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Entries in Documentary (47)

Tuesday
Oct152019

IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS

Featuring: Cassandra Peterson, John Carpenter, Heather Langenkamp, Keith David, Bill Moseley, Jeffery Coombs, Caroline Williams, Barbara Crampton, Alex Winter, Kane Hodder, Katie Featherston, Diana Prince, Nick Castle, Joe Dante, Kelli Maroney, Tom Holland, Greg Nicotero, Tom Atkins, Doug Bradley, Mick Garris, Stuart Gordon, Don Mancini, Sean S. Cunningham, James A. Janisse and Larry Cohen.
Writer/Director: David A. Weiner

Reviewed on Sunday October 13 at the Australian Premiere at Cinema Nova as part of Fangoria x Monster Fest 2019 | Melbourne.

Rating: ★ ★ ★

The daunting four-hour fan-doc In Search of Darkness plays more like an introduction to the era when horror ruled than an academic deep-dive into the VHS vaults of yesteryear some may have hoped for. Director David A. Weiner’s epic effort is the factual film equivalent of a non-stop tour-bus ride, hurtling past monuments of the genre’s 80s heyday (“Look everyone! The Howling! And over there, Childs Play”), with many worthy of mention getting lost along the way.  

The mixed bag of contributors include period-appropriate talking heads, recalling their biggest hits; the gorehound minds behind Fangoria, Cinemassacre, et al; and, (mostly) irony-free millennial types who oversee horror sites, fanzines and podcasts. For the hardcore fans who can rattle off their favourite Freddy kills or Vorhees eviscerations, the collective banter and steady stream of clips will be fun but a tad too familiar; those just beginning their love affair with the likes of Brian Yuzna, Sean S. Cunningham and Stuart Gordon will likely derive the most joy.

The first in the director’s planned series of ‘In Search of…’ retrospectives (next, an ‘action heroes’ reverse-angle), …Darkness works through the 1980s year-by-year, with the occasional detour into subsets that touch on such defining influences as Reaganomics, the home-video boom, the MTV/HBO influence and AIDS. Also spotlighted are such genre trends as 3D gimmickry, ‘holiday horror’ and the effects industry coming-of-age.

Each ‘year’ offers up a grab bag of title profiles, and Wiener brings some freshness to his analysis of true cult items such as Basket Case, Night of The Comet, Chopping Mall and My Bloody Valentine. But he spends a big chunk of the 260 minutes going over inferior sequels, the Stephen King oeuvre and works already microscoped ad infinitum (we love Gremlins, of course, but even Joe Dante must be struggling for new angles to explore).

Wiener has worn many caps as a player in the LA scene, notably as the executive editor of the iconic Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Clearly the role afforded him contact with many of the great personalities of 80s horror, so it comes as somewhat of a letdown that his roster of on-screen talent are such always-up-for-a-chat types as Mick Garris, Kane Hodder, Cassandra Peterson, Lloyd Kaufman, Bill Moseley and commentator Joe Bob Briggs. Each is always a compelling orator, but they have all orated a lot in recent years; when Mark Hartley reinvigorated the retro-doc format a decade ago with the inside-Ozploitation classic Not Quite Hollywood, the podcast wave had yet to mine and re-mine the quality talent pool.  

There are certainly highlights and insights – acknowledgement of the turning point for the genre that Kubrick’s The Shining represented; a cranky John Carpenter relating how he lost the Firestarter gig; a delightful Barbara Crampton recalling that moment from Re-Animator; BTS-giants Mark Shostrom (make-up on Evil Dead II and ...Elm Street’s 2 & 3) and Graham Humphreys (legendary poster artist); and, the final filmed interviews with late genre greats Tom Atkins and Larry Cohen. But Wiener might have cast a wider net, or eased up on fringe horror names like Alex Winter (a bit player in The Lost Boys) or 90s name Katie Featherston (Paranormal Activity).

That said, it was a blast to see the films that brought many teenage years into sharp focus getting fresh dues up on the big-screen. Once, B-movie gems like Pumpkinhead or From Beyond or Hellbound: Hellraiser II would have faded away. Like many of the films he profiles, perhaps Weiner’s mammoth undertaking will reveal its true worth in years to come, when 80s horror will need to be re-introduced to new generations. Despite its flaws, it is the work of a true fan, geared towards the like-minded. 

