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Thursday
Aug082019

ALYSSA DE LEO WOWS MIFF AND SAVES LIVES WITH SHORT FILM CLASSIC 

Is the best film at the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival an ad commissioned by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC)? Screening ahead of every MIFF session, ‘The Afterlife Bar’ imagines a social gathering of the celebrity souls, the drinking session quickly becoming a “How did you die?” chat. John Lennon, Che Guevara and Princess Di all recount their demise (it’s funnier than it sounds), before the camera settles on a young man named Jeremy; he admits, to the stunned patrons, he was texting while driving.

The concept and script is the inspired work of Alyssa De Leo, a 20 year-old RMIT filmmaking student. De Leo (pictured, above) penned a brilliant short-form comedy disguised as a road safety call-to-action; her script won the Split Second Film Competition and was shepherded into production by ad agency Taboo, production company Airbag and director Will Horne.  “From the beginning, I was always going to take the comedic approach,” the young writer told SCREEN-SPACE, enjoying the first high-profile creative triumph of what promises to be a fascinating film industry career….

SCREEN-SPACE: Let's go right back to the start. When/how did the inspiration for the concept of 'an afterlife bar' come to you? What was the germ of the idea?

ALYSSA: When I first heard about the competition, I knew MIFF and the TAC wanted something quite different and creative, I guess what you wouldn’t usually see in a typical TAC ad. I’ve always been fascinated by history and historical figures, especially as an avid movie watcher and reader. I enjoy biopics and would love to write one someday. As a writer I’m always thinking about characters and to me, historical figures are some of the best characters out there. So I kind of had those two ideas floating around in my head, historical figures and road safety - not things that usually go together! One day they just kind of clicked together in my head and I thought to myself ‘That’s bizarre but it could work.’ I love writing comedy and can’t help but inject it into most things I write, even if it's a serious subject. But I thought the comedic approach could be effective in getting that road safety message across, as it’s not only entertaining but educational too, and I think something like that might stick with you more.

SCREEN-SPACE: How did you settle on the 'dead celebs'? I conjured in my head a table that might have also used a more age-appropriate Paul Walker or a River Phoenix, or might that have been a bit too soon, too tragic?

ALYSSA: There was a huge mix of celebs I considered when I first came up with the idea. When writing the first draft, I looked at which celebrities had well known deaths, but also how their deaths could be interjected into jokes and punchlines effectively. In the original script I actually had Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi too, along with Princess Di, Mary Queen of Scots, Steve Jobs and Shakespeare. When I first met with Airbag and Taboo, we had a script workshop where we made a huge list of potential celebs to add - there was everyone from Charles Darwin, Neil Armstrong, and Joan of Arc. When choosing the final celebs, the key thing we looked at were people who you would recognise instantly. Cleopatra, Ned Kelly, John Lennon; you see that Egyptian dress, rusty helmet, round glasses, and you know who those people are. We also didn’t want to include anyone whose death was too recent. I remember Steve Irwin’s name came up and we just thought, too soon. I think Steve Jobs is the most recent death we have in there, but I think his part works, considering the ad is about not using your phone while driving, and he’s kind of responsible for how popular phones are nowadays.

SCREEN-SPACE: Was it tough shaping a creative vision that satisfied both you and the TAC brief? Can you envision a working life that balances both ad industry work and more independent short/feature output?

ALYSSA: I found it really rewarding working with everyone who was involved - the TAC, Airbag and Taboo. I was very involved throughout the whole process and they didn’t hinder my creative vision at all, which was great. They wanted to stick to the bone of my original script as much as possible. They were really open to any ideas I had, and while they suggested a couple of things to change or add, anything they said only made the project better. It was a super collaborative process. I can imagine myself balancing ad work and shorts and features in the future. My ideal goal would be to write for both television and film one day, but I’m super open to doing more ad work - it’s a really fun process and I’d love to make some more.

SCREEN-SPACE: Which makes me think - given its popularity and award-winning status, might you adapt The Afterlife Bar into a feature?

ALYSSA: (Laughs) It’s only a matter of time, isn’t it? I actually have thought about what an ‘Afterlife Bar’ feature film might look like. We could add a ton more celebrities, maybe explore the history of the bar, how it came to be, which celebs work there, and look at more of Jeremy’s backstory - maybe what he was like when he was alive, and the choices he made leading to his unfortunate fate. It would also be fun to expand the world of the afterlife. Afterlife salon? Afterlife stadium? Afterlife market? It could definitely happen.

Friday
Jul262019

MENDO'S BABYTEETH LEAVES IMPRESSION ON VENICE SELECTORS

The project credited with bringing acting legend Ben Mendelsohn back home for the first time in nine years has secured the Australian industry’s only feature film placement at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. Director Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, a bittersweet rom-com/drama about a seriously ill teenage girl and the drug dealer she falls for, will face off against new works from Brad Pitt, Roman Polanski, Scarlett Johansson, Olivier Assayas, Joaquin Phoenix and Steven Soderbergh on The Lido in the prestigious festival’s In Competition strand.

Adapted by Rita Kalnejais’ from her own hit play and representing the debut feature for experienced television helmer Murphy, Babyteeth was produced by Alex White and executive produced by Oscar-nominated producer Jan Chapman (The Piano, 1993). Australian distribution was picked up by Universal Pictures Australia as part of their acquisition of Entertainment One (eOne); international sales are through Celluloid Dreams.

