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Entries in Film Festival (30)

Saturday
Feb032018

THE WIDOWED WITCH TAKES TIGER TROPHY AT IFFR 2018

The 2018 Hivos Tiger trophy for Best Film at the 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) has been awarded to Cai Chengjie’s The Widowed Witch. In a statement issued by the official Jury, Chengjie’s remarkably assured debut feature, “is a film of epic dimensions with a narrative that is greater than one person or moment. Its bold vision, created by a lyrical layering of cinematographic elements, makes [the] film stand out.”

Also singled out from the eight films in contention for the Tiger honour was Muayad Alayan’s The Reports on Sarah and Saleem. Screenwriter Rami Alayan earned a Special Jury Award for the personal and politically charged drama, the Jury declaring, “The screenplay intertwines the personal and the political and it manages to balance a complex plot with convincing characters.” An international co-production between Palestine, The Netherlands, Germany and Mexico, the film also won the coveted Hubert Bals Fund Audience Award, a €10,000 cash prize named after the late festival founder. (Pictured, below: IFFR 2018 winners include, from clockwise, The Widowed Witch, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, Nina, Azougue Nazaré)

The Bright Future Award, a €10,000 endowment to a first time feature director, went to Tiago Melo’s mystical Brazilian drama Azougue Nazare, a work that employed a non-pro cast from the film's remote location. Malene Choi Jensen’s The Return was also singled out by the Jury for Special Mention for its depiction of, “a personal quest [that] gradually transforms into a reflection on loneliness, belonging, and existential homecoming.”

The most popular film of IFFR 2018 was Gustav Möller’s The Guilty (pictured, right), which took out two honours – the highly-prized Audience Award and the Youth Jury Award. The tense police procedural subverted plot and genre conventions to deliver a thriller which delivered, in the words of the Youth Jury members, “a master class in suspense.” From a program of 20 short films from 18 countries, Oscar Hudson’s Joy in People took out Voices Short Audience Award.

The other audience honour is the VPRO Big Screen Award, chosen by a jury of five audience members that ensures the winning film plays in Dutch theatres and is broadcast on national television. In 2018, that film was Nina, from Polish filmmaker Olga Chajdas.

The local filmmaker chosen by the Circle of Dutch Film Journalists as the festival’s Best Dutch, or Dutch co-produced work was Lucrecia Martel’s Zama. The body of international critics deciding upon this year’s Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique (FIPRESCI) honour chose Ere Gowda’s charming Kanarees language Balekempa. 

 

The NETPAC Award for Best Asian film having its World Premiere at IFFR 2018 was Shireen Seno’s Nervous Translation. The NETPAC Jury stated, “its singularly original representation of childhood beautifully captures a unique view full of contradictory interactions, introspection, social and political dissonance, and disquietude. With this film, the director has succeeded in creating an unforgettable cinematic universe.”

The Found Footage Award, an inaugural category introduced to honour those filmmakers employing archive or recycled footage to create fresh narratives, was awarded Slovenian Nika Autor’s mid-length feature, Newsreel 63: The Train of Shadows. 

Festival director Bero Beyer (pictured, right) thanked, “The crazy, daring, outspoken and warm people” of both IFFR and Rotterdam for ensuring the event reached new heights. Several aspects of past festivals were reworked and relaunched in 2018, most notably the Cinemart professional marketplace. The festival has one full day of screenings left before Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin closes out the 2018 program.

Wednesday
Jan312018

FIRST REFORMED: THE PAUL SCHRADER INTERVIEW

IFFR 2018: The setting provided to meet with Paul Schrader is appropriately magisterial. A corner boardroom, high-walled and white carpeted, near the third floor film festival offices in Rotterdam’s de Doelen building, has been turned into bare space; tall windows allow the steely grey morning light to fill the room. The 72 year-old industry icon sits alone at a small table in the far corner, checking his phone; despite the imposing space he commands, Schrader appears, in every respect, to be a respectable if unremarkable elderly gentleman. But his legacy is remarkable; after half a century as a gifted screenwriter (Taxi Driver; Rolling Thunder; Obsession; The Mosquito Coast; The Last Temptation of Christ; Bringing Out the Dead) and director, often of his own scripts (Hardcore; American Gigolo; Cat People; Mishima A Life in Four Chapters; Affliction; Auto Focus; The Canyons), his immense reputation fills the room.

