Friday, August 27, 2010

The People Speak

Watch this:

Does it not give you goose-pimples? What a remarkable, awe-inspiring use of history. Bravo, Howard Zinn, bravo.

Here's the blurb for The People Speak

Using dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries and speeches of everyday Americans, The People Speak focuses on the concept of democracy based on the lives and experiences of ordinary Americans who, through their words and actions, changed the course of history. Narrated by Howard Zinn and based on his bestselling book, A People's History of the United States, and Voices of a People's History, this groundbreaking documentary film illustrates the relevance of these passionate historical moments to our society today, reminding us that democracy is not a spectator sport and to never take liberty for granted. A journey from the founding of this country to the civil rights movement and beyond, The People Speak uses star power to celebrate democracy: executive producer Matt Damon reads from The Declaration of Independence; Bruce Springsteen performs Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land"; while other accomplished performers, including Morgan Freeman, Marisa Tomei, Josh Brolin, Viggo Mortensen, Kerry Washington, Bob Dylan and Eddie Vedder lend their voices to help re-create the emotional impact of these moments in history. 

This is such a simple, empowering idea, and one that will hopefully inspire viewers to delve a little further into their nation's history. What's even more heartening is that this idea has caught on and a British version will take place on September 19th, to be co-directed and narrated by Colin Firth. According to Marc Fennell (who brought this brilliant video to my attention), The History Channel will be doing an Australian version in 2011.

Bring. It. On.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Place in Time

With all this talk of Angelina Jolie's upcoming feature directorial debut it's intriguing to look at her first attempt behind the camera with the documentary A Place in Time. Calling on a raft of celebrity friends, including Anne Hathaway, Ling Bai, Wyclef Jean, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Johnny Lee Miller and Hillary Swank, Jolie set out to capture three minutes of life on January 11 2005 at 12 noon GMT from more than 25 countries around the world.

The experiment reminds me of Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, with Jolie no doubt seeking to show the simultaneity and interconnectedness of the world. The documentary premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007, and may be distributed through high schools by the National Education Association.

Read a gushing review of the documentary HERE.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Father of My Children (Le père de mes enfants)

The French love of cinema is given vibrant new depth in Mia Hansen-Løve's reverent ode. The writer-director's sophomore film follows charming film producer and joyous family man Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) as he quietly struggles to juggle his raft of projects, each with their unique creative and financial pressures. With one of two phones constantly glued to his ear (and a cigarette forever at his lips), Grégoire's passion for his profession is warmly reflected in his effusive love for his beautiful Italian wife (Chiara Caselli) and their three delightful daughters (Alice de Lencquesaing, Alice Gautier, Manelle Driss), as Hanson-Løve captures the chiaroscuro of life in a frank, honest and refreshingly unsentimental fashion.

Hanson-Løve also has a clear talent working with young actors, for the performances she realises from the Canvel girls is nothing short of remarkable. So too is De Lencquesaing's larger than life role, and though Caselli is comparatively silent, she is by no means less powerful. Alice de Lencquesaing (acting with her father), who owned the closing scene of Olivier Assayas' luminous Summer Hours, profoundly impresses here again with the awkward grace she brings to the teenager — just watch for a scene in which she attempts to order a coffee. Such fresh-faced performances and tender writing makes for a family who jumps straight off the screen and into your heart.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 26 August 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Giveaway: Boy

I'm absolutely delighted to be giving away tickets for the Kiwi coming-of-age hit film Boy. It was one of my favourites from the Sydney Film Festival (click here for my review) and it's now New Zealand's highest grossing local film of all time.

The official synopsis reads:

The year is 1984, and on the rural East Coast of New Zealand “Thriller” is changing kids’ lives. Boy (James Rolleston) is a dreamer who loves Michael Jackson. He lives with his brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), a tribe of deserted cousins and his Nan (Mavis Paenga).

Boy’s other hero, his father, Alamein (Taika Waititi), is the subject of Boy’s fantasies, and he imagines him as a deep sea diver, war hero and a close relation of Michael Jackson (he can even dance like him). In reality he’s “in the can for robbery”.

