It’s film fest time once again. The Sydney Film Festival is one of Australia’s biggest, and next weekend I’ll be attending for the first time since I lived there, a good eight years or so.
I have been lucky enough to be able to catch a couple of films in advance though, including The Bolivian Case (2015). This doco, focusing on a drug ring importing cocaine from Bolivia to Norway, comes out of the interesting production company United Notions. As well as a killer name, the company seems to have a unique perspective and goal in mind, based across Australia, Bolivia and the States and aiming to create challenging ideas driven cinema.
The Bolivian Case fits in nicely with this perspective, turning a story about three young Norwegian women into a discussion of justice, media morality and societal lust for tabloid trainwrecks. Even without all of that, the film would have been an interesting one – not one but two of the women escape whilst on bail, the dynamics of the ongoing case in Norway are delved into, the women fall in love and give birth in jail and there is the smarmiest, most punchable lawyer in the history of smarmy punchable lawyers. The behaviour of the Norwegian government is also examined. They seem content to leave one of the women to rot in Bolivia, whilst going out of their way to illegally assist the others escape. Occasionally, especially early on, it is a little difficult to follow who is who and keep up with the two strands of the story (one in Norway and one in Bolivia). And perhaps the two stories never quite come together entirely as it still almost feels like two films at the end. But once the characters back in Norway are built up in the same way that director Violeta Ayala does with those jailed in Bolivia, that strand of the film becomes more engaging. To the point where it possesses the film’s biggest emotional punches. The ‘action’ highlight of the film comes as one of the women, Stina, decides to flee whilst on bail, child in hand. Ayala finely crafts this period of the film, having it play like a bit of a heist or escape film.
Another film may have solely focused on this spectacular escape, aided by shady government dealings and the media ‘paying’ to create news. The Bolivian Case has broader points in mind though. Even the escape is examined more from the point of view of what it says that a media organisation would hire mercenaries to get her out. They are essentially creating news by assisting someone to flout the laws in another country. Surprisingly, this behaviour seems to be met more or less with cheerleading in Norway, with Stina’s return apparently a triumphant one. I can understand that aspect if she proclaimed her innocence. But the way I read it was that these women were pretty clearly guilty. The film also focuses on the sensationalism that the case is met with in Norway especially when the women fall pregnant in jail. Australia has seen similar tabloid obsession in recent years, in particular with the case of Schapelle Corby, jailed in Bali for drug offences. There is clearly something universal about the plight of people, particularly young females, jailed overseas that brings the tabloid masses running. In fact the media seems able to craft the narrative of the case in Norway. One of the women is portrayed as the quiet religious girl from a rural area. The one stuck back in Bolivia is painted as the untrustworthy ringleader. The media is able to craft the heroes and the villains of the story. Class, status and even physical appearance all influence the tale that they are spinning. Which is problematic in itself, but when these artificially created notions seep into the ‘justice’ meted out in the court system, it goes from problematic to offensive. Unfortunately this kind of pre-judgement is all too common, whether aided by the media or not, in many places not just Norway.
Verdict: The Bolivian Case is a slick and timely doco that examines the seemingly universal tabloid obsession with pretty young women locked up abroad. It goes further than that though, making pertinent points about the issues of media influencing justice and the way that class and first impressions influence the way that criminals are treated. Thankfully though the film never becomes dreary or a bore to watch whilst doing all of that. Pint of Kilkenny
Next week sees the beginning of the 2014 Spanish Film Festival. The festival will be touring around the country, with screenings at Palace Cinemas in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Perth and Byron Bay. The festival features 30 films, bringing a whole new chapter of exposure to Spanish cinema, one of the strongest national cinemas in film.