Schrader is attending the International Film Festival Rotterdam with his latest film First Reformed, a dark spiritual journey in which a damaged chaplain (Ethan Hawke) crusades via increasingly desperate means for environmental change. He is also presenting ‘Dark and the Lessons Learned’, a frank account of his torrid experiences shooting, relinquishing, then resurrecting his 2014 Nicholas Cage thriller, Dying of The Light. His handshake is soft; his voice strong, if a little congested. Thankfully, Paul Schrader, once considered one of Hollywood’s darker personalities, is in a good mood. By the time SCREEN-SPACE settled into the chair opposite him, he was already talking movies…

SCREEN-SPACE: You come to Rotterdam on a wave of good will for First Reformed, which is getting some of the best reviews of your career.

SCHRADER: I’ve not had a bad screening of this film. It seems to work for people. In fact, because the film pulls so many things together, themes that I’ve worked with over the last 15 years – writing about spiritual things, making spiritual films – I’ve decided to enjoy this moment, this victory lap of touring around the world with the film. I’m doing a whole lecture tour at various seminaries around the US. I’ve updated a book that I wrote 45 years ago, called Transcendental Style in Film, and that gets republished in May. (Pictured, above; First Reformed stars Ethan Hawke, left, and Amanda Seyfried, with their director)

SCREEN-SPACE: Is this the first time you’ve ever fully explored in film what you wrote about in your book?

SCHRADER: It’s the first time I’ve ever had the desire to. It came about maybe 3 years ago. I was giving an award to Pawel Pawlikowski for his film Ida and we had dinner together, and I was taken back by how much I liked [Ida], responded to its themes and story. And I was alone, walking home, and just said out loud to myself, “It’s time you made one of these.” I had never thought I would make a contemplative film, but after that dinner with Pawel it struck me that I was 70 years old and that I should make one.

SCREEN-SPACE: How did that desire manifest through the lead character Toller, played by Ethan Hawke? How is your contemplative protagonist different from other Schrader leads?

SCHRADER: The main character stems from Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest. The setting is from Bergman’s Winter Light; there’s a levitation scene I’ve taken from Tarkovsky. The ending, sort of from Borzage. And it’s all held together by the glue of Taxi Driver (laughs). Toller is a sick man, his main sickness being what Kierkegaard called ‘the sickness unto death’, which is despair and angst. He is trying to find any way he can through his sickness, be it drink or keeping his journal or the ritual of church services. When he meets this kid with another kind of despair, a sad resignation about the environment, he tries to counsel the kid but the kid kills himself. So Toller adopts the boy’s sickness, adapts it into his own despair, and becomes an environmentalist jihadist. Now, that despair has become much more immediate in our current times. In the past, 2000 years ago, when mankind spoke about the future they spoke hypothetically, will no real notion of the end of days. Nowadays, such discussions are not so hypothetical. (Pictured above; Ethan Hawke as Toller, in First Reformed) 

SCREEN-SPACE: Let me read from Owen Gleiberman’s Variety review, in which he states your film exhibits, “the transcendental austerity of Bresson, Dreyer and Ozu”. What does it mean to be spoken of in that sort of company?

SCHRADER: It is a contemplative film. Most films lean into you, are desperate for your attention. Here’s a beautiful naked person, here’s some loud music to tell you how to feel. Another way a film can work, the way I think and hope First Reformed works, is to lean away from you. They give you less, slow it down, delay the cuts, don’t have music. When movies lean away, which is inherently an uncommercial thing to do, then the viewer can lean into the film, or they can leave. That’s the delicate dance that a filmmaker who works on the slow side has to do. Asking of yourself, ‘How can I slow it down? How can I withhold things from you and get you to come and join this story without boring you? Or at least boring you too much.’ (Laughs) (Pictured, above; Robert Bresson)

SCREEN-SPACE: I find it interesting that both you and your Taxi Driver collaborator Martin Scorsese, with his recent film Silence, have turned to the spiritual, contemplative narrative at this point in your creative lives…

SCHRADER: That was material I had once considered. After Mishima, producers in Japan asked if there was something I would like to do in their country. I knew that Marty had let the rights lapse on that book and I never thought he was ever going to make it. So I tried to secure it, but he caught me.

