Search
3D 5th Wave 70s Culture 80s Cinema A Night of Horror AAustralian film Action Activism Adaptation Adelaide Film Festival Adventure Advocacy African American Age of Adaline AI albanian Alien Abduction alien covenant aliens altzheimers amazon Amitabh Bachchan Animation anime anthology Anti-vaxx Ari Gold Art Asia Pacific Screen Awards Asian Cinema Australian film AV Industry Bad Robot BDSM Beach Boys Berlinale BFG Bianca Biasi Big Hero 6 Biography Biopic Blade Runner Blake Lively B-Movies Bollywood Breast Cancer Brian Wilson Brisbane Bruce Willis Camille Keenan Cancer candyman Cannes cannibalism Cannon Films Cesars CGI Chapman To Character Actors Charlie Hunnam Charlize Theron Chemsex China Lion Chloe Grace Moretz Chris Hemsworth Chris Pratt Christchurch christian cinema christmas Christopher Nolan Classic Cinema Clint Eastwood Close Encounters Cloverfield Comedy Coming-of-Age Conor McGregor Conspiracy Controversy Crowd-sourced Cult Cure Dakota Johnson Dance Academy Dardennes Brothers darth vader Debut Deepika Padukone Depression Disaster Movies Disney Diversity Documentary doomsday Dr Moreau drama Dunkirk Dustin Clare Dystopic EL James eli roth Elizabeth Banks Entourage Environmental Epic Erotic Cinema Extra-terrestrial Extreme Sports faith-based Family Film Fantasy Father Daughter Feminism Fifty Shades of Grey Film Film Festival Foreign found footage French Cinema Friendship Fusion Technology Gareth Edwards Gay Cinema Ghostbusters Ghosts Golan Globus Gothic green inferno Guardians of the Galaxy Guillermo del Toro Gun Control Hacker Hailee Steinfeld Han Solo Happiness Harrison Ford Harry Dean Stanton Hasbro Haunted house Hhorror Himalaya Hitchcock Hollywood Holocaust Hong Kong horror Horror Film Housebound Hunger Games Idris Elba
Monday
Dec182017

VALE CHRIS MURRAY

Fans, filmmakers and a global network of friends are mourning the shock passing of Chris Murray, a beloved, passionate advocate of Australian film culture. Via a public Facebook post written in his final days, the multi-hyphenate talent was frank about his yearlong battle with aggressive bladder cancer and his wish to fight the disease without burdening his friends with the news. He wrote, "I didn't want to worry people and by the time it got away from me I wasn't sure what to say." His last words to his friends and followers were, "We all had awesome times together. Remember me and us that way. I love you all. Much love, Muzz." He succumbed to the disease this morning, December 19, just before dawn, surrounded by family and close friends. He was 45.

A life consumed by film was given focus when he saw Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas at age 18. “[My dad] said to me, ‘I’ll think you’ll like this, son’,” Murray recalled in a 2014 profile for Sydney Film School. “When I came out of the cinema, I really wanted to f**k shit up. I really wanted to get involved. No other film has affected me as much as that.” (Full interview below). After a stint selling advertising space in the street magazine 9 to 5, the 23 year-old Murray took the helm of Australian Playboy as Managing Editor in 1999, for what would be a brief tenure but one that paid huge dividends for the passionate film lover.

In November of that year, he fronted the launch of the first international edition of the iconic British film monthly, Empire, taking on the role of Editor and staffing the local office with some of Australia’s best-known film writers. He oversaw four years of circulation growth in a publishing sector faced with a shrinking ad market; his infectious passion for cinema, keen business acumen and warm personality proved endearing, affording him access to talent from all sectors of the Australasian industry. 

Murray’s laconic yet passionate presentation skills, cool personal style and encyclopaedic understanding of film, television and music did not go unnoticed by the broadcast sector. He took on-air roles as film reviewer for The Seven Network’s top-rating Sunrise show (2002-2007) and Austereo’s flagship FM station, Triple M (2002-2006). He emerged as one of Australia’s most informed entertainment industry voices, lending his knowledge and profile to such outlets as ABC 702 Sydney and 5AA Adelaide; the cable channels Showtime (where he hosted the popular ‘Movie Club’ show) and The Movie Network; and, as contributor for FOX News USA and The Nine Network. In addition to Empire, his writing would be published in Rolling Stone, FHM, Smash Hits, Kerrang!, Stack and The Walkley.

Of the many great legacies left by Chris Murray, it may be the 6½ years he spent as the Creative Director of the film celebration society Popcorn Taxi that most profoundly impacted our film culture. In November 2007, under the freewheeling principle, 'We love movies. You love movies. We should definitely hang out...', Murray (alongside Peter Taylor, his co-principal at the media company Neon Pictures) took creative control of the screening-and-Q&A event format established in 1999 by Gary Doust and Matt Wheeldon.

It proved the perfect platform for Murray’s vast film knowledge and warm interpersonal skills. Under his stewardship, the Popcorn Taxi interviewee roster boasted such names as Jerry Lewis, Vince Gilligan, Andrew Stanton, Karen Allen, Joel Edgerton, Richard Kelly, Brian Trenchard-Smith, David Michod, Rob Zombie and Quentin Tarantino (pictured, right); in 2013, Murray sat with Thor The Dark World star Tom Hiddleston for one of the most popular Popcorn Taxi sessions ever held. When interviewed by SBS Movies in 2009 as part of Popcorn Taxi 10th anniversary celebrations, Murray exhibited the spirit of a true showman, stating, “Every show is the Be all and End all. Everyone who goes must walk away after it and say, 'f**k that was awesome!'”

