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Ahead of the full programme launch on May 8, the Sydney Film Festival has released the names of 27 of the films to screen in this year's 60th anniversary schedule (including David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche, pictured below), beginning June 5.

Highlighlights include the World Premiere of Australian performance artist William Yang’s documentary William Yang: My Generation; the Australian premiere of Park Chan-Wook's thriller Stoker, starring Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman; and, the Australian documentary Red Obsession, from directors David Roach and Warwick Ross and narrated by Russell Crowe. In all, the selection represents 24 Australian premieres spread amongst the 16 features and 11 documentaries.

Of particular cultural signifigance will be the special event screening of a digitally restored print of Ned Lander's seminal aboriginal rock docu-drama Wrong Side of the Road, featuring the music of Us Mob and No Fixed Address. Also announced was the Australian premiere of video artist Jeff Desom's Hitchcock-inspired 'Rear Window Loop', an installation that will be the centrepiece of the popular festival meeting place, The Hub, in Sydney's Lower Town Hall. 

The 27 films announced are (in alphabetical order):

The Act of Killing (Directors: Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and Anonymous; Denmark, Norway, UK)

Blackfish (Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite; USA)

Blancanieves (Director: Pablo Berger; Spain, France)

Comrade Kim Goes Flying (Directors: Kim Gwang-hun, Nicholas Bonner and Anja Daelemans; Belgium, UK, North Korea)

Exposed (Director: Beth B.; USA)

Fallen City (Director: Zhao Qi; China)

A Few Hours of Spring (Director: Stephane Brize; France)

Frances Ha (Director: Noah Baumbach; USA)

Frankenstein's Army (Director: Richard Raaphorst; USA, The Netherlands)

The Human Scale (Director: Andreas Mol Dalsgaard; Denmark)

The Look of Love (Director: Michael Winterbottom; UK, USA)

La Maison de la Radio (Director Nicholas Philibert; France, Japan)

Midnight's Children (Director: Deepa Mehta; Canada)

Miss Nicki and The Tiger Girls (Director: Julia Lamont; Australia)

Oh Boy (Director: Jan Ole Gerster; Germany)

Outrage Beyond (Director: Takeshi Kitano; Japan)

Prince Avalanche (Director: David Gordon Green; USA)

Rear Window (Director: Alfred Hitchcock; USA)

Red Obsession (Directors: David Roach and Warwick Ross; Australia)

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's (Director: Matthew Miele; USA)

Stoker (Director: Park Chan-Wook; UK, USA) 

Stories We Tell (Director: Sarah Polley; Canada)

Wadjda (Director: Haifaa Al Mansour; Saudi Arabia, Germany)

What Maisie Knew (Directors: Scott McGhee and David Siegel; USA)

What Richard Did (Director: Lenny Abrahamson; Ireland)

William Yang: My Generation (Director: Martin Fox; Australia)

Wrong Side of the Road (Director: Ned Lander; Australia)



As one of the key behind-the-scenes creatives on the TV series, The Walking Dead, legendary Hollywood makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero has reached the A-list of his Hollywood below-the-liners. With fellow effects maestro’s Howard Berger and Bob Kurtzman, Nicotero heads up KNB Efx, the 25 year-old Hollywood visual effects outfit that has on their resume such hits as Oz The Great and Powerful, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2 and Misery.

Ahead of the Australian premiere of Donna Davies’ Nightmare Factory, a feature-length documentary that traces Nicotero’s rise, SCREEN-SPACE decided to check out some of the great man’s most famous works, sick visions and little known contributions to the world of makeup visual effects…:


Nicotero did his apprenticeship with two legends of the horror genre on two of the 80s most ground-breaking works, George Romero’s Day of the Dead and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2. On Day…, he would be under the tutelage of the great Tom Savini; the team would win a Saturn Award for their wildly horrific scenes of gore, "In the late 80s you had make-up people like Rick Baker and Rob Bottin and films like ET, and The Thing, and The Howling," says Nicotero in an interview with, "and suddenly make-up effects became the reason people would go to the movies.”


Kevin Costners’s Oscar-winning epic is perhaps best remembered for the vivid and exciting buffalo hunt sequence. KNB Efx had been steadily building a reputation over 2 years when they got the job on what would become the most successful western ever released. Nicotero told the Icons of Fright website that the film’s success made him somewhat anxious. “I was really nervous, because I was terrified that we’d be remembered for Dances With Wolves!” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Jesus, we’ve peaked in two years.”


It would be the decade that established Nicotero and his team as the go-to guys for the industry’s finest make-up effects results. From Bride of Re-Animator and Tales From The Darkside: The Movie in ‘90; Army of Darkness in ‘92; Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday in ’93; In The Mouth of Madness and Lord of Illusions in ’95; From Dusk ‘til Dawn and Scream in ’96; Spawn in ’97; The Faculty in ’98; and, House on Haunted Hill in ’99. “We've done 12 projects with Sam Raimi, we've done 7 projects with Robert Rodriguez, we've done 5 with Quentin Tarantino, we've done 3 with Spielberg,” Nicotero told in 2005. “The people that we work for call us back over and over again. It's something that I'm very, very proud of.”


