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Entries in Australian (14)

Tuesday
Apr122016

WORKING CLASS MAN: THE HEATH DAVIS INTERVIEW

The burden of past glories and the crippling impact of addiction are dissected in Broke, a new Australian film from writer/director Heath Davis. Featuring a typically intense turn from the great Steve Le Marquand, the working class drama tells the story of Ben ‘BK’ Kelly, a once-great rugby league star whose gambling and self-medication through booze has led to desperate times; Claire van der Boom, as Terri, and Max Cullen as Cec are the strugglers who never lose faith in their fallen hero. In his narrative feature debut, Davis nails a hard-edged realism tinged with real heart. Ahead of the film’s theatrical season, Davis spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about his small-scale, intrinsically ‘Aussie’ story that feels universally human… 

SCREEN-SPACE: There is a strong 'cinematic' feel to the characters, but more resonant is the 'blue collar' authenticity, the 'real people' that are BK and Cec and Terri. How did that dynamic emerge in the writing? Are these people from your background?

Davis: There's definitely a ‘real’ DNA, as I like to put it that runs through these characters. It was imperative that they and the movie ring true for identification purposes. BK for instance is a hybrid of people, ex-league players, I knew growing up in western Sydney. His character was pretty fleshed out on the page and then Steve made it his own. I encouraged that. He's been around these types of folk so it wasn't a big stretch for him. (Pictured, top; Davis on-set, with actors Claire van der Boom and Steve Le Marquand)

SCREEN-SPACE: Steve Le Marquand is that rare performer; an intense character-actor persona wrapped in a leading-man package. He must be an enormous asset in pre-production/rehearsal and then on-set. Describe what he brought to the character of BK and the relationship you, as his director, forged with him...

Davis: The obvious physicality and his unique bravado aside, Steve brought his life experience to the table. He's lived a rough-and-tumble existence and knows only too well the world these characters inhabit, so I knew we'd definitely have a believable lead character. He's really respected by his peers so when he came on board I knew he would draw other quality actors to the project. He's a very generous actor to not only his fellow cast but also crew. He made sure that there was no place for ego on set for anyone and that was crucial in creating the realism we were going for. (Pictured, right; Marquand with co-star Claire van der Boom)

SCREEN-SPACE: The National Rugby League (NRL) contributed to the funding of Broke. How and why did they become involved?

Davis: The NRL Education and Welfare Team came on board just before pre-production with some financial support. It was by no means a large sum but it was a lot to us. More importantly, we wanted their endorsement. And I think they realised it would be a good education tool to use for their players, especially juniors. (Pictured, left; Davis, left, on-set with actors William Zappa, Steve Le Marquand and Justin Rosniak)

SCREEN-SPACE: Thematically, Broke pits the facade of hero adulation against the reality of an addict’s self-destruction. Is it a celebration of hero worship or a warning of the dangers of fawning over false idols?

Davis: I've always been fascinated by the facade of celebrity. What you see is not always what you get. It's a human construct that simply isn't real yet we are so celebrity driven as a culture. I remember having troubles growing up understanding the context of how a footy player on a Sunday afternoon could be so adored yet so broken and lonely playing the pokies on a Tuesday night at the local. That juxtaposition makes for great drama. In the end I wanted to show that heroes in life are human and just because they have a specific skill set that doesn't necessarily equip them for life or make them role models.

SCREEN-SPACE: The final images in the film convey a beautifully complex, ambiguous future. Do you have hope for your characters?

Davis: Oh yes, I do. I see it as a bittersweet but honest conclusion. Without spoiling anything, I think BK gets what he needs and not what he wants, perhaps for the first time in his life, and he realises and accepts that. I think there's definitely good times ahead for this motley crew.

Following acclaim on the festival circuit, BROKE has its Sydney premiere on Wednesday, April 13 with other screenings to follow. Ticket and venue information can be found at the film's official website. 

