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Entries in Australian (16)

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.

Friday
Aug072015

BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS: THE RHIANNON BANNENBERG INTERVIEW.

Debutant director Rhiannon Bannenberg tackled her debut feature, the striking and thoughtful Ambrosia, with a bold self-belief rarely seen in first-time filmmakers. Thematically entwining loss, memory, grief and love, Bannenberg’s script follows a troubled young woman named India (Rebecca Montalti), who returns to her childhood home with family and friends to find peace; a chance meeting with an enigmatic stranger called Harriet (Natasha Velkova) changes the lives of everyone. A deeply personal, skillfully realized drama, Ambrosia puts the local industry on notice that Bannenberg is a unique talent. Hailing from the Illawarra region on the New South Wales southern coast (a key locale that her camera captures exquisitely), Bannenberg spoke to SCREEN-SPACE ahead of her film’s hometown debut…

The film exhibits a very strong European sensibility, comparable to the likes of Mia Hansen-Love; it will play very well in upscale festivals overseas. What filmmakers, artists, writers inspired your vision?

I grew up in an old house, with a family that encouraged me to value both the past and present. As I grew older, I was drawn to English literature, painting, poetry and history. I have a particular love for John Keats ‘Endymion’, John Fowles ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’, Gillian Armstrong’s film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’.

It is clearly a very personal film. But is it a recollection on a moment in your life or does the ‘personal’ extend to something more cathartic?

The film is in part drawn from my own experiences of chronic pain as a young adult, and also just as much a figment of my imagination. Now when I watch the film in its entirety, I can see the cathartic qualities that helped me accept and manage life with chronic pain.

The chemistry between the cast is very strong. Was there an extended rehearsal period or were they chosen from a core group of colleagues? Was there much improvisation?

I am very fortunate to have a supportive, energetic and creative group of friends – all of whom I recruited to become the cast and crew of Ambrosia. We didn’t have much rehearsal time, but we did have open discussions about the tone and style of the film and everyone was able to put their ideas forward. I knew if the cast and crew had a strong friendship, it would be reflected in the story we were telling on screen.  These friendships have lasted beyond Ambrosia and I hope to work with such a vibrant and talented group of people on another film. 

It is an exceedingly ‘beautiful’ film – it’s rich look, the beauty of all the cast members, the photogenic setting, the lush and varied music, the costuming. How does the ‘styling’ of your film, its aesthetic qualities, enhance the drama?

The visual tapestry of the film was influenced heavily by my home environment and my own desire to find and be immersed in beautiful, haunting places. I wanted the story of India and her experiences to take place in a slightly altered reality, one where there was an ambiguity of time and place. I also wanted to bring the characters to life in the very places I spent my own childhood – the beautiful Illawarra on the South Coast of NSW.

Be it painting or poetry or prose or even kite building, creativity and artistry fuels and defines every key character in your film. What does Ambrosia, your own artful creation, express about you?

In reality, I’d say I was quite pragmatic but in my imagination and creative expression, I am a complete romantic.  I’m fascinated by the idea of being connected to people and to places and I definitely have a romanticised nostalgia for the past. I am constantly driven forwards by the desire to connect to others and express human thoughts and emotions – and I think film is such an eloquent, powerful and experiential medium to express these stories beautifully.

Ambrosia will screen August 8 at the Gala Theatre in Warrawong; session and booking information can be found here. Further information about the film’s screening season can be found at Fan-Force.com

Tuesday
Jun162015

2015 REVELATION PERTH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: PREVIEW

With East coast film buffs re-engaging with the real world in the wake of Sydney’s 2015 festival season, moviegoers of the Western capital are just getting revved up.

Revelation, Perth’s annual international film festival event, bows its 10-day screening schedule on July 2 at the city's arthouse mecca, The Luna, with director Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin. Starring Aussie acting great Michael Caton (pictured, above; with co-star, Ningali Lawford), the wry comedy/drama follows a terminally-ill outback cabbie as he seeks a painless, dignified final few days in the care of Jacki Weaver’s right-to-die doctor.

The challenging, hot-topic pic may not seem to be the first choice for an opening night ‘party starter’, but program director Jack Sargeant (in conjunction with festival head Richard Sowada) saw a balance of light and dark in the work that was a good fit for Revelation. “It's a movie about life and what living means. I think that we open with films that feel right, that set a mood and inspire conversation,” says Sargeant (pictured, right). “Last Cab… does that, I think. It’s a very human story.

