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Entries in Documentary (14)

Wednesday
Jun072017

WHITNEY CAN I BE ME: THE NICK BROOMFIELD INTERVIEW

2017 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: From the moment Nick Broomfield arrived in the US, the British documentarian has dug deep into the darkest recesses of American society. From the juvenile detention system (Tattooed Tears, 1979), to the mind of a psychopath (Aileen Wournos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, 1992), Broomfield has sought truths with a fearless, occasionally reckless, sometimes controversial eye for factual film. Some of his most acclaimed works have been dissections of doomed celebrities, including Monster in a Box (1992), featuring the late Spalding Gray; Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (1995); Kurt & Courtney (1998); Biggie and Tupac (2002); and, Sarah Palin: You Betcha! (2011).

His latest is Whitney: Can I Be Me, a heartbreaking work that charts the meteoric rise and addiction fuelled decline of America’s Pop Princess, the late Whitney Houston. The film is a combination of fresh interview footage and archival content, the most remarkable being concert and backstage footage shot in 1999 by the great Rudi Dolezal. From his car, sitting immobile in the daily traffic gridlock of one of Los Angeles busiest motorways, Nick Broomfield spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about his unauthorised exposé of one of pop culture’s sweetest, saddest talents…  

SCREEN-SPACE: Was a Whitney Houston project in your plans, or did Rudi’s footage give it impetus, a fresh focus?

BROOMFIELD: Rudi’s footage certainly gave it more focus and impetus, but I was working for a year without his footage. I’d done my interviews and got all the music together and was thinking about my edit when I met with Rudi this time last year and we decided to amalgamate our forces. I did not know going in I would have his footage but I was completely delighted when I saw it. It was unique and intimate and never been seen before. I have a profound respect for what Rudi managed to do. It was the luck of the Gods that it all worked out this way. (Pictured, right; Whitney I Can Be Me co-director, Rudi Dolezal)

SCREEN-SPACE: The chasm between her soaring talent and beauty and the depths of her addictions and mental health issues is heartbreaking. How do you perceive of her rise and fall?

BROOMFIELD: She was an incredibly sweet kid, who was funny, funny, funny growing up on the streets of Newark. She was someone who wanted everyone around her to be happy, so went along with the flow to a big extent. In that regard, she was malleable, which I think is what Clive Davis had been looking. She had talent but, unlike Aretha Franklin or Dionne Warwick, was very new to her career and talent. She was the perfect vehicle for Clive’s vision. But she paid an enormous price for that because, like most creations, they fall apart, when they want to be themselves. They don’t want to be something they know they are not.

SCREEN-SPACE: Having been devoutly involved with her neigbourhood, the backlash from the black community clearly left scars…

BROOMFIELD: It was increasingly hard for her to be ‘Whitney Houston’, particularly with the whole racial thing in the United States, which was so powerful. It was very hard for her to not be accepted by her own people, by the black community, who thought she was sell-out. They called her ‘Oreo Cookie’ or ‘Whitey Houston’, and that was pretty devastating for her. She couldn’t understand where that was coming from. I’m sure Bobby Brown had much more influence than he would have done if these things hadn’t happened. As soon as she stopped being the ‘angel’, the American Sweetheart, which took awhile to happen, and she became the target of ridicule on the late night talk shows…well, I think she was very thin-skinned and that response drove her deeper into her addictions. It was a sad downward spiral. (Pictured, above; Whitney Houston)

SCREEN-SPACE: It is fascinating to view her in hindsight, of her place in 80s pop culture. There was Madonna’s rawness, Michael Jackson’s ‘King of Pop’ status, Springsteen’s working class man persona. Whitney was the 'Princess', an innocent who just wanted to dance with somebody. In the end, it was all that was shitty about the 80s – drugs, corporatisation, race issues – that claimed her…

BROOMFIELD: That's very true. It was decade where all the black artists wanted to make the crossover to this big white audience, and I think the degree of sacrifice they had to make to achieve that was enormous. Not only in what they sang, but how they had to portray themselves. It was very much about forgetting or ignoring where they came from (to become) something that was acceptable in this country. In the same way that O.J. Simpson kind of ended up in a no man’s land that cast him as neither black nor white, Whitney went through not dissimilar things for a long time. When she decided to get back to her roots, she did it with a vengeance, with real defiance.

