Thursday, November 30, 2006

Time to Leave

Melvil Poupaud, Marie Rivière & Daniel Duval, Time to Leave (Dendy Films)

Francois Ozon is one of my favourite French directors. His artistic renditions of human drama contribute significantly to what makes French films so worth seeing. This is his second instalment of a trilogy about death that started with the emotionally enthralling and understated Under The Sand.

Previously he has covered different genres like comedy (8 Women) and thriller (Swimming Pool). While these films have found a wider audience, I find the dramatically subdued exploration of grief and mortality in Under The Sand and Time To Leave much more interesting and satisfying.

Ozon typically uses a female lead in his films. In Time To Leave he uses a male protagonist, Romain (Melvil Poupaud). He appears to be selfish and egocentric – not overly likeable. Romain is approaching imminent death and finds his own way to deal with it. It is revealing to observe how he interacts with people and attempts closure on his ‘final journey’.

The film has a bit of a wandering Zen feel about it. There is no sentimentality and Romain does not burden anyone. It appears that he wants to tidy up loose ends before his passing in an attempt to find peace within himself.

Legendary actress Jeanne Moreau, playing the grandmother, has as strong a screen presence as ever (55 years after her debut). It is only with her that Romain seems to open up emotionally, and we get a glimpse of his warmer side. These scenes were very moving and felt like the emotional core of the film.

Like Under The Sand, Time To Leave doesn’t seem to be making any particular point. It doesn’t proselytise a world view. Nor is it gratuitous, contrived or flamboyant. It is like an essay on the human condition, with great artistry and compassion. There is such understated confidence, intelligence and skill in Ozon’s direction. Highly recommended.

Dir, Scr: François Ozon Rating: MA Duration: 85 min Genre: drama Language: French Country: France Release: 30/11/06, limited Dist: Dendy Films Prod Co: Fidélité Prod: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier Sound Des: Brigitte Taillandier, Aymeric Devoldère Phot: Jeanne Lapoirie Ed: Monica Coleman Prod Des: Katia Wyszkop Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Jeanne Moreau, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Daniel Duval, Marie Rivière

Official website IMDB

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Catch A Fire

Tim Robbins, Catch A Fire

With Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American and now Catch A Fire to his credit in succession, Phillip Noyce appears to be leaving the blockbuster action movies behind and moving into the realm of serious but still arguably mainstream cinema. These three are all very proficient films with interesting stories and relevant social and political messages. It is noteworthy that they are all based on historical facts.

This style of film-making is much more interesting than films like Syriana or (especially) The Constant Gardener. In those, the directors appear to make a show of promoting a worthy world view, but don’t really seem committed to the political cause they’re endorsing. For me, they felt gratuitous, the director simply cynically exploiting our interest in political conspiracies without necessarily sharing that interest. Whatever it takes to get bums on seats.

It can be a difficult balance for a director. You want to do a story that you know is going to be hard to sell. So you need a big name or two to get the studio on board. But then you’re stuck with a highly recognisable face that everyone knows is American but has to use an Afrikaaner accent.

I was unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised to find that Tim Robbins was completely believable as the South African security interrogator. His accent seemed flawless, and with his excellent acting I was able to buy-in to his character immediately. And I assumed that Derek Luke, who played the protagonist Patrick Chamusso, was African. In fact, he’s from LA and has appeared in Spartan and Antwone Fisher (in the title role).

Apartheid, like Nazism or so-called terrorism, is an easy target for condemnation. It takes little effort to totally demonise even minor participants, even though they may be ordinary people. Noyce skilfully avoids such caricatures. Using effective editing and other cinematic devices, he was able to portray that both the protagonist and the antagonist had much in common. They both had two daughters, and both loved their families and their country. But one became a torturer and one became the tortured.

Noyce’s portrayal of apartheid was very balanced. Robbin’s character Vos was a family man with a job. His family loved him, but at work he was a man to be feared. Torture is a method that has been shown to not work. Both Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantanamo and Noyce’s Catch A Fire illustrate this by depicting false confessions that were actually made by innocents. According to Noyce at the Q&A session that proceeded the film, the confessions made by Chamusso after he joined the outlawed African National Congress (ANC) were deliberately sparse on detail and designed to appease but ultimately frustrate his interrogators.