Revelation’s reputation as a key supporter of domestic film output is evident in the three world premieres of locally produced works. They are co-directors Jenny Crabb and Susie Conte’s retro-themed celebration of Perth’s iconic live music venue, Parkerville Amphitheatre: Sets, Bugs and Rock’n’Roll; feature debutant Platon Theodoris’ Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites (a co-production with Indonesia); and the third feature from Stefan Popescu (founder of Sydney’s Underground Film Festival), a melding of the porn and undead genres evocatively titled Vixen Velvet’s Zombie Massacre.

Sargeant was convinced that the three warranted the coveted ‘world premiere’ status, even if the ‘why?’ of Revelation programming remains elusive. “The qualities that we look for are shifting all the time,” he says, hinting at the free-spirited, enigmatic nature synonymous with the event. “A good movie has no set criteria but when you watch it, it works. Some films may not work one year but may another year. There's a sense that the process of curating is also about the relationships between movies as well as just the movies standing alone.

The program strand Get Your Shorts On! focuses on the talents of six locally-based short-form filmmakers (including Kelrick Martin's Karroyul; pictured, right), whose works have received funding from such local entities as ScreenWest, Lotterywest and the Film & Television Institute. International mini-movies feature alongside local works from Bryn Tilly (Umbra) and David Coyle (Enfilade) in the 13-strong Experimental Showcase line-up, which welcomes works from Russia (Andre Silva’s Cybergenesis; Alexei Dimitriev’s The Shadow of Your Smile); the United Kingdom (Point and Untitled014, both from Christopher Macfarlane); and, the USA (Irina Arnaut’s Working Title; Kelly Kirshtner’s A Nice Bowl of Soup).

International features bowing on our shores include expat Australian filmmaker Kane Senes’ moody western, Echoes of War (featuring It Follows star, Maika Monroe); Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia’s haunting sci-fi oddity, H.; Katherine Dohan and Alanna Stewarts’ left-of-centre coming-of-age feelgooder, What I Love About Concrete; the hauntingly beautiful The Creeping Garden, Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp’s study in the properties of plasmodial slime; Belinda Sallin’s melancholy biography Dark Star: HR Giger’s Welt; and, SXSW 2014 Audience Award winner, Yakona, from Paul Collins and Anlo Sepulveda. Festival hits making their Perth debut include The Tribe, Tehran Taxi, The Duke of Burgundy, Spring and The Forbidden Room.

Perhaps certain to mess with minds more than anything else at Revelations 2015 is the Australian premiere of Asphalt Watches, a Crumb-like work of animated surrealism from Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver. The story of Bucktooth Cloud and Skeleton Hat and their hitchhiked journey across Canada in 2000 rattled even the experienced eye of Jack Sargeant. “Asphalt Watches just made me think, 'what the hell?'” he recalls. “Its a glimpse inside some crazy nightmare/dream, a cross between something like South Park and classic underground comix. It has that sensibility that animation can be crazy and stupid and funny and do things nothing else can. I like that.

Sargeant’s encyclopaedic knowledge of and love for music is evident in his programming of Denny Tedesco’s The Wrecking Crew (pictured, right), a tribute to the largely unknown session players that created the LA sound of the 60’s; Theory of Obscurity, Don Hardy Jr’s profile of oddball San Francisco new-wavers, The Residents; Marc Eberle’s study in a country’s musical heritage and unique pop performers, Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock and Roll; the genre deconstruction Industrial Music for the Urban Decay, from Travis Collins and Amelie Ravalec; Robert Nazar Arjoyan’s ethereal study of gender, race and electronic music, When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and The Theremin; and, Wes Orshoski’s biopic-doco of punk trailblazers, The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead.

The cinema of both Iran and Poland will be represented in sidebar events, as will a 10-strong shorts program suitable for family audiences. The RevCon Workshops and Panels feature Festival Patron, actor Steve Bisley (The Power of The Monologue), Last Cab to Darwin director Jeremy Sims (Building Director’s Skillsets; pictured, right) and digital pioneer Craig Deeker (Digital Filmmaking Masterclass). Launching in 2015 is the Film Festival Director’s Forum during which the likes of Sydney’s Nashen Moodley and Iranian Film Festival toppers Anne Demy-Geroe and Armin Milardi dissect festival curation. Returning will be the much-loved Revel 8 mini-fest, celebrating the 8mm film format, and Revelation Academic, the engaging gabfest that allows for voices from all corners of the industry to be heard on the most immediate issues.

