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Entries in Documentary (18)

Monday
Aug142017

McLAREN: THE ROGER DONALDSON INTERVIEW

Bruce McLaren remains one of New Zealand’s most beloved sons. A giant in the world of sport to this day, the driver died aged 32 doing what would define him – striving to better the sport he loved, while leading those around him with a rare integrity. “Like James Dean or Buddy Holly, he’s one of those icons who were cut down in their prime and yet their work still lives on,” says McLaren director Roger Donaldson, whose latest study in speed and obsession (the last was The World’s Fastest Indian in 2005) is a thrilling and deeply moving tribute to a national hero. Ahead of the film’s home viewing launch in its homeland, the director of Kiwi classics Smash Palace and Sleeping Dogs and Hollywood blockbusters Cocktail, Species, The Getaway, Dante’s Peak and Thirteen Days sat with SCREEN-SPACE to discuss the legacy and legend that is Bruce McLaren…                         (Photo credit: Chris McKeen)

SCREEN-SPACE: Hollywood lent on you to be ‘The Starmaker’. Gibson in The Bounty; Cruise in Cocktail; Costner in No Way Out. They were all actors on the cusp that the studios needed to be big stars. Good times?

DONALDSON: The people you get to be in your movies are your movies. If you’re lucky enough to make a good movie and you’ve got the right talent, the whole lot comes together and people turn up to see them. The 80s were definitely a good place for me to be making films in America.

SCREEN-SPACE: When did the young Roger Donaldson first become aware of Bruce McLaren?

DONALDSON: As a boy, I lived in Ballarat with a dad who was very keen on car racing. His father had been a doctor out in the Linton and Skipton region, 30 miles out of Ballarat, and he would drive the ambulance flat out to and from Ballarat. That was his excuse for driving fast and having fast cars all the time, ’34 V8s and a Vauxhall 3098. I remember going to see Bruce race at Sandown Park against Jack Brabham. I kept my diary from the day, so I know that Jack won and Bruce got third.

SCREEN-SPACE: The bond that the elite drivers shared from that period was a unique type of friendship…

DONALDSON: I think Jack was the reason Bruce got to the UK. When he’d return from Europe and visit New Zealand, Jack would leave his cars in the garage owned by Bruce’s father, who’d fix them up. Jack became a close friend of the McLaren family. He was 10 years older than Bruce and he became very much a mentor, someone who recognised how talented the young Bruce was and who encouraged him to come to England. It was a much more intimate group of people. They’d drive from race meet to race meet, the wives and families always being together. Jim Clark and Jack remained close friends of Bruce.

SCREEN-SPACE: From your very first film, Burt Munro: Offerings to The Gods of Speed (1971) to The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) to McLaren, you’ve had a filmic fascination with men obsessed with speed and danger…  

DONALDSON: Only in retrospect do I ask myself why am I so interested in this subject. Truth is I’m no more interested in car racing than I am in going to an art gallery or great concert. My true passion is filmmaking, and if you can embrace the things you’re most interested in you make better films. I have subjects in the world of art that I want to make films about, for example, but the projects that have gained traction are those set in the world of speed. Perhaps what fascinates me about people who do dangerous jobs as entertainment is that their choices pose the question, “What is your life worth?” I did some work with mountaineers, with Sir Edmund Hilary, these people who know what the negative odds are that they are up against but are still prepared to do it for the exhilaration and empowerment. If people were scared of consequences, nothing would go forward. Risk-taking should be a major element of anybody’s life. The risk I took is that it might not all work and I might be a complete failure, that I make movies that nobody showed up for; if you’re a race car driver and you fuck it up, you’re in much bigger trouble.

SCREEN-SPACE: You’ve mastered the craft of capturing the essence of speed on film. What are technicalities of conveying the experience of life threatening momentum?

DONALDSON: The technical side of capturing speed on film is not that easy. One of the first things I discovered was that you have to be going three times the actual speed to make it look fast. Real-time speed, especially without sound, doesn’t look fast. It requires many filmmaking elements, including the great pulsating score that David Long did for us on McLaren, for the essence of true speed to be conveyed.

SCREEN-SPACE: Your interviewees look directly into the lens, a method which imbues the film with a profoundly affecting, first-person perspective. The moment where the ‘fourth wall’ collapses and Phil Kerr addresses you before breaking down is heartbreaking

DONALDSON: Yes, I know. Phil knew Bruce since they were teenagers; they flatted together in Europe. Iknew this story was going to be deeply personal, so I wanted those on camera to talking directly to the audience and not me or my camera. I rigged a system so that they could look directly into the lens but were actually addressing a reflected image of me.

