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Entries in Oscars (4)



The very existence of a film like The Wound (Inxeba) within the South African film sector is remarkable. Johannesburg-based writer-director John Trengrove crafted the gay-themed narrative to, “push back against clichéd stereotypes of black masculinity perpetuated inside and outside of African cinema.” Central to the film is the tribal circumcision ceremony called Ukwaluka, a rite-of-passage tradition practiced by the Xhosa men during which teenage ‘initiates’ are mentored by young men (khankathas), who nurse them through the trying ordeal. With The Wound building momentum ahead of the US award season (at time of writing, it is shortlisted for the Foreign Film Oscar), Trengrove spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from Sao Paolo, Brazil, about the controversial and frank drama that questions and challenges the perception of the male-dominated African society…

SCREEN-SPACE: When you first started shopping the script around, what reaction did you get from the South African film industry as whole, and perhaps most importantly, the Xhosa people. Was this kind of depiction of their young men something they were immediately open to exploring?

From the beginning there was a strong traditionalist resistance to the idea of the film. We were seen as audacious for even suggesting that same-sex behaviour happens in these kinds of spaces. Of course, all our research showed the opposite, and there was, from the onset, many champions of the project, both from within and outside the Xhosa culture. From an industry standpoint, many colleagues thought we were committing commercial suicide. Who would watch a gay African film? Ironically it's precisely that intersection - a story about same sex desire set in the context of a traditional African custom - that has given the film all it's traction.

SCREEN-SPACE: You create a very volatile dynamic - a depiction of repressed homosexual passion within the context of a brutal and traditional passage into manhood. Was the search for your leads a particularly difficult period? Finding actors to explore the darker aspects of this narrative?

It was a long process. We knew we wouldn't be able to attract mainstream actors, for fear of a public backlash. For this reason we auditioned many non-professionals. We took more than a year and put hundreds of young men on camera. We had a rule...everyone we cast had to be first language Xhosa speakers and had to have first hand experience of the initiation. All three of the leads are very special individuals who, for their own personal reasons, decided to participate. They knew they'd face criticism, but they also believed in what the film was about. (Pctured, above; lead actor Nakhane Touré, centre, in The Wound).

SCREEN-SPACE: What discussions were had when deciding upon the degree to which the film would depict the circumcision ritual?

The community in the film are a real Xhosa community who practice the ritual twice a year. They had complete carte blanche to represent themselves and the ritualised sequences were shot as documentary with no directorial intervention. The most sensitive and taboo details of the practice were omitted. We were never interested in making an expose. 

SCREEN-SPACE: Comparisons are inevitable to Oscar-winner Moonlight. Are there films that have influenced you as a storyteller that we can see in The Wound?

Many films along the way. In particular I was watching a lot of Carlos Reygadas (Japón, 2002; Silent Light, 2007; Post Tenebras Lux, 2012) while I was writing the film. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The ritual takes place within a traditional tribal setting, but there are highways and power lines, and one very funny sequence about the social status of Blackberrys vs. iPhones. This old-vs.-new societal depiction strengthens the duality of the films themes, yes?

Absolutely. It was very interesting to explore the ways in which this ancient ritual rubs up against a westernised industrial world. There is another idea in the film, which is that individual freedom and self-identifying as gay is a middle class privilege. Also, from a traditionalist perspective, that being urbanised intersects with notions of whiteness and softness. (Pictured, left; co-stars Niza Jay Ncoyini, left, and Bongile Mantsai in The Wound).

SCREEN-SPACE: You use very tight framing, very intimate camera angles. When you go wide at the end, as the two protagonists look out over the highway, it is quite a shock. How would you describe the filming style you and your DOP employ?

We wanted to resits the "National Geographic" approach of fetishizing bodies against the African landscape. To put it bluntly, the characters of our story don't care about the landscape in the way that outsiders might. The story is about these men's bodies and what their bodies mean in a social context. For this reason it made sense to stay close to the characters rather than keeping an observational distance. I also liked the sense of claustrophobia this created. We needed to feel confined in spite of the wide, open spaces. On the few occasions when we did use wides, the effect is jarring rather than harmonious, as you suggest.

THE WOUND begins its Australian season on February 8 in select cinemas via distributor IC/OT Entertainment.



