Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Week in Review - 31/5/09

FILMS:
  • Sono otoko, kyôbô ni tsuki (Violent Cop, Takeshi Kitano, Japan, 1989)
  • Kawaita hana (Pale Flower, Masahiro Shinoda, Japan, 1964)
  • My Year Without Sex (Sarah Watt, Australia, 2009)

SHORT FILMS:
Violent Cop
What a blast this film is, and what a blast the original Japanese audiences must have had. Here is this guy - Kitano - known throughout the land as a comedian, and he comes out with brutally violent stuff that we all now know him for. Quite honestly, I see his films as comedies, of the darkest, blackest variety. Sure, they're violent, but there's an understated irony barely below the surface. I'm not big on violence in cinema, specifically gratuitous violence, but I can't get upset with the violence of Kitano. I find myself aghast and laughing in equal measure and I see it as very artful.

Pale Flower
The current Melbourne Cinémathèque season is described as Japanese Noir, and noir this film surely is. I'm certainly no expert on the subject of either Japanese or Noir, but I enjoyed this. That's all.

My Year Without Sex
I know that Sarah Watts' previous film, Looking Both Ways, was well-received, but it left me unimpressed. I liked some elements, such as the animation, but overall it all seemed a bit flat. I probably wouldn't have bothered with My Year Without Sex but for Jake Wilson's glowing review, in which he describes the film as "the most accomplished Australian film so far this year". While some have been unimpressed by the film, I find Jake often has insights that others miss.

I agree that the latest film is an improvement and that Looking Both Ways tended to be twee. In My Year Without Sex, the story and acting are more believable, the film is less gimmicky and it conveys some keen social observations. Somehow, though, it still feels a little flat. It depicts modern urban life as many experience it, but doesn't seem to rise above the mundanity of it all.

Maybe that undersells the qualities of the film - it's certainly an enjoyable film. It's just that I sense that Watts has a keen intellect and has insights she wants to share, but doesn't get the punch in her film that she aims for. While I think the JW review makes valid points, the film clearly didn't impress me like it did him.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

St, Kilda Film Festival 2

IMAGES OF AGE:
These are a collection of local films screening in competition (in other sessions) at the festival that share a theme of old age. My pick of them is Fallen and Lover's Walk and the other two (both documentaries) did little for me. In fact, I allowed myself to doze off during Royboys, not necessarily a reflection of the film but rather, my disinterest in football and my lack of sleep.
  • Fallen (Mark Priems, 17’50”)
  • Lover's Walk (Abigail Hargrave,15’47”)
  • The People's Plot (Mikael Bones Olsen, 12’27”)
  • Royboys (Brett Swain, Michael Wannenmacher, 27’52”)

FRENCH SHORTS:
These films are a selection from the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival.
  • Skhizein (Jérémy Clapin, 13'10")
  • Forbach (Claire Burger, 35’)
  • Dix (Bif, 7’)
  • Citizen Versus Cane (Severi Shun, 18’)
  • Lila (Broadcast Club, 12'30")
Skhizein is a clever and entertaining animated short that I really relate to. It's an exploration of the concept of matter and its occupation of time and space. When a meteor strikes Henry, his physicality is displaced by 91 cm and he must retrain himself to act in a parallel reality. As a film, it's visually compelling but its novelty belies the thoughtfulness of the concept. I remember as a teenager being amazed at how we fill a certain space at a certain time, and I used to imagine that space leaving a trail as I, for example, travelled in the 67 tram to school. It was all part of my life-long quest to understand consciousness and the nature of the universe, which this film also alludes to in a humorous way.

Forbach completely fooled me until the end. I truly thought it was a documentary about Samuel, a famous TV actor, returning to his small town, Forbach, to visit his family and to receive town honours. Things don't go well and we can see why Samuel doesn't visit often. His mother is an alcoholic and his brother has been in the wrong crowd. Very cleverly made.

Dix (literally, ten) also recalls something from my childhood, the fear of stepping on pavement lines. My mother used to tell me to watch out for the boogey man, and I often had nightmares about it. In this film, Marc has the same phobia, multiplied many times and has ghastly visions of the consequences that recall Vincenzo Natali's Cube.

Citizen Versus Cane has English actors speaking English but it's a French crew. It's a fairly formulaic comedy and OK, but nothing special. Lila is without dialogue, a visual compilation of people on summer vacation. Again, OK, but nothing special. The Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival is one of the most reputed short film festivals in the world, screening some 500 French films, and I find it hard to believe that some of these are among the pick of the festival.

Friday, May 29, 2009

St. Kilda Film Festival

I was blown away by the two sessions I attended this evening at the St. Kilda Film Festival. I originally intended to see just the German Shorts but was able to squeeze a session of the local films in competition also. As expected, the German session was stronger, being the best of the InterFilm Berlin Film Festival. The real surprise was how strong the Australian films are. The programming has really picked up since I last saw a local session, with less of the one-joke plots, more variety and documentaries being the strongest contenders.

The Australian shorts I saw (session 4) were:
  • Collide-A-Scope (Gregory Godhard, 3')
  • Birthday Girl (Angie Black, 6'30")
  • A Different Cut (Fahim Ahad, 9'30")
  • Home Away From Home (Riyadh Abdul Hussain, 18'37")
  • Multiple Choice (Michael Goode, 4'46")
  • One Shoe Short (Jackie van Beek, 8'17")
  • Wounded (Fiona Corke, 6'09")
  • Undressing Vanessa (Matthew Pond, 22'36")
My biggest belly laughs were with Undressing Vanessa, a documentary about Tobin Saunders, better known as drag queen/performer/social activist Vanessa Wagner. Now, I've had friends who were cross-dressers, but this cat is totally wild and over-the-top. She's an impressive character with a social and political conscience and was involved with the Pauline Pantsdown spoof of Pauline Hansen several years ago. He's also a man with HIV and the film charts his struggles to come to terms with that. If you ever get the chance, see this wonderful little gem.

I loved that several of the films in this session had a political and/or social element to them. Home Away From Home is a very moving account of a lovely Iraqi man who worked as a marketing manager at Al-Jazeera TV and now finds himself driving a taxi in Adelaide. I couldn't help but surmise that that is how the director met him and got talking about his life. So my two favourite Australian shorts are both documentaries.

Also very strong are A Different Cut, which addresses racial prejudice, and Wounded, a story based on true accounts of former shooters who have been traumatised by their experiences of killing animals. I exchanged a few words with the director, Fiona Corke, after the session to ask her intent. It wasn't vegetarianism (which she isn't) but rather, to point out how damaging violence can be, in ways that aren't foreseen.

Collida-A-Scope is an experimental film that did nothing for me. Birthday Girl is about a woman grieving the death of her child that is OK but perhaps a little derivative (reminding me of Juliette Binoche in Paris je t'aime). One Shoe Short would make a good companion piece to Samson and Delilah, depicting aboriginal children living in poverty in Alice Springs, and recalling Iranian cinema with its focus on children. Multiple Choice is the only film that came close to that one-joke formula that I have disdain for, but it was clever enough not to be too silly and being only the one, it was quite OK.

