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Entries in Underground Cinema (6)

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.

Tuesday
Sep062016

DARING DIVERSITY IS TRUMP CARD IN 2016 MUFF SEASON

For 17 years, Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) festival director Richard Wolstencroft has programmed his event fearlessly, often counter to that which is considered socially acceptable; in 2010, he defied a government ban and had his home raided in the wake of a ‘protest screening’ of the gay undead shocker, LA Zombie. But in 2016, has he pushed too far? Does the ominously familiar festival tagline ‘Make The Australian Film Industry Great Again’ imply the unthinkable? Is MUFF and its headline-grabbing founder declaring an allegiance with (cue ‘Imperial March’) Donald Trump…?

At first, Wolstencroft (pictured, below) laughs off the suggestion. “The ‘Make the Australian Film Industry Great Again’ line is more about how the industry is just lousy now and not like the dynamic 70's and 80's,” he says. That may be so, but SCREEN-SPACE points out that four of the eleven narrative features playing this year – Marcus Koch’s 2007 clown-horror B-classic 100 Tears, Aussie alt sector icon Mark Savage’s Stressed to Kill, Paddy Jessop’s revenge-themed Shotgun and the closing night pic, Revenge of The Gweilo from Nathan Hill – all riff on the Trump-ish obsession with denial of white man privilege and patriarchy.  

“Sure, there's a bit of that,” he admits. “I'm a bit that way and I run MUFF. But (any) accusation that MUFF does not embrace diversity in filmmaking is wrong. Of the 80 films showing (this year), about a quarter are made by women. The mix of white directors and those of mixed ethnicity is about the same.” He notes that the festival was co-founded with a woman, Rebecca Sutherland; selection committees and staffing has always reflected Melbourne’s distinct social complexity; and, the event’s assistant director role has been filled by young men of Lebanese (Hussein Khoder, 2011-2015) and Indian (Roshan Jahal, 2016) heritage. Says Wolstencroft, “MUFF is a far more diverse festival than many ‘indie’ ones around, who may preach PC-ness but be made up of entirely white crews.”

There can be no denying the 17th annual MUFF line-up, which unspools September 9 at both the Alex Theatre and Backlot Studios in the southern capital, comprises a vastness of vision, with long- and short-form works from home and abroad across fiction and factual genres. Opening the feisty 9-day programme is the world premiere of The Perfect Nonsense, director Addison Heath’s off-kilter romantic odyssey starring Kristen Condon and Kenji Shimada. Other Australian auteurs under the MUFF banner in 2016 are Daniel Armstrong (SheBorg Massacre; trailered, below); Enzo Tedeschi (A Night of Horror Vol 1); Dee Choi (Mui Karaoke); Todwina J. Moore (Rock in a Hard Place); and, Rohan Thomas (The Other Option). Accompanying 100 Tears as part of a retro-themed sidebar presented by the cult film website Fakeshemp.net will be Alec Mill’s Blood Moon (1990), a late and under-appreciated entry from the Ozploitation era.

Also of that period is filmmaker Mark Savage, a kindred spirit of Wolstencroft’s and prominent underground identity in Melbourne, having directed such defining low-budget cult items as Marauders (1986), Sensitive New Age Killer (2000) and Defenceless: A Blood Symphony (2004). In programming Savage’s US-shot thriller Stressed to Kill, Wolstencroft has honoured a peer and friend of four decades standing. “I think Mark is one of the most important voices in Australia cinema of the last 35 years,” he says. “He made Super 8 films about violence, rape and the darkness of the human spirit; totally out of this world for Australia back then. (His films were) aggressive, exciting and completely contemporary and 30 years ahead of the game.”

While staying determinedly committed to Australian talent, the short film program dubbed Mini MUFF and programmed by Seamus Ryan and Michael Taylor will screen works from six international territories including Canada, The U.S.A., The U.K. and France. From Spain comes the supernatural story of a ‘soul taker’ in Eva Doud’s El Lardon del Luz; Irish underground cinema is represented by Robert McKeon’s Wifey Redux (pictured, right). One of the highlights will be the opening night screening of A Thin Life, an Australian production from 1996 that was believed to be lost forever until Wolstencroft and director Frank Howson tracked down and reassembled the original negative; the session on September 9 will be the completed film’s first-ever screening.

Despite a commitment to avoid labels (“I don’t really give a shit about definitions”), Wolstencroft does note that the underground scene has irrevocably changed since the term was coined. “Underground is the new word for ‘indie’,” he states. “Sundance films all star George Clooney and Brad Pitt and are not real ‘indie’ anymore. Underground film festivals play the real independent films.” In this years program notes, he concedes that only a select few festivals (SUFF, Revelations and Monster Fest) imbue the truly counter-culture filmmaking spirit in Australia. “At MUFF, we foster mostly low-budget to micro-budget genre cinema. We don’t look for production value; we look for ideas, spirit and an aggressive, self-promoting attitude. We look for something out of the ordinary. I have selected films for MUFF based on the personality and drive of the filmmaker alone.”

