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Entries in Film Festival (12)

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. 

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.

Monday
Jul182016

HARMONIUM: THE KOJI FUKADA INTERVIEW.

Revisiting elements of his 2010 drama Hospitality, writer-director Kôji Fukada crafted one of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival’s breakout titles with his latest, Harmonium (Fuchi ni tatsu). The chilling, slow burn pyscho-drama tells of the disintegration of a seemingly stable family unit when a visitor from a dark past settles amongst them. Cited by Variety as a work of “cinematic and intellectual rigour”, the film earned the Japanese auteur the Un Certain Regard Jury prize. In the wake of the triumphant screening, the 36 year-old director sat with SCREEN-SPACE in a sunny, manicured yard just off The Croisette to talk about his current work, which has it’s Australian premiere next month at the Melbourne International Film Festival

SCREEN-SPACE: You’re cinema is elegant, refined yet deeply affecting. Names such as Eric Rohmer and Robert Bresson have been cited as key influences. Which filmmakers have inspired your work?

Fukada: To be spoken of in the same sentence as those masters is too great an honour. My first influence was my father, as he was a huge film lover. I was exposed to international cinema from a very young age. My childhood home was filled with VHS tapes. I’ll never forget one night, when I was about 14 years of age, I watched two films back-to-back – Marcel Carne’s Chicken Feed for Little Birds and Victor Erice’s The Spirit of The Beehive. Over time, I have recognised that one of my key influences has also been Theo Angelopoulos, a master and pioneer of cinema. His social commentary and artistic achievements come from the highest cinematic level.

SCREEN-SPACE: How did Harmonium develop?

Fukada: It started with a simple synopsis that I wrote in 2006. I had difficulty getting finance for it so, in 2010, I made a film called Hospitality. It is essentially the first half of what you see in Harmonium, like a pilot version of it. It’s also about an intruder coming into the life of a family and disrupting their relationships. When our producer, Koichiro Fukushima, saw Hospitality he came on board and Harmonium began to take shape. It took us 10 years to make the film, so it is a thrill to finally present it here in Cannes. (Pictured, right: a scene from Harmonium with, from left, Kanji Furutachi, Tadanobu Asano, Mariko Tsutsui and Momone Shinokawa).

SCREEN-SPACE: Is there any aspect of your story or characters that will resonate most profoundly with Japanese audiences?

Fukada: If anything, it is the husband/father character of Toshio, a patriarchal figure who does not comfortably verbalize his emotions or communicate with the other family members. He is that traditionally conservative Japanese father figure, though I’m sure they exist in other countries as well. Something intrinsically Japanese is the role that the husband undertakes when children arrive, adopting the father role to a much greater extent that the husband role. Similarly, the wife very much becomes the ‘mother’ figure. Instead of coalescing as a unit, a ‘family’, they become individuals bound to the expectations of their new roles.

SCREEN-SPACE: Is this duality, this thematic strand that suggests even the most closely-knit unit is only as strong as the individual, indicative of your beliefs?

Fukada: It is very difficult to distinguish myself from my work. They represent how I view the world and how I view humanity. In this story, we have a community of people we call a ‘family’, the very smallest kind of human community that exists. But what I wanted to explore was how the individuals within this seemingly close community still possess an essential solitude. That represents my view on human beings. (Pictured, right; Fukada, far right, with his actors Kanji Furutachi and Mariko Tsutsui attending the 2016 Cannes Film Festival).

SCREEN-SPACE: You draw naturalistic performances from the cast. Were you able to work with them for long periods in the development of the script and in rehearsal?

Fukada: We had a short rehearsal period, perhaps 2 or 3 days, but with such a modest budget and with the time constraints that rehearsals place on actors, our planning was limited. But there were many hours of in-depth discussion with the cast, especially Kanji Furutachi, with whom I have collaborated on four projects. I don’t want my actors to just do a read-through, or be bound by their actions in a single room. I don’t feel there is a lot of value to rehearsal unless it is very near to the on-set experience, so I will prefer to rehearse on location or on a finished set. And that’s very difficult and expensive to do, to be on-set and not be filming.

SCREEN-SPACE: Are your sets collaborative environments or are you very clear with your cast as to their roles in your vision?

Fukada: I don’t want the actors to be an alter ego of me. I want them to exist as individuals who are living in the moments they create. So rather than ask of them to build a character in a particular way, be that physical or emotional, I ask them be present, with their cast mates, just as you and I are now. It is essential that they not act, but react and interact with each other. That all begins with my role as writer and director. I must ensure the actors are honest and truthful in any moment (and) that complexity has to be there in my screenplay. (Pictured, right; a scene from of Harmonium).

SCREEN-SPACE: You eschew close-ups, maintaining a very respectful distance between the actor and your lens. Why so?

Fukada: I keep the relationship between the actor and the camera very simple. My camera keeps a certain distant from the actors because being in close proximity feels as if I am trying to explain or define the intent of the scene to the audience.