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the themes of your film is the memory of loss, of time passing. Did Bruce’s late widow Patty ever see the film?

DONALDSON: No, she didn’t. Key people are acknowledged at the end of the film, like Phil and Patty, who never got to see it. Those that knew him and have seen the film got a charge out of how it honoured Bruce’s legacy and captured his spirit and contribution to the sport. And Bruce’s daughter Amanda was very helpful, providing access to family history and much of her Patty’s personal material. She went on film and provided some lovely thoughts on her dad, but she was so young when he died her recollections are largely those of others she’s spoken to over the years. It was hard to leave some material out of the film, that is for sure.

SCREEN-SPACE: What do you hope McLaren conveys about the legacy left by the man?

DONALDSON: I think genuinely he was quite an extraordinary person. Not many people come along like Bruce; he didn’t have a bad bone in his body. He was an inspired, motivated leader of people, filled with innovation and bravery. The tragedy of a life like that cut short and the determination of the guys around him to preserve his legacy, to continue forging the company and brand reputation, speaks volumes.

Transmission Films presents McLAREN on home entertainment platforms in Australia on August 16 and New Zealand from August 30; check local distributors in other territories for release details.

Monday
Jul172017

GLOBAL DOC SECTOR FETED AT M.D.F.F. AWARDS NIGHT 

2017 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL: Top honours at the 2nd annual Melbourne Documentary Film Festival were bestowed upon Jedd and Todd Wider’s God Knows Where I Am at an informal closing ceremony at the southern capital’s arthouse venue Cinema Nova last night. In line with the festival's objectives, winners across the award categories hailed from The USA, Russia, Norway, New Zealand, The U.K. and, of course, Australia, in what became a true celebration of international factual filmmaking... 

Narrated by actress Lori Singer, the heartbreaking reconstruction of a woman’s life after her remains are found in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse earned jury honours in a competitive field that also featured international festival hits Miss Kiet’s Children and The Cinema Travellers. The Best International Documentary prize was shared between Charlie Tagget-Adams’ hard rock doc Placebo Alt Russia and Richard Wyllie’s refugee crisis account Five Days on Lesvos; the Best Australian Documentary was taken out by Mat de Koning’s Meal Tickets, a decade-long account of the fortunes of his high school mates and their musical dreams. (Pictured, top: a scene from God Knows Where I Am)

The points-based scoring formula used by the festival committee to determine winners meant that ties were not uncommon, but no one begrudged multiple trophies given the quality of factual filmmaking present at the 2017 event. The Meal Tickets filmmaker shared the Best Emerging Australian Director category with Ivan Hexler for his ‘people power’ protest work Tunnel Vision (also deemed the festival’s Best Melbourne Documentary). Stephanie Clattenberg’s fiery takedown of music sector sexism, Play Your Gender, and Ben Davis’ warm-hearted look at Nordic house beat history, Northern Disco Lights (pictured, right), were both deemed Best Music/Art Documentary. 

Best Environmental Documentary honours were shared by Heather White’s Complicit, a harrowing expose of production line worker abuse in China, and Johanna B Kelly’s alternative diet study, The Gateway Bug; White also shared the International Emerging Director gong, this time with J.J. Garvine for Film Hawk. Garvine’s biography of independent cinema giant Bob Hawk afforded organisers the opportunity to award their inaugural Heroes of Cinema honour to the film industry legend, whose influence has helped forge the careers of filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, Edward Burns and Oscar-winning documentarian, Rob Epstein (The Times of harvey Milk, 1984; Common Threads: Stories from The Quilt, 1989).

   

One Heart One Spirit, director John Pritchard’s first-hand account of the meeting between Native American rights advocate Kenneth Little Hawk and Australia’s indigenous elders, won the Best Indigenous Documentary. The rather lofty honour of Best Expanded Interdisciplinary Project went to The Road Movie, Dmitrii Kalshnikov’s ground breaking social essay constructed entirely from footage captured by Russian dashcams. New Zealand factual filmmaking great Costa Botes (pictured, below) rightfully earned the Best Editing award for Act of Kindness, a moving account of one young man’s odyssey through Rwanda cut together from over 30 hours of non-pro footage.

The Festival Audience Award went to Jewel’s Catch One, director C. Fitz’s rousing disco era celebration of LA nightclub icon, Jewel Thais-Williams. The study of a musical legacy also earned Patrick Buchanan the Wildcard/Avant Garde Award for Lunar Orbit, his intimate look at ambient house music giants, The Orb.