SCREEN-SPACE: When I spoke with Bret Easton Ellis about The Canyons, he said, “Schrader is a drill sargeant on the set and a lot of crazy as well, but all in a good way.” Does that sum up your directorial mantra?

SCHRADER: (Laughs) A film set is not a democracy and has to move very efficiently. Directors tend to be alpha types, whether male or female. You don’t really get recessive personality types becoming directors. And that is what’s expected of you, to be decisive and driven. You don’t want a drill sargeant who says, ‘What should we do today?’ Today, a film shoot goes so fast. A shoot that would’ve once been 40 days is now a 20-day shoot, and you have more footage. Someone like Ethan prefers the pace, because he says he never leaves ‘the zone’. A long shoot has a lot of dead time, whereas at the modern pace you just work, work, work. (Pictured, left; Schrader, centre, directing The Canyons)

SCREEN-SPACE: You have spent the last two decades writing narratives for the more mature leading man. Ethan Hawke, two films with Nicholas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Nick Nolte, the late James Coburn. Given the key demographic for the Hollywood suits are the under 25s, dealing with the financiers must be a challenge?

SCHRADER: I don’t think a film should unnecessarily expose anyone to financial risk. It should fit within key financial parameters. If I make a film like First Reformed, it has to have a certain budget. Whether it fails or succeeds commercially, we shot it responsibly. If I keep my budget down, that affords me the freedom to do things that other people can’t do, work that I find creatively interesting. Also, we are moving away from the theatrical distribution model, which, frankly, I don’t think is a necessarily bad thing. We have had theatrical distribution solely as a means by which to monetize movies, and it’s been the best way to do it for 100 years. Now, I’m thinking it’s not the best, most efficient way to do it. The theatre experience came out of a certain environment, and now there’s a different environment. For a film like First Reformed, which operates on the quiet side, it is good to start the conversation in a theatre. Critics should see it in a theatre; festival audiences will appreciate it in a theatre. But once the identity of the film is established, audiences can watch it anywhere that works for them. (Pictured, above; Nick Nolte, left, and Schrader on the set of Affliction)

SCREEN-SPACE: During your Masterclass, you derided a new breed of producer, one central to the horrible experience you had on Dying of The Light. Surely the ‘just-in-it-for-the-money’ producer is not a new Hollywood thing to a seasoned veteran such as you?

SCHRADER: It is a new Hollywood thing. In the past, people came to filmmaking through filmmaking, rising through the ranks of production companies or agencies or television, some entity within the community. Now, you are getting investors who really aren’t film people, who don’t watch a lot of movies. In the past, if you ran a film company, you were a film person. Now, the executives come from Coca-Cola, or from a toy company; people that just move from one boardroom to the next. I started out in the studio system, the first five films I did were studio pictures. But by the 80s the studios had changed, so I started making independent films. And now, the independent world is changing and you are doing essentially ‘internet films’. (Pictured, above; Nicholas Cage in Dying of The Light)

SCREEN-SPACE: I find it fascinating that so many of your films - Hardcore, Cat People, Mishima, Light of Day, Light Sleeper, Auto Focus - didn’t find favour with critics or audiences, yet have this enduring quality that makes them resonate today. What aspect of your storytelling gives these films such a life?