I hope that with the academic strand they get the chance to think about new ideas, theoretical and cultural aspects of film, and I hope that with the workshops that they get inspired to pick up cameras and make their own works,” says Sargeant who, since he joined Sowada’s team in 2007, has helped form a unique film festival experience in Australia’s most remote capital city. “I hope that I've introduced audiences to things they'd otherwise not know about, and may otherwise never get to see on the big screen. If there's any legacy, I hope it is that people have the opportunity to see interesting work, meet filmmakers and become inspired. That would be a good legacy for Revelation.”

Full details of Revelation Perth International Film Festival can be found at the event’s official website.

Thursday
Aug282014

DAY OF THE ANIMALS: THE MICHAEL DAHLSTROM INTERVIEW

Despite offering up one of the most confronting film experiences of the MIFF 2014 program, director Michael Dahlstrom is a happy man. His documentary, The Animal Condition examines our complex relationship with the animals we exploit and had just played to packed audiences for its World Premiere when he chatted with SCREEN-SPACE about the unique narrative structure he employs and finding the balance between harrowing expose and hopeful advocacy filmmaking…

“We sold out both sessions, which was surprising and great,” says Dahlstrom (pictured, below), a NIDA graduate, on the final day of an extensive media schedule that has accompanied the premiere of his debut feature. Audience reaction was exactly what he had hoped for, a passionate chorus of opinions from those involved in both the trade and protection of livestock. Says the director, “It became a spirited Q-&-A debate afterwards, lead by an intensive farmer and a free range farmer and a vegan activist, as well as plenty of the vocal public.”

Shot over four years, The Animal Condition underwent extensive shifts in focus and tone before it became the expansive, insightful advocacy work it is today. What begins as an adventure about four angry, wide-eyed inner-city types (at one point, rescued baby chickens dance on a piano keyboard) soon becomes a multi-tiered examination of industrialized farming and the emotional issues inherent to animal exploitation.

“In the beginning, we were definitely making a very deliberate activist film,” says Dahlstorm, who appears on-screen alongside producers Ande Cunningham, Sarah-Jane McAllan (pictured, below) and Augusta Miller. “Initially, we weren’t going to film ourselves. But as we started arguing about different points, we realised it might be interesting to capture the decision-making process we were going through. You can clearly see the filmmaking style change and us change as individuals as the narrative develops.”

The four friends engage the services of a radical animal activist who helps them gain illegal access to a battery hen factory; the sad footage turns shocking when, during the course of shooting, the live export controversy erupted and smuggled film of barbaric slaughter practices surfaced (see footage here; viewer discretion advised).  “That footage was informing the wider population at the same time as it was informing us and our filming,” says Dahlstrom, who remained mindful that the horrible minutiae of slaughterhouse reality is not always the most effective tool an activist can employ. “If you show really extreme footage, then people will have a knee-jerk reaction and they will switch off or react with the own extreme views.”

“What we wanted to capture was the realities of intensive farming facilities, but also the transition of animal welfare issue from fringe activism to something that all of Australia was talking about,” he says, confirming that The Animal Condition was designed to preach beyond the converted. “The audience that we had in mind was certainly the Australian public. We wanted to create a time capsule of what happened in 2009 up until the end of live exports.”

Ultimately, Dahlstrom’s film impacts due to a very even-handed approach, ensuring all parties involved in modern farming practices have time to air their points-of-view. Corporate heads, political leaders and intensive farmers are given as strong a voice as the pro-animal liberationists and traditional farmers. The film captures a turning point for a country that has proudly boasted of the wealth it has attained by ‘riding on the sheep’s back’, i.e. exploiting the rich, natural world for economic gain.

“I think for us to grow as a country we have to be self-reflective,” says the director. “If having an international eye on us makes us conscious of what we are doing and the example we set as a population, and this film helps to shine that kind of spotlight on us, then that can only help us as a nation.”

Michael Dahlstrom will be in attendance when The Animal Condition screens at the Sydney Underground Film Festival un Sunday, September 7. Full details can be found at the event website here.