I asked Noyce if the film was making a statement about current world events, and he acknowledged that it was. It is very relevant to the war on terror and the West’s turning to inhumane methods. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, he quoted. Patrick Chamusso was a hero, he said, not because he took up arms, but because he renounced them. The ANC had a policy of not harming innocents, but this wasn’t always followed to the letter. According to Noyce, Chamusso was unsuccessful (he was caught and jailed), because he was careful to follow this policy.

I was surprised by how much I liked this film, and found it the best of Noyce’s yet. Noyce is showing himself to be a deft master of quietly subversive films with commercial appeal, but ultimately they are socio-political commentaries with a strong humanitarian element. Catch A Fire should have wide appeal among both casual movie-goers and the more serious cinephiles.

: Phillip Noyce Rating: M Duration: 101 min Genre: drama/thriller Language: Afrikaans/Zulu/English Country: France/UK/South Africa/USA Release: 23/11/06, wide Dist: UIP Prod Co: Working Title Films Prod: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Anthony Minghella, Robyn Slovo Scr: Shawn Slovo Sound Ed: Andrew Plain Phot: Ron Fortunato Ed: Jill Bilcock Prod Des: Johnny Breedt Mus: Philip Miller Cast: Tim Robbins, Derek Luke, Bonni Henna, Mncedisi Shabangu

Official website IMDB

Monday, November 27, 2006

David & Margaret

With only a few hours notice I received an invite yesterday, courtesy of a Dendy Cinemas competition, to 'an evening with David & Margaret'. It was the last event of the year presented by The Age/Dymocks Books at the Arts Centre (ANZ Pavilion). These events usually have writers speak about their books, and on this occasion it was the promotion of a DVD: "Margaret & David At The Movies Interactive Quiz".

With some hasty phone calls and child-minding arrangements, my partner Zoe joined me after work. At The Movies is the only TV program I make a point of watching. I enjoy the thoughtful, intelligent and passionate discussion and banter of these two, who are this year celebrating 20 years on screen together.

In real estate, of utmost importance is location, location, location. With this in mind and as is my custom with anything film, I arrived early, just prior to the guest speakers. This also afforded me the opportunity, for some brief introductory conversation with David and Margaret, before the masses (about 100) arrived. During this brief exchange, I learnt that (1) Margaret is diminutive in stature, (2) her hands are quite proportionate to her size (and not as large as they seem when she projects them out to the TV camera), (3) she and David are aware of my prolific postings on the At The Movies message board (Margaret commented that it's nice to be able to put a face to a name), and (4) David gives a warm and modest handshake. I found both to be warm and approachable.

Dymocks had a couple of books (including 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, which Zoe bought me for my last birthday) and the DVD on sale. I'm not really into the fan thing, but did buy the DVD to get it signed. I always feel these things are an awkward imposition, but David & Margaret were graciously patient as I took the photo above.

We were ushered into the room, David & Margaret took their seats, and the proceedings began. There was sharing of stories by D&M, interspersed with a small trivia competition. The trivia questions revolved around subjects that D&M were going to talk about. Robert Altman's Nashville is Margaret's favourite film, and David is also fond of his work (he narrated an interesting story from many years ago, in which he spent a few hours with Altman and met Groucho Marx).

With Altman's recent passing on people’s minds, the first question was "which Altman film contains a story that was also the basis of the story in Jindabyne?" [Answer: Short Cuts]. We had another four questions, then, to Margaret's amusement (or was it embarrassment?) a bonus one: "Who had a brief role as Guy Pierce's role's mother in Pricilla: Queen of the Desert? [Answer: Margaret Pomeranz].

Damn! I had so little notice of the evening's event that I didn't get the opportunity to purchase that recording device I've been meaning to get for such events. During the evening, various topics were discussed and later there were some audience questions.

