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Tuesday
Aug042015

THE OUTBACK AMERICAN SAVING SOVIET SCREEN HISTORY

Over 1000 kilometres west of Sydney, the township of Menindee garners scant attention. The population of around 1000 claim some fame - explorers Burke and Wills camped there during their fateful 1860 expedition; it holds the record for the hottest day in the state’s history, the mercury topping 49.7 °C on January 10, 1939; and, postmaster John Cleary introduced the state’s first motorised mail service there in 1910. But how did this dusty township on the Darling River become home to the Kinopanorama Widescreen Preservation Association (K.W.P.A.), a crucial film preservation initiative overseen by a Texan-born former record industry executive committed to restoring the long dormant Russian format to its past glory…?

Honouring cinematic history has driven John Steven Lasher for most of his professional life. In 1974, his music label Entr’acte produced the legendary composer Bernard Hermann’s soundtrack for Brian De Palma’s Sisters; he has overseen newly recorded re-issues of such classic scores as Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons and King Kong. But in 1992, Lasher refocussed his love affair with film and took on the daunting task of resurrecting Kinopanorama, a three-lens, three-film widescreen format that emerged from the U.S.S.R. Cinema and Photo Research Institute (N.I.K.F.I.) in the mid 1950s in answer to Hollywood’s own ultra-wide projection brand, Cinerama.

“Kinopanorama's legacy is unique because it was the only three-film system developed by a country other than the United States, which could compete with Cinerama on the world market,” says Lasher. The first Kinopanorama film, Roman Karmen’s rural vista Vast is My Native Land (US title - Great is My Country; pictured, right), premiered in Moscow in February 1958; over the next decade, eight travelogue epics were produced in the format. As Cinerama boomed with the release of Hollywood films such as How The West Was Won (and single-camera conversions such as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), the Soviet industry remained committed to its own technology; an advanced camera design called the PSO-1960 (pictured, top) allowed for the use of interchangeable lens kits with different focal lengths. Often viewed as cultural by-products of Cold War one-upmanship, both formats proved expensive and fell out of favour by the mid 1960s.

It would not be until 1992 that Lasher, now head of Fifth Continent Movie Classics, would begin the long process of resurrecting Kinopanorama. His first point-of-contact was the Russian Consulate in Sydney, who steered him to veteran cinematographer Yuri Sokol A.C.S., a Russian émigré who had forged a revered Australian resume in collaboration with director Paul Cox (Lonely Hearts, 1982; Man of Flowers, 1983; My First Wife, 1984; Cactus, 1986). “Yuri Sokol was instrumental in negotiating with N.I.K.F.I. for the purchase of the PSO-1960 camera and ancillary equipment,” recalls Lasher, who would subsidise the restoration and transportation of the camera to Australia, accompanied by respected scientific technician, Sergei Rozhkov. “It was possible over time to form a bond with the Russian organisations thanks to Yuri, (who) had retained contacts with other Russian filmmakers and organisations. In this respect, Sergei Rozhkov was most helpful in liaising with the various Russian organisations and colleagues.” (Pictured, below: The Kinopanorama team, 1993)

With further guidance offered by local D.O.P. John R McLean A.C.S. (The Cars That Ate Paris, 1974; Turkey Shoot, 1982), who had crewed on the 1956 Cinerama travelogue South Seas Adventure, Lasher and Rozhkov guided the first Kinopanorama productions in nearly three decades - Chastity Truth and Kinopanorama (1993), a compile of test footage captured on the restored PSO-1960, shot in Moscow by Soviet director Igor Shetsov; and, Bounty (1993), a picturesque examination of Sydney Harbour from the deck of the famous tall-ship. Over this period, Lasher, Rozhkov and Sokol also undertook location shoots in some of regional New South Wales most photogenic locations, including The Blue Mountains and the central western plains surrounding Dubbo, as well as the hallowed sporting venue, The Sydney Cricket Ground (pictured, below).

It was Lasher’s affinity for the landscape of rural Australia that drew him to Broken Hill, the most remote township in New South Wales, where he lived until 2009. “It was not possible to operate a heritage cinema in Broken Hill, where I lived at the time,” recalls Lasher. “The political landscape, particularly after the proposed film studio complex failed to materialise, was not favourable to launch such a venue.” Determined to further his preservation efforts, he shifted base to Menindee and established the K.W.P.A., which secured all rights to the Kinopanorama brand in 2012. “Menindee offered alternate facilities, including an abandoned building next door to the tourist information centre. We have approached the local council about acquiring it. Until this is sorted out we have no set facilities at present.”

Of course, setbacks have never deterred John Steven Lasher from pushing forward with his passion project. In 1999, Lasher helped fund a partial restoration of the first Kinopanorama feature film, Kaljo Kiisk’s Estonian-shot 1962 drama, Opasniye Povoroty (pictured, right: original lobby-card). Despite the project being abandoned due to spiralling costs, the two complete reels have been screened at widescreen celebrations in the U.S. and U.K.  “We are negotiating with Gosfilmofond of Russia for the purchase of a 4K digital master of the restored Opasniye Povoroty for exhibition at film festivals in Australia and New Zealand. From that point onward, I will contact the various festival organisers as to the possibilities of scheduling the film,” says Lasher, who believes the screening of a Kinopanorama feature in all its majesty would be a unique cinematic experience for local audiences. “After all,” he says, “it would be the first time that a three-film panoramic film format had been exhibited in Australia and New Zealand.”

