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Entries in APSA (4)

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

Thursday
Jun112015

UNESCO FETES APSA HONOUREE: THE SHAWKAT AMIN KORKI INTERVIEW

In Paris overnight, before an audience at the world headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), director Shawkat Amin Korki screened his acclaimed third feature, Memories on Stone. A film-within-a-film account of a disparate crew’s efforts to produce an epic based upon the horrific Al Anfar genocide, the Iraqi/German co-production earned the honour after having taken out the prestigious UNESCO Award at the 2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) in Brisbane last November. A few hours before he accepted the trophy (pictured, below; with presenter, actor Jack Thompson) he sat with SCREEN-SPACE to discuss his most personal and acclaimed film to date…

“It is sort of a backstage version of production on my previous films,” said the softly spoken Korki, 42, a Kurdish Iraqi native who has lived in self-imposed exile in Iran for over two decades. Having fled the regime that ruthlessly controlled his homeland, he has forged an international career with his films Crossing the Dust (2006) and Kick Off (2009) finding audience and festival favour globally. Says the director,  “Memories on Stone is an account of many of the experiences that Kurdistani filmmakers must endure when filming in our homeland.” The script was developed after having received in 2011 the Motion Picture Association APSA Academy Film Fund.

The moving, darkly humourous narrative follows childhood friends Hussein (Hussein Hassan) and Alan (Nazmi Kirik) and the tumultuous personal and social hurdles they must overcome to film their pet project – a bigscreen take on the murder of 180,000 Iraqi Kurds under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. From the powerful prologue that puts in context the importance of cinema for both Hussein and his countrymen, we meet such vivid characters as the egocentric celebrity Roj Azad (Suat Usta; pictured, right centre) and Sinur, the meek, troubled teacher (Shima Molaei; pictured, below) who must face her own terrible memories of the massacre if she is to honourably portray victims of the killings.

“The many characters made it very difficult to write,” recalls Korki, “but we were able to focus on Sinur and Roj as key characters. They push the story, even though there are many stories. But somehow, Sinur make’s (the story) very unique and binds all the thematic strands together.”

With meagre budgetary support available and strict controls on content in place, filmmaking in the sector falls to impassioned artists like Shawkat Amin Korki to bring their ambitious visions to life. With Memories of Stone, the task the director set himself was manifestly more difficult. “It was like making two movies but with only one budget,” he recalls. “We shot the two movies concurrently with each other. My co-writer and producer Mahmet Ashktar, and I did not expect it to be such a huge and difficult production for our region, but when we started shooting it proved very difficult, both with the budget and the condition present in Kurdistan.”

In addition to his skill as a storyteller, Korki displays a deft technical touch, switching between film stock and aspect ratios to further delineate between his shoot and the fictional production. “While we were shooting, I knew we had to make the two different films somehow very distinctive,” he recalls. “We shot on different cameras, but I wasn’t sure about switching between 1:85 scope and the (wider) frame to convey the (two narratives) until much later. That decision came during post-production, but proved difficult because I hadn’t shot to the specifics required.”

For Shawkat Amin Korki, his vision for Memories on Stone was as a contemporary testament to the centuries of hardship his fellow Kurds had suffered. “Kurdistan has many tragic moments in its history, perhaps none bigger than Al Anfar,” he states. “The film-inside-the-film was not (originally) about that event, it was more about our old history, but I decided to make it about our present. It is the people of modern Kurdistan that are interpreting our nation’s past and it’s suffering through art and their stories.”

Footnote: As part of the UNESCO screening event in Paris, APSA Executive Chairman Michael Hawkins made the announcement that Shawkat Amin Korki will act as Chair of the APSA Youth Animation and Documentary International Jury for the 2015 APSA ceremony.


