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Entries in Drama (5)

Tuesday
Apr122016

WORKING CLASS MAN: THE HEATH DAVIS INTERVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photographs by MK Creative Studios; Copyright Scope Red 2014

Thursday
Apr072016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday
Jul152015

SOUTHLAND TALES: THE NIMA JAVIDI INTERVIEW

Two upwardly mobile Iranian students are hours away from departing their Tehran apartment for a new life in the titular Australian city when, asked to briefly care for a sleeping infant, their destinies take a harrowing turn. Debutant writer/director Nima Javidi’s complex, harrowing morality tale, one of the most anticipated films at the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), plays out as both a tragic drama and riveting psychological thriller in its dissection of two lives altered in an instant. Despite a fine grasp of English, Javidi spoke to SCREEN-SPACE via a translator ("I want to concentrate on the answers, I don’t want to worry about my translation.”), only hours before being awarded the Best Screenplay honour at the 2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) last November…

“It took me about 11 months to write the script,” says the 35 year-old filmmaker (pictured, above), eager to chat despite feeling the effects of jetlag, having only arrived in Brisbane for the APSA ceremony the morning of the interview.  “But before I even sat down to write, I spent a great deal of time on the structure of the story and how to create my characters. There any many layers to this film, both narratively and in the lead characters.” He cites a personal experience as the inspiration for the premise; six years ago, while staying at a mountain retreat with friends, he was left alone with a newborn and found himself gripped with anxiety while the child slept motionless.

As Amir and Sara, the couple whose lives are irrevocably altered by both fateful circumstance and desperate rationalization, Javidi sought two of Iranian’s most talented and bankable stars, Peyman Moaadi (About Elly, 2009; A Separation, 2011; Camp X-Ray, 2014) and Negar Javaherian (Tala va mes, 2011; Howze Naghashi, 2013; Tales, 2014). Each bought nuance and detail to the protagonist roles, working with the first-time feature director to flesh out the dark but very human dramatics of the story. “The characters undergo experiences that are universal – fear, doubt and the responsibility of being an adult,” notes Javidi.

Leading man Moaadi’s experience working with Iranian filmmaking great Asghar Farhadi on the international hit A Separation was particularly useful; critics have noted the similarities between Farhadi’s everyman protagonists and Javidi’s single-setting character study. Says Javidi of his actor, “He liked the script from the early stages and collaborated with me from very early on. (He was) especially aware of how best he could help a first time filmmaker. He is particularly strong when you need a very realistic presence in your film; he brings a grounded, very human quality to his characters.”

The presence of Moaadi and Javaherian was also a commercial coup, their profiles helping the film find a domestic and international prominence that a first-time director may not usually find forthcoming. “When you have a star name, the doors do swing a little more easily with regard to financing. But I never considered casting (them) as a means to get the film financed,” reassures the filmmaker. “I needed (actors) who could serve the characters and tell the story I wanted to tell.” On the back of universal acclaim (Variety praised the “gripping premise, craftily orchestrated”), Javidi has travelled with his film to Venice, where it opened the prestigious International Critics Week strand, as well as festival slots in Stockholm, Tokyo, Cairo, Lisbon and Zurich ahead of it’s MIFF showing. (Pictured, right; the director with his 2014 Best Screenplay APSA)

One key aspect in creating the intense drama is the rhythmic soundscape conjured by Javidi and his masterful sound designers, Vahid Maghadasi and Iraj Shahzadi. As the clock ticks towards the character’s departure time, ambient sounds begin to clip the actor’s dialogue and seep into the real world tension with shattering effect. “Most of those sounds – the mobile phone noise, the sound buzzer, the sirens – were written into the script, specifically complementing my intentions with the scenes,” says the director. “There was no music soundtrack in the film so it was crucial to use the detailed sound effects to convey the story in the best possible way.”

Finally, driven by the fiercely parochial Sydney-based mindset of the Screen-Space office, we had to ask Nima Javidi why he settled on the admittedly cosmopolitan but decidedly chilly climes of Melbourne as the dream destination for his young Iranians. The director laughed, finally explaining, “Two reasons. First, some surveys came out over the last ten years that nominated Melbourne as one of the best cities in the world, a title that I think it maybe earned a couple of years ago.* And then, I just like the way you guys pronounce it! The way you drop the ‘r’ and make it ‘Melbun’. That’s funny to me. Why waste all that ink!”

*"Melbourne named world's most livable city..." - ABC News, August 2014

Ticketing and venue information for all 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival sessions can be found at the official website here.

