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Entries in Australian Film (13)

Tuesday
Jul242018

MAD MAX FURY ROAD BEST OF OZ CINEMA’S NEW CENTURY CELLULOID, SAY LOCAL CRIX

Blockbuster dystopian fantasy Mad Max Fury Road, Dr George Miller’s explosive fourth instalment of Australia’s only homegrown action franchise, has topped a survey amongst local critics to find the best Oz movie of the new millennium. The poll, the largest ever of its kind to be undertaken, was initiated by leading Australian film website Flicks.com.au.

“We wanted to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of Australian filmmakers," says Flicks.com.au  publisher Paul Scantlebury. “This poll recognizes some incredible work and reveals interesting things. Half of the ten highest-rated films were directed by first-time filmmakers. And two filmmakers had more than one film in the top 25; Warwick Thornton with Samson & Delilah and Sweet Country, and Rolf de Heer with Ten Canoes and The Tracker."

Having finally hit screens in 2015 after a troubled and extended production history, Mad Max Fury Road took the local box office by storm, earning A$20million, ahead of sweeping the local AACTA Award ceremony (it won 8) and figuring heavily at the Oscars (it won 6). Charged with summing up why Miller’s opus took top honours, Melbourne-based critic Craig Matheson wrote, ““It’s 2,000 horsepower of nitro-based war machine,” a character says of their ride, but they could as easily be describing this magisterial movie.”

David Michod’s Oscar-nominated 2010 crime thriller Animal Kingdom (pictured, right) took second place, with Warwick Thornton’s doomed love-story Samson and Delilah from 2009 in third spot. In descending order, the ten best comprised Andrew Dominik’s Chopper (2000), Ray Lawrence’s Lantana (2001), Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014), John Hillcoat’s The Proposition (2005), Thornton’s western riff Sweet Country (2017), Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown (2011) and Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road (2011).

Just outside the Best Ten were Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001, pictured, left), Rolf de Heer’s Ten Canoes (2006), Sarah Watts’ Look Both Ways (2005), Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Hail (2011) and Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker (2015).

Online, broadcast and print sector film industry commentators, comprising 26 men and 25 women, were approached to list their Top 10 Australian movies released since January 1, 2000; any feature length film was eligible, including documentaries (Jen Peedom’s Sherpa, from 2015, hit #21) and animation (Adam Elliott’s Mary and Max, from 2009, was #22). Those who weighed in include such high-profile critics as David Stratton, Margaret Pomeranz, The Gaurdian’s Luke Buckmaster (also attached to Flicks), Fairfax Media’s Sandra Hall and Jake Wilson, and ABC Radio’s Jason Di Rosso. Screen-Space Managing Editor Simon Foster was also among those asked to contribute.

Friday
Apr202018

CAMERAS ROLL ON JUDY AND PUNCH SHOOT

Mirrah Foulkes has commenced production of her feature directorial debut, Judy and Punch. Working from her own script and with the backing of VICE Studios and Seaside Productions, Foulkes will guide her leads Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman through a contemporary, often violent reinterpretation of the 16th century marionette play, ‘ Punch and Judy’.

In Foulkes’ very adult reworking of the evergreen children’s story, puppeteers Judy and husband Punch live in the peculiar, unforgiving town of Seaside, where they stage their shows as a means to ultimately escape their small town life. The charismatic Punch reveals an increasingly violent personality, his actions propelling the narrative into dark thematic territory. In a denouement that speaks directly to the current #MeToo movement and climate for gender equality, Judy teams up with a band of outcast heretics to enact revenge on him and the entire town of Seaside.

A string of well-received short films earned Foulkes (pictured, right) the opportunity to helm her first feature. Her 2012 short, ‘Dumpy Goes to The Big Smoke’ earned the prized Rouben Mamoulian Award at the 2012 Sydney Film Festival and won her Best Director honours at the internationally recognized Flickerfest Film Festival. Her 2015 film ‘Florence Has Left The Building’ won Best Short Fiction honours at the AACTA Awards; in 2016, her third short ‘Trespass’ took out the Best Australian Short Film trophy at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Prior to life behind the camera, Foulkes amassed a stellar list of acting credits in both film and television, including Jody Dwyer’s Dying Breed (2008), David Michod’s Animal Kingdom (2010) and Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty (2011).