For more information on the Kinopanorama Widescreen Preservation Association, including membership details and the full range of screen services offered, visit the official website or Facebook page.

The KINOPANORAMA ™ name and logos are the exclusive ™ and © of K.W.P.A.; all images are © of K.W.P.A.

Thursday
Mar262015

CHINESE INDUSTRY DOMINATES REGIONAL KUDOCAST

After a New Year period that saw Chinese cinema attendance top US figures for the first time in history, the Chinese film industry can claim to be on quite a roll having last night swept the 2015 Asian Film Awards, taking out ten of the fourteen categories. The lavish ceremony is overseen by an organizing committee comprising officials from the Busan, Hong Kong and Tokyo film festivals and was held in the vast Venetian Casino on the resort island of Macau.

Blind Massage (pictured, above), a Nanjing-set drama that follows the bittersweet lives of blind masseurs, took Best Picture honours ahead of Black Coal Thin Ice (China/Hong Kong), Haider (India), Hill of Freedom (South Korea), Ode to My Father (South Korea) and The Light Shines Only There (Japan). Already an awards season heavyweight boasting honours from the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Taipei's Golden Horse Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival, the intimate ensemble piece also snared the Best Cinematography trophy for lensman Zeng Jian.

The film’s director, Le You, was again beaten for Best Director honours by Ann Hui, whose helming of the Xiao Hong biopic, The Golden Era, was favoured at the Golden Horse ceremony in November. Other nominees included Tsukamoto Shinya, (Fires on the Plain, Japan], Berlin honoree Lav Diaz (From What Is Before, The Philippines), Vishal Bhardwaj (Haider) and Hong Sang-soo (Hill of Freedom). The Golden Era’s Wang Zhiwen was named Best Supporting Actor, ahead of Jo Jin-ung (A Hard Day, South Korea), Eric Qin (Blind Massage), Chen Jianbin (Paradise in Service, Taiwan) and Ito Hideaki (Wood Job!, Japan).

Black Coal, Thin Ice took home the Best Actor award, with charismatic star Liao Fan topping a strong category that included Kase Ryo (Hill of Freedom), Lau Ching-wan (Overh3ard, Hong Kong/China), Ethan Ruan (Paradise in Service) and Choi Min-shik (Roaring Currents, South Korea) and Sato Takeru (Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends, Japan). Auteur Diao Yi’nan also earned the Best Screenplay honour for his dark procedural thriller.

Other territories represented on the podium were Japan (Best Supporting Actress Ikewaki Chizuru, pictured right, in The Light Shines Only There); India (composer Mikey McCleary for Margarita, With a Straw); and, South Korea, whose Best Actress winner Bae Du-na for A Girl at My Door led in a packed field that included Gong Li, (Coming Home, China), Vicki Zhao, (Dearest, Hong Kong/China), Kalki Koechlin, (Margarita, With a Straw), Miyazawa Rie (Pale Moon, Japan) and pre-event favourite, Tang Wei (The Golden Era). Jiang Wen’s Gone With the Bullets, a grandly-mounted satire of French colonial excess in 1920s Shanghai, topped the trophy tally with three, all for its below-the-line contributions in the fields of Production Design, Costuming and Visual Effects. Gareth Evans rounded out the tech categories with a Best Editing nod for his Indonesian action epic, The Raid 2: Berandal.

Wednesday
Feb182015

ZOMBIES, PIRATES AND ME: A DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT.

It has been a heady couple of weeks for Australian filmmaker, Kiah Roache-Turner. Having topped the iTunes charts with his zombie epic Wyrmwood, the debutant filmmaker then learnt that his low-budget passion-project was also one of the planets most illegally downloaded films. SCREEN-SPACE wanted to know how the turn of events impacted the Sydney-based director (pictured, below; on-set, with one of his creations) who, with his brother Tristan, poured all their money and countless unpaid hours into the production. So, for the first time, we turned our site over to the victim of a crime. Exclusively for SCREEN-SPACE, Kiah Roache-Turner provides a first-person account of how destructive net-piracy truly is…

“My name is Kiah Roache-Turner, I am a filmmaker who has just released my first feature, 'Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead'.

Wyrmwood is currently one of the most torrented films in the world. This is fantastic and horrible, all at the same time. What a lot of these ‘jolly pirates’ don't understand is that the film was made by a bunch of people on weekends over four years on a 'deferred payment' basis. A lot of these amazingly talented actors and crew, including myself, have not seen a cent from this film yet.

In this instance, profits from the film are vitally important because they go directly to very basic things like rent, bills and food for a lot of hardworking artists and technicians who exist in an industry where it is very difficult to find work (pictured, right; on the set of Wyrmwood).

We expected to be torrented. My issue isn't with torrenters; that is a global policing issue that is out of my hands. My issue is with those who pirate the film, love the film and then just move on to the next thing. All I ask is that you think about (your actions) for just a second. I don't mind the 'try before you buy' theory, but if you try it and you like it please pay for a legal copy because artists have to eat. It's really that simple.

I've been following the online comments and a lot of the reaction boils down to "If those fools were too stupid to organise a cross-platform, same-day global release strategy, then they deserve everything they get!" And yes, comments have been that harsh, even harsher; the Internet can be a pretty brutal playground.