SCHRADER: I guess because they are singular. There’s only one film like Mishima. There’s certainly only one film like Auto Focus (laughs). They don’t blend into the landscape. Taxi Driver still stands out there. They are idiosyncratic; perhaps engage the mind more actively. A film like Patty Hearst, which is essentially about a person in a closet, doesn’t happen much. (Pictured, above; Schrader, left, directing Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett in Light of Day)

SCREEN-SPACE: Finally, please indulge me a story about the version of Close Encounters of The Third Kind that you wrote called Kingdom Come. An extraordinary script that Mr Spielberg perhaps did not fully appreciate…

SCHRADER: Oh, gosh. I remember when I met with Steven on it, which became an argumentative discussion. I had partly based the lead character on St Paul, a guy who debunked extra-terrestrial stories but has his own Road to Damascus experience and becomes a proselytiser for the phenomenon. I said to Steven, “I refuse to write a story about the first man to leave our solar system with the sole goal of setting up a McDonalds.” He said, “That’s exactly who I want.” (Laughs

Monday
Jan292018

IFFR HONOURS SHORT FILM STORYTELLERS WITH COVETED TIGER TROPHY  

IFFR 2018: Works from all corners of the international short film community earned plaudits when the judging panel at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) announced the Ammodo Tiger Short Film competition winners on Sunday January 28.

The jury consisted of Chinese filmmaker Ying Liang, who won a Tiger Short trophy in 2009 for Condolences; Dutch graphic designer Mieke Gerritzen; and, Kenyan filmmaker Jim Chuchu, founder of Nairobi-based arts initiative The Nest Collective. The winners were chosen from a field of 22 entrants, including 14 world premieres.

The three films to each earn the €5,000 cash prize were Mountain Plain Mountain, a co-production from Spain, Japan and The Netherlands co-directed by Araki Yu and Daniel Jacoby; director Sara Cwynar’s iPhone teen odyssey Rose Gold (pictured, right), from The USA; and, the latest installment of Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai’s meditative and sombre consideration of death, With History in a Room Filled with People with Funny Names 4, which draws upon the cultures of The USA, Thailand, South Africa and The United Kingdom. (Pictured, top; IFFR directors Bero Beyer, left, and Janneke Staarink, right, with Daniel Jacoby, Araki Yu, Sara Cwynar, and European Film Award nominee Heather Phillipson).

The jury commended the diversity of the narratives while recognising the humanism that binds the winning films. On Mountain Plain Mountain, they stated  “the directors find the microcosmos into which all the loneliness and the isolation of human beings is to be found.” In discussing Rose Gold, the jury said, “The film has been chosen because of the innocent imagery that also makes us feel uncomfortable, because we know that our world isn’t sweet and soft only.”

Arunanondchai’s work (pictured, left) earned particularly high praise, the jury remarking, “There are moments of breathtaking beauty in this ambitious, sprawling, yet deeply moving film. This film reminds us that for all our tech-enabled and capital-fuelled hubris, we remain lonely as we reach for greater meaning, staying inevitably mortal.”

Also honoured was Heather Phillipson’s WHAT’S THE DAMAGE from the U.K. (pictured, right), a timely reaction to the patriarchal white power cabals that govern world. The film was nominated by the IFFR judging panel to compete in the short film category at European Film Awards, to be held in Seville on December 15. "An amazing and original work with unexpected imagery composed as a new aesthetic,” noted the Tiger Short jury, noting, "There is infinite room in the world for cultural works that dissect, critique and rebuke the ghastly political phenomenon that is Trump, and WHAT’S THE DAMAGE is a worthy addition to that canon."

Amongst those competing for the IFFR Tiger Short awards were Australian-born, Paris-based Mel O’Callaghan with Dangerous on the Way, a shared production between Australia and Borneo.

All the nominated films will be screened over the remaining days of the IFFR, which runs until Sunday February 4 at various venues across Rotterdam.

Saturday
Dec162017

PREVIEW: 2018 SCREENWAVE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

As summer temperatures reach seasonal highs on the New South Wales north coast, the Screenwave International Film Festival (SWIFF) will afford adventurous film lovers respite from the heat with its annual programme of bracingly bold and socially conscious features from the global film community.