SCREEN-SPACE: Your film is typically insightful and thorough, but there’s a softer edge to how you approach her story as opposed to your portraits of Kurt Cobain or Tupac or Heidi Fleiss. Did the nature of her story demand that or are you getting melancholy in your old age?

BROOMFIELD: (Laughs) Well, it might be both. I think the film I did before this one, Tales of The Grim Sleeper, was also tender and more loving so, yes, maybe that’s true. Maybe there is more heart in it (pause). You know, I was definitely moved, unexpectedly moved by Whitney’s story. The editor and I would often have tears welling up as we cut it, and we’d both seen it I don’t know how many eyes. It is a very moving, very tragic story.

SCREEN-SPACE: Looking back at your portrait films, those that have featured the likes of Spalding Gray, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, and now Whitney Houston, can you see a through a line in these character types that your films address?

BROOMFIELD: People who give what all those artists give in a performance, who feel things so deeply, who are that charismatic…well, it’s very hard for them to fly so close to the sun and not get burnt. They so celebrate life, are so life affirming, that when we are in their presence you feel alive. Because they are so alive, they make incredible film subjects; they have that elixir. We are excited by the shiniest star and all those people have that, don’t they? Also, they are the icons of our time in history, of the culture we are part of. Portraits of people who have significance to our time and place are fascinating and speak volumes.

WHITNEY: I CAN BE ME screens June 7 and 9 at the Sydney Film Festival before a nationwide release on June 15 via Rialto Distribution. Festival session and ticket details can be found at the event’s official website

Friday
May262017

THE GATEWAY BUG: THE JOHANNA B. KELLY INTERVIEW

Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, may be the ecological ‘get out of jail’ card the planet needs. So say the band of cricket-munching, fly-swallowing, moth-chewing experts featured in The Gateway Bug, the fascinating and wildly entertaining advocacy documentary to screen at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July. Alongside collaborator Cameron Marshad (“The grasshopper tacos are incredible”), director Johanna B. Kelly hopes their film will be at the forefront of a new era of environmentally sustainable food consumption in western culture. “By the time I’m a grandma, we’re going to be looking at a very different food landscape,” the Melbourne-born filmmaker tells SCREEN-SPACE from her New York residence…

SCREEN-SPACE: What first impressed you that alternative food sourcing and specifically a bug-based diet would fill a feature documentary?

KELLY: I first heard about entomophagy over brunch when one of our main characters, marine biologist Tyler Isaac, was explaining the overfishing problem. We are fishing wild fish to feed farmed fish and he explained how illogical that was and how insects could perform that function, using far less resources. The same can be applied to human consumption. That’s when I was also introduced to the edible insect consumer products already on the market. He shared the UN warning from 2013 that food production must increase 70% by 2050 but warned that's impossible, referencing a now very famous paper that entomophagy was a viable alternative option. We discussed how 50% of grain is fed to livestock and that feeding livestock insects could reduce greenhouse emissions immensely; how insects release far less ammonia and methane than pigs and cattle; and, how they take up less space and water. They have twice the protein of beef, more calcium than milk, all 9 essential amino acids and more iron than spinach. A global shift to an ento/plant-based diet would reduce mortality 10% and cut up to 70% of Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2050. By the end of brunch, we were in total agreement that a doc must be made to share all of this. (Pictured, top; from l-r, Cameron Marshad and Johanna B. Kelly).

SCREEN-SPACE: I like the stylised way in which you present your arguments, including the use of animation, on-screen text and archival content. How was the tone of the film decided upon?

