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Entries in Documentary (30)



The third annual Melbourne Design Week will this year examine how cinema and design co-exist as art forms with a screening program of films celebrating vision, invention and ambition. The unique festival-within-a-festival has been constructed by Richard Sowada, a programmer whose status as one of our best curatorial minds was honed overseeing Perth’s Revelation and Sydney’s American Essentials seasons. “There's some real spirituality in many of the titles and they're filled with beautiful clean lines and wonderful philosophy,” he told SCREEN-SPACE, ahead of the 10-day schedule set to unfurl in Australia’s first UNESCO City of Design…

“The brief for this program was ‘experimentation’ and that's precisely what these films are about,” says Sowada (pictured, below), who has chosen films from such fields as architecture, photography, industrial and product innovation, futurism, urban planning and the history of design, as well as the aesthetics of the natural world. “They're about experimentation with space, philosophy, mechanics, texture, people, psychology and colour. With those parameters, cinema and design exist in the same space and place.”

Among the 11 films that will screen as part of the Melbourne Design Week Film Festival are Adrian McCarthy’s Portrait of a Gallery, an all-access insight into The National Gallery of Ireland’s enormous refurbishment project; Rob Lindsay’s Relics of the Future, photographer Toni Hafkenscheid’s study of iconic 1960s architectural structures once considered ‘futuristic’; Mies on Scene. Barcelona in Two Acts, a stirring account of the history of the iconic Barcelona Pavillon from directors Xavi Camprecios and Pep Martin; and, Chad Friedrich’s The Experimental City, which explores the plans to construct a full-size eco-friendly city from scratch in the isolated woods of northern Minnesota.

“The films have a different kind of character to other documentaries and they by and large marry style and content very well,” says Sowada. “They are works of art/design in their own right, filled with light, space and texture.” He points to two examples in particular as most synonymous with his programming objectives – Mark Lewis’ Inventions, a whirling tour of cityscapes that pays homage to the City Symphony films of the 1920s; and, Homo Sapiens (pictured, top), a breathtaking, heartbreaking testament to forgotten structures from Austrian visualist Nikolaus Geyrhalter. “No dialogue, true symphonic pieces that demand to be seen on the big screen in the highest fidelity,” he say, noting, “This is one of the things I think films in this genre embrace - scale.”

Further emphasizing the theme of scale and mankind’s relationship to both the natural world and landscapes of our own creation are Jennifer Baichwal’s Watermark, a visual essay on our often tenuous co-existence with water, as shot by the great photographer Edward Burtynsky; Mark Noonan’s biographical feature on arguably America’s greatest living structuralist, Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect; and, In Between the Mountains and The Oceans (trailer, below), a chronicle of the building of the great Japanese temple Ise Jingu as captured by acclaimed photographer Masa-aki Miyazawa. (Pictured, above; a still from Rob Lindsay's Relics of the Future)

Richard Sowada hopes that his line-up of films will strengthen and more clearly define the common bond between cinema and design construction. “Ultimately, they're about emotion and connection with the viewer/user,” he says. “If they're to have a lasting effect they need to come from an authentic place and have a reason to be. These deeper connections cut across time and borders - they are understandable in a universal way. They’re so clean and pure but also are filled with drama and challenge.”

The MELBOURNE DESIGN WEEK FILM FESTIVAL will run from March 14-24 at the Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn, and Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick. Full session and ticketing details can be fount at the official website.



In 2018, the U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report stated that, “The Government of Vietnam does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” It has only been 12 months since Vietnamese penal code amendments criminalized all forms of labor trafficking took affect, yet they are changes that still fall short of outlawing all forms of child sex trafficking. For Ben Randall, the reality of the State Department findings motivate his every waking hour; the 2011 abduction and illegal trafficking into China of two of his young friends inspired the Australian filmmaker to make Sisters for Sale, a heartbreaking documentary that follows his attempts to not only find his missing friends, but also understand the social and political context in which such horrible acts can continue to occur.

Ahead of the film’s Australian Premiere at the 2019 Screenwave International Film Festival, Randall (pictured, above; in China's Guangdong province) spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the extraordinary lives of May and Pang, the young women at the centre of his documentary; the nature of his relationship with the Hmong community of North Vietnam; and, the formation of his anti-trafficking organization, The Human, Earth Project

SCREEN-SPACE: How did this become your crusade? Where were you in your life when you decided that engaging with the girl’s plight was your mission?