Margaret spoke of her vehement "hatred" of the American studios and their intolerance of competition from other countries. The Americans don't just want to sell their products, they want to destroy every other country's products. David concurred. He described how the American industry lobbied relentlessly against the French system of supporting its local film industry by taxing cinema seats for American films.

With this in mind, and with a brittle local industry, Margaret openly admitted to being biased towards Australian films, passionately declaring “when I go to a cinema, I want to hear Australian voices”. While I think her ideas have merit, I won’t discuss them here. There is a discussion on At The Movies that I have participated in, as well a similar and very recent one at Alison Croggon’s Theatre Notes.

I learnt that David has been a passionate advocate against censorship, particularly when he was a director of the Sydney Film Festival during the 1960’s and 1970’s. He described censorship in those days as “vicious”, and hardly a film was released without a cut, even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Margaret added that every instance of “shit” was cut; the censors wouldn’t allow it. David narrated an amusing story about the NSW censorship board, but I won’t repeat it here.

On the subject of censorship, David earlier wryly remarked that he was lobbying the OFLC for a new HHC classification – Hand Held Camera.

There was some discussion about the state of the Australian industry, and some of the different stages it went through. David described a small acting role he played when younger, and (to our amusement) how he had turned down another because he felt it didn't suit his image at the time. He said he didn't pursue acting, because he didn't think he looked good enough. I suppose we all have foolish thoughts in our youth.

There was a question about what regions of the world are producing interesting cinema. D&M's consensus was: Korea, Iran, China, other parts of Asia and Spain. I've heard much of Korean cinema, but we seem lucky in Melbourne to get one Korean film distributed in a year, outside of film festivals. I just love Iranian cinema, particularly Panahi (especially The Circle) and Kiarostami.

David described a decline in eastern European cinema since the dismantling of the USSR, with a loss of state-sponsored cinema. And the rest of Europe also appears in decline. Italy and France seem to have lost their edge.

Margaret self-deprecatingly referred to herself as “motormouth”. She referred to how David irritates her, and she irritates him. They don’t compare notes on a film until they’re before the camera. However, as they often go to the same screenings, they sometimes have an idea of the other’s opinion (Margaret came out of The Departed appalled, for example, and couldn’t conceal her disgust and disappointment). David described how he likes to ‘throw’ Margaret with an unexpected comment in front of the camera.

It was a very enjoyable evening in which we witnessed a reasonably spontaneous display of banter and discussion that closely resembled the dynamics that have made these two one of television's most enduring and endearing partnerships.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Catch A Fire Q&A

Phillip Noyce interviewed by Francis Leach at the Nova cinema (Photo: Paul Martin)

I've been thinking lately that I need a digital voice recorder, and damn it, I still do! I would have liked to record Phillip Noyce's interview with Vega FM's Francis Leach and Q&A with the audience after the advance screening of Catch A Fire on Tuesday 21/11/06. The screening was well-attended and there were lots of intelligent questions and thoughtful, insightful answers.

I'm not good on remembering details, but the questions by Leach indicated that (1) he had researched his subject thoroughly before the event, and (2) that he is very intelligent and thoughtful. Noyce made a point of thanking him at the end for his thoughtful interview, saying it was the best interview he's had for this film.

I don't even remember all the questions that I asked (I know it was at least two, though I also had some follow-up questions). I'll do my best to recollect (bearing in mind that I'm always keen to ask film-makers about their work, but then get very nervous when I have the microphone in my hand).

My first questions went something like:

PM: Why now? In making this film now, are you making some kind of political statement regarding the current "war on terror", torture, Iraq, etc?

's answer was quite detailed, but basically he acknowledged that he was making such a statement. "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter", he quoted. Patrick Chamusso was a hero, not because he took up arms, but because he renounced them. He (Chamusso) was unsuccessful because he took it to heart not to harm innocent people.

Noyce discussed the characters Vos and Chamusso, both family men with two daughters, both proud of their country. I noted during the screening of the film various editing techniques (like intercutting) that guided the audience to draw this parallel. But one was a torturer and one was tortured.

