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Entries in New Zealand (3)

Monday
Aug142017

McLAREN: THE ROGER DONALDSON INTERVIEW

Bruce McLaren remains one of New Zealand’s most beloved sons. A giant in the world of sport to this day, the driver died aged 32 doing what would define him – striving to better the sport he loved, while leading those around him with a rare integrity. “Like James Dean or Buddy Holly, he’s one of those icons who were cut down in their prime and yet their work still lives on,” says McLaren director Roger Donaldson, whose latest study in speed and obsession (the last was The World’s Fastest Indian in 2005) is a thrilling and deeply moving tribute to a national hero. Ahead of the film’s home viewing launch in its homeland, the director of Kiwi classics Smash Palace and Sleeping Dogs and Hollywood blockbusters Cocktail, Species, The Getaway, Dante’s Peak and Thirteen Days sat with SCREEN-SPACE to discuss the legacy and legend that is Bruce McLaren…                         (Photo credit: Chris McKeen)

SCREEN-SPACE: Hollywood lent on you to be ‘The Starmaker’. Gibson in The Bounty; Cruise in Cocktail; Costner in No Way Out. They were all actors on the cusp that the studios needed to be big stars. Good times?

DONALDSON: The people you get to be in your movies are your movies. If you’re lucky enough to make a good movie and you’ve got the right talent, the whole lot comes together and people turn up to see them. The 80s were definitely a good place for me to be making films in America.

SCREEN-SPACE: When did the young Roger Donaldson first become aware of Bruce McLaren?

DONALDSON: As a boy, I lived in Ballarat with a dad who was very keen on car racing. His father had been a doctor out in the Linton and Skipton region, 30 miles out of Ballarat, and he would drive the ambulance flat out to and from Ballarat. That was his excuse for driving fast and having fast cars all the time, ’34 V8s and a Vauxhall 3098. I remember going to see Bruce race at Sandown Park against Jack Brabham. I kept my diary from the day, so I know that Jack won and Bruce got third.

SCREEN-SPACE: The bond that the elite drivers shared from that period was a unique type of friendship…

DONALDSON: I think Jack was the reason Bruce got to the UK. When he’d return from Europe and visit New Zealand, Jack would leave his cars in the garage owned by Bruce’s father, who’d fix them up. Jack became a close friend of the McLaren family. He was 10 years older than Bruce and he became very much a mentor, someone who recognised how talented the young Bruce was and who encouraged him to come to England. It was a much more intimate group of people. They’d drive from race meet to race meet, the wives and families always being together. Jim Clark and Jack remained close friends of Bruce.

SCREEN-SPACE: From your very first film, Burt Munro: Offerings to The Gods of Speed (1971) to The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) to McLaren, you’ve had a filmic fascination with men obsessed with speed and danger…  

DONALDSON: Only in retrospect do I ask myself why am I so interested in this subject. Truth is I’m no more interested in car racing than I am in going to an art gallery or great concert. My true passion is filmmaking, and if you can embrace the things you’re most interested in you make better films. I have subjects in the world of art that I want to make films about, for example, but the projects that have gained traction are those set in the world of speed. Perhaps what fascinates me about people who do dangerous jobs as entertainment is that their choices pose the question, “What is your life worth?” I did some work with mountaineers, with Sir Edmund Hilary, these people who know what the negative odds are that they are up against but are still prepared to do it for the exhilaration and empowerment. If people were scared of consequences, nothing would go forward. Risk-taking should be a major element of anybody’s life. The risk I took is that it might not all work and I might be a complete failure, that I make movies that nobody showed up for; if you’re a race car driver and you fuck it up, you’re in much bigger trouble.

SCREEN-SPACE: You’ve mastered the craft of capturing the essence of speed on film. What are technicalities of conveying the experience of life threatening momentum?

DONALDSON: The technical side of capturing speed on film is not that easy. One of the first things I discovered was that you have to be going three times the actual speed to make it look fast. Real-time speed, especially without sound, doesn’t look fast. It requires many filmmaking elements, including the great pulsating score that David Long did for us on McLaren, for the essence of true speed to be conveyed.

SCREEN-SPACE: Your interviewees look directly into the lens, a method which imbues the film with a profoundly affecting, first-person perspective. The moment where the ‘fourth wall’ collapses and Phil Kerr addresses you before breaking down is heartbreaking

DONALDSON: Yes, I know. Phil knew Bruce since they were teenagers; they flatted together in Europe. Iknew this story was going to be deeply personal, so I wanted those on camera to talking directly to the audience and not me or my camera. I rigged a system so that they could look directly into the lens but were actually addressing a reflected image of me.