KELLY: We started simplistically, researching interview subjects, conducting interviews and building our story. As the editing, scripting and story building progressed, we realized that animations would help visualize some of the more complex arguments presented. We began to feel that talking heads were boring and information about how our environment got to it’s current state could be shared using footage from 50 years ago; it’s fascinating to see that the exact issues we face now were raised as concerns back then. As a cinephile, I couldn’t resist trawling through months of archival to prove that actually none of this is new news. I adore Adam Curtis (Bitter Lake, 2015; Hypernormalisation, 2016) and his masterful weaving of archival footage to describe current affairs so that probably influenced my style for sure.

SCREEN-SPACE: You were blessed with some fascinating personalities. Do you believe these are the men and women who can lead the charge for food industry reform? What personality traits bind them and their chosen paths?

KELLY: These personalities were part of what drove us to create the feature. Given Tyler’s brunch spiel had inspired us to make the film and that we met Sonny and Kevin early on, we knew we had some great stories with them alone. The personality traits that bind them are an honest desire for acquiring the knowledge necessary to help solve the major crisis we currently face. This takes bravery and fearlessness, so I do think they will all make a difference. But the point of the film is that all of us possess an element of that desire to do good in the world and help heal the past to protect our future. I’m an optimist; I believe that armed with knowledge, people behave in altruistic ways. After watching our film, our audiences can become empowered to make those changes to their lifestyles, which in turn influences others to make those changes. I sincerely hope that these characters are the starting point for a revolution of empowered armchair activists to change the world through their own diets and habits. The onus doesn’t necessarily rest entirely on those characters to achieve that personally but on all of us to heed their call. (Pictured, above; model Terese Pagh with a cricket-based protein bar, The Gateway Bug)

SCREEN-SPACE: Were you conscious of not just 'preaching to the converted', of not allowing entomophagy to appear to be a 'hipster trend'?

KELLY: We were mindful to retain as much journalistic integrity as possible. It was critical to us that our film come across in the form we discovered it, by letting individuals share their stories and enlightening the audience that way. It was one of the primary reasons we avoided narration or VO. And entomophagy isn’t a hipster trend; over 2 billion people worldwide practice it. It’s more of a cultural shift that the West may or may not be ready for. Irrespective, there is no reason we can’t consider shifting animal diets and the way we respect food and food waste. The idea is to start with what can work and move on from there. A great analogy is sushi. 80s’ yuppies being exotic made it big in the West but in Japan it was just regular food. So it’s not such a stretch to see a similar progressive shift towards insect eating in our society.

SCREEN-SPACE: Since filming finished, there is a new administration with a more regressive, pro-'big business' agenda that will only strengthen the traditional industrial agricultural sector. What does the future hold for alternative sector start-ups and entrepreneurs such as those in your film?

KELLY: I worry that more critical to the success of these industries is the new administration’s regressive attitude on climate change. Attitudes impact policy, which in turn affects subsidies and investment. All of these companies rely on a common understanding of current scientific opinion to ensure progress is made and awareness maintained. I remain optimistic that global attitudes towards science being real and common sense surrounding what we can see with our own eyes will prevail ultimately. Flint, Michigan isn’t getting clean water any time soon. To quote Alanis Obomsawin, “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.” Our dream is that it doesn’t have to come to that for individuals to start changing habits. (Pictured, above; ground cricket powder)

SCREEN-SPACE: You never turn the camera on yourself so; the big question is - what bugs have you eaten?

KELLY: Ah, a great time to point out that people with shellfish allergies should not eat insects! Having experienced anaphylaxis twice now, I have avoided them to preserve my life. Cameron however adores them. He frequently noshes on dry roasted crickets at his desk and enjoys the protein bars. He says his favourite insect product he’s tasted is the black soldier fly larvae you see Dave Gracer try at the end of the film at the Eating Insects Detroit conference. Although not a product being sold on the market to consumers currently, apparently it tastes like curry butter and he talked about it for months after we’d left so he certainly sold me on it!

THE GATEWAY BUG screens at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 16. Ticket and session details via the event's official website.

'The Gateway Bug' Trailer - A documentary feature film about feeding humanity in an uncertain age from Cameron Marshad on Vimeo.