AMPAS has responded to one of last year’s most hashtagged controversies with a 2017 Oscar ballot rich in such diverse visions as Moonlight, Fences and Hidden Figures.

Seven minorities have been pegged in the four acting categories, including three African American women in the Best Supporting Actress race – a new standard for the Academy. A third nomination for Viola Davis for her role in Fences (previously, for Doubt in 2008 and The Help in 2011) represents a first for a black actress. Other strong showings amongst Hollywood’s minority artists include Arrival cinematographer Bradford Young (only the second black DOP ever nominated); 13th director Ava Duvernay (the first black woman to earn a Best Documentary nod); La La Land editor Joi McMillon (the first ever black woman Best Editing nominee); and, Manchester by The Sea producer Kimberly Steward (only the second black woman to represent a Best Picture nominee).

While the 2017 nominee list is more culturally vast than recent Oscar races, there is no argument that the diversity issue is still a long way from resolved. No woman made the cut in the Best Director category, despite critically lauded films from Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women) and Andrea Arnold (American Honey); the sole woman to feature in either Screenplay category is Alison Schroeder, who shares a nomination with Theodore Melfi for their Hidden Figures script. But it is telling that the post-announcement analysis of those snubbed is a largely all-white affair, noticeably Amy Adams (no Best Actress consideration for either Arrival or Nocturnal Animals), Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood (denied any love for Sully), Hugh Grant (no Supporting Actor mention for Florence Foster Jenkins), Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor Johnston (Nocturnal Animals, again), Jim Jarmusch and Adam Driver (total shut-out, Paterson) and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash).

No surprise at all was the record-tying 14 nominations bestowed upon Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (pictured, above); in AMPAS history, only Titanic (1997) and All About Eve (1950) have achieved that honour. With 8 nominations apiece, Dennis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama Arrival and Barry Jenkin’s African America LGBT-themed Moonlight offer the most resistance to the jazz musical’s award season momentum. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, Garth Davis’ Lion and Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by The Sea scored six nominations; Denzel Washington’s Fences and David McKenzie’s Hell or High Water earned four. Three nominations apiece went to Hidden Figures and Jackie; dual nominees include Deepwater Horizon, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Moana, Rogue One A Star Wars Story, Kubo and The Two Strings and Passengers.

The Australian industry had one of the strongest showings of any international sector, with Garth Davis’ Lion emerging as a legitimate contender in Best Film, Supporting Actor (Dev Patel), Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman), Adapted Screenplay (Luke Davies), Cinematography (Greig Fraser), and Original Score (Dustin O’Halloran and Volker Bertelmann); surprisingly, Davis himself was bumped from the Best Director category. Mel Gibson returns to the Oscar fold after a controversy-filled absence with Hacksaw Ridge, the World War II drama that was shot in Oz with a full local crew and financial backing. Most endearingly, Australia earned its first ever Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee with Tanna (pictured, above), the Vanuatu-set romantic drama co-directed by Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, shot entirely in the Nauvhal language.

Other fascinating facts to emerge from the 2017 nominations include Meryl Streep resetting her own Oscar nomination record, notching up her 20th with a Best Actress mention for Florence Foster Jenkins; veteran producer Todd Black, whose IMDb page list 33 production credits dating back to 1988’s Spellbinder, earning his first Best Picture nomination for Fences; and, the late playwrite August Wilson earning a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Fences, twelve years since his passing in 2005.

Web indignation is rife following the snubbing of Adams, whose one-two 2016 acting punch in Arrival and Nocturnal Animals appears to have split her vote. The wave of goodwill for Deadpool and its star Ryan Reynolds came to nought, the film a no-show on the nominee list (while the critically-derided Suicide Squad and Passengers both earned nods). Annette Bening (20th Century Women; pictured, right) and Hayley Steinfeld (Edge of Seventeen) felt the pinch of an unusually strong year for lead actress contenders. Other works that must have come close to nomination glory include John Carney’s Sing Street (potentially Film, but undoubtedly Song and Score), Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson (a notable Best Documentary omission), Chan-wook Park’s The Handmaiden (a Foreign Film certainty at one point, with costume and production design credentials to boot) and Robert Egger’s The Witch (surely a cinematography, set and/or production design contender). And Pixar’s grasp on the Best Animation category was loosened slightly with the snubbing of their billion-dollar sequel Finding Dory, bumped by Mouse House stablemates Zootopia and Moana, foreign toons The Red Turtle and My Life As a Zucchini and Laika Animation’s Kubo and The Two Strings.