The German shorts were:
  • Pingu Q (Kun Jia, 1’)
  • The Pick Up Artist (Der Aufreißer, Steffen Weinert, 13’)
  • Robin (Hanno Olderdissen, 20'30")
  • Apple on a Tree (Astrid Rieger, Zeljko Vidovic, 4'50")
  • It's My Turn (Bende Sira, Ismet Ergün, 10'05")
  • Cuddling with Politicians (Christian 3 Roosen, 4'50")
  • Frozen Sea (Likas Miko, 27’)
  • Our Wonderful Nature (Tomer Eshed, 5'05")
Where to start? Frozen Sea is the clear stand-out and this Likas Miko should be a talent to watch. I predict that his name will become more prominent. The film looks gorgeous with a raw naturalistic look, set in winter. The film has a mysterious edge to it, and we gradually learn about family secrets and lies. Told from a child's viewpoint, we see his parents quarrelling and the father is often absent. Things come to a head at Christmas and we realise that things are not always what they seem.

Apple on a Tree is a real festival crowd-pleaser. Highly inventive, visually amazing and very funny. Basically it's a musical (lyrics in English), an absurd pantomime not unlike the inventive music videos of Michel Gondry (think Björk). It depicts a man who is an apple on a tree who becomes a human and realises that it's better being an apple. This description doesn't do it justice, you just have to see it.

It's My Turn screens without sub-titles, and that is its original intent, because it's not even in German. Unless you're Turkish, you won't understand the words, but that's part of the experience. This film so strongly uses the language of cinema that it doesn't matter and maybe it's a better film because of it. It's terribly moving and it had me in tears like I haven't been for a long time. It's a very simple story which also recalls Iranian cinema's preoccupation with children and would have been very much at home in the Chacun son cinéma collection of shorts, made for the 60th anniversay of the Cannes Film Festival, that are an ode to cinema itself. It depicts a group of young boys who find a way to enjoy the cinema vicariously. I loved it immensely.

Pingu Q is just a quick little animation that serves as a crowd warmer. The Pick Up Artist is a bit of a one-joke plot, but well done. Robin is a fairly gritty social tale that looks very Kieslowski-like but not in the same league (which is not a criticism because I don't think anyone else is in that league). Cuddling With Politicians is OK for variety (but not much else). I saw Our Wonderful Nature at the Festival of German Films recently and obviously so did many others in the audience because the laughs came long before a fresh audience would know to laugh. Basically it's a spoof of a nature documentary, about the mating behaviour of water shrew, using Pixar-quality animation. In fact, you'd almost swear it was a Pixar production.

My evening at the George cinema (where the festival is running until Sunday night) restores my faith in short film, which received a kick-start at the recent Thornton shorts. I'm planning to see the French ones tomorrow along with a local session, and one or two sessions on Sunday. Kudos to Paul Harris and I believe this is his 11th year at the helm of the festival.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sergio Leone Retrospective

The Kino is screening a Sergio Leone retrospective next week as part of the Melbourne Italian Festival. It runs from 2 - 7 June.

Screening:
  • Il Colosseo di Rodi (The Colossus of Rhodes, Italy/Spain/France, 1961)
  • Per un pugno di dollari (Fistful of dollars, Italy/Germany, 1964)
  • Per qualche dollaro in più (For a Few Dollars More, Italy/Spain/Germany, 1965)
  • Il buono, il brutto e il cattivo (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Italy/Spain, 1966)
  • C’era una volta il West (Once Upon A Time In the West, Italy, 1968)
  • Giu’ la (A Fistful of Dynamite, Italy, 1971)
  • C'era una volta in America (Once Upon A Time in America, Italy, 1984)
Also screening, films about Leone:
  • Sergio Leone Cinema, Cinema.... (Carles Prats & Manel Mayol, Spain, 2002) 105' BETA SP
  • I Sogni Nel Mirino (Dreams are my Focus, Luca Morsella - asst. dir. Once Upon a time in America) BETACAM 55'

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2009 Australian Film Release Schedule

The following information is lifted straight from the AFI website, which may interest you if you'd like to know about release dates for upcoming Australian productions. Note that the list is not complete and subject to change.

Samson & Delilah 7 May
The Chifleys of Busby St 21 May
My Year Without Sex 28 May
The Choir 28 May
Shadows of the Past May/June
Lake Mungo June tbc
Bastardy 25 June
The Burning Season June/July tbc
Four of a Kind 11 June
Bad Bush 11 June
Disgrace 25 June
Crush July 2009 tbc
Last Ride 2 July
Lucky Country 16 July
Cedar Boys 30 July
Beautiful Kate 6 August
Balibo 13 August
Subdivision 20 August
$9.99 20 August
Charlie & Boots 3 September
Blessed September tbc
Mao’s Last Dancer 1 October
Prime Mover 29 October
The Boys are Back in Town December
Bright Star December tbc
Van Diemen’s Land tbc
Bran Nue Dae tbc
Accidents Happen tbc

Bastardy

Amiel Courtin-Wilson's award-winning Bastardy screened at MIFF last year, is screening in competition at Sydney Film Festival this year and is by all accounts worth seeing. I've met the subject, Jack Charles, an aboriginal actor/cat burglar/heroin addict, who I stopped in the street a few years ago and had a colourful conversation with. I'd seen him a few days earlier in a small role in Alkinos Tsilimidos' excellent Tom White, with Colin Friels in the title role. We spoke like long lost friends and he had all the time in the world to chat. It was a lovely experience. At the time, I knew nothing of his dark history and look forward to seeing the film.

It's now been announced that the film has a two week season starting 25 June at the Kino in Melbourne, Chauvel in Sydney and Palace Barracks in Brisbane and Palace Nova Eastend in Adelaide. This is a good opportunity to support diversity in cinema by seeing a festival-quality film during a short theatrical release.

Update:
See Stephanie Bunbury's article in The Age about Amiel Courtin-Wilson and his recent film, Cicada, that screened recently in the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes

MIFF Changes in 2009

Taking a look at the MIFF mini mag, which arrived in the mail today (and, as posted yesterday, downloadable as a PDF), I noticed that the Closing Night film (Bran Nue Day) and celebrations are taking place on Saturday 8 August, leaving another day of screenings before the festival actually closes. Now, I've had double tickets to the Closing Night screenings and celebrations for the previous two years and not used them. Being held on Sundays has been a put-off for me. After two and a half weeks of screenings with a full festival pass (and seeing around 40 films), the thought of a Sunday night film with work the next day holds little appeal. So for me, this represents a change for the better.

In the past, MIFF members received the full festival guide a day before its general distribution in The Age newspaper. This year I'm delighted to see that members get the opportunity to receive it a full four days earlier. The general release is Friday 10 July and the festival launch will be Monday 6 July. That's a good head-start on thrashing out what's on offer when, and beginning the daunting task of distilling some 250 films down to a 40-film program over 17 days.

A potentially contentious change this year is that full festival passes are no longer open to the general public. One must now be a MIFF member to purchase a full pass, a strategy obviously designed to increased festival membership. This follows last year's decision to provide priority entry to screenings for MIFF members, a strategy that resulted in a tripling of members. Some complained that this is not very egalitarian while I, as a member, had no problem with it. I also feel similarly about this latest change. MIFF involves a massive endeavour and costs that require a lot of support, which ultimately benefits the supporters. Membership benefits MIFF, and the member benefits outweigh the costs. I see it as a win-win situation. What about you? Any thoughts for or against?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Repeat of Thornton Shorts

Just a quick one: the Nova has added a couple more sessions of the screenings of the Warwick Thornton shorts. Check out my earlier post about these four films that precede the Camera d'Or-winning Samson and Delilah.

The sessions are on Wednesday 3 June at 7pm and 8.30pm.

MIFF 2009: The 2nd Peek

Following the announcement of opening and closing night films, MIFF has now revealed a number of other titles being screened across the different streams. As usual, I'm particularly interested in the retrospectives and this year there's one on Anna Karina. But I know jack about nearly every other title, so any tips for or against are welcome.