Photographs by MK Creative Studios; Copyright Scope Red 2014

Thursday
Apr072016

AUSSIE AUTEUR PUTS 'FILM' BACK INTO SHORT FILM PRODUCTION.

For a moment, imagine that the arduous slog undertaken by the next-no-budget short film auteur is not already daunting enough. How could a filmmaker make the thankless journey exponentially more difficult? For Chris Elena, the answer was clear – forego all the burden-easing advancements made in digital camera tech and embrace every production problem presented by shooting on film. The result - a 15-minute contemporary drama called The Limited – is a testament to the drive and commitment synonymous with the origins of the art form…

“Film's aesthetic is warm and cinematic, which we wanted and needed for a film mostly set in small places with cold individuals,” says Elena, a respected voice and popular personality amongst the young turks of Sydney’s film-writing community. His vocal passion for the works of Paul Thomas Anderson fuels his own directorial flair for ‘pure cinema’; The Limited is a small-scale examination of the impact of schoolyard stories and macho posturing that soars emotionally and thematically through the use of Kodak 16mm stock. (Pictured, top; Elena, centre, with crew during the shoot).

“We needed to tell this story on 16mm, which has its own unique cinematic language,” say Elena, his script drawing upon his own experiences at an all-boy Catholic high school in the 2000s. “We shot on one location, with very little coverage, a narrative that is essentially four people telling each other lies that will impact their lives. We knew film (would) elevate that simplicity.”

With a ready-to-go script, Elena also knew that timing was crucial if he was to realise his ambitious production; once-giant film supplier Fujifilm had shuttered its film stock division in March 2013, with rumours circulating that Kodak were poised to do the same. “This was the medium I had learned about, had believed in the magic of since deciding to be a director at the age of 9,” he confides. “I wanted The Limited to be greater than the script I had written and for that, for me to be a better director and do this story and everyone who believed in it some justice, I needed film.” (Pictured, right; the young cast of The Limited)

Mentored into production by industry veteran, the late J. Harkness and employing an experienced DOP in Kym Vaitiekus, Elena realised a dream when he called ‘action’ on a tight 2-day shoot in 2014. “We had eight 400-foot reels, 3,200 feet of 16mm film,” he recalls. “As soon as you start rolling, you have 9½ minutes, or one standard roll of film, to get it perfect. We would shoot each take, change reels, place the film in a black bag and have it sent to be processed at the lab, all at once.” The process made for a focussed, energised set, with cast and crew fully aware of the limitations of film. “Each take has to be better,” says Elena. “When you're shooting on film, you allow yourself to trust whoever is looking at that monitor; they trust your word as they know this footage is precious.” 

Throughout the shoot and well into post-production, the young filmmaker was reminded of why film had fallen out of favour in the face of the digital revolution. “It’s horribly expensive,” Elena bemoans, despite an end-to-end budget of just in excess of A$5000 and made without any grant assistance. “Then the lab could get it wrong, the dallies don't look like what you saw in the monitor, sound editing and mixing is a nightmare with the noise from the camera making an appearance in every take.”

Having spent the best part of 2015 in the edit suite with Vaitiekus and cutter Leslie Heldzingen crafting his vision, Chris Elena is now in a position to consider the end product of his obsession with traditional celluloid. “We didn’t get the amount of coverage we wanted, but we made it work in the end,” he concludes. “We could've created this on digital but it never would have looked and felt this way. The raw dallies - without a colour grade, with minor scratches and dust on the frame - looked like what I always imagined films to look like. Every take we got, the work and effort was on display.” (Pictured, left; the director preparing a shot on the set of The Limited)

And, no, the director is not finished crusading for the existence of film stock. “I'll try to shoot on film until there's not a single reel left that Kodak can give me,” he declares. “The effort and potential for magic that comes with it is worth it in every way imaginable.”

Thursday
Feb182016

WATER WORLD: THE ANGIE DAVIS INTERVIEW.

