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Entries in Melbourne Doc Fest (4)

Wednesday
Jul042018

ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT

Featuring: Jan Broberg, Mary Ann Broberg, Bob Broberg, Pete Welsh, Karen Campbell, Joe Berchtold, Susan Broberg, Cor Hoffman, Sinclair DuMont and Devin Ordoyne.
Director: Skye Borgman

Screening at the 2018 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 12.

Rating: 4.5/5

As profoundly insightful as any bigscreen rendering of the psychology and methodology of the sociopathic paedophile, Abducted in Plain Sight sits alongside current standard-bearers Evil Genius, The Keepers and How to Make a Murderer in that top tier of contemporary true-crime factual films. Stripping her narrative back to bare facts and raw emotions, director Skye Borgman has crafted a gripping work of intrigue, horror and sadness that fully reveals one of America’s most extraordinary abduction and abuse cases.

Robert Berchtold was a husband and father when he and his family moved into the middle-class Idaho suburb of Pocatello in the early 1970s. An attractive, charming man, he immediately ingratiated himself with his new neighbours, good churchgoin' folk The Brobergs; shopkeeper dad Bob, housewife Mary Ann, and their three daughters Susan, Karen and the eldest, Jan. Affectionately called ‘B’ by his newly acquired prey, Robert Berchtold set in motion a meticulously planned, cold-blooded series of events that would compromise Bob and Mary Ann and, more insidiously, allow him to kidnap, psychologically manipulate and sexually abuse Jan.

Afforded an extraordinary level of intimacy by her on-camera subjects, Borgman paints a non-judgemental portrait of a family shrouded in the false warmth of their LDS faith and naïve to the manipulative skill of Berchtold. The parent’s own actions and the subsequent handling of their daughter’s ordeal is, frankly, beyond comprehension, yet in recounting one tragic mistake after another, Mary Ann and Bob Broberg emerge more as collateral victims of Berchtold’s predatory prowess. His psychopathology was of a medieval bluntness and cunning, at a time when suburban America was in the early soporific stages of a new comfortable, modern existence.

Steadfastly central to her own story is adult survivor Jan Broberg, who recounts with bracing frankness the psychological and subsequent sexual abuse inflicted by ‘B’ upon her between the ages of 12 and 15. Sisters Susan and Karen are given camera time to recall the shifting dynamic of the family from their own young perspectives, and Bob and Mary Ann are as open as any documentary subjects can be, but it is Jan’s spirit that soars above the putrid evil inherent to any retelling of Berchtold’s actions. Scenes in which she confronts an aging Berchtold in court exemplify her towering strength in understanding and defying the legacy of his actions.

Convincingly played by Devin Ordoyne in flashback sequences (each expertly shot on Super 8 film by Borgman to capture period mood and detail), Berchtold proves a compelling, utterly chilling figure. Borne of a twisted psyche traced back to his own childhood, he is afforded a few frames of expository backstory by Borgman, but not so much that his vile actions are lessened by why he is what he is and does what he does. The film utilises his brother Joe to provide insight into their family’s dark past; although central to the events, Berchtold’s wife and children are not featured. Former FBI agent Pete Welsh recounts the investigation and frustrated legal process that allowed Berchtold to manipulate the law and justice as efficiently as he did everyone and everything else that he targeted.

Tuesday
May292018

RISKING LIGHT

Featuring: Mary Johnson, Debra Hocking, Kilong Ung and Oshea Israel.
Director: Dawn Mikkelson.

Screening July 14 at the 2018 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Session and ticket details at the event website.

Rating: 4.5/5

The immense courage and spiritual will it takes to truly ‘forgive’ beams from the screen in director Dawn Mikkelson’s Risking Light, a triptych of heartbreaking, soul-enriching narratives that combine to present a study in scarred but soaring humanity. Largely foregoing the mawkish sentimentality that such tales of redemption may present, the filmmaker instead favours stark honesty and frank storytelling, resulting in a film of rare integrity and profound emotional involvement.