The full list of 2017 Academy Award nominations:

Best picture:
Arrival; Fences; Hacksaw Ridge; Hell or High Water; Hidden Figures; La La Land; Lion; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight.

Lead actor:
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea; Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge; Ryan Gosling, La La Land; Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic; Denzel Washington, Fences.

Lead actress:
Isabelle Huppert, Elle; Ruth Negga, Loving; Natalie Portman, Jackie; Emma Stone, La La Land; Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins.

Supporting actor:
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight; Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water; Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea; Dev Patel, Lion; Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals.

Supporting actress:
Viola Davis, Fences; Naomie Harris, Moonlight; Nicole Kidman, Lion; Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures; Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea.

Best director:
Damien Chazelle, La La Land; Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge; Barry Jenkins, Moonlight; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea; Denis Villeneuve Arrival

Animated feature:
Kubo and the Two Strings; Moana; My Life as a Zucchini; The Red Turtle; Zootopia.

Animated short:
Blind Vaysha; Borrowed Time; Pear Cider and Cigarettes; Pearl; Piper.

Adapted screenplay:
Eric Heisserer, Arrival; August Wilson, Fences; Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures; Luke Davies, Lion; Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight.

Original screenplay:
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women; Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water; Damien Chazelle, La La Land; Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea.

Bradford Young, Arrival; Linus Sandgren La La Land; Greig Fraser, Lion; James Laxton, Moonlight; Rodrigo Prieto, Silence.

Best documentary feature:
13th; Fire at Sea; I Am Not Your Negro; Life, Animated; O.J.: Made in America.

Best documentary short subject:
4.1 Miles; Extremis; Joe’s Violin; Watani: My Homeland; The White Helmets.

Best live action short film:
Ennemis Interieurs; La Femme et le TGV; Silent Nights; Sing; Timecode.

Best foreign language film:
A Man Called Ove (Sweden); Land of Mine (Denmark); Tanna (Australia); The Salesman (Iran); Toni Erdmann (Germany).

Film editing:
Joe Walker, Arrival; John Gilbert Hacksaw Ridge; Jake Roberts, Hell or High Water; Tom Cross La La Land; Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon Moonlight

Sound editing:
Arrival; Deep Water Horizon; Hacksaw Ridge; La La Land; Sully.

Sound mixing:
Arrival; Hacksaw Ridge; La La Land; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

Production design:
Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte, Arrival; Stuart Craig and Anna Pinnock, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh, Hail, Caesar!; David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land; Guy Hendrix Dyas and Gene Serdena, Passengers

Original score:
Mica Levi, Jackie; Justin Hurwitz La La Land; Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, Lion; Nicholas Britell, Moonlight; Thomas Newman, Passengers

Original song:
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” from La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from Trolls — Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster; “City of Stars,” from La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; “The Empty Chair,” from Jim: The James Foley Story — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting; “How Far I’ll Go,”  from Moana — Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Makeup and hair:
Eva von Bahr and Love Larson, A Man Called Ove; Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo, Star Trek Beyond; Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson, Suicide Squad.

Costume design:
Joanna Johnston, Allied; Colleen Atwood Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Consolata Boyle, Florence Foster Jenkins; Madeline Fontaine, Jackie; Mary Zophres, La La Land.

Visual effects:
Deepwater Horizon; Doctor Strange; The Jungle Book; Kubo and the Two Strings; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.



The Revenant and Mad Max Fury Road took boasting honours after the nominations for the 2016 Academy Awards were revealed at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles at 5.30am, PT.

Cheryl Boone, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, actor John Krasinki and directors Ang Lee and Guillermo del Toro announced contenders for the 88th annual Oscar feting, to be hosted by Chris Rock on February 28.

Alejandro G. Inaritu’s survival epic led the congested field with 12 nominations, including Film, Director, Best Actor for Leonardo Di Caprio and Best Supporting Actor for Tom Hardy. Mad Max Fury Road, Australian director George Miller’s long-in-gestation reboot of his iconic ‘road warrior’ anti-hero, earned 10 nominations.

