambition to be a published author threatens to deconstruct her middle-class existence, when she reveals the narrative of her first novel to be a brutal, thinly veiled skewering of the life she has created for herself. Working alongside Urushadze is acclaimed Georgian actress Nato Murvanidze, whose portrayal of Manana has been lauded as one of the year’s most accomplished lead turns. 

In Brisbane to attend the Asia Pacific Screen Awards as nominees in the Best Director and Best Actress categories respectively, Ana Urushadze (pictured, above) and Nato Murvanidze (below) sat with SCREEN-SPACE to talk about creating the vivid mindscape of Scary Mother…

SCREEN-SPACE: When confronted with a set of characters and a reality as maddening as that in Scary Mother, it is daunting to enquire about its origins…

Ana: The origins come from a script I wrote for a short film, a project that literally ran for about a minute. Events unfolded a bit differently, but the story was the same; it was about a wife telling her husband about her dream to tell this story. The treatment was rejected when I submitted it, but when I expanded the story and broadened the script into feature length, I resubmitted and it was approved. I was most fascinated by the idea of one character being out of the ordinary, being at odds with a normal life. Following her discoveries, watching her as she is taken out of her family life and how those around her react to this change is what developed into her story.

SCREEN-SPACE: There are authors in your family, Ana…

Ana: Yes, my sister is a writer although she refuses to call herself that because, she says, she hasn’t been published. I tell her, “You write! You’re a writer!” (Laughs) And my mother was once a writer, who went through a period where she started and stopped. So there were certainly connections to the real world, to my real world.

Nato: [The script] was a big surprise. I’ve known Ana for years, and I knew she was a very talented person, but her script surprised me very much. That such a young person could write these word and these characters is remarkable. It sounded like the voice of a much older, wiser person, with more life experiences. And I was really afraid, actually, because I was unsure if I could do it or not. Manana is a very intense character that demands you follow her 24 hours a day and it struck me as hard to be able to do that.

SCREEN-SPACE: Despite a vast body of work, Nato, had you ever encountered a woman like Manana?

Nato: I work a lot in theatre, and it is not uncommon to find these complex, difficult characters in the works of great playwrights, but you rarely get to play characters like this in movies. Ana and I met regularly and discussed at length the character, to delve deeper into her psychology. 

Ana: You know, everything with this film happened very quickly. We have a quite small group of filmmakers in Georgia and we know all the respected greats in the industry, like Nato, but we didn’t have access to young, unknown names and faces we needed to play the family. So we went through casting to secure some of the actors, and I drew on people I knew that were not names in the industry but who were perfect for the roles. If they had not done the wonderful jobs they did, the film would have turned out very differently.

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the great scenes of the year in film is the single-shot slow-reveal when Manana finally reads her work to her family…

Ana: I wanted to start tight, on her face, and then reveal the whole scene as her words began to impact the family members. It felt like the most visually supportive way to capture that moment.

Nato: I said to Ana, “Give me the length of time you need for me to read this through and for you to get the shot, and I’ll do it.” (laughs) We talked about it before shooting that writers usually can’t read their own words very well. So the situation with her family, and the struggle to decide will she do it or won’t she do it, pushed us to create this staging of the scene.

Ana: And it takes a slightly exaggerated form, as much of the reality does in the film, but it works I think. (Pictured, right; the director with the Golden Leopard Best First Feature trophy from this year's Locarno Film Festival).

SCREEN-SPACE: It is also a very funny scene in a film that may not get it's due as a comedy…

Ana: It is so good to hear that, thank you. It is meant to be funny in parts; even the title, ‘Scary Mother’, is clearly meant to be funny, I think.

SCREEN-SPACE: Describe the state of the Georgian film sector for us. Is it an industry where distinctive, female voice such as yours are nurtured and encouraged?

Ana: It certainly is. Our whole industry is in agreement on the topic of women filmmakers getting their voice heard. There is a high percentage of women filmmakers, whose films are getting seen both at home and overseas. The Georgian National Film Centre runs a competition every year for debut films and, while the funding is low, applications are high. So a strong film culture does exist.

 

Thursday
Nov232017

APSA-NOMINATED ACTRESS HONOURS INDONESIAN HEROINE IN ATHIRAH

It became one of Indonesian film’s most sought-after leading parts – the role of Athirah Kulla, mother of the nation’s current Vice President Jusuf Kulla, in director Riri Riza’s adaptation of Albertine Indah’s period novel, ‘Hajja Athirah Kalla’. For Riza and producer Mira Lesmana, the actress who personified the strength, integrity and presence of the Makassar heroine would be Cut Mini, star of the director’s 2008 film Laskar Pelangi. As Athira, Mini proved a revelation; she took the Best Actress ‘Citra’ award in the film’s sweep of the 2016 Indonesian Film Festival. “I never even considered that I would come this far,” she told SCREEN-SPACE, who sat with the star in Brisbane on the eve of 2017 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, where she will vie for the Best Actress trophy…. 

“Athirah imparts a message of empowerment to Indonesian women, many of whom were faced with the same conditions, both then and now,” says the actress, whose ‘overnight success’ took 30 years, having graduated from model work to TV-soap stardom to her breakthrough role in the 2003 hit film, The Gathering. “She became the pride of the Makassar people,” says Mini. “Crossing boundaries in the way that she did was a landmark moment in our history.”   

The production lovingly recreated late 1950s Indonesia, a time when tradition and social mores dictated all facets of everyday life. Athirah Kalla is a well-to-do middle–class wife, committed to her husband Puanj Ajji (Arman Dewarti) and providing for a house full of children, including shy teenager Jusuf (Christoffer Nelwan). But when her husband strays, Athirah must raise the family in his long absences, while still striving to maintain the honour that society demands be shown to the patriarch. (Pictured, right; Cut Mini as Athira Kalla)

“When cast, I had already read the book and had felt a deep emotional connection with the character," says Mini. "I felt what she was feeling, was sensing her journey. Then I practiced every day for two months to get the nuances of this character just right.” She worked closely with Riza to shape what would become an iconic portrayal of the legendary figure, though it was not achieved without great discipline. “The greatest obstacle for me was the silent stillness of her character, about how much of what she conveys is in her expressions. It was very hard for me to conceal the performance because I was feeling such strong emotions.”

The actress adopted a method approach to her work that became so immersive it extended beyond her performance. “When I got onto the set, I considered everything mine,” she recalls. “The set for the house was my house, and the kids were my kids. The food that I cooked would be the food that Athirah would have cooked. Such moments stemmed from a desire and understanding within me.” She admits to feeling a sense of disconnect to her real self, a revelation not uncommon amongst actors who psychologically adopt another persona for a long shoot. “In truth, I felt that me and Athirah were one and I kind of forgot how to be ‘Mini’ for a while, so connected was I to her life.”

The all-encompassing characterisation impacted co-stars as well, not least of whom was the young but experienced actor Nelwan (pictured, above; with Mini, on set) with whom Mini has several emotionally potent scenes. “We had a particularly strong connection off-screen,” she admits, “They would never call me by my name, instead calling me ‘Mama’, for ‘mother’.” According to the actress, such devotion and belief is central to film’s message. “What the movie teaches us is how family, even in the face of all the struggles you have in life, is most important. We learn through Athirah that being a strong figurehead for your children is crucial,” she says.

Main photo: Tempo/Fakhri Hermansyah