RANDALL: In 2012, I went through a very difficult time in my life. I found myself suddenly and unexpectedly with no home, no money, and no job in a city where I couldn't speak the language. A few people helped me get back on my feet, and I understood what a difference a good friend could make - not just in a material sense, but just knowing that someone cared. I wanted to pay that forward. My Hmong friend May had been kidnapped from Vietnam a few months earlier. I hadn't done anything because it didn't seem like there was anything much I could do. The trail had gone cold, and there was only a one-in-a-million chance of ever finding her - but I decided to give it my best shot. So I launched The Human, Earth Project. (Pictured, above; a street kidnapping in progress, from the film Sisters for Sale). 

SCREEN-SPACE: It is coming up on a decade since your English teaching assignment in Hmong became a lesson in the local custom of marriage-via-abduction. How altered was your life path and goals by the kidnapping of your friends in 2011-12?

RANDALL: The decision to return to Asia to search for May and Pang changed my life completely. The life I've lived over the past six years since the beginning of the project has been a difficult and occasionally dangerous one, with a huge amount of work and very little money - but I've been working towards something that's deeply important to me, which has given my life a real sense of meaning and purpose. I'd rather have that than be drifting through an easy, meaningless life, as I have been in the past. I've learned a lot about myself, what I'm capable of, and where my limitations lie, and my entire outlook on life has changed. (Pictured, left; Randall with Pang, centre, and her mother in Sapa, October 2014) 

SCREEN-SPACE: Much of the film is pure guerrilla-filmmaking, capturing what you can we you can in often very tense situations. Did local officials or the trafficking industry ever compromise the shoot?  

RANDALL: Sisters for Sale was shot in regions where there is a large and profitable industry in human lives. While it was never our intention to criticise Vietnam or China, both countries are highly sensitive to foreign media. In a sense, we were caught between the law and the outlaws, and it was critical to hide our investigation from both. We were living a strange double life. We relied on private contributions to continue the investigation, so while we were being extremely secretive about our work in person, we were publicising it online. It was risky work; we'll never know how close we were to being caught, but we were certainly lucky at times. 

SCREEN-SPACE: Has Sisters For Sale screened in Vietnam? Have the people of the village seen the film? 

RANDALL: As a filmmaker, I feel it's extremely important to spend time with your subject and do everything you can to understand it. Otherwise you're only passing on your own prejudices. I spent 15 months in Vietnam and China; Sapa, the primary location, was my home, the subjects of the film were my friends, and I was working closely with local people throughout production. Some of my friends from Sapa have seen the film and been extremely supportive of it. A planned screening in the capital city, Hanoi, fell through last month. We haven't yet made any other plans to screen in Vietnam, but will do so in the new year. (Pictured, above; young Hmong women in Sapa, from Sisters for Sale) 

SCREEN-SPACE: Are organisations such as your The Human, Earth Project and the similarly motivated Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation backed by western government dollars?

RANDALL: Blue Dragon Children's Foundation is a larger and longer-running organisation, which receives support from governments, organisations and individuals around the world. Our own project, The Human, Earth Project, is yet to acquire any major funding, and relies on the support of individuals. The Australian government has had no direct involvement with our work in Vietnam, and I'm not aware of their involvement in the region. Over the past six years, our work has been supported by thousands of people from over 70 countries. We're aware that there's always more we can be doing to raise awareness of human trafficking.

SCREEN-SPACE: This has been a long journey – for you, the girls, and the film; in every sense, it has proven a mammoth undertaking. What are the tangible benefits of the project’s existence? And what role does it need to play into the future?

