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Wednesday
Feb012017

TRUE BLUE HOUND BOUND FOR BERLIN RED CARPET.

Despite earning A$22million at the domestic box office, a sequel to the 2011 hit Red Dog was never a sure thing. Surely producer Nelson Woss (Ned Kelly, 2003), with director Kriv Stenders and writer Daniel Taplitz, had captured the kind of lightning-strike chemistry that generally proves impossible to recreate? But when Taplitz pitched an inventive story treatment, Woss and his director were convinced there was a new narrative to be told and Red Dog True Blue, starring the charismatic kelpie Phoenix, was unleashed. 

SCREEN-SPACE spoke with Woss and the film’s head animal trainer, the renowned Zelie Bullen (Racing Stripes; Charlotte’s Web; War Horse) ahead of its European debut as the Opening Night film of the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus programme strand…

SCREEN-SPACE: Five years between a legitimate homegrown blockbuster and a sequel is an eternity in film terms. Why so long?

NELSON WOSS (pictured, left): A lot of people told us to quit while we were ahead (laughs). The director, Kriv Stenders and I both have young children and there was an opportunity to make what would very much be a family movie. We wanted to make a film that we could bring our kids to. And we are thrilled to be able to tell Australian stories on the big screen, to celebrate what is special about being Australian. We love films from Hollywood but I thought it was nice for our kids to have a bit of a spectrum and see stories about themselves. As a practitioner in the Australian film industry, we are just happy to work (laughs). So when we get an opportunity to make a film, we are going to make it, especially one that is located in such a beautiful part of the country.

SCREEN-SPACE: The first film’s star, Koko, was a natural in front of the camera. In True Blue, you’ve recaptured that casting magic with Phoenix. What is your leading man’s pedigree?

ZELIE BULLEN: Phoenix was born and raised by Carol Hogday, the same lady who bred Koko. He was chosen by the production because he’s a distant cousin of Koko. He’s a very sweet, happy, responsive dog. He loves doing all the publicity, meeting and travelling, but he was also very hard working on the set. He loves to work and be led, feeling that sense of belonging and contributing, like a lot of dogs. (Pictured, right; Bullen, with Phoenix)

NELSON WOSS: Filmmakers aren’t too bright. We did an Australian-wide search for the sequel’s star then ended up going back to Carol, whose home had just had a litter of pups from which we chose Phoenix. He’s got the same abilities and star-like character as Koko.

SCREEN-SPACE: How many different tricks or cues did Phoenix have to learn before the shoot?

ZELIE BULLEN: A lot of animal work on film is clearly defined behaviour in a small area. Even in the vast outback setting of the Red Dog films, we need to be very specific about directing actions; which leg he’s lifting, which way he’s looking, how many steps forward he needs to take to hit his mark or still be in the correct lighting. The training is intimate, very precise. In that regard, he’s less a ‘trick dog’ and more a technically proficient actor.

SCREEN-SPACE: The chemistry between star Josh Lucas and Koko in Red Dog was crucial to the film’s success. What needed to be done to ensure that level of mateship was recreated between Phoenix and your new star, Levi Miller?

NELSON WOSS: Levi and Phoenix (pictured, right) spent time together before the shoot and, like the pros they are, they immediately bonded, and that is clearly evident on-screen. There is that classic ‘boy and his dog’ connection in their performances, which enhances the ‘coming of age’ elements in the story.

ZELIE BULLEN: Levi is a similar kind of character to Phoenix, in many respects. He’s that soft, kind, loving boy. I remember one moment when Phoenix jumped sideways – someone had stood near his tail, I think – and Levi was beside himself, not willing to keep filming until he was assured Phoenix was ok. He is a very compassionate, caring young man, which Phoenix responded to.

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the film’s great moments is a scene featuring two of our acting legends, Bryan Brown and John Jarratt…

NELSON WOSS: No spoilers! (laughs) But, yes, how amazing to have two living legends of the Australian film industry together. Bryan loved the first film and has a passion for music as well, and both films have some iconic Australian music, so given the chance to play the banjo in the film…well, he hit it out of the park.

ZELIE BULLEN: And he loves dogs and clearly loved working with Phoenix. There were times when I had to step in and say, “Bryan, I have to take him and work him now,” and Bryan would say, “No, no, I’m patting him now, just a minute.” (laughs)

SCREEN-SPACE: More broadly, how would you define the relationship between the working dog and the people of the interior? What did you have to capture to honour that bond?

