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Sunday
Aug132017

SPOOKERS: THE FLORIAN HABICHT INTERVIEW

Florian Habicht is a truly idiosyncratic, determinedly personal filmmaker. Florian settled into the Auckland art scene after his family immigrated to New Zealand from Germany in the 1980s. His films have run the gamut from magical realism (Woodenhead, 2003) to edgy romance (Love Story, 2011); his documentary Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (2014) captured the return of the iconic band to their hometown. His latest film is Spookers, an unexpectedly moving (and, yes, occasionally terrifying) study of the folks who provide the frights at the New Zealand ‘scare park’, one of the largest of its kind in the world. 

As his film continues its global rollout after festival slots in Sydney, Canada’s Hot Docs and Auckland, Florian Habicht spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about his latest walk on the weird side… 

SCREEN-SPACE: How did the Spookers project come to you? How did you determine this was to be your next film?

HABICHT: I was really determined not to make Spookers (laughs). Suzanne (Walker, producer) from Madman Entertainment dreamt up the idea. I got a phone call from them with the pitch, because they wanted to make the film with a New Zealand director. I was in the middle of writing a drama that I was, and am, really passionate about and I was coming off making a lot of docos. So I went to Spookers with a camera to do a few test shots, hoping that I wouldn’t like it and it would be easy to say no. But once there, I just fell in love with the place and especially the performers. I immediately realised that the building where it all takes place was an old psychiatric hospital. When you drive onto the grounds, there is an epic, very intense sensation, a bit like The Shining.

SCREEN-SPACE: Are you a fan of horror, in any form?

HABICHT: Oh God, no. The exact opposite! I’d never been to Spookers, never decided to make that trip, because I knew I’d just be too scared. But I knew it would be a great setting for a film. When I finally did do the tour, I had a video camera in my hand. Now, I went paragliding with a camera in my hand once and everything was totally sweet, but the thought of paragliding without a camera…just, no way. It was the same when I went through Spookers.

SCREEN-SPACE: Given that it is set in Kingseat, an old and abandoned asylum with its own dark past, were you at all conscious of how you depict the link between violence and mental health?

HABICHT: I went to a great café in Auckland called Hallelujah, which no longer exists, and I saw a young woman reading a book on mental health. I decided to talk with her, mostly because the cover of the book looked so cool, and it turned out she was studying to be a nurse and her mental health professor had been at Kingseat. That was Deborah, one of those featured in the film, and we are good friends now. Many of the people who had been at Kinsey were not really into talking about that experience on camera, but Deborah was very open. I don’t believe you could make a film about Spookers and not make it about mental health.  

SCREEN-SPACE: Did the owners Beth and Andy (pictured, right) trust you to represent them and their business positively? Did they have much say in how their story is told?

HABICHT: I had a sense that Andy was a bit suspicious about what we were up to. Beth and I had a nice connection right from the start, which provided a few sparks in our interviews. They were both incredibly generous with their time and understanding, helping the crew over the shoot, which amounted to 30 days over the course of a year. The long shoot allowed the story to evolve as we edited, which is why (editors) Peter O’Donoghue and Veronica Gleeson are credited as writers, because we shaped the doco’s narrative in the editing.  What was funny was that to get the funding we had to pretend that we knew what the film was going to be about. So we wrote a treatment that I knew was definitely not going to be the film. I probably shouldn’t say that (laughs), but that’s what you’ve got to do to complete a funding application. So there was that film, then there was the film that formed by going out there and experiencing the Spookers world.

SCREEN-SPACE: It is an inspired decision to intersperse the real-world narrative with the dream sequences of those at the centre of the Spookers story…

HABICHT: I held workshops with the eight performers. I took my hat off, placed it in the middle of the room, and just kept asking them all sorts of questions that they anonymously supplied answers to by dropping bits of paper in my hat. Questions like, ‘The last thing that broke your heart’ or ‘The last thing that made you cry’ or ‘What you had for breakfast.’ It was just to get to know them more. And a lot of the responses concerned their dreams, which I knew had to make up a part of any film that was going to tell their stories. Which then led to them taking their self-taught acting skills, the skills they use everyday at Spookers, to another level on-screen. That was really cool for them.

SPOOKERS will be released in Australian cinemas on September 14; New Zealand and international release dates to be confirmed.