The wide-open race for industry top honours led to a Best Picture category of eight nominees, with The Revenant and Mad Max Fury Road duking it out with The Martian (7 nominations); Spotlight (6); Bridge of Spies (6); The Big Short (5); Room (4); and, Brooklyn (3). Despite earning 6 nominations in key creative categories, Todd Haynes’ Carol was a Best Picture no-show, as was the year’s biggest commercial success, JJ Abram’s Star Wars The Force Awakens, the space opera up for John Williams' score and 4 tech categories.

20th Century Fox earned studio bragging rights, with a whopping 26 nominations across all categories; that figure includes 6 shared with Disney, who took second spot with 14 mentions. Warner Bros (11), new indie powerhouse A24 (7) and Oscar veterans The Weinstein Company (9) were next in line, although Carol’s failure to secure a Best Picture nomination does mean brothers Harvey and Bob don’t have a dog in that fight for the first time since 2007.

The most prominent no-show is director Ridley Scott, shut-out of the Best Director race despite across-the-board attention for The Martian. Also feeling unloved would be Fury Road's Best Actress hopeful Charlize Theron; Paul Dano (Supporting Actor sure thing a month ago for Love & Mercy); Michael Keaton (early Actor front-runner for Spotlight); Aaron Sorkin (a Golden Globe winner and WGA nominee for Steve Jobs); Kristen Stewart (Supporting Actress Cesar winner for Clouds of Sils Maria); Jacob Tremblay (the breakout star of Room); and, Johnny Depp (denied a sentimental Best Actor slot for Black Mass). Others long in the face this morning are Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies); director Alex Gibney (Scientology doco Going Clear); 99 Homes writer/director Ramin Bahrani and star Michael Shannon; Original Song hopeful ‘See You Again’, from Furious 7; the visual and sound effects supervisors on 2015's other survival epic, Baltasar Kormakur's Everest; and, the creative teams behind animated hits The Good Dinosaur and The Peanuts Movie.

The ‘Selma Snubbing’ of 2015 and the editorial outrage that followed did not seem to have any noticeable impact on Academy members; no African-American actors feature in any of the acting categories, despite the likes of Will Smith (Concussion), Michael B Jordan (Creed), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) and Samuel L Jackson (The Hateful Eight) all in the running, as were urban-themed pics Straight Outta Compton (1 nod, for Original Screenplay) and Tangerine.

The full list of 2016 Oscars nominees:

Best motion picture of the year:
The Big Short - Producers: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner
Bridge of Spies- Producers: Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger
Brooklyn - Producers: Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey
Mad Max Fury Road - Producers: Doug Mitchell and George Miller
The Martian - Producers: Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer and MarkHuffam
The Revenant - Producers: Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Inarritu, Mary Parent and Keith Redmon
Room - Producer: Ed Guiney
Spotlight: - Producers: Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust

Performance by an actor in a leading role:
Bryan Cranston in “Trumbo”
Matt Damon in “The Martian”
Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant”
Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs”
Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”

Performance by an actress in a leading role:
Cate Blanchett in “Carol”
Brie Larson in “Room”
Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy”
Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years”
Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn”

Performance by an actor in a supporting role:
Christian Bale in “The Big Short”
Tom Hardy in “The Revenant”
Mark Ruffalo in “Spotlight”
Mark Rylance in “Bridge of Spies”
Sylvester Stallone in “Creed”

Performance by an actress in a supporting role:
Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hateful Eight”
Rooney Mara in “Carol”
Rachel McAdams in “Spotlight”
Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl”
Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs”

Achievement in directing:
“The Big Short” Adam McKay
“Mad Max: Fury Road” George Miller
“The Revenant” Alejandro G. Iñárritu
“Room” Lenny Abrahamson
“Spotlight” Tom McCarthy

Adapted screenplay:
“The Big Short” Screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
“Brooklyn” Screenplay by Nick Hornby
“Carol” Screenplay by Phyllis Nagy
“The Martian” Screenplay by Drew Goddard
“Room” Screenplay by Emma Donoghue

Original screenplay:
“Bridge of Spies” Written by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
“Ex Machina” Written by Alex Garland
“Inside Out” Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
“Spotlight” Written by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy
“Straight Outta Compton” Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff

Best animated feature film of the year:
“Anomalisa” Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran
“Boy and the World” Alê Abreu
“Inside Out” Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera
“Shaun the Sheep Movie” Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
“When Marnie Was There” Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura

Best documentary feature:
“Amy” Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees
“Cartel Land” Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
“The Look of Silence” Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
“What Happened, Miss Simone?” Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes
“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor

Best foreign language film of the year:
“Embrace of the Serpent” Colombia
“Mustang” France
“Son of Saul” Hungary
“Theeb” Jordan
“A War” Denmark

Achievement in cinematography:
“Carol” Ed Lachman
“The Hateful Eight” Robert Richardson
“Mad Max: Fury Road” John Seale
“The Revenant” Emmanuel Lubezki
“Sicario” Roger Deakins

Achievement in costume design:
“Carol” Sandy Powell
“Cinderella” Sandy Powell
“The Danish Girl” Paco Delgado
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Jenny Beavan
“The Revenant” Jacqueline West

Best documentary short subject:
“Body Team 12” David Darg and Bryn Mooser
“Chau, beyond the Lines” Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
“Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah” Adam Benzine
“A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
“Last Day of Freedom” Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman

Achievement in film editing:
“The Big Short” Hank Corwin
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Margaret Sixel
“The Revenant” Stephen Mirrione
“Spotlight” Tom McArdle
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling:
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin
“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared” Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
“The Revenant” Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score):
“Bridge of Spies” Thomas Newman
“Carol” Carter Burwell
“The Hateful Eight” Ennio Morricone
“Sicario” Jóhann Jóhannsson
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” John Williams

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song):
“Earned It” from “Fifty Shades of Grey”
Music and Lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio
“Manta Ray” from “Racing Extinction”
Music by J. Ralph and Lyric by Antony Hegarty
“Simple Song #3” from “Youth”
Music and Lyric by David Lang
“Til It Happens To You” from “The Hunting Ground”
Music and Lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
“Writing’s On The Wall” from “Spectre”
Music and Lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith

Achievement in production design:
“Bridge of Spies” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich
“The Danish Girl” Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Michael Standish
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Production Design: Colin Gibson; Set Decoration: Lisa Thompson
“The Martian” Production Design: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Celia Bobak
“The Revenant” Production Design: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Hamish Purdy

Best animated short film:
“Bear Story” Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
“Prologue” Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
“Sanjay’s Super Team” Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
“We Can’t Live without Cosmos” Konstantin Bronzit
“World of Tomorrow” Don Hertzfeldt

Best live action short film:
“Ave Maria” Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
“Day One” Henry Hughes
“Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)” Patrick Vollrath
“Shok” Jamie Donoughue
“Stutterer” Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage

Achievement in sound editing:
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Mark Mangini and David White
“The Martian” Oliver Tarney
“The Revenant” Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
“Sicario” Alan Robert Murray
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Matthew Wood and David Acord

Achievement in sound mixing:
“Bridge of Spies” Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo
“The Martian” Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth
“The Revenant” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

Achievement in visual effects:
“Ex Machina” Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
“The Martian” Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
“The Revenant” Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould



Few films in recent memory have tapped zeitgeist angst like Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes. Set in Orlando Florida, the hot-button Oscar contender tells of blue collar everyman Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and the devil he must deal with when he goes to work for the very man who evicted him from his family home, bank-backed real-estate heavy Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). A true auteur with two highly acclaimed works to his credit (Goodbye Solo, 2008; At Any Price, 2012), Bahrani’s story confronts the crumbling society that is the ‘New America’, where the men and women whose spirit forged the nation are fodder for big business profiteers on an unprecedented scale. During his visit in June for the Sydney Film Festival screening of 99 Homes, Bahrani spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the social imbalance and human cost that inspired his latest drama…

The eviction scenes are some of the most wrenching movie moments in 2015…

As a filmmaker, you have to see the film so many times to finish it. And then you watch it with audiences, which I did first at Venice then Toronto then Sundance. But, to this day, the Nash eviction and the eviction of the old man are still so hard to watch. When I was researching, I was present for the eviction of an old man who was also suffering dementia, and it was horrible. For the Nash eviction, I had our incredible production designer, Alex DiGerlando, completely empty then re-set the house, and the great cinematographer, Bobby Bukowski lit it from the outside, so that there was nothing that would be in the way of the cast. The actors knew that they had freedom, within any scene, to add and subtract dialogue, just to be in the moment. We shot with two cameras, for simplicity. We hired a real sheriff and real clean-out crews, who had done evictions, and we just let them loose. And I edited it as if it was a 10 minute rape scene; totally raw, emotional, visceral.

