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Thursday
Apr042013

'COS IT'S WHO WE ARE: THE JOSH LANER INTERVIEW

'Cosplay' is the phenomenon of dressing as one's favourite fictional character and parading your creation wth pride, specifically amongst the like-minded at huge cosplay conventions. Canadian documentarian Josh Laner (pictured, below, at right) has given a cinematic voice to the community, focussing his camera on three idiosyncratic personalities in his documenatry, My Other Me. He spoke with SCREEN-SPACE ahead of the film's Australian premiere at the Gold Coast Film Festival on April 19.

Describe your first experience of being submerged in the cosplayer’s world. Did you have to confront your own preconceptions, even prejudices, about the cosplay universe?

My first experience with cosplayers was through a local convention that was near my house. I was walking my dog and kept seeing people dressed in various costumes all heading towards the Vancouver Convention Centre. Being an avid gamer I recognized many of the costumes so I decided to follow a few of them to see what was going on. It was a beautiful summer day so most of the convention goers were outside near the waterfront playing glomp (a flying, tackle hug game) and having their pictures taken by fans and random tourists. I ended up running home and grabbing my own camera and came back to take my own photos of the cosplayers. I had always known in a very small way about the cosplay universe but had never been to a convention or known anyone who indulged in the hobby. I suppose I was most surprised by how social the event seemed to be and having always feeling a bit like an outsider myself I could relate to them and really got excited by the social aspect of the hobby. I couldn't help thinking that I wished it had existed when I was younger and if it did that I would have known about it. I played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid/teenager and got made fun of and picked on a lot for it, I was even told by a camp counselor once that'd I'd be going to Hell for playing D&D. I knew by the end of the weekend of that convention that I wanted to make a film about cosplayers.

How did you select the three personalities in your film? Were there others who you chased but said no?

I met Danae aka Rifa first. She was working on set with Matthew Tingey our films Co-Executive Producer/Camera Man. Matthew mentioned to Danae in passing on set one day that he was trying to help me get a film about cosplayers off the ground when she informed us that she herself was a cosplayer and had won awards for her costume designs and she wanted to be involved since she could help us get our foot in the door of a universe that generally is very wary of outsiders, especially a documentary film crew. I immediately brought Danae on board as a n associate to help us find the cosplayers we would follow. Her first choice was Lucas aka Twin Fools since they have many mutual friends and Danae knowing about Lucas beginning his transition from female to male figured he'd be a great personality for the film, she was right. I don't recall when we decided that Danae needed to be one of the cosplayers we follow and not just help us find the cosplayers but then our search was for a "noob" to the hobby, hopefully someone who'd never cosplayed before, so we put ads on local cosplay forums that we were looking for someone to fill those shoes. We ended up with 2 girls to be our potential noob and after meeting with both of them and their families we knew that Lily aka SecretAttire was our girl. There were no other cosplayers that were considered, we felt lucky to have what we got really.

What were you confronted with on that day when a key participant backed-out of the project? Did you ever consider that the film may not come together after that happened?

Truth be told he never said to us that he was backing out of the film, he just made it increasingly difficult to get him on camera. Our last convention we all went to his group of friends basically made a wall around him and would heckle the film crew as we tried to shoot. I never felt like the film wouldn't get done but I realized I had a huge valley to fill if I couldn't get that final interview.

Your past work Wastings and Pain also addressed an outsider’s world, one of disconnect from what is considered ‘normal society’ or ‘respectable behaviour’. What do you believe draws you to these fringe worlds and unique individuals?

I was a punk rocker in my teenage days, before there were stores in the mall where you could buy your "punk" clothes, so I always had the attitude that I wasn't part of 'normal society' and was always questioning what is 'respectable behaviour'. While I wont tell you which way to feel in my films I do like showing that people you may not relate to or think are dirty, crazed drug addicts or living on the fringe of society's norms are really not very different than you and I at the end of the day.