When you sign on with a distributor, you sign on to be guided by their existing distribution model. Remember, these guys and gals are really smart and really know how to release a film. They've been doing it for decades to a wildly successful degree.

You don't sign onto one distributer, which would be fantastic; you sign on to many distributers all over the world, who all have different release strategies and key dates and different agreements when it comes to DVD, Blu-ray & VOD. This is a point that needs to be clarified, as most people don't seem to understand how the film industry works. Quite frankly, nor did I until very recently.

In conjunction with Studio Canal, we tried very hard to get 'same day' for Wyrmwood for iTunes but unfortunately our hands were tied due to the window* required by cinemas. In this instance we were able to get a two month window instead of three, which is fantastic. But Aussies were still pissed off when (US distributor) IFC Midnight released theatrical and VOD same day. As soon as the iTunes copy launched, 'BOOM'; somebody ripped that film off the platform, uploaded it to Pirate Bay and the film became one of the most torrented films in the world overnight.

People have been asking, "Then why go theatrical at all?” Unfortunately, funding bodies require a limited theatrical run for funding consideration. And my brother and I (pictured, left) ran out of money for this baby years ago so without funding - NO WYRMWOOD. Thank God Screen Australia believed in us because without government funding for post-production, this film would not be playing in cinemas at all.

People need to understand that this industry has been around for a long time. It is huge and vast and labyrinthine and doesn't change on a dime. I liken it to the 'Titanic'; we've all spotted the iceberg and the ship is turning, but not nearly fast enough. Every single person in every single organisation, from the government bodies to distributors to cinema chains all know what the problems are and they are working their butts off to make these changes. But it is happening in the way that all huge industries generally make gargantuan changes and that is never 'overnight'.

Right now it's in YOUR hands. Yes, YOU the person with the hand paused over the 'download' button getting ready to download my bad-ass ozploitation zombie film RIGHT now. I can't stop you pushing that button nor do I judge you for pushing that button. Mate, that's your decision, it's none of my business. But if you download Wyrmwood and really bloody like it, please do the right thing and purchase a copy. Support independent filmmakers who sweated blood for four long years to bring you that film.

It's all very well to say, "Well, this is how the world is" or "If the industry won't change fast enough, why should I bother?" But the simple fact of the matter is my cast and crew need to eat. So, please - YOU WATCH, YOU BUY and we can eat. It's really that simple.

Yours truly,

Kiah Roache-Turner.”

Australian readers can pre-order Wyrmwood on DVD here.

Wyrmwood can be purchased via the US iTunes store here.

Local screenings (including profit-share arrangements) can be organised here.

*period between a film’s theatrical release and subsequent ancillary platforms (DVD, VOD, Pay-TV, etc).

Wednesday
Jan212015

IT'LL BE ALL WHITE ON THE NIGHT: OSCAR 2015 SNUBS DIVERSITY

The shutout of Martin Luther King drama Selma (pictured, below) across all key categories bar Best Picture has meant 2015 Academy Award nominations are the first since 1998 not to feature an African American nominee. This year, it will fall to French star Marion Cotillard (a surprise but well-deserved Best Actress nominee for Two Days One Night), Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Norwegian Morten Tyldum and a handful of Brits to bring cultural diversity to the big five categories.

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and The Grand Budapest Hotel lead the race with 9 nominations each. The Academy bumped these two from key categories that analysts thought were certainties – Ralph Fiennes for his lead turn in Wes Anderson’s twee masterpiece and editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione for Birdman – but 18 nominations across the two is a well-earned windfall for distributor Fox Searchlight. The Murdoch stable’s arthouse wing scored 20 in total, followed by Sony Pictures Classics (18) and Warner Bros (11).

Other titles to score big were The Imitation Game (8), Boyhood (6) and American Sniper (6, including Best Actor for Bradley Cooper; pictured, right). Sony Pictures Classics’ Foxcatcher earned five notices, including Lead and Supporting Actor and Best Director nominations, but was bumped from the Best Picture race by Whiplash (5, including Supporting Actor shoo-in, JK Simmons). Others up for 5 include The Theory of Everything and Interstellar (Christopher Nolan’s love/hate sci-fi spectacle swept the tech categories); categories were filled out by Mr Turner (4, though no Best Actor for Cannes winner Timothy Spall), Into the Woods (3), Unbroken (3, but not for director Angelina Jolie) and two each for Guardians of The Galaxy, Ida, Inherent Vice, Selma and Wild.

Contender for 2014 Most Snubbed honoree are Nightcrawler (starring Jake Gyllenhaal; pictured, right), the dark LA noir thriller earning just one nod, for Dan Gilroy’s script, and Gone Girl, the box office blockbuster which could only snare a single consideration, for Lead Actress Rosamund Pike. In addition to the Selma shut-out, notable omissions include The LEGO Movie, denied a Best Animated Film nod (it scored an Original Song nomination for ‘Everything is Awesome’); Jennifer Aniston for her Lead Actress turn in Cake; Scarlett Johansson, for either Lucy or Under the Skin; American Sniper director Clint Eastwood; Foreign Language Film frontrunner Force Majeure; and, documentaries Life Itself and Jodorowsky’s Dune.