Vos was a relatively successful interrogator because he wasn't as physically brutal as most of his peers. But he was psychologically effective, using techniques such as taking a suspect home for dinner (as depicted in the film) or to church. Noyce claimed that there are many studies that show that torture rarely produces any reliable or valuable information. Innocent people end up supplying false information (depicted in both Catch a Fire and also in Michael Winterbottom's recent The Road to Guantanamo), and even the so-called terrorists typically do not provide any information of use.

PM: You have a vast body of work to your credit. Some of it is more mainstream and commercial; some is less so. Which film or films are closest to your heart?

Noyce: Rabbit Proof Fence. There is no film that means more to me than this. Everyone said it couldn't be done. I had so many obstacles that I fought every step of the way. They said it couldn't be done, no-one would want to see it, or it wouldn't make any money. I made it, a lot of people saw it and it was successful, and that means a lot to me.

I did ask a question about what projects he has planned, but his answer was so detailed that without a recording I couldn't remember everything. I recall he has a number of things planned, mostly based on books. I got the impression they were Australian stories, and one in particular was going to be shot (if it eventuates) in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. I, for one, look forward to anything that Noyce may do in the future.

There were lots of revealing tidbits of information, such as the wonderful co-operation of the government in getting access to historic locations (such as the power plant), because they (the government) were keen for this story to be told (many in government were former members of the ANC). Or how one person was an expert on the songs of the ANC, and taught these to the film crew. Lots of things I can't recall.

The whole session went for over 45 minutes, and could have kept going but we had to leave the cinema for a film screening. During the Q&A, I was sitting at the front next to Natalie Miller of Nova Cinema and Sharmill Films. I asked her if the session was being recorded, but the answer was no. D'oh! I've got to get me that recorder. It was a great evening. I'll get my review of the film on here shortly (I thoroughly enjoyed it - my favourite Noyce film yet).

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints

Channing Tatum, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (Courtesy Jump Street Films)

What kind of writer reveals his troubled childhood, then directs a semi-autobiographical film about it, using a character with his own name? Bold, foolish or maybe both, that’s exactly what first-time director Dito Montiel did.

Reminiscent of Larry Clark’s Kids, which was set in Manhattan, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints depicts adolescents growing up in a tough neighbourhood, in the NY borough of Queens. For some of these youth, the dangers lay not just on the streets, but also in their own homes. Dito just knew he had to get away.

At first the film is a little difficult to watch visually – the editing and hand-held camera are abrupt. As the story develops and shifts into the present, this subsides and it becomes evident that this was a deliberate device to depict the nature of recollection. As Dito makes the journey across the continent to visit the ill father he hasn’t seen in 15 years, a montage of childhood memories flood his mind.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is not a light film but is more accessible than Kids. While Kids depicted the consequences of dangers faced by adolescents, this film portrays how one boy escapes from the dangers, but ultimately needs to confront and reconcile his past.

The performances in the film are very strong – the actors are all very credible and the dialogue is saturated with authenticity. Melonie Diaz, who previously appeared in Raising Victor Vargas, beautifully portrayed Dito’s childhood girlfriend Laurie. Rosario Dawson plays the grown up Laurie, and incidentally made her film debut nearly twenty years ago in Kids.

Producer Robert Downey Jr. who encouraged Montiel to make the film, was excellent in an understated role as the adult Dito. The transition of actors between 1986 and the present was depicted effectively. Special mention to Chazz Palminteri, who always has a strong but unforced screen presence.

A film made with a small budget and a big heart, it pays off with a strong, emotionally powerful and worthwhile story. I was surprised how the emotional impact crept up towards the end, as Dito dealt with his past as best he could.

This film is highly recommended for those who enjoy human drama in shades of grey. There’s no good guy/bad guy thing happening here. It’s people dealing with the hand that destiny has given them, trying to find their way. It is full of emotional honesty and plausibility that you can buy into. And don’t leave until after the final credits.