The production focuses on three individuals who have struggled to overcome the burden of grief and anger in the wake of a grave injustice. In Minneapolis, Mary Johnson relates directly to camera the depths of her despair after her teenage son Laramiun Byrd was killed in a shattering instance of gun violence in 1993; from the coast of Tasmania, Debra Hocking recounts the forced separation from her family as a toddler as part of Australia’s shameful ‘stolen generation’ period, and the subsequent decade of abuse in foster care; and, from the streets of Phnom Penh, Kilong Ung shares details with his young Cambodian-American family of his horrific existence navigating the infamous ‘killing fields’ under Khmer Rouge reign.

Seamlessly intercutting each story so as to find a through-line in their pained existence, Mikkelson then poses the question, ‘How strong must we be to truly create a compassionate society?’ Faced with lives of all-consuming psychological torment, existential angst and an urge for (often violent) retribution, the three sufferers instead forge a path of personal responsibility that refuses to perpetuate society’s heart of darkness. From lives that threatened to decay into insignificance emerge beacons of forgiveness that find personal salvation, while inspiring others to walk a similarly righteous, enlightened path.

An Emmy-award winner for Late Life, the 2014 PBS series on terminal and aged care practices, Mikkelson’s feature work (under her Emergence Pictures banner) has determinedly examined the strength of the human spirit to confront and reconcile with the unfair, often tragic direction modern life can take. Her 2003 debut This Obedience profiled a gay Lutheran pastor’s struggle for the acceptance in the face of conservatism, both in her church and the wider community; in 2007, she traced her supposedly ethical ‘green energy’ source back to its impact on indigenous Manitoba society in Green Green Water; her 2014 small-screen project Planting Creativity examined the revitalisation of struggling townships via the injection of collaborative arts-based initiatives.

Frankly, western society needs more filmmakers like Dawn Mikkelson, and more people like Mary Johnson, Debra Hocking and Kilong Ung. As the world grows darker under leaders determined to segregate and marginalise, the unifying actions of these everyday people as they undertake remarkable journeys of wilful forgiveness should make Risking Light required viewing in our halls of power.

Saturday
Jul082017

FIVE FAVOURITES FROM MELBOURNE'S FESTIVAL OF FACTUAL FILM

MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL: Festival Director Lyndon Stone and his programming team have collated a catalogue of factual films that have wowed audiences at the planet’s most prestigious 2017 documentary showcases. SCREEN-SPACE got a peek at this year’s line-up and offers our opinion of five films that deserve attention, discussion and sold-out auditoriums. Each is a unique vision, certain to engage, infuriate, inspire and enlighten, as all good documentaries should…

MISS KIET’S CHILDREN (Dirs. Peter Lataster, Petra Lataster-Czish; The Netherlands, 115 mins; pictured, above)
A Dutch school marm exhibits a warrior’s spirit, a saint’s heart and...well, a great teacher's patience in this understated yet soaring study of what the term ‘assimilation’ means to a classroom in Holland. Refugee children, each displaying resilience and depth of character beyond their years, are captured with an extraordinary intimacy by the lens of husband/wife filmmakers Peter Lataster and Petra Lataster-Czish. The politics of age and gender are glimpsed in the kids’ behaviour; most profoundly, the impact of the conflict they have fled is slowly expos ed by the filmmaker’s sublime technique. When awkward pre-teen Jorg reveals why he might be less studious than is expected of him, have the tissues ready.
Rating: 4/5
MDFF Screening: July 13 @ 6.30pm.

PLAY YOUR GENDER (Dir: Stephanie Clattenburg; U.S.A.; 80 mins.)
While the gender divide within the American film industry has made headlines of late, little mention has been made of the fact that only 5% of the producers working the panels in the music industry are women, or that only 20% of published songs are by women lyricists. Canadian singer-songwriter Kinnie Starr and first-time director Stephanie Clattenberg pair up to pile revelation upon revelation in this blood-boiling expose of the music sector’s traditional gender bias and ‘glass ceiling’ mindset. That such a film needs to exist in this day and age is outrage enough; that it runs rich with passionate, talented, intelligent woman who have seen their careers hindered by sexism and misogyny demands action. Features such groundbreaking artists as ‘Hole’ bassist Melissa Auf der Maur and drummer Patty Schemel; Sara Quin of ‘Tegan and Sara’; and, ‘The Stolen Minks’ frontwoman Stephanie Johns.
Rating: 4/5
MDFF Screening: July 9 @ 1.45pm.