Thursday
Jan262017

GLASGOW FRIGHTFEST WARMS TO HOT OZ HORROR

The United Kingdom’s leading horror showcase, FrightFest kicks off its three-tiered 2017 season with the traditional Glasgow screening schedule from February 23. The chilly climes of the Scottish port city may not seem the natural setting for a trio of films hailing from Australia (currently experiencing the hottest East Coast summer conditions on record), but Frightfest organisers have long supported Oz genre; in 2016, the Yuletide splatterfest Red Christmas premiered as part of the London leg. This year, organisers have upped the ante with two U.K. premieres and a world first that remains shrouded in intrigue…

BLOODLANDS
Dir: Steven Kastrissios. Cast: Gëzim Rudi, Emiljano Palali and Suela Bako. (82 mins; pictured, above).
Mystery surrounds this sophomore effort from Steven Kastrissios, the young director who garnered a committed cult following for his brutal, revenge-themed debut, The Horseman (2008). The specifics of the project remain closely guarded; a month out from the FrightFest world premiere, a lean website and Facebook page offer few details and no trailer has dropped. With thanks to the director’s production shingle, Kastle Films, SCREEN-SPACE got a peek at a moody, atmospheric teaser that suggests a beautifully shot siege narrative. Web coverage hints at a plot involving a rural family facing off against the forces and followers of a vengeful witch, known in Balkan folklore as the Shtriga. The FrightFest site elegantly posits it as, “A surreal, remarkable and highly unusual voyage through the fantasy lens of whispered local mythologies.” The Australian/Albanian co-production wrapped a month-long shoot in October 2014, before the director and his co-producer Dritan Arbana undertook the lengthy submissions process to secure Screen Australia completion funding. Once cashed-up, Kastrissios was able to collaborate with the likes of iconic Aussie sound men Les Fiddess (The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, 2002) and Phil Judd (The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of The Desert, 1994), who delivered the final audio mix in July 2016 (pictured, right; l-r Fiddess, Judd and Kastrissios). The director will attend the Glasgow world premiere ahead of a highly anticipated Albanian debut in April; Australian audiences will have to wait until August. 
WORLD PREMIERE

HOUNDS OF LOVE
Dir: Ben Young. Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter and Damien de Montemas. (108 mins; distributed by Label Distribution)
One of the most buzzed-about genre titles on the international festival circuit, under-the-radar Perth-based writer Ben Young has mounted an impressively shocking abduction thriller, a work that Screen International called, “a compelling dissection of primal desires for control, validation and survival.” Drawing comparisons to Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown and David Michod’s Animal Kingdom in its portrayal of the immoral underbelly of suburban Australian life, Young’s 80s-set narrative involves married psychopaths Emma Booth and Stephen Curry (a million miles from his ‘lovable everyman’ persona in The Castle, 1997, and The Cup, 2011) and the cunning mind games they find themselves involved in when they abduct local schoolgirl Ashleigh Cummings. Since its World Premiere at the Venice Film Festival last September, it has racked up acclaim and honours at Busan, Mumbai, Brussels, Kolkatta and Brisbane’s prestigious Asia-Pacific film festivals. (Website)
U.K. PREMIERE.

CAGE DIVE
Dir: Gerald Rascionato. Cast: Joel Hogan, Josh Potthoff, Magan Peta Hill and Suzanne Dervish-Ali (80 mins; distributed by Odin’s Eye Entertainment)
The ‘found footage’ genre takes to the ocean in Gerald Rascionato’s feature debut, a mockumentary-style, man-vs-nature thriller that Fangoria called, “one of the best found footage films of the year.” In his impressive debut, the Brisbane-based filmmaker plunges a boatful of partying, adventuresome twenty-somethings into the briny deep when their cage diving charter boat is upended by a freak wave. Very quickly, the ocean’s alpha predator susses out the fleshy buffet that awaits. The film had its World Premiere at the prestigious SITGES Festival, where it wowed the notoriously hard-to-please Midnight X-Treme crowd. Some serious press coverage may come from advocates opposed to the chumming of water to attract sharks on diving tours; one theory currently rattling the cage divers is that the combined presence of humans and free food is, perhaps understandably, not a great idea.
U.K. PREMIERE. 

FRIGHTFEST Glasgow 2017 takes place at the Glasgow Film Theatre, 12 Rose St. Glasgow from February 23-25. Session times and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website here.

Monday
Dec052016

"SPAIN REIGNS", SAY SYDNEY GENRE JUDGES. 

The Closing Night award ceremony of Sydney’s A Night of Horror / Fantastic Planet Film Festival became una noche de celebración for Spanish genre cinema.