With the film finding festival exposure and word-of-mouth spreading, what have been the initial reactions to My Other Me from the cosplay community?

The reactions have been mostly positive from cosplayers. The negatives we've heard is that there isn't enough about the costume making process in the film but I felt strongly that there are hundreds of fan made mini-documnetaries that delve into the costume side of the hobby much more than I wanted to. I wanted this film to be about the people not necessarily their costumes.

Thursday
Apr042013

RAW LIKE SUSHI: THE KERN SAXTON INTERVIEW

Emerging as one of the cult hits of the year is Sushi Girl, the debut feature from writer/director Kern Saxton. The story of a naked woman covered in raw fish who must remain immobile as a desperate group of violent crims air their grievances, the film has wowed midnight crowds at genre events since its premiere at the San Diego Comic-Con. Ahead of the film’s Australian red-carpet launch at the Gold Coast Film Festival on April 19, Saxton (pictured, below left) spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from his Los Angeles base.

Your cast is a who’s-who of great genre actors – Tony Todd, Sonny Chiba, Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo, Jeff Fahey, James Duvall. How did your script (co-written with Destin Pfaff) get to all these iconic names?  

When you go out to attach actors to your script, you have to go through this wall that is the agencies and it can be a very disheartening experience because there is a lot of politics and money involved. We were, and still are, a very small budget film and when we got the script to Tony Todd, his representation said that he wouldn’t be interested because it just wasn’t a big enough budgeted project. So we hung our head and wandered the streets because he really was our ideal for this role. Then a couple of weeks, later we got a phone call from our casting director who just said, “Tony Todd is in, he wants to do the movie.” And we said, “You mean, he wants to talk to us about it?” and she said “No, he’s in, he’s doing it because he loved the script and is dead set on making it happen.” The amazing thing about this group of actors and how professional they are is that they pretty much all said they didn’t want to stray to far from the material.

Arguably stealing the film is Mark Hamill (pictured, below) in one of the most hilariously villainous turns in recent memory. Where did this character come from?

When Mark first read it, he thought the violence was so extreme. But then his kids got a hold of it and they told him, “Dad, if you don’t do this, don’t complain that you don’t get the roles that Malcolm McDowell or Steve Buscemi gets!” So he read it again and read it in character, allowing the devious side of the character to take over, then came to us and said, “Oh, I get it! I’m the comic relief!” He’d mentioned he wanted to do like a Truman Capote thing, very flamboyant and high-pitched, which I was fine with, even though it was written more as a Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon type of thing. Mark blended the two and came up with this bizarre character. He walked this fine line between the comedic and the over-the-edge sadistic.

Some may argue that the role that the role of Sushi Girl, bravely played by Cortney Palm, is a very submissive, even exploitative one. She’s naked, unable to react to all the violent machismo around here.

The idea was to have a completely vulnerable character as the eyes and ears in this scenario, sort of (the audiences) window into what was going on.  In that regard, she was 100% crucial to the story. And I purposefully wanted to have the naked girl in the movie to make a statement about exploitation in general. What would be more exploitative than a naked girl covered in sushi with all these violent guys in the room attacking each other and she can’t do anything about it. Remember, if she moves she’s dead, there’ll tear her apart, so we went from there.

Essentially a single-setting film, how did your camera create drama and tension within four walls? What filmmaking techniques did you need to employ to bring energy to the setting?

We broke up big scenes into little mini sections and concentrated on giving every little self-contained scene a different vibe. Everything existed under the same umbrella, as it were, but we wanted to create the feeling that each scene represented a different setting. We wanted to shoot chronologically, as well, because things do get messy and we wanted to show progression, where things started out a lot prettier and softer but is stripped down by the end, where things have gotten very gritty and grimy.

Yes, it does get messy. What boundaries and principles did you apply to your use of violence in the film?