You can download the PDF from the MIFF website, and these are the titles in each stream:

International Panorama
  • Double Take (Johan Grimonprez, 2009, Belgium/Germany/Netherlands)
  • 35 Shots of Rum (35 rhums, Claire Denis, 2008, France/Germany)
  • An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009, UK)
  • In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009, UK)
  • The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (Rebecca Miller, 2009, Germany)
Docos
  • The September Issue (R.J. Cutler, 2009, USA)
  • The Beaches of Agnès (Les plages d'Agnès, Agnès Varda, 2008, France)
  • The Queen and I (Drottningen och jag, Nahid Persson, 2008, Sweden)
  • Sergio (Greg Barker, 2009, USA)
Neighbourhood Watch
  • Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, Sion Sono, 2008, Japan)
  • 12 Lotus (Royston Tan, 2008, Singapore)
  • United Red Army (Jitsuroku rengô sekigun: Asama sansô e no michi, Kôji Wakamatsu, 2007, Japan)
  • Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2008, Japan)
Arts and Minds
  • Guest of Cindy Sherman (Tom Donahue, Paul Hasegawa-Overacker, 2008, USA)
  • Theater of War (John W. Walter, 2008, USA)
  • Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine (Marion Cajori, Amei Wallach, 2008, USA)
  • Little Joe (Nicole Haeusser, 2009, USA)
Backbeat
  • It Might Get Loud (Davis Guggenheim, 2008, USA)
  • Celia the Queen (Joe Cardona, Mario de Varona, 2008, USA)
  • The Liberty of Norton Folgate (Julien Temple, Luke Creswell, 2009, UK)
  • Need That Record (Brendan Toller, 2008, USA)
Anna Karina retrospective
  • Alphaville (Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, Jean-Luc Godard, 1965, France/Italy)
  • Anna (Pierre Koralnik, 1967, France)
  • Living Together (Vivre ensemble, Anna Karina, 1973, France)
  • Victoria (Anna Karina, 2008, Canada?)
NextGen
  • Cheeky Girls (Freche Mädchen, Ute Wieland, 2008, Germany)
  • It's Not Me, I Swear! (C'est pas moi, je le jure !, Philippe Falardeau, 2008, Canada)
  • Brendan and the Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey, 2009, France/Belgium/Ireland)
  • Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009, USA)
Night Shift
  • Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008, France/Canada)
  • Eden Lake (James Watkins, 2008, UK)
  • Mum & Dad (Steven Sheil, 2008, UK)
  • Black Dynamite (Scott Sanders, 2009, USA)
See also: Anna Karina to be a guest of MIFF 2009 (The Age)

Congratulations Warwick Thornton

Congratulations to Warwick Thornton, who has just won the Camera d'Or, the prize for best first feature at Cannes Film Festival. Samson and Delilah was well received by the critics and the jury obviously took warmly to it as well.

ABC Online reports:
"The jury described it as the best love film they had seen for many years."

The Age reports:
"Thank you for believing in our first-born baby," Thornton said as he accepted the award. "I don't know what to say. Viva Cannes, viva le cinema."

An emotional Warwick Thornton accepts the Camera D'Or award from actress Isabelle Adjani at Cannes.
















See also: video clip at The Age

All the Cannes winners:

In Competition:
Feature films


Palme d'Or
DAS WEISSE BAND (THE WHITE RIBBON) directed by Michael HANEKE

Grand Prix
UN PROPHÈTE (A PROPHET) directed by Jacques AUDIARD

Award for Best Director
Brillante MENDOZA for KINATAY

Award for Best Screenplay
LOU Ye for CHUN FENG CHEN ZUI DE YE WAN (Spring Fever)

Award for Best Actress
Charlotte GAINSBOURG in ANTICHRIST directed by Lars VON TRIER

Award for Best Actor
Christoph WALTZ in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS directed by Quentin TARANTINO

Jury Prize Ex-aequo
FISH TANK directed by Andrea ARNOLD
BAK-JWI (THIRST) directed by PARK Chan-Wook

Vulcain Prize for an artist technician, awarded by the C.S.T.
MAP OF THE SOUNDS OF TOKYO directed by Isabel COIXET

Lifetime achievement award for his work
LES HERBES FOLLES (WILD GRASS) directed by Alain RESNAIS

Short films

Palme d'Or - Short Film
ARENA directed by João SALAVIZA

Short Film Special Distinction
THE SIX DOLLAR FIFTY MAN directed by Louis SUTHERLAND, Mark ALBISTON

Un Certain Regard:

Un Certain Regard Prize - Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema
KYNODONTAS (DOGTOOTH) directed by Yorgos LANTHIMOS

Jury Prize - Un Certain Regard
POLITIST, ADJECTIV (POLICE, ADJECTIVE) directed by Corneliu PORUMBOIU

Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize Ex-aequo
KASI AZ GORBEHAYE IRANI KHABAR NADAREH (NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS) directed by Bahman GHOBADI
LE PÈRE DE MES ENFANTS (FATHER OF MY CHILDREN ) directed by Mia HANSEN-LØVE

Cinefondation:

1st Prize Cinéfondation
BÁBA directed by Zuzana KIRCHNEROVÁ-ŠPIDLOVÁ

2nd Prize - Cinéfondation
GOODBYE directed by SONG Fang

3rd Prize Cinéfondation Ex-aequo
DIPLOMA directed by Yaelle KAYAM
NAMMAE UI JIP (DON'T STEP OUT OF THE HOUSE) directed by JO Sung-hee

Golden Camera:

Caméra d'or
SAMSON AND DELILAH directed by Warwick THORNTON

Caméra d'Or - Special Distinction
AJAMI directed by Scandar COPTI, Yaron SHANI

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Japanese Noir at Cinémathèque

Further to my Bits and Pieces post, here's the Melbourne Cinémathèque about the Japanese Noir season, starting this Wednesday and running over three weeks:
Japanese Noir: Violent Cops & Pistol Operas – Screening at ACMI, May 27-June 10

The Melbourne Cinémathèque is proud to present a season of film noir from some of the most innovative filmmakers in Japanese Cinema.

Commencing May 27, Japanese Noir: Violent Cops & Pistol Operas celebrates one of the most dynamic, raw and socially investigative forms of Japanese genre filmmaking - the crime film. Often focusing on the brutal honor code of the Yakuza, the post-war emergence of youth gangs, the influence of American culture and military occupation and featuring narrative and stylistic abstraction, film noir and the broader crime genre are an important form of post WWII Japanese Cinema.

This season of films produced by the Shochiku studio features works by many of the key directors of Japanese Cinema including: Takeshi Kitano (his incendiary debut feature Violent Cop, 1989), Masaki Kobayashi (the dark but characteristically humanist Black River, 1957), Masahiro Shinoda (Pale Flower, 1964), and Nagisa Oshima (the seminal The Sun’s Burial, 1960). The season concludes with two of the most striking examples of the form: Tai Kato’s I, the Executioner (1968), a legendary exploitation film portraying the disturbing anatomy of a serial killer, and Seijun Suzuki’s Pistol Opera (2001), a hyper-stylized reworking of his controversial classic Branded to Kill (1967).

Screening as follows:

Wednesday May 27
  • 7.00pm Violent Cop (1989)
  • 8.55pm Pale Flower (1964)

Wednesday June 3
  • 7.00pm Black River (1957)
  • 9.05 The Sun’s Burial (1960)

Wednesday June 10
  • 7.00pm Pistol Opera (2001)
  • 9.05pm I, the Executioner (1968)
Check the Melbourne Cinémethèque website for more details

The Week in Review - 24/05/09

FILMS:
  • Chicago (Frank Urson, USA, 1927)
  • Thunderbolt (Josef von Sternberg, USA, 1929)
  • El ángel exterminador (The Exterminating Angel, Luis Buñuel, Mexico, 1962)
I don't have time right now to write about these, but am happy to discuss. Any thoughts?