When Alamein returns home after 7 years away, Boy is forced to confront the man he thought he remembered, find his own potential and learn to get along without the hero he had been hoping for.

Boy is coming to Australian cinemas on August 26th, so to win one of ten double passes, email me (subject: BOY Competition) with your name, address and a quick line on why you want to see Boy. The competition will run until Sunday 29th August and winners will be notified by email. 

Interview: Mark Fitzpatrick (The Nothing Men)

 Image - Fitzpatrick & Dingle Wall

Filmmaking is all about timing. The stars need to align – in all senses of the term – for a production to be financed, filmed and finally released on to the big screen. This capricious relationship between filmmakers and tempus has never been more evident than the thirteen-year rollercoaster Australian writer-director Mark Fitzpatrick went on to create his ballsy drama The Nothing Men. Screenwriting grants, Hollywood handshakes, sold out stage performances, and a race against Steven Soderbergh are just some of the highlights of Fitzpatrick’s remarkable tale. It could almost trump the film, which stars veteran actors Colin Friels and David Field amongst a small group of factory workers forced to wait two weeks for their redundancy payouts. So on the brink of the film’s release, Fitzpatrick’s relief is (understandably) palpable.

“I was running on baldy tires let me tell you!” the filmmaker admits with a laugh. “I wrote it in '97 and I got three writers grants from the Australian Film Commission [AFC]. Then I had a plethora of producers after that…but the AFC kept knocking them back.”

In the midst of what he diplomatically describes as, “a lot of tumultuous times with the AFC,” Fitzpatrick was wooed by Hollywood, with big gun producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens, Armageddon) vying for the project and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) angling for a role. “His agent called us up twice!” “[Gale] offered me a whole bunch of money and I knocked it back because she wanted it lock, stock and barrel. I wasn’t going to direct and I was just going to lose it.”

“So after years and years and years, I just kept writing other film scripts while that was in the drawer…[then] in 2003 I decided to write it as a play.”

Predominantly set in the increasingly tense and claustrophobic factory room, The Nothing Men is well suited to the stage. “People seem to think it’s a film adapted from a play, but it’s actually not,” Fitzpatrick explains, before further outlining the plan to use the play to secure film investors. “We contacted so many investors and not one turned up, but we ended up filling out the [Newtown Theatre, Sydney] every night. I think we could have run it for another year!”

Cast in the stage adaptation was Home & Away alumnus Martin Dingle Wall, who, “took the bull by the horns,” producing the film as well as co-staring as Wesley, a worker brought face-to-face with the haunting consequences of his past.

This is where Soderbergh comes in. “We were the first in this country to shoot on the [high definition digital] RED camera,” Fitzpatrick proudly intones. “Steven Soderbergh was shooting Che [on RED]…and we thought, ‘ours is only a three week shoot; if we can get ours in the can and edit it, we’ll be the first.’ We didn’t. He still beat us because he was miles ahead, but we were the second in the world to use it.”

In the face of so much ‘lost’ time and so many ‘missed’ opportunities, Fitzpatrick remains sanguine. “Martin Dingle Wall said, ‘Listen Mark, you were meant not to get [the film] up. The universe is saying now’s the time and away you go.’ I wished they’d told me beforehand, I would have been a lot more relaxed!”

Published by Street Press Australia
Click here to read my review of The Nothing Men

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Special Relationship

Screenwriter Peter Morgan and actor Michael Sheen have done it again. After their success with The Deal and The Queen (not to mention Frost/Nixon and The Damned United), the creative duo cap off their Tony Blair triumvirate with a look at the Prime Minister’s relationship with the Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid). Opening with the wryly ominous Oscar Wilde quote, “A true friend stabs you in the front,” the film traverses Blair’s ascension to power and his almost giddy affection for the dashing American president. The parameters of their defined student-master relationship undergo a dramatic transformation when the furor surrounding the Monica Lewinsky affair and genocide in Kosovo unfold.

While there is something akin to Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing) genius in Morgan’s incisive screenplay, The Special Relationship does suffer from the absence of Stephen Frears (who directed the trilogy’s first two films). Richard Loncraine doesn’t quite have Frears’ deft touch, and most annoyingly, allowed Quaid to affect Clinton’s accent, a failed experiment that is both superfluous and irksome. Despite this, Morgan’s astoundingly researched writing shines as Sheen brings another side of Blair’s fascinating political history to life with understated ease. 