The 10th annual staging of the fan-favourite horror, science fiction and fantasy event closed out its 10 day program bestowing gongs upon body-horror shocker The Night of The Virgin (La Noche del Virgen) and twisted identity mystery, Gelo (pictured, above). Both films are in the early stages of their respective global expansion, continuing a festival tradition of rolling the dice on programming choices that don’t necessarily come with the safety net of overseas festival credibility in place.

A hilariously dark and twisted tale of foretold demonic reincarnation, The Night of The Virgin earned bragging rights with wins in three key categories in the A Night of Horror line-up. As the titular innocent who endures unspeakable black magic horrors, leading man Javier Bodalo (pictured, right) earned Best Male Performance; as the alluring W.I.L.F. whose sorcery unleashes all manner of torment upon him, Miriam Martin took home the Best Female Performance honours. Debutant director Roberto San Sebastián also guided his impressive debut to a win for Best Foreign Language Film, but was pipped in the Best Director category by Scott Schirmer for his dialogue-free woodlands cannibal pic, Plank Face.

The other highly-touted A Night of Horror feature was Matt Stuertz’s wildly entertaining gore-a-thon Tonight She Comes, a vivid and energetic reworking of classic cabin-in-the-woods tropes which impressed with its fearless doubling-down of shocking splatter effects, delivered with a wickedly perverse sense of scale and humour. The US production earned Best Film, while lead actress Jenna McDonald shared the Best Female Performance category with her Spanish genre sister.

Directed by the father/son team of Luís and Gonçalo Galvão Teles, the moody atmospherics of the Spanish/Portuguese co-production Gelo supported an ambitious, at times complex narrative. In addition to the Fantastic Planet Best Film nod, it earned the Best Female Performance trophy for its leading lady, Spanish cinema icon Ivana Baquero, best remembered as Ofelia in Guillermo Del Toro’s 2006 fantasy masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth.

The other Fantastic Planet jury favourite was Dead Bullet, a riveting Vegas-set neo-noir thriller that earned Erik Reese the Best Director trophy and actor John T. Woods (pictured, right; with co-star Andrea Sixtos) a Best Male Performance gong. Both trophies were collected by the film's associate producer and 1st AD Kat Castaneda, currently based in Sydney. Ian Truitner’s intergalactic survival adventure Teleios was granted a Head of Jury ‘Special Mention’ award for the technical prowess displayed in crafting the spectacular deep-space setting.

Held at the Dendy Cinema multiplex in the inner-city suburb of Newtown, a dedicated and enthusiastic crowd remained well into the Sunday night event. Following a rousing Q&A with actress Elizabeth De Razzo, star of the Closing Night feature The Greasy Strangler, festival director Dr Dean Bertram acknowledged his dedicated team, the support of his audience and the current high standard of international genre cinema. His Director’s Choice honourees were Tax Shelter Terrors, a work-in-progress documentary that chronicles the Canadian horror boom of the 1970s, and The Second Coming: Volume 2, director Richard Wolstencroft’s final instalment of his free-wheeling interpretation of W.B. Yeats’ epic poem.

Independent Spirit Award trophies were accepted by attending guests Seve Schelenz, for his zombie/stripper crowdpleaser Peelers, and Rob Taylor and Bryna Smith for their superhero/time travel send-up, Neil Stryker and The Tyrant of Time.

Monday
Nov212016

FEST ALUMNI RECALL GLORY DAYS AS GENRE LOVE-IN TURNS 10

Of the many achievements that can be credited to Sydney’s A Night of Horror Fantastic Planet Film Festival, the ability to spot and nurture ferocious genre talents is perhaps the most remarkable. Co-founder and programmer Dr Dean Bertram’s celebration of the macabre and imaginative has created a legacy of extraordinary visionaries, many of whom consider their festival experience a professional and personal turning point. On the eve of the 10th anniversary of A Night of Horror Fantastic Planet Film Festival, SCREEN-SPACE asked previous honourees what they recall most fondly about the spotlight shone on them by Bertram and his festival team…

"A Night of Horror has given me the opportunity to expand on many levels of this art, thanks to the incredible life long relationships, both personal and in the business arena, that I have embraced from it. Dr Bertram has evolved this event into an extraordinary experience for fans of the horror and sci-fi genre that no other festival in Australia has even begun to understand. It has brought filmmakers and fans together, sharing wisdom through unity, to expand the Aussie scene into a powerhouse world contender.' - Dalibor Backovic (right), Dir: The Ancient Rite of Corey McGillis. WINNER - Best of The Fest, Best Special Effects, 2007.