Bits and Pieces

St. Kilda Short Film Festival
Generally, I'm not big on short films. Partly it's because the shortened format doesn't allow the development of a story in the way that a longer film does. And partly it's because I overdid it at the St. Kilda Film Festival ten years ago. At the time I was self-employed and managed to get to 13 of the 17 competition sessions. By the time the week was up, I was pretty much over it. The repetitiveness of many of the films really drove home that there's not a whole lot of originality out there.

But that was then, and seeing that number of sessions doesn't do justice to the medium. In moderation, and with more careful selection, short film can be a very rewarding experience. Take the Thornton shorts at the Nova on Thursday, for example. That's something I'd be happy to see again. Others I've seen relatively recently have also impressed, like Nash Edgerton's Lucky and Spider, and Julius Avery's Jerrycan.

I've since returned to the St. Kilda Short Film Festival on occasions, generally to see the touring programs. I don't write off the local competition sessions, but I think you need to be selective and don't over-do them. The touring programs - this year there's four of them - are usually the best of other festivals. The quality has been distilled and there's usually an awesome variety.

The festival is on this week and while I'd like to see the Mexican program, it conflicts with the Melbourne Cinémathèque start of the Japanese noir season, which takes precedence. Wednesday is also the Cinémathèque AGM (6.40pm), so if you have an interest in Melbourne Cinémathèque, come along.

I will, however, be making a point of seeing the German shorts (from the InterFilm Berlin Short Film Festival) screening this Friday at 7.30pm, the French shorts (from the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival), screening Saturday at 6pm, and the Confrontations selection, international films against violence and intolerance from the 2008 InterFilm festival, screening Sunday at 4.30pm.

There's 100 local short films in competition, and other sessions as well. The festival runs from Tuesday 26 - Sun 31 May. It opens at the Palais theatre and other sessions are at the George cinema. Check the official website for more details.

Melbourne Cinémathèque
As mentioned above, this weeks sees the start of a three-week season of Japanese noir, kicking off with the much-anticipated (by me, at least) Takeshi Kitano debut, Violent Cop (1989) and Pale Flower (Masahiro Shinoda, 1964), continuing next week with Black River (Masaki Kobayashi, 1957) and Sun's Burial (Nagisa Oshima, 1960), and finishes with Pistol Opera (Seijun Suzuki, 2001) and I, the Executioner (Tai Kato, 1968).

MIFF Opening & Closing Night films announced
You've probably read that the MIFF bookend films have been announced. Both are MIFF Premiere Fund projects and these will be world premieres. Opening the festival will be Robert Connolly's Balibo, a story about five Australian journalists who were killed on the eve of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Closing the festival will be Rachel Perkins' Bran Nue Day, a musical. The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from July 24 to August 9.

Portable Film Festival
On the subject of MIFF, they have a new competition, and this is their information:
Portable Film Festival wants you to get a little critical. To celebrate the launch of the Melbourne International Film Festival 2009, Portable is launching the Everyone’s a Critic competition in association with MIFF!

What you need to do from now till July 6th 2009 is to create a 30 second clip involving the line “Everyone’s a critic.” There are no genre, format or production limitations- they just have to be your great ideas put into 30 seconds! Now get critiquing!
For more information; visit www.portablefilmfestival.com

ACMI First Look - Overlord
From ACMI:
ACMI Cinemas Presents
FIRST LOOK: Overlord (Stuart Cooper, 83mins, UK, 1975, 35mm, B&W Courtesy: Stuart Cooper & Janus Films)
Thursday 11 June - Sunday 14 June

“Unlike Saving Private Ryan and other dramatizations based on D-Day, Overlord is an intimate film, one that focuses closely on Tom Beddoes (Brian Stirner), who enters the British army, goes through basic training and is one of the first ashore on D-Day.

Beddoes is not a macho hero but a quiet, nice boy, who worries about his cocker spaniel and takes along David Copperfield when he goes off to war.” - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

To coincide with the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) is screening the restored 35mm print of Stuart Cooper’s critically acclaimed Overlord as part of First Look this June.

Originally released in 1975 and winner of Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival that year, Overlord remains an original meditation on war, standing apart from any other war film ever made. Shot by legendary cinematographer John Alcott (Barry Lyndon, The Shining), Overlord seamlessly combines a fictionalised narrative with startling documentary footage of one British soldier’s journey from basic training to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

ACMI Film Curator Kristy Matheson says “Watching Overlord for the first time was an absolute revelation. It is very exciting that Melbourne audiences will have the chance to revisit or discover this extraordinary cinema classic on the big screen at ACMI. It is the combination of Stuart Cooper’s seamless amalgamation of a fictional narrative and archival footage; John Alcott's spectacular cinematography; and Jonathan Gili's hypnotic editing that make Overlord one extraordinary cinema experience.”

Established film producer James Quinn conceived of creating a documentary whilst he was working as a Museum Trustee at the Imperial War Museum Film Archive in London in 1975. He proposed the project to rising star filmmaker Stuart Cooper, whose film Little Malcolm won the Silver Bear in 1974, and together they looked at 3,000 hours of archival footage from 20,000 feet of film stock in storage. Together Cooper and Quinn decided to change tacks and make a feature film that would interweave the fictional story of a young soldier, training to participate in the D-Day landings using footage from the War Museum archive.

Stanley Kubrick said the only problem with Overlord was that it was "an hour-and-half too short". Having more recently screened at Telluride Film Festival and Seattle International Film Festival to packed audiences lauding it as a lost masterpiece, Melbourne audiences will have the opportunity to experience this elegiac piece of cinema this June.

Overlord
screens daily at ACMI from Thursday 11 until Sunday 14 June
For more information www.acmi.net.au

“A war film like no other, a sublime and shattering cinematic experience” ICA
“A must-see classic” New York Magazine
“Critically hailed but rarely seen” Mike Snider, USA Today
**** Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
**** "Overlord" combines its newsreel and fictional footage so effectively that it has a greater impact than all fiction, or all documentary, could have achieved”. Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
“Overlord deserves to join the pantheon of essential World War II combat movies” A. O. Scott, New York Times

Official movie site: www.overlordthefilm.com
Further Reading: www.criterion.com/current/posts/478


Links: Melbourne Film Blog's film event calendar

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thornton's mob in Cannes

From The Age:
At Cannes: the film's producer Kath Shelper (left), actors Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson, and director Warwick Thornton.
At Cannes: the film's producer Kath Shelper (left), actors Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson, and director Warwick Thornton.

Stephanie Bunbury, Cannes
May 18, 2009

THE Cannes audience gave Australian director Warwick Thornton and his cast a five-minute standing ovation yesterday after Samson and Delilah screened at the famous film festival.

"It was interesting because there was a whole mob of 'thank you for making that film'," said Thornton later. "That's bizarre, to thank you for making a film!"

Samson and Delilah, which is currently playing successfully in arthouse cinemas in Australia, is not easy viewing. It tells the harrowing but redemptive story of two indigenous teenagers who are driven out of their remote community and slip into abject poverty and substance abuse.

"Every shot," according to the review in influential trade magazine Variety, "imparts plot and character information with simplicity and intelligence."

In Cannes, it screened in the festival's Un Certain Regard section, which emphasises works by directors with a strong personal vision. The film screened twice on Saturday to packed houses while Thornton did interviews with international media. At a cocktail party on Saturday evening, he described his "beautiful day".

