Movie Review – Underworld: Blood Wars

underworld-blood-wars

Underworld: Blood Wars is a whole lot of the same old thing – for better and for worse.

⭐⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Kate Beckinsale slips back into the skin-tight leather catsuit of vampire ‘death dealer’ Selene for another entry in the Underworld series. This time Selene and David (Theo James) are faced with a new threat in the form of Marius (Tobias Menzies), a fierce Lycan ringleader who seeks to unlock untold power through unconventional means.

Love them or hate them, at least the Underworld films know what they are. Every so many years, Screen Gems cobble together a modest budget for another 90 minutes of Beckinsale icily staring off into the distance, slinking through dark hallways in body-hugging leather and kicking dudes in the balls. Sometimes those dudes are vampires; most of the time they’re werewolves. There is a bit of lore sprinkled in to conjure up some semblance of a plot, but most of the time it’s just a driving force that propels Selene and her hunky co-stars towards the next chop-suey swordfight.

And so the formula continues with Blood Wars. Now in the fifth entry in the series, Blood Wars strives to further deepen the narrative without distancing itself too far from what fans know and love. Whilst 2012’s Underworld: Awakening stripped the premise back to its bare bones, Blood Wars pushes the fantasy elements farther than ever before. Incoming director Anna Foerster (TV’s Outlander) unleashes everything the meagre budget can muster and has a lot of fun mashing the modern day setting with heavy Game of Thrones inspired fantasy.

Towering keeps, royal bloodlines and conflict concerning ancient covens plants the series firmly in the realm of Thrones or Vikings fans, a trait that also extends to newly-introduced characters. Lara Pulver plays Semira, a cut-rate Cersei Lannister type who won’t wear a dress if the neckline can be described as anything other than plunging. Pulver delights in chewing the scenery and smirking wickedly from the shadows, wrapping her mouth around all manner of atrocious dialogue.

The Westeros influences continue with Clementine Nicholson’s white-haired warrior maiden Lena who is just one CGI dragon away from being a clone of Daenerys Targaryen. I’m not complaining too much, embracing the high fantasy elements once again fits the series well – but maybe those influences could’ve been less on the nose?

Decked out with more leather than an early 2000’s German nightclub, Underworld: Blood Wars is unlikely to garner the franchise fresh fans. It’s trashy, schlocky pulp that gets in and out in just over 91 minutes, screeching to an abrupt end in fear of overstaying its welcome. Beckinsale is sadly relegated to supporting at times, but Menzies makes for a delightfully malicious foe for her to face off against.

Underworld: Blood Wars is available in Australian cinemas from December 1st

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – Trolls

trolls

A surprisingly good and brightly executed movie that kids will enjoy and adults can easily tolerate.

⭐⭐⭐
Cody Fullbrook

If there’s one thing I love about being an adult, it’s going to see terrible children’s movies while acting superior to the exhausted parents and bratty kids in the cinema.  It’s easier as a puberty survivor to predict a film’s quality, and with Trolls unwisely boasting fairy floss aesthetics, unoriginal songs and being based on toys nobody plays with anymore, it’s clear that this obnoxious drivel would be an easy mark, right?

Trolls could have easily been a saccharine story of cookie-cutter characters, and while there’s a bit of that going on, the film actually bothers to develop a remarkably broad narrative, resulting in a cliché, but overall, satisfying adventure of joy and self-confidence.  The key to the film’s exuberance is its animation, with its detailed, felt-like texture providing a fresh change from the usual shiny plastic look we’re used to.

The titular trolls actually share almost half the screen time with their antagonists, the ogre-like Bergens, who, excluding their vengeful outcast, Chef (voiced by Christine Baranski), are never portrayed as innately evil monsters.  Rather, we observe the workings of their depressing society, making us realise that, even though they eat trolls, they do so with zero malice and just want to be happy, literally.

The cheerful trolls only begin their story once Chef barges in and disrupts their festive solitude.  With her friends kidnapped, Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) sets off on a rescue mission, with help from the anti-social Branch (Justin Timberlake), who only joins her due to threat of psychological torture. Pretty dark when you think about it.  The respective light and dark juxtaposition of Poppy and Branch is functional but standard, with Poppy’s bubbly enthusiasm cresting over Branch’s dull pragmatism.

Similar to my appreciation that the Bergen King is never portrayed as an annoying brat, Poppy is jubilant and friendly without being hyper, and Branch is snarky and rational without being a downer. Although, due to the Bergen’s “stealing” some of the movie’s runtime, Poppy and Branch aren’t developed enough for their motivations and inevitable romance to feel warranted, especially when the film attempts to enhance the scene with well-known songs that only vaguely relate to the characters current feelings.

The use of these songs reduces what could have been an actual musical movie – a sadly rare genre nowadays – into a disappointing karaoke show. The songs themselves, not being made for the movie, don’t intrinsically link to any character’s specific actions, rendering the moment completely hollow.

Predictably, the obnoxious hallmarks of modern family blockbusters pop up throughout the story. Instantly dated words like “Snap”, “Burn” and even “YOLO” are made worse when dripping out the fluffy mouths of vacuous supporting characters, who, of course, are played by celebrities with a free afternoon to record their insipid soundbites.