The Venice selection marks a stellar debut for White’s development and production company Whitefalk Films, who launched their feature slate with Babyteeth after the success of their shorts Trespass (Best Australian Short Film, MIFF 2017) and Florence Has Left the Building (Best Short Film, Australian Academy of Cinema & Television Arts Awards 2015). Also on board as financing entities are Screen Australia in association with Create NSW, WeirAnderson.com and Spectrum Films.

Mendelsohn (pictured, top) stars opposite Essie Davis as Henry and Anna Finlay, the over-protective parents of gravely sick Milla (Eliza Scanlen). When their daughter becomes enamored with a local drug dealer (Toby Wallace) and begins living her waning life to its fullest potential, Henry and Anna’s life takes on a newly energized perspective.

Babyteeth is the latest high-profile project for 20 year-old Scanlen (pictured, right), who scored big opposite Amy Adams in the mini-series Sharp Objects and will next be seen as ‘Beth March’ in Greta Gerwig’s fresh look at Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, alongside Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Emma Watson and Saoirse Ronan.

Also set to premiere at Venice is the short The Diver, from directors Michael Leonard and Jamie Helmer, as well as two virtual reality short films - Callum Cooper's Porton Down and the migrant experience vision, Passenger, from co-directors Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine.

While Babyteeth is the only Australian feature to earn a screening berth at Venice (and one of only two films in competition that are directed by women), other homegrown talent Lido-bound include director David Michod, who will debut his latest Netflix-backed title The King, and Nicole Kidman, co-star of Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 work Eyes Wide Shut, which will feature as a Special Screening alongside Matt Wells’ doco Never Just a Dream: Stanley Kubrick And Eyes Wide Shut.

The full list of the 2019 Venice Film Festival’s IN COMPETITION titles are:

The Truth (Kore-eda Hirokazu; France/Japan) – OPENING FILM
The Perfect Candidate (Haifaa Al-Mansour; Saudi Arabia/Germany)
About Endlessness (Roy Andersson; Sweden)
Wasp Network (Olivier Assayas; France/Belgium)
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach; U.S.)
Guest of Honor (Atom Egoyan; Canada)
Ad Astra (James Gray; U.S.)
A Herdade (Tiago Guedes; Portugal/France)
Gloria Mundi (Robert Guediguian; France)
Waiting for the Barbarians (Ciro Guerra; Italy)
Ema, (Pablo Larrain; Chile)
Saturday Fiction (Lou Ye; China)
Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello; Italy/France/Germany)
La Mafia non è più quella di Una Volta (Franco Maresco; Italy)
The Painted Bird (Vaclav Marhoul; Czech Republic)
The Mayor of Rione Sanità (Mario Martone; Italy/France)
Babyteeth (Shannon Murphy; Australia)
Joker (Todd Philips; U.S.)
An Officer and a Spy (Roman Polanski; France)
The Laundromat (Steven Soderbergh; U.S.)
No. 7 Cherry Lane (Yonfan; China)

Sunday
Jun232019

OZPLOITATION PIONEER'S CLASSIC COLLECTIBLES SEEKING NEW HOME

Despite being sidelined by high-minded historians as a peddler of lowbrow schlock, the late Australian director John D. Lamond was in every respect a passionate advocate for and great lover of cinema. The director of Ozploitation classics Australia After Dark (1975), The ABC of Love and Sex: Australia Style (1978) and Felicity (1978) passed away at the age of 71 in October 2018, leaving behind not only a body of work adored by his legion of fans but also film memorabilia spanning his five decades in showbusiness.

Filmmaker Andrew Leavold (The Search for Weng Weng, 2007; The Last Pinoy Action King, 2015) became a close friend of Lamond and his family in those final years; the 2002 interview between the two men, a moment in time that Leavold points to as the starting point of their friendship, provides profound insight into their kindred spirituality. With the blessing of the director’s widow Diana, Leavold is overseeing a vast eBay auction of Lamond’s remarkable legacy. “I’d say the collection is like the inside of John’s head,” asserts the Queensland-based director and author, “a Carry On film directed by Stanley Kubrick.”

“I miss John so much it still feels like an open wound,” says Leavold (pictured, right), who would spend long hours with his friend and mentor at the family home at Mermaid Beach, on Queensland’s Gold Coast. “The healthy John I remember was a one of a kind, mischievous, with the crassest sense of humour I’ve ever encountered. (He) was housebound because of his Parkinson’s, but it didn’t stop him from trawling through his memorabilia and watching movies with me, telling tall stories, and generally being a sweetheart. He was such a generous man.”

The collection is comprised of artifacts from Lamond’s career both behind the camera and in the distribution sector. In addition to material collated from his own films (amongst them, the much-derided 1980 romp, Pacific Banana, and his 1982 mainstream romance, Breakfast in Paris), Leavold will be releasing marketing assets held over from Lamond’s mid-‘70s tenure as a publicity executive with distributor Village Roadshow. Alongside industry giant Alan Finney, Lamond oversaw campaigns for such films as A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry, Blazing Saddles, The Exorcist and Deliverance. (Pictured, below; from the Lamond Collection, a series of promotional stills from The World of Suzie Wong, 1960)