RANDALL: It has been a long, strange journey for all of us, and it's fantastic to finally be sharing Sisters for Sale with the world. In making the film, I've been very careful not to oversimplify the human trafficking crisis in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys", as it is often presented in the media. It's a very complex issue, and I've worked hard to understand all points of view. The first step in solving any problem is awareness, and that's our goal. Our work has already reached millions of people around the world, even before the film's release. Many people have been surprised by the depth and nuance in the story. It has already sparked countless discussions around human trafficking and women's rights, and encouraged many people to support anti-trafficking efforts. The film itself will be used to raise awareness and support for Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, Alliance Anti-Trafic, and our own ongoing work. We're making plans to tour the film, and have been approached by a major publisher interested to develop the story as a book, which I'm writing now. Sisters for Sale is a fascinating and unique story, one that can make a real difference in the fight against the global human trafficking crisis. We'll keep working to get it out there. (Pictured, above; Hmong women from the Sapa valley in North Vietnam, as seen in Sisters for Sale)

SISTERS FOR SALE will screen Wednesday January 16 at the Screenwave International Film Festival. Full ticketing and session details can be found at the event's official website.

SCREEN-SPACE supports the efforts of The Human, Earth Project. The organization requires the generosity of donors to continue its work. Please follow this link to contribute to their mission.




The strengthening of Coffs Harbour as a thriving film culture hub continues on January 10 when the 2019 Screenwave International Film Festival (SWIFF) rolls out the sandy red carpet. One of New South Wales’ most prestigious yet relaxed screening events, SWIFF has crafted a rigorously challenging roster, both artistically and intellectually, with bold new works from such fearless filmmakers as Lars Von Trier, Michael Moore, Lynne Ramsay and Gaspar Noé.

The two-pronged festival directing team of Dave Horsley and Kate Howat signal this year’s direction from Opening Night, with the hot-button social satire Terror Nullius kicking off the 16-day festival. A coarse, canny and brutally funny skewering of racism, patriarchy and social injustice, it is the work of Melbourne creative team Soda Jerk (pictured, below; Soda Jerk's Dan and Dominique Angeloro) who employ montage technique to rework classic Australian film scenes into fresh contemporary commentary. Closing Night honours have been bestowed upon Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, featuring a Golden Globe nominated Willem Dafoe as painter Vincent van Gogh.

The 2019 program statistics are impressive -60 films from 20 countries, including 14 Australian works and 30 films from women directors. Female identity and gender politics are addressed in the strand ‘Women of Action’, which highlights five films shot through the lens of women filmmakers. These include ¡Las Sandanistas!, documentarian Jenny Murray’s account of Nicaraguan warrior women; Stephanie Wang-Breal’s Blowin’ Up, an insider’s perspective of the lawyers fighting for the rights of sex workers in America’s broken justice system; and, Maysaloun Hamoud’s In Between, an Israeli-French co-production examining the clash of old and new cultures for three Palestinian women.

The vast World Cinema line-up fully justifies SWIFF’s standing on the international festival circuit, with 21 films set to unspool. Arriving uncut after inspiring shocked walkouts at its Cannes screening is Lars Von Trier’s serial killer saga, The House That Jack Built; bad boy Gaspar Noé captures a drug-addled descent into dance-party hell in Climax (pictured, top); and, the enigmatic Lynne Ramsay explores the nature of violence with leading man Joaquin Phoenix in her hitman thriller, You Were Never Really Here.

Some of the most acclaimed films from our global region will screen in World Cinema, with Ana Urushadze’s Scary Mother (Georgia/Estonia), Hirokazu Koreeda’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters (Japan) and Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum (Lebanon) all earning kudos from the Asia Pacific Screen Academy’s award body. Other countries represented include The Netherlands (Lukas Dhont’s Cannes FIPRESCI prize winner, Girl); Kenya (Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki; pictured, right); Bulgaria (Milko lazarov’s Aga); and, Poland (Spoor, from the directing team of Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik).

Of course, Australian filmmakers are at the fore with strands covering fiction and non-fiction features. Heath Davis’ crowd-pleaser Book Week, Jason Raftopoulos’ father/son drama West of Sunshine starring the late Damian Hill, and Ted Wilson’s Tassie-set drama Under The Cover of Cloud are set to screen. The documentary sector will be represented by such acclaimed works as Ben Lawrence’s riveting Ghosthunter, Gabrielle Brady’s heartbreaking Island of The Hungry Ghosts, and Ben Randall’s teen-girl trafficking expose, Sisters For Sale, as well as the World Premiere of local filmmaker Ian Thompson’s Becoming Colleen.