Dir, Scr: Dito Montiel Rating: MA Duration: 99 min Genre: drama Language: English Country: USA Release: 16/11/06, limited Dist: Jump Street Films Prod Co: Xingu Films, Original Media Prod: Trudie Styler, Travis Swords, Charlie Corwin, Clara Markowicz Sound: Paul Hsu Phot: Eric Gautier Ed: Christopher Tellefsen, Jake Pushinsky Prod Des: Jody Asnes Mus: Jonathan Elias Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Shia LaBeouf, Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Channing Tatum, Melonie Diaz, Martin Compston, Rosario Dawson, Adam Scarimbolo

Official website IMDB

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lower City

Wagner Moura and Lázaro Ramos, Lower City (Courtesy Madman Films)

Lower City (Cidade Baixa) is a gutsy and challenging film in the vein of City of God. It has a similar energy with frenetic camera work and it’s depiction of people at the lower end of the food chain. It is set on location in various seaports of northeast Brazil, showcasing beautiful vistas (though rarely in postcard fashion) and urban decay that I found very photogenic. It wasn’t as dark or frenzied as City of God.

Producer Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station), director Sérgio Machado and writer Karim Ainouz are regular collaborators. Machado wrote for Ainouz’s Madame Sata (2002), which had a limited release in Australia last year and both Machado and Ainouz wrote for Salles’ Behind The Sun (1998). The style and subject of Lower City had much in common with Madame Sata, though the latter was based on a true character (Madame Sata was a bandit-turned-transvestite performer earlier last century).

Right from the start, sex is a confronting element of Lower City, as we follow the exploits of a lascivious young woman, Karinna (Alice Braga). She is unnervingly blasé about selling herself in exchange for a ride with a pair of men, Deco (Lázaro Ramos) and Naldinho (Wagner Moura) on their boat to Salvador.

Deco and Naldinho are lifelong friends and strugglers. We get glimpses into their questionable background. One is attempting to reform while the other appears to be sinking into bad habits. This is not their only conflict. While they profess their brotherly love for each other, jealously grows over each man’s sexual interest in Karinna.

Deco and Naldinho are of different races. An early scene of a cock fight between a black and a white bird seems prophetic. The deterioration of their relationship was a major focus of the story, and it was well detailed with subtlety. Much of it was by body language such as glaring looks rather than the spoken word. The actors’ performances were all passionate, credible and their characters well-developed and interesting. The film’s depiction of the darker side of a society was a fresh change to the homogenous, polished middle-class of Hollywood.

The film seemed to struggle slightly at times with continuity and editing but remained emotionally gripping throughout. The camera work was mostly hand-held and I found it a bit jolting at times. The exotic music – a sort of neo-Afro-jazz – was a terrific blend of traditional and contemporary and was used to very good effect.

There was a satisfying level of ambiguity in the film, both in motives and the finale. We are not handed everything on a plate for immediate consumption, so we can come out of the cinema ruminating about the experience.

Eroticism is a significant but incidental element in the film, used as a vehicle for revealing aspects of the characters, and how destructive it can be to a relationship. While love triangles are not a new subject, its depiction in Lower City was achieved with depth, originality, realism and emotional honesty. This aspect was a little reminiscent of the scenario in Y Tu Mama Tambien, but in a deeper and much seedier way.

Lower City, despite its depictions of sex and violence, is at heart both gentle and non-judgmental. For me, it didn’t reach the greatness of City of God (to which it is being compared), though it really is a very different film. Serious film-goers will appreciate it for its sensual and raw eroticism, ambiguity, grittiness, sense of humanity and emotional depth. It is well worth seeing.

Dir: Sérgio Machado Rating: R Duration: 98 min Genre: drama Language: Portuguese Country: Brazil Release: 30/11/06, limited Dist: Madman Films Prod Co: VideoFilmes Prod: Mauricio Andrade Ramos, Walter Salles Scr: Sérgio Machado, Karim Ainouz Sound Des: Leandro Lima, Rômulo Drummond Phot: Toca Seabra Ed: Isabela Monteiro de Castro Prod Des: Marcos Pedroso Mus: Carlinhos Brown, Beto Villares Cast: Lázaro Ramos, Wagner Moura, Alice Braga, José Dumont

Official website IMDB

Friday, November 10, 2006

Discussion of Documentary

I've seen two documentaries in the last week: Wordplay and Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. I generally don't see much documentary on the big screen, unless I've run out of other films to see. In these cases I had free tickets, so couldn't refuse.

For me, the big screen works as a supreme medium for losing oneself for two hours on some journey, fantasy or experience. Documentary usually involves learning about a subject, and for this the TV will often suffice. There are two notable exceptions that spring to mind:

  1. Nature, architecture or others where cinematography is prominent, e.g. Microcosmos and Winged Migration (aka Travelling Birds)
  2. Documentaries that are emotionally engaging (as it is said, the truth is often stranger than fiction) , e.g. Capturing the Friedmans.

Many cinema commentators have noted a renaissance in the documentary genre in recent years, particularly since the success of Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine. I've been ruminating about the reasons for that.

It is my perception that Hollywood has been neglecting the adult market and focusing heavily on the teenage market, for over a decade. So much so that there has been a real vacuum in adult cinema. (This has lead to a boom for independent cinemas.) At the same time, documentaries are being produced in increasingly entertaining ways.

Perhaps it’s a case of emulating Moore’s success – injecting personality, humour, use of celebrity heads, mocking others and opinionation, among other novel populist devices. This trend could be considered an effective means to justify the end - a ‘sugar-coated pill’ - and there may be some validity to this strategy. Some recent examples of this include The Yes Men, Super Size Me and Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 (all of which I enjoyed, by the way).

This is a distinct departure from the more traditional model of focusing on being authoritative, balanced, impartial, incisive, analytical, revealing and explorative. Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (to be released next week) is this type of documentary. Errol Morris’ excellent Fog of War also fits into this category and is the best documentary that I can recall.

A distinct difference between the two Moore films mentioned is that Bowling For Columbine appeared less partial. Despite his tendency to mock some of his subjects, particularly Charlton Heston (a little in the vein of David Letterman), the film was a genuine exploration of the cause of violence in America.

Perhaps success went to Moore’s head because in Fahrenheit 911, he adopted more of the chutzpah or cockiness he was known for in his The Awful Truth TV series (which screened on SBS), or the earlier film Roger & Me. In Fahrenheit 911, he made no attempt to disguise his contempt for the US leadership and openly aimed at toppling the president at the following election. The film has since been widely criticised for inaccuracy and manipulation of facts, even though much of its content may be valid.

Another form of populist documentary that is appearing increasingly is the ‘competition’ style, like Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom and the just released Wordplay. Each of these films follows an almost identical formula: follow some key players that are going to compete in a competition. Interview some talking heads – sprinkle in some celebrities if possible. And culminate in the drama of the actual competition.

The popularity of this genre may be attributed to the reasons discussed above, i.e. the vacuum of adult cinema. I think the popularity of reality television may also be a factor. The formulae of each are very similar, though the ‘competition’ documentary is closer to actual reality than its television cousin. While each of the ‘competition’ documentaries may be interesting on their own, the repetitiveness of the formula becomes tiresome, unoriginal and uninspirational – much like the Hollywood model that has turned away mature audiences. There’s a risk that too much recurrence will backfire on audience interest.

There’s definitely a place for the more entertainment-oriented documentaries, though I think too much subjectivity and populist devices can undermine the importance of their content. For me, there really is no comparison with really well-made, well-researched, authoritative documentaries of the more traditional kind. Think The Corporation, Fog of War, My Architect, Metallica – Some Kind of Monster, Noam Chomsky’s Power and Terror and the soon-to-be-released Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. It seems that documentaries of this calibre are released about once a year.

If quality documentaries interest you, next week’s release of Metal may be a good opportunity to get your annual dose. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

Iron Maiden, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (Dendy Films)

I don’t like heavy metal music; in fact I hate most heavy metal music. I loved Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. It had all the best components of a good documentary, one of the best released in a long time and a good companion piece on a par with Metallica – Some Kind of Monster.