Best Picture
“American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers
“The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers
“Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
“The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers
“Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers

Actor
Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Actress
Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
Laura Dern in “Wild”
Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Animated Feature
“Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli
“The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold
“Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

Adapted Screenplay
“American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall
“The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore
“Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten
“Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle

Original Screenplay
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
“Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
“Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy

Cinematography
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman
“Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
“Mr. Turner” Dick Pope
“Unbroken” Roger Deakins

Costume Design
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Milena Canonero
“Inherent Vice” Mark Bridges
“Into the Woods” Colleen Atwood
“Maleficent” Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
“Mr. Turner” Jacqueline Durran

Director
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson
“The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum

Documentary Feature
“CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
“Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
“Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester
“The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier
“Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Documentary Short Subject
“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry
“Joanna” Aneta Kopacz
“Our Curse” Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki
“The Reaper (La Parka)” Gabriel Serra Arguello
“White Earth” J. Christian Jensen

Film Editing
“American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
“Boyhood” Sandra Adair
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling
“The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg
“Whiplash” Tom Cross

Foreign Language Film
“Ida” Poland
“Leviathan” Russia
“Tangerines” Estonia
“Timbuktu” Mauritania
“Wild Tales” Argentina

Makeup and Hairstyling
“Foxcatcher” Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
“Guardians of the Galaxy” Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

Original Score
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat
“The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat
“Interstellar” Hans Zimmer
“Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon
“The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson

Original Song
“Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”
Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
“Glory” from “Selma”
Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”
Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”
Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”
Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

Production Design
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“The Imitation Game” Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
“Interstellar” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
“Into the Woods” Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“Mr. Turner” Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

Animated Short Film
“The Bigger Picture” Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
“The Dam Keeper” Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
“Feast” Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
“Me and My Moulton” Torill Kove
“A Single Life” Joris Oprins

Live Action Short Film
“Aya” Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
“Boogaloo and Graham” Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
“Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)” Hu Wei and Julien Féret
“Parvaneh” Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
“The Phone Call” Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

Sound Editing
“American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
“Interstellar” Richard King
“Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Sound Mixing
“American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
“Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
“Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
“Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Visual Effects
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
“Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
“Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Thursday
Sep112014

THE 5 MOST IMPORTANT MOMENTS IN AUSTRALIA'S UNDERGROUND FILM CULTURE

“Is Richard Wolstencroft for real?” pondered a broadsheet journalist as far back as 2004. He is, albeit in the guise of a larger-than-life figure whose ideal reality is often at odds with the accepted norm. First as a film director (Bloodlust, 1992; Pearls Before Swine, 1999; The Beautiful and Damned, 2010) then, for the the last 15 years, as overseer of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF), Richard Wolstencroft (pictured, below) has been at the forefront of transgressive cinema culture in Australia, clashing with censorship advocates, funding sector bureaucrats and conservative mouthpieces on a regular basis. On the eve of MUFF 2014, a very busy Wolstencroft kindly accepted an editorial assignment from SCREEN-SPACE, when we asked him, “What have been the five most important developments in Australia’s undergrond film sector?”…

Super 8 Film Stock. "What underground and indie films were often made on in the 70’s and early 80’s. A really amazing, versatile and fun film format that meant you could be a big time filmmaker, even when you were a kid. I started making Super 8 films in 1980 at age 11. It taught the tactile art of cinema and helped you get out there and really learn cinema the only way possible - by simply doing it. The New York Cinema of Transgression was mostly shot on this format. And so too the Australian Cinema of Transgression, made up of young filmmakers like myself, Mark and Colin Savage, Phillip Brophy, Jon Hewitt and many others." Watch The Power of Super 8 from SXSW Festival, 2010.

The Advent of Home Video. "The arrival of home video in the early 80’s was a complete revolution in cinema and changed the way cinema is seen forever. As kids and early teens we rented everything – including porn – from the local video shop owners, who turned their backs when we snuck into the adult section. The arrival of horror, cult films and ‘video nasties’ also changed aesthetic standards and tastes forever. This was a much more burgeoning cinema culture than most of the arthouse and critically lauded nonsense around at that time. Few things were not on video and this (distribution method) marked the birth of the home cinema age, that has now become so vital in the internet age."

The Making of Made-on-Video Feature Films. "I was honored to be a major catalyst and to be involved in two out of three of the first made-on-video feature films ever shot in this country. Marauders (1986) by Mark Savage and Bloodlust (1991) by Jon Hewitt and my good/evil self. We both wished to carry on the great tradition of Ozploitation cinema and so we did!"

WARNING: Some content may offend.

The Arrival of Video Cinema. "When my old pal Jon Hewitt opened Panorama, Australia’s first video cinema, in the early to mid 90’s, he was laughed at and mocked by many of the blinkered morons in the industry. Now almost every cinema in the country has gone the way of Panorama. That is vision for you! We both knew it was the future after Bloodlust - and why not embrace the future early, we thought?" (Ed: In 2012 interview with Crikey.com, critic Jake Wilson recalled, "the strangest cinema I’ve ever been to was the Panorama, Jon Hewitt’s ahead-of-its-time videotheque on Brunswick St, Fitzroy, which used to show Sam Fuller triple bills and documentaries on what was called the “modern primitive” movement back when body piercing was considered edgy. Now it’s a community credit co-operative. Unless I dreamt the whole thing.")

The Founding of Underground Film Festivals. "The world’s first two Underground Film festivals were the New York and Chicago events (pictured, right; Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland, co-founders of the New York Underground Film Festival) . I was inspired by both to start MUFF, now the third oldest in the World, I believe. Soon after they popped up all over the place, most notably in Sydney, after (SUFF founder) Stefan Popescu was an official MUFF guest with his short film, Roseberry 7470, about 9 years back now."