Michael Shannon’s Rick is a hyena, the new alpha-predator, picking at the bones of the dying American middle-class…

That’s right. After the Sundance screening, I wanted to change a couple of minor things, which most filmmakers almost never get the opportunity to do. I wanted to use a different shot of Michael at the end of the film, when he’s got his sunglasses back on. It looks as if he is even more in control, like the sheriffs and the police are merely his servants. (Pictured, right; co-stars Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon).

And he barks one of the year’s best lines, “America doesn’t bail out losers, it bails out winners.”

A quick story that I’ve never told anyone and that I swear is true. I was at a point in the writing where I knew Michael needed a ‘big speech’ moment, but it had to be integral to the story, drawing in Andrew’s character even deeper. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it; for two weeks I struggled with the dialogue. I had the moment; I knew when it had to be, but not what words had to be used. I couldn’t figure how to do it and by now, it is the 4th of July, the day we all celebrate America becoming what it is today. And, I swear, I thought of the words on that day. I left the fireworks and wrote the scene with the fireworks in the background (laughs). It was crazy!

Were you cautious of ‘Rick Carver’ not becoming a ‘Gordon Gekko’-like beacon for this ruthless capitalism? Of his actions becoming heroic, even iconic to the wealthy, like Michael Douglas’ character did?

In some ways, he is the new Gekko. And I think Michael makes it a little more shaded. I’ve told Oliver Stone that Wall Street was a big influence on this film. If you listen to Gordon Gekko very carefully, he talks about his blue-collar background, his electrician Dad who had a heart attack, how he didn’t have an Ivy League future lined up for him like all the other rich kids. A pivotal moment is when Michael tells Andrew about Rick’s upbringing, living on construction sites and how his father had a bad fall and was screwed by the system. It becomes hard to argue with Michael sometimes. He says, “You did honest, hard work your whole life and what did it get you but me knocking on your door?” He’s right. Michael and I talked a lot about what his characters upbringing must have been like, how hard it would have been. He’s just a dad who is not going to let it happen to him and his kids. I don’t think his behaviour is correct, but it is hard to judge him. I like that the film has some moral ambiguity. (Pictured, above; Bahrani on-set with Michael Shannon).

Which further complicates the ‘good guy/bad guy’ dynamic of 99 Homes...

There are movies that utilise characters for pure villainy, and classic characters like Iago, and those characters exist in real life. I don’t think the modern world should exclude them, and I think the modern world is too quick to psychologise them away. Here, the real villain is the system and that is something that we are struggling with globally, to varying degrees. We are confronted by a system created by the wealthy that seems to protect and increase their wealth. What on earth is ‘capital gains tax’ or ‘inheritance tax’? Why does buying a home in America save you money on taxes? On both sides of the political spectrum, from post-World War 2 but specifically from 1979 to today, laws have been created that have made the rich richer and made the middle class struggle even harder. This is not an agenda-driven film, but one that goes to the emotionality of that situation.

Is 99 Homes an exercise in introspection? Is it an attempt to redefine the America of today?

More reflect than redefine. All my films have this humanist, social bent to them. When I went to Florida, I found a place where everybody carried a gun and there was mind-boggling corruption. Everything you see in the film is researched and real. The guy played by Clancy Brown in the film, who ran that foreclosure mill, is all real, was [responsible] for endless forgeries. He never went jail; took his company public, sold it to the Chinese for billions, took his money and took off. Structurally, I was able to create this Faustian thriller but from a very humanist perspective. I’m happy to be able to inject a little humanism into what is essentially a very mainstream thriller, crafting something that inspires conversation as well as telling a solid, thrilling narrative. (Pictured, right; Andrew Garfield as Dennis Nash).

The idealism of Frank Green, the stoic character superbly played by Tim Guinee, who takes an immovable stand against the system, is so crucial to that humanism.

There is something in the Frank Green character that inspires Nash and, in turn inspires me to do that kind of behaviour. Even when you know that your individual action can’t overwhelm the system, you know you have to do it anyway. There are those real-life heroes, like Martin Luther King or Gandhi, who have a massive impact; those people who have stood and said, as Frank puts it in the film, “The sun is shining and no one is going to tell me otherwise.” And suddenly a country changes. That’s amazing.

99 Homes will be released on November 19 in Australian cinemas by Madman Entertainment; it is currently screening in select cinemas in the US and UK.