I was of the mind that the best way to present the audience with horrific types of violence is to say ‘less is more’. Back in the 1970s, which is a period of filmmaking that I reference specifically in this film, the mechanical effects were not nearly as good as they are today, where you get lots of practical effects, often melded with CGI. Yeah, it might be shocking in the short term, but in the long run it just doesn’t impact anymore. What I wanted to make sure was that the violence in Sushi Girl was not fun, but that it was devastating and horrifying. The ideas we employ are really very caustic and I think that is what has gotten under people’s skin. We applied the approach that Hitchcock took with Psycho, in that a lot of what you think you see is actually done with editing and framing. When people say, “Oh, it’s so violent”, I take that as a compliment because it means it has been effective. It means they don’t like feeling that sensation.

Kern Saxton will appear with writer/producer Destin Pfaff and cast members Tony Todd, Noah Hathaway, James Duval and Andy McKenzie at the Australian premiere of Sushi Girl on April 19 and the panel discussion Slice and Dice on April 21 at the Gold Coast Film Festival; the Sushi Girl team will also be appearing at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo, April 19-21, at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre. 

Tuesday
Apr022013

SKIN FLICK: THE ERIC FALARDEAU INTERVIEW

Thanatomorphose exists within that realm of cinematic visions that challenges even the most ardently cynical of moviegoers. The debut feature from Canadian writer/director Eric Falardeau, it tells the story of a lonely artist (model/actress Kayden Rose) whose body begins to undergo post-mortem decay whilst she is still alive. Like Lynch's Eraserhead or Cronenberg's Rabid, it is a nightmarish work of consummate horror, though also deeply moving. A thoughtful man with an encyclopedic knowledge of the body-horror genre, Falardeau spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about his grotesque but beautiful film...


The artist in Thanatomorphose finds a potent sexuality as her condition worsens. How do interpret the co-existence of these two elements in your work and the horror genre overall?

It is an interesting question because while I was doing researches for Thanatomorphose I’ve found out that there are several states of mind in the mourning process, either when you lost someone or know that you will die. One of the typical reactions a large amount of people tend to have is an increase of their libido to counterbalance the impending death, which is very interesting when you work in the horror genre. It is as if life was fighting death right until the end. And for me it made sense that the main character in my film, who is kind of death inside, slowly comes back to life while her body decays. Her own materiality makes her aware of her existence and that was one of the many aspect I wanted to explore in the film.

Regarding the horror genre overall, sex has always been an important element of the genre for many reasons starting with the transgressive quality inherent to both subjects. I did my Master’s thesis on body fluids in gore and pornography. Both genre focused on the body as a cinematic object and consequently share similar ways of filming and types of storytelling. A lot of renowned directors have made the parallel in their films before me (David Cronenberg, Jörg Büttgereit, Dario Argento to name a few) but I wanted to push this to its logical extremes. Sex, or more aptly reproduction, is the only answer to death.   

We’re only that: flesh and blood. Sex is how we came in the world. Then we die. Between the two, we try to cope with the meaningless of our existence by telling stories and doing what we believe are the best things. In the end, we’re only organic matters, coming from nothing and going back to nothing.

Tell me about the on-set environment. It looked to be a bleak, dark, confined space. Was there ever moments when the relentless nature of the horror or the content of a scene made the work day tough?

That was one of my main tools as a director to put the actors and the crew in the right mood. We had a lot of fun shooting the film but by the end we were all exhausted as much by the work as by the psychological state the film putted us in. I think it shows in the film, the acting, the bleakness, etc.

I think that to properly write, direct, and edit a film you must be in the right emotional state, the one that corresponds to the feeling you’re trying to convey. It must come from the heart. If you don’t feel it as the creator, I highly doubt that you’ll make the right choices. As the great editor Walter Murch once said, emotion is the first rule to follow when editing a film and I think that goes for all the other aspects of production.

The hardest part when making that kind of film is always how much of yourself you put in it and how much darkness in yourself you have to get out to get the proper tone and feeling. That requires a lot of energy.

And, extending the last question, tell me of the relationship between actress and director on a film like Thanatomorphose. You asked Kayden to go to some very dark places in this role, which would have required a huge amount of shared faith and trust.

Kayden and I discussed a lot in pre-production about what I wanted and how I wanted to shoot to get it. She knew that it was going to be difficult. I gave her references to see and feel what Thanatomorphose was about: movies (from Buttgereit’s Nekromantik 2 to Grandrieux’s La vie Nouvelle), books (Camus, Kafka, Dostoeivski), and music (Silver Mount-Zion and the Guild of Funerary Violins). She understood exactly what I was aiming for. She was exhausted but she kept giving all that she had. It was impressive.

We shot the film in chronological order over a 21 days period. We did that for 2 reasons: continuity and special effects. But I think it helped her in feeling the same way as the character, to be as exhausted as the character. It comes across when watching the movie.

Why is ‘body-horror’ still such an effective subset of the horror genre? Why are even the most hardened horror watchers still rattled by scenes of decomposition or body fluids?

For me, great horror films always use the body as an excuse to talk about something else, be it our fears or our human condition. Every body horror film is about the body as an object, a commodity. How do we treat our body and disconnect ourselves of it in the process. And how do we reconnect to ourselves trough our body. Thanatomorphose is a body horror existential film and I had to shoot it in respect to the subject. Horror cinema is one of the most visual genre. It is all about bodies, textures, organic matters, and it main subject is ourselves. What interest me – and I think what interest a lot of horror watchers - is the human condition and this genre allows to explore it in the most extreme ways. 

 

Monday
Mar252013

SPACE MAN: THE ARMEN EVRENSEL INTERVIEW

Journeying from Whistler, British Columbia, to the furthest reaches of the galaxy may seem a tad ambitious for a first-time feature filmmaker. But for Canadian native Armen Evrensel (pictured, below; far right, directing star Kristen Kreuk), the auteur behind the high-concept/low-budget science-fiction comedy Space Milkshake, the voyage was inevitable.

“I drew on what I loved most in the sci-fi genre,” Evrensel tells SCREEN-SPACE via email from his home in the Great White North. “A huge inspiration was Dark Star, the John Carpenter, Dan O'Bannon low budget masterpiece. I think it deserves a lot more credit as the prequel to Alien.” Also citing the likes of Scorsese, Lynch, Kurosawa and Werner Herzog as heroes (“I’ve been meaning to rewatch Herzog’s Nosferatu”), the fanboy-at-heart melded pop-culture iconography to tell the story of the outer-space garbage ship caught in a life-or-death struggle with a villainous slug-like alien and a shifting time-space continuum.

“In doing some homework I discovered the fascinating spider web of collaborations between of many of the sci-fi artists, writers and directors of the 60 through the 80s, and how so many of my favorites had found ways to work together,” he says, also acknowledging the lasting impact of tomes such as the Dark Horse Alien comics and authors such as the late Jean Giraud (aka Moebius).

That said, he is quick to point out that his Saskatchewan-shot debut, starring recognizable genre faces such as Billy Boyd (Lord of the Rings), George Takei (Star Trek) and Kristen Kreuk (Smallville), is very much a singular vision. “There is a lot of reference and homage in there, some hidden and some really on the surface, but it was always my firm goal to avoid making the film itself a homage, or worse, a parody,” says Evrensel (pictured, right; on-set). “My goal was to make it stand alone, proudly unapologetic as a low budget sci-fi comedy, and have a story non sci-fi fans could enjoy as well.”

Just how low-budget is hard to determine, as the film has a polished sheen and ironic B-movie nods that hardly indicate monetary stress. But Evrensel is not shying away from the effort it took for him and his crew to get his vision on screen. “If you knew the budget we had for things like props and costumes, you'd really appreciate the miracles that our crew pulled off,” he says. “The trick for the film was to avoid predicating the drama on anything that was expensive, like smoke and fire and explosions and instead to do as much with performances as possible.”

The experience has led to a steep learning curve in industry practices (“Getting sales in a marketplace that tends to compartmentalize films is a challenge right now”) but Evrensel is buoyed by enthusiasm from the genre crowd. “We're getting great responses from the festival circuit,” he says, stressing that young filmmakers should do all they can to hone their craft then present it with elan.

“Tell a strong story with interesting characters and prove yourself with whatever tools you have at hand,” Evrensel imparts, referencing forgotten shorts from the likes of Kubrick and Scorsese as inspiration. “If you do your homework and raise the flag for a well planned, well written project, you will find support in the film industry. Make stuff you are proud of and you'll probably become the kind of director that other people will want to work with.”

Read the SCREEN-SPACE review of Space Milkshake, which screens at the A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival on Thursday April 11 at 9.00pm

Tuesday
Mar192013

THE SHORT FILM THAT SAVED JANE CAMPION.

For Oscar-winning filmmaker Jane Campion, the environment in which her key protagonists exist is as crucial to her narratives as her characters and the actors who play them.

Her latest project, the highly-anticipated TV mini-series Top of the Lake (pictured, above), features breathtaking South Island locations from her native New Zealand. The city of Queenstown and several vivid, remote wilderness regions of the Otago district are utilised to stunning effect. At the other end of her homeland you will find the majestic cliffs and fierce seas of Karekare Beach, in the Waitakere district of Auckland on the North Island, used to symbolic perfection in her breakout film, 1993s The Piano.

But it is in The Water Diary, a little-seen short film that was part of the 2006 portmanteau film 8, that Campion most directly addresses her landscape. The project, which also featured directorial efforts from Gael Garcia Bernal, Gus Van Sant, Mira Nair, Wim Wenders and Gaspar Noe, came to fruition under the guidance of French producer Marc Oberon. It was Oberon’s aim to provide artistic support to United Nation’s Millenium Development Goals, a vast humanitarian endeavour designed to eradicate such dire social ills as poverty, hunger and child mortality by 2015.

Campion immersed herself in an Australian outback scorched by drought and the tensions it brings to a young family living on the land. Seen largely through the eyes of two early-teen daughters, The Water Diary puts a stark, honest face on the social impact on the rural sector of extended dry periods. Filmed at Nimmitabel in the New South Wales southern highlands with a beautifully detailed visual acuity courtesy of DOP Greig Fraser (Bright Star; Zero Dark Thirty), it is heartbreaking study in the consequences on real people of our leaders refusal to address the changing climate.

Jane Campion had undertaken a self-imposed exile after the troubled shoot and subsequent commercial failure of her American effort, In The Cut. The 8 project would inspire her to write again and return to the director’s chair. Proving to be a turning point in her career, she would go on to receive some of the best notices of her career for 2009s Bright Star, a Palme d’Or nominee. That film's success afforded her the confidence and artistic freedom to write (with longtime collaborator Gerard Lee) and direct (with Garth Davis) the 300 minute-long Top of the Lake (pictured, right; Campion directing star Elisabeth Moss). Following it’s jubilant Sundance premiere, trade paper The Hollywood Reporter called Top of the Lake, “…an edgy, disturbing and altogether first-rate crime drama.”

Tellingly, one Top of the Lake review noted in particular Campion’s use of the setting to convey mystery and foreboding. “The landscape,” wrote Robert Lloyd in the Los Angeles Times, “which is huge and powerful and makes mites of men, does much of the work for her.” It suggests that Campion, reunited with the creative energy she draws from her picturesque settings, is back on solid ground as one of world cinema’s most compelling directors.

Following a screening of the first two episodes of Top of the Lake, Jan Campion and Gerard Lee will front a Q&A session at the Cremorne Orpheum Cinema this Wednesday, March 20. Tickets available via the Popcorn Taxi website and at the venue.