"I woke up in the morning and said to myself, 'Today is the beginning of the rest of my life, whether they like my film or not'.

"But they liked it, which was amazing. Because you don't know. Today was a complete validation of the film's ability to cross oceans and transcend language barriers."

The film had been sold to South Africa, which pleased producer Kath Shelper. "But I don't really care if we sell it," she said. "For me, at the moment, it's really important it works in Australia, which it has: people are really embracing it … Whatever happens overseas is a bonus."

Although it is not in the main competition, the film is eligible to win the prize for a first feature, the Camera D'Or.

The Week in Review - 17/5/09

FILMS:
  • Zabriskie Point (Michelangelo Antonioni, USA, 1970)
  • Der Stand der Dinge (The State of Things, Wim Wenders, West Germany/Portugal/USA, 1982)
  • Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, Australia, 2009)
  • Rudi y Cursi (Rudi and Cursi, Carlos Cuarón, Mexico/USA, 2008)
  • Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley, USA, 2008)
SHORT FILMS:

Zabriskie Point

Wow! After the disappointment that was The Passenger, this was surprisingly good. Antonioni wears his political leanings on his sleeve (something I'm prone to myself) and really captures the zeitgeist. Sometimes a film is too close to the bone; this film seems to be have been too confrontational for American audiences at the time of its release. Often a film can be appreciated for what it captures long after the emotions of the time have dissipated. This is certainly true of many Australian films that were not acknowledged on first release, such as some of the so-called Ozploitation films or Pure Shit, which (like Zabriskie Point) has elements that are almost documentary-like now.

The lack of expository narrative in Zabriskie Point really adds to its mystique. Antonioni's camera gradually covers various, seemingly unconnected scenarios and we, the audience, have to work a little to make sense of it. Or, not so much make sense as try to connect the dots. By covering a student meeting calling for revolt, police brutality, riots and capitalism in action, it's not too hard to see where Antonioni is going.

The film has an unmistakable 70's feel to it, though it was made at the start of the decade. The themes are clearly related to the aftermath of the political turbulence that swept the globe in 1968, most strongly recalling Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool (1969). The final explosion, while literally a blast, is not the film's biggest drawcard for me, though clearly a delight for the film's fans.

The State of Things
There's been a lot of films made about making films. For me, this one directly recalls Catherine Breillat's Sex is Comedy. Both films are about the struggles of making the respective director's previous trouble-prone film. The self-reflexive nature of this Wenders film is quite funny, especially when the film is shot on black and white film and the script has a producer slamming the use of just that. There are a number of moments like that. I don't think the film is brilliant, but certainly very enjoyable.

Rudi and Cursi
After the very sublime Y tu mamá también (my favourite Mexican film), directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, I figured a comedy by Alfonso's brother with the same duo of actors couldn't be too bad. Alas, it came in at the low end of my expectations.

It screened as part of the Spanish Film Festival at the Kino. I'm not accustomed to full-houses at the Kino, so I was pleased for their sake to see them doing good business. Rudi and Cursi is really a populist film and I suppose it certainly got bums on seats. I just found it all a bit tiresome. Here's two very luminous and intelligent actors (Luna played the Michael Jackson look-alike in Mister Lonely), and it was obviously some kind of joke to have them playing dumbass country hicks who hit the big-time when they're scouted for rival Mexico City football clubs.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with intelligent actors playing dumbasses; that's what actors do. But the gags were all fairly puerile and predictable. The film did nothing for me whatsoever.

Sita Sings the Blues
I'm more than familiar with the Ramayana, having spent some part of my youth exploring Hinduism and Indian culture - I've been there six times. I'd heard good things about this film, especially from Lynden Barber of Eyes Wired Open, so took the opportunity to take my eight-year old son to see it. The Ramayana recounts the story of Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu (God), and his consort Sita who is abducted by Ravana and taken to Lanka. The monkey-king Hanuman finds Sita who is rescued by Rama but ultimately banished to the forest over doubts of her purity.

The film is visually stunning, with Sita singing love songs that are actually 1920's jazz songs by Annette Hanshaw. And cleverly, director Nina Paley weaves her own real-life heartbreak story into a parallel narrative. What most are not aware of is that Star Wars is almost a direct rip-off of the Ramayana. I don't think as highly of the film as Lynden obviously does, but it is entertaining and original nonetheless. And the kid's verdict? Like me, he liked it, but nothing special.

Tsilimidos' Latest Film

Alkinos Tsilimidos' latest film, Blind Company, is due to premiere at this year's MIFF. Shot entirely on the east coast of Tasmania last October, the film stars Colin Friels (Tom White), Nick Barkla (Em 4 Jay) and Gloria Ajenstat (Tom White). Written and directed by Tsilimidos, it's his first film not using cinematographer Toby Oliver, using Adam Arkapaw instead, who filmed the very fine and well-received looking short, Jerrycan (2008).

The premise:
Geoff Brewster is seeing out his final days at the family's isolated coastal shack - walking the beach and leaving tape-recorded confessions for his estranged wife, Sally. But when his Porsche driving nephew, Josh, arrives unannounced, a deadly game ensues that threatens to destroy both men.
In my opinion, Tsilimidos is Australia's finest director whose work is on a par with the best of the European independents. Like Catherine Breillat or the Dardenne brothers, his films are serious dramas that grapple with social issues. Cinema is, at its best, an art form that challenges an audience and their prejudices, and this is true of a Tsilimidos film.

Alkinos Tsilimidos and Colin Friels on location for Blind Company.

Warwick Thornton Shorts

Samson and Delilah may give the impression that Warwick Thornton’s talents have suddenly sprung from nowhere. In fact, he has been quietly honing his craft, working as a cinematographer, writer and director on many short films and documentaries for over a dozen years. Next Thursday 21 May, Cinema Nova is screening the following selection of his short films that highlight his talents across a range of diverse films.

Green Bush (26 min, 2004)
Kenny (David Page) is a DJ each night at a remote community radio station. Single-handedly, he plays music, takes requests, answers the phone and handles business in general. The portable building housing the radio station is a focus of the local community and Kenny finds himself offering cups of tea to, shelter and support to others.

Thornton has found his style in this medium-length film, largely using music and visuals to tell the story. Like Samson and Delilah, there’s not a lot of dialogue and there’s also a lot of understated, naturalistic humour. Kenny’s choice of music enables social and political themes to be subtly raised, without being didactic, much like Kelly Reichardt’s talk-back segments in Old Joy. The same could be said for Kenny’s taking requests for prison inmates.

The story, visuals and acting are all strong, and this is one of my favourites of the shorts. The story is clearly personal to Thornton – he once worked as a community DJ – and this personal nature of his work and the humanism he infuses into it are largely what I connect with. I sense that Thornton is passionate about various social issues but he never rams them down our throat. As I mentioned in my review of Samson and Delilah, he has a great instinct for cinematic story-telling.

Cast: David Page
Awards:
  • Short Award Special Mention, AFI 2005
  • Special Mention, Almería International Short Film Festival 2006
  • Jury Prize Best Short Film BendFilm Festival 2005
  • Panorama Short Film Award, Berlin International Film Festival 2005
  • Best Short Film, IF Awards 2007
Clip from Green Bush
video


Payback (10 min, 1996)
This is Thornton’s first short film and is beautifully shot in black and white. Set in a prison, the black and white initially recalls Alkinos Tsilimidos’ Everynight, Everynight…, but the stories are completely different. Thornton’s film is much more subdued, and the choice of black and white suits the mystical element that is explored.