Friday
Aug162019

MORGANA

Stars: Morgana Muses, Petra Joy, John Oh, Anna Brownfield, Judith Lucy and Candida Royale.
Directors: Josie Hess and Isabel Pappard

WORLD PREMIERE: Melbourne International Film Festival, Friday August 16 at The Capitol Theatre.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

The emergence of a vibrant, creative free spirit from the constraints of societal expectation is captured with genuine affection in Morgana, co-directors Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard’s expansive yet deeply personal account of one woman’s coming-of-middle-age journey. Charting a course from the depths of despair to artistic and emotional fulfilment then back again, this frank, often funny and very moving portrait piece is an engaging crowd-pleaser, particularly for those who adhere to the sex-positive beliefs of their protagonist.

Having grown up in the harsh climes of Coober Pedy, Morgana Muses bought into the ‘suburban ideal’ of her mother’s longings and was soon constructing her own middle-class façade. Having married well and embraced motherhood, she soon found herself sadly unfulfilled in a union devoid of warmth; the dissolution of her marriage and subsequent disconnection from friends and family led to thoughts of self-harm. These moments are thoughtfully reconstructed through a ‘little boxes’ motif, in which Morgana is captured peering longingly through the windows of a grey suburban landscape.

The turning point came as Morgana’s life force was at its lowest ebb; a ‘last hurrah’ sexual experience awakened in her a hunger to explore the boundaries of what she always believed were acceptable sexual practices. With her old life fading fast, Morgana Muses reinvents herself as a feminist porn actress-filmmaker, her debut film Duty-Bound becoming an award-winning global hit that takes her from suburban Melbourne to the BDSM mecca, Berlin.

Via her friendship, co-director Hess (who features at key moments in her own doco) is afforded rare access into Morgana’s highs and lows over a period of several years; the 70-minute feature began life as a short, morphing into a frank and confronting study of mental health and its impact upon the creative process. Hess and Peppard, one of the local industry’s most respected animators and horror sector artists, are clearly advocates for the practice of ethical pornography and strong feminist ideals, but these themes, while central, never overshadow the universal humanity at the core of Morgana’s narrative.

Most importantly, the woman herself proves a complex, fearless frontwoman for her own story. Muses bares all, yet it is her physical openness which ultimately proves the least shocking of her revelations; the self-reflection and psychological torment she is willing to expose for the documentarian’s lens is first-person storytelling at its bravest. Audience empathy is so engaged that, by the time the ‘cherry-on-top’ moment happens deep in the third act, the intimacy required to fully accept every inch of Morgana Muses is comfortably in place. So sex positive and emotionally resonant is her factual film journey, everything about the body and soul baring of Morgana Muses feels convincingly empowering and wonderfully real.

Morgana Documentary - 'First Look' Teaser #2 from House of Gary on Vimeo.

Friday
Aug162019

FROM SHOCK TO AWE

Featuring: Matt Kahl, Mike Cooley, Aimee Stahl and Brooke Cooley.
Directors: Luc Côté.
Content Producer: Janine Sagert.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

The heartbreaking journey through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that many veterans undertake upon their return from combat zones rarely ends on the kind of high note that director Luc Côté offers in From Shock to Awe. As detailed in this alternative-treatment advocacy documentary, more US ex-servicemen and women have died by their own hands back home than on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Returning to feature-length factual filmmaking for the first time since 2010’s Four Days Inside Guatanamo, Côté’s latest offers both insight and answers into a different aspect of military life. The struggle to live with PTSD, to deal with horrific memories and the unfamiliarity of a life that was once familiar, has torn apart generations of soldiers. The production presents this hardship through two struggling heroes - Matt Kahl, an Afghanistan vet having served in the 101st Airborne from 2007-2011; and, MP Mike Cooley (pictured, top), deployed once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq.

The first act punches hard in its depiction of the wide-reaching impact of PTSD. These are broken men, their families and communities alien to them. Côté uses both real-time and archive footage to show the shells of their former selves that Kahl and Cooley have become. The ability of respective wives Aimee Kahl and Brooke Cooley (herself a returned veteran with trauma issues) to deal with the psychological disintegration of their husbands for nearing breaking point.