Below are five highlights of the festival for you to look out for, in no particular order:
- Living is Easy with Eyes Closed: The opening night film of this year’s festival is the only one I happen to have seen. It cleaned up at the 2014 Goya Awards taking out Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor and Best New Actress amongst many others. The film itself is a really light road-trip, as one man aims to fulfil his dream of meeting John Lennon and picks up a couple of young hitchhikers along the way. It is really life affirming stuff and a film I really loved. Make sure you check it out if you get the chance.
- Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang: I mean really, how can you not want to see a film with that title. Based on Spanish comic book characters, this looks like a rollicking bit of family fun amongst the festivals more serious fare.
- The Longest Distance: A Spain/Venezuela co-production, this film promises a slow paced road movie with plenty of incredible scenery. The film sees a young boy, who has lost his mother, set off on an arduous journey to meet his grandmother for the first time, not knowing that the woman is terminally ill. If the scenery is matched by a quality script, this could be a very special watch.
- The Amazing Catfish: Whilst the festival focuses on films from Spain, it does also include Latin American Spanish language films. This Mexican film with an intriguing title looks like the pick of them to me. Once again dealing with terminal illness and the effect it has on young people close to it, the film has played at a bunch of big festivals worldwide and won the critics award at Toronto in 2013.
- Festival guest Alex Gonzalez: I haven’t seen either of the films Gonzalez stars in at this year’s festival (Scorpion in Love and Combustion), but in my experience getting the chance to hear those involved in films talking about them is pretty much always worth making the effort for. Alex will be doing Q & A sessions following screenings of Scorpion in Love in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane. The film also stars Javier Bardem in a drama involving neo-Nazis, boxing and attempted new beginnings.
You can check out the entire program for the festival here.
Thanks to the Spanish Film Festival, I have three double passes to give away for Aussie residents. Please check out the official website here, to see when the festival will be in your city. There are two ways to enter. You can like the post on my facebook page which links to this article. Or you can favourite or retweet the tweet from my twitter account that links to it. Feel free to enter more than once. The competition will be drawn at 5pm on 29 April and tickets will be posted the next day.
The Canberra International Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday. Usually leading up to a film fest I have seen nothing, but this is a little different. Thanks to my work on the Blue Mountains Film Festival and some other opportunities, I have seen a bunch of stuff, and there is a whole lot of things I have not caught yet that I am really looking forward to. So rather than a rambling preview, here is my countdown of the top 10 things (in vague order) to check out at this year’s festival. Click the hyperlinks to head to the official site to grab your tickets.
#10: The Spirit of ’45 – Ken Loach is one of the few truly legendary directors still working today, and his recent effort The Angel’s Share prove he still has it. Whilst The Spirit of ’45 is a rather more muted affair than that rambunctious film, it is still well worth your time. Brimming with stock footage and interesting talking heads from those involved, the film which focuses on the politics of post WWII Britain shines a light on a bit of history that has not really been told.
#9: Jazz I haven’t seen that I suspect is going to rock: Around the Block, Our Nixon, Blackfish, Short Term 12, A Hijacking, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Kill Your Darlings. Incendiary docos, indie darlings, much anticipated Indigenous drama and a Danish Captain Phillips are just some of the highlights that I am hoping to catch for the first time over the coming weeks.
#8: In Bob We Trust – Father Bob Maguire is a bit of an Aussie icon or at the very least a Melbourne one. The free thinking and free talking Catholic priest was controversially sacked a couple of years ago. This doco follows the tumultuous fight he had on his hands and reminds you once again why it seems utterly crazy that the Church would wish to distance themselves from such a genuine, good humoured and charitable advocate.
#7: In Bloom – This Georgian drama gives an insight into that society and especially its attitude toward women and the embracing of male bravado especially the way in which it is magnified by guns. Anchored by a couple of really good performances from youngsters Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria, In Bloom might not always be the easiest of viewing experiences, but it is a pretty satisfying.
