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Entries in MIFF (4)

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
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.

Wednesday
Jul152015

SOUTHLAND TALES: THE NIMA JAVIDI INTERVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday
Aug282014

DAY OF THE ANIMALS: THE MICHAEL DAHLSTROM INTERVIEW

Despite offering up one of the most confronting film experiences of the MIFF 2014 program, director Michael Dahlstrom is a happy man. His documentary, The Animal Condition examines our complex relationship with the animals we exploit and had just played to packed audiences for its World Premiere when he chatted with SCREEN-SPACE about the unique narrative structure he employs and finding the balance between harrowing expose and hopeful advocacy filmmaking…

“We sold out both sessions, which was surprising and great,” says Dahlstrom (pictured, below), a NIDA graduate, on the final day of an extensive media schedule that has accompanied the premiere of his debut feature. Audience reaction was exactly what he had hoped for, a passionate chorus of opinions from those involved in both the trade and protection of livestock. Says the director, “It became a spirited Q-&-A debate afterwards, lead by an intensive farmer and a free range farmer and a vegan activist, as well as plenty of the vocal public.”

Shot over four years, The Animal Condition underwent extensive shifts in focus and tone before it became the expansive, insightful advocacy work it is today. What begins as an adventure about four angry, wide-eyed inner-city types (at one point, rescued baby chickens dance on a piano keyboard) soon becomes a multi-tiered examination of industrialized farming and the emotional issues inherent to animal exploitation.

“In the beginning, we were definitely making a very deliberate activist film,” says Dahlstorm, who appears on-screen alongside producers Ande Cunningham, Sarah-Jane McAllan (pictured, below) and Augusta Miller. “Initially, we weren’t going to film ourselves. But as we started arguing about different points, we realised it might be interesting to capture the decision-making process we were going through. You can clearly see the filmmaking style change and us change as individuals as the narrative develops.”

The four friends engage the services of a radical animal activist who helps them gain illegal access to a battery hen factory; the sad footage turns shocking when, during the course of shooting, the live export controversy erupted and smuggled film of barbaric slaughter practices surfaced (see footage here; viewer discretion advised).  “That footage was informing the wider population at the same time as it was informing us and our filming,” says Dahlstrom, who remained mindful that the horrible minutiae of slaughterhouse reality is not always the most effective tool an activist can employ. “If you show really extreme footage, then people will have a knee-jerk reaction and they will switch off or react with the own extreme views.”

“What we wanted to capture was the realities of intensive farming facilities, but also the transition of animal welfare issue from fringe activism to something that all of Australia was talking about,” he says, confirming that The Animal Condition was designed to preach beyond the converted. “The audience that we had in mind was certainly the Australian public. We wanted to create a time capsule of what happened in 2009 up until the end of live exports.”

Ultimately, Dahlstrom’s film impacts due to a very even-handed approach, ensuring all parties involved in modern farming practices have time to air their points-of-view. Corporate heads, political leaders and intensive farmers are given as strong a voice as the pro-animal liberationists and traditional farmers. The film captures a turning point for a country that has proudly boasted of the wealth it has attained by ‘riding on the sheep’s back’, i.e. exploiting the rich, natural world for economic gain.

“I think for us to grow as a country we have to be self-reflective,” says the director. “If having an international eye on us makes us conscious of what we are doing and the example we set as a population, and this film helps to shine that kind of spotlight on us, then that can only help us as a nation.”

Michael Dahlstrom will be in attendance when The Animal Condition screens at the Sydney Underground Film Festival un Sunday, September 7. Full details can be found at the event website here.