“I have friends who will introduce me to people as, 'This is Greg Nicotero – he did the dick in Boogie Nights',” Nicotero told Time Out London, 2009. Despite a career crafting some of the most intricate physical effects in cinema history, it would be for enhancing Mark Wahlberg’s appendage (pictured, right) that has fuelled the legend of Greg Nicotero. “The first penis we had sculpted, it was pointing at a 45 degree angle. And (the studio) said ‘We need to get the tip to point down, pointing out is bad.’ They were concerned about the rating, and if he appeared semi-aroused, that would be a problem.” He has became Hollywood’s leading expert in prosthetic penis’, outfitting James Franco in Milk and John Cho in A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas.


KNB Efx have created some of the most terrifying screen villains ever to come from the animal kingdom. The eagle-sized flying insects in Frank Darabont’s The Mist, the savage underwater carnivores (and their impact upon human flesh) in Alexandre Aja’s Pirahna 3D and, in some of Nicotero’s most subtle effects work, the wolves that stalk Liam Neeson in Joe Carnahan’s The Grey. Talking to, Alexandre Aja (who worked with Nicotero on his The Hills Have Eyes remake in 2007) said of their working relationship, “You go to see him and you say, This is what I would like to see.’ Even if it’s impossible, he will find a way to make it happen. He can create prosthetics that looks absolutely amazing. I can’t imagine working without him.”

Nightmare Factory will screen at A Night of Horror / Fantastic Planet Film Festival on Saturday, April 20.



Hosted with a ‘fun-uncle’ vibe by the organisation’s president Rod Quinn at  Sydney’s Paddington RSL Club, the 2013 Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA) honours were split amongst Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Wish You Were Here, Cate Shortland’s Lore, Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires and Peter Templeman’s Not Suitable for Children.

Blue Tongue Film’s Wish You Were Here (pictured, above; cast members Antony Starr, Joel Edgerton, Felicity Price and Teresa Palmer), a drama chronicling the ill-fated adventures of a group of young holidaying eastern suburb well-to-do types, scored Best Picture honours for producer Angie Fielder, a Best Actor trophy for Joel Edgerton and FCCA kudos for Best Screenplay and Best Editing.  With much of the cast and crew absent, it was left to Fielder to accept all but Jason Ballantine’s cutting nod.

Mirroring the recent Oscar moment, the Best Supporting Actor gong was shared between the film’s Antony Starr and Not Suitable For Children’s Ryan Corr. The charismatic Corr got the night’s biggest laugh when he suggested that, in response to the AACTA awards being called ‘The AACTA’, the FCCA trophy should adopt its own acronymic moniker (just try it…).

Cate Shortland’s long-in-development follow-up to Somersault, the German-set World War 2 drama Lore, took home the coveted Best Director gong, as well as Best Performance by a Young Actor for lead Saskia Rosendahl (pictured, left).


Box-office winner The Sapphires nabbed Best Cinematography for Warwick Thornton and Best Music Score for Cezary Skubiszewski. In addition to Corr’s win, co-star Sarah Snook surprised many when she snared a Best Actress nod for Not Suitable for Children ahead of The Sapphires Deborah Mailman and Wish You Were Here’s Felicity Price.

Adding to the left-field choices was Rebecca Gibney’s Supporting Actress win for PJ Hogan’s critically-divisive dramedy, Mental. Gibney seemed genuinely moved by the recognition and proved to be a good sport when asked, at the last moment, to present the Best Documentary honour, won by Ian Darling’s Paul Kelly: Stories of Me.

Other presenters included entertainer Paul Capsis (“I was asked to do this, like, five minutes ago”), actor/director Jeremy Sims, actor Steve Le Marquand and sponsor Foxtel executive James Bridges.



Thirty years ago, Bob Wright was my boss, and he frightened me a bit. He was, in modern management parlance, the COO of the Australasian division of CBS Fox Home Video (later, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment). He carried with him an air of gravitas that has not diminished. But he is a deeply humble man (he refuses to supply a photo of himself for this article), one of those old-school hard-workers who deflect any mention of achievements while discussing a career in the Australian home video industry that has spanned over three decades. He agreed to meet at a cafe in Sydney’s northwest for what would be his only Australian media interview. SCREEN-SPACE caught him at his most candid; only a few days earlier, the independent home video distribution outfit he co-founded in 1990, 21st Century Pictures, closed its doors after more than two decades.

(Above: CBS Fox employees at an industry function, circa 1990. Wright, in glasses, is positioned back-row, far right)

“When I told all the buying groups that I was leaving, all but one said that I had jumped too early,” recalls the stoic industry veteran. “Personally, I think I did it at time where I know (the titles) I’ve got were going to struggle as new releases. I have no outstanding advances from films, so I’ve basically been able to walk away with a very clean sheet.”

21st Century Pictures began when Wright and fellow CBS Fox exec Ray Robinson (pictured, right: in 1985) saw the market was ripe for a new Australian-owned outfit. ““The main aim was to be a strong independent distributor. Robbo was a tremendous salesman; he was the frontman and I was the backman. He spoke with Andrew Pike of Ronin Films and, within a year, Frank Cox from NewVision and got them on board,” recalls Wright of the company’s inception. “Only a few months after we started we had Ronin product and, of course, they had Shine (pictured, below) which was a huge success for us. When NewVision, which became Hopscotch, came on board, well...we had their last film in April (2012), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. That’s a 16, maybe 17 year relationship.”

The heady days of overseeing the release of big studio product for the Fox corporation (he balanced the sheets on the Australian sector release of such home video hits as Die Hard, Working Girl and The Abyss) still hold a special if distant memory for Wright. “When I first started at Fox, we were getting $100 a unit per title and a new account had to pay cash up-front. The first order had to be at least 5000 bucks and cash up-front for six months!” he says, with an ironic laugh. “Bring those days back and I think I might have stayed on!” There were drawbacks that Wright doesn’t miss, though. “The problem with that was overseas bosses and the midnight phone calls; ‘why haven’t you reached your numbers?’, pressure like that. It has always been great working for myself.”

In addition to the strong ties he and his team established with the local sector, Wright became a well-liked and savvy negotiator in the international marketplace. “We used to go to AFM, Cannes and MIFED,” he says of the high profile he enjoyed at the content industry’s coalface. “Cannes mainly because of our involvement with Hopscotch, but it’s a very expensive market to attend, with everyone caught up in the hype of the film festival. Sometimes we’ve gone there and not bought a film. Often the best time to be at those markets are when people are packing up their offices and have movies they want to offload, meaning we could negotiate a reasonable price.”

Driving units into the ultra-competitive rental market never became easy for 21st Century Pictures, whose monthly releases would range from high-brow cinema titles (Kiss or Kill; Mysterious Skin; Leaving Las Vegas [pictured, right]; Source Code) to what the industry kindly calls ‘filler’ (Pterodactyl; Bong of the Dead; Sand Sharks). Wright is pragmatic about the perception of and reception afforded his company. “We never got the recognition of the major film studios, never developed the reputation of Roadshow Home Video, which was obviously the major independent distributor,” he says. “But, month to month, it came down to the product. If you did the numbers and got the (per unit) price you wanted, we did very well, but we were never courted to the extent that the majors were.”

The consolidation of the retail sector into franchise-run buying groups shifted the power from the distributors, who traditionally wielded might based on the commercial strength of their titles. Able to now buy big unit numbers via head office/single price-point agreements, the chains (predominantly Video Ezy, Civic Video, Top Video and, eventually, Blockbuster) had the upper hand. The new paradigm hurt independent operators like 21st Century, who saw their per unit asking price plummet just to ensure multiple units of their titles found shelf space.

“Once the industry got to the point where the business was controlled by the (buying) groups, and you basically had to go to their office every month to get a deal, then, yeah, it was a struggle,” recalls Wright, who handled such negotiations along with stalwart sales managers like Dan Quinn and Martin Gallery after the departure of Robinson, who took an executive position with Roadshow Home Video. “But even then, when you had the product, had a theatrical title that had taken a million bucks at the box office, whether you were Columbia Tri-Star or CIC, you would get the support and get your share of the money. In some cases I reckon we did better with the retailers because we were independent. The ‘Aussie spirit’, and the support afforded smaller operators, did help us at certain times.”

It would be the ending of 21st Century Pictures’ contract with Hopscotch that made Wright realise his operation had reached a fork in the road . “When I knew that the Hopscotch stuff was going, I thought, ‘Well, I won’t buy anymore films but just release direct-to-dvd titles and see what happens.’ They didn’t do very well so I decided that, ok, it’s time to pull up stumps and call it quits.” The DVD retail operations have been absorbed by Melbourne-based Griffin Entertainment and Wright, exhibiting his keen business sense, signed a download deal with Bigpond that extends the life of his catalogue to nearly 7 years; the last film Wright owns under the 21st Century banner has a rights expiration date of 2021. “If I was 20 years younger, I probably would have thought, ‘Ok, what can we do as an alternative to keep us going?’” he says, contemplatively. “But at the age I am, I’m ready to retire. 21st Century Pictures was now 20 years old and I would’ve been in the rental market for nearly 30 years, so it was time to put (my) feet up and have a rest.”

When I ask him to cite the one aspect of 21st Century Pictures of which he is most proud, his trademark rapid-fire response fails him. He is reflective. “I’m most proud of the staff,” he finally says, softly. “The team has always been very good and very supportive. And I’ve no regrets. I’ve enjoyed what we’ve done.”



End-of-year award season buzz kicked into top gear when Australia's leading film and televsion industry body revealed its contenders for the 2013 AACTA's in Sydney.

The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) announced its second annual award nominations at a modest media event at Sydney’s Darling Hotel. The gaudy, glitzy ambience of the nearby Star City Casino was nowhere to be found at the far more refined gathering of journalists and publicists; a smattering of on-screen talent attended, their presence an early indicator as to who would contend for the coveted AACTA trophy at the award ceremony on January 30.

National treasure and AACTA Board Member Sigrid Thornton emceed the announcements (fluffing her tele-prompted lines on more than one occasion) and industry figureheads Damian Trewhella, AACTA CEO, and Alan Finney, AACTA Chairperson (pictured, right), voiced their views on AACTA’s importance and the year in Australian film and television. Nominees were announced by actors Alex Dimitriades and Diana Glenn.

Leading the field of film nominations was Wayne Blair’s box-office hit The Sapphires with 12, including Film, Actress (Deborah Mailman), Actor (Chris O’Dowd), Supporting Actress (Jessica Mauboy), Direction and Adapted Screenplay. Other Best Film nominees are Cate Shortland’s Lore (8 nominations), PJ Hogan’s Mental (8 nominations) and Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Wish You Were Here (8 nominations). Though nobody wept over the omission of Kath & Kimderella and Bait 3D in all categories, there was some head-shaking when lauded works Hail, from Amiel Courtin-Wilson, and Toomelah, from last years’ Byron Kennedy award recipient Ivan Sen, were shut-out; others who found no AACTA love were John Duigan’s Careless Love, Tony Krawitz’s Dead Europe and David Pulbrook’s Last Dance.  

Peter Templeman’s inner-city dramedy Not Suitable For Children earned four nominations, including a Lead Actress nod for Sarah Snook (her second consecutive AACTA acknowledgement after winning last year for the telemovie Sisters of War; pictured, left); other films in the mix include Pauline Chan’s 33 Postcards (2 nominations, including a Best Actor slot for Guy Pearce), Gary McKendry’s Killer Elite (2 nominations) and one-offs for A Few Best Men, Iron Sky, X, Swerve and The King is Dead. The prized Raymond Longford Award, given for an individual’s extraordinary career contribution to the Australian sector, will be presented to producer Al Clark (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Muriel’s Wedding; Chopper) at an event luncheon on January 28.

Film nominations are below; visit the AACTA website for full coverage of all nominees:

BEST COSTUME DESIGN - Burning Man. Lizzy Gardiner; Lore. Stefanie Bieker; Mental. Tim Chappel; The Sapphires. Tess Schofield.

BEST LEAD ACTOR - Joel Edgerton. Wish You Were Here; Matthew Goode. Burning Man; Chris O'Dowd. The Sapphires; Guy Pearce. 33 Postcards.

BEST LEAD ACTRESS - Toni Collette. Mental; Deborah Mailman. The Sapphires; Felicity Price. Wish You Were Here; Sarah Snook. Not Suitable For Children.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Ryan Corr. Not Suitable For Children; Liev Schreiber. Mental; Antony Starr. Wish You Were Here; Gary Waddell. The King Is Dead!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Essie Davis. Burning Man; Rebecca Gibney. Mental; Deborah Mailman. Mental; Jessica Mauboy. The Sapphires.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - Lore. Cate Shortland, Robin Mukherjee; The Sapphires. Keith Thompson, Tony Briggs.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - Burning Man. Garry Phillips ACS; Lore. Adam Arkapaw; The Sapphires. Warwick Thornton; Wish You Were Here. Jules O'Loughlin ACS.

BEST EDITING - Burning Man. Martin Connor; The Sapphires. Dany Cooper ASE; Wish You Were Here. Jason Ballantine ASE; X. Cindy Clarkson.

BEST SOUND - Burning Man. David Lee, Andrew Plain, Gethin Creagh; Lore. Sam Petty, Michael Busch, Robert Mackenzie, Antony Gray, Yulia Akerholt, Brooke Trezise; The Sapphires. Andrew Plain, Bry Jones, Pete Smith, Ben Osmo, John Simpson; Swerve. Pete Smith, John Simpson, Martyn Zub, Des Kenneally.

BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE - 33 Postcards. Antony Partos; A Few Best Men. Guy Gross; Mental. Michael Yezerski; Not Suitable For Children. Matteo Zingales, Jono Ma.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - Burning Man. Steven Jones-Evans APDG; Killer Elite. Michelle McGahey; Lore. Silke Fischer; The Sapphires. Melinda Doring.

BEST FILM - Burning Man. Andy Paterson, Jonathan Teplitzky; Lore. Karsten Stöter, Liz Watts, Paul Welsh, Benny Drechsel; The Sapphires. Rosemary Blight, Kylie du Fresne; Wish You Were Here. Angie Fielder.

BEST DIRECTION - Burning Man. Jonathan Teplitzky; Lore. Cate Shortland; The Sapphires. Wayne Blair; Wish You Were Here. Kieran Darcy-Smith.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - Burning Man. Jonathan Teplitzky; Mental. PJ Hogan; Not Suitable For Children. Michael Lucas; Wish You Were Here. Kieran Darcy-Smith, Felicity Price.



The thriving Eastern Suburbs film community kicks off its local summer season with the 12th annual Bondi Short Film Festival. The event's director, Francis Coady (pictured, below), spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the state of the industry for short filmmakers.

After 12 years, what have you seen change in the shorts that approach the Festival for consideration? Where do 2011 short-filmmakers differ from the ones from over a decade ago? 

In 2012, it is common to see shorts that don’t exactly ‘fit inside the box.’ Today, short-filmmakers are all about pushing the boundaries, showing off their creative ingenuity and expressing their personal voice. With less restraints, I‘d say the film makers in this day in age are definitely more liberated to speak their mind and shake things up a bit.  Also the overall production values of short films have increased dramatically due to reduced costs in production equipment and editing.

How does the iconic Australian setting infuse the Festival?

With Bondi’s surf, sun, sea, and sand, there is no better place for a short film festival. I am a firm believer that the surroundings and scenery of any event can really make an impact to the overall feel and atmosphere of it. So it’s quite hard to not have a good time at the Bondi Short Film Festival because you’ve got the best of both worlds. Fourteen of Australia’s finest short films set to the backdrop of Australia’s most iconic beach (pictured, right, director Brodie Rocca's Julia).

Are the current crop of short-filmmakers making work with a social conscience or are there a lot of gag-films and zombie comedies to wade through?

The work of the current crop of short-filmmakers is definitely geared towards themes of the social conscience. The shorts from this year’s finalists explore real life issues ranging from unhealthy and abnormal relationships, the struggles and pressures of performers and professional athletes to the everyday hardships of society. Some will make you shed a tear and some will make you laugh uncontrollably, but all in all each one will leave you with a new insight into the world around us.

Is there sufficient industry infra-structure and support for the short film sector? Are first time directors finding it harder or easier than when the Festival began?

There is support for young, emerging film makers in Australia through government funding bodies and scholarship programs. However, the majority of films that we screen and have reviewed over the last twelve years have been generated by extremely passionate and enthusiastic individuals or collaborative teams of film makers, who have done it on their own. Some years the major film schools will produce excellent short films and we support them accordingly. (pictured, left, director Christopher Kezelos' The Maker)



Since its inaugural staging in 2007, the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) have taken on immense relevance to the region’s production sectors.

In the 5 years since it launched, over 180 films have been nominated for one of international cinema's more unique trophies (the vision of Queensland glass-artist Joanna Bone). All entrants come from the 70 countries that are deemed to be within the geographical parameters as stated by the governing body, The Asia Pacific Screen Academy (“from Egypt in the west to the Cook Islands in the east, from Russia in the north to New Zealand in the south.”)

The nominees list is judged by a six person jury, this year overseen by Australian producer Jan Chapman and featuring representatives from Georgia, India, The People’s Republic of China, Israel and Turkey. In addition to awards being bestowed upon the winners of nine distinct categories, the FIAPF-International Federation of Film Producers Association Lifetime honour will be given to Japanese composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto (past recipients include directors Dr George Miller, Yash Chopra and Zhang Yimou; actress/producer Christine Hakim; and, executive Isao Matsuoka). APSA Academy president, Australian acting great Jack Thompson, will will welcome guests to the Awards Ceremony, the highpoint of a week of celebration of international cinema, this Friday, November 23 at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane.

SCREEN-SPACE allows you to test your knowledge of international cinema with the list of Best Picture nominees. Can you pick the winner....?

Bumchoiwaui Junjaeng (Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time), Republic of Korea
Produced by Park Shin-kyu and Han Jae-duk, directed by Yoon Jong-bin.
A rags-to-rogues crimer whose finely chiseled portraits of greed, self-preservation and depravity are buttressed by powerhouse perfs.” – Maggie Lee, Variety.

Khers (Bear), Islamic Republic of Iran (pictured, below)
Produced by Javad Norouzbeigi, directed by Khosro Masoumi.
Awarded Best Feature Film at 2012 Shanghai Film Festival.

Orda (The Horde), Russian Federation
Produced by Natalya Gostyushina and Sergei Kravets, directed by Andrei Proshkin.
Awarded Silver George honours for Best Director (Andrei Proshkin) and Best Actress (Roza Hairullina) at the 34th Moscow International Film Festival.


Tepenin Ardi (Beyond the Hill), Turkey/Greece.
Produced by Enis Köstepen, Seyfi Teoman and Emin Alper, directed by Emin Alper.
"Thinking back and thinking over is one of the joys of this little gem of a film, which conceals rewarding depths beneath its placid surface." - Lee Marshal, Screen Daily.


Wu Xia (aka, Dragon), Hong Kong (PRC)/People's Republic of China.
Produced by Peter Ho-sun Chan, Jojo Hui Yuet-chun, directed by Peter Ho-sun Chan.
"Masterfully executed, action-packed and with the winning pairing of Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro, Peter Chan Ho-sun’s Wu Xia promises exhilarating entertainment as a summer blockbuster." - Ho Yi, Taipei Times.



Like the native parrot from which it derives its name, Australia's newest film festival is making a lot of noise.

Having conquered the rural film festival scene with the iconic Dungog Film Festival (DFF) event, ma-and-pa movie mavens Stavros Kazantzidis and Allanah Zisterman have drawn a line in Sydney’s film festival sand with the just-announced program highlights for The Cockatoo Island Film Festival (CIFF), their start-up off-shore event.

At this morning’s media event on the historically significant atoll, the organising committee (which includes DFF dynamo Laura MacDonald and ex-Mardi Gras Film Festival programmer Lex Lindsay) announced that Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix (pictured, right) will kick-off the competitive film strand of the multi-tiered cultural event on October 24. Securing one of the most buzzed-about films of the year is a major coup for a first-year festival and signals to the well-established Sydney Film Festival body that there is a new and determined player in town.

Though the full 100-strong feature film programme will not be revealed until early October, buff’s appetites were further whetted with the news that Tim Burton’s 3-D monochromatic kidspic Frankenweenie will have its Australian premiere at one of 5 digital-screen locations to be erected especially for CIFF. The portmanteau work 7 Days in Havana, featuring short-format contributions from directors as diverse as Laurent Cantet, Julio Medem, Benicio del Toro and Gaspar Noe, will head-up the Festival’s international section. And the hinted-at schedule of late-night genre pics was kick-started by news that the NSW premieres of  Frank Kahlfoun’s Maniac, a remake of William Lustig’s 80’s video-nasty cult item and starring Elijah Wood as the titular stalker, and Justin Dix’s Oz shocker Crawlspace will be central to the event.

Mirroring the community-friendly slant that Kazantzidis and Zisterman (pictured, right, on the new site) have always adopted as part of their Dungog schedule, CIFF will feature all-age, all-day Kidsfest screenings, the Oovie-sponsored Schools Film Project and host the always pertinent SPAA Fringe event, with international guest Larry Cohen (It’s Alive; Q The Winged Serpent) and representatives from Matchbox Pictures, Screen Australia, Screen NSW, Essential Media, BBC Worldwide, Movie Network, ABC TV, SBS, AFTRS, Metro Screen, Pozible and Film Finances in attendance.



A new documentary celebrates some of the great (and, sadly. late) unsung below-the-line heroes of cinema - the character actor.

The passing of Harold Gould left many in Hollywood missing a great friend. His dedication to his craft over five decades provided memorable moments in films as diverse as George Roy Hill’s The Sting (pictured, above), Woody Allen’s Love and Death, Billy Wilder’s The Front Page and Mark Waters’ Freaky Friday.

But there were no mountains of flowers left outside his Californian home to mourn his passing at age 86 on September 11, 2010. Gould was afforded the same quiet industry respect in his passing as he was granted professionally; utterly reliant upon his integrity, professionalism and ability to enhance the glow of the movie’s star, Hollywood remembered him fondly, registered his passing with sadness, and moved on.

Harold Gould was a character actor. If a steady stream of work was the payoff for the successful support player, anonymity was the curse. The American film industry has lost a great many of its supporting cast in recent times. Though their names will register with only a few of you, their performances have enlivened many films you’ve undoubtedly seen – James Gammon (A Man Called Horse; Silverado; Major League; pictured, right); Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers; The Misfits; Kansas City Bomber; Inner Space); Dan Resin (The Happy Hooker; Caddyshack; The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover); Richard Lynch (Bad Dreams; Invasion USA); Glenn Shadix (Beetlejuice; Heathers); Maury Chaykin (Wargames; Dances With Wolves) Carl Gordon (Gordon’s War; The Brother From Another Planet); and, Gloria Stuart, who was groomed for stardom (The Invisible Man, 1933) but ultimately made a living in support roles, culminating in her Oscar-nominated role in Titanic.

The character actor may finally get some long-overdue recognition thanks to producer Dea Lawrence who, with her filmmaking partner Saratoga Ballantine (pictured, right), has produced Troupers, a lovingly crafted documentary that profiles some of Hollywood’s greatest character actors. Ballantine is the daughter of character greats Carl Ballantine and Ceil Cabot and Lawrence is married to character actor Michael Zelniker, so the making of the film proved to be particularly emotional (both Gould and Ballantine passed away before they could see the finished film).

“One of the defining traits of a great character actor is that they truly love the craft of acting and their driving force is that love. Not, in the words of Harold Gould, ‘to make a pile of money and sit by the pool all day’,” says Lawrence, who premiered the film at a special screening for the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles. “A great character actor tends to be a person of depth and intelligence who is constantly improving his craft and keeps learning no matter his age or level of experience and knows how to put his ego to the side to make way for the star.”

The documentary follows some of the great characters in Hollywood film history, all of whom were over 80 years of age when interviewed for the film.  In addition to Gould and Ballantine, the ‘troupers’ include Ivy Bethune (92 years old), Kaye Ballard (85), Pat Carroll (83), the late Betty Garrett (91; pictured, right), Marvin Kaplan (83), Jane Kean (86), Bruce Kirby (82), Allan Rich (84), and Connie Sawyer (96). “The troupers profiled in our documentary survived constant rejection, debt, divorces, health issues, deaths of spouses and children, bad agents, insensitive casting directors, pilots that didn’t get picked up and of course, critics,” says Lawrence. “Both Allan Rich and Ivy Bethune were blacklisted along with Betty Garrett’s husband, Larry Parks.”

“Connie Sawyer said that she was never afraid to take B if she couldn’t get A. All of them would act wherever they could as much as they could and are not overly concerned with their appearance. So when looks faded, they did not,” says the filmmaker, with a deep and obvious respect for her subjects. “The business has changed so much since these actors first got into the profession, however it is inspiring to see how these people are still able to find work for themselves. Speaking with these talented pros was refreshing, inspiring and gave us hope that you can still pursue your dreams at any age, regardless of the situation or the town.”

The Australian acting community has produced some of the greatest characters ever seen onscreen. Though they never achieved the international fame that the Rod Taylor’s, Nicole Kidman’s or Mel Gibson’s would ultimately enjoy, there is plenty of nationalistic love for the likes of Michael Pate (40,000 Horsemen; Mad Dog Morgan; Death of a Soldier); Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell (Kangaroo; Smiley; Breaker Morant; The Castle); Ray Barrett (Touch of Death; Don’s Party; Goodbye Paradise; In The Winter Dark); Bill Kerr (Gallipoli; Razorback); John Meillon (The Sundowners; They’re a Weird Mob; Wake in Fright; The Picture Show Man; Crocodile Dundee) and Bill Hunter (Backroads; Newsfront; Gallipoli; Strictly Ballroom; The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert; Muriel’s Wedding; Australia; pictured, below, with Kerr and co-stars Mark Lee and Robert Grubb at a 2005 cast reunion for Gallipoli).

Other notable names that have swelled the character actor ranks Down Under include Tony Barry, Arthur Dignam, Ray Meagher, Alan Cassell, David Field and Terry Norris; actresses who have established long, esteemed careers as character players include Julia Blake, Monica Maughan, Robyn Nevin, Patricia Kennedy, Linda Cropper, Lynette Curran, Beverly Dunn, Jeannie Drynan, Penne Hackforth-Jones and Lois Ramsay.  

The backbone of every nation that prides itself on its cinematic pedigree was formed on the very strength of tradition that the character actor carries with them. The cinema of Japan has been shaped by hard-working actors such as Terajima Susumu, Ren Osugi, Tomorowo Taguchi and Renji Ishibashi, who continue the tradition of such character actor legends as the late Mako (The Sand Pebbles; Conan the Barbarian; Memoirs of a Geisha; pictured, left) and Sasano Takashi (Mahjong Horoki; Departures). Indian cinema has the likes of Mohan Makhijani, Sharman Joshi, Amrish Puri, Kader Khan and the late Kamal Kapoor. European film culture offered richly-talented support players such as Austrians Leon Askin and Otto Waldis, Frenchmen Phillipe Noiret and German Bruno Ganz, amongst many, many others.

One of Hollywood’s most recognizable character actors is Stephen Tobolowsky (insurance salesman ‘Ned Ryerson’ in Groundhog Day). When not filling memorable support slots in movies such as The Philadelphia Experiment, The Time-Travellers Wife, Memento and Basic Instinct, Tobolowsky is one of Hollywood’s most prolific bloggers and presenter of The Tobolowsky Files podcast. Writing on what it means to be a character actor in a celebrated op-ed piece for The New York Times, he described his resume as one of “parts that didn’t have names” and of the quizzical expression that often greets him that he refers to as the “You are either someone in show business or my former chiropractor” look. After three decades being in the shadow of the lead, he was resigned to the fact that “the very best character actors are made of equal parts discipline and madness, and the fact that our faces are more familiar than our names is not our curse, but our blessing”.



One glimpse at the source material and many naysayers would have pegged 20th Century Fox’s box-office disaster as a tough sell from day one. The savvy production brass at Murdoch’s empire once viewed the property as a prestige title; the finished product would emerge as something else entirely.

The Big Year, creeping into Australian video stores this week having bypassed a theatrical release, is adapted from the cult book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik. The 2005 non-fiction work is one man’s account of the year he spent in one of the most fiercely competitive pastimes in the world – bird-watching. It is a chronicle of the passion that drives many and varied enthusiasts to commit 365 straight days of their lives to recording as many unique bird sightings as possible.

A bestseller is a bestseller in the world of potential film properties and 20th Century Fox weren’t going to let a recognisable brand with a built-in audience slip by even if the subject matter seemed, well, a bit abstract. The studio brought Obmascik onboard so as his unique spin on character and understanding of the birding obsession could be utilised by Hollywood comedy veteran Howard Franklin to turn the flavoursome book into a marketable three-act movie. Franklin was a respected writer and occasional director, notable for having worked with Bill Murray on Quick Change and Larger Than Life (two of the actor’s biggest box-office duds)

The finished script, crafted into a warm-hearted story featuring three distinctly different comedic leads each going after a record number of sightings, was generating buzz. Director David Frankel was basking in the glory of 2006s word-of-mouth hit, The Devil Wears Prada, when the script came his way. “I fell in love with the characters and the opportunity to tell a story in a world that was really unusual, and that's one of the things I look for,” the director told "...Prada was in the world of fashion, and (bird-watching) just seemed like this cool other world with equally passionate and obsessive characters.” He and Franklin made some adjustments, before the director committed to Marley & Me, but producers Stuart Cornfeld and Curtis Hanson kept at Frankel; by May 2010, Fox 2000 had okayed a hefty budget to cover the extensive outdoor shoot and production would begin (pictured, above - Frankel on-set with Martin and Black).

On the page, the film was full of rich, character-driven comedy potential and quality actors gravitated towards it (at different junctures, Steve Carell and Dustin Hoffman both showed interest). Also, the opportunity to work with a director who was quickly developing a Midas-like reputation was enticing. Jack Black was looking for a small-scale project after the FX-heavy Gulliver’s Travels and was cast as obsessed wannabe Brad; Steve Martin, in favour after his stellar hosting of that years Oscarcast, responded to the melancholy inherent to the ageing birdy Stu Priessler (a character who closely resembles ‘Neal Page’ in the much-loved Planes Trains and Automobiles). Owen Wilson had become the go-to guy at Fox for any lead material, having added his name and voice to a series of in-house hits (Marley & Me; The Fantastic Mr Fox; Night at the Museum 1 & 2; Marmaduke). "David was the reason we all signed on to do the movie," says Wilson in the film’s press notes. "We got swept up in his enthusiasm for the project. He explained it in a way that resonated with us -- the idea of people striving to do something with their lives; something that really makes a difference to them." The top-tier support cast included Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest, Brian Dennehy, Jim Parsons, Joel McHale, Jobeth Williams, Kevin Pollak, Tim Blake Nelson and Rashida Jones (both pictured, below, with Black).

The extensive shoot (California, Georgia and several remote sites in Canada) was not an easy one, especially for a director whose previous work had been in the film-production centres of New York and Los Angeles. The budget climbed to over US$41million, but the distant locations kept Fox executives at bay and the pedigree of the stars and track-record of the director allowed the film’s producers to ease the concerns of Murdoch’s minions.

Early indicators that the film was in some post-production trouble was when Fox shifted the film from a highly-competitive July 4 release date to the wilds of mid-October. Worse yet, the avid bird-watchers of North America were growing increasingly peeved at Fox for apparently pulling support for the film; the natural heritage website 10,000 Birds ran a scathing piece called ‘Birdersploitation’. Questions arose amongst enthusiasts as to the accuracy of several bird calls used in the film – an unforgivable error amongst full-time bird-watchers.

By the time The Big Year hit cinemas, it was already cinema non-grata amongst Fox executives. Meagre preview screenings to capital city critics had resulted in lukewarm reviews (it ranks a 39% on Rotten Tomatoes). Promotion was non-existence, ensuring none of the demographics that the three leads appeal to (Black’s goofball under-25 crowd; Wilson’s 35+-ers; Martin’s over 50’s) would be convinced their favourite stars could make a bird-watching film...watchable. The film’s ultimate humiliation was that, on a cost-vs-return basis, its international box office take of US$7.5million may make it 2011’s biggest money-loser.