NELSON WOSS: With these films, and it was the same with Ned Kelly, you’ve got to capture the heart and soul of the people and the place. We don’t have the big budgets that allow for effects trickery, so we come from the heart. It is an authentically Australian story that people from the heartland will understand. But it is also a story that travels well and, very much like Red Dog himself, was always going to roam.

 

Wednesday
Jan252017

A.M.P.A.S. ADDRESSES DIVERSITY DETRACTORS WITH 2017 OSCARS NOMS.

AMPAS has responded to one of last year’s most hashtagged controversies with a 2017 Oscar ballot rich in such diverse visions as Moonlight, Fences and Hidden Figures.

Seven minorities have been pegged in the four acting categories, including three African American women in the Best Supporting Actress race – a new standard for the Academy. A third nomination for Viola Davis for her role in Fences (previously, for Doubt in 2008 and The Help in 2011) represents a first for a black actress. Other strong showings amongst Hollywood’s minority artists include Arrival cinematographer Bradford Young (only the second black DOP ever nominated); 13th director Ava Duvernay (the first black woman to earn a Best Documentary nod); La La Land editor Joi McMillon (the first ever black woman Best Editing nominee); and, Manchester by The Sea producer Kimberly Steward (only the second black woman to represent a Best Picture nominee).

While the 2017 nominee list is more culturally vast than recent Oscar races, there is no argument that the diversity issue is still a long way from resolved. No woman made the cut in the Best Director category, despite critically lauded films from Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women) and Andrea Arnold (American Honey); the sole woman to feature in either Screenplay category is Alison Schroeder, who shares a nomination with Theodore Melfi for their Hidden Figures script. But it is telling that the post-announcement analysis of those snubbed is a largely all-white affair, noticeably Amy Adams (no Best Actress consideration for either Arrival or Nocturnal Animals), Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood (denied any love for Sully), Hugh Grant (no Supporting Actor mention for Florence Foster Jenkins), Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor Johnston (Nocturnal Animals, again), Jim Jarmusch and Adam Driver (total shut-out, Paterson) and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash).

No surprise at all was the record-tying 14 nominations bestowed upon Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (pictured, above); in AMPAS history, only Titanic (1997) and All About Eve (1950) have achieved that honour. With 8 nominations apiece, Dennis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama Arrival and Barry Jenkin’s African America LGBT-themed Moonlight offer the most resistance to the jazz musical’s award season momentum. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, Garth Davis’ Lion and Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by The Sea scored six nominations; Denzel Washington’s Fences and David McKenzie’s Hell or High Water earned four. Three nominations apiece went to Hidden Figures and Jackie; dual nominees include Deepwater Horizon, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Moana, Rogue One A Star Wars Story, Kubo and The Two Strings and Passengers.

The Australian industry had one of the strongest showings of any international sector, with Garth Davis’ Lion emerging as a legitimate contender in Best Film, Supporting Actor (Dev Patel), Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman), Adapted Screenplay (Luke Davies), Cinematography (Greig Fraser), and Original Score (Dustin O’Halloran and Volker Bertelmann); surprisingly, Davis himself was bumped from the Best Director category. Mel Gibson returns to the Oscar fold after a controversy-filled absence with Hacksaw Ridge, the World War II drama that was shot in Oz with a full local crew and financial backing. Most endearingly, Australia earned its first ever Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee with Tanna (pictured, above), the Vanuatu-set romantic drama co-directed by Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, shot entirely in the Nauvhal language.

Other fascinating facts to emerge from the 2017 nominations include Meryl Streep resetting her own Oscar nomination record, notching up her 20th with a Best Actress mention for Florence Foster Jenkins; veteran producer Todd Black, whose IMDb page list 33 production credits dating back to 1988’s Spellbinder, earning his first Best Picture nomination for Fences; and, the late playwrite August Wilson earning a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Fences, twelve years since his passing in 2005.