The production follows the men to a wooded retreat, where they endeavor to purge their psyches of despair by injesting the psychoactive brew Ayahuasca. A banned substance in the US, it combines the Banisteriopsis caapi vine with plants containing the compound DMT (dimethyltriptamine) to produce a powerful visionary and healing experience. (Pictured, below; Matt and Aimee Kahl)

Scenes of the men under the influence of Ayahuasca are truly revelatory, their emotional and spiritual healing unfolding in real time for Côté’s lens (and, no, there are no Yellow Submarine-style sequences to overstate the experience). Even more remarkable is the footage of the men several months after the Ayahuasca session. They are transformed, their healing allowing for human connection, ambition and clarity of emotion.

Of course, the treatment makes them criminals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) refuses to legalize psychotropic drugs for treatment of PTSD in any form. From Shock to Awe allows the recuperative experiences of the men do the hard selling of the film’s message, but the message is clear – soldiers are dying at home and non-traditional treatment can ease the nation’s pain, but bureaucratic governance remains immoveable.

The newfound positivity in the lives of the two men in the wake of the Ayahuasca treatment (and, for Brooke Cooley, therapy under the influence of the similarly-blacklisted MDMA drug) wraps up their story in what could be the feel good film denouement of the year. But the sadness that now haunts them is that so many of their combat brothers and sisters (many of them federal employees and subject to workplace drug testing) live burdened with PTSD, while a treatment exists that could ease their suffering.

 

Thursday
Aug152019

YOU DON'T NOMI

Featuring (voice only): Jeffery Conway, Joshua Grannell, April Kidwell, Haley Mlotek, Adam Neyman and David Schmader.
Archive Footage: Elizabeth Berkely (pictured, below), Joe Eszterhaus, Paul Verhoeven, Gina Gershon and Kyle MacLachlan.
Director: Jeffery McHale

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Artful, incisive documentary analysis into the legacy left by cinematic classics has emerged as genre unto itself in recent years. Rodney Asher deep-dove into the conspiratorial mythology of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with Room 237 (2012), and Alexandre O. Phillippe took a scalpel to the most famous shower in film history with his Hitchcock autopsy, 78/52 (2017).

That Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls finds itself in the company of such milestone movies may surprise some but, by the end of Jeffery McHale’s You Don’t Nomi, it somehow seems appropriate.

McHale comes at the much-maligned 1995 melodrama from angles both academic and humanistic. He initially contends that understanding the most critically reviled film of Verhoeven’s career can only be fully realised if one studies his run of critically adored works. The very motifs evident in his anti-establishment Dutch classics (Diary of a Hooker, 1971; Turkish Delight, 1973; Katie Tippel, 1975; Soldier of Orange, 1977; Spetters, 1980) and the Hollywood blockbusters that made him so bankable (Robocop, 1987; Total Recall, 1990; Basic Instinct, 1992) – elements like sexualised violence, drama pitched high and richly conjured mise-en-scene - were used against him to condemn Showgirls, his second collaboration with iconoclast scriptwriter Joe Ezsterhaus. (Pictured, below; Berkeley and Verhoeven, on-set)

In a cute stylistic touch, McHale uses scenes from Verhoeven’s own The 4th Man (1983), featuring Jeroen Krabbé, to help explore the director’s modus operandi, in scenes that any self-respecting film buff will adore. The analysis extends to the Dutchman’s post-Showgirls films (Starship Troopers, 1997; Hollow Man, 2000; Black Book, 2006; Elle, 2016), as well as EPK and BTS footage that paints a picture of the director as both a moviemaking genius with a very 'European' love of the human form and a pre-#MeToo eccentric obsessed with the sensational.

Despite some of the most scathing reviews in modern film history (‘Trashdance’ was one of the kinder headlines of the day), Showgirls has slowly resurrected itself as a retro-screening must-see. You Don’t Nomi affords the cult followers a voice to vouch for its worth, most notable in a narrative detour that recounts how an actress recreating the lead role of ‘Nomi Malone’ on stage brought her post-assault PTSD into manageable focus.