4 Stars

Published in The Big Issue (#360)
Australian release date: 5 August 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Man Who Walked Around the World

This remarkable advert screened at the cinema last night and it really captured my attention. Not only am I a total sucker for history, but I also love long shots and their 'time image' capabilities, and both of which are put to great use here. Plus I think it's incredibly well written and Robert Carlyle is perfectly cast. 

I really didn't need the subtitles though. 

What do you think? Any whiskey drinkers out there?

Read about the creative talents behind the ad here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Four Lions

A comedy about suicide bombers sounds like a tough sell by any stretch of the imagination. But when that imagination stems from British satirist Chris Morris, there is some sort of brilliantly bizarre alchemy at work. Morris made a name for himself with such high wire humour; his cult series Brass Eye was all about flaying cultural sacred cows, and his feature debut Four Lions is no different. Taking a motley crew of Sheffield Muslims, Morris sets Omar (Riz Ahmed), Waj (Kayvan Novak), Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) and Barry (Nigel Lindsay) on a sacred mission: to get audiences to chuckle over a jihad.

And chuckle you will, for Morris’ screenplay is an appealing mix of witticisms, pitch-black social commentary and dimwit farce. Not all the elements will work for everyone; Omar and Waj bumbling around and wreaking havoc on their terrorist training camp stretches the characters’ potential for stupidity a little far, as do some of Waj’s more gormless lines. But Morris’ precision as co-writer and director finds echoes of Dr. Strangelove, as well as a form of transcendence in the ridiculous.

Ahmed gives a pitch-perfect performance as the group’s tenacious leader and the film hits its satirical stride when it ventures into Omar’s loving domestic life. And as the wannabe terrorists’ manifold idiocy careens towards the climatic, costumed charity race (can you tell the difference between a Wookie and a Honey Bear?) Morris and his cast certainly succeed is in their unerring commitment to seeing the joke through to its bitterly funny and deeply poignant end.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 19 August 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Russian Resurrection Film Festival

With its rich red interiors, the Chauvel seems just the right setting for a Russian Resurrection. The 7th annual film festival is offering up 17 new films plus a World War II retrospective, that includes Andrei Tarkovsky's stunning debut Ivan's Childhood.

Amongst the contemporary crop is the starkly beautiful How I Ended This Summer. Fresh from screening in competition at the Sydney Film Festival, it is the story of two men holed up on an Arctic meteorological station. Superbly shot and cunningly scripted, the film is one of two featuring up and coming Russian heartthrob Grigoriy Dobrygin. The other is Black Lightning, where Dobrygin plays a grad student who inherits a beaten up old car that just happens to fly. Presented by Timur Bekmambetov (the director of Night Watch and Wanted), the film is being heralded as a Russian smash up between Spiderman and Back to the Future.

Flying higher into the cinematic stratosphere is Russia's first 3D animation, and appropriately, it features their late, great technological feat: dogs in space. Belka & Strelka — Space Dogs is an animated tribute to the kooky Soviet mission that launched 50 years ago, and looks set to commemorate the historical event with some good, old fashioned family fun.

This celebration of Russian films is the largest festival that occurs outside the country itself. So be sure to peruse the programme and pick out a film or two to enjoy on these last remaining (though thankfully not Russian) winter nights.

Published on Concrete Playground
From 19 August - 1st September at the Chauvel

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Trailer: Black Swan

***Update: click HERE to read my review

Whoa! I've just seen the trailer (not to mention the poster!) for Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan and I'm speechless!

See for yourselves:

Now, 'I had a dream' storylines can be trite at the best of times, but after Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler, I think we're safe in Aronofsky's hands (that said, I haven't seen The Fountain, and have heard mixed things - thoughts?). I'm also a huge fan of dance films (as evidenced by my shameless gushing over The Red Shoes), so let's wait and see how a psychological thriller will play out en pointe.

Official Synopsis:

BLACK SWAN follows the story of Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who zealously supports her daughter’s professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.