Having made her feature film debut in 2006 in Paul Goldman’s Suburban Mayhem, Mia Wasikowska has established her A-list credentials in blockbusters such as Alice in Wonderland (2010), its sequel Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016), and Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak (2015). The in-demand actress has worked alongside such filmmakers as Edward Zwick (Defiance, 2008), Mira Nair (Amelia, 2009), Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right, 2010), John Hillcoat (Lawless, 2012), Chan-wook Park (Stoker, 2013), Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive, 2013), John Curran (Tracks, 2013) and David Cronenberg (Maps to The Stars, 2014). Her latest film, Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing, will have its Australian premiere at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival in June.

Damon Herriman arrives in Victoria on the wave of career momentum, with projects in various stages of production both at home and in the U.S. An acting veteran whose first credit was at age 6 in the iconic TV series The Sullivans, Herriman is currently one of Hollywood’s most sought-after character players, with roles in several TV series, including the highly-touted FX project Mr Inbetween (with Edgerton, pictured left, at the helm). His last Australian feature was Abe Forsyth’s racially-charged black comedy, Down Under (2016); he recently wrapped on The Nightingale, director Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to her cult hit, The Babadook.

Judy and Punch will shoot in various locations around Melbourne, Victoria, overseen by producers Michelle Bennett (Chopper, 2000; The Magician, 2005; Drift, 2013), Nash Edgerton (director of The Square, 2008, and Gringo, 2018) and VICE Studios Danny Gabai (The Bad Batch, 2016; The Beach Bum, 2018). In addition to VICE and Seaside, backing was sourced via Screen Australia in conjunction with Screen Victoria and Create NSW. Madman Entertainment are distributing in Australia and New Zealand, with Cornerstone Films spruiking international.

Monday
Dec182017

VALE CHRIS MURRAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday
Dec062017

IN PROFILE: 2017 AACTA HONOREE PHILLIP NOYCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

Monday
Oct302017

LION IS PRIDE OF LOCAL INDUSTRY WITH 12 AACTA NOMS.

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

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

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

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

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

The full list of nominees are:          

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday
Sep022017

R.I.P. ALAN CASSELL

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday
May202017

OZ SHOOT CONTINUES AS CANNES BUYERS EYE FIRST IMAGES.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday
Apr162017

SUNTANNED CINEPHILES SET TO FEAST ON GOLD COAST FILM FEST.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday
Dec282015

THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART 2: AUSTRALIAN CINEMA IN 2015.

During the recent AACTA Awards film sector backslap, the message was loud and clear. “Australian cinema has been reborn!” the presenters continually reassured us, stressing that 2015 was a great year for local content. Homegrown movies earned AU$84million at the domestic box office, 7.7% of total takings; those figures represent the highest gross receipts ever for Oz films in a calendar year and the best market share since 2001. 

But breaking down the statistics reveals some devil in the details. Which Aussie pics wooed local audiences back to the ticket counter? What trends emerged amongst the hits (and misses, of which there were plenty)? And is Australian cinema on the cusp of a new ‘New Wave’, or has the tide already turned? SCREEN-SPACE ponders 'The Year in Australian Film'…

“YA WANNA GET OUTTA HERE, YA TALK TO ME…”
It was a long time coming, and took a very bumpy path to get to its audience, but Dr George Miller’s operatic action extravaganza Mad Max Fury Road was exactly the guzzoline needed to fuel the 2015 box office engine. It wasn’t the singular driving force that blew out the figures, like Moulin Rouge in 2001 or Babe in 1995 or Crocodile Dundee in 1985; in fact, some might counter that our iconic action hero’s return did not carry its weight at the box office, given it was only the 13th biggest hit of the year with takings sputtering out at AU$22million (beaten by the likes of 50 Shades of Grey, Cinderella and Pitch Perfect 2). But it was unarguably ‘event cinema’ of the highest order, the blockbuster ‘Aussie’ film the likes of which rarely emerge from the Antipodes. (Pictured, right; Charlize Theron as Furiosa)

