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Entries in SUFF (4)

Thursday
Aug242017

PREVIEW: THE 2017 SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL

As in years past, the 2017 Sydney Underground Film Festival exhibits no half measures in presenting the latest in off-kilter international cinema. The 11th annual event launches September 14 with an ironic ode to 80s VHS kitsch before wrapping four days later with the film that Variety intriguingly labelled “insufferable mishmash…almost entirely concerned with bodily functions and bodily fluids.”

Opening night honours fall to The Found Footage Festival, a snarky, giggly takedown of the weirdest clips gleaned from that decade when the video cassette ruled the earth. US comedy writers Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher (pictured, below) will front the audience at The Factory Theatre in Sydney’s inner-west and cast an irreverent eye over 90 minutes of PSA madness, regional news bloopers, TVC tastelessness and good ol’ Reagan era nationalism. The pair will also present a ‘Greatest Hits’-style show on Saturday 16th, chosen from footage collated since they launched their project in 2004.

The SUFF closer that so rattled the leading trade paper is Kuso, the directing debut of hip-hop artist Flying Lotus (aka Steve Ellison). An occasionally incomprehensible series of interwoven sketches set after a major Los Angeles earthquake, the film bowed at Sundance to an enraptured reception from the midnight movie crowd but suffered such critical brickbats as, “a noisy, lumpy collection of gross stuff” (rogerebert.com) and a “warm, clumpy bath of repugnant ickiness,” (The Hollywood Reporter); The Verge said, “Kuso finds new ways to test viewers’ fortitude.” You have been warned…

The 2017 line-up includes six Australian premieres amongst the 20 feature films on offer. These are Le Bing Giang’s Vietnamese cannibal shocker, KFC; the Japanese cyberpunk splatterfest Meatball Machine Kodoku, from Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police; Zombie TV); Mika Rättö’s Samurai Rauni, a Finnish Wildman odyssey that has drawn compariosns to Tarantino, Winding Refn and Kusturica; and Umbilical World, a collection of the twisted visions of UK animator David Firth. Genre buffs will find it hard to split which will be the most anticipated of the Australian premieres - the fully restored version of the late George A Romero’s 1973 bio-horror classic The Crazies, or the seventh instalment in the Chucky franchise, Cult of Chucky (pictured, below), from director Don Mancini.

Films landing in Sydney for the first time include Liam Gavin’s Irish black magic thriller A Dark Song; the bad taste romance Assholes, from Peter Vack; the crude, camp blast that is Josh ‘Sinbad’ Collins’ Fags in The Fast Lane; Polish director Bartosz Kowalski’s shattering study of violence and disaffected youth, Playground; Tyler MacIntyre’s giddy, gory coming-of-rage comedy, Tragedy Girls; and, Bill Waterson’s mind-bending Dave Made a Maze (pictured, top), one of the most buzzed-about films on the international genre scene.

Nine Australian premieres highlight the 15-strong feature-length documentary program, with a typically high percentage dealing with the creative struggle. Amongst them are Brad Abraham’s Love and Saucers, a profile of alien abductee artist David Huggins; Pretend We’re Dead, Sarah Price’s ode to 90s all-girl grunge pioneers L7; Belgian director Breckt Debackere’s recounting of underground cinema’s earliest gatherings, entitled Exprmntl; Kristoffer Borgli’s dark satire on consumer nihilism, Drib; and, Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen in Time, a breathtakingly cinematic journey into silent cinema lore made possible by the discovery of rare nitrate film spools.

Also worth noting amongst the factual films on offer are Italian director Federica Di Giacomo’s study of modern exorcism practitioners, Liberami; Freedom For The Wolf, German filmmaker Rupert Russell’s in-depth account of the dismantling of democracy; and, Ulrich Seidl’s Safari, a glimpse inside the psyches of big game hunters that is sure to enrage and disturb.

Returning are the traditional short film strands, often featuring works that are the most closely aligned with true underground film aesthetics. The romance-themed Love/Sick features eight films from five countries, include Australian Lucy McKendrick’s My Shepherd; LSD Factory contains 11 mind-bending, challenging shorts, including works from Brazil (Gurcius Gewdner’s Goodbye Carlos) and Poland (Renata Gasiorowska’s Pussy); 11 mini-movies comprise the locally-produced showcase, Ozploit!; real world oddities and out-there visions make up the short-doc session, Reality Bites; and, the truly bizarre and often deeply disturbing play for the bravest of audiences in the WTF! Shorts line-up, including Cop Dog, the latest from Oscar-nominated Bill Plympton’s ‘Guard Dog’ series (pictured, right).

The 2017 SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL runs September 14-17 at The Factory Theatre in Sydney. Session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.