Web indignation is rife following the snubbing of Adams, whose one-two 2016 acting punch in Arrival and Nocturnal Animals appears to have split her vote. The wave of goodwill for Deadpool and its star Ryan Reynolds came to nought, the film a no-show on the nominee list (while the critically-derided Suicide Squad and Passengers both earned nods). Annette Bening (20th Century Women; pictured, right) and Hayley Steinfeld (Edge of Seventeen) felt the pinch of an unusually strong year for lead actress contenders. Other works that must have come close to nomination glory include John Carney’s Sing Street (potentially Film, but undoubtedly Song and Score), Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson (a notable Best Documentary omission), Chan-wook Park’s The Handmaiden (a Foreign Film certainty at one point, with costume and production design credentials to boot) and Robert Egger’s The Witch (surely a cinematography, set and/or production design contender). And Pixar’s grasp on the Best Animation category was loosened slightly with the snubbing of their billion-dollar sequel Finding Dory, bumped by Mouse House stablemates Zootopia and Moana, foreign toons The Red Turtle and My Life As a Zucchini and Laika Animation’s Kubo and The Two Strings.

The full list of 2017 Academy Award nominations:

Best picture:
Arrival; Fences; Hacksaw Ridge; Hell or High Water; Hidden Figures; La La Land; Lion; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight.

Lead actor:
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea; Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge; Ryan Gosling, La La Land; Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic; Denzel Washington, Fences.

Lead actress:
Isabelle Huppert, Elle; Ruth Negga, Loving; Natalie Portman, Jackie; Emma Stone, La La Land; Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins.

Supporting actor:
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight; Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water; Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea; Dev Patel, Lion; Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals.

Supporting actress:
Viola Davis, Fences; Naomie Harris, Moonlight; Nicole Kidman, Lion; Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures; Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea.

Best director:
Damien Chazelle, La La Land; Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge; Barry Jenkins, Moonlight; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea; Denis Villeneuve Arrival

Animated feature:
Kubo and the Two Strings; Moana; My Life as a Zucchini; The Red Turtle; Zootopia.

Animated short:
Blind Vaysha; Borrowed Time; Pear Cider and Cigarettes; Pearl; Piper.

Adapted screenplay:
Eric Heisserer, Arrival; August Wilson, Fences; Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures; Luke Davies, Lion; Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight.

Original screenplay:
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women; Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water; Damien Chazelle, La La Land; Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea.

Cinematography:
Bradford Young, Arrival; Linus Sandgren La La Land; Greig Fraser, Lion; James Laxton, Moonlight; Rodrigo Prieto, Silence.

Best documentary feature:
13th; Fire at Sea; I Am Not Your Negro; Life, Animated; O.J.: Made in America.

Best documentary short subject:
4.1 Miles; Extremis; Joe’s Violin; Watani: My Homeland; The White Helmets.

Best live action short film:
Ennemis Interieurs; La Femme et le TGV; Silent Nights; Sing; Timecode.

Best foreign language film:
A Man Called Ove (Sweden); Land of Mine (Denmark); Tanna (Australia); The Salesman (Iran); Toni Erdmann (Germany).

Film editing:
Joe Walker, Arrival; John Gilbert Hacksaw Ridge; Jake Roberts, Hell or High Water; Tom Cross La La Land; Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon Moonlight

Sound editing:
Arrival; Deep Water Horizon; Hacksaw Ridge; La La Land; Sully.

Sound mixing:
Arrival; Hacksaw Ridge; La La Land; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

Production design:
Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte, Arrival; Stuart Craig and Anna Pinnock, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh, Hail, Caesar!; David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land; Guy Hendrix Dyas and Gene Serdena, Passengers

Original score:
Mica Levi, Jackie; Justin Hurwitz La La Land; Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, Lion; Nicholas Britell, Moonlight; Thomas Newman, Passengers

Original song:
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” from La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from Trolls — Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster; “City of Stars,” from La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; “The Empty Chair,” from Jim: The James Foley Story — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting; “How Far I’ll Go,”  from Moana — Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Makeup and hair:
Eva von Bahr and Love Larson, A Man Called Ove; Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo, Star Trek Beyond; Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson, Suicide Squad.

Costume design:
Joanna Johnston, Allied; Colleen Atwood Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Consolata Boyle, Florence Foster Jenkins; Madeline Fontaine, Jackie; Mary Zophres, La La Land.

