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Entries in Australian Film (17)

Wednesday
Feb062019

AUSTRALIAN FILMS UNITED AT 2019 MANCHESTER FILM FESTIVAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

The short film roster includes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday
Jan192019

TEEN SCREEN TALENT SHINES AT 2019 NEXTWAVE AWARDS NIGHT 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday
Jan012019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday
Nov292018

SIX AUSTRALIAN FILMS ANNOUNCED IN SUNDANCE 2019 ROSTER

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


WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

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

PREMIERES

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

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

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

MIDNIGHT

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

SPOTLIGHT

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

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.