From her home in the Byron Bay hinterland, Angie Davis has reached across oceans and continents to tell the story of Lobitos and its people. The Peruvian coastal village, its self-sustained emergence from under the shadow of ‘big oil’ and the surfing culture that has helped reform the region’s innate strength are examined in Double Barrel, the journalist-turned-filmmaker’s picturesque and deeply humanistic documentary.

In the US to support the festival rollout of her debut long-form work before returning home for the Australian premiere on February 27, Davis (pictured, above) spoke at length to SCREEN-SPACE about her love for the Lobitos community and how their struggle has inspired her, creatively and intellectually… 

What made the culture and people of Lobitos so alluring to you?

The people of Lobitos live a simplistic lifestyle without the modern comforts that we are accustomed to in the West. The rawness of north Peru’s coastal regions make for a number of complexities, such as a dramatic lack of rain, clean drinking water, and fertile soil. The locals are dependent on the ocean for food sources, yet the oil industry combined with commercial overfishing has significantly affected the fish stocks. Local fishermen have to venture further out to sea, in small boats or handmade balsa rafts at night, to hook a decent catch, which translates to greater running costs. I respect the local fishing community for enduring such hardships, while living with big smiles on their faces. And now the son’s of fishermen from the area are getting into surfing and living their lives around the tides and swells. It is this ocean-inspired lifestyle with the backdrop of the raw Peruvian desert that drew me to the area. 

How has the emergence of a modern surf culture integrated with the traditions of the township?

It hasn’t been so seamless. Lobitos was created as an oil town 100 years ago by BP, became one of the richest towns in Peru, and then fell to ruins when the lefts took power in the 60s, expelling all foreign oil companies from the country. In the 90s, the beaches attracted the affluent surfers from Lima who built hostels and surf lodges straight onto the shoreline, which wasn’t exactly welcomed by the existing community who lived back off the ocean a few blocks inland. Surfing has definitely put Lobitos on the map, both domestically and internationally, but the rate of development is alarming. A combination of profit-driven objectives and an ignorant lack of knowledge about how delicate sand-bottom surf breaks are to the movements of sand, tides and wind (means) overdevelopment on the beachfront can lead to the complete destruction of the town’s primary profitable resource - the waves (pictured, right; Davis with environmental advocate and big wave surfer Harold Koechlin and an Andean local). 

Double Barrel balances a human-interest story, environmental/social issues and sports travelogue elements. How did you reconcile your objectivity of a journalist and empathy of a social commentator?

This story was close to my heart. I started writing humanitarian journals for Amnesty International and throwing fundraisers for Surfrider Foundation from when I was 18. I was a surfer with a burning desire to travel and soon recognized a link between great waves being located in underprivileged regions and wanted to explore that more. I was working on a luxurious surf travel piece when I found myself in Peru, but abandoned that story when I saw first-hand that Lobitos was not ready for an influx of wealthy surf tourists. I decided that a film would give Lobitos a chance to move forward more sustainably and challenge audiences to consider their role in the rise and fall of surf communities, or any developing communities, worldwide.

Which filmmakers inspired you? 

I grew up with Taylor Steele’s surf movies. My interview with him on his film Sipping Jetstreams was my first published magazine piece, and I watched him evolve as a filmmaker from action-packed surf films to more travel-inspiring cinematic ‘journey’ pieces. Taylor was a great mentor on Double Barrel. In the end I wanted to make a surf film with ‘everyday’ people that everyone could relate to, with inspiring travel cinematography supporting a story that inspires hope. Too often environmental films finish with that feeling of “wow, I have no idea what I can do to help save the world.” Double Barrel highlights marine environment protection initiatives like the Juntos Por Las Playas Del Norte, a project that was inspired by our efforts making the film. 

The impact of industry on a population and their natural habitat is key to Double Barrel. How did your experiences living in Japan at a time of enormous hardship influence the film?