According to Leavold, the collection represents a more truthful portrait of Lamond and his lifelong love of film. “It perfectly reflects John’s eclectic taste, ranging from the silly and low-brow to classical Hollywood,” he says. “He was a well-travelled, cultivated man who was often overlooked in serious discussions on Australian cinema, yet here are letters from directors such as Robert Wise and Ken G. Hall thanking him for his friendship.” Other item certain to attract the attention of cashed-up buffs include Australian daybill posters for Vertigo and Gone With The Wind and a huge selection of soundtracks, including original pressings of all the early James Bond scores, Star Wars and Mad Max (“Still in its shrink wrapper!”, exhorts Leavold)

At the heart of the collection is Lamond’s beloved 16mm camera, dating back to the 1960s, which Leavold calls “a magnificent beast” and which he believes was used to lens the landmark box-office hit Australia After Dark. Also highlighted is a treasure trove of material from Leavold’s favourite Lamond film, the bawdy coming-of-age tale Felicity. “We found the working script with John’s handwritten annotations, shooting schedule (and) wardrobe lists, all in a modest manila folder. In a frame next to it was the original Felicity concept art ,” he recalls. (Pictured, below; Lamond with the original Felicity art) 

In addition to helping Lamond’s family recoup medical costs, Andrew Leavold hopes the sale of these items helps paint his late friend in a different light. “Someone like John was often seen as a footnote or a punchline in Aussie film industry as he made genre films rather than David Williamson adaptations, but he was the real deal, a self-made man who lived life to the fullest,” he says. “I want the name John Duncan Lamond to live on in the hearts of unrepentant Aussie cinephiles, and I can safely say that will happen with Felicity smiling down proudly from someone’s wall.”

All proceeds will go to paying the medical costs incurred by the family in those final years, when Lamond began to suffer the late stages of the Parkinson’s Disease that he had fought for nearly two decades. 

The JOHN D. LAMOND MEMORIAL AUCTION can be found at the eBay page here. The full collection will roll out over the coming weeks.

Andrew Leavold will commence the TRASHFEST 2019 Australian Tour on June 26, a month-long screening road-trip to launch his FILM SAFARI Kickstarter Project and promote the Lamond Collection sale. The filmmaker will be present at the following venues:
Wednesday 26th June: The Bison Bar, NAMBOUR
Thursday 27th June: Elizabeth Picture Theatre, BRISBANE
Sunday 30th June: Mercury Cinema, ADELAIDE
Friday 5th July: Nova Cinema, Carlton, MELBOURNE
Sunday 7th July: Brisbane Hotel, HOBART
Thursday 11th July: First Coat Studios, TOOWOOMBA
Friday 12th July: Private Event, BURLEIGH HEADS
Saturday 13th July: Star Court Theatre, LISMORE
Sunday 14th July: The Regent Cinema, MURWILLUMBAH
Monday 15th July: The Press, TAMWORTH
Wednesday 17th July: The Royal Exchange, NEWCASTLE
Friday 19th July: Pink Flamingo Cinema, Marrickville, SYDNEY
Saturday 20th July: Canberra Technology Park, Watson, CANBERRA
For further details, contact Andrew Leavold at andrewleavold@gmail.com.

Thursday
Apr042019

FCCA 2018 WINNERS SPAN A CENTURY OF AUSTRALIAN STORIES

The Australian film sector’s long and prestigious history of period films was kept alive in 2018, according to the voting members of the Film Critics Circle of Australia. Warwick Thornton’s turn-of-the-century outback thriller Sweet Country, Bruce Beresford’s mid-century melodrama Ladies in Black and Simon Baker’s ‘70s-set coming-of-age surfing drama Breath were the big winners at the FCCA’s annual Award Ceremony, held last night in the auditorium of the Paddington/Woollahra R.S.L. Club in inner–city Sydney.

The evening was attended by some of the industry’s most revered names, with Oscar-winning DOP John Seale (The English Patient, 1996), Gallipoli leading man Mark Lee, thesps Amanda Muggleton and Andrew McFarlane and beloved acting icon Lorraine Bayly on hand to present key categories. Other guests included FCCA President Rose Capp, writer/director Ted Wilson (Under the Cover of Cloud, 2018), entertainer Paul Capsis, and actor/director Alex Lykos (Alex & Eve, 2016; Me & My Left Brain, 2019).

Sweet Country, Thornton’s brutal manhunt ‘western’, earned three of the night’s top honours, winning Best Film, Best Director and Best Lead Actor for Hamilton Morris (pictured, right; Morris with co-star Natassia Gorey Furber); producer David Jowsey accepted on behalf of all the production’s honorees. The film has been an awards season favourite since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it took out the event’s Critic’s Prize. It has since secured the best picture trophy at the AACTA Awards and Asia Pacific Screen Awards, along with major gongs at the Adelaide and Toronto film festivals.

A hit with domestic audiences, Ladies in Black had been long in development before Beresford’s clout helped it come to fruition. The adaptation of Madeline St John’s novel won Best Lead Actress for Angourie Rice (producer Allanah Zitserman present to accept on behalf of her leading lady), as well Best Supporting Actress for industry great Noni Hazelhurst and Best Original Score for Christopher Gordon’s orchestration.