International factual films will be presented under the banner ‘Pop Docs’, including Fahrenheit 11/9, the latest from political agitator Michael Moore, and Daniel J Clark’s flat-earther think piece, Behind the Curve. Mixing up fact and fiction will be the always popular ‘Music and The Makers’ line-up, which this year features Brett Haley’s feel-good hit Hearts Beat Loud, with Nick Offerman; Mantangi/Maya/M.I.A, Stephen Loveridge’s fly-on-the-wall coverage of the controversial UK rap sensation; and, Stephen Schible’s mesmerizing profile on the great Ryuichi Sakamoto, Coda.

SWIFF understand the breadth of its local audience and has ensured upmarket film festival types and the North Coast cool kids will be able to connect through the program. The surf film strand ‘Call of The Surf’ features the latest in ocean-themed cinema, including the late Rob Stewart’s final shark industry exposé Sharkwater Extinction and The Zimbalist Brothers profile of the Hawaiian surfing ‘new wave’ of the 1990s, Momentum Generation (pictured, right). And the amusingly-titled skater line-up, ‘Make America Skate Again’, will present three films including Bing Lui’s universally acclaimed Minding the Gap, a look at three friends who bond over their boards in America’s rust belt interior.

Two retrospective special presentations will delight cinema purists. The Coen Brothers’ cult classic O Brother, Where Art Thou? will screen accompanied by live music supplied by renowned local musos The Mid North Damn; and, in honour of the 130th birthday of the late master of cinema Charlie Chaplin, SWIFF with screen his timeless political satire The Great Dictator.

Indicative of the festival’s commitment to regional cinema and support of young filmmakers, SWIFF will screen the work of the 20 finalists in the Nextwave youth filmmaking contest. A year-long statewide high-school and community initiative which has seen 50 workshops held in 11 New South Wales’ regions will culminate with the award ceremony on January 18 at the C.ex Coffs Auditorium, where $40,000 prize money will be distributed amongst the next generation of Australian filmmaking talent. (Pictured, right; SWIFF festival director Dave Horsley)

Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with Scary Mother director Ana Urushadze and star Nato Murvandze here.

Read the SCREEN-SPACE review of Book Week here.

The 2019 Screenwave International Film Festival will run January 10-25 at two locations, The Jetty Memorial Theatre in Coffs Harbour and the Bellingen Memorial Hall. Full session and ticket information can be found at the official SWIFF website.



Wrapping its nine-day celebration of factual film last night, the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival announced works that run the gamut from tragic loss to inspirational triumph amongst the winners of its 2018 award roster.

Director Stefan Bugryn’s short film War Mothers (Матері Війні), a harrowing account of how three women have dealt with the deaths of their sons in the Ukrainian warzone, was afforded the prestigious Special Jury Prize. Burgryn (pictured, above; with war mothers Svetlana and Galina) embedded himself with the grieving mothers in high-conflict combat zones along the Eastern Front, crafting a deeply empathetic account of loss and sorrow; that dedication to truth and his craft also earned the young Melbourne-based filmmaker the Best Director (Short Film) trophy.

The Best International Short Award was bestowed upon Ex Nihilo (pictured, right), director Timo Wright’s multi-national co-production that examines via a non-linear, three-tiered narrative scientific advancements in the fields of cryonics, robotics and our own mortality. The Best Australian Short Award went to Wolfe, director Claire Randall’s examination into the psychology of a young man whose imaginary friend revealed deep secrets about his existence. A graduate of Queensland’s Griffith University, Randall has found universal acclaim for her remarkably assured debut, having already secured a Crystal Bear trophy at the Berlinale earlier this year.

The Supreme Jury Prize for Feature Documentary went to Jack Yabsley’s Kings of Baxter, a rousing account of two Shakespearean-trained actors who set out to create a version of Macbeth using teenage detainees being held at the Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre near Gosford on the New South Wales central coast. The director also secured the Best Director gong for his work, made in conjunction with the revered Bell Shakespeare Company and his production company shingle, Grumpy Sailor.

The Best International Documentary prize was awarded to Susanna Styron’s Out of My Head, an in-depth study of the truths, lies and latest revelations about migraine headaches. Afforded a personal perspective via the struggle faced by her daughter and featuring interviews with high-profile migraine sufferers such as writer Joan Didion, Styron’s documentary presents a modern medical emergency that science is only now beginning to comprehend.