THE ROAD MOVIE (Dir: Dmitrii Kalishnikov; Belarus; 67mins)
The dashcam phenomena has swept Russia and its territories; insurance scams, police misbehaviour and road rage incidents has led to almost every car being fitted with a windscreen lens. So director Dmitrii Kalishnikov had a lot of footage to work with when he conceptualised a vision of modern Russian life as captured by the population itself. Of course, he indulges in the extraordinary – truck crashes, speedsters on snowy roads, cows being hit (they walk away, incredibly) and the ‘comet footage’ that went viral. But The Road Movie is at its most compelling when it focuses on the voices of the unseen within the vehicle. Waves of emotion emerge in an instant; moments of terror, exhilaration, hilarity, even first love unite in a flowing cinematic essay. In the hands of a skilled filmmaker, Russia’s favourite dashboard gadget has delivered a forceful social experience.
Rating: 4.5/5
MDFF Screening: July 9 @ 9.30pm.

ELLA BRENNAN: COMMANDING THE TABLE (Dir: Leslie Iwerks; U.S.A.; 96 mins.)
She is La grande dame of the American restaurant landscape, the matriarch of a New Orleans culinary clan that has shaped the nation’s cuisine for a century. Ella Brennan makes for a mighty cinematic figure, her iron-willed charisma ideally suited for Leslie Iwerks’ boisterous celebration of spirit, showmanship and determination. Occasionally it teeters on hagiography; viewers aren’t left wondering what a wonderful time is to be had at Brennan’s legendary Big Easy establishment, Commander’s Palace. It’s a minor complaint; one can’t begrudge the party atmosphere Commanding The Table captures and the extraordinary legacy Ella and her clan have forged.
Rating: 3.5/5
MDFF Screening: July 12 @ 6.00pm.  

DOGS OF DEMOCRACY (Dir. Mary Zournazi; Australia/Greece; 58 mins.)
They have become the spiritual symbol of modern Athens, guardians of the streets who exist with dignity intact and the acceptance of the population. First-time director Mary Zournazi captures the stray dogs of the Greek capital with a deeply respectful and compassionate lens, acknowledging the hope they represent to a people who themselves are often portrayed as the ‘stray dogs of the EU’. Most affectionately, Zournazi relates the legend of Loukanikos, a magnificent beast who would fearlessly lead those protesting the government’s austerity measures against riot squad heavy-handedness.  
Rating: 3.5/5
MDFF Screening: July 16 @ 9.30am.

(SCREEN-SPACE Managing Editor Simon Foster is a judge at the 2017 MDFF and will be a guest of the festival)  

The 2017 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL screens from July 9-16. Session, venue and ticketing information can be found at the events official website.

Thursday
Jun022016

UNIQUE ARTISTRY FINDS LOVE AT MELBOURNE DOC FEST

From Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse to Crumb to American Movie; from Burden of Dreams to The Devil and Daniel Johnston to this years’ Oscar winner, Amy. Arguably, the most compelling sub-genre in the documentary field are the works that examine the complexities of the creative process and the fragile, brilliant psyches from which it emerges. Commencing its vast 2016 program on July 9, the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival features four factual films that delve deep inside the artist’s mindset, probing the passion, ego and talent needed to leave a lasting impression…
MAD TIGER (Dirs: Michael Haertlein, Jonathan Yi / USA; 82 mins)
Proclaiming themselves the ‘Japanese Action Comic Punk band hailing from the Z area of Planet Peelander’, Peelander Z are a colourful cult oddity who spruik their punk-stunt brand of raucous J-music to loyal if dwindling numbers across the US. Led by charismatic, dictatorial frontman Kengo Hioki (pictured, above), aka Peelander Yellow, the band have been pushing their trademark Jackass-style stage show and Power Rangers-inspired aesthetic for nearly two decades, their alternative musical stylings enlivened by a not entirely self-aware parody element. Co-directors Michael Haertlein and Jonathan Yi capture Peelander Z as the band faces a crucial juncture – guitar hero Peelander Red (Kotara Tsukada) is leaving the band; Hioki is taking the departure with a mix of philosophical resignation and bullying petulance. Let’s face it, the music is awful, but the inter-personal drama and backstage dynamics ensure Mad Tiger is a tense, at times sad peek inside the ego and ambition that motivates the artist. A welcome reprieve from the band’s inner and outer turmoil is a softly-spoken interlude that follows Hioki back to his roots and the warmth of his religious family home (although it raises the question, ‘Why have they not sought fame in Japan?’)
RATING: 3.5/5