Australian release date: 20 January 2011
US release date: 1 December 2010 

***UPDATE: Check out the film's teaser site I Just Want to Be Perfect
And for an extra surprise, type Rothbart while on the site and see what happens!  

The Nothing Men

Producer and co-star Martin Dingle-Wall calls The Nothing Men "a rusty nail, one inch punch of a film," and there's honestly no better way to describe it. Set in a dingy factory in the final two weeks before it gets shut down for good, the story sits with the erstwhile workers as they are forced to wait on their redundancy payouts. With cards, beers and a midday visit from the lunch truck their only entertainment, former foreman Jack (Colin Friels) and his men fritter their days away with the crassest forms of 'secret men's business'. That is until mild-mannered David (David Field) arrives and his last minute transfer is enough to turn Jack's corporate conspiracy theories into full-blown, deadly paranoia.

Set between Jack's worker blue singlets and David's crisp white shirts is the secretly tortured Wesley (Dingle Wall) and his physical and emotional shades of grey. Already sitting at a slight distance from Jack and the rest of the beer-swillers, Wesley finds a fellow chess player and cultural kindred spirit in David, as well as a decidedly more devastating discovery. It is here The Nothing Men asks its audience to accept a key coincidence, but in doing so writer-director Mark Fitzpatrick seeks to plumb the darkness of desperate men's souls.

In both writing and setting, The Nothing Men has a distinctly theatrical feel (indeed the screenplay has been adapted for the stage), but as the first Australian production to use the RED camera, the film also attempts to use the cramped location to innovative, cinematic ends. Powerhouse performances by Friels and Field further elevate this local fare to gripping heights, as combustible cocktail of grief, suspicion and old-fashioned bullying coalesce in the most bluntly terrifying climax.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date (limited): 12 August 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


 Image via Hoaxville

Sure, this short documentary is blessed with a conveniently cracking name, but that’s definitely not all that’s going for it. Up and coming Australian director Glendyn Ivin (Last Ride) was approached by Burn to make, ‘…an unconventional urban musician, somewhere in the world…”

Ivin eloquently describes on his blog Hoaxville (a beauty in its own right), how he came to find Philadelphian musician Julius Wright a.k.a Lyrical God on YouTube, before tracking him down on Facebook to ask if he’d like to be part of a documentary. From Sydney to the streets of South Philly, that’s social media for you.

The result is a truly remarkable documentary, a gorgeously shot and a quietly evocative portrait of Wright’s unique tapping and rapping talent.

Playground from Glendyn Ivin on Vimeo.

Published on Concrete Playground

Monday, August 16, 2010

Eat Pray Love: Better Days

I'm a lifelong fan of Pearl Jam and the gruffly gorgeous voice of Eddie Vedder. I adored the soundtrack he did for Into the Wild, and so I'm delighted to see his name attached to Eat Pray Love.

Here's the newly released video for Vedder's single Better Days:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beached Az 2: The Tide

Is this the end for our Beached Az friends?

Perhaps in this guise, but Sydney fans can look forward to Beached Az Live, coming this October to Cockatoo Island.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Trailer: Buried

There are no two ways about it, this is a cracking trailer:

Sure the poster* is a total Vertigo rip off (homage?), and yes we've seen this plotline play out on an episode of Alias, but Rodrigo Cortés' film nevertheless has my interest piqued. 

Official synopsis:

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a U.S. citizen working as a contract driver in Iraq. After a swift and sudden attack on his convoy, he awakens to find himself buried alive inside a coffin with nothing more than a lighter, a cell phone, and little memory of how he ended up there. Faced with limited oxygen and unlimited panic, Paul finds himself in a tension-filled race against time to escape this claustrophobic death-trap before it’s too late.

Australian release date: 7 October 2010

*This poster is also worth a look.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Download: Passenger's Shape of Love

Passenger’s latest album may still be working its magic, but the next is already set to take flight. It turns out the indefatigable muso made all sorts of Australian friends on his last trip down under, and even recorded his next album as a series of collaborations with some of our most exciting local talents.