#6: Body of Work – This is CIFF artistic director Lex Lindsay’s first year at the helm and it has to be said he has pulled off a bit of a coup in wrangling this. Harvey Weinstein will be in town for a number of events and screenings, sharing his incredible experience and filmography. The festivities will be capped by the Aussie premiere screening of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
#5: Blue Ruin – This is a lean, taut revenge style thriller coming out of the States. It looks phenomenal, does not skimp on the blood, slyly commentates on American gun culture and benefits from a performance from Macon Blair that is perfectly balanced in its intensity and vulnerability. This is screening as part of…
#4: Freaky Fridays at my beloved Arc Cinema… featuring Patrick!!! That’s right, the film I have spent the last couple of weeks whining about not being able to see because of rubbish distribution is playing at this year’s festival. It is a little strange for a post-release film to play in a festival such as this, but given it is not playing anywhere else, why not. The Freaky Fridays at Arc also include screenings of Magic Magic and John Dies at the End.
#3: Cutie and the Boxer – Ushio Shinohara is a famous Japanese contemporary artist who is a bit of a New York fixture. He is the boxer of the film’s title as he is well known for his ‘boxing paintings’, Cutie is his wife Noriko, an artist in her own right. Refreshingly, this is a doco that is not afraid of showing people as they really are. As much as it is a 40 year love story (and it definitely is) it is also a film about the subjugation of Cutie by the boxer and how she gave up her own dreams to allow him to fulfil his own.
#2: Child’s Pose – This critically lauded film won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale. You can see why too, this is a nuanced and very psychological film. … plays one hell of a mother in a really unsettling role. In fact unsettling is the best word to describe the film as a whole and it is probably unlike anything else you will see at this year’s fest.
#1: Broken Circle Breakdown – I will make this really simple for you. Broken Circle Breakdown is the best film I have seen this year. Actually, the best film I have seen this year or last year. I programmed it in the Blue Mountains Film Festival this year and it took out the Silver Yowie award for best feature. Combining the soul of bluegrass with all of life’s most powerful emotions in a mind bogglingly good and multilayered film, this is the unmissable experience of this year’s Festival.
The Italian Film Festival is a travelling festival that this year will visit seven cities throughout Australia. Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to the media preview of the festival at Palace Electric Cinemas here in Canberra. Please note that awesome limoncello cocktails were served as part of the event and all statements that follow were influenced by that tastiness.
Travelling film festivals are a growing feature of the Australian cinema industry and this particular one has been doing its thing for 14 years now. The high profile of the Italian Film Festival is proven by the fact that basically all of the films on the extensive 27 film program are Australian Premieres. This is even more impressive considering the festival arrives on the calendar soon after the two heavyweight international film festivals in this country – Sydney and Melbourne.
As part of the preview, we were shown Honey dir by Valeria Golino. The film follows Irene an ‘angel of mercy’ who assists terminally ill people end their life. Jasmine Trinca is excellent in the main role, bringing to life the journey of a young woman who increasingly struggles with what it is she does. Along the way, she meets Carlo who accompanies her through much of the change she undergoes. Indeed it is the fact that Carlo is not terminally ill even though he is attempting to end his life that triggers much of the action and revelation of the film. I though Honey was a really interesting film, managing to avoid cliché where many a film would have succumbed. A fantastic soundtrack and central performance from Trinca did not hurt. The film also has an interesting attitude toward death, and therefore life, that informs everything that takes place.
In addition to Honey here are five more films to whet your appetite of what the festival has to offer. I will definitely be trying to get along to as many of these as I can during the Canberra leg of the festival.
- Roma dir by Federico Fellini – I’ve heard a lot about Fellini’s ode to Rome, but have never been lucky enough to see it. Now, as the closing night film of the festival, I will have the chance to see it on the big screen. Made in 1972, the film is episodic, covering a period of 40 years. Anything Fellini is worth seeing, especially on the big screen.
- A Five Star Life dir by Maria Sole Tognazzi – The film follows Irene, a hotel critic who travels the world living it up in luxury. This blissful, globe-trotting life begins to become a little more complicated though when personal troubles begin to impinge on her happy ignorance.