Wednesday
Jun182014

REFLECTIONS ON REVELATIONS: AN ORAL HISTORY

They are the men whose shared visions create the most eclectic and challenging collection of cinema on the Australian film festival calendar. Chairman Richard Sowada who, fuelled by the spirit of the now defunct Revelations magazine and its founder Peter Collins, launched a series of 16mm film screenings at Perth’s iconic jazz venue, The Greenwich, in 1997; program director Jack Sargeant, author and academic on all matters counter-culture and underground, has acted as in-house agitant and revolutionary spirit since 2008. So who better to answer the question, “What have been the defining moments in the 17 year history of Revelation Perth International Film Festival?”, than the men behind the madness...?

“Each year is new and each choice is filled with experimentation and a roll of the dice.” - Richard Sowada, Founder and Chairman (pictured, right).

The Banning of Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist: This appeared in Rev '98. It was passed for screening by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, but the ruling was overturned by the local West Australian office. It made print and TV news around the country and taught us how some arms of government and the media work. A challenging experience, for us and the community. We learnt that as far as politics goes, the issue is never about the issue and that our 'editorial stand' was a strong one, which is something that's never really changed. Aside from that, it was lots of fun. It got unbanned, by the way.

Viola Dana playing The General: In 2009, local outfit Viola Dana played the score to Buster Keaton's silent classic The General. I cried...it was so beautiful and received a standing ovation. The real thing. It was a true moment where the power of cinema crossed generations. It was one of those things you hope has a real impact on people who may not ever expect that kind of tenderness from a silent film.

 

Going on Tour: In the first two years of the event, we went touring to Sydney and Adelaide. While a great thing to do, it made us realise that that the idea behind the event can't be transferred. It reinforced that the event is not about films necessarily but the ideal behind what we were trying to do. To manage something like this, you need to have the right state of mind - and in a very conservative film exhibition environment, very few people have that. So we keep it in WA. 

The First International Guest: In our second year, a young Japanese experimental filmmaker named Hideo Oshima came over. He flew himself over for his first time ever in Australia. He'd never seen a beach and he spent his whole time with his shoes off walking on Cottesloe Beach, feeling the sand between his toes. It had a real impact on him. When he came over, I thought we were on our way and now we have over 60 guests.

Every Year…: Rev is such an enormous challenge. In all ways we do things like no other event. It's more than a festival - it's a Union for artists and audiences. The event is a point of advocacy for both, that challenges the difficulties in having a community voice. (We address) funding, distribution and exhibition difficulties and the mentoring (of) new practitioners in every sector of the industry.


“(All) the filmmakers who enter seek to push the medium and I think that it is indicative of the limitless potentials of cinema to stimulate imagination.” - Jack Sargeant, Program Director (pictured, right).

Joe Davis Dancing in the Bar: Davis is an incredible thinker, philosopher, scientist and prankster, who was over to introduce a screening of the film Heaven and Earth and Joe Davis which documented part of his life. This is a fascinating movie about a genuinely unique figure, and having him in town was great. Joe hit it off with everyone and opened people's eyes to many things. We have been blessed with many enjoyable guests, and to me that is still a really special part of the festival.

Crispin Glover screening What Is It? and It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine: These are powerful, visionary movies and to watch them was an incredible experience. Not only did he screen his films, he also performed both parts of his Big Slide Show (one part each night, prior to the films) which was a magical and unique dramatic narration of his beautiful books. An incredibly dedicated individual, he answered questions from the audience and then met audience members individually to sign books and talk to people. 

 

Lawrence English performing a live soundtrack to Harry Smith's Early Abstractions: This was at my first Revelation, and I had commissioned Lawrence to write a new soundtrack to this series of experimental animated films. Of course, his soundtrack was as beautiful and visionary as you would imagine, and people loved seeing the films and listening to the music.  

Revel8: Our annual screening of super 8 movies. Anyone can enter; there have been submissions from experimental filmmakers, students, friends, artists, and jokers over the years. There's a real pleasure in the possibilities inherent in this event. The films may be experimental, visionary, irreverent, entertaining or infuriating, but they are always unique and made with a kind of wild enthusiastic passion. I'd like to think that the potentialities of Revel 8 movies reflect something of the potentialities of all the films we screen at the festival.  

The Revelation Bar: There's a lot of hanging out at Revelation after movies, and one of the key aspects is that everyone is welcome. The bar becomes the de facto centre of the festival with filmmakers, guests, artists, musicians, audience members and academics just talking and discussing ideas. You can see fruitful exchanges taking place, friendships being forged and a real air of enjoyment, which makes the whole thing very special. (pictured, right; Sowada, left, and Sargeant flank revellers at a recent Revelation social event)

The Revelation Perth International Film Festival will run July 3-13 in several venues in and around Perth, Western Australia. For full program details and tickets, visit the official website here.

Monday
May122014

ADELAIDE'S AUTEURS GATHER FOR STATE SECTOR GALA

Adelaide’s iconic Mercury Cinema will roll out the red carpet on May 16 for the annual The South Australian Screen Awards, the prestigious event celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2014. Honouring the filmmakers of arguably the most vibrant state film sector in Australia, the gala welcomes dignitaries to an evening that honours the region’s short-film visionaries across 16 key categories. Ahead of the event, SCREEN-SPACE profiles the nominees in one of the most hotly contested fields, the Best Short Drama.