Tuesday
May092017

FIVE DAYS ON LESVOS: THE RICHARD WYLLIE INTERVIEW

In the summer of 2015, director Richard Wyllie and his producer, Sam Brown, left behind their London base and travelled 1500 miles to the Greek island of Lesvos. Their aim was to craft a documentary that examined the role the outpost played as the entry point for an increasing number of refugees, fleeing conflict and oppression via a dangerous ocean crossing. The finished film, an extraordinary work called Five Days on Lesvos, would ultimately capture a tipping point in one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in European history. Richard Wyllie spoke with SCREEN-SPACE ahead of the Australian premiere of his film at the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

SCREEN-SPACE: What were your impressions that first day you set foot amongst the refugees of Lesvos?

WYLLIE: I remember thinking how much these people are just like me. Many find the refugee crisis difficult to relate to because the people involved speak a different language (or) the Middle East seems like a different world. But meeting the people, seeing their clothes, hearing about their lives before the conflict, brought it home that it isn’t too much of a leap to imagine myself in that situation. They were businessmen, doctors, students. I wondered what it would take to make me flee my home and make a terrifying journey across the sea with my family. These people are fleeing death and destruction, we should be under no illusions about that. As the week progressed, the sheer numbers of people arriving was pretty overwhelming. We’d film one boat coming in at dawn, head back to the hotel to eat breakfast and there’d be two more boats on the horizon. The volunteers on the island were fantastic, and just as relentless as the boats; they would just carry on helping, getting refugees off the beach, going back for more, all day long.

SCREEN-SPACE: Did the film evolve as you’d envisioned it would? Were there discoveries you made between pre-production and arriving on the island that altered your vision?

WYLLIE (pictured, right): We knew we wanted to make a film about both the refugees and those helping them. Filming on Lesvos was supposed to just be the beginning. We thought we might want to track some refugees across Europe, over months or even years. I called Eric, who you see at the beginning of the film, and he was happy for me to film his work, so we simply agreed to meet him at 6am on top of that hill. We had no idea what we would actually capture during that week. (But) that particular week saw a massive increase in the numbers of refugees; although many refugees had arrived in Greece before this, that week marked an escalation of the crisis. What you see in the film is the effect of that – the island becomes overwhelmed and ordinary volunteers step up to help. It was only when we got home that the idea of simply telling the story of those five days came to us. It really was shot in five days, the characters coming in and out of the film in the same way we met them during filming. Narratively, it worked very well. As the edit progressed, this structure made more and more sense. I like the cyclical nature of what’s happening, because that is what it felt like when we were there.

SCREEN-SPACE: Did you set out to make a political statement, a humanist drama or a historical snapshot?

WYLLIE: Probably a bit of all three, to be honest. Samantha (Brown, the producer) and I were getting increasingly frustrated with the depiction of the refugee crisis in the British media. Our politicians were using phrases like ‘swarms of people’ and the right wing press didn’t question any of this. We wanted to make something that gave faces to the refugees, emphasizing their humanity. I don’t like to make films with an overt message, telling people what to think. I like to let people decide for themselves. The best way to do this is to show the situation through the eyes of the characters, let their experiences tell the story, revealing the human drama naturally. It’s the reason why I let the pictures run for quite a lot of the film – I want the audience to decide for themselves what they’re seeing. Some people have said the film is very sympathetic to the refugees, but we simply filmed what was going on. There’s no way you can’t feel sympathy for people in that situation. Historically, we thought that we had perhaps captured the pinnacle of the refugee crisis. In retrospect, we not only captured the beginning of the crisis, but also the beginning of a turning point in the politics of Europe. The refugee crisis has been a trigger for much of the current tumult in European politics, such as Brexit, the increased rightwing fervor and populism. Eighteen months on from those events, the film takes on a new relevance as the political situation develops. Those five days were, to an extent, the catalyst of all that.

SCREEN-SPACE: How do you reconcile the dichotomy of your life as a documentarian? Do you struggle with being so close to the human condition while maintaining the distance your lens affords you?