Read more about Melbourne in 'The SCREEN-SPACE Ten: Our Favourite Films of 2014'.

Monday
Apr202015

SRI LANKAN STAR SOARS IN HELMER'S HARD-HITTING '28'

One of Sri Lanka’s most adored stars, Mahendra Perera has been a box office draw for over three decades. But his latest work, Prasanna Jayakody’s 28, is a challenging social drama that refuses to pander to the mainstream; it follows three working class men as they transport a murdered woman across mountain roads for a hometown burial. As Abasiri, Perera loses himself in one of the most complex screen characters of his long career; the performance earned the veteran star a Best Actor nomination at the 2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA). With his writer/director by his side (for whom the actor kindly provided translation), Perera spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the career-defining role, the establishment’s reaction to the non-conformist narrative, and the fearlessness being embraced by Sri Lanka’s new wave of talent… 

"When I first read the script, I was a little confused,” admits Perera, star of such regional blockbusters as Walls Within (1997), Flying with One Wing (2002), Boungiorno Italia (2004) and Machan (2008). “I did not form too many ideas. It took a dialogue with Prasanna (pictured, below), and many discussions afterwards, for me to form a picture of this man.” His character is unaware until the day of the long journey that his cargo is to be his late ex-wife, Suddhi (Semini Iddamalgoda). “Finally, I was able to understand his emotional side and bring that out. The inconsistent nature of his behaviour, the ways in which he confronted the situations he found himself facing…well, it proved a challenge to get to the core of this complex character but somehow we did it.”

The inspiration for 28 (the title representing the morgue drawer in which Suddhi’s body is kept) was, as they say, ripped from today’s headlines. Writer/director Jayakody (Sankara, 2007; Karma, 2011) had become disillusioned by the violence that had become increasingly endemic to his homeland and wrote the script as a means by which to interpret this dark shift in the population’s psyche. “In the past few years in Sri Lanka, the newpapers have been full of horrible accounts of violent crimes, especially sexual crimes against women,” says the softly spoken auteur. “Sex is a beautiful, natural thing and it is always disturbing when human desires lead to horrible acts. It is destructive to our society, to any society.”

Wavering between pitch-black character comedy, a searing indictment of patriarchal brutality and open-road travelogue, the film is at its most daring when Suddhi breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience from beyond the grave. Jayakody acknowledges the bravery required for his leading lady (pictured, left) to take on such an artistically and culturally challenging part. “Semini was required to do some extraordinary things, perform in a way that she had never been called upon to do in her other movies,” he says. “Her character is a portrayal of so many Sri Lankan women and hopefully conveys so much of what the women of Sri Lanka must endure. Sri Lankan women can’t speak the truth when they are alive; it is only possible for a dead woman to speak the truth.”

A revelation as the everyman Abasiri, Perera establishes a rich chemistry with his male co-stars Sarath Kothawala and Rukmal Nirosh (pictured, below). But it is likely that a single scene, in which the identity of the woman dawns upon Abasiri and grief and memory overwhelm him, impacted most upon the APSA judging panel. “My studies in the Stanislavsky method of acting were called upon in that scene,” the actor recalls. “I sought out friends who had suffered through a similar grief and drew upon them for guidance, to spark that emotion deep within myself. I was determined not to act, but to try and find that truth within myself, as if that was my wife. It was very difficult, because we shot that scene many times, to get the precise emotion.”

28 has emerged as one of the ‘new wave’ Sri Lankan works, steeped in both high-end artistry and strong social commentary. For Perera, the period represents a rebirth-of-sorts for the local sector. “After 30 years of war and terrorism, it is finding a new shape,” he says. “We still have problems, and there are still those for whom films like 28 will be too disturbing, but we have new, young filmmakers who are willing to work with very challenging concepts. And we have a huge audience in Sri Lanka for this movie, for any movie that comes with new ideas or new themes that can be discussed.”

The national cinema of Sri Lanka faces a number of uphill battles to retain its potency. The exhibition sector is dire; prior to the outbreak of war, 400 cinemas serviced the population. Today, 120 operate; only half of those screen locally made product (it is expected that the region will be fully upgraded to DCP technology in 2017). More worryingly, cinema is often overseen by conservative governing bodies, which monitor content and distribution channels. Says Perera, “There are these political and philosophical officials, who think that these films do damage to our country, but these are unique subjects that need to be addressed in our cinema. As the films begin to get recognition at international events like APSA, a new respect forms.”