The 17th Melbourne Underground Film Festival runs September 9-17. For all ticketing and session details, visit 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
Jan132016

PREVIEW: 2016 BRISBANE UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL

To inspire her 2016 programming choices, Brisbane Underground Film Festival (BUFF) director Nina Riddel has drawn upon the wisdom of alternative culture icon John Waters. “I like the word ‘underground’,” the legendary film maker once said, “’independent’ carries a stigma of whininess. ‘Underground’ means a good time.” And the 6th edition of BUFF, launching February 5 at the New Farm Cinemas in Queensland's state capital, ensures all manner of ‘good times’, with films offering unique riffs on cannibalism, baby-making, white-trash auteur cinema, dismemberment and non-sequel sequels…

“You're likely to be challenged, be it viscerally or intellectually,” says Riddel, a Brisbane native who now calls New York City home. “Underground consists of both high-brow, (such as) experimental film and video art, and low-brow exploitation & amateur cinema, but avoids the palatable middle where most entertainment resides. I would say that most films (at BUFF) this year consist of a combination of both.”

Since the inaugural festival in 2010, the festival’s reputation has helped to secure such international counter-culture classics as Dogtooth, Hobo With a Shotgun, White Reindeer and You Are What You Eat. The line-up has most often reflected the modern definition of underground cinema as a decentralised force. “It's not just a scene in New York or Chicago, and digital technology has encouraged way more untrained, gung-ho people to make work which I find very exciting,” says Riddel. “I think the internet has changed which boundaries are still there to push, but people will always have something - often something truly odd - to say. BUFF is a place for that to be heard.” (Pictured, right; Nina Riddel)

Although her festival’s scope for admissions is borderless, Riddel is firm in her belief that the event reflects its origins. “BUFF's identity is defined by the film scene (of Brisbane),” she explains. Her programming ethos reflects, “what local filmmakers are doing, what features are missing from cinemas here that might be uniquely relevant to our political or artistic landscape, and my own personal taste.” She has established a strong network with the programmers of respected underground film events such as those in Boston, Sydney and Chicago (“We don't always play the same movies but we share the same interests”) and determinedly networks with key figures to ensure her sessions bring the latest in alternative film visions. “Underground film people are so approachable that you can see a legendary movie, idolize its creator, and very quickly be getting drunk with that person and seeing pictures of their baby on Facebook,” she points out.

The six features filling the bill over the 3-day 2016 edition represent the dark corners and individualistic artistry of independent cinema. Opening night honours go to Todd Rohal’s Uncle Kent 2, in which star Kent Osborne (as himself) desperately searches for someone to love his pitch for a sequel to Joe Swanberg’s little-seen 2011 film, while contemplating ‘The Singularity Apocalypse’. “It's silly, it’s fun,” enthuses Riddel, “the strangest, most exciting film I've seen in a long time, and you don't have to have seen Uncle Kent; I haven't!” Hollywood outcast Adam Rifkin (The Dark Backward; Detroit Rock City) directs the grimy, ‘Dogma’-esque trailer-park black comedy, Guiseppe Makes a Movie; Chilean auteur Sebastian Silva (The Maid; Magic Magic) helms an against-type Kristen Wiig in the NYC-set Nasty Baby; Onur Turkel’s Applesauce features Dylan Baker as the talkback jock being stalked by an unhinged fan (Says Riddel, “It feels like a smart New York comedy which happens to contain a lot of severed limbs.”)

Perhaps most confronting for Brisbane patrons will be writer/director Caroline Golum’s debut feature A Feast of Man, a searing social satire that asks ‘How far would you go to inherit a billionaire’s fortune?’ (hint: the answer is in the film’s title.) “It illustrates how utterly devious upper-class people can be,” says Riddel of the film, which has its Australian premiere at BUFF. Closing out the festival on Sunday 7th will be Gabriel Ripstein’s 600 Miles, a tough two-hander starring Tim Roth as a captured ATF officer and Krystan Ferrer as the small-scale drug runner delivering the agent to his drug lord boss.

Australian talent comes to the fore in the short-film selections, with works from Matthew Victor Pastor (Valentine’s Day, 6 mins); Sam Sexton (Drack, 7 mins); Riley Maher (Your Summer Dream, 4 mins); and, co-directors Sam Rogers and Nick Harrold (Prey for Rain, 7 mins). The other short slots are filled by New Zealand director Natasha Cantwell’s Lauren (2 mins) and the VFX showcase Double Blind No 1 (2 mins; pictured, top) from the LA-based collective of Zenon Kohler, Jasper St Aubyn West, Ian Anderson, Ricky Marks and Raoul Teague.

By definition, ‘underground films’ rarely come with marketing budgets or high profiles attached. But Riddel is adamant that is precisely why such films need the theatrical exposure that BUFF offers. “I like undiscovered gems, movies that need help getting seen,” she says. “It's tempting to believe that the movies with huge marketing budgets and national releases are the only ones worth paying attention to. But there's a whole world of other stuff out there that's better, (made by) people excited to get their movies seen. It makes their work purer.”

Full ticket and venue information for the 2016 Brisbane Underground Film Festival can be found at the official website.

Sunday
Sep062015

MUFF 2015: UNDERGROUND GIANTS EMBRACE ALT-SECTOR INGENUE.

The name Kristen Condon doesn't register with the numbed masses of middle-class suburbia. But for the counter-cultural types that embrace the alternative edge of our national cinema, the actress is one of the brightest, most enigmatic stars in their dark, often disturbing universe. At the 2015 Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF), Condon features in no less than four films from directors at the forefront of subversive cinema. “Many of the best filmmakers to come out of Australia have their roots in this community,” Condon tells SCREEN-SPACE, “It is an invaluable talent pool to be involved with and an integral part of Melbourne’s alternative culture.”

Kristen Condon has built an impressive resume of indie sector roles (The Beautiful and Damned, 2010; Ricky! The Movie, 2010; Start Options Exit, 2014; Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla, 2014) and been seen by 2million YouTubers as co-star of the 2013 Tropfest runner-up, Makeover. That experience affords her unique insight into the low-budget filmmaking process, knowledge that she drew upon when asked to recall her time shooting the four movies in which she can be seen at MUFF 2015… 

Under a Kaleidoscope (Dir: Addison Heath; 2014)
Addison Heath’s directorial debut features Condon as Beatrice, the abused neighbour to oddball shut-in Caleb (Kenji Shimada). The pair bond through their adjoining wall and form a friendship that draws Caleb out of his home and ultimately himself, albeit into the violent world of Beatrice’s gangster boyfriend.
Says Condon, “This was my most challenging role to date. From the start I knew Beatrice’s story had to be portrayed with the upmost respect for victims of intense physical abuse. I tried to bring a dimension to the character that people could empathize with. At it’s core this is the tale of a girl who feels trapped. I can relate to feeling trapped, in other ways to Beatrice, and this feeling was what I believe anchored my performance. Addison is an exceptional filmmaker and human being.  

Sizzler 77 (Dir: Timothy Spanos; 2015)
Alt-sector heavyweight Timothy Spanos’ indulges in some retro inner-city criminal (and comedic) mayhem, with hookers, pimps and undercover cops all decked out in the afros, platforms and bell-bottoms of the Summer of ‘77. Condon brings the funny as Vivian; in one memorable, she goes laugh-for-laugh with Tim Burn’s outrageous underworld kingpin, ‘Bossy Jim.’
Says Condon, “The two best things a comedic actress can be given are a script with a clear objective and an objective that is too great for the character to achieve. Tim is an actor’s director; he directs, acts and edits in his head on a shoot. It was apparent he knew precisely how he would cut the scenes together. This ability to see the big picture makes it easy to trust Tim. And trusting him is especially important when I am asked to don an afro wig, silver platform boots, a revealing halter neck dress and scream ‘PIG!!!!!!!’ multiple times in a suburban street.”

The Second Coming (Dir: Richard Wolstencroft; 2015)
Part 1 of his wildly experimental take on W.B. Yeats classic poem, MUFF Festival Director (and Condon’s real-life partner) Richard Wolstencroft presents his sixth feature as a ‘Special Event’ screening. In a cast that includes seemingly free-form acting contributions from the likes of adult industry identities Michael Tierney and William Margold, bad-boy rocker Pete Doherty and writer Gene Gregoritis (of ‘Sex & Guts’ magazine fame), Condon appears fleetingly ahead of an expanded role in Part 2. She was, however, present for much of the five-year shoot across several continents.
Says Condon, “Richard wanted to push things with this new film, to do something he hadn't done before.  Adopting techniques used by the likes of Paul Morrissey, Kenneth Anger and Terrence Malick, Richard wanted to try some more experimental methods of working. This approach is refreshing, fascinating, if sometimes at a little scary. It’s an entirely improvised story; Richard would wait until moments before rolling to tell me a scene and what it was about. Working as an actor that, not knowing how all the scenes would fit together, can be challenging.”

Lesbo-A-Go-Go (Dir: Andrew Leavold; 2003)
A decade before his obsession with Pinoy cinema led to the cult doco The Search for Weng Weng (also at MUFF 2015), Andrew Leavold unleashed upon the world this mockumentary chronicling the tawdry, debauched, hedonistic-fuelled downfall of 60s pornographer Doris Wishman. For the youthful, impressionable Kristen Condon, it was only her second time on a feature film set. (Also screening is Jarret Gahan’s making-of account, Gone Lesbo Gone: The Untold Tale of an Unseen Film.)
Says Condon, “Back in 2003, when I first entered the doors of Andrew’s legendary cult video store Trash Video, I had no idea what I was in for.  I just wanted to borrow a video, yet somehow became a part of his bizarre and wonderful film. Andrew is as fun and spontaneous a character as he is a director. I am so pleased to have been part of his first feature. I am only in Lesbo–A–Go-Go for a moment though, so blink and you’ll miss me.”

The 2015 Melbourne Underground Film Festival runs September 11-19. Ticketing and session information can be  found at the official website.