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Thursday
Jun072018

PREVIEW: 2018 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL

The celebration of a passionate man dedicated to a life in the service of cinema seems entirely appropriate as the Opening Night offering at the 2018 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. The eclectic 9-day programme of long- and short-form factual films have been collated by a devoted curation team under founder and festival boss Lyndon Stone, whose time and energy in bringing the latest from the documentary field to Victorian audiences will be rewarded when the latest incarnation launches July 6.

First night honours go to Filmworker, director Tony Zierra’s profile of the enigmatic Leon Vitali, the bohemian Brit who chose to forego a career in front of the camera and dedicate his life to being right hand man and ultimately gaurdian for the great Stanley Kubrick. Offering profound insight into a man so drawn into the maddening genius of Kubrick’s vision that he altered his own destiny to serve the director, Filmworker has been embraced by critics (“A brisk, compelling movie that’s pure candy for Kubrick buffs,” said Variety) and promises to energise audiences.

Zierra’s crowdpleaser will screen under the banner ‘Film Buff’ with two films that also address that heady mix of destiny and talent – Anjelica Huston on James Joyce: A Shout on The Street, the actress’ recollections of the author’s career (Huston, pictured, right, starred for her father John in the Joyce adaptation, The Dead); and I am Famous, a melancholy look at the post-Back to The Future life of Thomas Wilson, aka trilogy bully Biff Tannen.

The 2018 program reflects the vast field of vision that documentaries afford the conscientious moviegoer. Over 60 films will screen, including two world premieres and ten Australian premieres, across six venues. In addition to ‘Film Buff’, there will be twelve themed strands (including two dedicated short-film and Melbourne-centric sessions). These include such banners as ‘Australian Art’ (which includes Black Anzac, director Tim Anastasi’s coverage of the creation of a mural by artist Hego depicting an Aboriginal WW1 soldier); ‘Geopolitics’ (featuring Timothy George Kelly’s EU-exit takedown, Brexitannia); ‘Social Justice’ (read our review for Dawn Mikkelson’s Risking Light here); ‘Animal/Environmental’ (with one for the musophobics from Chris Metzler called Rodents of Unusual Size); and, 'EDM Docs' (with Glen J. Scrymgour’s dance-party culture-clash study, Decks and The City).

Closing out the event will be the ‘Rock Docs’ strand, a collection of three films geared towards building momentum heading into the after-party. New Zealand filmmaker Julian Boshier will be in attendance to front the screening of his feature Swagger of Thieves, a behind-the-scenes account of struggling bandmates determined to overcome their own shortcomings and find a successful music sector niche. It will screen with Adam Farks’ The Music Stops Here, which addresses how gentrification and over-development can kill off musical culture; and, Samantha Holder and Nathan Richman’s Turn It Up!, a then-and-now study of the Sydney live music.

In addition to Boshier, several filmmakers will brave the chilly Southern capital in support of their works, with masterclasses and Q&A panels on the agenda. Those attending include Jackie Ochs, whose exposé Out of My Head reveals the shocking facts behind that crippling modern ailment, the migraine; Thor Neureiter, whose investigative piece Disaster Capitalism uncovers profiteering practices in the global aid network; and local lads David Elliott-Jones and Lachlan McLeod (pictured, right), the minds behind the wildly entertaining ‘viral fame’ experiment, Big in Japan.

Also scheduled is a presentation by people-powered exhibition outfit FanForce on the benefits and processes on self-distribution, an increasingly potent avenue by which documentarians can get their films seen by a broader audiences. 

2018 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL runs July 6-14 at verious venues across the city. For ticket sales and session details, visit the official website.

SCREEN-SPACE is a media partner of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Editor Simon Foster will be hosting Q&A events throughout the festival as a guest of the organisers.

Thursday
May102018

RABBIT: THE LUKE SHANAHAN INTERVIEW

Cryptophasia (noun): Language and/or transmission trends formed between twins that are comprehendible only to them.

The mysterious bond that twins share has proven fertile material for some of the world’s great film directors, from Brian De Palma (Sisters, 1972) and David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers, 1988) to Spike Jonze (Adaptation, 2002) and Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper, 2016). In crafting his film debut Rabbit, the story of one twin’s descent into madness as she searches for her missing sister, Australian director Luke Shanahan joins a club of fearless filmmakers willing to walk a dark, ambiguous narrative path. The combination of Shanahan’s daring storytelling and the acting bravado of a cast that boasts Adelaide Clemons, Alex Russell and Belgian star Veerle Baetens has ensured a prominent festival profile for the thriller, shot in the South Australian hinterland.