Releasing on September 17th, Flight of the Crow features the likes of Lior, Josh Pyke, Katie Noonan, Boy & Bear, Philadelphia Grand Jury, Kate Miller Heidke, Dead Letter Chorus, Matt Corby, Jess Chalker, Brian Campeau and Elana Stone. An impressive line up to be sure, as is the fact that one of the songs – Shape of Love (featuring Boy & Bear) – is already the soundtrack to an Australian ad.

More exciting still, Passenger is offering fans the chance to download Shape of Love for free, so click HERE to add this groovy song to your collection.

Passenger will be back in Australia later this month to take part in Josh Pyke’s Busking for Change gig at Sydney’s Annandale Hotel on August 27th. This worthy cause raises money for the Indigenous Literacy Project, and will see Passenger and Pyke share the stage with Boy & Bear, and Holly Throsby. Passenger will then go on an Australian tour with Boy & Bear in late September/October: for dates and details, head to Facebook.

Published on Trespass

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Ghost Writer

In a convoluted case of art imitating life, Roman Polanski's latest thriller centres on a man under siege. Novelist and screenwriter Robert Harris' thinly veiled portrait of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair takes on an extra level of infamy with the film's production halted by convicted pedophile Polanski's arrest and attempted extradition. With two such hulking shadows (ghosts?), it's practically impossible to take this film on its own merits, as you wonder what Polanski might have made of the material under less taxing circumstances (or whether you should support him by seeing the film at all).

This polemical context aside, The Ghost Writer is a masterfully constructed, if ultimately lackluster political whodunit. Ewan McGregor capably shoulders the film as its eponymous and nameless protagonist — as a self-confessed 'hack' biographer, he takes on Adam Lang's (Pierce Brosnan) memoirs after the mysterious death of his previous 'ghost'. Relocating to Lang's remote and fiercely modernist (haunted?) house, the ghost steps into a crucible of time and political pressure as an angry public calls for Lang's extradition to the International Criminal Court.

Although the plot plays out like a clunky game of chess, The Ghost Writer is worth seeing for Olivia Williams' flawless performance as Lang's political lioness of a wife, as well as Tom Wilkinson's scene, nay, film-stealing cameo. Alexandre Desplat's noirish score mixes well with the stark production design and crisp cinematography. In all the film is a stylish and capable thriller, but one that somehow ends up being disappointingly less than the sum of its parts.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 12 August 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Interview: Shirley Barrett (South Solitary)

Before South Solitary opened this year’s Sydney Film Festival, much was made of Shirley Barrett’s cinematic vanishing act. It’s been 14 years since the Australian writer-director took home the prestigious Cannes Camera d’Or for Love Serenade, and 10 since her last feature Walk the Talk. However Barrett has been no stranger to Sydney’s State Library, as the self-confessed ‘history buff’ set about meticulously researching her third feature, a 1920s drama set on a desperately remote lighthouse station.

“I do enjoy going into the library and finding the books, sitting there and just starting to let the ideas develop,” she says. “The State Library had a couple of real of them is this 1948 film called The Lighthouse Keeper, a little, 10 minute doco that was shot on Matsika Island, which is this island south of Hobart. It rains 250 days of the year, (and that’s not exaggerating!), there’s nothing between it and Antarctica…and provisions had to be hauled up a haulage – like the one you see in our film – and often the weather was so bad that the supply ship would be delayed and delayed and delayed.”

“So that was really inspiring. It was a beautifully shot, black and white film and in it the head lightkeeper sits up knitting in his room and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll steal that idea!’ I stole a couple of ideas from it actually,” she admits with a laugh.

Barrett clearly relished the historical research, which results in the film’s beautifully authentic production design, costumes, even down to the finest sound details. “Our sound designer [Frank Lipson] went to the last remaining lighthouse with a clockwork mechanism which is Port Adelaide and recorded [it],” she says, also describing how the kerosene lamp inside the lens was the ‘real deal,’ lent to them by the Tasmanian Maritime Museum. “I knew there would be a lot of lighthouse buffs out there who would be watching very closely to see I didn’t get it too wrong.”