Monday
Apr202015

SRI LANKAN STAR SOARS IN HELMER'S HARD-HITTING '28'

One of Sri Lanka’s most adored stars, Mahendra Perera has been a box office draw for over three decades. But his latest work, Prasanna Jayakody’s 28, is a challenging social drama that refuses to pander to the mainstream; it follows three working class men as they transport a murdered woman across mountain roads for a hometown burial. As Abasiri, Perera loses himself in one of the most complex screen characters of his long career; the performance earned the veteran star a Best Actor nomination at the 2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA). With his writer/director by his side (for whom the actor kindly provided translation), Perera spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the career-defining role, the establishment’s reaction to the non-conformist narrative, and the fearlessness being embraced by Sri Lanka’s new wave of talent… 

"When I first read the script, I was a little confused,” admits Perera, star of such regional blockbusters as Walls Within (1997), Flying with One Wing (2002), Boungiorno Italia (2004) and Machan (2008). “I did not form too many ideas. It took a dialogue with Prasanna (pictured, below), and many discussions afterwards, for me to form a picture of this man.” His character is unaware until the day of the long journey that his cargo is to be his late ex-wife, Suddhi (Semini Iddamalgoda). “Finally, I was able to understand his emotional side and bring that out. The inconsistent nature of his behaviour, the ways in which he confronted the situations he found himself facing…well, it proved a challenge to get to the core of this complex character but somehow we did it.”

The inspiration for 28 (the title representing the morgue drawer in which Suddhi’s body is kept) was, as they say, ripped from today’s headlines. Writer/director Jayakody (Sankara, 2007; Karma, 2011) had become disillusioned by the violence that had become increasingly endemic to his homeland and wrote the script as a means by which to interpret this dark shift in the population’s psyche. “In the past few years in Sri Lanka, the newpapers have been full of horrible accounts of violent crimes, especially sexual crimes against women,” says the softly spoken auteur. “Sex is a beautiful, natural thing and it is always disturbing when human desires lead to horrible acts. It is destructive to our society, to any society.”

Wavering between pitch-black character comedy, a searing indictment of patriarchal brutality and open-road travelogue, the film is at its most daring when Suddhi breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience from beyond the grave. Jayakody acknowledges the bravery required for his leading lady (pictured, left) to take on such an artistically and culturally challenging part. “Semini was required to do some extraordinary things, perform in a way that she had never been called upon to do in her other movies,” he says. “Her character is a portrayal of so many Sri Lankan women and hopefully conveys so much of what the women of Sri Lanka must endure. Sri Lankan women can’t speak the truth when they are alive; it is only possible for a dead woman to speak the truth.”

A revelation as the everyman Abasiri, Perera establishes a rich chemistry with his male co-stars Sarath Kothawala and Rukmal Nirosh (pictured, below). But it is likely that a single scene, in which the identity of the woman dawns upon Abasiri and grief and memory overwhelm him, impacted most upon the APSA judging panel. “My studies in the Stanislavsky method of acting were called upon in that scene,” the actor recalls. “I sought out friends who had suffered through a similar grief and drew upon them for guidance, to spark that emotion deep within myself. I was determined not to act, but to try and find that truth within myself, as if that was my wife. It was very difficult, because we shot that scene many times, to get the precise emotion.”

28 has emerged as one of the ‘new wave’ Sri Lankan works, steeped in both high-end artistry and strong social commentary. For Perera, the period represents a rebirth-of-sorts for the local sector. “After 30 years of war and terrorism, it is finding a new shape,” he says. “We still have problems, and there are still those for whom films like 28 will be too disturbing, but we have new, young filmmakers who are willing to work with very challenging concepts. And we have a huge audience in Sri Lanka for this movie, for any movie that comes with new ideas or new themes that can be discussed.”

The national cinema of Sri Lanka faces a number of uphill battles to retain its potency. The exhibition sector is dire; prior to the outbreak of war, 400 cinemas serviced the population. Today, 120 operate; only half of those screen locally made product (it is expected that the region will be fully upgraded to DCP technology in 2017). More worryingly, cinema is often overseen by conservative governing bodies, which monitor content and distribution channels. Says Perera, “There are these political and philosophical officials, who think that these films do damage to our country, but these are unique subjects that need to be addressed in our cinema. As the films begin to get recognition at international events like APSA, a new respect forms.”