Ahead of his film’s screening in Brisbane as part of the Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow, Shanahan spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the challenges he set himself with his first feature…  

SCREEN-SPACE: There are no easy passages, no sign-posted narrative shortcuts in Rabbit. You're not afraid to challenge, even confound your audience to tell this story…

SHANAHAN: I didn’t set out to create confusion. I’m not a fan of films that deliberately confuse. But I did see this as a film of two halves, of two twins, two stories. Then I leave it to the audience to join the puzzle together. I wrote the film as it appears and we shot the script in order. You could say the first half is more conventional than the second half and everyone seems to have a favourite half, referencing that idea of the favourite twin that Maude alludes to as her search continues. Identical twins are so intriguing that I did want the narrative journey to intrigue. Nothing is straightforward. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The film offers such a unique perspective I begrudgingly ask your influences. The 'Australian gothic' feel recalls Terry Bourke's Inn of The Damned (1975); some twists are reminiscent of Pascal Laugier's horror classic Martyrs (2008)…

SHANAHAN: You’ve nailed it in two. But I borrowed from a bunch more; throw in The Wicker Man, Rosemary’s Baby and Wake in Fright. I like horror played fairly straight and most of my ‘mood books’ I used as influence covered films that aren’t straight horror stories, with the exception of Martyrs. Drama really, played straight. (Pictured, above, from left: producer David Ngo, actress Adelaide Clemons, Shanahan, and actor Alex Russell) 

SCREEN-SPACE: When did the complex psychology shared by twins first present itself as a story concept?

SHANAHAN: I had a friend who was an identical twin and we started talking about connections. She mentioned that although at times she isn’t close with her twin, she would feel it if she was being tortured. I thought, okay, wow, that’s a weird thing to say. I then tried to examine (a basis) for a thrilling and intriguing tale. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The shoot finally happened after some convoluted financing gelled - SAFC, MIFF Premiere Fund, the Level K team, to name a few of the 'money men' who stepped up. What lessons were learnt about the modern indie film financing landscape by the time you started rolling…?

SHANAHAN: That’s a big question. I know to raise the funds, it does sound like a committee but all (the financiers) involved gave us full reign to make a truly independent film. And the most important thing that David Ngo (producer) gave me was creative freedom. Essentially, we had final cut and throughout the entire process, David and I worked together as sounding boards for each other. That may never happen again and I am truly grateful that I got to do it. The biggest lesson I learnt was to follow your gut and your instinct. When it’s just you, that’s all you've got. I like the responsibility of living by the creative choices you make. Is the film perfect? Of course not, but it was the film I wanted to make. (Pictured, above: Shanahan on set with DOP Anna Howard; photo Ian Routledge

SCREEN-SPACE: There are some bold stylistic flourishes, reminiscent of Italian giallo cinema. Firstly, the 'big red screen', that moment when the entire screen is filled with a 'Lynch-ian red'…

SHANAHAN: That was a moment that would no doubt have been pulled up by a committee or a conservative distributor. I still can’t believe we got away with a big chunk of red in the middle of the film. That makes it sound like an indulgence, which it is, but it lends itself to the dichotomy of the film and the narrative structure of two halves. It’s crucial in that respect. That signals that we’ve gone down the ‘rabbit hole’, the moment that the film shifts. I wanted to give the audience a moment, smothered with a big fat organ chord , to take that in. It’s over the top for sure, but I like it. It’s a tip of the hat to giallo and Italian horror cinema, a broad brush stroke that makes me smile. (Pictured, above: Adelaide Clemons, as Maude, in Rabbit) 

SCREEN-SPACE: And, yes, that “big fat organ chord”, that operatic wall-of-sound that you employ... 

SHANAHAN: Mike Darren (composer) and I sat down at the start and I told him that no idea would be taken off the table. Be bold. Be loud. We’re making a wild film and I like soundtracks that aren’t just backing music or wallpaper. Music is a character for me and that’s my Kubrickian reference. I can turn the picture off and hear the film. I love that. I’m a big collector of soundtracks and I hope that we’ve reared a nice one here too. 