Of course, the star of You Don’t Nomi, just as she was the star of Showgirls, is ‘Nomi Malone’ herself, Elizabeth Berkeley. The teen sitcom star whose ego/career/life soared then plummeted in the wake of her casting has become an enigmatic presence in the town that shredded her young life. The actress’ appearances since the film (presented here as archive footage) suggest she is reconciled to her fate as a Hollywood pariah. If Jeffery McHale’s film doesn’t quite realign the reputation of Verhoeven’s misunderstood mega-flop, it certainly paints a picture of a film that is a true auteur’s vision, enlivened by an actress’ devotion and worthy of its audience’s adoration.

Wednesday
Jul172019

SHARKWATER EXTINCTION

With: Rob Stewart, Regi Domingo, Madison Stewart and William Flores.
Writer/Director: Rob Stewart

Screening at 2019 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL on Saturday July 20 at 8.45pm.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

In the wake of activist filmmaker Rob Stewart’s 2006 film Sharkwater, affective and discernible change to the global trade in shark fin meat and industrial fishing practices was implemented; it became one of the most high-profile and impactful advocacy documentaries of the decade. That a sequel is even necessary a mere 13 years later is shameful, testament that capitalistic greed can resurrect itself with as much determination to survive as the great predators of the ocean. And given it also chronicles Stewart’s heartbreaking ascent to martyrdom makes Sharkwater Extinction a profound film-going experience.

The Canadian-born filmmaker takes a travelogue approach to exposing the perpetrators of illegal and/or immoral commercial shark culls. His return to Costa Rica exposes the 180° shift in the protection policies implemented a decade ago, revealing that 10,000s of Hammerhead Sharks are slaughtered in the species’ primary breeding grounds every year; in Cape Verde, West Africa, he accesses the industrial freezing vessels containing tonnes of rare Blue Shark carcasses; and, just off the wealthy real estate of Los Angeles’ coastline, he captures the dying breaths of sharks caught in outlawed longnet fishing traps.

Stewart is an understated screen presence, allowing his facts, figures and fearless footage to drill home the brutality of an industry bent on wiping out the very resource that sustains it. With fellow ocean conservation warriors by his side (including Australia’s ‘shark girl’, Madison Stewart, no relation), Stewart comes at the illicit industry from all angles. When not in the water, he is having fast food, pet meat and even cosmetics analysed to reveal shark meat levels; with the aid of the scientific community, he reveals the massive amount of pollutants and toxins that shark meat retains.

While the sequel certainly drills home a similar agenda to Sharkwater, Extinction unfolds in a manner that tonally feels like a traditional ‘ticking clock’ narrative. This perfectly suits the ‘countdown to oblivion’ theme, but also serves to slowly shift the focus of the film to the fate of Stewart himself; by the time the caption ‘The Last Dive’ appears on screen, the audience’s emotional involvement in both the plight of shark and the penultimate moments of their closest land ally are inexorably linked. Extinction opens with Stewart recollecting that first moment when death at sea first confronted him ("The number of times I've almost died, then ended up being okay," he says), and how it imbued in him the "Don't give up" ethos that drove him to fight for right.

Although Rob Stewart is credited as director, Sharkwater Extinction is most definitely not some self-aggrandizing farewell; friends and colleagues who had journeyed with him for much of his crusade completed the film in his absence. The final scenes serve as exactly the passionate call-to-action that the man himself was so skilful at crafting. Footage of him being at one with the creatures and seascapes he lived and fought for are as a profoundly inspiring as anything he had ever shot for the cause of shark conservation. They capture and honour a spirit that will live on in others.

Sunday
Jul072019

THE CAT RESCUERS

With: Latonya ‘Sassee’ Walker, Claire Corey, Stuart Siet and Tara Green.
Directors: Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

There is a bitter irony at work in The Cat Rescuers that makes it more than just a ‘cat person’s perfect night-in movie. This profile of four New Yorkers who give their time, money and emotion to caring for a small fraction of the street cats of The Big Apple is certainly for animal lovers of every kind, but it also highlights a world in which people who feel a compassionate bond for and behave with empathy and dedication towards another species are the exception. And that’s a bit sad.