- A Perfect Family dir by Paolo Genovese – Christmas can definitely be the loneliest time of year. Leone knows this, which is why in an attempt to alleviate this he hires professional actors to play his family over the festive season. So basically, hopefully this will be like We’re the Millers… only not terrible in every single way.
- The Human Cargo dir by Daniele Vicari – This is one of those documentaries that makes you wonder how in the world you have never heard this story before (well at least I hadn’t). The film focuses on the 1991 events where 20,000 people stowed away on board a sugar cargo ship that docked in Italy. A truly incredible tale. Especially when in this country a boat rocking up to our shore with 50 people on board is front page news.
- There Will Come a Day dir by Giorgio Diritti – This is another film that stars Jasmine Trinca, along with Honey. In this film she plays August who leaves home and ventures to Brazil. Here she goes on a journey that is both physical and spiritual. Ending up perhaps not exactly where her mother would have liked.
Thanks to the Italian Film Festival I have a two double passes to give away. The passes are able to be used for a vast majority of the sessions, the only exceptions being a couple of special events. They are valid for any of the cities that the festival visits as it tours around Palace Cinemas all over the country. Check out the website www.italianfilmfestival.com.au to see where the festival is travelling and when. If you live in Australia and what to be put in the draw, then comment below and let me know. Entries will remain open til 5pm on Monday 30 September. I will chuck them in the post the next day and should reach you by the time the festival kicks off.
I’ll acknowledge that the title of this post is really rather cryptic. However basically what I want to know is if you know of any cool features that could be possibly be shown in a film festival I am working on (The Blue Mountains Film Festival) which will be happening in early October this year.
Criteria wise, the films must have been completed after 1 January 2012 and not have had a commercial release in Australia prior to October 2013. The films definitely do not have to be Australian. So hit me up in the comments section or at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any thoughts. I am keen for all kinds of films – things you have seen at festivals recently, films which only got small releases wherever you are, indie films, things you have spotted on crowdfunding sites, films you have made yourself. Please feel free to re-blog this or pass the above email address on to anyone you know of with a cool flick.
Cheers all, you guys are the best.
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I’m too old to be going to bed at 4am after finishing my last whiskey. That said, I was feeling surprisingly chipper after a phenomenal vegan pie I grabbed from the awesome Rubyfruit Cafe in Leura on my way to the feature film screenings for this year’s Blue Mountains Film Fest. I believe this is the first year that features have featured at the festival, and hopefully this is a part of the program that continues to develop, because the three on offer were varied and enjoyable.
Leading off was the documentary profile of legendary Australian musician Joe Camilleri entitled Joe Camilleri: Australia’s Maltese Falcon. I knew only a little about Camilleri, mainly through his time as a member of The Black Sorrows, so I found this doc to be really quite informative. I definitely was not aware just how broad and long running his career had been. The film was a quite engaging love-in of Camilleri. The man himself was a very intriguing interview with a magnetic presence. The film features a reasonable amount of insight into Joe’s early personal life and formative influences. Joe and those around him speak of his life as a first generation migrant, growing up in a suburban home of 10 kids. We also learn that Joe quite amazingly left school at the tender young age of 13 and worked a myriad of rubbish jobs on the journey to where he finds himself now.
The doco does delve a little into Joe’s later adult life, at times being a very personal account of his life’s regrets. But mainly, and understandably, this is a portrait of a very prolific Aussie artist. The film also manages to get that difficult balance that all music docos face – getting the ratio of performance clips to talking – just right. This film is definitely worth checking out if you ever get the chance. If like me, you only really know of Joe through the Black Sorrows, there is a lot more to him both personally and professionally than that and this film is an enjoyable way to learn more. Here is a preview to whet your appetite.