Murray left Popcorn Taxi in early 2014, taking a two-year sabbatical from the live Q&A format before launching the live event initiative, P.R.O.M. “The People’s Republic of Movies”. Murray drew on his reputation for the first round of PROM presentations – …Taxi alumni Quentin Tarantino introduced the Australian classics The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and Mad Dog Morgan; a transcontinental interview with director Tom Ford followed a sneak peek of Nocturnal Animals. In February 2017, he was appointed Head of Media for Xeitgeist Entertainment Group, a multi-faceted production company based in Singapore and Sydney's Fox Studios .

Details of a service for Chris will be announced in the days ahead.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Chris was 44. He was 45, born in April 1972. Apologies for the error.

Wednesday
Dec062017

IN PROFILE: 2017 AACTA HONOREE PHILLIP NOYCE

Hailing from the central New South Wales township of Griffith, Phillip Noyce did not initially present himself as the most likely young filmmaker to take first the Australian industry and then Hollywood by storm. But the towering 6’4” country lad, who made his first film Better to Reign in Hell at age 18, would forge a career that reaches its zenith tonight, when the 67 year-old director is presented with the prestigious Longford Lyell Award at the 7th Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) ceremony at The Star Event Centre in Sydney.

SCREEN-SPACE considers the five key moments in Noyce’s brilliant career; contributions that have, as the award recognises, enriched Australia’s screen environment and culture…

1973: A member of the inaugural class of the newly established Film and Television School…

As a member of the ‘Interim Training Group’, the 22 year-old Noyce joined young hopefuls such as Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career; Starstruck) and Chris Noonan (Babe; Miss Potter) amongst the first wave of students at FTS (later, AFTRS). Under Foundation Director Jerzy Toeplitz and Council chairman Barry Jones, Noyce honed the rough talent he had exhibited in a series of short films shot in Sydney during the 1960s, many of them reflecting the influence of international productions he had screened as head of the legendary Sydney Filmmakers Co-op. His graduating work, the 44 minute documentary Castor and Pollux (below), caught the emergence of a distinctive storyteller with a natural insight into character and nuance. (Pictured, right; Noyce, back-row centre, with FTS Class of '73 students)

1977-87: The first 10 years…
Upon graduation, Noyce immersed himself in the film production sector, working behind-the-scenes on films such as Ayten Kuyululu’s The Golden Cage (1975) and Oliver Howes’ Let the Balloon Go (1976). It would not be until 1977 that his feature film directing debut was realeased, the rough and raucous inter-racial outback drama Backroads, starring Bill Hunter and Gary Foley and shot by Russell Boyd. Drawing upon his outback upbringing, Noyce captured a powerful chemistry between his leads that spoke to the volatile political mood of the moment. Noyce’s follow-up was the beloved classic Newsfront (1978), the story of the early days of the Cinetone news camera crews; it would win the director his first Australian Film Institute award for Best Director (one of the film’s eight wins at the 1978 ceremony). Noyce returned to short documentaries and TV work until 1982, when the contemporary thriller Heatwave (1982) paired him with Judy Davis. He returned to the small-screen at the height of the TV mini-series boom and made two of the industry’s finest ever short-form series, The Dismaissal (1983) and The Cowra Breakout (1984).

1989: Dead Calm.
Noyce had skirted around committing to big budget, commercial cinema until the right project surfaced. That happened in 1989; an adaptation of Charles Williams 1963 novel (once near to filming under Orson Welles) by Mad Max 2 writer Terry Hayes called Dead Calm came to Noyce with on-the-cusp actress Nicole Kidman and established name Sam Neill attached. The collaboration proved electric; the thriller, about a married couple adrift at sea being terrorised by psychopath Billy Zane, proved to be one of the great calling-card films of all time, catapulting all involved onto Hollywood’s hot list. Washington Post critics, calling the film a “majestic horror cruise,” praised Noyce’s direction, calling him, “a masterful manipulator”, stating that he “raises the stakes so skilfully you find yourself ducking the boom.”

1989-2010: Hollywood or bust…
Phillip Noyce had earned his shot at Tinseltown-sized success and joined the ranks of Renaissance peers such as Gilliam Armstrong, Peter Weir and Dr George Miller amongst the directing elite of Hollywood. He stumbled slightly with his first film, Blind Fury (1989) with Rutger Hauer (although the ‘sightless samurai’ oddity has found cult favour over time), before hitting big with two instalments in the Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan franchise, Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994). Noyce ran gamut in his time at the top of the Hollywood pecking order - one derided dud (Sliver, 1993; pictured, right, with star Sharon Stone), one admired underperformer (The Saint, 1993), one solid standalone hit (The Bone Collector, 1999), one barely-released international production (Catch a Fire, 2006) and one Oscar-friendly prestige pic (The Quiet American, 2002). His last legitimate studio hit was 2010’s Salt, with Angelina Jolie; his last big-budget effort, the YA adaptation The Giver with Jeff Bridges, bombed.

2002: Rabbit Proof Fence.
At the height of his Los Angeles adventure, Noyce returned to his homeland to direct arguably the crowning achievement in his extraordinary career. Rabbit Proof Fence, based upon the novel by Doris Pilkington Garimara, was the story of three aboriginal girls fleeing a life of indentured servitude and making their way across the dangerous and desolate outback. With controversy raging over ‘The Stolen Generation’, a shameful moment in Australia’s history when indigenous people were taken from their homes as youngsters, to be taught the wihite man’s ways, Noyce directed his most moving and acclaimed film. Phillip Noyce had crafted a film that encapsulated his own outback roots, his country’s terrible heritage and his industry’s global standing.

  

Monday
Oct302017

LION IS PRIDE OF LOCAL INDUSTRY WITH 12 AACTA NOMS.

The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) seem poised to correct the imbalance perpetrated by their American brethren by handing the bulk of this years AACTA Award Feature Film trophies to Garth Davis’ Lion. The critical and commercial hit scored a whopping 12 nominations, leading a record-breaking 17 films in the race for this year’s top industry honours.

Starring Dev Patel as the adopted Indian man seeking his birth mother, Lion became the feel-good hit at the 2016-17 international box office yet was shut-out in the La-La Land/Moonlight Oscar sweep, despite earning six nominations. Given its A$25million local box office haul and the 34 awards it has already snared globally (including two International AACTAs), the prospect of the film enjoying it’s own sweep at the twin ceremonies on December 4 and 6 is very real.

Also in contention for the Best Film AACTA are the sleeper hit Ali’s Wedding (8 nominations) and box office non-starters Berlin Syndrome (8 nominations; pictured, right), Hounds of Love (8 nominations) and Jasper Jones (6 nominations).  Other multiple nominees include Don’t Tell (4), The Butterfly Tree (3), The Death and Life of Otto Bloom (2) and The Lego Batman Movie (2). Single nominations in several tech categories went to Australia Day, Dance Academy: The Movie, Jungle, Killing Ground, Red Dog True Blue and Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume 1; international productions Deepwater Horizon and Doctor Strange were cited for their use of local effects houses.

Launching at this year’s ceremony will be the inaugural Best Asian Film category, a none-too-subtle attempt to wrestle regional relevance away from the annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA), to be held in Brisbane on November 23. Countries represented in the category include India (Dangal; Pink; Kaasav Turtle); China (I am Not Madame Bovary; Our Time Will Come; Wolf Warrior II, pictured, left); The Philippines (Birdshot); South Korea (Train to Busan); and, Japan (Your Name).

The 7th AACTA Awards will be held at The Star Event Centre in Sydney. The Industry Luncheon takes place on Monday December 4, to be followed by the AACTA Awards Ceremony on the evening of December 6.

The full list of nominees are:          

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST FILM
ALI’S WEDDING Sheila Jayadev, Helen Panckhurst
BERLIN SYNDROME Polly Staniford
HOUNDS OF LOVE Melissa Kelly
JASPER JONES Vincent Sheehan, David Jowsey
LION Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, Angie Fielder

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTION
ALI’S WEDDING Jeffrey Walker
BERLIN SYNDROME Cate Shortland
HOUNDS OF LOVE Ben Young
LION Garth Davis

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST LEAD ACTOR
Stephen Curry HOUNDS OF LOVE
Ewen Leslie THE BUTTERFLY TREE
Sunny Pawar LION
Osamah Sami ALI’S WEDDING

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST LEAD ACTRESS
Emma Booth HOUNDS OF LOVE
Teresa Palmer BERLIN SYNDROME
Helana Sawires ALI’S WEDDING
Sara West DON’T TELL

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Don Hany ALI’S WEDDING
Dev Patel LION
Jack Thompson DON’T TELL
Hugo Weaving JASPER JONES

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Frances Duca ALI’S WEDDING
Nicole Kidman LION
Jacqueline McKenzie DON’T TELL
Susie Porter HOUNDS OF LOVE

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST ASIAN FILM
BIRDSHOT Pamela L. Reyes
DANGAL Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao, Siddarth Roy Kapur
I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY Wang Zhonglei, Zhou Maofei, Hu Xiaofeng
KAASAV (TURTLE) Dr. Mohan Agashe, Sunil Sukthankar, Sumitra Bhave
OUR TIME WILL COME Roger Lee, Stephen Lam, Ann Hui
PINK Shoojit Sircar, Rashmi Sharma, Ronnie Lahiri, Sheel Kumar
TRAIN TO BUSAN Lee Dong ha
WOLF WARRIOR 2 Zhang Miao, Guang Hailong
YOUR NAME Genki Kawamura, Katsuhiro Takei, Kouichurou Itou, Yoshihiro Furusawa

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST FEATURE LENGTH DOCUMENTARY
CASTING JONBENÉT Kitty Green, Scott Macaulay, James Schamus
DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE Jo-anne McGowan
DEEP WATER: THE REAL STORY Darren Dale
WHITELEY Sue Clothier, James Bogle, Peta Ayres
ZACH’S CEREMONY Sarah Linton, Alec Doomadgee

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
ALI’S WEDDING Andrew Knight, Osamah Sami
THE BUTTERFLY TREE Priscilla Cameron
THE DEATH AND LIFE OF OTTO BLOOM Cris Jones
HOUNDS OF LOVE Ben Young

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
BERLIN SYNDROME Shaun Grant
DON’T TELL James Greville, Ursula Cleary, Anne Brooksbank
JASPER JONES Shaun Grant, Craig Silvey
LION Luke Davies

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
HOUNDS OF LOVE Michael McDermott
JUNGLE Stefan Duscio
LION Greig Fraser
RED DOG: TRUE BLUE Geoffrey Hall

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST EDITING
AUSTRALIA DAY Nick Meyers
BERLIN SYNDROME Jack Hutchings
HOUNDS OF LOVE Merlin Eden
LION Alexandre de Franceschi

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST SOUND
JASPER JONES Liam Egan, Trevor Hope, Robert Sullivan, Yulia Akerholt, James Andrews, Les Fiddess
KILLING GROUND Serge Lacroix, Cate Cahill
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE Wayne Pashley, Rick Lisle, Fabian Sanjurgo, Michael Semanick, Gregg Landaker
LION Robert Mackenzie, Glenn Newnham, Nakul Kamte, Andrew Ramage, James Ashton, Mario Vaccaro

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE
ALI’S WEDDING Nigel Westlake
BERLIN SYNDROME Bryony Marks
THE BUTTERFLY TREE Caitlin Yeo
LION Volker Bertelmann, Dustin O’Halloran

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
BERLIN SYNDROME Melinda Doring
THE DEATH AND LIFE OF OTTO BLOOM Ben Morieson
JASPER JONES Herbert Pinter
LION Chris Kennedy

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST COSTUME DESIGN
BERLIN SYNDROME Maria Pattison
DANCE ACADEMY:THE MOVIE Tess Schofield
JASPER JONES Margot Wilson
LION Cappi Ireland

Saturday
Sep022017

R.I.P. ALAN CASSELL

For 40 years, one of the most sturdy and reliable character players in the Australian film sector was a Brit expat Alan Cassell. A master of the stage (he featured opposite Lauren Bacall in Sweet Bird of Youth for the Sydney Theatre Company) and a constant presence on local television (27 small-screen credits, including ‘Prime Minister John Gorton’ in the landmark mini-series, Vietnam), Cassell was a cherished cast member in many of the great films of the industry’s boom decades. On the occasion of his passing in Melbourne on August 30 at the age of 85, we honour the memorable moments of Cassell’s rich big screen career… 

CATHY’S CHILD (1979) and HARLEQUIN (1980)
Plying his trade on Australia’s west coast earned Cassell lead parts in two Perth-based productions - Edgar Metcalfe’s dramatic thriller, The Olive Tree (1975) and Terry O’Rourke’s bawdy soft-core romp Plugg (1975). Relocating to the eastern seaboard, roles in the TV series Matlock and a stand-out ‘crooked cop’ role in Bruce Beresford’s ensemble heist hit Money Movers (1978) signalled to the industry that Cassell was that great supporting player who could enliven any narrative.  Director Donald Crombie cast Cassell opposite Michele Fawdon in Cathy’s Child, a powerful drama about a mother determined to get her stolen daughter back; it would earn Fawdon the AFI Best Actress award and secure Cassell a Best Actor nomination (his only nod from the industry body). When casting the pricey genre thriller Harlequin, director Simon Wincer and producer Anthony Ginnane recognised Cassell’s worth and gave him a key role in the 1980 production opposite a cast of international imports including Broderick Crawford, Robert Powell and David Hemmings. (Pictured, right; a promotional lobby card for Cathy's Child, featuring Cassell and star Michele Fawdon)    

BREAKER MORANT (1980), THE CLUB (1980) and PUBERTY BLUES (1981).
On the set of Money Movers, Cassell had developed a strong professional rapport and lasting friendship with his director, Bruce Beresford. The filmmaker drew upon that mutual respect for three films that would come to represent Cassell’s most acclaimed character work. Beresford cast Cassell as pompous Brit officer Lord Kitchener, working against the actor’s working class roots, in the international hit, Breaker Morant. As football club administrator Gerry Cooper, Cassell gave perhaps his finest career performance in Beresford’s adaptation of David Williamson’s The Club, holding his own opposite Jack Thompson, Graham Kennedy and Frank Wilson. In the director’s teen classic Puberty Blues, Cassell played the ‘suburban dad’ to perfection as Mr Vickers, father of Nell Schofield’s wild child beach girl Debbie. (pictured, above; Cassell with Beresford on the set of Money Movers)  

The 1980s: SQUIZZY TAYLOR (1982), THE DARK ROOM (1982), FIRE IN THE STONE (1984) and BELINDA (1988)
Cassell worked to greater acclaim on television for the duration of the 1980s including the lead in Special Squad (an Aussie take on tough Brit police thrillers The Sweeney and The Professionals) and a 14 episode arc on Neighbours. His film work from the period was first rate, though often in service of films that saw minor theatrical seasons before their home video shelf life. Most prominent amongst them was Kevin James Dobson’s period crime thriller Squizzy Taylor, starring David Atkins as the 1920s underworld figure and Cassell as Detective Brophy, the hardened cop out to get him. US director Paul Harmon’s solid potboiler The Darkroom afforded Cassell a rare leading man role in a cast that included Anna Maria Monticelli and Rowena Wallace (and a blink-and-miss bit part for a young Baz Luhrmann). Other films in which Cassell made an impression include Howard Rubie’s romantic bush yarn The Settlement, opposite Bill Kerr, John Jarratt and Lorna Lesley; Gary Conway’s young adult adventure romp The Fire in The Stone, most notable for its origins as a novel from Storm Boy author, Colin Thiele; and, Pamela Gibbon’s semi-autobiographical dance drama Belinda (aka, Midnight Dancer), with Cassell comfortable as the anxious father of Deanne Jeff’s showgirl wannabe. (Pictured, above; a screengrab from The Darkroom, featuring Cassell and co-star, Svet Kovich)

THE HONOURABLE WALLY NORMAN (2003) and STRANGE BEDFELLOWS (2004)
In his final screen appearances, Alan Cassell got to play in two broad comedies, a bigscreen genre that had largely passed him by for most of his career. As his persona softened throughout the 90s with warmer and often very funny parts in TV series like The Flying Doctors, SeaChange and The Micallef Program, producers sought out his effortless charm to enliven their would-be crowdpleasers. In The Honourable Wally Norman, veteran comedy director Ted Emery used Cassell as the pivotal character, boozy politician Willy Norman, who misspells his own name and sets Kevin Harrington’s average Joe ‘Wally Norman’ on a course to Canberra. In Dean Murphy’s gay-themed romp Strange Bedfellows, Cassell plays ‘small country town beffudlement’ with warmth and integrity, opposite leads Paul Hogan and Michael Caton.

Saturday
May202017

OZ SHOOT CONTINUES AS CANNES BUYERS EYE FIRST IMAGES.

Productions only get one chance to create the kind of buzz that a presence on The Croisette can deliver. Having only commenced its far north coast shoot on May 2, reps for director Luke Sparke’s sophomore effort Occupation have rolled out images and announced plot and cast details at the Marche du Film, the frantic sales and distribution trade show component of the Festival de Cannes.

Sparke’s directorial debut, the low-budget high-concept B-thriller Red Billabong, made a splash in 2016, securing niche international engagements (including screens in Vietnam) and home-vid exposure in monster-movie friendly markets, such as Japan. Shot with a natural storytelling flair and turning a tidy profit meant that the young Queensland-based director had industry cache, the kind that has allowed him to move ahead with haste on his follow-up production. The budget is estimated to be close to A$3million. (Pictured, above; key cast of Occupation)

"We're in the thick of [the shoot] right now, pulling massive days on back-to-back action scenes, which is quite rare for Australia,” said Sparke via press release. “It's looking great and I'm looking forward to rolling it out over the next months." The narrative pits residents of a small rural township against a mysterious and devastating ground invasion, a summary that reads like a cross between local blockbuster Tomorrow When The War Began and such classic sci-fiers as Invaders from Mars and War of The Worlds.

Sparke reteams with his Red Billabong leading man Dan Ewing, who heads up a quality cast that includes Temuera Morrison, Izzy Stevens, Stephany Jacobsen and Rhiannon Fish; local character actor legends Bruce Spence, Felix Williamson and Roy Billing; and, AFI award winner Jacqueline McKenzie. Producer Carly Imrie also returns. (Pictured, right; teaser poster for Occupation, courtesy of Film Mode Entertainment)

The early sneak images have been presented in Cannes by sales agent Film Mode Entertainment (FME), who are spruiking Occupation to international territories, including the all-important North American market. President of FME, industry veteran Clay Epstein, has a passion for Australian-lensed genre works, having worked for leading Oz outfit Arclight Films and represented films such as The Spierig Brothers Predestination, with Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook.

Epstein is particularly high on Occupation, stating, “We have incredible footage after only 2 weeks of production. Luke shoots action very well and is an extremely talented director.  This is a huge film and we are confident the market is going to embrace it.”

Occupation will be released in 2018 in Australia and New Zealand by specialist distribution outfit Pinnacle Films. (Pictured,below; from left, stars Izzy Stevens, Dan Ewing and Temuera Morrison, on location)


Sunday
Apr162017

SUNTANNED CINEPHILES SET TO FEAST ON GOLD COAST FILM FEST.

Its very mention once conjured images of a hedonistic mecca peopled by meter maids and partying teens, but Queensland’s Gold Coast tourist strip has more recently re-emerged as a film lover’s paradise. Central to this cultural growth is Festival Director Lucy Fisher and her team at the Gold Coast Film Festival (GCFF), who celebrate 15 years as the region’s premiere movie-going event, a crucial conduit between local and international filmmakers and the Sunshine State’s cinephiles…

“2017 is about a shift in a new direction,” says Fisher, who has worked our interview into a frantic schedule ahead of the April 19 launch of the 2017 event. “It is about bringing films to life in a distinctly Gold Coast way for local and visiting audiences and to help grow and support Queensland’s screen industry.” From humble beginnings in 2002 when it launched as a genre-based fan event, the scale of this year’s 12-day celebration now reflects both the vast, stunning geography of Australia’s north-east and the richness of its film culture.

“The festival has really found its feet in the last three years,” says Fisher (pictured, left). “For general cinemagoers, we play a social role, affording them a chance to meet and bond over shared film experiences, discovering new films or films that would normally only release in Sydney and Melbourne.” Kicking off with the New Zealand hit comedy Pork Pie from director Matt Murphy, patrons with a penchant for global cinema are spoilt for choice with works from Finland (Juho Kuosmanen’s Cannes sensation The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki), The U.K. (Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion; Jason Connery’s Tommy’s Honour); The U.S.A. (Maggie Greenwald’s Sophie and The Rising Sun; James Ponsoldt’s The Circle); Egypt (Mohamed Diab’s Clash); Indonesia (Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto’s Headshot); Chile (Pablo Larrain’s Neruda); France (Rebecca Zlotowski’s Planetarium); and, Kenya (Mbithi Masaya’a Kati Kati).

The Festival’s major sponsor is the state’s funding and production overseer Screen Queensland who, under the energised stewardship of CEO Tracey Vieira, has seen the region attract big-ticket productions like Kong Skull Island, Thor Ragnarok, The Shallows, San Andreas and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. In an inspired piece of off-site programming, the GCFF is offering a 3-hour bus tour of these locations, with accompanying AV content to enhance the experience.

The Screen Queensland collaboration and the role it plays in fostering talent and production activity is taken very seriously by Fisher, who states, “For the local industry, we develop future film professionals through screen culture and screen education, (including) dedicated screenings, career forums and workshops for high-school students. For film industry audiences, we provide professional development through Q&As, panels and workshops.” In 2017, these events come under the ‘ReelLife’ banner and include sessions on film criticism, chaired by FilmInk editor Dov Kornits; the intricacies of film production, hosted by industry veterans Sue Maslin and Jan Chapman; understanding the audition process with actress Claudia Karvan; sound design and composition with Oscar winner David White; and, working with animals on-screen, chaired by director Simon Wincer (Phar Lap; Free Willy).

Australian productions in the 2017 programme include four World Premieres – Dee McLachlan’s supernatural thriller Out of The Shadows; Josh Hale’s gamer mockumentary Digital Athletes: The Road to Seat League; Jude Kalman’s uplifting documentary Uncontained Love: Love > Fear; and, Enzo Tedeschi’s gripping socio-political thriller, Event Zero, which will close the festival on April 30. Other local filmmakers represented include James Bogle, with his bio-doc Whitely; Douglas Watkin and his indigenous ballet doco Ella; Michael Jones, with Lazybones; Romi Trower, presenting her debut What If It Works?, with Luke Ford; Shane Abbess, with his sci-fi spectacle Science Fiction Vol 1: The Osiris Child (pictured, above; stars Isabel Lucas and Daniel McPherson); and, Gerald Rascionato, whose shark-attack found-footage thriller Cage Dive should play well to the beachgoing locals.

Fisher is fully aware of the importance of a placement in a festival line-up can represent to the young filmmakers of Australia. “We seek out Australian films that haven’t had any screen agency funding. These are the go-getters, the hustlers, the deal-makers,” she says. “To make a film on a credit card budget or find funding for a couple of hundred grand is incredible. The discovery and support of independent filmmaking talent is one of our distinctive points of difference.”

Perhaps the most crucial point of difference is Lucy Fisher’s commitment to gender equality in her festival’s programming. Her selections are all rated utilising the Bechdel Test, an industry standard that determines a film’s gender bias based upon a) whether it has at least two women characters, who b) talk to each other about c) something other than a man. Says Fisher, “We rated all films by the Bechdel Test first in 2016 and have again in 2017 to highlight how women are being written for screen.” Her determination to strengthen the profile of women in the film industry also extends to the festival podiums. “The bigger, older film festivals still won’t even register that they might have an event that has a man introducing a man guest, moderated by a man, thanked by a man,” she states. “We commit to at least 50% women speakers, which sounds deceptively simple.  But when Australia produces only 23% of films with women writers and 16% with women directors, that’s something we have to deliberately consider in our speaker and programming choices.”

Fittingly, the recipient of the 2017 GCFF Chauvel Award for career achievement and artistic integrity is actress Deborah Mailman, who will participate in an extensive interview with past winner David Stratton at the event’s host venue, The Arts Centre Gold Coast.

The Gold Coast Film Festival runs April 19-30. Ticket and session information is available at the official website here.

Friday
Feb242017

FEMALE EMPOWERMENT DRAMA DENIED RELEASE BY INDIAN CENSORS

India’s hardline censorship body, The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), has refused to classify Alankrita Shrivastava’s female empowerment drama, Lipstick Under My Burkha. The decision effectively denies a theatrical release of the Hindi film in its homeland, pending severe edits by the filmmaker or appellate court action by the distributor.

Starring Konkona Sensharma, Ratna Pathak Shah and Plabita Borthakur (pictured, above), the pro-feminist comedy/drama focuses on four women in a small Indian town who each seek a small degree of personal freedom in their daily lives. It played to acclaim on the 2016 festival circuit, earning the Spirit Asia Award at the Tokyo Film Festival and a Best Film on Gender Equality prize at the Mumbai Film Festival.

In a letter to producer Prakash Jha (subsequently posted on the film's social media platforms), The CBFC stated, “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contanious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused (sic).”

The body cited violations of a number of guidelines to which submitted films must adhere, including: vulgarity, obscenity or depravity; scenes degrading or denigrating women; sexual violence against women; sexual perversions; and visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other groups.

Speaking to the press ahead of the U.K. premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, Shrivastava (pictured, right) was defiant in the face of the ruling. “I will battle this out and do whatever it takes to ensure that audiences in India can watch the film,” she said. “I believe the decision to refuse certification is an assault on women’s rights. For too long the popular narrative has perpetuated patriarchy by objectifying women or minimising their role in a narrative.”

Shrivastava was adamant that the traditional gender bias endemic to Indian culture was a factor in the decision. “A film like Lipstick Under My Burkha, that challenges that dominant narrative, is being attacked because it presents a female point of view. Do women not have the right of freedom of expression?,” she demanded. “India is so steeped in its discrimination against women, it becomes evident in such decisions. In a country where there is so much violence against women, and such double standards for women, rather than encourage women’s stories told by women themselves, our stories are stifled.”

In a positive review published in November 2016 following the Tokyo Film Festival screening, trade paper The Hollywood Reporter pre-empted the controversy, stating, “one wonders how the Hindi-language film will be received locally and whether its frankness will be cause for scandal.”

Like many of his contemporaries, Prakash Jha (pictured, right) has clashed with The CBFC in the past. His 2016 film Jai Gangaajal, starring India’s biggest international movie star Priyanka Chopra, was denied CBFC classification before being cleared by the next level of industry bureaucracy, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. Hollywood has also felt the sting of CBFC disapproval, with Barry Jenkin’s Oscar nominated Moonlight having scenes of same-sex affection, swear words and heterosexual lovemaking excised before classification was allowed; in 2012, David Fincher denied Indian audiences a theatrical release of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo when he refused to make extensive CBFC-sanctioned edits.

 

Thursday
Dec082016

AACTA KUDOFEST BECOMES 'THE GIBBO AND HOGES SHOW'

The band of brothers who fought to get Hacksaw Ridge made were rewarded with 9 AACTA trophies in at a red carpet industry soiree in Sydney last night. Returning again and again to the podium, artisans and craftsmen on Mel Gibson’s bloody ode to faith and heroism all but shut out the rest of the nominees, with only Simon Stone’s dark drama The Daughter feeling any love in other major categories.

In accepting his Best Director award from Mad max director Dr George Miller, a moved Gibson (“I am so choked up, I can’t even talk”) acknowledged the ongoing support afforded filmmakers by the funding bodies Screen Australia and Screen New South Wales. He also paid service to local below-the-liners, stating, “the calibre (of this cast and crew) is as good as or better than anywhere in the world. I’m not the only one who wants to make films here, because Ridley Scott says exactly the same thing about working here.”

By the end of the night, most of those cast and crew had AACTA awards in their grasp, with the film earning Andrew Garfield the Lead Actor gong (he accepted via a pre-recorded link) and Supporting Actor for Hugo Weaving. Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan earned Screenplay honours; DOP Simon Duggan’s immersive battlefield camerawork saw him take the Cinematography nod; the kudo list was rounded out by John Gilbert’s editing, Barry Robinson’s production design and the sound design unit.

AACTA’s in the Female Lead and Supporting categories for The Daughter halted a Hacksaw Ridge clean sweep. In her first feature film role, Odessa Young (pictured, right) earned Best Actress while industry favourite Miranda Otto received her first and long-overdue trophy for her supporting turn. Writer/director Simon Stone secured the Adapted Screenplay honour, having reworked Henrik Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck into a contemporary Australian drama.

The only other honourees were the lovably offbeat coming-of-age comedy Girl Asleep, which earned Best Costume Design for Jonathon Oxlade and the Pacific Island romance Tanna, which took home Best Original Music Score for Antony Partos. Chasing Asylum, a harrowing account of the immigrant experience in Australia, won Best Documentary, with the film’s director Eva Orner on hand to collect.

A highlight of the night was the bestowing of the AACTA Longford Lyell Award upon beloved icon Paul Hogan, an honour that has previously acknowledged the global standing of such talents as Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush. Accepting the trophy in typically laconic style, he cheerfully recognised his entire career has largely been a been based upon the one-hit wonder Crocodile Dundee and its sequels, but as he pointed out to the roar of the audience, “It was a mighty hit.” Other industry accolades went to Isla Fisher, who joined the likes of Naomi Watts, Margot Robbie and Toni Collette as the recipient of the Trailblazer Award, and visual artist and VR innovator Lynette Wallworth, who earned the Byron Kennedy Award.

Tuesday
Nov152016

FOUNDER OF HANOI FILM HEAVEN REFLECTS ON REEL LEGACY

It has been fourteen years of passionate struggle for Gerald Herman. Hailing from upstate New York, the expat director/producer’s nomadic sense of adventure led him to Vietnam where, in 2002, he founded and has programmed the Hanoi Cinematheque ever since. The only venue in the bustling Vietnamese metropolis that has steadfastly adhered to screening classic international cinema, it has remained the ‘best kept secret’ amongst the cinephiles of southeast Asia. “Cinema has always played an important role in Vietnamese society,” says Herman, who spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from his Paris base…

Set well back from the ceaseless din of Hanoi’s busiest shopping district, Cinematheque patrons walk a darkened, enclosed alleyway before emerging into an art-deco themed courtyard. To the left, an elegant bar services the dedicated few attending the Tuesday evening screening of director Trong Ninh Luu’s 1991 rural drama, The Gamble; to the right, the box office beckons, the ambience enhanced by framed posters heralding some cinema classics (our eye is instantly drawn to an original US one-sheet for Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, one of Herman’s favourite films).

“I set up Hanoi Cinematheque thinking I could educate and inspire a new generation of young Vietnamese filmmakers,” recalls Herman, who now recognises that the birth of the new millennium may not have been the ideal time to launch a celebration of the past. “Young Vietnamese filmmakers were not interested in watching old movies (with so) much new stuff to discover,” he admits, “so we became mostly an expat hang-out, (with) support from foreign embassies in Hanoi, as we do many programs together.”

Having graduated from the prestigious NYU Film School (under the mentorship of one Martin Scorsese), a three-year stint in the Hollywood trenches followed (he would become the youngest ever director to gain DGA membership) before Herman’s wanderlust took hold. By 1992 he had settled in Vietnam, his passion for film production leading to a 24-year career in the sector. In 2009, he directed the acclaimed short, A Dream in Hanoi (pictured, below left); in 2015, his production Finding Phong was praised for its humanistic study of transgender issues in modern Vietnam.

“Making movies in Vietnam is always a challenge, but also rewarding,” he says. “People are keen to help in every way possible, without the kind of salaries one must pay in more ‘developed’ countries. Technical facilities are lacking, but more and more professional services, equipment and people are becoming available.” In addition to his filmmaking endeavours, he has lent his talents to film preservation, including overseeing the digital restoration of Hai Ninh’s landmark 1973 drama Little Girl in Hanoi, in conjunction with the Vietnamese Film Institute.   

Determined to impart this passion and knowledge for global film on the Vietnamese population, Herman spent five years searching for the ideal site for his Cinematheque dream. The Hai Bà Trưng Street building he settled upon was rich in history; in 1954, it had served as the regional headquarters for the Ministry of Culture, before some bawdier times as a massage parlour. “Since the French colonial days, imported films were shown in city cinemas and widely distributed via traveling ciné companies to introduce French culture and life-styles,” notes Herman, who cites the crucial role that film played in unifying the population. “During the war years, locally-produced documentaries and narrative films were effective political and propaganda vehicles.”

Sadly, time has run out for the Hanoi Cinematheque; its elegant screening room and art deco façade will be demolished by years-end to make way for yet another shopping/parking complex. But Gerald Herman leaves behind a rich cultural legacy; when one glimpses his backroom DVD library, you are struck by what an extraordinarily diverse and complex contribution the Cinematheque has made to Hanoi film society. The walls are lined with over 3500 titles, featuring such names as Sidney Lumet (Prince of The City), Jean-Jacques Beinex (Roselyne and the Lions) and Theodoros Angelopoulos (Ulysses’ Gaze). Across the few days that SCREEN-SPACE was in Hanoi, sessions included Regis Wargnier’s Indochine, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Nguyen Viet Linh’s 1988 local industry classic, Travelling Circus.

Perhaps of even greater resonance will be the bridge that the Hanoi Cinematheque has provided between its members and an array of international artists. Says Herman, “Our very best moments have been hosting local and foreign filmmakers who present their work and then discuss with our audience.” Herman has hosted the likes of Ira Sachs, Philip Noyce, David Bradbury, John Pilger, Les Blank, Dang Nhat Minh, Albert Berger, John Cameron Mitchell, Todd Solondz, Tim Zinnemann, Le Le Hayslip and Jorgen Leth, to name a few.

After years of existing on meagre returns and occasional local business support, Gerald Herman considers the closure of his Cinematheque with melancholy. “Yes, sad indeed,” Herman says, during the course of our chat, “but I am grateful for all the fun and adventures we've had for the past 14 years”.