Wednesday
Aug102016

PREVIEW: 2016 SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL

Works from alternative sector giants Todd Solondz, Sion Sono, Richard Tuohy and John Waters and the world premiere of Australian director Ben Ferris’ urban decay documentary 57 Lawson highlight the 10th anniversary line-up of the Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF).

Harbour City audiences attuned to the subversive, political and shocking have been well-served by the internationally recognised event, still programmed by founder Stefan Popescu and wife, Katherine Berger. The 2016 gathering, running September 15 to 18, will present 35 feature-length screenings, including 20 documentaries, 12 narrative features and 3 retrospectives, with 20 Australian premieres in the mix. As in past years, the event will stretch beyond the darkened rooms of its spiritual home, The Factory Theatre in Sydney’s inner-west, and offer masterclass tutorials, exhibition content and panel chats from a diverse range of academic and artistic guest contributors.

Opening night honours have been bestowed upon Weiner-Dog (pictured, top), the latest dramedy of discomfort from underground icon Todd Solondz. Other high profile features include Mexican auteur Emiliano Rocha Minter’s We Are The Flesh (pictured, right), hot off a triumphant screening at Fantasia 2016; SUFF alumni Richard Bates Jr (Suburban Gothic, 2014) with his offbeat shocker Trash Fire, featuring a career-redefining role for Entourage star Adrian Grenier; Japan’s prolific enfant terrible Sion Sono delivers The Virgin Psychics, a raunchy teen-telepathy romp that Variety called a “cheerfully gutter-minded supernatural farce”; and, the Sydney premiere of Billy O’Brien’s cult-bound nightmare-piece, I Am Not a Serial Killer, featuring a welcome (if against type) return to the bigscreen for Back to The Future star, Christopher Lloyd.

Closing out the festival will be the highly-anticipated, fully restored print of the iconic John Waters’ 1970’s trash classic, Multiple Maniacs, featuring Waters’ muse Divine in one of the roles that solidified her counter-culture reputation. Other retrospective sessions include a 25th anniversary screening of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, starring Peter Weller as William Burrough’s drug-addled protagonist; and, a 40th anniversary honouring of Brian De Palma’s high-school horror classic Carrie, which will screen in support of the documentary De Palma, an in-depth career appraisal overseen by A-list fanboys Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.

An impressive 20 mid- and feature-length docos will screen at SUFF, which has rattled cages with rare, occasionally outlawed factual films (in 2012, Keith Allen’s Princess Di conspiracy theory piece, Unlawful Killing, played in defiance of ongoing legalities). In 2016, it has yet to be determined if the suited heavies appointed by Tommy Wiseau, director of the bad-movie classic The Room, will force the festival to withdraw Rick Harper’s making-of doc, Room Full of Spoons, as happened to organisers of the recent Melbourne Documentary Festival (pictured, right; Wiseau, far right, with Harper and crew).

Social issues tackled by the SUFF documentary schedule include internet misuse and abuse (Irene Taylor Brodsky’s Beware the Slenderman; Neal Broffman’s Help Us Find Sunil Tripath), the psychology and passion of the artist (Jai Love’s Dead Hands Dig Deep; Thorsten Shutte’s Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words; Laura Israel’s Don’t Blink Robert Frank; Jason Pine and Jason Georgiades’ Desert Age: A Rock & Roll Scene History; Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny), human rights in destabilised societies (Nanfu Wang’s Hooligan Sparrow; George Gittoes’ Snow Monkey) and mental health (Justin Schein’s Left on Purpose; Roberto Minervini’s The Other Side).

On a lighter note, all-age audiences can enjoy a vivid wander down memory lane courtesy of renowned author and curator Kier-La Janisse, who offers a two-hour celebration called Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat Cereal Cartoon Party. Pyjama-clad patrons can dine on bowls of retro cereal, bursting with sugary anti-goodness, while watching classic animation and giggly PSAs (content details are top secret, apparently).

Since its inception, SUFF has supported the short film sector and in 2016 once again offers its popular short film sessions under the banners of ‘Love Sick’, ‘LSD Factory’, ‘Ozploit’, ‘Reality Bites’ and ‘WTF’. The legacy of the festivals commitment to makers of short films is celebrated in a ‘SUFF Blast From The Past: Short Films 2007-2015’.

For those that embrace the truly cutting-edge, SUFF will present Re:Cinema, which organisers describe as “a program of experimental video and film work that examines the notion of the ‘cinematic’ in relation to the contemporary imagescape.” This will accompany a retrospective of the works of Richard Tuohy and his collaborator, Dianna Barrie (pictured, right), titled Hand and Machine; Tuohy will also host The Chromaflex Experimental Colour Film Workshop at the Sydney College of The Arts. Finally, filmmaking skills will be examined in the Masterclass sessions, with contributors Gordy Hoffman (screenwriting), Ross Grayson-Bell (producing), George Gittoes and Helen Rose (documentary techniques) and Ben Ferris (directing).