WYLLIE: I was confronted with something I hadn’t ever experienced as a filmmaker – the compulsion to put the camera down and help. Usually, filming in crisis situations, you’re in the presence of experts who are far better placed to assist people in need. Your job is to film and document. But here, it was ordinary people who were helping; there was so much to do with every boat that landed on the shore. So I would film some of it whilst Sam tried to help people off the boats. We spent some of the time ferrying people off the beach and down into the town; there were elderly people, pregnant women, children, who were in no shape to walking those kinds of distances.

SCREEN-SPACE: What do you hope western audiences, such as the Melbourne Doc fest crowd, take from the experience of watching Five Days in Lesvos? 

WYLLIE: I hope that people come away realising that these people, and refugees across the world, don’t give up their homes and make these dangerous journeys because they want more money, or welfare from foreign governments. They just want safety for themselves and for their families.  These people deserve our help and, having met them, I’ve no doubt they’d do the same if the tables were turned.

FIVE DAYS ON LESVOS will screen as part of the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July. Session and ticket details can be found at the event's website here.

Tuesday
Jun212016

FRESH FACT-BASED FEST SET TO WARM SOUTHERN CINEPHILES

The cinematic landscape of Australia’s most cosmopolitan capital develops further with the launch of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. From July 9, the three day event will transform the Howler Art Space in the inner-city hub of Brunswick into a forum for local and international factual filmmakers, all vying for competitive honours in what promises to be a true celebration of short- and long-form documentary skill. The man in charge is Festival Director Lyndon Stone, one of the southern city’s most respected film curators after stints with the Made in Melbourne and Melbourne Underground film events. “I wanted to pay Melbourne back and provide opportunities for others,” Stone told SCREEN-SPACE when we chatted about his aims and ambitions for the new event…

SCREEN-SPACE: What was the key programming goal you set for the festival?

STONE: The central quality or theme that makes Australian cinema so powerful and so iconic is irreverence. I don’t define irreverence as being disrespectful, it’s just that our films don’t take themselves too seriously and are playful with cinematic conventions. Whilst I love ‘showcase’ documentary film festivals, I find their schedules and programming to be incredibly serious. So, we wanted to do something a little bit different. We wanted to look at creating a fun and exciting documentary film festival like Sundance, SXSW or DOC NYC, (one) that was playful with the documentary genre. My goal was to put together a festival that showcases documentaries that are relevant, thought provoking, moving and have a broader appeal to a majority of Australians.

SCREEN-SPACE: Curating a documentary festival carries with it inherent social value, given the genre’s ability to confront often unspoken truths...

STONE: We wanted to do some social good. We want to present a socially liberal film festival comprised of a diverse and challenging slate that supports and promotes women, Aboriginal, Asian and LGBTI documentaries.  Despite our time constraints, I think we have been successful for the most part. Clearly, there are some ongoing inequalities in the film sector and we are utilizing media like We Are Moving Stories, Documentary Drive and Women in Film Melbourne to promote the documentaries submitted by women. As it stands, approximately 25% of the films screening at Australasian festivals are directed by women; our final total was well over 40%. We have an award for best Aboriginal Feature or Short to encourage greater indigenous participation. More can be done, of course, and the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival wants to be part of the solution, making the film sector a more inclusive, equal and fair place for all. We also want to ensure that what matters the most is not who directed the documentary, how old they are, what sex they are, what religion they are, where they come from, what ethnicity they are, but that it is simply the best documentary that was submitted to the festival. (Pictured, right; A scene from Goodnight Brooklyn The Story of Death by Audio). 

SCREEN-SPACE: What most surprised you about the submissions you received this year?

I have become a huge fan of the Irish documentary sector, which I found incredibly well made, socio-realistic and exciting. I’ve also come across a rare type of film called A Billion Lives by director Aaron Biebert, a social justice documentary about vaping, e-cigarettes and big tobacco that tackles some very complex issues in a very accessible way. Bullied to Death, from Italian director Giovanni Coda, avoids the preachy or didactic, instead presenting an avant garde reality for many honest Australian families; bullying in Australia is an epidemic and needs to stop. Karen Collin's Beep is a great documentary about the history of video-game sound. And Marketa Tomanova's Andre Villers, a Lifetime in Images (pictured, top) tells of a selfless, humble, introverted and talented photographer who is worthy of further examination.