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the themes of your film is the memory of loss, of time passing. Did Bruce’s late widow Patty ever see the film?

DONALDSON: No, she didn’t. Key people are acknowledged at the end of the film, like Phil and Patty, who never got to see it. Those that knew him and have seen the film got a charge out of how it honoured Bruce’s legacy and captured his spirit and contribution to the sport. And Bruce’s daughter Amanda was very helpful, providing access to family history and much of her Patty’s personal material. She went on film and provided some lovely thoughts on her dad, but she was so young when he died her recollections are largely those of others she’s spoken to over the years. It was hard to leave some material out of the film, that is for sure.

SCREEN-SPACE: What do you hope McLaren conveys about the legacy left by the man?

DONALDSON: I think genuinely he was quite an extraordinary person. Not many people come along like Bruce; he didn’t have a bad bone in his body. He was an inspired, motivated leader of people, filled with innovation and bravery. The tragedy of a life like that cut short and the determination of the guys around him to preserve his legacy, to continue forging the company and brand reputation, speaks volumes.

Transmission Films presents McLAREN on home entertainment platforms in Australia on August 16 and New Zealand from August 30; check local distributors in other territories for release details.

Tuesday
Feb282017

DARCY GLADWIN AND THE MUSINGS OF A WEB PROPHET 

At any time in film history, the emergence of a truly free and independent cinematic vision has been cause for celebration. With his film Godplex, a surreal journey that follows a poet/prophet spruiking ‘internet religion’ across the vastness of New Zealand, Darcy Gladwin embodies such a visionary. A much younger man when filming began nearly a decade ago, Gladwin started shooting guided only by a draft script and the vital personality and intellect of his leading man and friend, beat poet Shane Hollands. Ahead of an intimate screening of his film in Sydney’s inner-west, Gladwin spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from his London home…  

“The story was inspired by our lives travelling as musicians throughout New Zealand, realising the messianic qualities of what we were doing and that the poet that I was travelling with could be a great screen persona,” says Gladwin, a self-described ‘inter-media artist’, whose experience across music, photography, film and design led to him writing, directing and editing his debut feature. A non-pro actor, Shane Hollands is a highly respected alternative culture figure in his homeland for his ‘Beat Generation’ poetry stylings; his low-key charisma and live-reading experience made him a natural before the camera. “Shane also has an encyclopaedic mind,” Gladwin says of his friend (pictured, above: the director, left, with his star), who has conquered dyslexia and deals with a degenerative bone condition to perform his unique oratories, “so he brought a huge amount of knowledge (regarding) religion, history, popular and alternative culture. There was continual research and discussion (and) the result is a gut-feel composite.”

Hollands plays Clark Duke, an insurance consultant reborn as a new-age spiritual guru when he launches an e-religion concept called Virtology. After his home is destroyed by fire, he hits the road in an effort to define his own inner enlightenment and talk up his philosophy, undertaking a journey that soon attracts an eclectic mix of followers and doubters. Portraying Gladwin’s fascinating cast of characters are such personalities as Melbourne-based painter Marko Maglaic, Maori performance artist Mika, veteran Aussie character actor Gil Tucker, actress Alison Walls and feature debutant Katie Bierwirth. (Pictured, right: Shane Hollands as Clark)

At the core of Clark’s musings is the notion of ‘Elephant Consciousness’, an invention of Hollands that the director part-explains as, “They're big, beautiful, oppressed beings, (yet are) the smartest animals on the planet. Shane was toying with creating a religion in his backyard and struck up the Elephant metaphor. Godplex was a lovely home for the idea to root and sprout.” A narrative that examines the exploration of faith and spirituality fronted by a poetic preacher will be labelled as an allegory of modern religion, but Gladwin is circumspect regarding any didactic intent. “(That is) a reading I would ally with,” he concedes, “but I do hope that any lines found inside be wavy and that preaching is quite far from the mode of cinema that I aspire to.”

The ethereal nature of Duke’s journey allowed Gladwin to create a visual storytelling style that is distinctly dense and complex. Recalling the avant-garde cinema of the 1980s and the free-spiritedness of 1960s counter-culture art, Godplex looks contemporary while evoking bohemian aesthetics and a Jack Kerouac/Timothy Leary-type personality all its own. “It has been a great struggle for me to identify where I sit in film culture, as I feel like an endless explorer and nothing satisfies,” admits Gladwin. “As a low budget filmmaker, I'm looking to create a cohesive visual style with resources at my grasp. So finding environments and objects that don't suck is a really important first consideration.” He points out that the staging of key moments embraces a vibrant use of composition. “I think that the Godplex cinematic frame is conservative, which allows the content to speak clearly. Overall the style is gut-feel, ‘Do-it-Yourself’, and I've enjoyed that a lot.” (Pictured, above: Gladwin, on location in Auckland, with AD Rina Patel). 

Given his debut feature took years to complete, Darcy Gladwin admits he might do a couple of things differently on his next shoot. “I've heard that producer-type people can be valuable additions to a team,” he says with a laugh. He refused to let the long passages between production on the film slow him down, stating proudly, “I continued to make and perform music, shoot documentaries and music videos, and have a baby.” He regrets nothing of the process that has resulted in a bracingly unique film experience bound for cult status in years to come. “I loved the process of shooting over many years,” he says, “because there was space for a lot of thought, learning and reflection.” 

GODPLEX will screen at The Record Crate, 34 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe on Thursday, March 2 at 7.00pm. Full details can be found here.

Tuesday
Mar192013

THE SHORT FILM THAT SAVED JANE CAMPION.

For Oscar-winning filmmaker Jane Campion, the environment in which her key protagonists exist is as crucial to her narratives as her characters and the actors who play them.

Her latest project, the highly-anticipated TV mini-series Top of the Lake (pictured, above), features breathtaking South Island locations from her native New Zealand. The city of Queenstown and several vivid, remote wilderness regions of the Otago district are utilised to stunning effect. At the other end of her homeland you will find the majestic cliffs and fierce seas of Karekare Beach, in the Waitakere district of Auckland on the North Island, used to symbolic perfection in her breakout film, 1993s The Piano.

But it is in The Water Diary, a little-seen short film that was part of the 2006 portmanteau film 8, that Campion most directly addresses her landscape. The project, which also featured directorial efforts from Gael Garcia Bernal, Gus Van Sant, Mira Nair, Wim Wenders and Gaspar Noe, came to fruition under the guidance of French producer Marc Oberon. It was Oberon’s aim to provide artistic support to United Nation’s Millenium Development Goals, a vast humanitarian endeavour designed to eradicate such dire social ills as poverty, hunger and child mortality by 2015.

Campion immersed herself in an Australian outback scorched by drought and the tensions it brings to a young family living on the land. Seen largely through the eyes of two early-teen daughters, The Water Diary puts a stark, honest face on the social impact on the rural sector of extended dry periods. Filmed at Nimmitabel in the New South Wales southern highlands with a beautifully detailed visual acuity courtesy of DOP Greig Fraser (Bright Star; Zero Dark Thirty), it is heartbreaking study in the consequences on real people of our leaders refusal to address the changing climate.

Jane Campion had undertaken a self-imposed exile after the troubled shoot and subsequent commercial failure of her American effort, In The Cut. The 8 project would inspire her to write again and return to the director’s chair. Proving to be a turning point in her career, she would go on to receive some of the best notices of her career for 2009s Bright Star, a Palme d’Or nominee. That film's success afforded her the confidence and artistic freedom to write (with longtime collaborator Gerard Lee) and direct (with Garth Davis) the 300 minute-long Top of the Lake (pictured, right; Campion directing star Elisabeth Moss). Following it’s jubilant Sundance premiere, trade paper The Hollywood Reporter called Top of the Lake, “…an edgy, disturbing and altogether first-rate crime drama.”

Tellingly, one Top of the Lake review noted in particular Campion’s use of the setting to convey mystery and foreboding. “The landscape,” wrote Robert Lloyd in the Los Angeles Times, “which is huge and powerful and makes mites of men, does much of the work for her.” It suggests that Campion, reunited with the creative energy she draws from her picturesque settings, is back on solid ground as one of world cinema’s most compelling directors.

Following a screening of the first two episodes of Top of the Lake, Jan Campion and Gerard Lee will front a Q&A session at the Cremorne Orpheum Cinema this Wednesday, March 20. Tickets available via the Popcorn Taxi website and at the venue.