SYDNEY OR THE BUSH?
The anachronistic ‘rural essence’ of this nation’s DNA is still a crucial and compelling component of our storytelling. Jocelyn Moorhouse’s raucous outback oddity The Dressmaker was the second biggest locally made hit, weaving AU$19million; Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, the WW1-set drama The Water Diviner took the bulk of its AU$17million this year after a Boxing Day 2014 debut; and, Jeremy Sims’ red-centre road-trip tearjerker Last Cab to Darwin earned a solid AU$7million and a Best Actor AACTA for local hero Michael Caton. Traditional Australian iconography and a sense of warm larrikinism were central to these works. What didn’t work were the contemporary narratives. Neil Armfield’s critically-lauded Holding the Man (AU$1million) and Dean Francis’ challenging odyssey Drown (figures n/a) failed to break out of their niche demographic. Brendan Cowell’s Sydney Film Festival opener Ruben Guthrie (AU$300k; pictured, top), Peter Andrikidis’ multicultural romance Alex & Eve (AU$390k), comedian Carl Barron’s self-penned vehicle Manny Lewis (AU$390k), Anupam Sharma’s Bollywood-themed rom-com UNindian (AU$100k) and Wayne Hope’s Melbourne-set misfire Now Add Honey (AU$87k) all bombed. On the upside, Damon Gameau’s new-agey diet doco That Sugar Film worked hard for its AU$1million, a respectful return on investment.

“WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!”
Local producers have occasionally been guilty of neglecting the commercial and cultural potential of all-age films; everyone seems surprised when they hit big. Consider the sector without the likes of Storm Boy (1976), Fatty Finn (1980), The Man From Snowy River (1982), BMX Bandits (1983), Napoleon (1994), Babe (1995), The Wiggles Movie (1997), Hating Alison Ashley (2005), Happy Feet (2006), Red Dog (2011) and The Rocket (2013). Behind the angry road warrior and the snooty seamstress, family films carried the local industry in 2015. Oz production giant Village Roadshow brought all their marketing might to two kid-friendly hits – Stuart McDonald’s country-bumkin puppy-dog tale Oddball (AU$11million; pictured, right) and Robert Connolly’s rousing family drama Paper Planes (AU$10million) defined and maximised their audience with precision. The local arm of Studio Canal invested in Deane Taylor’s contemporary take on Blinky Bill (securing such voice talents as Toni Collette, David Wenham and Barry Humphries) and recouped a healthy AU$2.7million. In 2016, the ‘Aussie teen’ genre will be re-energised by Rosemary Myer’s wonderful Girl Asleep, which warmed hearts at this years’ Adelaide Film Festival.

"WHEN YOU WISH, UPON A STAR"
While the might of the ‘A-list movie star’ continues to wan at the global box office, Australian audiences seem to respond to big name talent in their little Aussie stories. Kate Winslet’s presence in The Dressmaker was a key selling point, earning the film not only acceptance at the local ticket counter but helping to secure the PJ Hogan-produced film a Toronto world premiere. Crowe’s presence both behind and before the camera paid dividends for The Water Diviner, in addition to his uncharacteristic openness with the press and the photogenic charms of Ukrainian co-star Olga Kurylenko. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron didn’t hurt Mad Max: Fury Road, though the ‘star’ was ultimately the chaotic artistry of Miller’s visuals. The exception that proves this rule is our own Nicole Kidman; her brave lead turn in Kim Farrant’s dusty ‘Twin Peaks’ wannabe Strangerland (to date, a global take is AU$24k) was all but ignored, while her latest US effort, Billy Ray’s Secret in Their Eyes, stumbled to AU$1.5million locally (despite the presence of co-stars Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor).

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR...
None of these films contributed more than loose change to the year’s box-office haul, but each one signals a new breed of commercially-oriented young filmmaker is on the verge of breaking through. Had the scourge of piracy not eaten away at it’s theatrical potential, Kiah Roache-Turner’s Wyrmwood would have certainly expanded upon its meagre AU$133k gross. Everyone of the following should earn its keep, via either the developing self-distribution theatrical model (see Fan-Force or Tugg) or as a 2016 home entertainment hit – Joe Bauer’s hilarious sci-fi/comedy Australiens (pictured, right); Rhiannon Bannenburg’s polished chamber piece, Ambrosia; Sam Curtain’s ruthlessly corpulent Blood Hunt; the unforgettably twisted Cat Sick Blues, from Dave Jackson (you’ve been warned); Deadhouse Film’s anthology A Night of Horror Volume 1; Shane Abbess’ handsomely mounted outer-space thriller, Infini; Jesse O’Brien’s bracing and brilliant sci-fi vision, Arrowhead; and, the off-kilter, heart-warming doco Sam Klemke’s Time Machine, from Matthew Bate.