After years behind bars, Paddy is on the eve of his release when he is visited by the spirits of his people. He is forewarned of tribal payback and learns first-hand that there is white man’s law and there is black man’s law. Doing time for one does not release him from the other.

Short films are a great medium for a director to explore and experiment with the craft of film-making. This is quite different in style to what we see in Thornton’s more recent work yet it is an impressive and thoughtful debut. Even from the start, Thornton displays elements we see in later works, such as sparse dialogue and effective use of sound and music.

Cast: George Djilaynga, Charlie Matjiwi

Clip from Payback
video


Mimi (13 min, 2002)
This is the most conventional of the Thornton shorts and uses known actors. It is a comical story that satirises the commodification of indigenous art as well as introducing a character if central Australian indigenous culture. The Mimi is an ancient mischievous spirit who is said to have taught the aborigines of the region how to hunt and paint.

Catherine (Sophie Lee) purchases some pieces of indigenous art – a Mimi carving and a barramundi painting – at auction for investment purposes, but finds the statue has eaten the barramundi. To deal with the troublesome spirit, Catherine calls in a ‘real aborigine’, urbanite Jonathan (Aaron Pederson) who consequently calls in his grandfather (David Gulpilil).

This is a fine-looking film, probably the most accessible for conventional audiences, but my least favourite.

Clip from Mimi
video


Nana (6 min, 2007)
This film pre-empts Samson and Delilah with the appearance of Mitjili Napanangka, who plays the grandmother of Delilah in that film, and who is the actual grandmother of Marissa Gibson who plays Delilah. In Nana, Napanangka takes centre stage. It seems to be Thornton’s homage to this colourful and feisty character, who is idolised by her grand-daughter (Kiara Gibson, the younger sister of Marissa).

The child’s narration is a real joy as we see Nana being depicted in various roles as cook, artist and community protector. The humour is just right and is the perfect choice to end the Thornton retrospective.

Cast: Mitjili Napanangka Gibson, Kiara Gibson, Ted Egan Jangala, Noreen Robertson Nampijinpa

Awards:
  • Crystal Bear Generation Kplus – Best Short Film, Berlin International Film Festival 2008
  • Best Short Film, IF Awards 2007

The retrospective underscores the talents of Warwick Thornton, highlighting the quietly humanistic and ultimate universality of his work, while at the same time being culturally specific. Technically, his films are very accomplished with a naturalistic beauty using solid camera work that never draws attention to itself. Thornton has a very strong way with sound and music that complements the excellent visuals. This is a one-of opportunity to see these little gems and I highly recommend them.

As an aside, while I was at ACMI this afternoon, I was discussing the shorts with an ACMI programmer. I suggested that the other works of Thornton could be worth screening at ACMI, and he said that was something that was being looked into. As can be seen from the Screen Australia website, Thornton has been involved in a lot of film-making.

The Warwick Thornton Shorts are screening at Cinema Nova on Thursday 21 May at 7pm.
Samson and Delilah is screening at the Nova, Rivoli and Palace Brighton Bay cinemas, and is currently screening at Cannes Festival in the Un certain regard section.

All clips sourced from Australian Screen who, incidentally, are currently featuring Warwick Thornton's Green Bush.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, Australia, 2009)
Call me cynical, but I’m always a bit dubious when Australian critics rave over the latest Australian film. Think Black Balloon, I film I detested more for its mediocrity and formula than anything else (though, before you all jump on my head, I know others loved it).

The vibe around Samson and Delilah has been a little different. It wasn’t because David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz both gave it five stars, reportedly the first time they’re both awarded the highest score to a film since they made the move to the ABC from SBS a few years ago. The trouble with that is that everyone knows they inflate the scores of Australian films, rendering their evaluations unreliable (and how do you differentiate between a five-star film and a four-star film you’ve given five stars to? It’s not like you can give six stars to a genuine five-star film).

It’s not that I discounted the raves from At The Movies, but it was more the word I was hearing from several, more reliable sources. That the film has been accepted into competition for Un certain regard at Cannes also added to the film’s credentials.

My verdict? I'll come out up front and say that I found Samson and Delilah a remarkable and original film. I saw it last night at the Nova, hosted by HRAFF and followed by a panel discussion.

Samson and Delilah is a type and quality of film we rarely see in this country. Director Warwick Thornton has very strong instincts. While he's made a number of short films (which, by the way, have won numerous awards and are screening next Thursday at the Nova), this is his first feature. Yet it has both a style and a competence that puts him way ahead of many seasoned operators.

On paper, the story might sound bleak - we follow a pair of impoverished indigenous teenagers as they generally get themselves into all sorts of strife - but I find it has little in common with what we might associate as bleak Australian cinema.

Usually, we associate a bleak film as one that depicts so-called low-lifes as they exist at the bottom of society’s barrel. We often gauge them, struggling against a middle-class back-drop and we make judgements, both of their class and society as a whole.

In contrast, the broader society is almost as absent in Samson and Delilah as it was in Rolf de Heer’s Ten Canoes. Bear in mind that the latter was set in ancient times, pre-European settlement. Samson and Delilah is a contemporary story that takes the perspectives of the two titular characters, and we get an insider’s perspective, a glimpse into their world, their lives as they live them in a remote aboriginal community in the Alice Springs area.

When circumstances force the pair to relocate to the Alice Springs township, like the characters, we never really get to interact with the broader community. Rather, they are passing characters who we never really make any judgements about. Nor do we really make any judgements about those in the remote aboriginal community. Thornton keeps his cards close to his chest about those kinds of judgements.

Rather than being a patronising story to highlight Aboriginal disadvantage, tugging at our heart-strings, our pity or our guilt, the film is really a fascinating inside look at a totally different way of life, a different culture. Rather than being a bleak social realist film, it's more of an ethnographic story like say, Tulpan or The Tale of the Weeping Camel. Poverty is, after all, relative. The film depicts life as these kids know it and have probably always known it.

Technically, the strengths of the film rest in the visuals, the sound and the music. The Alice Springs region is, of course, amazingly photogenic and Thornton uses it to good advantage without ever coming close to postcard cliché. Incidentally, Thornton wrote and photographed the film himself! Also as an aside, he demonstrates how to skilfully perform hand-held camera work.

The performances are strong all-round, many from first-time actors. Rowan McNamara (for whom English is a second language) as Samson and Marissa Gibson as Delilah (looking like a very young version of Cathy Freeman) are both extraordinarily natural performers. Marissa's grandmother, Mitjili Gibson and the director's brother, Scott Thornton as the alcoholic Gonzo both provided strong (and humorous) support. Their characters and the story are infused with a deep sense of humanism.

The sound design and music are unconventional and slightly off-kilter. That's not a criticism, rather it's very much a positive. For me there are three really outstanding moments, and each involves a slight disconnection between the visual and audio perspectives on the film.

*** SPOILER ALERT ****
You may have seen the film’s trailer where we see Samson dancing freely to his music. But we watch him from Delilah's perspective as we hear her music. The effect is extraordinary. In the other incidents, both of which involve cars, we see something that happens to one character, oblivious to the other, who is absorbed in listening to music.
*** END ALERT ***

Another arresting feature of the film is the scarcity of dialogue, especially between the protagonists. With another story, this might seem a bit tricksy, a bit too clever or contrived. In Samson and Delilah, it feels very natural and consistent with the culture and characters depicted. It also strengthens the focus on the visuals and sound design.