Festival Director Lyndon Stone acknowledged both the committed talent who fronted for their screenings (amongst them New York-based Mariah Wilson, who was present to collect the International Emerging Director honour for her short Eeya) and the passionate Melbourne documentary audiences. Attendance figures showed a year-to-year rise in patronage, including several sold-out events, despite chilly evenings that saw the temperature often dip into single digits. 

Thursday
Jul062017

LUNAR ORBIT: THE PATRICK BUCHANAN INTERVIEW

2017 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL: Since forming in 1988, The Orb have conjured the kind of ambient house sounds – an offshoot of the electronica movement that combines acid house and ambient elements – that ensured their music industry status as groundbreaking icons. For his debut feature Lunar Orbit, Patrick Buchanan enveloped himself within the inventive brilliance of founder Alex Paterson and current offsider Thomas Fehlman as they crafted Moonbuilding 2703AD, The Orb's first studio album in 8 years. “I honestly didn’t know they were working on such a phenomenal record,” says Buchanan, who spoke to SCREEN-SPACE ahead of his film’s screening at the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

Buchanan turned a deep love for the sounds of The Orb into what would become an epic yet intimate look at the band. “I was at a point in my career that I was confident that I could dedicate the time and had the passion to make a film on The Orb, [their] creative process and where it all began for them.” says the Canadian filmmaker. “They are a musical act that I’m fascinated with on so many levels. It was truly an honour to have them give me the trust and to be involved.” (Pictured, top: Buchanan, right, with The Orb founder Alex Paterson)

The director was provided unique access to Paterson and Fehlman in Berlin in 2014, capturing intimate moments of artistry by two 50-something men who still represent the cutting edge of modern music. “The fact that Alex and Thomas are still making such great music and enjoy the process was an aspiring thing for me to witness,” recalls Buchanan, who would combine the footage shot at the jam sessions with archival material and concert clips to form a profile of a musical act still as potent and relevant today as they were 30 years ago. “It’s one thing to meet your musical heroes, to be invited into their world, to follow them on tour, to spend time in their homes and studio,” says the director, “but to get to know them as human beings, as people and to be trusted to tell their stories is the biggest honour I could have asked for.” (Pictured, right; Paterson, left, with Thomas Fehlman)

The music of The Orb plays to a more select audience than the mainstream, an imbalance that Buchanan was motivated to redress. “I certainly believe they deserve much [more] attention and great respect,” he declares. “There is so much shitty, unaspiring music that gets so much media attention. Here is a window into something truly original and great, something personal, something historic. These guys are seminal. This is music created by music lovers in the truest sense.” (Pictured,left; Fehlman, left, and Paterson at work in their Berlin studio) 

A respected editor with 100s of hours of factual-TV cutting experience to draw upon, Buchanan understood the unwieldy nature and inherent power of the unstructured real-life narrative. “Documentary is a compelling filmmaking art form because it’s unscripted and the edit is where it comes alive,” he says. “Where the story is created, you can’t really script it. It’s a great challenge.” The crowning moment of Patrick Buchanan’s odyssey with The Orb was when the band invited Lunar Orbit to be part of a four-hour mega-concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall in April. “That was, honestly, a big thrill,” recalls the humbled filmmaker. “How do you beat that?”

LUNAR ORBIT screens at The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on June 9. Full sessions and ticketing information can be found at the event’s official website here. 

Wednesday
Jun282017

DOC FEST DIRECTORS PONDER WHAT "DOCUMENTARY IS..."  

Long before the conjured cinematic world of fictional narratives emerged, there were groundbreaking filmmakers objectively capturing the true wonders of the real world. It has been over 100 years since the documentary genre was born, a period that has seen the emergence of such masters as Dziga Vertoz (Man with a Movie Camera, 1929); Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of The Will, 1935)D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back, 1967); Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies, 1967); Albert and David Maysles (Salesman, 1969; Gimme Shelter, 1970; Grey Gardens, 1975); Chris Marker (Sans soleil, 1983); Claude Lanzmann (Shoah, 1985); and, Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, 1989; The Fog of War, 2003). But what does the term ‘documentary’ mean to the modern practitioners of the factual film? SCREEN-SPACE asked eight of the filmmakers screening their latest at the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival to finish the sentence, “Documentary is…” 

DOCUMENTARY IS.… “a format to shine a light, investigate the truth, record history and celebrate amazing people and places while entertaining with style. #MakeADifference”
C. FITZ, Dir:  JEWEL CATCH ONE (pictured, above; C. Fitz, left, with Jewel Thais Williams. Photo: Michael Owen Baker, LA Times)
From the MDFF program: With 4 strikes against her (black, female, poor and a lesbian), our trailblazer, Jewel Thais-Williams, helped changed laws, save lives and influence communities across Los Angeles, California as she opened her legendary nightclub's door for 42 years.