From January 10 to 25, the 2018 line-up will unspool at The Jetty Memorial Theatre in the holiday haven of Coffs Harbour, five hours drive north of Sydney; a second screening venue is located in the rainforest township of Bellingen, situated in the region’s magnificent hinterland. Now in its third year, the SWIFF experience has expanded on the back of strong local community support, festivalgoers willing to travel and an increasing number of industry figures, all of whom have responded to an event that Festival Director Dave Horsley describes in his program notes as, “a weird, ephemeral beast”.

The Opening Night honours have been bestowed upon Greg McLean’s South American survival epic Jungle, starring Daniel Radcliffe. The true story of Israeli tourist Yossi Ghinsberg’s descent into hallucinatory madness while lost in the Amazon represents a tour de force role for Radcliffe and addresses the relationship between man and the natural world in its most breathtaking and unforgiving form. Closing the Festival will be the Sydney odyssey Ellipsis, the directorial debut of attending guest David Wenham; the romantic drama, which follows two strangers (pictured, right; Emily Barclay, left, and Benedict Samuel) as they meander from Bondi to their inner-city digs, has drawn comparisons to Richard Linklater’s ‘Before…’ trilogy.

Over the festival’s 15 days, 73 features will screen, including six Australian premieres. These are Paul Farmer’s crusading medicos doc, Bending the Arc (USA); Donkeyote (Germany, Spain), Chico Pereira’s account of a man and his mule’s journey across the US; Johnathan Olshefski’s Quest (USA), an inside look at the experiences of an African American family striving for a unified community; The Judge (Palestine, USA), Erika Cohn’s drama that exposes the challenges faced, both professionally and personally, by the first woman appointed as Judge in a Shari’a court of law; French director Ilan Klipper’s debut film, The Starry Sky Above Me (France), a humanistic character study of an ageing author with deeply ingrained neurosis; and, the SXSW sensation A Bad Idea Gone Wrong (USA), a contemporary heist comedy thriller from director Jason Headley.

Artistic Director Kate Howat, who calls her 2018 roster, “15 days of cinematic immersion and discovery”, has undertaken to highlight women and LGBTIQ projects in her programming. The strand 'Hear Me Out' includes six films highlighting the experiences of sexual minorities, including God’s Own Country (UK) from Sundance Best Director winner Francis Lee, and Pulse from Australian director Stevie Cruz-Martin (who will attend with the film’s star Daniel Monks). The female voice will be heard loudly via the sidebar 'Women in Action', a five film strand that includes Mouly Surya’s revenge thriller Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts (Indonesia, France), and the female-maori empowerment drama Waru, from eight of New Zealand’s women directors.

Twenty films comprise the largest of the SWIFF strands, 'World Cinema', with works coming to Coffs Harbour from as far afield as Mexico (Michel Franco’s Cannes honoree, April’s Daughter); China (Liu Jian’s animated action romp Have a Nice Day); Lebanon (Philippe Van Leuw’s Syrian-set family saga Insyriated); Hungary (Ildiko Enyedi’s Berlin and Sydney prize winner On Body and Soul); and, Bulgaria (Valeska Grisebach’s Western). The Nordic film sector is afforded it’s own spotlight, with five films screening from the chillier climes of Europe, including the 2017 Cannes Palme d’Or winner The Square, from Ruben Ostlund.

Of course, a Coffs Harbour film festival would not be worth its weight in board wax if it did not embrace the omnipresent beach culture. The ‘Call of the Surf’ strand will feature one of the highlights of the event – a live soundtrack performance from Band of Frequencies to accompany the screening of Shaun Cairn’s Men of Foam and Wood (pictured, right), an epic documentary that chronicles the Australian surfing scene of the 70s and 80s. Also screening for what is sure to be a receptive audience is Nathan Oldfield’s The Church of The Open Sky, with the director in attendance; Ross Whitaker’s Between Land and Sea, a rare glimpse inside Irish surf culture; and, the double feature session comprising Alena Erenbold’s Blue Road and Chris Bukard’s Under an Arctic Sky.

The 2018 SCREENWAVE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs January 10-25 in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales. Full program and session details can be found at the event’s official website.

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.