I love that this film is very personal to Thornton and made from the heart. It shows, and not only does the story feel authentic but it is ethnographically unique. And, as mentioned above, it does it without eliciting pity or guilt from the viewer. It simply is. Thornton is telling his mob's story (as he likes to say) in a way that is both engrossing while appealing to universal sensibilities.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***
The title of the film has nothing to do with the biblical story. But religious imagery is scattered through the film. A clearly-distressed Delilah enters a church, walks up the aisle under the gaze of the priest. She leaves and not a word is exchanged. In another scene, we see Delilah hauling a large piece of dead timber. The imagery is clearly reminiscent of Jesus hauling the cross. There are other visual references to Christianity, but Thornton depicts them in a matter-of-fact way without projecting any judgements of the place of religion. He leaves space for the imagination.

Some might find the car accident towards the end a bit incredible, especially because it leads to what might be considered a false ending. Having recently survived serious road trauma without a single fracture, and in better shape than Delilah, I found it completely credible.
*** END ALERT ***

The false ending is perhaps the closest thing to a flaw I could find, and I do think there’s a slight hiccough at that point, but it really is a minor quibble that doesn’t detract from the film’s obvious strengths. It would be interesting to get the director’s commentary on that, perhaps on a DVD/Blue-Ray release. But really, this is a magnificent looking film that screams to be seen on the big screen.

Ultimately, Samson and Delilah is a story about love and a story about hope. But there's nothing profound in that observation; that's the stated intention of the director.

Samson and Delilah is screening at the Nova, Rivoli and Palace Brighton Bay cinemas.

The Warwick Thornton short films are screening at the Nova cinema on Thursday 21 May at 7pm – it’s a single screening, so don’t miss it.

Links:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mary and Max wins again

PRESS RELEASE:

MARY AND MAX has won the ANIMOVIE feature film award at Stuttgart!

Overnight MARY AND MAX has won the ANIMOVIE feature film award at the prestigious 16th Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film.

Other films in competition included mainstream US fair like Coraline and Igor as well as the indie favourites such as the new film from Animation Legend, Bill Plympton film Idiots & Angels.

The festival website is www.itfs.de/en but their press release isn’t up yet as they are still at the party right now!

Following it’s World Premiere as the first Animation and the first Australian film ever to open the Sundance Film Festival, Mary and Max has gone on to now be highest grossing Australian film at the Australian Box Office this year.

Mary and Max has also been selected to screen at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Annecy International Animation Film Festival later this year.

ABOUT Stuttgart - Metropolis of the Animated Film:
The 16th Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film has not only stimulated eyes and ears, but all five senses over six exciting days and nights. During the open air screenings, visitors lifted their noses to breathe the sweet smell of popcorn floating in the air, whilst enjoying excellent animation entertainment. They used their hands to explore the wild brush lines of the charming live painter Kozue Kodama in the Festival Garden. Finally they needed their mouths to talk to the many filmmakers present.

From the 5th to the 10th over May over 650 films are to be screened in Baden-Wuerttemberg’s state capital. After six interesting days the festival ends with the award ceremony on Sunday evening.

www.itfs.de/en/competitions/animovie.html

Warwick Thornton Retrospective

I'm seeing Warwick Thornton's acclaimed Samson & Delilah at the Nova on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Thornton retrospective of short films screens Thursday of next week (21 May) at 7pm, also at the Nova. Different reliable sources have said don't miss this retrospective and it only has one screening, so I'll be busting my balls to get there. I picked up from the Arts show on ABC TV that Thornton's short Nana is about the grandmother in Samson and offers more insight into her character. The program conducted an interview with Thornton surrounded by the woman's paintings which I found most fascinating. I'm getting excited just thinking about it.

Edit: I just noticed that the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival gave Nana its award for best achievement in indigenous film-making. And, another plug for HRAFF: become a friend of the festival (cost from $50 to $300), get some gear and do your bit for both the promotion of human rights and more diverse film-programming.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Week in Review - 10/5/09

Faced with the choice of Melbourne Cinémathèque's screenings of Häxan and Master of the House and an invitation-only advance screening of teen Ozploitation flick, Prey, I chose the latter. Being a regular reader of co-producer, Bobby Galinsky's blog, The Way It Is, I pretty much guessed what I was in for, and I wasn't far off the mark. High art, it is not, but it was a helluva lot of fun. While there's been no shortage of films to see, especially with new releases like Samson & Delilah (I have tickets to a screening this week) and The Baader Meinhof Complex, this was all I saw this week. Yes, only one film (I average four or more). As me mate Ned would say, such is life.

Prey (Oscar D'Roccstar, Australia, 2008)
I don't really have much interest in the politics or drama that happened behind the scenes in the making of this new Australian film. I've forgotten most of what I've been told or read online. All I know is a director was sacked and the name above is a pseudonym. The advance screening I attended was at the William Kerr Theatrette in Toorak, a small cinema (30 seats) used for media screenings and corporate events. As a dark and slightly dilapidated old mansion, it was the perfect venue for a teen horror exploitation flick.

The first sign that things were a little off kilter was when the gates were closed and I had to park my motorbike on the footpath. The presence of a creepy, beareded doorman who uttered only grunts and held the door-list pretty much confirmed that we were in for some kind of pre-screening theatrics. First we had to wait while outside in the dark as the number of attendees inevitably swelled. Allowed entry in dribs and drabs meant we walked the length of the long uphill driveway in the dark, passing near an ominous axeman chopping wood with lightning-like flashing in the background. There were other creepy characters and it all created a mood and an air of expectation.

Bobby Galinsky introduced the film, describing what the intention was: basically a relatively small project with his co-producing partner, Elizabeth Howatt-Jackman, that aims to inject a bit of fun into the cinema experience, not high art, call it a cross between Twin Peaks and Picnic at Hanging Rock (with tongue planted firmly between his cheeks on that one). He also gave a short history of how the film's cast was assembled, most notably the leads, Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Jesse Johnson (whose father is Don, of Miami Vice fame).

The advance screening was preceded by a sizable number of trailers for other films, like The Exorcist and The Fly. It was a good device, similar to Grindhouse, though in this case the trailers were for actual films. It set the mood and created an expectation of what we were in for. If anything, there was one or two too many, and after a while I just wanted the film to commence.

I don't propose to say much about the plot; check out Anthony Morris' review at It's Better in the Dark for that. There's not a whole lot of plot in fact, which is kinda besides the point. This is Ozploitation. It's cheap, it's tacky, it's ridiculous, in fact it's downright trashy. Anthony pretty much says as much and didn't like it. I loved it - I laughed nearly as much as I did at Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof).

The film makes no secret of it's failings and works both in spite of them and, in some cases, because of them. Like the scene where we see three cars driving in the bush, and there's only enough people for two. What the fuck! There's a phantom driver? I dunno, it didn't really matter. This is a film laden with self-conscious clichés: zombies, lesbian love and a shower scene with the lovely Bassingthwaighte.

Prey has a two week cinema release - at the George in St. Kilda - starting last Friday before it goes straight to DVD. Apparently it's also getting a limited US release from July. I hope it does OK at the George; I think the typically young audience there should 'get' the film. It has an MA15+ classification - Galinsky says it's aimed at the 12-25yo market, so under 15's need to find a big brother or sister to pretend they're a parent.

I know in this country we're always foretelling the end of cinema as we know it, that it can't get any worse. Then if we have one good film in a year, it's a renaissance. The last few years have seen the regurgitation of some pretty bland and bleak cinema that's had all the doomsayers out in chorus. As an aside, I don't think bleak is the problem - bleak stories can be very absorbing - rather, it's the blandness of the bleak stories we've had that's been keeping audiences away from local films. Prey is no answer to the ills of the industry, but it's part of a number of films we're seeing this year that are trying something different to that blandness. If nothing else, it's a lot of fun, completely throw-away cinema.