Visual effects:
Deepwater Horizon; Doctor Strange; The Jungle Book; Kubo and the Two Strings; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Wednesday
Dec282016

VALE CARRIE FISHER

As the daughter of 50s Hollywood A-listers Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, a young Carrie was born into the insanity of the showbusines elite. From her film debut as the teen seductress of Warren Beatty in Shampoo to her iconic role as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy to unforgettable support parts in films such as The Blues Brothers, When Harry Met Sally and The 'Burbs, Carrie Fisher always made a big impression on-screen. Off-screen, she was unique industry figure; open and forthright about mental health and addiction issues, she was revealed to be a gifted writer, her caustic wit and achingly honest assessment of her own foibles and the vacuousness of the world around her resulting in such classics tomes as Postcards from The Edge, Wishful Drinking and her latest, The Princess Diarist. No one has chronicled her life more eloquently than the lady herself. Vale Carrie Fisher.

On growing up famous:
If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.

I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.

My parents had this incredibly vital relationship with an audience, like muscle with blood. This was the main competition I had for my parents' attention: an audience.

Acting engenders and harbours qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence. 

I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish. 

You know, by birthright I’m eccentric. My only role models were people who knew how to get attention.

On Shampoo:

At the time I did Shampoo, I was a virgin. I knew nothing. They would kid me. Warren [Beatty], Hal [Ashby] and Robert [Towne] would all fall apart laughing, and I would, too. My line to Warren was “Want to fuck?” and I was supposed to be hostile and mean and power-crazy. I would say that line and fall apart, because Warren had told the others that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that was very funny to them. 

Warren…was asked by the costume department if he wanted me to wear a bra under my tennis clothes or not. Warren squinted in the general direction of my breasts. ‘Is she wearing one now?’ ‘Yes,’ responded Aggie, the costume designer. Warren pursed his lips thoughtfully. ‘Let’s see it without.'

On Star Wars:

I thought: it'll be fun to do. I'm 19! Who doesn't want to have fun at 19? I'll go hang out with a bunch of robots for a few months and then return to my life and try to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. 

People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.

Along with aging comes life experience, so in every way that is consistent with even being human, Leia has changed.

All I can say is that when millions of plastic dolls of you are being sold each day and an equal number of teenage boys are masturbating over you each night, it's bound to do something screwy to your psyche.

On addiction:

Sometimes you can only find heaven by slowly backing away from Hell.

Anything you can do in excess for the wrong reasons is exciting to me. 

You know how they say that religion is the opiate of the masses? Well I took masses of opiates religiously.

I'll never be known for my work with boundaries. 

On mental health:

One of the great things to pretend is that you're not only alright, you're in great shape. Now to have that come true - I've actually gone on stage depressed and that's worked its magic on me, 'cause if I can convince you that I'm alright, then maybe I can convince me.

I'm very sane about how crazy I am. 

I went to a doctor and told him I felt normal on acid, that I was a light bulb in a world of moths. That is what the manic state is like.

My inner world seems largely to consist of three rotating emotions: embarrassment, rage, and tension. Sometimes I feel excited, but I think that's just positive tension.

I'm actually in the Abnormal Psychology textbook. Obviously my family is so proud. Keep in mind though, I'm a PEZ dispenser and I'm in the abnormal Psychology textbook. Who says you can't have it all?

On writing:
I always wrote. I wrote from when I was 12. That was therapeutic for me in those days. I wrote things to get them out of feeling them, and onto paper. So writing in a way saved me, kept me company. I did the traditional thing with falling in love with words, reading books and underlining lines I liked and words I didn't know.

I am a spy in the house of me. I report back from the front lines of the battle that is me. I am somewhat nonplused by the event that is my life.

I have a mess in my head sometimes, and there's something very satisfying about putting it into words. Certainly it's not something that you're in charge of, necessarily, but writing about it, putting it into your words, can be a very powerful experience. 

You're only as sick as your secrets. Either it comes out their way or my way. I talk about myself behind my back. And I'm funny about it.

Saturday
Nov052016

PREVIEW: MONSTER FEST 2016

There was once a time when dabbling in the horror genre or grabbing a paycheck for some tawdry ‘B-thriller’ suggested an actor’s status was on the slide. One only need skim the star power on offer at Monster Fest 2016 to know that the richest characters and most compelling narratives in contemporary film exist amongst international cult cinema’s weird and wonderfully eclectic palette.

Newly appointed festival director Kier-La Janisse has adhered to a half-decade of high standards and festival traditions, topping and tailing the fifth edition of the four-day event with two of the year’s hottest horror titles. Opening night honours have been bestowed upon Julia Ducournau’s Raw (read the SCREEN-SPACE review here), the teen-cannibal shocker that has left a trail of rattled audiences since scoring the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes in May; closing out the programme will be Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler, a bona-fide cult sensation that The New York Times noted, “overflows with extravagant flatulence, frenzied gore and preposterous copulation.”