Simon Baker’s directorial debut Breath, an adaptation of Tim Winton’s acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel, earned the director the Supporting Actor trophy for his role as an emotionally troubled surfer. As the film’s only representative on the night, Baker made several trips to the podium on behalf of his collaborators; he shared Best Screenplay honours with co-scribe Gerard Lee, while editor Dany Cooper and cinematographers Marden Dean and Rick Rifici were rewarded for their contributions. (Pictured, left; Baker with co-stars Ben Spence, centre, and Samson Coulter)

One of the most successful box-office years for feature length factual films led to a hotly contested Best Documentary category. In the end, a specially selected five person jury could not split Catherine Scott’s Backtrack Boys and Paul Damien Williams’ Gurrumul for top honours, resulting in a rare ‘joint award’. A clearly moved Scott noted that her film has swept audience polls at several festivals, including both the Sydney Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival, but had not connected with voting bodies until the FCCA honour.

Nominated films that went home empty-handed but which indicate what a diverse and rich year that 2018 was for local cinema included Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s zombie thriller Cargo (3 nominations); Leigh Whannell’s gruesome sci-fier Upgrade (2 nominations); Alena Lodkina’s rural drama Strange Colours (4 nominations); Joel Edgerton’s family melodrama Boy Erased (3 nominations); and, Jason Raftopoulos’ West of Sunshine, for which leading man Damien Hill received a posthumous Best Lead Actor nomination.   

Saturday
Feb232019

THE GENTLEMAN G.M. GUIDING CINEMA GIANT'S NEW WAVE OF OLD FILMS

For Australia’s 108 year-old exhibition giant EVENT Cinemas, programming screen content beyond the core ‘studio blockbuster’ releases is now a priority. The man in charge of helping to redefine the viewing experience at the chain’s national multiplex locations is Anthony Kierann, General Manager of Film Festivals. The jewel in his crown is the hugely successful In The House retrospective seasons, which have introduced a new generation of filmgoers to such pop culture touchstones as The Dark Crystal, Stand by Me, Scarface, The Thing and Die Hard. The 2019 season of nine films kicks off March 11 with the 1983 Stallone classic, First Blood, and will include the De Niro/Pacino thriller Heat (March 25), Winona Ryder in Heathers (May 27) and the Gen-X teen classic, Pretty in Pink (July 8).

At the Sydney head office of Event Hospitality and Entertainment, the charismatic, passionately film-focused Kierann (pictured, above: with director Gillian Armstrong, left, and critic Margaret Pomeranz) sat with SCREEN-SPACE to discuss his role, the company’s alternative programming objectives and the second season of Hollywood Classics, his retro-strand from cinema’s golden years. Chatting movies as we settle in a meeting room, he observes, “At my age, cinema has enriched my life and given me so much”…   

SCREEN-SPACE: What philosophies, as both an EVENT executive and a lover of film culture and programming, do you adhere to in your role?

KIERANN: EVENT Entertainment is a company that celebrates big films, the blockbusters, which we are well known for, in auditoriums that provide great sound, great comfort, great imagery. I think it is also important, as part of our goals as an exhibition company, to speak to a generation watching movies today that haven’t seen some of the greatest movies ever made; movies that are part of this company's history. So the challenge was to bring people back to the cinema and celebrate that rare kind of storytelling that [provides] an amazing community experience. Part of our mission statement is to bring more people together for those universal stories that tell us about life. And we know that that experience is not always going to be provided by the films of today. We need to look to the films of the 60s or the 70s where there were different social conditions, revolutionary thinking in reaction to the real world, things that teach people. One of the greatest joys I’ve had is watching families come together – a father bringing a son, a mother bringing a daughter – and saying, ‘You must see this on the big screen.’” (Pictured, above; Event Cinemas George Street site)

SCREEN-SPACE: There is no denying that the retrospective seasons, while servicing the film buff, also serve to re-energise audience demographics that don’t go to the movies that much…

KIERANN: Absolutely, 100%. We have a series of obligations. One, as a business, we need to bring people back to the cinema, to be commercially viable. We need to come up with as many ways possible to get patrons back in our theatres, patrons who won’t come out for the next huge Disney or Roadshow film. So, yes, retrospectives play that function, but it has to be about more than just bringing old films back. It is bringing them back in a manner that celebrates them, be that by our hosting, the theming, the key artwork, social media messaging; components that celebrate those stories. Our programming needs to be eclectic, so that it serves both our commercial needs and the greater social role that film and film-going still plays. We do that through not just the retrospective programming but also the film festivals we host, those celebrations of film culture that I think are so important.

SCREEN-SPACE: In The House celebrates pop-culture titles, which in retro-cinema terms means programming beloved but often-revived films like Alien (April 8) and Pulp Fiction (July 22). Are there plans for more esoteric, little-seen film classics?

KIERANN: When we’ve built an established audience that knows we are programming diverse material, we’ll do that, but we have to build that audience. The ‘pop culture’ themed In Your House sessions are a great way for us to tap into the ‘Event audience’. So that when we do program a Jim Jarmusch film, let’s say, or some very early Scorsese or De Palma work, which is a dream of mine, we are in a position where the audience has been primed for that sort of programming and we can launch with confidence. The way we move forward to that stage is via a program like Hollywood Classics, which we started last year. Our second season will feature 12 Angry Men, The Red Shoes, Calamity Jane The Apartment, Terms of Endearment (pictured, right), those kinds of films, which I think lead us down the path of more thought-provoking, character-driven cinema. It is a sensitive, moderate way for us to step towards a deeper, film-history focussed retro-program. That is certainly my vision.

SCREEN-SPACE: Event George Street is equipped for Digital Cinema Package, or DCP projection, correct? Has that dictated the films you screen? 