The 10th Sydney Underground Film Festival will commence its 4 day schedule on September 15 at The Factory Theatre, Marrickville. Session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.

Wednesday
Sep162015

ONE FROM THE HEART: THE GASPAR NOE INTERVIEW

‘Sentimental’ is not a word often bandied about when discussing the films of Gaspar Noe, but the director of such envelope-pushers as I Stand Alone, Irreversible and Enter the Void is out to change a few minds with his latest film, Love. “This is a movie that has made a lot of people cry,” he tells SCREEN-SPACE from his home in Paris, as the Sydney Underground Film Festival organisers brace themselves for reaction to the Opening Night screening of the latest from the ‘enfant terrible’ of international cinema...

I wanted to do a melodrama,” explains the 51 year-old Argentinian-born, French-based filmmaker, who premiered the long-in-development drama at Cannes 2015. “I envisioned the movie as both very arousing and also very sad, with the hope that people would cry at the end. It became much more melancholic than what I thought because image is so much more powerful than text. The movie is best described as being made up of my desires and fears.”

Drawing upon his days as a film school student cutting a swathe through the bars and bedrooms of 1980s Paris, the auteur’s narrative follows brash American expat Murphy (Karl Glusman) as he recalls the passionate details of a doomed love affair with the sexually energized Electra (Aomi Muyock; pictured, with Glusman), while coping with the corrosive resentment he has for his young wife, Omi (Klara Kristin). “‘Murphy’ is a mix of me and my film school mates, who I would hang out with and party with. And I know certain characters who [populate] the movie, people from the party scene in Paris and the art world,” explains Noe. “I wanted this guy to be cool but also a bit stupid; he’s not a ‘winner’ at all. He’s just a normal film student, sometimes driven by his brain cells and sometimes driven by his dick.”

Over a decade ago, the project was pitched to then husband-and-wife stars Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel when the pair worked with Noe on Irreversible, the 2002 revenge drama famous for Noe’s notorious single-shot rape scene. But the international stars baulked at the director’s intention to shoot full penetration intercourse. By 2015, Noe’s creative impulses were sated, with Glusman and first-time actors Muyock and Kristin portraying graphic, reportedly unchoreographed sexual acts (in 3D, no less). The film opens with an extended single-take scene of oral sex and mutual masturbation, from beginning to end.

“Erotic cinema has disappeared, and with it the erotic malady,” observes Noe. “The point of this movie, the reason it exists, was to portray the passion between two willful young people. I could not see how you could film that nowadays, after the sexual revolution and after the past 40 or so years of our western world, without portraying exactly how it is in real life. I decided that now is the time to film scenes with a truthfulness that the subject of my movie deserves. I’m surprised there are not more movies dealing with the subject like my film does”

It is the search for the blunt truths of existence that have driven Noe’s works to date; in his last film, Enter the Void, his first-person camera examined a body’s demise and the re-emergence of its soul. Love represents a similar pathway from the dual perspective of emotion and sensation. “These natural desires that we have, to have the faith to give our lives and share our journey with someone else, produce very human, powerful emotions,” says Noe. “Most people recognise much about themselves in the characters in the film and about the experience of being in love.”

Noe achieves his thematic goals by expanding upon the reverse-storytelling device that he employed in Irreversible (pictured, right; star, Monica Bellucci). Initially, Murphy’s present-day inner thoughts narrate small recollections; ultimately, the entire film is given over to his indulgences in the past. “The whole way [Love] was structured was to try to reproduce a memory. When you think about your own past, you do not do it in a linear way,” Noe explains. “In Irreversible, the backwards storytelling was very mechanical, in a clockwork way; in Enter The Void, the journey was very linear. In Love, it gets as close as I’ve gotten to that ‘stream of memory’ framework.”

As confronting as Gaspar Noe’s visions have been, each has represented a yearning to explore and further understand base elements inherent to the human experience. As shocking as scenes of frank sexuality may be to many, it is what the images represent that matters most to the director. “I wanted to make a sentimental film about what love is, how hard love is, to show that, even with the best intentions in the world, love can fail and ultimately destroy your mind,” he says. “To be addicted to passion means that you can suffer through passion and your life is over. I needed to find a way to portray this power, a power that can consume and destroy your life. What is the truest aim of our existence? I think it is to find love and to share the strongest physical love with someone, and my film explores that.”

LOVE screens as the Opening Night presentation of the 2015 Sydney Underground Film Festival. Full venue and session information can be found at the official website.

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.