"I didn't know what to expect when Family Demons was selected. I had never made a horror film before; making it was pretty tough. I self financed, working as an office temp and I couldn't get any funding bodies to cover completion funds. I can't describe how nervous I was at the World Premiere at A Night of Horror in 2009. So to discover that people dug the film and got what I was trying to do was such a surprise. I got to hang out with other horror filmmakers, horror fans, and the film festival organisers themselves. The experience is a highlight of my career." – Ursula Dabrowsky (left, with actress Sarah Jeavons), Dir: Family Demons. WINNERBest Australian Director, 2009 (Dabrowsky would return in 2014 with multiple award-winner, Inner Demon).

Ten short years ago, in the desert of Australian genre festivals, Dean Bertram’s A Night of Horror Fantastic Planet emerged as a much needed spring of enthusiasm for independent genre cinema. With an open mind, Dean ignores obvious festival hits to instead deliver diverse programming year after year, providing a true sense of discovery for fans. ANOH has unearthed countless cult treasures over the decade, films you wouldn’t read about in most of the print and online film journals. And whilst many festivals are just there to milk filmmakers, Dean always looks after his guests in a sincere and personal way you rarely find. - Steven Kastrissios, Dir: The Horseman (pictured, right; on-set with actors Peter Marshall, Caroline Marohasy). WINNER4 awards, including Best Australian Feature, Best Australian Director, 2010.

"I never expected Found would play internationally, and I certainly never expected any awards. So the A Night of Horror's Best Feature and Best Actor awards were a big deal for me. It meant that people on the opposite side of the globe were connecting with the story and its characters. Connecting with me. It made the world feel wonderfully smaller, and it gave me confidence that maybe this weird little labor of love could connect with more people. I appreciate what Dean Bertram has created over the last 10 years; the venue, the audience, the press, the awards, and the attention he has brought to independent films and filmmakers. A Night of Horror helped make Found what it is today – a movie with far wider reach than I ever anticipated. Thank you for everything, Dean!" - Scott Schirmer (right), Dir: Found. WINNERBest Feature Film, Best Male Performance, 2013 (Schirmer’s latest film, Plank Face, has its Australian debut at A Night of Horror 2016).

“The festival was an amazing experience, where our film played to perhaps its best audience. Dean has done a phenomenal job as festival director; he makes all his guests feel like part of his festival family and puts in a huge amount of effort to provide as much help and support as possible. He’s gone out of his way to help promote other projects we’re working on and he doesn’t just champion the film’s playing at the festival but the filmmakers themselves.” – Guy Pigden (left), Dir: I Survived a Zombie Holocaust. WINNERIndependent Spirit Award, 2014

“I remember hoping for an award, but definitely not the big one. I said that when I received it! It was the first award in my life. I posted the news on Facebook and it was immediately picked by the biggest news agency in Romania. I was sending them press releases for months about all the other festival that selected Be My Cat and they never published anything, but news of my Best Film win at A Night of Horror gets picked up immediately! It was a great experience, feeling like a star, with the top media following me.” – Adrian Tofei, Dir: Be My Cat: A Film for Anne. WINNERBest Feature Film, 2015.

The 10th A Night of Horror Fantastic Planet Film Festival runs November 24 to December 4 at Dendy Cinemas Newtown. Full program and session details can be found at the event's official website.

Read SHORT CUTS: HORROR HEAVIES PACT ON ANTHOLOGY PROJECT here.
Read DR. DEAN'S WOMEN OF HORROR here.
Read BLOOD AND MEMORIES: 2013 A NIGHT OF HORROR/FANTASTIC PLANET FILM FESTIVAL WRAP-UP here.
Read FIRST BLOOD: THE LAUNCH PAD INTERVIEWS here
Read A NIGHT OF HORROR/FANTASTIC PLANET 2013 FILM FESTIVAL SPECIAL here
Read THE LAUNCHPAD DIRECTORS: REVIEWS & INTERVIEWS FROM A NIGHT OF HORROR/FANTASTICPLANET 2015 here.
Read THE SHELTER: THE MICHAEL PARE INTERVIEW here

 

SCREEN-SPACE editor Simon Foster is Head of Jury at A Night of Horror 2016.