KIERANN: We screen everything on DCP, so there have been some programming choices we haven’t been able to screen. We’ve tried to screen from Blu-ray before, but had issues; a session of the anime classic Akira had a line thru the image that we had no control over, so after that we decided on DCP or not at all. We have a responsibility to our audience to screen the best version of a film we can. So we speak to the distributors and try to convince them to convert to and provide DCPs, which is when everyone looks at things fiscally and decisions are made. But there are 100s of films I’d love to screen that I’ve lined up well into the future.

SCREEN-SPACE: For years, Sydney had a great revival-screening culture at sites like The Mandolin or The Valhalla at Glebe. Is part of your role to reposition the George Street centre as a new mecca for nostalgic film buffs?

KIERANN: We are definitely undertaking a process to reposition the George Street complex as more than just the home of the latest blockbuster, absolutely. We need to be competitive, it’s as simple as that. That’s the landscape; if we don’t do it, people will go to see the alternative films at Palace or The Chauvel. What’s interesting is that where [Palace and Dendy] owned that space many years ago, they now screen the latest blockbusters. We’re engaged in this balancing act; everyone knows that there is a wider need for a greater range of films than ever before. We think we are exhibiting a willingness to be business savvy, to realise the needs of the audience, and the immensely successful In The House sessions speak to that. The Hollywood Classics had an incredible launch last year, so a second season was assured. And further to your question, George Street is our Sydney base, but the In Your House programming is playing at around 30 sites nationally, which is very exciting for us.

Event Cinema's 2019 HOLLYWOOD CLASSICS Program begins March 4 with the Doris Day classic, Calamity Jane; IN THE HOUSE 2019 sessions launch March 11. For full ticketing and session details go to the Event Cinemas website.

 

Wednesday
Feb062019

AUSTRALIAN FILMS UNITED AT 2019 MANCHESTER FILM FESTIVAL

Two features and a wave of short films will represent the Australian film sector at the 5th Manchester International Film Festival (MANIFF), launching March 2 at the Odeon Cinemas in the north-west metropolis’ iconic Great Northern Railway Warehouse centre.

Expanding to a week-long celebration for the first time in its history, MANIFF will host the U.K. premiere of Heath Davis’ bittersweet dramatic-comedy Book Week, which has benefitted from a strong grass-roots marketing campaign and independent release strategy in its homeland.

For Davis (pictured, right), the MANIFF acceptance of his little-film-that-could is deeply rewarding. “It’s wonderful,” he told SCREEN-SPACE. “It helps get your voice heard on an international platform and validates that what you’re creating resonates on a global level.” The two sessions of Book Week will see Davis return to Manchester for the first time since the festival screened his acclaimed drama Broke in 2016.

The festival will also host the first screenings in England’s north-west of Ben Hackworth’s opera drama Celeste, starring Radha Mitchell (pictured, top), which played the London Film Festival in October 2018. Australian talent also features in Jeff Vespa’s international co-production Paris Song, with actress Abbie Cornish (pictured, below) co-starring with Sanzhar Madiyev in the true story of Kazakh singer Amre Kashaubayev and his presence in an international singing competition at the 1925 Paris Expo. The Antipodes are further represented by New Zealander Dustin Feneley’s Stray, a potent romantic drama shot in the Otago region of the nation’s South Island.

In addition to the feature line-up, Australian short films have commandeered an impressive 12 slots in the program, including six U.K. premieres and one, Luke Wissel’s A Stone’s Throw, getting its first international exposure. It is a significant showing that Heath Davis says represents a burgeoning pool of Down Under filmmakers. “There’s a new wave of Aussie talent brewing and we want to create a brand where Australian films are sought after,” he says. “It’s starting to happen and this is an example of that.”

The vast richness displayed in the programming of the Australian content reflects the commitment of the festival to offer Manchester filmgoers breadth and depth of choice. In a press statement, Head of Programming Al Bailey says, “This year’s line-up is the perfect example of what we set out to achieve five years ago – a showcase of the most eclectic independent films from around the world and the strength of the selection shows the reputation that the festival has and continues to gain.” 

The short film roster includes:

Colony (Dir: Catherine Bonny; starring Emma Burnside, Alicia Hellingman, Ben Leyden; pictured, right) In the future two women struggle for survival as part of a work colony.

For Your Sins (Dir: Julian Lucas; starring Ryan Shelton, Dave Lawson, Michala Banas) A young man realises that everyone is sinning and seeks the help of a boutique communications agency to help raise awareness for his cause.

St. Bernie (Dir: Elise Tyson; starring Lara Robinson) Like any teenager, Bernie is curious about her developing body, sexuality and romantic interests but, denied any sex education in school or at home, Bernie feeds her curiosity in secret.

Solus (Dir: Adam Jamsek; starring Stephen Degenaro, Christopher Kirby, Tycho Richardson) A father and his chronically ill son go tracking into the heart of a forest in search for a magical healing bird.

Bridget and Iain (Dir: Leah Patterson; starring Vivienne Powell, Damian Sommerlad, Sala Baker) A loving mother struggles with her addict son and comes to realise that her actions maybe enabling his addiction.

Rooftops (Dir: Odeya Rush; starring Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Harry Nathan) The story of a boy in love, centered around the lyric "Rollin' like it's high school fantasy".

Skates (Dir: Maddelin McKenna; starring Renee Kypriotis, William McKenna, Corey Robert Hunt) New Year's Eve 1979; a young boy working at the local roller-skating rink forms a bond with a girl, skating alone.