Second up on the feature film program was Daniel Krige’s Australian produced horror flick Redd Inc. One of the great things going for this film is the cracking premise. We’ve all had days at work when we feel like death… or feel like murdering a colleague. In Redd Inc. six strangers wake up in a strange room, handcuffed and chained to a desk. They are in for a very bad day at the office. The film takes some interesting twists and turns, so I won’t go into too many plot details at the risk of spoiling things for you. In broad terms though, these six people have been imprisoned by an escaped psychopath who gives them the impossible task of somehow proving that he was innocent of the murders he was convicted. I have heard people say that Australia makes no genre films. Which is just false, of course we make em. Plenty of them are good too. Like this one.
I must admit that I don’t watch a lot of modern horror film, but I found this an enjoyable, if hard to watch at times, ride. Redd Inc. really ramps up the gore, and to help achieve this facet of the film, the filmmakers enlisted Tom Savini. For those non-horror nut readers, Savini is the makeup/special effects maestro behind stone cold horror classics Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th amongst many other films. Getting Savini onboard was a good investment, because the onscreen gore really pops (all too literally in one scene) and looks a whole lot better than many films with much higher budgets. The performances are good too, led by the menacing Nicholas Hope as Thomas Reddman. Director Daniel Krige has brought to the screen a really slick film. It is not easy to maintain interest, both visually and narratively, when the action is confined to the one room, but Krige achieves that with aplomb.
The film was followed by a Q and A, with Aussie actor Rhys Muldoon interviewing director Daniel Krige, which was highly enjoyable. The two had a really good rapport and Muldoon took the discussion in some interesting directions, discussing horror influences and the themes of the film.
Closing out the feature film program was Letters from the Big Man, which the night before had picked up the Gold Yowie for best feature. The film follows Sarah (Lily Rabe), a woman who is looking to escape her past, or at the very least an ex-boyfriend. She takes a contract doing surveying work in a forest and it is there that she discovers a sasquatch. Or more precisely, the sasquatch allows himself to be discovered by Sarah.
One of the undoubted stars of this film, especially early on, is the scenery on display. Steadicam shots follow from on high as Sarah’s car journeys away from civilisation and along winding mountain roads. The journey continues through river rapids, in another sequence featuring breathtaking scenery. After these initial journeys through this forest, Sarah settles in to a small cabin, as does much of the story that follows. A lot of the incredible scenery, dense forests, and even just some of the tone of this flick reminded me a bit of Kurosawa’s stone cold classic Dersu Uzala. The film looks really sharp throughout. It is really well edited, with fades and cuts, especially nice are the early sequences cutting between Sarah and the sasquatch’s daily routines.
One of the ways in which Sarah’s increasing discovery of the world of the sasquatch is conveyed, is through the artwork she creates during her time in the forest. Initially she draws shadowy figures, staring out from the forest. These pictures evolve into more fully formed sketches and paintings of the mythical creature. It is great to see a new take on the cinematic sasquatch develop through the film. The sasquatch who reveals himself to Sarah is an ethereal being of sorts, with ESP-like powers to manipulate subtle energies and emotions in humans. They are essentially physically stationary presences throughout the film, but comforting rather than menacing presences. One character explains that they exist “between realities”. And somehow director Christopher Munch has managed to really draw out this existence beautifully.
At one point during the film, snippets of a stage performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest enter the equation. When a friend watching the play with Sarah asks her what the hell it was about, she replies “magic and nature, nature and magic”. I’m not suggesting that Letters from the Big Man is a work quite on the level of Mr Shakespeare’s. But despite some side-roads into a government conspiracy and a sorta-romance, like the play this film is about “magic and nature”. A pretty interesting exploration of those themes too.
That is all she (he?) wrote from the 2012 Blue Mountains Film Festival. It was a hell of a time. Hopefully I will be back on board writing the Online Cinema for the festival’s website (if you haven’t checked that out yet, then go here and do so) and reporting from the festival again next year.