Co-director Sam Dunn is both a metal aficionado and a graduate in anthropology. He knows how and where to delve into the culture with a healthy reverence for his subject matter, but with the objectivity to examine in a way that outsiders could glean appreciation. I found it fascinating.

In a systematic, well-structured manner, heavy metal’s origins and history were examined, as was the disparity between its followers and detractors. Fans, band members and industry experts were interviewed. The questions and answers were intelligent. Historic file footage was used. The culture and its many sub-genres was analysed. The relationships between heavy metal and gender, sex, religion, Satanism and violence were all covered in a most interesting, comprehensive and enlightening manner.

It was shot on location, including at various concerts, across North America, UK and Europe. I found Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and Ronnie James Dio of Dio (accredited as the inventor of the devil horn sign) the most compelling interviewees, though there were many others too numerous to mention. The sum of the whole turned out a rich result.

Unlike many documentaries of late, where the primary goal appears to be light entertainment using celebrity heads, this film is truly insightful, intelligent, balanced, educational, funny and entertaining! Whatever your taste in music, I highly recommend it.

Dir, Scr, Prod: Sam Dunn, Scot McFayden, Jessica Joy Wise Rating: M Duration: 98 min Genre: music documentary Language: English Country: Canada Release: 16/11/06, limited Viewed: 9/11/06, Kino cinema, 3RRR advance screening Dist: Dendy Films Prod Co: Seville Pictures Phot: Brendan Steacy Ed: Mike Munn Prod Des: Kenneth Mak Mus Ed: Andrew Wright Sound Ed: Fred Brennan Cast: Tony Iommi, Bruce Dickinson, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, Dee Snider, Vince Neil, Lemmy, Lamb of God, Slipknot, Slayer, Ronnie James Dio, Tom Morello, Arch Enemy, Geddy Lee, Cannibal Corpse

Official website IMDB

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Road to Guantanamo

Prisoners await transfer to Guantanamo Bay. Courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

This is a very personal story – the story of four pretty ordinary, young Englishmen (of Pakistani background, aged between 19 and 23) who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It puts faces, personalities and stories to the so-called “evil-doers”, the “really bad guys”, as George W. Bush likes to childishly describe them. In doing so, it exposes the absolutely corrupt lies that we have been fed by our leaders.

The four arrived in Pakistan for a wedding, not long after after the events of September 11, 2001. During their visit, they crossed the porous border with Afghanistan. Perhaps it was curiosity, or adventurism (they claim they were invited to perform some acts of charity, though the film doesn’t fully explain). Whatever their reasons, the film is ultimately about the inhumanity and injustice that has been meted out while in the custody of US forces.

The narrative takes the form of talking heads. Three of the young men (one is missing, presumed dead) speak intermittently as their experiences are re-enacted by non-professional actors in a documentary-like format, based on the accounts of the three. The realism of these segments is gripping, interspersed with Al Jazeera video footage from the time.

Trapped in Konduz under attack by US forces, the three men and other residents scramble onto a truck shared with Taliban fighters evacuating from the town. When the truck is intercepted by the Northern Alliance, the occupants are all taken into custody . Thus begins the arduous road to Guantanamo.

In the end, this story is not just about four young men. It is about Mamdouh Habib, David Hicks and a multitude of innocents who were in the wrong place at the wrong time (it could be about you and me). Those without western governments to support them still languish under harsh conditions. It is a travesty that the Australian government is the only western government that continues to abandon its responsibilities to its citizens. As the film depicts, contrary to the rule of law, there is a presumption of guilt.

For me, the constant inhumane interrogations, solitary confinements and beatings were reminiscent of the 1692 Salem trials depicted in Arthur Miller’s parable The Crucible, or the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings (which inspired Miller’s work) so artfully and powerfully depicted in George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. Ironically, they depict the very type of pernicious activities that the US government was claiming to be saving the world from.

In the context of current world events, this is an important film. I suspect that it will mostly preach to the converted, but hopefully it will find a wider audience. I found it compelling.