ENFILADE
Plot: A man awakens in a room with two doors. Each door “loops” into the other. The only objects within the room are a red ball and a revolver containing a single bullet. How do you escape a loop?
Watch if you liked: Cube (Vincenzo Natali, 1997); Symbol (Hitoshi Matsumoto, 2009) 
The most important lesson I learnt from the film-making experience was…: “…resources matter in filmmaking. We made Enfilade without funding on a budget of $2900 with a crew consisting nearly entirely of students. We are incredibly grateful to the kindness exhibited to us by family, friends, filmmakers, non-filmmakers, mentors and local businesses that allowed us to create a film beyond our monetary means.” – David Coyle, Director (pictured, above).

OMEGA
Plot: Australia has gone dark, one city after another fades out into the night. A comet looms in the sky, its silent approach filling the population with dread. What will this comet bring? What is Omega? An apocalyptic vision seen through the eyes of an idealistic soldier (Adam Schmerl; pictured, right) and the nurse he loves (Kate Englefield).
Watch if you liked: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria, 2012); Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt, 1988).
The most important lesson I learnt from the film-making experience was…: “…not to underestimate the support and determination of the Adelaide film community. Despite not having a film school behind me, I was still afforded the opportunity of having both industry professionals and fellow new starters (such as myself) to help realise Omega and bring it to completion." – Peter Ninos, Director.

BORDER
Plot: Grief and guilt erode the already fractured existence of the teenage Lara (Emma Watson) and her father (Gary Harrison), all that is left of an idyllic life torn apart by tragedy. When her young love Vince (Russell Lucas) reappears, Lara is torn between the memory of a once happy family and her desire to be with Vince, despite her father’s wishes.
Watch if you liked: Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981); River’s Edge (Tim Hunter, 1986).
The most important lesson I learnt from the film-making experience was…: “…trusting the process.  Meaning that if you know what your vision is and if you believe in yourself and your vision, and if you pick the right people to help you in the journey, then most likely the result will be something good." – Nima Raoofi, Director (pictured, left). 

PALE BLUE DOT:
Plot: Franciose (Mandahla Rose; pictured, right) is an astronaut, her interstellar journey bringing her back to a home planet that has all but been destroyed. She reunites with her husband, who lives an idyllic existence by the ocean, but Franciose knows she must return to her time to warn the planet of its impending demise. But can she go back?
Watch if you liked: Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972); The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006).
The most important lesson I learnt from the film-making experience was…: “…never be afraid of being smart but try not to be too clever for the films good. Showing off can distract from the storytelling.” – Aaron Schuppan, Director.

DELUGE:
Plot: The planet is consumed by a flood of biblical proportions, the rain forcing small groups of survivors into dark, underground enclaves where their faith and sanity are tested. So desperate is this existence, one group has turned to the ritualistic drowning of children. The last in line, a 12 year-old boy named Briggs (Elijah Baker), may be mankind’s only hope of survival.    
Watch if you liked: 1984 (Michael Radford, 1984); Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006). 
The most important lesson I learnt from the film-making experience was…: “…to always follow your vision, no matter how stressful or cluttered the process becomes. Don't take the shortcut. Fight for what you want to be on the screen.” – Danny Philippou, Co-director (pictured, left; with co-director, Michael Philippou).

The 2014 South Australian Screen Awards will be held at The Mercury Cinema in Adelaide on Friday May 16. For full information including winners from all categories visit their website.

SCREEN-SPACE Managing Editor Simon Foster was among the judging panel for the Best Drama Short.

Friday
May022014

THE ROCKET TAKES FEATURE DIRECTOR HONOURS AT PEER-VOTED GALA

The Rocket upped its award season tally further with director Kim Morduant (pictured, below) taking home the top honour at the Australian Director’s Guild annual ceremony, held tonight at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney’s CBD.

Morduant’s trophy cabinet has grown heavy since the film hit the international festival circuit; in addition to the honours he has amassed as director of the low-budget drama, his script was recognised by the Australian Film Institute and Australian Writer’s Guild.

The win represents the 26th international trophy that the Australian/Laotian/Thai co-production has snared, which has previously won kudos from such renowned judging bodies as Berlin Film Festival, Calgary Film Festival and Film Critics Circle of Australia; it has also won audience awards at the Tribeca, Leeds, Cinekid, Sydney, Melbourne and American Film Institute festivals.

The Feature Documentary Award went to Sophia Turkiewicz (pictured, right) for her autobiographical chronicle, Once My Mother. The deeply moving film tells of the director’s investigation into her family heritage, where she explores why her Polish mother might have abandoned her when she was only seven years of age.

Julietta Boscolo received the Best Director Short Film Award for her drama, Sam’s Gold, a project that was awarded Screen NSW’s Emerging Filmmaker Fund. It is the first win for Boscolo, who has enjoyed warm acceptance for her film from such festivals as Perth’s Revelation Festival (where it premiered in 2013), the Brisbane International Film Festival, the recent Byron Bay Film Festival and will screen at the prestigious St Kilda Film Festival on May 28. Her previous short, Safe, was nominated for top honours at the Canberra Film Festival. (Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with Boscolo here).