DOCUMENTARY IS.… “a passion of mine. I love the stories, the real stories. The challenge to make a film in this genre has been one I’d aspired to for many years. I took another passion of mine, music, and decided I wanted to give it a shot. I honestly had an epiphany to make this film. I wanted to make this film.”
PATRICK BUCHANAN, Dir: LUNAR ORBIT
From the MDFF program: Lunar Orbit takes us deep into the Ultraworld of the pioneers of ambient house music. We explore The Orb's unique creative process with unprecedented studio access and delve into the story behind the music. 

DOCUMENTARY IS…. “imagining how situations will unfold then aligning yourself to capture the action.”
MAT DE KONING, Dir: MEAL TICKETS (pictured, right: Koning, left, during production in 2010).
From the MDFF program: The lives of high school band mates and their roadie who dedicate their twenties to seeking success in the music industry. From Perth to New York, Melbourne to Los Angeles we are given a back stage pass to the gigs, the tour, the conflicts and indulgences. 

DOCUMENTARY IS. “taking action. And by action I don't necessarily mean, being an activist. At some post-film discussions people call me an activist and I am quick to correct them. I consider myself more of an engaged citizen. Activist, to me, often means someone so angry (often rightly so) about an issue that I can't really have a conversation with them. So for me, documentary is taking action--but that action can be as simple as listening, asking good questions, asking dumb questions, moving in a direction to better understand something.” 
THOMAS BENA, Dir: ONE BIG HOME
From the MDFF program: On the tiny island of Martha’s Vineyard, where presidents and celebrities vacation, trophy homes threaten to destroy the islands unique character. Twelve years in the making, One Big Home follows one carpenters journey to understand the trend toward giant houses. When he feels complicit in wrecking the place he calls home, he takes off his tool belt and picks up a camera.

 

DOCUMENTARY IS…. “storytelling that can have a social impact. It can humanise an issue so people can connect, be moved and take action.”
BELINDA MASON, Dir: CONSTANCE ON THE EDGE
From the MDFF program: One family. Two wars. Three countries. What does it take to forge a new life far from home? Filmed over 10 years, Constance on The Edge is an unflinchingly honest portrayal of one refugee family’s resettlement story in Australia. 

DOCUMENTARY IS.... “an art form that gives people a voice and a chance to tell their personal truth.” 
STEPHANIE CLATTENBERG (pictured, right), Dir: PLAY YOUR GENDER
From the MDFF program: Juno Award-winning musician Kinnie Starr is on a quest to find out why only 5% of music producers are women even though many of the most bankable pop stars are female. What does it take for a woman to make it in music? 

DOCUMENTARY IS.… ”the nexus between art and social engagement in non-fiction story-telling. In recent years documentary has been re-branded by television as ‘Specialist Factual’, ‘Factual Entertainment’, ‘Docu-soap’ and ‘Reality Television’. Ratings are now the major driver for public broadcasters since the Howard government made ratings a prerequisite for government funding. And to increase ratings, the non-fiction TV doc has been restructured to make it ‘more accessible’ and easy to follow. So this is has become what most people now think of as ‘documentary’. But the great documentaries, the ones that have lasted and will continue to last, are more complex. They require real engagement from the audience. They are based on ideas and composed of open-ended explorations. And rather than relying on presenters and narrators, they explore different ways of telling a story - the language of the film.”
NICK TORRENS (pictured, left), Dir: CHINA’S 3DREAMS
From the MDFF program: China’s 3Dreams takes us deep inside the dilemmas and dreams of China’s people – without mediation from Western presenters and narrators. Featuring rare archive and extraordinary testimony from former Red Guards and Rebels, here is a powerful parable of China in the 21st century. 

DOCUMENTARY IS.... “a real story that matters today and in time becomes a record of who we were collectively.”
CLAIRE STONE, Dir: SEVEN WOMEN IN NEPAL THE BIRTH OF A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE
From the MDFF program: Seven Women in Nepal examines how one Australian created a successful social enterprise with the disabled women of Nepal and what is possible with a willingness to learn from mistakes and the right people to help.

The 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival runs July 9-16. Session and ticketing information can be found at the events official website.

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