With Mary and Max, Sampson and Delilah and now Prey, could there be three more different films? And there's more to come, with Jane Campion's Bright Star, Steve Jacob's Disgrace and Tatia Rosenthal's $9.99. Renaissance anyone?

PS, talking of bleak, Alkinos Tsilimidos (my favourite Australian director) has his new film premiering at MIFF. Last I heard, it's called Blind Company, but that was a while ago.

PPS, check out Glenn's review of Prey at Stale Popcorn.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Spanish Film Festival 2009

Spanish cinema is not without its flaws, but it has a very definite cultural flavour that I appreciate. It doesn't shy away from politics or transgression. As just posted, the Spanish Film Festival opens next week. I'm going to be lazy and just cut and paste the promotional material:
The 2009 Spanish Film Festival opens 7pm Wednesday 13th May at Palace Cinema Como.

Join us for the Melbourne Premiere of CHEF’S SPECIAL, the hugely entertaining new comedy starring festival guest Javier Cámara (Talk To Her) as a headstrong Madrid chef whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of his son and a new love interest. The screening will be followed by a Spanish fiesta featuring Spanish wine, beer and live latin/salsa/funk entertainment to dance away to from the OJ Project (featuring Oscar Jimenez and members of Watussi) – it will be a night to remember!

The Opening Night event headlines a fantastic 12 day festival that features over twenty five Melbourne premieres screening May 13-24 at Palace Cinema Como & Kino Cinemas.

Festival highlights include:
• The lively new comedy RUDO & CURSI (M) that reunites the stars of Y Tu Mamá También, Gael Garcia Bernal & Diego Luna;
• The audacious new comedy THE SHAME direct from the 2009 Malaga Film Festival;
• Lena Burke in the feel-great new comedy LA MALA which features a hit salsa & bolero soundtrack;
• Augustín Díaz Yanes’ spectacular new thriller JUST WALKING featuring an all-star cast including Victoria Abril & Diego Luna;
• The fascinating new doco A WAR IN HOLLYWOOD about the US film industry’s depiction of the Spanish Civil War;
• The witty new Cuban comedy HORN OF PLENTY from director Juan Carlos Tabio (Strawberry & Chocolate);
• The heart-warming new documentary OLD MAN BEBO about octogenarian pianist and Mambo pioneer Bebo Valdes;
• A TRIBUTE TO LUIS BUNUEL retrospective
• and many more!

Plus special events:
• Q&A with Javier Cámara following the gripping new Civil War drama BLIND SUNFLOWERS 6.30pm Thu 14 May at Palace Cinema Como;
• Introduction by Javier Cámara before his hit film TALK TO HER, 9.15pm Thu 14 May at Palace Cinema Como
• Closing Night “Salsateca” – the Cuban comedy HORN OF PLENTY will be followed by drinks, music & Salsa DJ! 7.15pm Sun 24 May at Palace Cinema Como.

FESTIVAL DETAILS
Dates: May 13-24
Venues: Palace Cinema Como (Corner Toorak Road and Chapel Street South Yarra), Kino Cinemas (45 Collins St, Melbourne).
Tickets: Opening Night: $40 / Closing Night “Salasteca”: $25.00
General Sessions: Adult $16.00, Movie Club $13.50, Children $10 (check film classification)
5 Film Pass: $70 (not available online)

HURRY - TICKETS NOW ON SALE!
• At the cinemas in person 12.00-8.30pm daily
• By calling Palace Cinema Como on 9827 7533 or Kino Cinemas on 9650 2100. (Please note cinema box offices only sell tickets for their respective venues)
• Online 24hrs http://www.palacecinemas.com.au

Upcoming Film Events

There's quite a few films and film events coming up soon that are worth noting (they're all in my Google Calendar of Film Events below, which you can subscdribe to).

  • This Wednesday at Melbourne Cinémathèque is screening Benjamin Christensen's Häxan. I won't be able to make it as I have another screening to attend (an invitation-only preview of Bobby Galinsky's Prey) but hope to make it to the second film, Carl Dreyer's Master of the House.
  • Bastardy opens at the Kino on Thursday. It's a local documentary about indigenous actor Jack Charles, an intriguing character I spoke to a few years ago when I saw him in the street. I'd recognised him from a bit part in Alkinos Tsilimidos' Tom White, and had a very animated conversation. He seemed an intriguing subject. NOTE: as per Jake's comment below, it's unclear whether this film opens this week. Palace's website has it prominently advertised for opening this week, but ambiguously isn't selling any tickets for it. Go figure. UPDATE: opens 11 June.

  • Pure Shit, a ground-breaking and gutsy Australian film by Bert Derling from 1975, has a screening at ACMI this Saturday at 4pm and includes a cast and crew reunion with a Q&A as a bonus.
  • By all accounts, Warwick Thornton's Samson and Delilah is the local film to see. Plus it's been accepted into Cannes Un certain regard. I'm told it's no less a film than Ivan Sen's very fine Beneath Clouds. Opens this Thursday.
  • Prey, an Ozploitation flick starring Natalie Bassingthwaighte, has a 2-week season starting this Friday at the George Cinema in St. Kilda, prior to going to DVD. Talking Ozploitation, John Hewitt's Acolytes screens at ACMI this weekend and next. Check out this article in The Age.
  • When We Were Kings, a documentary about Muhammad Ali, screens at ACMI on Sundays 10 & 17 May.
  • Screening at the Kino and Como cinemas, the Spanish Film Festival starts Wednesday 13 May and runs until Monday 25 May. I'm particularly looking forward to the Luis Buñuel retrospective. Seven of his films screen in Melbourne and there's also an exhibition at the City Library at 253 Flinders Lane (near Degraves St.) that includes both photos of Buñuel and his friends and associates (such as Salvador Dali, co-director of Un chien andalou) and video clips from various of his films. The exhibition is open now, until the end of the month. At the festival I plan to see a few of the contemporary Spanish films as well, and will submit reviews and posts for the official festival blog.
  • Melbourne Cinémathèque is next week screening Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point and Wim Wenders' The State of Things.
  • Youssou N'dour: I Bring What I Love, a music documentary about one of Africa's most famous musicians, screens at ACMI from Thursday 14 - Sun 17 May.
  • Neil Armfield's very intriguing Streetsweeper screens at ACMI, co-presented by AFCA, on Saturday 16 May at 4pm. Filmed beautifully with a keen photographic eye, there's very little dialogue or plot, as the film follows a mysterious character's wanderings in and around Newcastle, cleaning streets and reciting poetry.
  • Sita Sings the Blues is a children's animation that looks good enough for adults, screening at ACMI on Sundays 17 & 24 May. I'm a sucker for these films.
  • Frank Urson's Chicago (1927) and Josef von Sternberg's Thunderbolt (1929) screen at Melbourne Cinémathèque on Wednesday 20 May. The following week sees the start of a three week season of Japanese Noir: Violent Cops & Pistol Operas, including films by Takeshi Kitano, Masahiro Shinoda, Masaki Kobayashi, Tai Kato, Seijun Suzuki and Nagisa Oshima.
  • Andrzej Wajda's powerful and authentic Katyn, a semi-biographical story about a World War II tragedy that had a powerful impact on his life, opens at the Nova on May 28. Highly recommended.
  • Opening on 4 June: Potential Films' Noodle. On paper the story doesn't seem overly exciting, but I have much respect for the films that Potential import such as the work of Catherine Breillat and, more recently, You, the Living. Also, the much-acclaimed Two Lovers, starring Joaquim Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow.