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Entries in Film Festival (21)

Thursday
Nov232017

SCARY MOTHER: THE ANA URUSHADZE / NATO MURVANDZE INTERVIEW

2017 ASIA PACIFIC FILM AWARDS: Ana Urushadze is a 27 year-old writer/director who hails from Tbilisi in Georgia. Her debut film, a stark and challenging drama called Scary Mother, may be the finest first effort of 2017. The titular matriarch is Manana, a mother of three whose ambition to be a published author threatens to deconstruct her middle-class existence, when she reveals the narrative of her first novel to be a brutal, thinly veiled skewering of the life she has created for herself. Working alongside Urushadze is acclaimed Georgian actress Nato Murvanidze, whose portrayal of Manana has been lauded as one of the year’s most accomplished lead turns. 

In Brisbane to attend the Asia Pacific Screen Awards as nominees in the Best Director and Best Actress categories respectively, Ana Urushadze (pictured, above) and Nato Murvanidze (below) sat with SCREEN-SPACE to talk about creating the vivid mindscape of Scary Mother…

SCREEN-SPACE: When confronted with a set of characters and a reality as maddening as that in Scary Mother, it is daunting to enquire about its origins…

Ana: The origins come from a script I wrote for a short film, a project that literally ran for about a minute. Events unfolded a bit differently, but the story was the same; it was about a wife telling her husband about her dream to tell this story. The treatment was rejected when I submitted it, but when I expanded the story and broadened the script into feature length, I resubmitted and it was approved. I was most fascinated by the idea of one character being out of the ordinary, being at odds with a normal life. Following her discoveries, watching her as she is taken out of her family life and how those around her react to this change is what developed into her story.

SCREEN-SPACE: There are authors in your family, Ana…

Ana: Yes, my sister is a writer although she refuses to call herself that because, she says, she hasn’t been published. I tell her, “You write! You’re a writer!” (Laughs) And my mother was once a writer, who went through a period where she started and stopped. So there were certainly connections to the real world, to my real world.

Nato: [The script] was a big surprise. I’ve known Ana for years, and I knew she was a very talented person, but her script surprised me very much. That such a young person could write these word and these characters is remarkable. It sounded like the voice of a much older, wiser person, with more life experiences. And I was really afraid, actually, because I was unsure if I could do it or not. Manana is a very intense character that demands you follow her 24 hours a day and it struck me as hard to be able to do that.

SCREEN-SPACE: Despite a vast body of work, Nato, had you ever encountered a woman like Manana?

Nato: I work a lot in theatre, and it is not uncommon to find these complex, difficult characters in the works of great playwrights, but you rarely get to play characters like this in movies. Ana and I met regularly and discussed at length the character, to delve deeper into her psychology. 

Ana: You know, everything with this film happened very quickly. We have a quite small group of filmmakers in Georgia and we know all the respected greats in the industry, like Nato, but we didn’t have access to young, unknown names and faces we needed to play the family. So we went through casting to secure some of the actors, and I drew on people I knew that were not names in the industry but who were perfect for the roles. If they had not done the wonderful jobs they did, the film would have turned out very differently.

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the great scenes of the year in film is the single-shot slow-reveal when Manana finally reads her work to her family…

Ana: I wanted to start tight, on her face, and then reveal the whole scene as her words began to impact the family members. It felt like the most visually supportive way to capture that moment.

Nato: I said to Ana, “Give me the length of time you need for me to read this through and for you to get the shot, and I’ll do it.” (laughs) We talked about it before shooting that writers usually can’t read their own words very well. So the situation with her family, and the struggle to decide will she do it or won’t she do it, pushed us to create this staging of the scene.

Ana: And it takes a slightly exaggerated form, as much of the reality does in the film, but it works I think. (Pictured, right; the director with the Golden Leopard Best First Feature trophy from this year's Locarno Film Festival).

SCREEN-SPACE: It is also a very funny scene in a film that may not get it's due as a comedy…

Ana: It is so good to hear that, thank you. It is meant to be funny in parts; even the title, ‘Scary Mother’, is clearly meant to be funny, I think.

SCREEN-SPACE: Describe the state of the Georgian film sector for us. Is it an industry where distinctive, female voice such as yours are nurtured and encouraged?

Ana: It certainly is. Our whole industry is in agreement on the topic of women filmmakers getting their voice heard. There is a high percentage of women filmmakers, whose films are getting seen both at home and overseas. The Georgian National Film Centre runs a competition every year for debut films and, while the funding is low, applications are high. So a strong film culture does exist.

 

Saturday
Nov182017

LOST GULLY ROAD: THE DONNA MCRAE INTERVIEW

MONSTER FEST 2017: The great horror films, works that linger in the minds and hearts of genre fans, are those that have meaning, convey a message, confront truths. Writer/director Donna McRae’s Lost Gully Road establishes a classic ‘cabin in the woods’ premise; a lone heroine (Adele Perovic) in a secluded location, an unseen menace threatening her, physically and psychologically. But McRae, a Lecturer in Film & Television at Deakin University when not behind the camera, wanted to confront the very nature of violence against women within her genre setting. The shoot was isolated and McRae’s depiction of domestic brutality, unflinching. “I think that this was the only way to do it,” the director told SCREEN-SPACE, ahead of the World Premiere of Lost Gully Road at Monster Fest on November 25….

SCREEN-SPACE: Lost Gully Road adheres to an Australian cinematic tradition via its contemporary spin on the 'haunted country home' genre. What are the films, books and art that influenced the project?

MCRAE (pictured, above): A sub-genre of recent independent horror films has been the secluded house by the lake, or deep in the forest, as a site for psychological upheaval. Films like Honeymoon (2014) or Shelley (2016) use this trope well – the seclusion, the claustrophobia and the landscape. The Australian Gothic is fascinating, and I think the landscapes rather than films from here are influences, although I loved the elegant simplicity of Lake Mungo (2008) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and The Babadook (2014).  The presumed quiet of the bush is something that intrigues me. We scouted for locations in The Dandenongs frequently. It’s so cinematic but offers an uneasy feeling of one step wrong and you are lost. There is a sense of concealment; unlike the outback where you can see what is coming, in the forest one never knows what is out there. Having said this, some of my favourite films are the older ones that use the house as character, such as The Haunting (1963), The Innocents (1961) and, strangely, The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947).    

SCREEN-SPACE: A key thematic concern is how the past continues to haunt the present. Why is your film specifically, and the horror genre in general, so effective in dealing with grief and memory?

MCRAE: I have always been interested in ghosts and haunting. In fact my Phd was on (cinema) ghosts and memory. I feel that they are inextricably linked. The horror genre, or its subgenre the ‘ghost film’, is a fantastic place to delve into this area as it offers an arena to present many levels of an idea. You can represent grief or memory as a ghost, which, depending on which way the story goes, can be loving, traumatic or very nasty. So it is no wonder that this genre is so inventive. (Pictured, right; a scene from Lost Gully Road) 

SCREEN-SPACE: Your casting of Adele Perovic (pictured, below) catches her primed for her first feature lead role. How close was she to the 'Lucy' that you and writer Michael Vale envisioned, and what did she bring to the characterisation?

MCRAE: I had seen Adele on television, and was struck with the immediacy of her performance. When we first spoke, she came across as the embodiment of our character – a millennial that was smart, aware of the world around her but with her own point of view. We only had two weeks to shoot so we had no rehearsal time scheduled, [yet] Adele gave the most naturalistic performance, which I doubt would have been possible if we had tried to rehearse. She put herself in the character’s shoes and just went with it. It was a textbook study of an actor producing truth.  It was important to us all that she remain ‘in the moment’, to make decisions for her character, and I would only interfere if I wasn’t seeing it in the monitor. It was risky, but having trained as an actor myself, I know how hard acting is on a film set, so I was happy to take the risk.  My DOP Laszlo Baranyai is a great believer in letting the actor do what they need to do and then we shoot it. Laszlo and I had days of script conversations, so by the time we got to the set, we had made many decisions. He just got on with his department and I concentrated on the performance. I did have my favourite scenes though in my head, like the one where she walks down the corridor with a camping lantern. I wanted it a particular way, so I very much led those.

SCREEN-SPACE: Violence and horror films go hand-in-hand, of course, but your use of violence is not exploitative or gratuitous. What functionality does your depiction of violence serve?

MCRAE: I needed to get my point across. I wanted to show a disintegration of trust and the complications of when no means no. It is a film about random and domestic violence and I saw no point tiptoeing around that. I made choices about how it would be done; I didn’t want to make it a typical ‘cinema’ depiction of domestic violence. As a female filmmaker I found it hard to write these scenes but they were connected to the story so they needed to be in there. These were the only scenes that we rehearsed with a stunt co-ordinator and we were very careful to make it seem real. The fact that Adele does it all by herself is amazing. (Pictured, above; the director, on location).

SCREEN-SPACE: The final frames hint at the cyclical nature of violence against women and the inevitability of those actions. Is that the message you hope audiences will take from the film?

MCRAE: The primary message that I want to get across is that no means no. It doesn’t mean yes but I’m just being coy, it means I’m not interested and please stop. Women’s actions should never be misconstrued. And yes, the last frames of the film do reflect the cyclical nature of violence against women. But there is also another aspect, and that is the enablers of this violence. I don’t want to give the story away but there are lessons to be learned here – and I have seen it time and time again – people let things slide because of connections.

LOST GULLY ROAD will have its World Premiere on Saturday November 25 as part of Monster Fest 2017. Ticket and session details can be found at the official festival website

Sunday
Oct012017

PREVIEW: 2017 SCIFI FILM FESTIVAL

Such otherworldly phenomena as trans-dimensional portals, parallel planes of existence and dystopian future realms are the least one should expect from an event like SciFi Film Festival, which launches its 5th season on October 11 in Sydney. That such potent narrative elements are tackled in the Opening Night film alone suggests festival director Tom Papas has crafted a five-day event of immensely ambitious genre programming.

The 12-session celebration of global science fiction filmmaking launches with the Australian premiere of The Gateway, fresh from a triumphant Revolution Film Festival showing in Austin, Texas, where it nabbed four trophies, including Best Picture and Best Director for John V. Soto (Needle, 2010; The Reckoning, 2014). Genre favourite Jacqueline McKenzie (Deep Blue Sea, 1999; The 4400, 2004-07; pictured, above) gives a star turn as particle physicist Jane Chandler, whose grief at losing her husband Matt (Myles Pollard) blinds her to the dangers of blurring multiple realities.

The Gateway welcomes in nine new international features, including works from North America, The U.K. and Europe. Guy-Roger Duvert directs the U.S./French co-production Virtual Revolution, a near-future thriller in which society functions entirely online and cyber-terrorism has become the ultimate threat; director Andy Mitton’s We Go On stars Clark Freeman as a man so terrified that his existence is meaningless he offers a fortune for proof of an afterlife, only to have the truth reveal a terrifying secret; and, from British director Matt Mitchell, a wildly imaginative supernatural period piece called The Rizen (pictured, right), that takes as its starting point the Allied Forces post-WWII experiments in the power of black magic.

U.S. director Terrance M. Young will be present for a QA session following the Saturday 14th screening of his dramatic thriller, Project Eden: Vol. 1 (a sequel is already slated for a 2018 shoot). Michael O’Shea’s urban vampire shocker, The Transfiguration (read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with the director here) screens following its breakout hit status at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The U.K. sector rounds out the 2017 festival slate - Hendrik Faller’s grueling alpine siege thriller, Mountain Fever (a co-production with France); Keir Burrow’s noirish sci-fi spin on the Alice in Wonderland story, called Anti Matter; and, earning Closing Night honours, Roger Armstrong’s blackly funny Sublimate, a found-footage/mockumentary spin on misguided ambition and blind obsession involving the transcendence of the human soul via aural experimentation.