YOU BETTER TAKE COVER (Dirs: Harry Hayes, Lee Simeone / Australia; 29 mins)
When a music-quiz show innocently revealed that one of the most famous pop riffs in Australian music history was very similar to an Aussie bush ditty of yore, the monster that is litigious law was awakened. Men at Work’s iconic hit Down Under is filled with homage after homage to this great southern land, from Vegemite to combi-vans to ‘chunder’. But when composer, the late Greg Ham and the band’s production team settled on a flute interlude that referenced ‘Kookaburra Sits In the Old Gum Tree’, they had no idea that Larrikin Music owned the rights to what many assumed was a public domain property. Harry Hayes and Lee Simeone’s brisk, melancholy doc You Better Take Cover traces the origins of the song, the creative forces and fateful turn-of-events that propelled it to global recognition and, most winningly, the recollections of those that were there. Emotions run the gamut in this comprehensive account; local audiences will puff their chests with national pride during scenes of America’s Cup and Commonwealth Game jubilation, but expect teeth to grind when the details of the copyright law court case engineered by Larrikin are brought into cold, greedy focus. Chunder, indeed.
RATING: 3.5/5


ROOM FULL OF SPOONS (Dir: Rick Harper / USA; 113 mins; trailer, above)
That one of the worse films ever made should be the subject of one of the most comprehensive and insightful making-of docs in recent memories just adds to the myriad of ironies that have come to be associated with The Room and the enigmatic creative force behind it, Tommy Wiseau. Canadian alpha-fan Rick Harper knows the ‘Best Worse Movie Ever’ inside out; fans will appreciate that he gets into the minutiae of the wretched melodrama, referencing such crowd favourite moments as ‘the neck lump’, ‘the moving box’, ‘tuxedo football’ and ‘the crooked boyfriend’. Cast members prove open and endearing; key behind-the-scenes contributors (including Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor who argues that, in fact, it was he who directed The Room, not Wiseau) reinforce the tales of legendary, often hilarious ineptitude during the shoot. But Room Full of Spoons goes beyond fan-fact fun when it digs deep into such mysteries as the film’s funding and, above all else, the force of twisted nature that is Wiseau. His origins, inspirations and eccentricities are respectfully but determinedly dissected by Harper, who inserts himself into his narrative with appropriate succinctness.
RATING: 4/5
 
TODD WHO? (Dirs: Gavin Bond, Ian Abercromby / Australia; 58 mins)
The term ‘hagiography’ is too often used pejoratively, suggesting sycophantic bias. But what if the primary focus of a biography is to be wondrously, majestically hagiographic? With co-director Ian Abercromby pulling focus (literally and figuratively), Gavin Bond deifies low-key music industry visionary Todd Rundgren in his rousing, roughhewn love letter, Todd Who? Rundgren found fame in the mid 70s with his sweetly melodic yacht-pop hits Hello It’s Me and Can We Still Be Friends, before embarking a producing career that was filled with innovation and experimentation alongside the likes of Cheap Trick, The Tubes, The Psychedelics Furs and iconic Australian band, Dragon. Not that anyone knows it, except the likes of Paul Schaffer, Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum, Daryl Braithwaite and Jim Steinman, all of whom put their hands up to sing the praises of Rundgren (now in his 60’s, living in Hawaii and still touring). Bond’s larrikin charm sets the tone for the doco, before a stream of toe-tapping classics and fun, vital facts are employed to chart Rundgren’s influence and personality. Despite some tech shortcomings (mic placement and audio post is not the productions’ strong suit), this is a heartfelt, feel-good ode to a unique talent. If Todd Who? achieves its aim, and it deserves to, that title will become ironically redundant.
RATING: 4/5

The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival is held from 9th – 11th July at Howler Art Space in Brunswick. Session and ticketing information can be found at the event’s official website.