In a cross-cultural show of support, the Director’s Guild of America partners with their Australian colleagues and funds the Finders Award, an initiative that ensures US exposure for a feature film that has yet to find American distribution. The 2014 recipient was Catriona McKenzie for her film Satellite Boy; the director will now accompany the film at industry screenings in Los Angeles and New York.

The honorees reflect the progressive industry stance adopted by the Australian Director’s Guild, with seven of the sixteen category winners being female filmmakers; all six directors nominated for the Documentary Feature honour were women.

The full list of winners from the 2014 ADG Awards can be found here

Wednesday
Apr022014

R.I.P. DAVID HANNAY

Few come close to the unbridled joy that David Hannay felt for cinema. The Australian producer was at the forefront of the local film resurgence in the 1970’s and remained a passionate promoter of talent up until his passing, on Monday March 31, having been diagnosed with cancer in April 2012. He was 74.

Known for shepherding such productions as the Ozploitation classics Stone (1974) and The Man From Hong Kong (1975), Hannay was, in fact, the true ‘multi-hyphenate’. He stepped before his own cameras to fill bit parts, most recently in his 2001 family film, Hildegarde; provided uncredited screenplay doctoring in conjunction with his writers on several projects, despite only seeking one writing credit, on 1988’s The Shadowed Mind; and, would oversee pre- and post-production duties on his films with an encyclopaedic knowledge that earned him the utmost respect from his colleagues.

Born June 23, 1939, in New Zealand, he began his love affair with the performing arts at the age of nine, debuting on stage in a school production. By 1958, he had entry into the production sector with a casting assistant position at Artransa Park Studios in Sydney’s north-west for Leslie Norman’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (pictured, right; aka, Season of Passion), an international production of Ray Lawler’s Australian classic starring Ernest Borgnine, John Mills and Anne Baxter. He spent the next decade accumulating experience in a multitude of production tasks across both film and television mediums.

His first production credit would be in 1970, as executive producer on Frank Brittain’s groundbreaking drama, The Set. One of the earliest and most forthright depictions of homosexuality on Australian screens, it exhibited Hannay’s particular skill of combining hot-button social issues with insightful commentary and commercial instinct. This ethic secured him the role of Head of Production at Gemini Productions in 1970 and led to his guiding influence on such projects as the top-rating docos Jesus Christ Superstar (1972) and Kung Fu Killers (1974) and hit TV series The Godfathers, The People Next Door and The Unisexers.

In the early 70s, Hannay (pictured, left; in 1973) began developing a tough-minded undercover cop story set against the world of outlaw bikie gangs. The vision began to coalesce as a vehicle for wild-man actor/director Sandy Harbutt, whom Hannay had met whilst producing the 1972 TV movie Crisis. In 1974, the R-rated action thriller Stone was released and became a box-office smash; Hannay, who also had a production credit on the bawdy big-screen version of the TV series Number 96 and executive-produced Brian Trenchard-Smith’s The Man from Hong Kong, was at the forefront of one of the most commercially successful periods in Australian cinema history.

Hannay parlayed his profile into several interesting projects. He would co-produce with writer/director Tony Williams on the drama Solo (1978), an Australian-New Zealand co-production; exhibit a playful touch with Peter Maxwell’s action/comedy Touch and Go (1980), with Wendy Hughes and Chantal Contouri; cast up-and-comer Jon Blake in the thriller Early Frost (1982), a troubled production that saw Hannay step into the director’s chair for the only time in his career; and, secured Hollywood star James Coburn for his 1986 prestige picture, the true-life story Death of a Soldier, from director Phillipe Mora.

Other highlights from a production career spanning five decades include Oliver Schmitz’s anti-apartheid thriller, Mapantsula (1988; pictured, right), for which he was given the Human Rights Australia Film Award; George Miller’s Gross Misconduct (1993), with Jimmy Smits and Naomi Watts; Aden Young and Zoe Carides in Shotgun Wedding (1993), from director Paul Harmon; the Australian/French co-production, Love in Ambush (1997), adapted from Loup Durand’s novel by director Carl Schultz and starring Jacques Perrin and Sigrid Thornton; and, Murray Fahey’s black comedy/horror Cubbyhouse (2001), with Joshua Leonard. Hannay’s final producer’s credit was David Huggett’s 2012 musical documentary, Once Around The Sun.

David Hannay’s full silvery beard made him easy to spot at industry events, where he enjoyed networking with old friends and making many new ones (he was particularly proud of the thirteen first-time directors whose debut projects he produced). An avid attendee of the Cannes marketplace, the Screen Producer’s Association of Australia (SPAA) annual conference and the exhibitor/distributor confab The Australian International Movie Convention, the adoration for the late David Hannay can be measured by the honours bestowed upon him by his peers – the Producer’s and Director’s Guild Lifetime achievement honour in 1996; the Australian Cinema Pioneers Society highest honour, Pioneer of the Year; the inaugural Maura Fay Award recipient for industry service at the 2002 SPAA event; the coveted Raymond Longford award, the highest honour bestowed by the Australian Film Institute, in 2007; and, the National Film and Sound Archive Ken G Hall Award for Film Preservation in 2011.

A long time resident of Yeltholme in the New South Wales rural western region, he established the Bathurst Film Factory co-operative in November 2012, to foster the filmmaker talent in the area. In one of his final interviews, he spoke of influencing his favourite artform long after his demise, which he knew to be imminent. “Whatever time I’ve got, I want to devote to the next generation,” Mr Hannay said. “That’s my obligation, my passion.”