: Michael Winterbottom, Mat Whitecross Rating: MA Duration: 95 min Genre: drama/documentary Language: English, Urdu Country: UK Release: 16/11/06, limited Viewed: 1/11/06, Cinema Nova Dist: Palace Films Prod Co: FilmFour, Revolution Films Prod: Andrew Eaton, Melissa Parmenter, Shahryar Shahbazzadeh Scr: not available Sound Des: Joakim Sundström Phot: Marcel Zyskind Ed: Paul Wrightson Prod Des: Mark Digby Mus: Harry Escott, Molly Nyman Cast: Riz Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Waqar Siddiqui, Arfan Usman

Official website IMDB

Christine Vachon Interview

The following article appeared in The Age.

A singular vision

October 20, 2006

Photo caption: Killers' film: The Notorious Bettie Page
Indie film is far from sacrosanct, producer Christine Vachon tells Craig Mathieson.

''WE'VE got to get rid of the term independent," declares Christine Vachon, a film producer with little time for the verbal prevarications common in her profession.

"Independent film only ever used to mean a film that wasn't financed by one of the Hollywood studios. It certainly wasn't enough of a distinction to say that the quality of the film was automatically better, or that the director's vision was any less tampered with."

Vachon, a forthright 43-year-old New Yorker, says this even though she's celebrated as one of the founders of modern American independent cinema. As the producer who nurtured Todd Haynes' Poison in 1991 and Tom Kalin's Swoon the following year, she fought for - and occasionally with - a generation of filmmakers whose collective body of work includes Safe, Kids, I Shot Andy Warhol, Velvet Goldmine, Happiness, Boys Don't Cry and Far From Heaven.

But Vachon, who has produced about 50 features and shorts, mostly through her aptly titled production house, Killer Films, is as much an iconoclast as some of the directors, including Haynes and Todd Solondz. She's interested in people with a "singularity of vision", and to get their work onto the screen she'll readily deal with foreign investors, wealthy dilettantes who want an executive producer credit or the "hip" independent wing of a corporate studio.

"Independent divisions are an inevitable development because there's now money to be made with smaller films. And the more of them there are the better off producers are, because there's more financing sources," Vachon says.

"A producer's role hasn't really changed: they're still the engine on a film and that's true whether it's a studio film or not. With the kind of films we make at Killer the financing tends to be as complicated as the production."

While Killer is renowned for introducing politically and sexually challenging concepts to a mainstream audience, Vachon is unassuming and workmanlike, familiar with the more prosaic elements of film producing - in other words, she knows how to fire people.

Her lack of sentimentality was apparent from an early age, when the university graduate with an interest in gender politics who aspired to be a director (an early Vachon short was titled Don't Look Up My Skirt Unless You Mean It) decided that Haynes, a former classmate, was so talented that producing his pictures would be more satisfying than making her own.

When it comes to retrospectives of her career, such as the Australian Centre for the Moving Image's Focus on Christine Vachon, which features 18 titles she has produced, she's proud but not given to introspection. When New York's Museum of Modern Art held a series of screenings last year she introduced the films, but never watched them.

"The great thing about filmmaking is that it lasts," she says. "You can actually see what you did years and years later. I'm proud of the work that we've done and that people still see it, but I try not to draw any conclusions from that."

Vachon, who last week finished overseeing production on Haynes' Bob Dylan biopic, I'm Not There, used to joke that when she went to Hollywood she would wear her "uniform", black boots, black pants and a black T-shirt, as a way of preparing herself and warding off the natives. Now it is her regular garb and she no longer has to figure out how to make a feature for less than $US1 million, although there remains no shortage of challenges.

"The collective experience of people watching a film in a dark room is on the way out, or at least becoming rarer and rarer," Vachon points out. "The fact is, most people now experience a movie in their living room.

"Also, celluloid itself is disappearing. In a few years, with the exception of a handful of purists, there'll be very little celluloid involved in filmmaking. You can lament that, but that's just the way it is."