SCREEN-SPACE: Rabbit relies upon a very precise structure to convey the themes of memory and connectivity and loss. Do you adhere to the old adage that the editing process is the final draft of the script?

SHANAHAN: I guess I do. Stu Morley (editor) and I have been working together for many years. We always would speak about the breath and flow of the drama. It’s what we relied upon. He has such a beautiful manner when it came to working scenes in the edit. He’d make a broad cut and then we’d finesse. He told me to concentrate on what information I needed to convey from each scene. This was invaluable, as I’d sometimes get caught up with the flourishes, as you do shooting your first feature. We also had voiceover that we needed to guide the audience through a lot of the third act. It was a juggle but early preparation meant that most of what we set out to do didn’t throw too many curveballs within the edit. Our aim was to make sure we gave the audience enough information to understand the story without pulling back the curtain completely.  You’ve got to have that chat in the cafe or bar after the film, don’t you?

RABBIT will screen May 25 at Events Cinema Myer Centre as part of the 2018 Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow. Details can be found at the official website. A North American release is being planned through distributor The Orchard.

Saturday
Apr282018

HEALTHY PLANET DOCS TO SCREEN AMONGST SERENE OZ SCENERY

The advocacy documentary movement thrives through the passion and determination of people like Kevin and Lowanna Doye. The planet-conscious proprietors of a wholefoods superstore in the picturesque northern New South Wales township of Bellingen will launch the Kombu Food Film Festival on May 12, a single-day presentation of four environmentally-themed factual films that the parents-of-four hope will inspire their audience to build a healthier, happier future for all our children.

“Watching films, particularly informative documentary films, in a collective environment is really powerful,” says Brit expat Kevin, who established Kombu Wholefoods in 2004, having relocated with his Australian wife from the U.K. to Sydney in 2002 before heading to the Bellingen hinterland. “It can be a trigger for generating real change and feeling reassured that there’s a community of people who feel the same way on some of these issues.”

Fighting the good fight on behalf of the planet is an ongoing commitment for the Doyes (pictured, right; at home, with their children). Their journey from Oxford to Sydney took the road less travelled, for example; over 18 months, Lowanna and Kevin peddled the Bike2Oz challenge, riding 12,000 kilometres across Europe and Asia to negate the carbon footprint that air travel would have rendered upon the Earth.

The key objective of the Kombu Food Film Festival is to spotlight like-minded people from around the world who are committed to positive change in the generation and responsible harvesting of our food supply. “We’ve selected films that offer solutions,” says Kevin. “They reveal what some of the problems are, but they’re also highlighting discussion points from which we can move forwards.”

The 2018 line-up of films includes:

Living The Change: Inspiring Stories for a Sustainable Future (Dirs: Antoinette Wilson and Jordan Osmond, pictured right; 85mins, Australia/New Zealand). The latest work from the film collective Happen Films, Living The Change explores solutions to contemporary global crises through the stories of people pioneering change towards a sustainable and regenerative way of life (official website).

Unbroken Ground (Dir: Chris Malloy; 26 mins, U.S.A.). Unbroken Ground examines how food can and should be a part of the solution to the environmental crisis – grown, harvested and produced in ways that restore our land, water and wildlife. Profiled are four groups pioneering such practices as regenerative agriculture and grazing, diversified crop development and restorative fishing (official website).

A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity (Dir: Jordan Osmond; 78 mins, Australia). Follows an Australian community who responded to the global crises through the implementation of simple living practices. Throughout the year, the group build tiny houses, plant community gardens, employ ‘simple living’ techniques and define and overcome the challenges of communal living (official website).

Seed: The Untold Story (Dirs: Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel; 94 mins, U.S.A.). In the last century, 94% of seed varieties have disappeared. From the activist film group Collective Eye Films and featuring such high profile voices as Jane Goddall and Vandana Shiva, Seed reveals the challenging and heartening story of passionate seed keepers as they wage a David and Goliath battle against chemical seed companies, defending a 12,000 year food legacy. Executive produced by Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (official website).

The Kombu Food Film Festival screens May 12 at the Bellingen Memorial Hall from 1.00pm. Entry is free; a gold coin donation is appreciated. All proceeds will be donated to the Kombu Community Garden, Bellingen. Event information can be found at the official website.

Friday
Apr062018

R.I.P. SUSAN ANSPACH

Actress Susan Anspach, who skirted mainstream fame in favour of richly rewarding roles in critically acclaimed dramas for much of the 1970s, has passed away in her Los Angeles home. She was 75.