Over 500,000 strays live wild in NYC, most unsterilized, resulting in litter after litter of kittens that exponentially add to the problem, if they survive at all. Building sites, backyards, alleyways and sewers become their domain, predominantly abandoned pets left by owners whose situations have changed. The Cat Rescuers does not sugar coat the life of the big city feral, with scenes depicting the bloody aftermath of tomcat territoriality and the baby-making destiny of female felines.

The Cat Rescuers themselves offer a diverse cross-section of New York types. Single-mum Latonya ‘Sassee’ Walker is well-known in her suburb for her boisterous and beautiful personality, which plays well with the cats she rescues and cares for; Claire Corey is a married thirty-something, investing effort and emotion to save and rehouse her charges; Stuart Siet is a middle-aged FDNY techie, whose cat-rescuing duties start at 3am; and, Tara Green is a single woman for whom cat rescue has helped reconcile and refocus a troubled past.

Precisely balancing their narrative between a spayed-and-neutered advocacy agenda and a portrait of unique human beings, directors Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence are afforded all-access status into the lives of their real-world protagonists. Their film frontloads scenes one expects from a documentary called The Cat Rescuers, yet a slow-burn shift in focus reveals the rescued become the rescuers in a very profound way.

The Cat Rescuers is verite documentary making in its purest and most effectively engaging form. The hope is that the film may inspire action and change; local governments need to budget for and enforce neutering campaigns, while volunteer groups and organisations like Animal Care Centres of NYC must be allocated increased funding. 

As much as it is a cat’s tale, The Cat Rescuers is also a moving study in good humanity (see also Jesse Alk’s canine counterpoint doco, Pariah Dog); a heartfelt ode to those who share the world with respect and love for all creatures, great and small.

Learn more about the efforts of The Cat Rescuers at the film's official website.

NEVER BUY A PET. Adopt from one of the following organisations in your country: R.S.P.C.A. Australia; R.S.P.C.A. United Kingdom; A.S.P.C.A. United States; S.P.C.A. New Zealand; Tierheim Germany; Société Protectrice Animaux France; Italy Animal Rescue; Adopt A Pet, South Africa.

Tuesday
Jun042019

63 UP

With: Andrew Brackfield, Peter Davies, Neil Hughes, Bruce Balden, Nicholas Hitchon, Tony Walker, Suzanne Dewey, Symon Basterfield, Jacqueline Bassett, John Brisby, Susan Sullivan and Paul Kligerman; featuring Charles Furneaux and Lynn Johnson.
Director: Michael Apted

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

From director Paul Almond’s 1964 launch episode to the subsequent installments helmed by Michael Apted, the Seven Up series, the slice-of-British-life documentaries that have explored the U.K. class system via the proverb, “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” has captured the hearts of generations of viewers. In the ninth installment 63 Up, the social experiment faces its own end goal; were the children introduced 56 years ago tiny blueprints of the men and women now before Apted’s camera in 2019? (Pictured, above; Nicholas Hitchon)

When Apted poses that question to the participants (as he has done repeatedly since his series hit mature age status in 1998, with 42 Up), their general response is, “Yes, mostly.” In Episode 1, lifetime cabbie Tony Walker is unmistakably the lad he was six decades ago, referring to himself as, “the same cheeky chappy”; upper-middle classman Andrew Brackfield (pictured, below) is every inch the successful, if slightly stressed, business executive he envisioned for himself (by his own reckoning, he has lived a, “happy, fulfilling life”); and, Sue Sullivan, despite a troubled romantic history (a typically common trait amongst the adult Uppers), maintains the confident glow of the vibrant little one she was at 7.

Episode 2 presents a more nuanced, slightly sadder appraisal of the aging process. A particularly understated Bruce Baldon has retired from teaching, falling short of attaining an executive position in the profession, and finds himself facing old age fighting weight gain and the dissolution of the family unit as his sons prepare to leave the nest; and, Jacqueline Bassett, who takes on Apted over questions asked in past episodes that reflect the casual misogyny of 70s/80s society, reveals the sadness that has shaped her later life.