The Japanese disaster in 2011 was devastating. After the earthquake, we were forced to evacuate for what started as one night but eventually turned into about three months of uncertain life on the road. Nothing could prepare you for living through something like that. The aftershocks were constant and powerful, the constant threat of tsunami was exhausting, not to mention the unknown consequences of the Fukushima fallout. As someone who surfed, swam or walked alongside the ocean daily, and with a one-year-old toddler and being pregnant at the time, the entire experience was life changing. When I first visited north Peru and saw the aging refineries and platforms so close to the shore, the thought of what could happen brought up so much pain inside of me. My experience in Japan made me feel there was an urgency to make this film. I couldn’t bare to see another place I love and the people who inhabit it become so devastated by the consequences of building industry right on the coast. Surviving an event like Fukushima stays with you forever, but it has to be taken as an opportunity to grow and evolve from the experience. 

What are your thoughts on ‘film’ as a force for change? How would you define the relationship between your artistic vision for Double Barrel and the message you had to impart? 

Until I went to Peru and had the idea to make Double Barrel, I had never desired to be a filmmaker. I loved storytelling through writing and producing. Taylor had done a short film for Charity Water in Ethiopia, and helped raise $1million for fresh water wells. I was blown away by how much documentary film could appeal to a global audience, and actually impact developing communities. I knew I had to have a script and storyboard, so that it had structure and context. I didn’t really know a thing about filmmaking, but I knew I wanted the film to be of the highest quality possible, and placed myself around geniuses in their fields that were also passionate about the project. Dustin Hollick was a surfing ambassador for Patagonia who had made surf films growing up in Tassie, including a film ‘El Gringo’ which had sequences from Peru, so I went to him with the script knowing I could trust him. I could not have made the film without him. Dustin recognized my emotion to the place and knew that had to be included in the film, resulting in a transparency that tells the story as it truly happened. Cinematographer Tim Wreyford had previously shot Mick Fanning’s ‘Missing’ film and we shot the first half of the film together. Then I returned with Alejandro Berger who is one of the world’s best water photographers (pictured, above; Davis, left, whith her key crew members). I wanted to combine the format of surf films with longer music-driven surf and travel montages that would give a real sense of the place. We learnt a lot of lessons the hard way, and threw in a lot of our own money to get this off the ground, but the response so far has been incredible. I am very proud of everyone for sticking with it.

A Switchboard Media production, Double Barrel has its Australian premiere in Byron Bay on February 27. Ticket and venue information available here.

Wednesday
Jan062016

ASHES AND DIAMONDS: THE ANNE RICHEY INTERVIEW

It would become known as ‘Black Saturday’, the day in February 2009 never to be forgotten by Australians. In the hinterland of the southern state of Victoria, bushfires decimated acres, laying to waste rural communities like Marysville, where 45 lives were lost. Filmmaker Anne Richey knew the area well and was devastated by the destruction. In the wake of the disaster, she was inspired to tell a story filled with hope and human spirit; and so was borne The Weatherman’s Umbrella, a fairy tale adventure bringing to life the unique artistry of a Marysville landmark, Bruno’s Sculpture Garden….

“I first visited Marysville for the National Screenwriters’ Conference about a year before the fires,” says Richey, ahead of a public screening of her film at Federation Square in Melbourne’s CBD. “I fell in love with the gorgeous little town.” Central to its charms was the work of Bruno Torfs, a South American-born artist who had crafted unique life-sized figures that greeted guests who walked a rainforest track in the heart of Marysville known as the ‘Sculpture Garden’. The artist’s estate was all but destroyed by the ‘Black Saturday’ flames. Recalls Richey, “I kept returning to the images over the following year or so, and when I heard that the garden had reopened I visited the town to see if Bruno would mind if I wrote a film inspired by his gorgeous garden.”

Richey’s narrative framework uses much that family audiences will recognise from fairy tale lore. “Sarah’s journey echoes stories like Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden,” she admits. Played by ingénue Lily Morrow (pictured, top), our heroine encounters various eccentric denizens of a mystical forest as she helps a dithering weatherman (local identity Daryl Hull; pictured, right, with Morrow) find his lost parasol. Unlike the evening news variety who merely report and predict, Sarah’s new friend creates weather, and without his umbrella the region will go without rain.

Early in the script’s development, Richey organised a reading for the Marysville community in which Australian acting great John Wood voiced the titular role (the actor’s prior commitments prevented his casting in the film). “It was very important to me that it be done this way. I wanted to make sure that everyone was okay with the content of the story before we began making the film,” says Richey. “Fortunately, we didn’t receive any negative comments, and I think it helped that people knew about the storyline (before) helping out.”

Ineligible for funding via both Screen Australia and Film Victoria, a determined Richey moved ahead with the shoot regardless, employing a no-budget work ethic that utilised non-pro actors (with the exception of industry veteran John Flaus, as Sarah’s Great Grandfather; pictured, right, with Morrow and co-star Jacob Vulfs) and crew drawn from the township and its surrounds. For Richey, this bare-bones approach proved a godsend. “It seemed as though every time I vaguely mentioned needing something, it (not only) appeared but was in a form which was so much better than I could have imagined,” she says. “It was a very lucky shoot in so many ways. When there’s virtually no budget, everything needs to be done creatively, and because of this it became a real community effort.”

It may be the ‘community effort’ - the spirited sense of small town unity that the 16-month weekend shooting schedule captured - which proves to be The Weatherman’s Umbrella greatest legacy. “It’s a film which showcases the amazing talents and extraordinary landscapes around Marysville,” Richey says, who fostered the sense of family by using key locations and props that held special meaning for locals in the wake of the bushfire disaster. “While we were making the film, quite a few people told me that (we) had arrived at the perfect time. (Our) film didn’t have anything to do with the fires but was just about making something fun. People had rebuilt their homes and I think were looking for a way of moving forward.”

For Richey, whatever positive energy the people of Marysville draw from her film merely reflects the unwavering commitment that they contributed. “It’s been great to see so many people in the area helping the film along its way,” she says. “The people involved in the film were so welcoming towards the project, and they were so inspiring. They’re such a generous, talented and kind group of people.”

Footnote: Bruno’s Sculpture Garden has been fully restored and now features over 120 of Torf’s original works; it was recently included amongst the 100 ‘Essential Experiences’ tourist sites in Victoria by the travel website Experience Oz. In The Weatherman’s Umbrella, Torf can be seen in the role of ‘Bearded Man’ (pictured, above).

Anne Richey will present The Weatherman’s Umbrella at a special event screening on Thursday, January 14 at Healesville Memorial Hall, Victoria. The film is available for community screening bookings via Fan-Force.

Sunday
Sep062015

MUFF 2015: UNDERGROUND GIANTS EMBRACE ALT-SECTOR INGENUE.

The name Kristen Condon doesn't register with the numbed masses of middle-class suburbia. But for the counter-cultural types that embrace the alternative edge of our national cinema, the actress is one of the brightest, most enigmatic stars in their dark, often disturbing universe. At the 2015 Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF), Condon features in no less than four films from directors at the forefront of subversive cinema. “Many of the best filmmakers to come out of Australia have their roots in this community,” Condon tells SCREEN-SPACE, “It is an invaluable talent pool to be involved with and an integral part of Melbourne’s alternative culture.”

Kristen Condon has built an impressive resume of indie sector roles (The Beautiful and Damned, 2010; Ricky! The Movie, 2010; Start Options Exit, 2014; Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla, 2014) and been seen by 2million YouTubers as co-star of the 2013 Tropfest runner-up, Makeover. That experience affords her unique insight into the low-budget filmmaking process, knowledge that she drew upon when asked to recall her time shooting the four movies in which she can be seen at MUFF 2015… 

Under a Kaleidoscope (Dir: Addison Heath; 2014)
Addison Heath’s directorial debut features Condon as Beatrice, the abused neighbour to oddball shut-in Caleb (Kenji Shimada). The pair bond through their adjoining wall and form a friendship that draws Caleb out of his home and ultimately himself, albeit into the violent world of Beatrice’s gangster boyfriend.
Says Condon, “This was my most challenging role to date. From the start I knew Beatrice’s story had to be portrayed with the upmost respect for victims of intense physical abuse. I tried to bring a dimension to the character that people could empathize with. At it’s core this is the tale of a girl who feels trapped. I can relate to feeling trapped, in other ways to Beatrice, and this feeling was what I believe anchored my performance. Addison is an exceptional filmmaker and human being.  

Sizzler 77 (Dir: Timothy Spanos; 2015)
Alt-sector heavyweight Timothy Spanos’ indulges in some retro inner-city criminal (and comedic) mayhem, with hookers, pimps and undercover cops all decked out in the afros, platforms and bell-bottoms of the Summer of ‘77. Condon brings the funny as Vivian; in one memorable, she goes laugh-for-laugh with Tim Burn’s outrageous underworld kingpin, ‘Bossy Jim.’
Says Condon, “The two best things a comedic actress can be given are a script with a clear objective and an objective that is too great for the character to achieve. Tim is an actor’s director; he directs, acts and edits in his head on a shoot. It was apparent he knew precisely how he would cut the scenes together. This ability to see the big picture makes it easy to trust Tim. And trusting him is especially important when I am asked to don an afro wig, silver platform boots, a revealing halter neck dress and scream ‘PIG!!!!!!!’ multiple times in a suburban street.”

The Second Coming (Dir: Richard Wolstencroft; 2015)
Part 1 of his wildly experimental take on W.B. Yeats classic poem, MUFF Festival Director (and Condon’s real-life partner) Richard Wolstencroft presents his sixth feature as a ‘Special Event’ screening. In a cast that includes seemingly free-form acting contributions from the likes of adult industry identities Michael Tierney and William Margold, bad-boy rocker Pete Doherty and writer Gene Gregoritis (of ‘Sex & Guts’ magazine fame), Condon appears fleetingly ahead of an expanded role in Part 2. She was, however, present for much of the five-year shoot across several continents.
Says Condon, “Richard wanted to push things with this new film, to do something he hadn't done before.  Adopting techniques used by the likes of Paul Morrissey, Kenneth Anger and Terrence Malick, Richard wanted to try some more experimental methods of working. This approach is refreshing, fascinating, if sometimes at a little scary. It’s an entirely improvised story; Richard would wait until moments before rolling to tell me a scene and what it was about. Working as an actor that, not knowing how all the scenes would fit together, can be challenging.”

Lesbo-A-Go-Go (Dir: Andrew Leavold; 2003)
A decade before his obsession with Pinoy cinema led to the cult doco The Search for Weng Weng (also at MUFF 2015), Andrew Leavold unleashed upon the world this mockumentary chronicling the tawdry, debauched, hedonistic-fuelled downfall of 60s pornographer Doris Wishman. For the youthful, impressionable Kristen Condon, it was only her second time on a feature film set. (Also screening is Jarret Gahan’s making-of account, Gone Lesbo Gone: The Untold Tale of an Unseen Film.)
Says Condon, “Back in 2003, when I first entered the doors of Andrew’s legendary cult video store Trash Video, I had no idea what I was in for.  I just wanted to borrow a video, yet somehow became a part of his bizarre and wonderful film. Andrew is as fun and spontaneous a character as he is a director. I am so pleased to have been part of his first feature. I am only in Lesbo–A–Go-Go for a moment though, so blink and you’ll miss me.”

The 2015 Melbourne Underground Film Festival runs September 11-19. Ticketing and session information can be  found at the official website.