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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!”

Tuesday
Aug162016

DEATH AND THE MAIDEN: THE VANESSA MOLTZEN INTERVIEW

Traditionally, the western and horror films of legend are male dominated. But the real fan knows that the lifeblood of these genres are women characters; from icons like Annie Oakley and Ellen Ripley to the classic ‘final girl’ archetype who outwits the psycho-slasher, the ladies have been the strong, soulful yin to the dark yang of the bad guy. So when the genres collide and the dusty, outback western meets the apocalyptic zombie epic, the lead actress was going to have to be something special. Meet Vanessa Moltzen, star of Bullets for The Dead

A VCA graduate with key roles in genre pics I am Evangeline (2015) and Tracy (2016) to her credit, Moltzen commands the screen as Annie Blake in debutant director Michael Du-Shane’s splattery mash-up of hard-bitten frontier adventure and gut-gnawing undead shocker. Audiences get their first look at the statuesque Annie as she robs a bank and slays some innocents, a big-screen entrance as good as any in recent memory.

“We see her at the beginning of the film as a cold-blooded killer, (but) she needed to have some redeeming qualities,” says the actress, who left behind her Sydney base for an extensive location shoot in the Queensland wilderness. “It was apparent that Annie had a depth that was complex, and a pain from family history that was a struggle to overcome. I found her through research and improvisation."

Working from the broad outline provided in the script by Du-Shane and co-writer Joshua C. Birch (based upon their 2011 short, 26 Bullets Dead), the actress wove a backstory that helped reveal Annie’s psyche and shape the performance. ”I didn't want to make her some cardboard cut-out,” says Moltzen. “She had strong reasons for her reckless ways, was brought up in a less than ideal environment that shaped (her) behaviour.” The actress also saw in Annie a yearning for blood ties and the bond they create. “She lost her family so she created a new one in her gang of outlaws (played by Renaud Jardin, Troy MacKinder and Karl Blake). She is fiercely loyal and protective of them.”

One unique aspect of Annie’s character is her sexual guile, an allure that generates a palpable physical chemistry with tough-guy bounty hunter Dalton (Christopher Sommers; picture, below, with Moltzen), who is taking the gang in for the price on their heads. “It’s a front at first, used to intimidate and challenge Dalton to see if he can handle her,” says Moltzen, who spends most of the film in her period undergarments. “But underneath, she desperately longs for someone who can see beyond her tough exterior. Back then, a woman her age would have been expected to be demure and married with a child. She is none of those things so she owns what she has. It’s most likely that she is a virgin.”

Du-Shane’s film is rich in western iconography and imagery, with Moltzen’s Annie Blake recalling such great cinematic frontierswomen as Barbara Stanwyck in Anthony Mann’s The Furies (1950) or Raquel Welch’s title character in Burt Kennedy’s Hannie Caulder (1971). “I watched a lot of westerns,” she admits, citing Kelly Reichhardt’s Meek's Cutoff and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven as key influences. “The relationship to the harsh landscape and the expectations of the woman’s role in society was interesting to explore,” she says, also noting the bush shoot was not always an easy one. “I had a scorpion at my feet one day,” she laughs, “(but) I love being out on location. The smell, the grit, the texture of the landscape, the muggy air, the hot sun, it's all is part of the story.”

As for the bloodbath that comes with starring in a zombie flick, Moltzen admits to ending the shoot a little rattled. “I watched a bunch of zombie films beforehand as research, and I know there are some cracker scenes in our film that zombies fans will love,” she says, enthusiastically, “but on set it can be quite shocking to see all that blood and guts. I don’t need to do another scary film for a while.”

Screen-Space managing editor Simon Foster will co-host a Bullets for The Dead Cast & Crew Q&A, courtesy of the distributor Monster Pictures, on Thursday, August 18. Full details and ticket information at the venue website here.

Bullets For The Dead - Trailer from Monster Pictures on Vimeo.

 

Wednesday
May182016

CANNES CLASSICS BOWS REFN'S RESTORATION OF BAVA BRILLIANCE 

Having primed the rabid Mario Bava fanbase with a sneak peek of footage at last year Torino Film Festival, director Nicholas Winding Refn last night proudly premiered the 4k restoration of the late Italian horror maestro’s 1965 cult classic, Planet of the Vampires, as part of the prestigious Cannes Classic sidebar.