Her son Caleb Goddard announced his mother’s passing in a statement to The New York Times. The cause of death has been attributed to coronary failure.

Born November 23, 1942 in Queens, New York, Anspach left a troubled home life at age 15 and was raised by a family in Harlem, aided by contributions from the local Catholic church. She trained in theatre and music at Catholic University in Washington before heading back to New York City, where she quickly built a professional reputation as one of the most talented young actresses of her generation.

Anspach was at the forefront of a new wave of American acting talent. Her contemporaries included Jon Voigt and Robert Duvall, with whom she made her Off-Broadway debut in Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge (pictured, right), and Dustin Hoffman, who appeared alongside her in Ronald Turgenev’s The Journey of The Fifth Horse. She also played the lead role of Sheila in the final Off Broadway production of the iconic musical Hair.

After steady work in television series such as The Defenders and The Patty Duke Show, Anspach made her film debut opposite Beau Bridges and Lee Grant in Hal Ashby’s The Landlord (1970). That same year, she found her breakout movie role opposite Jack Nicholson in Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, a major box office hit that earned four Academy Award nominations.

Anspach projected a rock-solid independence, a personification of the free-spirited counterculture woman of the 60s; as ‘Catherine Van Oost’, the engaged woman who has a torrid fling with her fiance’s brother, Jack Nicholson’s anti-hero ‘Robert Dupea’, she became synonymous with the fierce, free-willed woman taking control at the start of the new decade.

Her acclaimed performance led to a string of films for which she earned industry credibility. She went laugh-for-laugh with Woody Allen in Herbert Ross’ 1972 adaptation of Allen’s play, Play It Again, Sam. She followed that with her most acclaimed performance, the role of ‘Nina’ opposite George Segal’s cuckolded schlub in Paul Mazursky’s Blume in Love (1973; pictured, below); Roger Ebert called her performance one of “a very complex charm”.

Anspach found work in television through much of the 1970s (she starred in four telemovies at the height of the long form drama’s popularity), yet appeared only occasionally on the big screen. She co-starred with Richard Dreyfuss in Jeremy Kagan’s private eye romp The Big Fix (1978); played the love interest of marathon runner Michael Douglas in Steven Hilliard Stern’s Running (1979), reteaming with the journeyman director for the Elliott Gould/Bill Cosby comedy The Devil and Max Devlin (1981). The same year, she was the lead in Les Rose’s broad satire, Gas.

It was also the year in which Susan Anspach undertook the most challenging role of her career, as ‘Marilyn Jordan’ in Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev’s Palme d’Or nominee, Montenegro. As the bored, wealthy housewife who unleashes her wild side in the company of bohemian European revellers, Anspach was as fearless before the camera as any actress of her generation. Says Ebert, “Anspach, who is not robust, and who is in fact rather shy and frail, may not seem like a likely candidate to enter this world, but she undergoes a transformation in the movie.”

Anspach would work steadily for the rest of her career, mostly in television. Her movie roles were often in quality films that were box office underperformers (Jerry Schatzberg’s Misunderstood, 1984, opposite Gene Hackman and Henry Thomas; Ulli Lommel’s Heaven and Earth, 1987), or in paycheck parts in B-movies (William Fruet’s Blue Monkey, 1987; John Kincade’s Back to Back, with starlet Apollonia and Bill Paxton, 1989). Her final role was in Nikolai Müllerschön’s Inversion in 2010.

Susan Anspach was married twice; to actor Mark Goddard (1970-1978) and musician Sherwood Ball, whom she divorced in 1986. She is survived by her son Caleb, fathered by Jack Nicholson (despite the actor’s claims to the contrary), daughter Catherine and three grandchildren.

Tuesday
Mar272018

HEIMWEH: THE ERVIN TAHIROVIC INTERVIEW

In 1992, Ervin Tahirovic was 10 years old when his hometown of Foča was all but destroyed by invading forces during The Bosnian War. An idyllic rural existence, strong community ties and enriching family life was torn away from Tahirovic, who fled with his family, ultimately resettling in Vienna. Twenty-one years later, Ervin Tahirovic was overwhelmed with the need to reconnect with his roots and returned to Foča; his feature directorial debut Heimweh (Nostalgia) documents his quest to reconcile the fading memories of his past with the sadness of his present. As Heimweh continues its festival circuit rollout (it premiered in December at the Sarajevo International Film Festival and recently sold out two sessions at Austria’s prestigious Diagonale event), SCREEN-SPACE spoke with Ervin Tahirovic about his experience making the film, a work that is one of the most moving accounts of the complexities of a displaced person’s struggle ever filmed…

SCREEN-SPACE: Why did you need to make this journey at this point in your life? What compelled you, at an age when most young men are focused on career and adventure and romance, to re-engage with your past?

TAHIROVIC: I always had the feeling that something was holding me back and that I couldn't really progress in my life because of that. It took me 20 years to rebuild a ‘normal’ life, to have a steady job, a serious relationship with someone. I think that at this point, where I thought that everything was fixed and ‘like it should be’, I somehow realized that something was still painfully wrong. There was something deep inside me that made me so unhappy and unbalanced, so that after a while, the only thing I thought about anymore was the question "what the hell is wrong with me?". In my mind, there was no serious space for a career, girls, or anything else that ‘normal’ people do, I couldn't enjoy these things at all. There was just this pain in my soul and recurring nightmares about Foča, and I just had to find out if and how these two are connected to each other.

SCREEN-SPACE: What aspect of your journey back into your homeland proved most warmly familiar? 

TAHIROVIC: Everything there was familiar, and everything was still so deeply engraved in my heart and gave me this feeling of coming home, that I have forgotten so long ago. As soon as I saw my mountains, my river and as I heard that certain dialect the people speak in the region around Foča, I was blown away. So many emotions came back at once, that I simply wasn't able to process them cognitively, they just threw me back into being a child again, and for the first time in 20 years I felt that everything is going to be alright. I somehow felt a calm and knew that from this point on everything will change in my life. (Pictured, right; Tahirovic overlooking his hometown, Foča)

SCREEN-SPACE: And what, in hindsight, was the most surprising, even shocking?

TAHIROVIC: The most shocking thing was the realization that I'm really traumatized, and that that's the reason why I always felt so unhappy and wrong. It felt as if I'd awakened from a deep dream in which I lived for years, only to realize that in the meantime I have lost ‘my life’ and that I'm scarred for life. That was a hard thing to swallow. When I returned to Vienna, I got very sick because my thyroid completely broke down and I had to take some serious medicine for about three months; my heart was regularly skipping beats, which was a very scary feeling. My doctor said, “Whatever you did, you freaked out your body so much it's now trying to eat itself.”

SCREEN-SPACE: Without a horrible war to put the country in the headlines, western audiences know little about contemporary life in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Was it ever an aim of yours to convey a fresh perspective on your homeland? 

TAHIROVIC: Not really, I didn't know that much about contemporary Bosnia before I returned there. I wanted to return with the memory I had of it and let everything that has changed surprise me. The concept was to do no research but to be naive and to catch up with time by exploring the surroundings and meeting people. (Pictured, above; an emotional moment for Tahirovic, in Heimweh)

SCREEN-SPACE: While it is a deeply personal film - one man’s story, set in a specific region with specific history - it is also a narrative that embraces classic pilgrimage mythology; of returning home, rediscovering and defining oneself by seeking out a lost past. 

TAHIROVIC: I tried hard to make this film follow a classic ‘hero’s journey’ plot, It was obvious to me that it is the right format for this story, even though it is unusual to use this kind of plot in documentaries. And this kind of plot is indeed very old, because humans always used to lose their homes and had to keep telling these kinds of stories to save their identity from breaking apart. Not long ago, I read in a Bosnian newspaper that more than the half of Bosnian citizens are not in the country, but spread all around the world. They are foremost the audience I would like to reach with this film. I want every Bosnian to know about this movie, because there are so many out there who never returned to their homeland and probably never will and I would like to inform all of them how important and beautiful it can be to return home. (Pictured, above; Tahirovic rediscovering his hometown of Foča)

SCREEN-SPACE: What do you hope your film will convey about the experience of the many displaced persons in the world today?

TAHIROVIC: Of course, I would like to reach other refugees with the same problem, no matter where they are from. I think that's the realistic part of what I can hope for the film. And then there is this unrealistic part, where I hope that the people who hate refugees and blame them for everything, see this film and understand that refugees are not some kind of ‘bad tourists’, but people who have often suffered the unspeakable and now need love and all the help they can get. At this right-winged time in Europe, that would be my greatest wish.