In the third episode of 63 Up, the bond between boarding school housemates Paul Kligerman and Symon Basterfield is explored, the pair reuniting in Kligerman’s adopted home of Australia; John Brigsby, perhaps the most toffee of the 7 Up children, but who, in adulthood, has delivered on his promise to use wealth and status to help the less privileged; and, saving the most compelling portrait of his series until its conclusion, Apted revisits Neil Hughes, the bright-eyed moppet who has morphed into, at different intervals, a drifter, a Liberal Democrat politician and a lay priest, all while battling mental health torment.

Age withers us all, and so Apted and his audience must face the tragedy of mortality. Two of the series most popular ‘stars’ are confronted with their final days; one ponders on a life that will soon be left behind, while another is remembered by surviving family and archive footage. For those of us who have grown up alongside these personalities, these are heartbreaking moments that speak to the strength of first-person documentary storytelling. The scenes drive home the extraordinarily unique impact that Almond’s and Apted’s perfectly ordinary subjects have had upon those that have shared in this journey.

It is in the views of the participants that the effectiveness of the Seven Up series as social commentary emerges. Baldon cites the brutality of boarding school beatings as key to perpetuating repressed emotion, an accepted symbol of his middle-class life; Dewey, a working-class East-ender, still believes “You are what you are born into,” her friend Jackie says, “I’ve never changed.” The plummy comforts of life in society’s upper tier seemed pre-ordained for Andrew and John (you’ll recall their discussion, aged 7, about which newspapers they favoured), but they are humble with respect to their wealth and family stability.

63 Up captures the universal essence of mature-age happiness – pride and faith in one’s children, a levelheaded perspective on life’s highs and lows, firm but softening views on the society one has helped to shape (just as Margaret Thatcher’s divisive social policies in the 1980s were addressed in past installments, so is Brexit in sufficient measure). Yet it soars as that most rare of cinematic works – a project that exist long enough to both consider and continue to shape its own legacy.

Before the cameras, Apted’s cross-section of British lives has delivered on the promise of its premise; the men and women glimpsed in the boys and girls all those years have emerged as remarkably good people, irrespective of class. Behind the cameras, Apted has exhibited the same degree of intellectual growth and determination to capture life with truth and integrity. If 63 Up is the last chapter of the Seven Up series (as has been rumoured), it will finalise a monumentally personal, profoundly important work deserving of timeless reverence.

63 UP will screen on ITV in The United Kingdom from June 4. The series will have its Australian Premiere on SBS from June 10. Please checkguides for your local screening times.

     

Tuesday
May142019

PARIAH DOG

Features: Kajal, Pinku, Milly and Subrata.
Writers; Jesse Alk, Koustav Sinha.
Director: Jesse Alk

Screening at the 2019 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, July 19-29.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

2019 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL: The opening scene of the documentary Pariah Dog is one of heartbreaking poignancy; a beautiful young adult male pariah (or desi) dog, the native canine breed of South East Asia, sits alone in an empty street in Kolkata, the tips of his golden coat covered in the city’s dirt, his yearning howl a cry in the night for other members of his long-dissolved pack. The life he cries for – the wilderness existence with which every one of his instincts is primed to interact - has long been consumed by man’s industrial expansion. He is native to a land that he no longer recognises, and one whose society has wilfully neglected to recognise him.

Director Jesse Alk takes the outsider’s plight of the urbanized native dog as the starting point for a lyrical examination of four humans for whom modern Indian society is equally unforgiving. Pinku is an artist, his wooden carvings things of rare beauty but unsellable in a modern metropolis; Subrata is ageing into irrelevance, his memories of a game show win and a fading dream of stardom all he has left; Milly was a once a woman of means with generational land rightfully hers being taken by squatters and corrupt local government; alongside Milly, her faithful assistant Kajal endures their complex love/hate relationship as her own life narrows in scope.

United only by the documentarian’s lens, these four Calcuttans share a passionate love for the street dogs of their city, dedicating hours and most of their meagre earnings towards their care. A great deal of bitter existential irony courses through the frames of Alk’s deeply humanistic film; as the population that surrounds them seems oblivious to the torment of their lives, these four remarkable people commit to providing shelter, food and affection to the similarly displaced dogs (as well as cats, a monkey and a parrot, if dogs aren’t your thing).