SCREEN-SPACE: Looking more broadly at your homeland’s film industry, is it a happy place for independent cinema and your auteur peers?

Fukada: It is very difficult for arthouse films in Japan. We don’t have an organising body, like France’s CNC or South Korea’s KOFIC, which negotiates subsidies and provides administration for the sector. Bodies like that exist to promote diversity, which is crucial to a vibrant film sector. These organisations understand audience needs, so a genre film can be produced and marketed to a large audience at the same time that an arthouse film with specialised needs can be promoted to a niche sector and succeed. That balance allows for a very rich cinematic culture, both commercially and critically. In Japan’s economic system, it is very difficult to make such a system work; if a film does not recoup its cost, it becomes very hard for the creative people involved to survive.

Ticket and session information for Melbourne International Film Festival screenings of Harmonium can be found attheevent's official website.

Tuesday
Jul052016

REVFEST HAS HAND IN PUPPET MASTER'S LEGACY

Fans of the eclectic slate for which Perth’s annual Revelation International Film Festival has become known won’t be disappointed in 2016. West coasters can choose from the experimental non-dialogue horror of Atmo Horrox, the goat gland documentary Nuts! or the seductive sorcery of The Love Witch, to name a few. Unexpectedly (perhaps even reassuringly), peering out from the darkness will be the pointy-green grin of one of pop culture’s most endearing characters, Kermit the Frog, and the warm, gentle features of his creator, Jim Henson.

Muppets, Music & Magic is Revelations’ sidebar celebration of Henson’s remarkable contribution to showbusiness, featuring eight separate retrospective documentaries that track the development of his unique universe of characters. Also being screened are two of his visionary features, his Tolken-esque fantasy adventure The Dark Crystal (1982) and the cult classic, Labyrinth (1986). The collection is presented in conjunction with The Jim Henson Legacy, an initiative formed in 1992 to preserve and perpetuate the work and spirit of the late genius.

“It’s amazingly comprehensive,” says Revelation Festival Director, Richard Sowada, who recognised that elements of the collection spoke to his festival’s agenda. “I think it’s the deep experimentation and the clarity of vision that’s so appealing to Rev. These artefacts have meaning and purpose and ultimately make a difference to the culture and its inhabitants and they do it in such a lovely way.”

In 1955, Henson was a freshman arts-major at the University of Maryland with drive enough to negotiate a late-night TV slot for his satirical puppet concept called ‘Sam and Friends’ (pictured, right). These early years are explored in the 73-minute presentation ‘Commercials & Experiments’, which features rarely-seen works ranging from corporate training shorts to commercials to avant garde oddities, each revealing an artist exploring and defining his passion and talent.

Although his playfulness is evident in these works, the ‘Jim Henson’ that would become synonymous with children’s entertainment is only fleetingly glimpsed; the radical social change and fearless approach to artistry of the 1960s comes through in works such as Youth ’68, The Cube and his Oscar nominated short, Time Piece. Revelations has included a programme warning that some of the content is for mature audiences (below; a scene from Time Piece).

It was from these early, experimental years that the timeless, occasionally subversive comedy of Sesame Street was launched. At the time of Henson’s passing in May of 1990, then-Chairperson of the show’s producers, The Children’s Television Workshop, Joan Ganz Cooney, said of her friend, “He was our era's Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, W. C. Fields and Marx Brothers, and indeed he drew from all of them to create a new art form that influenced popular culture around the world.” The development and impact of the show is chronicled in His Sesame Street Years, a delirious celebration of Henson’s vision and the dynamic he formed with early collaborators Frank Oz, Fran Brill and Caroll Spinney, each masters of the craft in their own right.

Two clip-compilation documentaries capture the growth of Henson as a performer and the artistry with which his beloved creations were developed. In Performance captures the man honing his comic timing in rare footage of the early years when then voices and personalities of Kermit, Rowlf and The Swedish Chef were cultivated; Behind the Seams looks at the ensemble of world class puppeteers and craftspeople who fell under Henson’s spell and helped create some of the most iconic showbiz moments of all time (pictured, right; Henson in conference on-set with his leading man).

Rounding out the sidebar are two compiles screening under the Mini Rev banner and the State Library of Western Australia. Tales from Muppetland presents the Muppet players take on classic fairytales, with some timeless comedy care of the sesame Street News team thrown in for good measure; and, Muppet Musical Moments features the glorious staging that was created to accompany musical guests from The Muppet Show, including such names as Linda Ronstadt, Julie Andrews, Elton John and Liberace.

(The collection) is a great reflection of Henson’s character and personality,” says Sowada. “There’s no ulterior motive behind any of his work aside from bringing people together. That feeling transcends generations and gives his work real meaning.”

Muppets, Music & Magic: The Jm Henson Legacy screens July 9-15 as part of the 2016 Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Ticket and session details can be found on the events official website.

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.