“I felt that Cannes needed to see some proper, quality old movies,” joked the director. Addressing the late night audience at the Salle Bunuel auditorium in the Palais des Festival, the director said, “It is an incredible honour being here tonight to present a timeless classic of cinema, a film that, when released, was considered more of an exploitation/B-movie kind of film. And yet, now 50 years later it is perceived as high art. This is one of the great pop art movies ever made.”

Also present were the film’s producer, Italian industry legend Fulvio Lucisano, and Lamberto Bava, son of the late director. “Fulvio is the last of what they call the mega-producers, the mavericks of the 60s and 70s,” explained the director. “When I said to him, ‘What’s happening with Planet of the Vampires? about a year ago he said, ‘(mumble)’. So I said, ‘Let’s do a 4k restoration and re-introduce to a younger audience, and his (mumble) became ‘Si, oui, let’s do it!’” (Pictured, right; director Nicholas Winding Refn)

An ebullient Lucisana recalled the production of the Planet of The Vampires (aka, Terrore Nello Spazio), which was an ambitious project for the Italian industry in the mid 60s. “When we made this feature, everybody was very curious,” he said in a broken but enthusiastic English. “We used Stage 5 at Cinecitta, which is one of the largest stages in Europe. Mario organised everything very well. I mean, we had a set designer but it was Mario who did the organizing including the bridge on the spaceship.”

A softly-spoken Bava, clearly proud of the adoration being afforded his father’s work, said, “I think he’d know and feel this love. He was always a very happy, very normal man, but he was a man who (possessed) something more. He was a cinema man. He started making films as a young man, because he wanted to see something different.”

Refn also addressed long-held speculation that Planet of The Vampires never been fully credited as the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Alien (Ed: also, clearly, Event Horizon). The narrative about two spaceship crews who respond to a signal from a dark planet only to be overcome by a mysterious murderous force, and several visual elements certainly recall Scott’s space horror classic.

“This is the film, and you can quote me and please do, get out your Twitters, this is the film that Dan O’Bannon and Ridley Scott stole to make Alien,” said Refn, to wild applause. “Official breaking news! We found the elements, we have the evidence tonight, this is the origin.” He noted that one of the Bava’s original writing team, Ib Melchior, was a fellow Dane. “It (is an honour) that this film, the origin story that was ripped off to make Alien, was actually created by a Danish writer.” (Pictured, right; Mario Bava)

Digitally restored from the original 35mm camera negative, the project was undertaken with the aid of CSC Cineteca Nazionale, with the restoration process being overseen by Italian International Film.

 

 

Sunday
Apr032016

LAST DRINKS: THE SEVÉ SCHELENZ INTERVIEW.

When your low-budget debut hits big, where to next? Such was the enviable problem for horror auteur Sevé Schelenz, who rattled international festival crowds with his 2011 shocker, Skew. For his second feature, the Canadian has crafted a fresh perspective on the ‘single-setting’ horror film; the gross-out funny, very ‘splattery’ Peelers unfolds in a remote titty bar, as infected patrons turn on the survivors. Ahead of its World Premiere at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, Schelenz spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the origins of his latest work, the learning curve he went through on the shoot and answering the age-old question, “Where would nudity be acceptable?”…

SCREEN-SPACE: After the success of Skew, what kind of pressure did you place on yourself and your 'sophomore project'? 

Schelenz: I never thought about any "pressure", never thought of it as a "follow-up". I was just ready to make another film and took it from there. The only thing I wanted to do differently was to make a more traditional horror film, (to) work with a DP and compose shots and work with lighting. When we shot Skew in 2005, films tried hard to look like big budget films and most fell short. I didn't want to make a film where the audience would be pulled out of the movie because they were thrown off by the look. With the sort of budget we had at the time, POV was the way to go. When we shot Peelers, HD was much more accessible. You could also shoot 5K, which allowed you to play with the image more in post, which you couldn't do back in 2005 without image degradation. Actually, the most important thing for me when making any film is to have a good script with twists and great characters. We did that in Skew, but some of the twists may have been a little too much for the audience. Screenwriter Lisa DeVita and I came up with something more balanced. 

SCREEN-SPACE: What were the origins of the story?