The recent Australian theatrical release Kangaroo, from husband-&-wife co-directors Michael Mcintyre and Kate McIntyre-Clere, earned the Best Australian Documentary nod. The controversial examination of the nation’s love/hate/abusive relationship with the beloved marsupial has itself experienced polar opposite responses from for-and-against advocates for its often shocking exposé approach. The hometown award for Best Melbourne Documentary went to Fish Out of Water (pictured, right), filmmaker Israel Cannan’s profile of two upwardly mobile types who forego their career paths to row a wooden boat the length of the North Atlantic Ocean. 



The best film festival programs should prove daunting at first glance, be that in terms of the sheer number of films or the challenging themes and narratives they offer. The subset of Australian documentary short films on offer at the 2018 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival is itself breathtaking in scale, so we thought it best to drill down on a relatively random five that you should try to see out of the many great local efforts on offer…

Strand: Sports Docs / Aussie Shorts
Screening: Tuesday, July 10 from 7.00pm at LOOP
Synopsis: A young filmmaker documents her closest friend Gabby's struggle with bulimia, from the earliest signs of the disease through to its life-threatening nadir, using footage they recorded together over the course of their friendship (pictured, above; Gabby Bennett).
From the filmmaker: “Unfortunately, this story is more common than it is rare. And it turns out the forces against us had been at work since before we even realised it. So we figured, in order to get better, we need to unpack what’s going on inside already, and figure out where it all came from. Was it innate within us or thrust upon us?” – Jennifer Leonforte, Director (official website)

Strand: Short Sessions 1
Screening: Sunday July 8 from 12.00 at Howler
Synopsis: Renee Kelly is a prodigious rock drummer, who's also completely blind. Moving between past reflections and future dreams, Renee's story reveals a passionate and determined artist, set to a bold musical score.
From the filmmaker: “We first came across Renee a few years ago, and we knew instantly we wanted to tell her story in a short-film format. An exceptionally gifted, humble and determined musician who’s been playing the drums since age three, Renee is also profoundly blind, with no access to image or light. We wanted the audience to feel a real intimacy with Renee and for her music to be heard. We wanted her story to be told and to convey a feeling of her experience of the world and her place within it.” – Poppy Walker, Producer (read the full interview at Screen NSW)


Strand: Short Sessions 2
Screening: Tuesday, July 8 from 3.00pm at Howler
Synopsis: Unlike most kids, Nick had an imaginary friend he could really hear. His voice sounded gruff and old, and no one else could hear him. Mister Wolfe became Nick's constant companion, but before long a darker side emerged. Featuring animated scenes and a candid interview with the now 24-year-old Nick, the film portrays a collage of his psyche. Winner of the Berlinale Crystal Bear award for Best Short Film in the Generation14plus category
From the filmmakers: “My goal was to present a film about mental illness from the perception of the person experiencing it. I used a very personal story, so for it to resonate with audiences around the world is amazing.” – Claire Randall, Director (courtesy, Griffith University)

Strand: Sports Docs / Aussie Shorts
Screening: Tuesday, July 10 from 7.00pm at LOOP
Synopsis: "Which story do you want to hear? The one I tell my parents…or the one I tell my friends?” Twenty international students are propelled out of their comfort zones through theatre workshops and performances. By learning to tell their real stories they challenge and transform the narrative about Melbourne’s international student community (pictured, right; students featured in Act of Translation)
From the filmmaker: “We were unsure what the outcome would be, or if students would even show up. I knew I was in for a shooting ratio that would be a killer in the edit, filming conditions that would be in less-than-desirable neon-lit humming air conditioned spaces...but also some golden and transformative moments.” – Irene Metter, Director (read the full interview at We Are Moving Stories)

Strand: Closing Night Rock Docs
Screening: Saturday July 14 from 7.00pm at Backlot Cinemas
Synopsis: The live music scene in Sydney has seen some amazing artists get their break and establish successful careers. Sadly, venues have been closing across the city, and the culture has been irrevocably altered. So what does the live music scene in Sydney look like today, where do artists go to perform, or is the Sydney scene dead?
From the filmmaker: “We want to break the narrative that Sydney is a dead town. The more noise we can make about it, and the more people we can get supporting live music and going to gigs, the better.” Samantha Holder, Co-director (read the full interview at We Are Moving Stories)

The 2018 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL runs July 6-14 at various venues around Melbourne. Check the official website for ticketing and session information.