In finding someone to bring all this rich period detail back to life in the form of plucky thirty-something protagonist Meredith, Barrett turned to her Love Serenade star Miranda Otto. “I really enjoy the comic sensibility that Miranda has, and I think she’s astonishingly skilled as an actress too. She takes my breath away sometimes with the things she does, she’s so wonderful.”

Starring with Otto is New Zealander Marton Csokas (Romulus, My Father), with whom Barrett returned to the archives yet again, to read up on shellshock in soldiers returning from the Great War. “Marton and I did a lot of research on that. People coming back so damaged after the First World War and Australia being in no position to deal with them, of course. They’d never seen anything like it before.”

However for all the authentic visuals and performances, Barrett greatest worry was that her very location might make for stultifying symbolism. “It terrified me to be honest, because it is such a bloody whopping great symbol and it could easily become so heavy-handed. But at the same time it’s a beautiful image, the lighthouse, and it is actually just what they do; they run a lighthouse and that’s their whole purpose for being there.”

Published by Street Press Australia (p.53)

South Solitary is screening in Australian cinemas now
Click here to read my review

Monday, August 9, 2010

Interview: Jan Chapman

Fresh from her reign over the Sydney Film Festival official competition, veteran Australian producer Jan Chapman has signed up to be a mentor for the seventh annual Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards. With films like The Piano, Bright Star, Lantana and Somersault to her name, any aspiring filmmaker would jump at the chance to work with Chapman.

“The way I work as a producer is that I work with the scriptwriters a lot in the development of the script and supervise the production on a day-to-day basis and report back to investors,” she says of her often misunderstood or publicly overlooked profession. “Then [there’s] the editing and the marketing of the film into the world. You’re responsible for the film right from the very first commitment to do it to the getting of it into the cinemas.”

So given this incredibly involved undertaking, how does Chapman go about choosing a project?

“Very carefully! It’s a personal choice for me,” she says. “Often seeing people’s short films makes a big difference…. that’s what’s very important for me in terms of trying to find people to mentor; I need to see something that gives me a sense of who they are, what their voice is like, what their interest in subject matter is.”

Qantas is asking young talent to ‘step up’ and apply for the chance to win a 12-month paid mentorship across seven creative arenas: music, fashion, film, visual arts, photography, visual communications, industrial and object design. For her part, mentoring is something Chapman has found herself increasingly undertaking.

“In the last few years I’ve been doing more executive producing and mentoring than my own projects really. I just finished a third film as an executive producer called Griff the Invisible with a young producer called Nicole O'donohue and a director-writer Leon Ford, and once again I found that it was very rewarding to actually work with someone who didn’t know what they were doing really, [but did have] determination, energy, and the project was something I responded to,” she says. “So it’s not that I think, ‘Oh I must give back,’ it’s just that I’ve found that I like doing it.”

Chapman also received a ‘special thanks’ credit for her involvement in Animal Kingdom, an acknowledgment that came as quite a surprise.

“Did I? That’s nice. Well I did look at the cut. That’s thrilling to me, because I saw David’s short films and to see his work develop so carefully; he’s just worked so well to get that film right… I was incredibly excited by it.”

In sharing a little of the advice she gives, one can see Chapman’s thoughts are equally applicable across any creative endeavour. 

“You have to believe in yourself, you have to be clear about what you’re trying to say, you have to not give up; I’ve had knockbacks and gone back again, she says. “Also listen to people’s reactions; sometimes you don’t want to hear a reaction that might be a little negative, but it’s wise to at least try and understand where it came from and what you could do to improve your work.”

To succeed in the industry, Chapman makes it clear you need to have commitment, tenacity and passion for your films. “They’re all like little lifetimes.”

Image - Chapman with Jane Campion and the cast of Bright Star

Published by Street Press Australia
Qantas Spirit of the Youth Awards registrations close TODAY 
***Update: Deadline extended to Wednesday August 11

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Passenger: Crows in Snow

Crows in Snow is the second video released from Passenger's third album, Divers and Submarines. And this song floors me.

Every. Single. Time.