Read the SCREEN-SPACE World Cinema: Vietnam article here.

Saturday
May282016

VIRTUAL HORRORS AT FOREFRONT OF NEW ERA IN STORYTELLING

A sidebar to the Marche du Film distribution marketplace at the Festival de Cannes is NEXT, a gathering of business and tech innovators who are shaping the future of the global film industry. Presently, there is no more energised sector than the world of Virtual Reality (VR), represented at NEXT by designers and financiers from the US, Canada, Switzerland, The Netherlands and France. One of the most enthusiastic VR entrepreneurs is LA-based industry veteran Russell Naftal who, with co-managing partner Alex Barder, is primed for the launch of the VR horror experience, Paranormal Activity, an immersive brand extension of the popular film franchise being developed in-house at their company, VRWerx. SCREEN-SPACE got the latest VR spiel from Naftal (reproduced below, in full), before donning the eyewear and plunging into the Paranormal Activity Cannes 2016 demo footage, recounted in its entirety (in italics) by your quivering correspondent…. 

“Two years ago, Alex and I merged our companies – I had a television and digital company and he had a film company, we’d been doing business together for years. We’d both been looking at VR because distribution in the entertainment business is priority; if you have content, you need a distribution platform. We looked at the industry and it was starting to change; digital was growing fast and my role within it was becoming a little stale, a little standard. So we defined VR as being the new distribution platform, a new way to explore content while providing a more immersive experience.”

Having grasped two lightweight devices that will provide virtual hands as well as allowing freedom of movement within the contained VR environment, a tech assistant fits the HTC Vive eyewear and a headpiece for aural immersion. As large as - but lighter than - a hi-top sneaker, the ‘goggles’ slip comfortably over my eyebrow ridge and rest on the bridge of my nose. My field of vision is immediately engulfed by a 3d greyish-white grid, until the assistant says, “Ok, I’m going to plug you in…”

“Our first consideration was, ‘who are going to be our consumers?’ The gamers were our low-hanging fruit; they’re going to be the taste-makers, the ones who will say, ‘VR, thumbs up!’ And we need them, because there are millions of kids playing games and spending money. Next, we knew if we were going to get a game we needed something that was going to be really immersive. What’s going to be visceral? And, of course, that’s horror. But no one has the time or money to launch a new platform and a new brand. We needed a brand that was already out there.” (Pictured, right; Russell naftal of VRWerx)

The entrance foyer of an average suburban home materialises before me. It is dimly lit, with one white-light source cutting through the shadowy ambience. Illuminated is a square table, upon which I find a torch and a post-it note, which reads, ‘Needs batteries.’ Atmosphere is enhanced with a steady hum pumped through the headset. To the right, glass-panelled sliding doors beckon, but I need those batteries to proceed. To the left, a door is ajar; pushing it open, a chest of drawers stands before me. A lighter is visible, which I grab and consign to my inventory; I lift a soda can, which falls to the floor when I try to file it away (meaning it serves no purpose in this section of game play). In the second drawer are the batteries, which I insert in the torch, and exit the room…

“Paranormal Activity is the second highest grossing horror franchise ever, has a huge fan base and, frankly, who doesn’t love the haunted house experience. We went over to our friends at Paramount, who had just released the last of the movies in October. It was a moment in time when the rights happened to be available, and we acquired them to make the Paranormal Activity interactive VR game. This will be the first time that a feature film will be integrated into a VR environment and is being viewed as a continuation of the franchise, but in the most immersive way.”

As I return to the entrance foyer, I find chairs have been balanced precariously on the small table, recalling the famous fright from Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (a film referenced often in the franchise).  As I approach the sliding doors, a small child’s voice whispers, “She’s behind you.” Chills run up my neck; suddenly, I am aware of my pulse. I hesitate to look behind me, and when I do, nothing is there. There is a crashing sound, and I turn quickly to find the panelled doors have slammed shut. I move through them, entering the expansive living room familiar to fans of the series. I instantly recall it is where some horrible things have happened...

“We are scheduled to launch around the end of the American summer. The game is about 3½ hours of story, with gameplay coming it at about 10 hours. Our background is as storytellers and that was our focus going into VR. If we were going to get into this we wanted to have something that was immersive, of course, but also engaging. We had all the confidence that we were going to develop a good looking product, but we had to make sure that the story was there and the people that players would be immersed with were real and affecting.” 

To the left is a hallway, at the far end of which is a staircase. To the right are a few steps that lead to a landing, upon which a little girl is nervously pacing. She utters a shrill warning about what haunts her house, and that I should follow her, before darting out of view. At this point, my tension level is growing alarmingly; a presence is in this room with me…

“We are evangelists for VR! We are firm believers that this platform has the potential to impact everyone on the planet. When the last Paranormal Activity film came out, we set up the VR booth right there in cinema foyers; if you bought a ticket to the movie, you also got to experience the game. We knew the gamers would respond, but we wanted to see how the general public would respond. And it was massive. So we know that VR is not just for gamers. I mean, you can travel the world via VR; you can adapt educational programmes. VR is a game-changer, the first one the industry has seen for a while. It is not just about the games industry, or the movie industry. It’s a whole new experience in storytelling.”

I notice a room in the hallway, its darkened interior offering the promise of more frights but none are forthcoming. The staircase beckons, but a rumbling stops me cold. Two heavy pieces of furniture atop the stairs are shaking violently and are hurled down the steps in my direction; I leap back as they land at my feet, and I begin to walk backwards out of this place. A cracking sound fills my head; I look up and see the walls are peeling, paint and plaster falling to the floor. It is time to leave. I turn and, standing before me, is a woman… 

SCREEN-SPACE would like to thank Marie-Emmanuelle Oliver, Head of Marketing for Marche du Film for providing access to the VRWerx team and the NEXT Pavilion.