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Entries in Film Festival (25)

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.

Sunday
May082016

PREVIEW: 63rd SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL

The production prowess of 15 film territories infuses the 12 features vying for competitive honours at the 63rd Sydney Film Festival (SFF). Opening June 8 with the World Premiere of Ivan Sen’s outback-noir thriller Goldstone (pictured, below), the 2016 Official Competition boasts 8 Australian premieres from such diverse filmmaking cultures as Denmark, Portugal, Hungary, South Africa, India and Brazil, in addition to festival regulars France, the U.K., Germany and the U.S.

Four of the competitive titles will be hitting Harbour City screens directly from the 69th Cannes Film Festival. They are Boo Junfeng’s Apprentice, a locally-lensed psychological drama exploring the hot-button issue of capital punishment; Raman Raghav 2.0, a chilling account of India’s worst serial killer, from Gangs of Wasseypur director Anurag Kashyap; Kleber Mendonca Filho’s Aquarius, starring Sonia Braga as the last resident of a historic high rise who refuses to vacate; and, Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan’s latest, It’s Only The End of The World, a bittersweet coming-of-death drama with Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux.

Other titles in the hunt for the $60,000 Sydney Film Prize are Martin Zandvliet’s WWII drama Land of Mine, a Danish/German co-production that examines Denmark’s mistreatment of German POWs; Certain Women, a three-tiered study in female empowerment that reteams director Kelly Reichardt with her Wendy and Lucy leading lady, Michelle Williams, alongside Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart; Portuguese filmmaker Ivo Ferreira’s Golden Bear-nominated Letter from War, a monochromatic tale of long-distant love set against Angolan colonial conflict of the 1970s; the UK docu-drama Notes on Blindness, based upon the life of writer John Hull, from co-directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney; actor-turned-director Brady Corbet’s Venice-honored dark fantasy The Childhood of a Leader, with Robert Pattinson and Berenice Bejo (pictured, right); The Endless River, a South African crime drama from Skoonheid director Oliver Hermanus; and, the Cuban-set queer-themed father-son story Viva, from Irish director Paddy Breathnach and executive producer Benicio Del Toro.

Competitive strands across the 12 day festival include the Documentary Australia Foundation Award, offering a $15,000 cash prize to 10 hopefuls, among them the World Premiere of Taryn Brumfitt’s body-image advocacy doc, Embrace; the popular Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films; and, Event Cinemas Australian Short Screenplay Awards.

Non-competitive features are as richly diverse as those in line for official kudos. From the ever-expanding roster of over 250 films, festival goers can see the latest from Steven Spielberg (The BFG, with Oscar-winner Mark Rylance as the titular CGI behemoth); Mel Gibson (Jean-Francois Richet’s Blood Father); Jake Gyllenhaal (Jean-Marc Vallee’s Demolition); Viggo Mortensen (Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic); director Whit Stillman (Love and Friendship, with Kate Beckinsale; pictured, right); Temuera Morrison (Mahana, for his Once Were Warriors director, Lee Tamahori); Michael Shannon (opposite Kevin Spacey in Elvis & Nixon); director Richard Linklater (Everybody Wants Some!); Russian Ark documentarian Aleksandr Sokurov (Francophonia); Pedro Almodovar (Julieta) and, Daniel Radcliffe (as a corpse, opposite Paul Dano in Swiss Army Man).

There will be double the joy for fans of Ethan Hawke and Tom Hiddleston, each of whom have two pics in the mix - Hawke with Maggie’s Plan, opposite Greta Gerwig, and the Chet Baker bio, Born to Be Blue; Hiddleston with Ben Wheatley’s thriller High Rise and the Hank Aaron bio, I Saw The Light. Fans of animated films will be similarly delighted – in the Documentary strand is Roger Ross William’s Sundance honoree Life, Animated, the story of an autistic teenager and the curative power of his obsession with Disney films; the fifth instalment of the adventures of the acorn-focussed Scrat in Ice Age: Collision Course; and, Remy Chaye’s epic seafaring adventure Long Way North, a French/Danish co-production.

Gender diversity is high on the agenda for SFF 2016, notably in the programming of the sidebar European Cinema: 10 Women Filmmakers to Watch. Amongst the selection are challenging, engaging visions from Austria (Barbara Eder’s Thank You for Bombing), Greece (Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier), Sweden (Sara Jordeno’s Kiki), Poland (Agnieska Smoczynska’s The Lure; pictured, below), Germany (Nicolette Krebitz’s Wild; Icair Bollan’s The Olive Tree) and Denmark (Frederikke Aspock’s Rosita).