A Stone’s Throw (Dir: Luke Wissel; starring Lily Pearl, Anna Steen, Patrick Graham) A rock thrown from an overpass sets in motion a series of crises that open emotional wounds for a middle-class family.

Behind Barres (Dir: Sophia Bender; starring Tizana Saunders , Damien Welch; pictured, right) A prisoner within her own body, ballerina Adelina is tortured by injury and begins to detach from reality in order to fight the physical pain and personal demons that torment her.

Cherry (Dir: Claudia Bailey, Vanessa Bray, Evie Friedrich) An anthology of stories that address virginity take an unflinching look into the awkward, perverse, intimate and sometimes embarrassing nature of sex.

Shooter (Dir: Andrew Carbone; starring Dugald Mullen, Clayton Watson, Mark Lee) Two boys dealing with the loss of their mother are faced with a father who is becoming increasingly unhinged in his grief.

Don’t Call Me Beautiful (Dir: Jill Robinson; Documentary) In 1965, at the age of 3 months, Zeitha Murphy was removed from the care of her Aboriginal mother, setting in motion years of emotional and physical abuse. Now, determined to create a better life for herself and her sons, Zeitha embarks on a journey to find her true place in society and her birth family.

The 2019 Manchester International Film Festival runs March 2-10. Full session and ticketing details can be found at the event’s official website.

Saturday
Jan192019

TEEN SCREEN TALENT SHINES AT 2019 NEXTWAVE AWARDS NIGHT 

Films tackling such weighty thematic elements as grief, alcoholism, kidnapping and disco have topped the winner’s list at the 2019 Nextwave Youth Film Awards. Hosted by local starlet Bonnie Ferguson (Book Week, 2018), the culmination of a year-long submissions process was held before a packed audience at the C.ex Coffs Auditorium in Coffs Harbour on Friday night. The student filmmaking strand of the Screenwave International Film Festival (SWIFF) welcomed a record number of submissions from over 50 school and community workshops held in 11 regions across rural New South Wales in 2018.

“It is fantastic to see so many people becoming engaged with it,” said Dave Horsley, SWIFF Festival Director and founder of the REC Ya Shorts Youth Film Festival, the popular student filmmaking competition that this year was rebranded and folded into Screenwave’s broader program. “Filmmaking is an activity that helps you make friends, cultivate relationships and all that good stuff which leads to positive mental health.” Nextwave is presented in conjunction with Headspace, a youth-focussed mental and emotional health care provider located in Coffs Harbour. (Pictured, below; Horsley and Screenwave Artistic Director Kate Howat attending a Nextwave/REC Ya Shorts workshop)

To qualify for the official competition, student filmmakers adhered to guidelines that stated their films must be no longer than six minutes, explore the theme of ‘Escape’ and include a ‘Sign’. Best Film winners were awarded in three age-specific categories – 12-14 years, 15-19 years and 20-25 years. Separate technical and creative categories were open to all age groups and were judged by a panel of industry professionals, including Alice Foulcher and Greg Erdstein, the creative team behind the 2017 comedy hit That’s Not Me.

The Best Film (12-14) went to Poe Black’s Kidnapped, a masterfully-paced black comedy about two young lads who don’t follow the ‘stranger danger’ creed yet emerge not only unscathed but also one-up on their would-be abductor. The Best Film (15-19) trophy was awarded to the remarkably accomplished 104 (pictured, top), a heartbreaking account of how living with an alcoholic parent impacts a young girl’s life; its director, Benjamin Bowles, also earned the Best Cinematography honour. The Best Film (20-25) award went to Willow Driver’s scifi-themed disco homage It’s Time to Dance, a loving ode to an era of music and fashion that ground to a halt three decades before the young filmmaker was born.

Though it was denied a Best Film award, Tallulah Rémond-Stephen’s We Are You, a stylish, dreamlike study of disenfranchisement, grief and confusion, was the night’s big winner, taking home three Nextwave honours. Lead actress and local girl Indigho Gray (pictured, below) took out the Best Actor award, earning herself a NIDA Acting Short Course, while Remond-Stephen earned both Best Director and Rising New Talent honours, an acknowledgement that comes with a one year Emerging Director Membership of the Australian Director’s Guild. The young Bellingen-based auteur is a REC Ya Shorts favourite, having earned top honours last year with her film Perdu, and in 2016 for The Inventor.

Director Benjamin McPhillips was also identified as an Emerging Talent honouree for his direction of the twin-sister drama, Prison Escape. Runners-up in the Acting category were Crystal Reichert, as the student caught living an exam day nightmare, in Jessica Burton’s Trials; and, Noah Mackie for his lovelorn graveyard worker in Skull, Jacob Shrimpton’s dark fantasy spin on the Cyrano de Bergerac tale. Shrimpton (pictured, below) had a good night, with his crowd-pleasing ‘watch-out-what-you-wish-for’ comedy Clone earning him Best Editor. Best Script went to David Smith for his confronting and personal examination of the euthanasia debate, Escape.          

A special Judges Commendation Award was bestowed upon Maeve Forest for her hilarious account of being trapped inside a bathroom during a wedding, entitled Water-loo: An Epic Battle for Freedom. Members of the judging panel recognised a unique voice and talent in nominating the director, whose film was in the youngest 12-14 category.

Also recognized on the night for their contribution to the Nextwave initiative were five regional high schools responsible for the most number of submissions in 2018/19 - Woolgoolga High School, Chatham High School, Oxley High School, Macksville High School, Nambucca Heads High School. Each of these schools had more than 5 students submit films, and helped them develop their talent and ambition through feedback, resources and time.