SCREEN-SPACE: Tech developments have taken the genre to new heights, but is replacing the unique aesthetics of shot-on-film docos of the past a good thing? Has the 'artform' been altered irreparably?

STONE: What I find so interesting and intriguing about the documentary genre is that the more it changes, the more it stays the same. Like horror and sci-fi, documentary is a genre that is continually innovating and moving forward into different areas but the more documentary changes as a genre, the more the filmmakers seem to adhere, or at least pay homage, to basic guiding principles. Some of my favourite documentaries, like Waltz with Bashir, still push genre conventions but at the same time stay true to the form as well. The documentary is never stagnant. What I would hate to see is for documentary and reality TV to somehow converge, but we won’t let that happen.

SCREEN-SPACE: What does a competitive festival like the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival mean to the documentary community, both in Australia and abroad?

STONE: We want to put Melbourne on the map for documentary. By having a competitive film festival solely dedicated to factual filmmaking, we have already been lucky enough to attract works and directors from the best documentary film festivals in the world.  We also want to support local documentary filmmakers and give them the impetus to keep honing their craft. As you know, in this business you have to be a fighter and incredibly resilient. I have not had the elevator to success in the film sector. I have to take the stairs every day, but it’s made me more empathetic, more humble, kinder and more forgiving. I remember recently late one night I received an email from a local Australian filmmaker who had been doing it tough, which simply read, “I have really wanted to be a documentary filmmaker and being accepted into your festival has given me renewed motivation to keep going and to keep striving towards my dream.” Feedback like that is incredibly heartening. (Pictured, right; A scene from Tanya Doyle's Waterlilies)

The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival runs July 9-11. Session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.

Wednesday
May112016

NOTES ON A SCANDAL: THE SCOTT HICKS INTERVIEW

Brilliant, often troubled personalities consumed by the power of music have yielded rewarding cinema for director Scott Hicks. After conquering the world and earning two 1996 Oscar nominations for his David Helfgott biopic, Shine, the Adelaide-based filmmaker delved into the complex genius of Philip Glass in his 2007 documentary, Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts. His latest journey into the flawed brilliance of musical obsessiveness is Highly Strung, an intimate portrait of the Australian String Quartet in the grip of member conflict and of the all-consuming power of the classic Stradivarius and Guadagnini string instruments with which they ply their trade. Ahead of the film’s Australian season, Hicks spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about his latest ‘music on film’ opus…

SCREEN-SPACE: As someone with a layman’s comprehension of classical music, Highly Strung was a very accessible film.

Hicks: That’s always heartening to hear because one of the great challenges was to how to make a film about these rare instruments and the rarefied world in which they exist and what fascinating obsessions drive it. Obviously, it enhances it a bit if you know a little bit about classical music, but this is a story about people who are possessed by these ideas.

SCREEN-SPACE: Given the events that unfold as the shoot progresses, how close to your original vision for the film is in the final mix?

Hicks: (Laughs) Oh, no, the whole nature of the film changed as I was making it. That represents the purity, the lifeblood, of documentary filmmaking. You can set out with a plan, with an idea; you have to have some sort of concept of what you are trying to do. But, at the same time, life has a habit of unfolding in its own direction and you have to follow where the film takes you. I had in mind something that probably would’ve been a bit more historical, with a bit more information about the instruments. But I got caught up in the day-to-day world of these individuals and went with that, and some unexpected developments happened. (Pictured, above; ex-ASQ first violin, Christian Winther, in Highly Strung)

SCREEN-SPACE: Did you envision the clash of personalities that ultimate played out?

Hicks: I filmed the very first concert of the Australian String Quartet’s new line-up, with these four magnificent Guadagnini instruments, and from day one I began to get an idea of the tensions that underlie these musicians. What a struggle it is to find a band that can stay together! Which I guess is true of any type of music. What do The Rolling Stones have over any other band? They stayed together (laughs).