Other strands include focus programming on the territories of Ireland (John Carney’s Sing Street; Conor Horgan’s Queen of Ireland; Ken Wardrop’s Mom and Me) and Korea, particularly the region’s ‘Social Cinema’ movement (Jung Yoon-suk’s NonFiction Diary; Zhang Lu’s Love And…; Ahn Gooc-jin’s Alice in Earnestland). Returning will be the Sounds on Screen line-up, featuring the music of Sharon Jones (Barbara Kopple’s Miss Sharon Jones!), David Byrne (Bill and Turner Ross’ Contemporary Color), James Lavelle (Matthew Jones’ The Man from Mo’Wax) and Janis Ian (Amy Berg’s Little Girl Blue). And the frightening Freak Me Out horror selections take on a broader global perspective than in recent years, with co-productions from Jordan/Qatar (Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow), Serbia/Bosnia and Herzegovina/Croatia (Nicholas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother), France/Belgium/Spain (Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution; trailered, below), Canada/US (Tyler McIntyre’s Patchwork), as well Aussie contributors Craig Anderson (the locally-produced Red Christmas, with Dee Wallace) and Sean Byrne (his US debut, The Devil’s Candy).

As is the case with the very best of international festivals, Sydney will offer reverence to past masters as well as embracing and exploring the future of the film. Restorations include the vast, previously-announced Martin Scorsese retrospective; Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 masterpiece, Tokyo Story; Filipino auteur Lino Brocka’s 1976 social drama, Insiang; the late Chantal Akerman’s 1975 droll, atmospheric feminist epic, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles; and, the Australian classics Bliss and The Boys. Futurists will flock to Down The Rabbithole: Virtual Reality, a series of panels, presentations and interactive eyewear opportunities exploring the next wave of interactive vis-tech co-presented in association with Jumpgate VR at the festival’s meeting place, The Hub.

The 63rd edition of the Sydney Film Festival runs June 8-19. Venue, session and ticket information can be found at the event's official website.

Wednesday
Apr272016

BORN IN THE U.S.A.:THE RICHARD SOWADA INTERVIEW

Independent: (adj) free from outside control; not subject to another's authority.

Australian filmgoers seeking to be challenged and energized will welcome a new cinema event called Essential Independents: American Cinema, Now. Featuring 32 films (including 11 Australian premieres), the 16-day program aims to contextualize the creative paths forged by American independent filmmakers, the current state of the sector and visions that suggest a vibrant future lies ahead. The rich schedule – presented under the strands Fiction, Intrigue, Experiments, Originals and New York - is the cumulative work of artistic director Richard Sowada, one of Australia’s leading film academics and event curators. His credits include the founding in 1997 of Perth’s iconic counter-culture film event, Revelation, and a nine-year posting as Head of Film Programs at the Australian Centre for The Moving Image. He spoke with SCREEN-SPACE ahead of the launch of the Sydney season on May 17 (other states to follow)…

SCREEN-SPACE: What is the current state of American independent cinema and how does your inaugural line-up capture that? 

SOWADA: It’s always been in a healthy state across experimental, documentary and feature film elements. I’m not sure why; it’s almost like that because the US walks such a precarious, perilous socio-political line with so many social and cultural divisions within itself, it engenders a kind of urgency amongst the creative community, like their world is about to implode and they have to act fast. Also, the sheer volume of work created forces the filmmakers to approach things in ambitious, inventive ways. The ambition isn’t always directed at scale of course, but perhaps something as small and simple as “I can do this”. The new works in the program grab hold of that actively. We throw weight behind quite experimental films, to high-quality political and socially oriented documentaries. The features also explore style, form, performance and technique. There are genuinely fresh ideas and exciting approaches, even in feature debuts.

SCREEN-SPACE: Given the dire 'superhero blockbuster' studio mentality, and funding/distribution struggle for truly indie cinema, might your byline 'American Cinema, Now' be courting disfavour?