David Hannay is survived by his wife, author Mary Moody (pictured, right), and their four children. A memorial service will be held at a date to be advised in the weeks ahead.

Footnote: I spent many hours talking movies with David, a gentleman whose grace, enthusiasm and experience inspired me. I lunched with him in 2011, discussing a documentary project on the loss of regional cinemas, which I regret never came to fruition. The meeting went well into the afternoon, allowing David to reminisce about his career and friends. I will be forever grateful for the time he afforded me. My prayers go to his family. He will be missed.

Monday
Mar032014

BYRON BAY PAVES WAY FOR NEXT GEN OZ TALENT

The 2014 Byron Bay International Film Festival (BBIFF) is a mere four days into its 10 day run and already its well-earned reputation as a festival committed to fostering Australian talent has been strengthened. The eclectic tastes of Festival director J’aimee Skippon-Volke (pictured, below) ensured that opinion was widely divided amongst the festival crowds, who have enjoyed passionate discussions about the Australian content programmed. Below are snapshot reviews of some challenging works from the festival’s opening salvo of homegrown films…

HEAVEN (Dir: Maziar Lahooti; 14 mins)
Confronting the local smack dealer James (Wayne Davies) at gunpoint, an elderly man (Don Reid) demands to be taken through the process of injecting a dangerously high amount of heroin. Maziar Lahooti’s beautifully shot but relentlessly bleak drama unfolds in a compellingly fragmented structure that provocatively asks its audience to consider not only the nature of one of modern societies most divisive issues but also their own definition of true love. It is a downer, though… Rating: 3.5/5

HUNGRY MAN (Dir: Jordan Prosser; 17 mins; Official website)
Echoes of Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic characters, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s darkly-stylish composition and David Cronenberg’s body-horror ickiness are evident in Jordan Prosser’s gleefully ghoulish romp. Declan (Brendan Barnett) eats what the tapeworm in his gut tells him to eat; the lovely Jennifer Feathers (a wonderful Jennifer Frew; pictured, right) is attracted to Declan, and he to her. But only because the tapeworm craves the one meat that Declan has yet to injest… An edgy, odd, engaging tone turns downright horrifying in a final shot that left an unsuspecting audience gasping. Rating: 4.5/5

ADVANCE AUSTRALIAN FILM (Dir: Courtney Dawson; 60 mins; Official website)
Courtney Dawson parades a bevy of talking heads before her camera in Advance Australian Film, a cry for help in answering the question, “How do we revive the commercial life of our film industry?” The debutant documentarian employs historical context, current ‘buzz’ topics and solid star wattage; A-listers such as Russell Crowe and Baz Luhrmann were nabbed unawares at red carpet premieres and offer soundbite responses at best. It is the opinions of the more low-key festival directors, curators, analysts and up-and-comers that provide Dawson’s films with its most worthwhile moments. Occasionally sounds a little too much like a boozy Friday arvo on a film shoot, where everyone knows what’s wrong (“I mean, where’s the next Mad Max?!”) but no one has an answer. But Dawson’s passion for the sector is clear and commendable. Rating: 3/5 

CONDOM (Dir: Sheldon Lieberman; 4 mins)
The latest hilarious short from the Spike and Dadda web-series had its World Premiere at BBFF and proved every bit as hilariously winning as the episodes to date (all of them online here). Dadda is faced with one of those parenting moments, when his little boy Spike wants to know what a condom is; Dadda finds himself spiralling down a rabbit hole of awkwardness. Minimalist but wonderfully expressive animation and a great script earned Condom the biggest laughs of the Festival to date. Rating: 4/5

TWO BROTHERS WALKING (Dir: David Salomon; 49 mins; Official website)
The spiritual legacy passed through centuries of indigenous culture is explored within the framework of two men - one raised by tribal bush laws, the other only just beginning to fully comprehend his ancestry. Together they impart the essence of Wanampi Inma, a song and dance ritual that tells the story of the Rainbow Serpent and continues to bind generations. David Salomon’s bare-bones, ‘old school’-style doco is an intimate, densely-layered exploration of Aboriginal lore as it pertains to the lives and journeys of two fascinating individuals. Rating: 4/5

A WOMAN’S DEEPER JOURNEY INTO SEX (Dir: Sally McKenzie; 75 mins; Official website)
Even at 75 minutes, Sally McKenzie’s playful but puerile glimpse inside the hearts, minds and vaginas of the modern woman overstays its welcome. The director would serve both her film and her audience a great service by discarding all the bridging scenes that involve the construct ‘Detective Lacey’, a film noir-ish character who guides us through this ‘investigation’ of female sexuality. There are some interesting facts and fun characters, but McKenzie struggles to offer anything very new to say; how women relate to pornography, sex toys, male prostitution, etc is addressed, but the first person accounts are trite, the tone giggly and the academic input undervalued. An extended sequence of female-friendly porn clips is gratuitous. The concept may work better as smallscreen fare, where the ‘Lacey’ scenes can be jettisoned and content left on the cutting room floor can be reinstated for a more in-depth study. Rating: 2/5

The Byron Bay International Film Festival will run until March 9 at venues in Byron Bay and selected regional venues. Ticket and program information can be found on the Festival site.

SCREEN-SPACE is on the Festival judging panel and attending as a guest of the Festival.