SCREEN-SPACE: The sheer diversity of personalities that are possessed by this love of classic string music, and of the Stradiviri and Guadagnini instruments in particular, is remarkable.

Hicks: The music is the language of the film. Everyone in the film speaks the same language, but they all have their own agenda, whether they are musicians or dealers or collectors or craftsmen. Everything about their lives is filtered through these incredibly well engineered pieces of wood that are 300 years old. The passion was so infectious, none more so than in the hedge fund dealer in New York who, while cradling his Stradivari, says “Of all my investments around the world this is the only one I can touch.” And then he proceeds to play it! It is this passion that I was certain audiences could connect with regardless of the knowledge of classical music. (Pictured, above; Cremona-based luthier, Roberto Cavagnoli, right).

SCREEN-SPACE: Between the flawed, maddening genius of Christian and the grace and dignity of Roberto, your film finds its yin-yang, attains a fine balance.

Hicks: There is an amazing thing that emerges when you are making films and it applies as much to the documentaries as it does to the dramas I’ve created, and it’s called casting (laughs). I had no way of knowing what these people would be like on this journey, but it turned out that there were these archetypal figures, the yin-yang as you say – the passionate, flawed genius of the first violinist in Christian, set against the almost ‘old world’ feeling of Roberto, the luthier from Cremona, crafting by hand an identical copy of a Guadagnini cello from a plank of wood. Between those forces, that ‘force field’, there is a universe of ideas that I found fascinating.

SCREEN-SPACE: And acting as a kind of matriarchal spirit is the charismatic figure of Ulrike Klein…

Hicks: Well, Ulrike was the starting point for the film. She came to my wife Kerry (the film’s producer) and said she was collecting the four Guadagnini instruments, to loan to the ASQ in the hope that they would achieve an even greater standing in the world of international music. She said, “Do you think there is a story in this?” and immediately I could see the complexities that existed between all the diverse passions at play in this small world. What was so intriguing was that I began to ask myself what was intrinsic to Ulrike that lead her to this philanthropic, cultural idea. What happened, as you see in the film, is what I like to call a kind of ‘Rosebud’ moment, when it is revealed that her passion stems from a thwarted childhood desire. (Pictured, above; the director with Ulrike Klein)

SCREEN-SPACE: Which, in many ways, recalls a crucial part of the narrative of Shine…

Hicks: Exactly. In Shine, the first kind of ‘musical’ film that I made, there was a story element that was central to David Helfgott’s upbringing. In the film, his father says something like, “When I was a child, I saved and saved for my first violin, which I wanted more than anything, and when I got it, my father smashed it.” It was a thwarted musical instinct, just like that which emerges about Ulrike, that was so much part of the Shine story.

SCREEN-SPACE: Have you ever drawn a line between the artistry and talent of your subjects and the artistry and talent you bring as the filmmaker?

Hicks: (Pause). When I made the film about Philip Glass, on the very first day of shooting I pulled out my camera and started filming Philip cooking us pizza in his kitchen at Nova Scotia. In the process of cooking, he kept turning around and talking to me behind the camera, saying things like, “Do you like garlic, Scott?” And I’d answer, “Well, yes, but stop talking to me, Philip, I’m the documentarian” (laughs) But as the shoot progressed, I began to realise that that was the film and that he was inviting a relationship with me and choosing to ignore the fact that I was holding a camera. That created a tremendous sort of intimacy. What began as me thinking ‘Well I won’t be able to use this,’ actually dictated and drove the tone of the film. The same thing sort of applies in Highly Strung, in that you’re not pretending you are not there because the presence of the camera impacts upon every situation. And it would be crazy to imagine otherwise. It is, essentially, an attempt at some level of honesty about your engagement and involvement with these people as people. I think somewhere in there I answer your question, partially (laughs).

HIGHLY STRUNG begins a limited theatrical season in Australia on May 19 via Sharmill Films.