To the production’s credit, Alk and co-writer Koustav Sinha refuse to present their subjects as the antidote to the street dog’s harsh life. Scenes that convey the physical hardship and ultimate demise of some beautiful animals will be too much for some, as will the emotional toll that an animal’s passing takes upon the carer. The director also refuses to employ traditional narration, a decision that skilfully adds to an overall defiance of any prejudicial context; fittingly, Pariah Dogs will live a long, timeless life as a statement against selfish modern living.

The film is not without humour, of course; in one left-field moment that serves to both relieve tension and utterly bewilder, Alk helps Subrata realise his Desi-pop ambitions by crafting a music video for his self-penned, lower-caste anthem. The potential that factual filmmaking has for capturing fateful moments is realised when the elderly gentleman literally crosses paths with an anti-animal cruelty demonstration, which he soon joins in chorus.

The final frames, in which two of the protagonists reconnect on the traditional life-giving waterways far from the decay of the city, are a hopeful response to the call of that lonely, howling street dog. His India still exists, or at least the spirit of the land from which he came.

  

Tuesday
Jan222019

EMOCEAN

With: Brent Bielman, Baptiste Gossein, Mike Prickett, Jeff Schmucker, Dave Kalama, Jamie Mitchell, Jamie O’Brien, Trevor Carlson, Jeff Clarke, Matt Becker, Andrew Brooks, Paul Witzig, sacha Guggenheimer and Dave MacAuley.
Writer/Director: Tony Harrington

Screening at 2019 Gold Coast Film Festival, April 5 at the BCC Cinemas, Coolangatta.

Reviewed at 2019 Screenwave International Film Festival, January 20 at the Jetty Memorial Theatre, Coffs Harbour.

Rating: ★★★★½

Part lyrical ode to the lure of the sea, part giddy sports adventure travelogue, Tony Harrington’s latest epic ocean odyssey Emocean is as heartfelt a love letter as man has ever penned for The Big Blue. In seeking out the essence of our attraction to and affinity with the wild, natural wonder of the planet’s water environments, the legendary cameraman has profoundly defined humanity’s oceanic bond, while also redefining just how insightful and moving the sports-doc genre is capable of being. In the film's own words, "That metre, above and below the water, has got something special...".

Drawing upon his experiences exploring the world’s most majestic coastlines and a rolodex of global contacts whose lives are intricately linked to life underwater, Harrington finds tragedy, joy and wonder in the recollections of his interviewees. His film is most engaging when he tracks generational ties to the sea, such as the love that Western Australian pro-surfing great Dave MacAulay shares with his daughters, pro international Bronte amongst them; South Australian coastal conservation pioneer Andrew Brooks, whose vision preserved the beauty of vast waterfront bushland for surfers for years to come; and, fisherman Jeff Schmucker, whose family have lived off the bounty and beauty of the South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula for four generations.

Few documentarians can claim to have as unique an understanding of their subject’s psyche as Harrington clearly does. The families of surfers, fisherman, scientists or beach dwellers who view their connection to the ocean as integral to their very existence mirrors that of the filmmaker; in drawing out their experiences, he is exploring and questioning his own life choices in a manner that strengthens the community of which he is part. 

Most soulful of the on-camera personalities are those who have fallen victim to the dangers of the deep yet are still drawn to the life. Young French surfer Baptiste Gossein, rendered paraplegic surfing Teahupo’o, or cinematographer Mike Prickett, left wheelchair bound after rescuing his scuba partner but suffering a crippling attack of decompression sickness, aka ‘the bends’, open up to Harrington’s camera with a courage and matter-of-factness that is truly inspiring.

Of course, Harrington’s legend was built upon his surfing footage, and Emocean is most energised when it explores the compulsion that otherwise sane men have to surf waves four-storey’s high. To the surfing community, exploring the passion and personalities of such icons as Maverick’s groundbreaker Jeff Clarke, fearless conquerors of the Maui ‘Jaws’ swell like Trevor Carlson and Dave Kalama, and Pipeline great Jamie O’Brien will be worth the price of admission; the footage that accompanies their accounts of lives spent hurtling down the face of a water-walls that can reach 50-feet into the air is breathtaking (the frame-perfect editing of Trinity Ludlow Hudson is technically superb). Wipeout footage is used sparingly but delivers the bone-crunching feels when called upon.