There's no real match for seeing Passenger perform the song live - with such awe-inspiring intensity - but this video, with it's starkly simple conceit, goes a long way to bringing that to the screen:

Purchase a copy of Divers and Submarines HERE or via iTunes.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Invisible City

Ironic doesn’t even begin to describe both the name of Toronto housing project Regent Park nor its ‘revitalisation.’ Academy Award nominated filmmaker Hubert Davis (Hardwood) has done a much better job of telling it like it is: an Invisible City. Davis’ masterfully crafted documentary spends three years in this overlooked enclave, tracking the lives of two of its young residents, Kendell and Mikey, as they make their way towards the end of high school. Both boys are raised by hardworking, single mothers, and also benefit from the keen eye of schoolteacher-cum-community mentor Ainsworth. A former Regent Park resident and pro-footballer, Ainsworth knows the hardships faced by these somewhat lost boys, pointing out, “there’s a big difference between housing and community.” 

It’s with a keen and compassionate eye that Davis allows Kendell and Mikey’s stories to unfold. Both begin with eager aspirations of getting good grades and getting (the hell) out of dodge, and yet both, in their separate ways, fall prey to the trappings of their community: drugs, gangs and hopelessness. Davis’ stylistic cinematography sets the boys’ lives into stark relief with their supposedly transforming surroundings, and yet the compelling truth of his portrait never plays for your sympathies nor feels cloyingly didactic.

Invisible City took out Best Canadian feature at the 2009 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and it certainly commands your attention. Fans of the watershed HBO series The Wire will be struck by the similarities. “It’s all in the game,” has never seemed so real.

Published by Street Press Australia (p.50)
Screening at Possible Worlds: Sunday 8th August, 4pm at Dendy Newtown

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Interview: Rob Stefaniuk (Suck)

Canadian independent filmmaker Rob Stefaniuk likes to joke that he made a deal with the devil. Suck, his vampire rock n’ roll movie about an unsuccessful band who find fame on the dark side, stars the likes of legends Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Moby, Malcolm McDowell and Henry Rollins.

“I went down to the crossroads and made a deal,” Stefaniuk laughs. “It was kind of a domino effect. Iggy Pop was the first start to sign on and we got him by sending him an email. I went and saw him at Massey Hall with The Stooges reunion show and I thought, ‘what do we have to lose?’

“Henry Rollins said he’d be in it because Iggy was in it, and one of my producers had worked with Moby before…then the other producer had worked with Malcolm McDowell. So once we had those people Alice Cooper happened to know all of [them] - Alice plays golf with Malcolm and has known Iggy for 40 years - so he was like, ‘I know your whole cast, I’ll do it, sure!’ It was fantastic.”

The cast sure look like they’re having a fun hamming it up for Stefaniuk’s vamped up, deadpan comedy. Indeed Suck is a film that has its fangs very firmly in its cheek, with the writer-director clearly happy to play to the cult audience and mine the rock star/vampire parallels for all their gory, comedic worth.

“The metaphors just don’t end! Dead people sell more records; the look of them, [they’re] up all night and sleeping during the day – even 'bloodsucking managers' – the whole aspect of it just kept working.”

In developing the script, Stefaniuk was also able to draw on personal experience. “There is a French-Canadian guitar tech named Hugo, who makes me laugh in real life, so I know it’ll be funny if you put Hugo in a room with a vampire. Then you get notes that say, ‘This movie has no tension.’ [But] I’m writing for stoners; tension’s not really important!”

As a musician (who penned the film’s original songs), Stefaniuk found further reflexivity. “I’d played in bands that weren’t successful, [so] there’s the parallel of always being in these types of bands and being an indie filmmaker. It’s always good to take things that make you cry in real life, that make you laugh on the page.”

It shouldn’t come as such a surprise, then, to hear Stefaniuk stress, “this isn’t my vampire movie, this is my rock n roll movie; it just happened to have vampires in it.”

“I wanted [Suck] to be an irreverent rock 'n' roll world, not cinéma vérité. This is what a rock band’s life feels like, but not what it actually is.”

This blood soaked, super-stylised romp leaves quite the impression. In fact, Stefaniuk has just returned from Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival where it seems his devilish luck continued; Suck played to a packed house (“750 people going crazy and screaming at the screen”)…at two o’clock in the afternoon!

But with the tricky task of distributing of his small budget Canadian flick, Stefaniuk is looking back to the underworld.

“I should have asked for an American movie. I made a big mistake,” he ruefully concludes. “The devil always kicks you somehow.”

Published by Street Press Australia (p.51)
Suck will be screening at Possible Worlds TOMORROW night

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mother Fish

Khoa Do's remarkable film, Mother Fish is being screened across Australia from this week. Sydney screenings are taking place at the Chauvel (August 5th and 6th) and at Paramatta Riverside Theaters (August 7th and 17th). Click here for more details.

Below is the review I wrote for Rotten Tomatoes when the film (originally titled Missing Water) screened in competition at last year's Sydney Film festival.

Can you imagine what it was like?

Khoa Do asks a lot from his audience in his ambitious third feature Missing Water. In this highly personal story, the director recounts the dangerous and harrowing flight of refugees from post-war Vietnam. Some 1.5 million people took to boats -- often barely warranting the name -- in the pursuit of freedom, claiming the lives of 600,000.

The most striking feature of this film is the fact that the re-enactment takes place in a sewing factory. The production designers have done an ingenious job fashioning a boat out of tables, sewing machines and racks of clothes. It may take a while to get used to the conceit, but if you can get on board (terrible pun intended), then you're definitely in for a compelling experience.

For a film so pared back in setting, the onus is more squarely on the actors to carry this story. And for the most part they succeed. The two sisters, Kim (Kathy Nguyen) and Hanh (Sheena Pham) are wonderful together; teasing and comforting each other in turn, with recurring jokes that take you to the heart of their loving relationship. Both performances develop as the film progresses and both are clearly invested in relating this story. Vico Thai as Chau also has some good moments, though his character seems to be underdeveloped compared with the sisters, which results in his story not translating as well to the audience.

However Hieu Phan powerfully embodies the character of Uncle, which is a painful re-enactment of his own journey undertaken 30 years ago. At the post screening Q&A Phan spoke candidly about how he wept during rehearsals as the memories of his experience came flooding back. So again, while his character may have been limited to the more symbolic and melodramatic scenes, no one can fault his absolute commitment to the role.

Alongside his cast, Do also shoulders the huge burden to capture this Spartan setting with innovative cinematography. Only rarely resorting to rocking the camera in mimicry, Do's compositions succeed in being emotive and intriguing. Interacting well with his set, he not only establishes the reality of this rickety boat, but captures the plight of these people in a provocatively cinematic way.

Missing Water is a courageous film on many levels. For Do, the responsibility of telling the story of his people must have been intimidating at times. So too, the decision to navigate a film set in a sewing factory and recounted in Australian English. The result may be too much of a reach for some, but for those willing to take the journey, these elements coalesce in an enlightening and moving story; one that, translated into Vietnamese, means "Missing Country".


Last Train Home

Try to imagine 130 million people, all attempting to get home for the holidays. The mind reels, and so it should, for this is the largest human migration and it takes place in China every Chinese New Year. Seas of humanity swarm towards the train stations of migrant worker hubs such as Shenzen and Guangzhou, as millions of souls make their precious annual journeys to their rural homes, where family and festivities await.

Lixin Fan’s touching document of this stunning event focuses on one migrant couple, the Zhangs; charting their claustrophobic course from the confines of factory dormitories some 2100 miles home to their two teenage children. Sixteen years since leaving their eldest, Qin, in the care of her grandparents, the consequences of the Zhangs’ abandonment come home to roost. Though the parents’ singular, desperate wish is for their children to succeed at school and make better lives for themselves, Qin rebels (as teenagers are want to do), deciding to try her luck in the big smoke instead. The pain and disappointment of the hardworking Zhangs at their daughter’s decision is palpable, as Fan’s quietly beautiful camera captures all, including an incredibly uncomfortable confrontation between father and daughter.

For the style and the intimate restraint Fan displays, as well as the socio-economic reality check, The Last Train Home should be required viewing. Indeed cinema famously began with a shot of a train pulling into a station, so there is something of a coming home here too for audiences fortunate enough to experience this marvelous documentary.  

Published by Street Press Australia
Screening TONIGHT at Possible Worlds

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