A short film will precede each feature, a traditional programming policy that acknowledges that many of the most ambitious science-fiction works currently produced are from directors working in short form narratives. On October 12, a full slate of international short films will showcase the film sectors of Japan (Yoshimi Itazu’s Pigtails; Philippe McKie’s Breaker); France (J.L. Wolfenstein’s Departure); Finland (Juha Fiilin’s Job Interview); The U.S.A. (Miguel Ortega’s The Nungyo); Germany (Alexander Dannhauser’s Kaska); and, of course, Australia, which is represented by five cutting-edge visions - Scott Geersen’s Signal/Void; Samuel Lucas Allen’s Only the Beautiful; Sarah Rackemann’s One Small Step (pictured, right); Radheya Jegatheva’s Journey; and, Evan Hughes’ Hell of a Day.

The SciFi Film Festival is also honouring two classics of the genre with retrospective screening events. Starring the late Harry Dean Stanton opposite punk brat Emilio Estevez, Alex Cox’s Repo Man remains one of cinema’s most idiosyncratic visions; it returns to the screen on October 12 amidst a wave of nostalgia, both for Stanton’s body of work and the free-form inventiveness of the best of 80s movie culture. Then, on October 13, the 4k digitally restored 40th anniversary edition of Nicholas Roeg’s existential sci-fi masterpiece The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie, will screen. Both films speak to the core values of the festival, which has always sought out auteristic works characterised by thoughtful, humanistic protagonists and ambitious scope.

THE SCIFI FILM FESTIVAL screens October 11-15 at the Event Cinemas George Street complex. Full session and ticketing information can be found at the festival’s official website.

SCREEN-SPACE editor Simon Foster will host Q&A events with The Gateway director John V. Soto (October 11) and Project Eden: Vol. 1 director Terrance M. Young (October 14).

Tuesday
Aug012017

MICHELLE CAREY ON MIFF: "I LOVE SEEING PEOPLE DISCOVER CINEMA"

2017 MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Now in her seventh year as the Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), Michelle Carey has established a reputation as one of the most astute film minds in festival programming worldwide. Her 2017 MIFF programme is vast and challenging, the kind of maze-like film buff's treasure trove for which she has become known since her debut line-up in 2011. In the festival's Collins St office in the heart of the city she now calls home, the Adelaide-born Carey chatted excitedly with SCREEN-SPACE about her early festival director days, MIFF’s newest initiatives and what film made the cut in 2017 because she demanded it be so… 

SCREEN-SPACE: When you walked through the MIFF office door in 2010, to begin preparing your first festival, what were your aims and ambitions for the years ahead?

CAREY: I wanted to put a stamp on it. Back then, it was very ‘cinephile’. It still is, of course, but by 2010 it was viewed as being auteur-driven. And I wanted that celebrated, not seen as pretentious. Particularly in the last four or five years, people have been responding to new films by directors that may have once been considered fringe, like Yorgos Lanthimos. That’s not all my doing, of course, but it is great to see that shift. I also wanted bigger, more accessible films in the mix. I understood that the role could be very managerial, but I didn’t know what to expect from that side of the job. I don’t want to sound vain, but I think I’ve always had good instincts and it was learning to trust those instincts in those early days that helped. I’m a very fight-or-flight person, so I just found strength in my intuition. (Pictured, below: The Killing of The Sacred Deer, by director Yorgos Lanthimos).

SCREEN-SPACE: Were you determined to redefine what the role of Artistic Director had come to represent?

CAREY: My predecessor Richard Moore, who I worked very closely with, and James Hewison before him and I are all very different personalities. When I first came into the role, I was quite shy, having always been the person who was happier in the background. I’ve overcome that, although I certainly don’t think that my personality is bigger than the festival. The challenge is to find the balance between shaping the festival through your personality without overwhelming the programme with your ego or arrogance. I’m not doing this to showcase my taste in film; I’m doing this because I love seeing people experience and discover cinema. And audiences today often know far more than I do about films.

SCREEN-SPACE: The two masters you have to serve are right there in the name, ‘Melbourne’ and ‘International’. How do you reconcile the relationship between the two?

CAREY: There’s space for both. It is always interesting to work out whether they are similar audiences or whether they are inherently different. Our Australian films are always massively popular, but are they the same people who are going to the latest films from Cannes? I honestly don’t know. I would like to see those audiences come closer together, and I think festivals like MIFF provide that bridge. And they also provide an opportunity for discourse, via initiatives like the Critic’s Campus programme, and insight into the industry, with the 37 South Market team and the Premiere Fund and Accelerator. I deal a lot in satisfying the audience side of the festival and I’m always considering how we can bridge those worlds even further.