There is an undeniable sense of destiny about Harrington’s assured direction and storytelling in Emocean, that his latest film is the one he has been building towards. It is a work that not only displays the consummate skill of a cinematic craftsman at the peak of his prowess, but also of a man who has tapped what is most profoundly essential to his life to help him forge his most potent creative statement to date.

EMOCEAN - Trailer from HarroArt on Vimeo.

 

Monday
Oct222018

SPITFIRE

It is arguably the greatest flying machine in aviation history; an instantly recognizable form that changed the course and ultimately the outcome of the greatest conflict in human history. The development, impact and legacy of the iconic British fighter plane is explored in Spitfire, a documentary by David Fairhead and Ant Palmer that will screen at the 2018 Veterans Film Festival on November 3 ahead of an Australian release on November 15 via Rialto Distribution. Guest columnist ADAM LUNNEY is the author of the new book Ready to Strike, a detailed account of the 453 RAAF Squadron, the Australians who flew Spitfires over the Normandy battlefront. SCREEN-SPACE invited him to cast an expert’s eye over the documentary for an informed perspective…

Spitfire: it’s more than just a word. The feature documentary Spitfire goes a long way towards illustrating why.

It opens with clouds and a blue sky, the English countryside – you’re flying, but are you in the Spitfire, or is it out there somewhere, hunting you? Soon enough the answer comes, as a Spitfire appears from the right. There is no sound but the whisper of air. What comes next is what people sometimes travel the world for. Thousands of people at airshows wait in total silence when they know a Spitfire is coming because a Spitfire is not just a word or a plane – it’s also a sound. Low and distant to start, but then growing, as if the pilot’s accelerating towards you. The combined roar and whine of the Merlin engine is loud and beautiful, then it passes. When the silence returns, you know that was worth waiting for.

The first words spoken in the documentary are from well-known Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot (and author) Geoffrey Wellum: “You can’t fly a Spitfire and forget about it. Stays with you forever.” Through the narrative and wonderful aerial shots blending wartime and contemporary footage, Spitfire doesn’t just tell you about the plane, it shows you.

The soundtrack is gentle. As much as a rousing Battle of Britain orchestral piece can get the blood pumping, these veterans are more contemplative, so the music is soft throughout, while the Merlin (or Griffon) engine is often the main accompaniment.

Lest everyone become too misty-eyed and romantic we are also reminded that, “You are aware that the purpose of this plane was to shoot and kill. It’s a killing machine.” There is, of course, no point being a fighter pilot if you can’t hit anything. These are just the first few minutes of the documentary, and like a pilot experiencing their first skyward ascent in a Spitfire – you’ll be hooked.

The documentary covers the development of the Spitfire and has the only remaining recording of the man responsible for it: Reginald Mitchell. There is footage from the seaplane races that led to its creation and we’re taken through the war and the evolution of the Spitfire. The story lingers almost a bit too long on the Battle of Britain, before moving on to Malta and Normandy. Here there is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment for Australian viewers. The aircraft having the famous black and white ‘invasion’ or ‘D-Day’ stripes is from our own 453 Squadron, and at least two of the pilots at the scene of the briefing which follows are from the same squadron.  

Throughout, footage is blended from wartime manufacturing and modern assembly of virtually the same equipment – a reminder that they live on, as should the memories of those who built, maintained and flew them. There is something here for young and old, the pedantic and patriotic.

The legend of the Spitfire is said to be a post-war creation. It’s perhaps a way of saying thank you. Already, three of the veterans featured in this documentary have passed away. Marvel at their deeds and words.  How can so many feelings and memories be encompassed in a word? Spitfire.

Adam Lunney holds a Master of Arts (Military History) from U.N.S.W. College at the Australian Defence Force Academy, is a Friend of the Australian War Memorial and a member of the Spitfire Association (Australia). Ready to Strike, his first book, will have its Official Launch in conjunction with the Veterans Film Festival screening of Spitfire at the Capitol Theatre in Manuka, A.C.T. on November 3

Veterans Film Festival ticket and session details are available here; Ready to Strike can be ordered here.

©Content may be re-used in part or full with an accompanying acknowledgement crediting 'author Adam Lunney' and original source 'Screen-Space'.