SOWADA: What you’re talking about here are two different industries. One is based on selling popcorn, the other on working with ideas. The entire emphasis and tradition is different. Independent approaches always had to struggle against the massive amount of mediocre content; in publishing, art, fashion, music, business, everywhere, all the time. The whole independent approach is about finding a different way and they continue to do just that. This program is just one example. To see these films on commercial independent screens around Australia is a small miracle in itself. It’s opportunities like this that start to shift the funding and distribution possibilities for these kinds of films. If you can demonstrate an audience, you’re well on the way to breaking through and changing the status quo.

SCREEN-SPACE: Can we ever hope to regain the fever pitch state of indie film production that erupted in the wake of Pulp Fiction in the mid-90s?

SOWADA: The whole industry is a creative continuum. Pulp Fiction is used as a marker for the orgasmic explosion of independent cinema into (the) mainstream, but this revolution was going on before Pulp Fiction (and) has continued unabated since. Just because we don’t see a lot of it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Stranger Than Paradise and Blood Simple were on our screens 10 years earlier. Locally, Once Were Warriors came out in the same year as Pulp Fiction and changed the independent distribution and exhibition landscape in Australia. The brashness of something like Pulp Fiction didn’t create more independent works, it just bought audiences into the environment that was already there. The films also slowly morphed into a different kind of independent cinema which often has something softer, like what the the austere approach of the Dogme movement did for Danish cinema. Boyhood is a great and quite revolutionary example of that.

Above: Oren Moverman's Time Out of Mind, Opening Night film at Essential Independents

SCREEN-SPACE: 'Essential Intrigue’ profiles true cage-rattlers, like Robert Mapplethorpe (pictured, below; with singer Patti Smith) and Johnny Cash, as well as anti-establishment accounts of sectors like tech security and hip hop culture. Is independent cinema at its best when challenging the accepted norm?

SOWADA: I think that’s an accidental thing in many ways. Often these stories are personal and hidden. They’re buried deep in subculture(s) or forgotten corners of history. Those corners are hard to see by producers, funders, broadcasters and distributors who often feel they’re too ‘niche’ to explore. This word ‘niche’ is used by sectors of the industry to describe something they don’t understand. Therefore the misunderstood, specific or marginalised are deemed without audience. The independent sector, on the other hand, has a very different perspective; from lower down, they can get access into these corners and their inhabitants. I’m not sure if these filmmakers deliberately go out to challenge accepted norms but because they understand and respect their subjects and audiences so well, the works reflect their protagonists differently. The films are what they’re about, not simply a reflection of it. There’s a different, much more personal feel and approach where the magic overlay of style and content is very strong and individual.

SCREEN-SPACE: Does a correlation exist between the debut works featured in Essential Originals?

SOWADA: There’s a couple that play to genres like Near Dark and Blood Simple but I think the real binding element – and this cuts across all the titles throughout the program – is the respect they have for what’s gone before, just like Tarantino’s work. You can see Two Lane Blacktop in Kelly Riechardt’s River of Grass. You can see Cassavetes’ work in Stranger Than Paradise and Slacker. You can see Double Indemnity in Blood Simple. You can see Alien in Near Dark. What they do is take these inspirations, traditions, the special connections they have both with audiences and the sheer logistics of making a low-budget film and integrate them into their own signature. You can literally see the filmmakers taking the great moments and dissecting them to see how those moving parts work. It’s quite scientific study, experimentation and appreciation.

Above: Trailer for William Friedkin's Cruising, screening as part of Essential New York strand.

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the great coups of the festival will be a rare screening of William Friedkin's Cruising. How do you expect the millenial audience to react to such a confronting, non-PC work?

SOWADA: You simply couldn’t make a film like that for commercial release any more. It’s hardcore, with little left to the imagination. Not having been part of the NYC S&M club scene in the 70s, the depictions seem very authentic, which is fascinating and vibrant to watch. You don’t question the realism and there’s so much detail. It must have been a difficult film to make and Pacino does a great job. New audiences are going to lap it up, so to speak. It’s so surprising. It’s high quality in every way - widescreen, great sound, excellent soundtrack, brilliant costuming, a tense story and completely underground, subculture setting. I think new audiences will walk away asking what happened to these high risk/high reward films? Matching it up with Franco’s performance experiment Interior. Leather Bar is going to tip the whole experience over the edge. Now that’s what I call a double feature!

Essential Independents: American Cinema, Now screens at Palace Cinemas from May 17 in Sydney, May 18 in Melbourne, May 19 in Brisbane and Canberra and May 26 in Adelaide. Ticket and venue information via the event's official website.