Audiences drawn to name talent will seek out the frenzied gunplay of Free Fire, a collaboration between director Ben Wheatley, producer Martin Scorsese and the dream cast of Oscar winner Brie Larsen (pictured, top), Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Australia’s own Noah Taylor (also fronting Nick Jongerius’ backpacker slasher pic The Windmill Massacre); Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch in The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the gory mortuary-set English language debut of Troll Hunter director André Øvredal; and, Patrick Wilson, Jim Belushi, Ian McShane and an unhinged John Leguizamo in Spanish auteur Gonzalo López-Gallego’s bloody neo-western-noir, The Hollow Point (pictured, right).

Also certain to sell tickets are director Paul Schrader’s insanely anarchic Dog Eat Dog, a blackly comic crime thriller that stars Willem Dafoe and Nicholas Cage; Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton in Chris Peckover’s Yuletide home-invasion thriller, Safe Neighbourhood; a masterfully maniacal lead turn by Natasha Lyonne, opposite an against-type Chloe Sevigny as her trailer–trash bestie, in Danny Perez’s paranoid fever-dream, Antibirth (trailer, above); and good ol’ boy icon Burt Reynolds in documentarian Jesse Moss’ The Bandit, an adoring insider’s take on the late director Hal Needham and his 1977 blockbuster, Smokey and The Bandit.

The industry respect afforded Melbourne’s premiere genre showcase has meant the presence of international guests is all but assured. In 2016, the big draw is Ted Kotcheff, one of Hollywood’s most revered and respected directors. In addition to an ‘In Conversation’ event with director and genre expert Mark Hartley, Kotcheff will present rare screenings of some of his most enduring works, including the Australian classic Wake in Fright (1971); the iconic Sylvester Stallone thriller, First Blood (1982; pictured, right, Stallone and Kotcheff on-set); the cult favourite, Weekend at Bernie’s (1989); and, a digitally-restored print of his little-seen ‘religious cult’ drama, Split Image (1982), featuring Peter Fonda, Michael O’Keefe and Karen Allen.

In addition to Raw director Julia Ducournau and the stars of The Greasy Strangler, Michael St Michaels and Sky Elobar, guest attendees include director Neil Edwards, fronting for the Australian debut of his documentary Sympathy for The Devil: The True Story of The Process Church of The Final Judgement; Lao filmmaker Mattie Do, director of Dearest Sister, and the only woman to date to helm a feature film in her homeland; director Matthew Holmes and key cast members from the Australian bushranger saga, The Legend of Ben Hall (trailer, below); veteran producer Anthony I. Ginnane (Turkey Shoot, 1982; Thirst, 1979; Harlequin, 1980), who will front the panel, ‘Australia After Dark: Tales from The Golden Age of Ozploitation’; Jai Love, the young director of Dead Hands Dig Deep, a moving profile of 90s alt-music great, Kettle Cadaver frontman Edwin Borsheim; and Evrim Ersoy, festival programmer of the Texan genre event, Fantastic Fest.

Alongside the screening schedule, the sidebar Monster Academy will present a series of panels and Q&As, several of which offer free admission. In addition to the Ted Kotcheff talk, events will include a panel of women directors and festival programmers discussing ‘Genre Matters: Women Genre Filmmakers’; exploring the ins-&-outs of film festival strategizing, curating and presenting in Film Festival 101; and, a retrospective look at genre on the small-screen, including rare screenings of the Australian anthology series The Evil Touch, a witchcraft-themed episode of 70s cop drama, Homicide, the British ‘real life’ haunted house telemovie Ghost Watch, and a legitimate appraisal of the role of the supernatural in soap operas, called ‘Diedre Hall is The Devil’.

Monster Pictures boss Neil Foley will himself front one of the highlights of the week when filmmaker Geoffrey Wright leads an evening of 25th anniversary recollections of his controversial classic Romper Stomper, in which a young Foley had a small role as a skinhead neo-Nazi.

Monster Fest runs November 24-27 at the Lido Cinema in Hawthorn; Monster Academy runs at several venues from November 23-24. All session and ticketing information at the official website.

Thursday
Oct062016

ANIMAL INSTINCT: THE BOGDAN MIRICA INTERVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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