Friday
Sep022016

THE TRANSFIGURATION: THE MICHAEL O'SHEA INTERVIEW 

Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration caught the international film community by surprise at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The New Yorker’s brooding inner-urban vampire story, which earned a coveted Un Certain Regard slot, is an extraordinarily accomplished debut work, yet still had to it maneuver a path through the mass of festival hopefuls before taking centre stage based upon its rich aesthetic and narrative strengths. Jet-lagged and slightly dishevelled, his prematurely grey hair and all-black attire affirming his ‘NYC auteur’ aura, O’Shea talked to SCREEN-SPACE on the balcony of the Palais de Festival about crafting a film out of images that have been brewing in his subconscious since his teenage years…

“The class element in the script is simply because that’s what I know, that’s how I grew up. I was bullied, beaten up a lot,” says O’Shea. “I retreated into my room and got very depressed.” The central figure is teen loner Milo (the remarkable Eric Ruffin; pictured, below), a softly-spoken orphan growing up in the projects of Queens whose obsession with vampirism has led to him committing heinous, bloody acts. “(Milo’s life) brings back the extremes of my teenage emotions, when you say things like ‘I’d kill for you!’ Those years between 13 and 17 are pivotal years that we remember for the rest of our lives and most of my scripts feature characters that are caught up in those years.”

The Transfiguration is a work filled with O’Shea’s own obsessive love for film in general, and the history of vampire lore in particular. Several modern horror classics are referenced, as well as little known works that indicate O’Shea is a true film fan. “While I was writing, I would put vampire movies on over and over again and just take what I wanted and make it mine,” he openly admits. “Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, Romero’s Martin and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures are films about teenage love and the darkness of life that I connected to. They are influences that are then reworked in my voice and vision.”

Slightly more left-field but no less influential are the cinematic musings of French underground icon Jean Rollin. “Oh God, those soft-core porn vampire movies, where girls in mini-skirts are wandering across desolate landscapes!” he beams. “They are absolutely inspiring.” It is this wildly diverse mix of styles and sources that has made The Transfiguration so bracingly unique. As O’Shea states, “It is a vampire movie influenced and inspired by vampire stories through the centuries, but is not going to look or be like any other vampire story.”

Working closely with DOP Sung Rae Cho (pictured, left; on-set with O'Shea), the director also drew upon the great filmmaking aesthetic of 1970s New York to create an observational ‘cinema verite’ feel. “I just love the 70’s American filmmaking so much,” O’Shea enthuses, “The films feel as if the filmmakers where energised just being outside. Cinema was breaking free of that very static ‘Old Hollywood’ notion of cameras being clamped to the ground. Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To was and is an inspiration; it looks great and also appeals because it mixes the personal and the genre in a crazy way.”

Often filming the action far removed from his actors allowed O’Shea to employ lens and framing techniques that have gone out-of-fashion for all but the most committed visionaries. “Recently, The Pleasure of Being Robbed was shot with a long lens in live New York City locations. That was the first film that I saw that made me think I could make a horror film that way,” he says, recalling the 2008 mumblecore film from alternative sector identity Joshua Safdie. “I wanted to harken back to an older New York, the New York of films like Death Wish, as a setting for this fable. That said, I was also working within the newly gentrified New York, which was also fun.”

The casting of Milo was crucial, the part not only requiring a leading man presence but also a maturity that allowed for some very gruesome moments. Eric Ruffin had done some fine work on television (notably, an eight episode arc on The Good Wife; memorably, as a young Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock), but O’Shea was still cautious as to how the young actor would respond to his character’s psychology. “I was terrified that just the darkness of the character was going to fuck this kid up. But I would say ‘cut’ after some really intense scene and this giant smile would come across Eric’s face,” say the director. “At one point he said to me, ‘Mike, this kid is really mixed up.’”  

Setting his work on the mean streets of Queens and deciding to cast his lead as an African-American dictated Michael O’Shea not simply pander to exploitation horror tropes. Drugs, violence and racial tension all play a part in Milo’s daily life (as does a blossoming romance with white neighbour Sophie, played by Chloe Levine; pictured, above) and are tackled with a forthright honesty by the hometown filmmaker. “I’m making a social realism film that is combined with horror, and a lot of responsibility comes with that,” he says. “Those are all aspects of Milo’s life, even before the vampirism is addressed.”

His decision to self-pen a genre narrative that tackles the urban plight of inner-city black lives no doubt helped to impress the Cannes selection panel, but has also led to some observers say it is not a horror film per se. Such an observation does not sit well with the debutant director. “I have a kill every 20 minutes, so come on,” he says with a wry smile. “I don’t ever want to hear that I somehow find myself better than horror, just because I tackle some issues in my film. I’m telling a personal story and a political story, but I murder people and I show it and I enjoyed doing it!”