Schelenz: After Skew’s festival run and distribution, my sales agent asked me, "So, what's next?" I was developing a number of features, mostly comedies, thrillers, or sci-fi. He told me, “No, do another horror.” I asked him what he thought would sell and he said, "More blood and more boobs." I was more into anticipation-building and psychological horror but I went away and thought to myself, "I know I can get the blood in there, but what about the nudity?" I just wasn't interested in gratuitous breast shots. I thought, "Where would nudity be acceptable? A strip club!" It turned out there were not a lot of good stripper-horror films, leaving an untapped sub-genre of horror out there. I asked ‘Devits’ if she would be interested in writing a script with strong female characters who kicked ass, a deft story and some good twists. Her eyes went wide and she told me a story about something that happened to her while she was at a strip club in Las Vegas. From there, Peelers was born. (Pictured, above; Schelenz, on-set, with actress Nikki Wallin).  

SCREEN-SPACE: The 'single setting' concept carries its own production challenges. How did you address both the limitations and potential of your location?

Schelenz: A single setting can be the kiss of death from an audience point of view. There is a perception that the more locations, the bigger the film, the more the audience will want to see it; my sales agent recommended multiple locations if only to have them in the trailer. But from a production point of view, a single location is the way to go. It is the best answer to the main obstacle of indie filmmaking - budget. My editing background means I’m always thinking about how scenes transition, which I bring to the script process as well. So, I sort of treated each room in the strip club as a separate location, of giving each one it's own look and feel through production design, lighting and camera angles. Our DP Lindsay George (pictured, left) was an indie fllmmaker's dream because she was fast, had a great eye for composition and understood lighting. Peelers doesn't feel like it's all in one location, when in fact it pretty much is.

SCREEN-SPACE: There is a great deal of authenticity in the casting, a lot of 'character' in the characters, especially in your lead, Wren Walker, and the girls who play the dancers. 

Schelenz: We threw out a wide, open net for the casting to see as many actors as we could. Surprisingly, we had a lot of talented girls show up to auditions. We were worried that actresses would hear "stripper horror" and think ditzy, damsel-in-distress types with gigantic fake boobs, when really we were going for something different, something against type. We wanted characters with brains, women you could sympathize with who come in all shapes and sizes, confident in their own skin. How could actresses know this coming in to cold auditions? We were wrong; ultimately, selecting our female roles was tough due to all the talented options. When it came to the lead character, ‘Blue Jean’, none of the girls ideally fitted the role. Wren Walker (pictured, above) came in late in the audition process because her boyfriend saw our ad and encouraged her to read and she nailed it. Wren just owned the Blue Jean role right off the bat.

SCREEN-SPACE: Despite the usual tight budget and time constraint issues, did the shoot go to plan? Was it a positive set?

Schelenz: When you make a truly independent feature, you're always worried about running over. I had the experience of shooting Skew and we also had great 1st and 2nd ADs on Peelers. For the most part, the shoot went according to plan. Another way of staying on schedule is to allow more time in pre-production and rehearsals. The more issues you can encounter and solve before production, the better. This helps the mood on set, as the prep has been done. Of course, you also set the tone of production pretty early on. I got to know most of the cast and crew ahead of time and that made things more enjoyable. It's great to hear cast and crew say, "I had a great time on set, it was so much fun," but it's not the case for the producers or director. Yes, we are pretty pumped to be on set and making a movie but it really is up to us to get the shots needed or there's no film. (Pictured, above; from l-r, Wren Walker, Madison J. Loos, Momona Komagata, Kirsty Peters and Caz Odin Darko).

SCREEN-SPACE: And you pull a Hitchcock, rewarding yourself with a very funny cameo! Plan to spend more time in front of the camera?

Schelenz: (Laughs) I like the idea, (but I’m) not sure I have the acting chops to pull it off. I like to get myself, or my name in there somehow, just for shits and giggles. If you listen carefully, you'll hear my name being paged as Doctor Schelenz in the opening sequence. In Skew, my name actually appears on a newspaper as Officer Schelenz. My cameo in Peelers is actually part of a bigger story.  Everyone in the scene, minus the main actor, is the crew from the film, including the other three producers. It was a fun scene to film because I knew in editing I'd have a chance to get everyone into the movie.

Peelers will premiere April 9 at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, Florida; other territories to follow.