Nextwave was co-presented by SWIFF and Headspace Coffs Harbour and supported by Southern Cross University, Screen NSW, Arts Mid North Coast, C.ex Group, local Councils and the Regional Arts Fund. The winning films will be presented to regional communities in April as part of the 2019 National Youth Week celebrations.

Tuesday
Jan012019

LADIES IN BLACK LEAD OZ PACK AS QUEENS OF U.S. DESERT FEST 

Four diverse Australian works will feature at the 30th Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF), which launches January 3 in California’s upmarket desert enclave on the western edge of the Coachella Valley. Key amongst them is veteran filmmaker Bruce Beresford’s local hit Ladies in Black, which has been honoured as the Closing Night film of the 12-day program. Set to screen 223 films from 78 countries, organisers are predicting close to 140,000 attendees for the anniversary celebrations of one of America’s most respected and relaxed festival events.

The story of the strong-willed retail saleswomen at the forefront of social change in Sydney circa 1959, Ladies in Black was a critical and commercial hit domestically, earning AU$12.5million at the Australian/New Zealand box office and scoring four AACTA Awards, including Best Actress for starlet Angourie Rice. Yet to open in other key global markets, the North American premiere at PSIFF is a strong indication of the potential for the film to play with audiences beyond these shores (pictured, above; from left, Celia Massingham, Rice and Rachel Taylor).

Also enjoying a moment in the Californian film festival sun will be Benjamin Gilmour’s Jirga, screening as part of the festival’s Foreign Film Oscar Submission strand. The AACTA-winning drama follows a former Australian soldier’s return to Afghanistan, where he seeks forgiveness from the family of a civilian man he killed while serving in the war. Writer/director Gilmour, star Sam Smith (pictured, right) and a skeleton crew shot the film guerilla-style in some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous regions, the result being a film of rare emotion, tension and beauty; it had its World Premiere in Toronto to critical acclaim. It is Australia’s official Foreign Film Oscar contender, with large sections of the film in Pashto dialect.

Certain to amp up the party atmosphere will be a retrospective screening of Baz Luhrmann’s breakout 1992 blockbuster Strictly Ballroom. The film, which earned a staggering AU$80million global box office during its initial release, has been slotted into a strand called ‘The Palm Springs Canon’, a celebration of the best of the PSIFF's first 30 years. Luhrmann’s crowd-pleaser will play alongside 32 other established classics, including Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000), Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991), Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988), Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001) and Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000).

Rounding out the Antipodean contingent is Jeffery Walker’s Riot, the made-for-television account of the gay activists whose fight to decriminalize homosexuality in mid-70s Sydney led to the birth of the now iconic Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Starring Damon Herriman (soon to feature as Charles Manson in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), the small-screen movie aired to a national audience via the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in June before earning Herriman (pictured, right; with co-star Xavier Samuels) and co-star Kate Box AACTA Awards last month for their lead performances. It will screen in the PSIFF strand ‘Queer Cinema Today & The Gay!LA’ alongside such festival favourites as Wanuri Kahiu’s lesbian-themed Kenyan film Rafiki and Austrian filmmaker Katharina Mueckstein’s L’Animale, one of the films vying for the festival’s New Voices/New Visions Grand Jury Prize.

The four Australian films will be seen by many of Hollywood’s major players, with studio and agency representatives attending alongside the likes of actors Timothée Chalamet, Glenn Close, Richard E. Grant, Melissa McCarthy and Rami Malek; and, directors Ryan Coogler, Spike Lee, Ali Abbasi, Emilio Estevez and Alfonso Cuarón.

The Palm Springs International Film Festival will launch on January 3 with the Opening Night film, Kenneth Branagh’s All is True, with the festivities concluding January 13 with Ladies in Black; both will screen at Richards Center for the Arts at Palm Springs High School followed by a reception at the Hilton Hotel complex.

Thursday
Nov292018

SIX AUSTRALIAN FILMS ANNOUNCED IN SUNDANCE 2019 ROSTER

The year ahead for Australian cinema gets off to a heartening start with six local features selected for the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The line-up boasts the star power of Oscar winners Hilary Swank and Lupita Nyong’o; locally bred stars Damon Herriman, Mia Wasikowska and Rose Byrne; and includes new features from director Wayne Blair (The Sapphires, 2012), Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays, 2013), Abe Forsythe (Down Under, 2016) and Jennifer Kent (The Babadook, 2014). In a statement released in the wake of the announcement, Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason lauded, "the incredible slate of premieres", noting that " all the films revolve around central female characters, and half of the films are directed by women, a milestone for the Australian industry. Change is coming – slowly, but surely.” The high-altitude mecca for the indie film sector runs January 24 to February 3.


WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Judy & Punch (Director/Writer: Mirrah Foulkes, Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Tom Budge, Benedict Hardie, Lucy Velik, Terry Norris.) In the anarchic town of Seaside, nowhere near the sea, puppeteers Judy and Punch are trying to resurrect their marionette show. The show is a hit due to Judy’s superior puppeteering but Punch’s driving ambition and penchant for whisky lead to a inevitable tragedy that Judy must avenge. Debut feature director Mirrah Foulkes stated via the Screen Australia site, "[The] festival has been formative to the careers of many of my peers. It's an absolute privilege to be premiering my first feature there.” (Pictured, top; Mia Wasikowska in Judy & Punch. Photo: Ben King)

PREMIERES

Animals (Director: Sophie Hyde, Screenwriter: Emma Jane Unsworth, Cast: Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat; pictured, above). After a decade of partying, Laura and Tyler’s friendship is strained by Laura’s new love and her focus on her novel. A snapshot of a modern woman with competing desires, at once a celebration of female friendship and an examination of the choices we make when facing a crossroads. Hyde took home the Sundance Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic for 52 Tuesdays in 2014 (Animals is an Irish/Australian co-production; Photo: Bernard Walsh)

I Am Mother (Director: Grant Sputore, Screenwriter: Michael Lloyd Green, Cast: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank.) In the wake of humanity’s extinction, a teenage girl is raised by a robot designed to repopulate the earth. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger arrives with alarming news (Pictured, above; Hilary Swank in I am Mother)

Top End Wedding (Director: Wayne Blair, Screenwriters: Joshua Tyler, Miranda Tapsell, Cast: Miranda Tapsell, Gwilym Lee, Kerry Fox, Huw Higginson, Ursula Yovich, Shari Sebbens.) Lauren and Ned are engaged, they are in love, and they have just ten days to find Lauren’s mother who has gone AWOL somewhere in the remote far north of Australia, reunite her parents and pull off their dream wedding. Miranda Tapsell (pictured, above) said via press release, "As a co-writer, producer and actor in this film, it's been a labour of love for me and having the opportunity to showcase the Northern Territory to an international audience, through a different lens, at such a prestigious festival, makes this such a rewarding experience."

MIDNIGHT

Little Monsters (Director /Writer: Abe Forsythe, Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Josh Gad.) A film dedicated to all the kindergarten teachers who motivate children to learn, instill them with confidence and stop them from being devoured by zombies. Via the Screen Australia website, Forsythe declared, "I’m so happy that everyone’s work will be premiered at a festival I’ve always dreamed of attending. (Pictured, above; Lupita Nyong'o as Miss Caroline)

SPOTLIGHT

The Nightingale (Director/Writer: Jennifer Kent, Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie) 1825. Clare, a young Irish convict-woman, chases a British officer through the Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past. (Pictured, above; Aisling Franciosi as Clare)

Sunday
Sep302018

SCIFI FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES 2018 OFFICIAL COMPETITION JURY

Ozploitation legend Brian Trenchard-Smith, Australian Director’s Guild honoree Julietta Boscolo and AWGIE Award winner Jonathan Ogilvie will judge the 9 features and 16 short films in Official Competition at the 2018 SciFi Film Festival.

“I approached Brian, Julietta and Jonathan because they are three of the most distinctive, ambitious and assured cinematic storytellers our industry sector has produced,” said SciFi Film Festival Program Director and Screen-Space Managng Editor Simon Foster. “They represent the kind of instinctive visionaries that the SciFi Film Festival celebrates in its programming. We wanted to celebrate it in choosing our judges as well.”

Brian Trenchard-Smith needs no introduction to genre fans, whose filmography is revered by audiences both locally and around the world. The director of sci-fi cult classics Turkey Shoot (1982), Frog Dreaming (1986) and Dead End Drive-In (1986), Trenchard-Smith has recently been honoured with retrospectives of his work at Karlovy Vary, Melbourne, Brisbane and Toronto film festivals; in 2016, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Fantaspoa International Fantastic Film Festival. His first novel, the science-fiction/fantasy epic Alice Through the Multiverse, was recently published on Amazon and Kindle.

Upon graduating with a Masters in Directing from Victorian College of The Arts, Julietta Boscolo was chosen as one of only 35 filmmakers globally to attend the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Talent Lab. Her 2012 film Sam’s Gold earned her the Australian Director’s Guild Best Director (Short) Award; in 2017, she won the Melbourne International Film Festival’s 2017 Emerging Filmmaker Award for her short film Let’s See How Fast This Baby Will Go, a film that was pre-selected to screen at the Cannes Critics Week. Julietta is currently developing the sci-fi-themed web-series Sunshine, for which she received funding via Screen Australia’s Gender Matters Brilliant Stories initiative.

Having taken out top honours at Tropfest 1996 and secured a Palme d’Or nomination for his short This Film is a Dog, Jonathan Ogilvie has forged a career highlighted by the critically acclaimed features Emulsion (2006) and The Tender Hook (2008). Starring Hugo Weaving and Rose Byrne, The Tender Hook earned five AFI Award nominations and won Ogilvie the Writer’s Guild AWGIE Award for Best Feature Film Screenplay. For his next project, Ogilvie will adapt Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent into a feature called Lone Wolf, reteaming him with star Hugo Weaving and directing one of the world’s first feature-length films employing virtual reality technology.   

All feature films in Official Competition for the SciFi Film Festival’s top honours will vie for Film, Actor, Actress, Music/Sound and Effects categories. Short films will compete for Best Australian and Best International honours.

Winners will be announced in an informal ceremony on the Closing Night of the festival, Sunday October 21, followed by the Australian Premiere of director Johan Earl’s short SHIFT and a retrospective screening of Steve De Jarnatt’s 1988 cult classic MIRACLE MILE.

The 2018 SciFi Film Festival will run October 18-21 at Event Cinemas George St Sydney. Session details and tickets available here.

(Content is republished from a press release written for the SciFi Film Festival by Simon Foster)