SCREEN-SPACE: A decade in, what legacy has been shaped by the MIFF Premiere Fund?

CAREY: Well, it’s 55 films now, so it’s a huge legacy. It has a really strong documentary tradition, through relationships forged with particular filmmakers like Eddie Martin or Richard Lowenstein, directors who are interested in local characters. Then at the other end you have some big productions, like Bran Nue Dae or this years’ opening night film Jungle (pictured, right), which is one of the biggest budgeted films we’ve ever invested in. Then you have our commitment to the more arthouse film, such as Rabbit this year. The feedback we get from filmmakers is how grateful they are for the Premiere Fund, because without it their films wouldn’t have been made.

SCREEN-SPACE: How did the retro-strand Pioneering Women, featuring works from the last great era of Australian films directed by women, come in to focus?

CAREY: It’s not really thought of as an era as such. I was looking back through the programmes in preparation for the 65th festival and was shocked to find the lack of Australian women feature film directors until 1979, when My Brilliant Career came out. In that fascinating period following its release, they started to emerge and by the mid- to late-90s there was a kind of an explosion of talent. Obviously, still not in the kind of numbers that it should be; 16% of Australian features were directed by women, which is still to low. But in that period leading up to the md-90s, there was this kind of ‘first wave’ of women talent. There were pioneers, like the McDonagh sisters that Geoffrey (Rush) references in his programme notes, but it was this generation of talent like Gillian Armstrong, Anna Kokkinos, Jane Campion and Nadia Tass that redefined the sector. Plus I have a soft spot for the 80s, which was a really fun period and you can see that in films like Starstruck (pictured, below) and The Big Steal. Celia is one of my favourite films of the festival.

SCREEN-SPACE: You’ve always embraced new technology and artistry, and do so again in 2017 with the Virtual Reality section. Does the tech suggest a seismic shift in movie watching is imminent?

CAREY: I think the jury is out. We are still in the eye of the storm with VR, especially in Australia. The films are becoming more sophisticated, going beyond just the experiential and moving into more complex narrative forms, like that seen in Miyubi. As to where it goes, it is hard to tell. The reason we entered into VR is that a lot of filmmakers are in that space. Local filmmakers such as Matthew Bate and Amiel Courtin-Wilson have artistic ambitions within the medium, more than just creating an extension of a theme park ride. That said, I think a film festival has to defend what cinema is about at its core, which is that big screen experience, the telling of stories. Whether that’s in a narrative way, or a non-narrative way, in a visual way or via the more traditional three-act structure, we have to be mindful of opening (our programme) up too much. Audio-visual media today is so pervasive you need boundaries, otherwise it risks becoming a bit meaningless.

SCREEN-SPACE: You were in Cannes for the Netflix controversy. You have programmed television content in 2017. Clearly you’re open to inviting the small screen onto MIFF’s big screens…

CAREY: When you say ‘television’, you have to also ask, “What type of television?” We’re not going to be showing Yummy Mummies any time soon. It still has to have some kind of auteur’s bent. The television we are showing – Glitch and Top of The Lake: China Girl – are great ‘big screen’ experiences, beautifully shot works. We are not turning into a television festival, that much is true, but you have to be open to it when some of the best talent in the world is working in the medium.

SCREEN-SPACE: Was there a film in 2017 that you pulled rank on, that had you banging the table and saying, “I say it’s in!”?

CAREY: (Laughs) Oh, probably Out 1, the 13 hour, 1971 French film by Jacques Rivette. I think a lot of people may have said, “Are you mad?” (laughs) It is a 16mm print, subtitled in German, that we then had to get two people to tag-team subtitle in English live in the cinema. And there have been a couple of experimental works that I’m sure made some of our staff think, “But why?” But I think those films are the sort of works that festivals need to present.

The 2017 MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL screens August 3 to 20. Full session and ticketing information at the event's official website.

Photo credit: Graham Denholm

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.