Read The Year in Review, Part 1: The Ten Best Festival Sessions of 2015 here.
Read The Year in Review, Part 3: Our Ten Favourite Films of 2015 here.
 

(All figures courtesy of Box Office Mojo; conversion rates as of 28/12).

Friday
Nov272015

DOWN UNDER DOLLAR HELPS SECURE SCOTT'S ALIEN EPIC

After a full first day of location scouting, Sir Ridley Scott fronted the Sydney press corps to discuss his blockbuster Prometheus sequel, Alien: Covenant, which begins a 16 week shoot in April, 2016.

“I discovered I get on with Aussies,” joked the legendary British filmmaker, the grand façade of the old Manufacturers Hall hiding the early pre-production activity within. “I’ve worked with one of the toughest ones there is five times, a Mr Crowe, and we are now friends. We weren’t always friends, but now we are friends. I think I’m going to enjoy Sydney.”

Joining the director was The Honourable Julie Bishop, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs (pictured, right), who acknowledged that incentives were being re-evaluated in order to attract studio productions to Australia. “I know that film industries, both here and abroad, have been lobbying consecutive governments for a very long time to make our tax arrangements more competitive and attractive,” she said. “Other countries had increased their location off-set to around 30%, so we matched that, and immediately drew a response from 20th Century Fox and the Alien production team, as well Disney and Marvel studios for the Thor series.” Flanked by NSW Minister for the Arts Troy Grant and Federal Minister for Industry, Resource and Energy, Anthony Roberts, Ms Bishop revealed that, “within the context of the next budget, any permanent changes to be made to the location off-set [will be considered].”

Alien: Covenant represents estimated revenue for the state of US$61million, with approximately 600 jobs to be generated. Having lost out during the bidding to secure Scott’s last film, The Martian, Ms Bishop stated with some circumspection, “The opportunity to have a film of [this] stature, to be filmed by a director of Sir Ridley’s standing, is one not to be missed.”

A savvy businessman, Sir Ridley Scott recounted a time when his native industry suffered due to a lack of concessions for large-scale productions. “I used to own Shepparton Studios in a pre-tax rebate U.K. film industry. Twenty-two stages over twenty-two acres; it’s where I shot Alien, and I wanted to put back into the industry,” he recalled. “Our biggest problem was that when a big film moved out, we had no return business because we had no rebate. So I sold it. Then, God damn, four years later the rebate happened and today, you can’t get into Shepparton or Pinewood or Leavesden. When you combine the frequency of production with the talent and infrastructure already in place, everything gets better.” (Pictured, left; Scott directing Veronica Cartright and Sigourney Weaver in Alien).

When questions turned to the scale of the production, Scott hinted that his narrative would drill down into the epic history of the alien life cycle. “It’s a very complex story,” he said. “Prometheus 1 was born out of my frustration that of the three sequels that followed my 1979 film, Alien, no one posed the question, ‘Who made the alien and why?’ Alien: Covenant further develops that evolution. When this film finishes, there will be another one then another one, which will drive into the back end of the 1979 film, explaining why the ‘space jockey’ was there and why did he have the alien inside of him.”

Prometheus leading man Michael Fassbender (pictured, right) will arrive in Australia in mid-March to reprise the role of android David. Scott revealed that the actor will play, “a doppelganger, so you’ll have two Michaels,” and that Noomi Rapace, as Shaw, will make a brief re-appearance. Other casting is still in contract phase, but the director confirmed that Australian actors will feature. “I would always look to do that,” he said, “It’s a very natural thing to do.”

The windfall for the local industry will be immense over several years, the level of production on a scale not seen since the heady days when the region hosted The Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy, Bryan Singer’s Superman Lives and Rob Cohen’s Stealth in quick succession. Scott confirmed that, should the shoot proceed with relative ease, all three planned instalments will shoot in Oz. “That’s the whole point,” he said. “We will be employing up to 600 personnel, all Australian, and all representative of a highly-skilled labour force.”