Trolls is no masterpiece, but has enough quality to succeed as a worthwhile family movie.  A physical gag involving roller skates and the Bergen King’s lips had me burst out laughing, and I guarantee that anyone can find at least one thing to enjoy in Trolls, even if it’s watching a hippy get strangled.  Twice.

Trolls is available in Australian cinemas from December 1st

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 

Movie Review – Up For Love

up-for-love

Nothing short of just another romantic comedy.

⭐⭐⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

The man should always be taller than the woman. That’s what we’re willing to accept when it comes to heterosexual relationships. The other way around tends to only invite judgment and ridicule. It may be unjust and it may be small-minded, but that’s the reality of society’s expectations.

This is exactly what French romantic comedy Up For Love explores – the ups and downs of a woman dating a man below her stature. The Artist’s Jean Dujardin stars as Alexandre, a charming and handsome architect who is determined to use his wits to win over the heart of Diane (Virginie Efira). The only obstacle to their happily ever after? Alexandre is four feet tall.

Dujardin and Efira light up the screen with a brand of youthful energy and joy that can only be seen in two people falling in love. Both characters have had their share of past relationship experiences and have reached a point in their lives where career progression is a major priority. This allows for a much more mature romance to play out, rather than one purely focused on their height differences. By having slightly older characters than what we’re used to seeing in these types of films, Up For Love avoids the nonsense of teen angst (Paper Towns) and manages to be more than a series of superficial gimmicks (How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days).

Having said that, there is ample opportunity for short jokes, and director Laurent Tirard takes full advantage of this. While some of these moments are genuinely funny, others come across as contrived – obvious beats are set aside to allow the audience to laugh, almost like a sit-com with the canned laughter on mute. It’s the type of stuff that your grandparents will adore, but everyone else will be lucky to crack a polite smile.

While it’s certainly a unique premise, at the end of the day, Up For Love is nothing short of just another rom-com.

Up For Love is available in Australian cinemas from December 1st 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

Movie Review – Morgan

morgan

Directed by Luke Scott, son of Ridley Scott, comes Morgan, a supposedly cerebral sci-fi thriller that seems to have left its brain at the door.

⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Morgan sees a team of scientists grapple with the moral quandaries of terminating a bioengineered child (Anya Taylor-Joy) that they’ve nurtured since birth after a routine experiment ends in violence. With corporate risk assessment consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) breathing down their necks, the team have to accept that Morgan is both dangerous and unpredictable, but their emotional attachment continues to create complications.

I’m just going to put it out there – Morgan is a mess from start to finish. Well actually, that’s a lie – the final scene is a doozy. There are ideas introduced in the final scene that make you finally sit up and take notice, but everything in the 90 minutes beforehand is a sloppy, directionless mess of tangled character motivations and narrative arcs. Believe me, holding out for that sting in the tail isn’t worth the wait.

At its core, Morgan has some good stuff to work with – it’s just a shame then that director Luke Scott fails to mould them into anything worthwhile. Firstly, the script is about as riveting as a really piss-weak episode of Doctor Who from the 80s. The actions of almost every character in the film are wildly inconsistent or deeply flawed. It’s really lazy, B-movie writing.

This is an $8 million sci-fi where next to nothing happens for a good hour, and when something does happen, we’re already knee-deep in the final act. I could count on one hand the number of notable plot points and I’d still have three fingers remaining. Scott fills the bulk of the film with creaky, wooden exposition that gives us all the essential backstory, but none of the key emotional beats to make us care about anyone. Are we supposed to feel sympathy for Morgan or unsettled by Lee’s uncaring ruthlessness? None of the characters are particularly likeable, which makes the tedious pacing and generic plot a real slog.

It doesn’t help that the execution isn’t anything to write home about. The continuity between scenes, and sometimes takes, is slapdash at best. In one scene, we see a character run barely 100 meters from one set to another – one minute it’s pitch dark outside, the next it’s broad daylight. Did that just happen or did someone accidentally step on the fast-forward button? While this is sci-fi and I expect some liberties to be taken with the truth, please don’t insult our intelligence like that.

A lot of really talented actors are wasted in this piece – Mara, Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Cox. Even Paul freakin’ Giamatti is in this movie! Were they being blackmailed or something?

At the end of the day, Morgan doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before and bears too many similarities to Alex Garland’s far superior Ex Machina to earn a recommendation from me. In fact, just go watch Ex Machina instead.

Morgan is available in Australian cinemas from December 1st

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Movie Review – The Fencer

the-fencer

The ‘whimsical teacher inspires disadvantaged kids’ movie is back – now with swordplay!

⭐⭐⭐
Corey Hogan 

Less than a decade after WWII, Estonia is still re-establishing itself under a Soviet Union takeover, and punishing the Nazi soldiers responsible for its downfall. Endel Nelis (Märt Avandi), a young man with a penchant for the art of fencing, returns to his hometown after being forced to flee Leningrad. He finds solace at a local school, and begins teaching the children his knowledge and passion of fencing, which becomes a form of expression and hope for them. Soon beloved as a role model, his bubble bursts when his past catches up to him.

We’ve all seen the inspirational teacher movie a million times, and much in the same way that Endel’s former life threatens to undo all his good work throughout The Fencer, director Klaus Härö can never shake the trappings of a worn-out subgenre. All your favourite clichés make an appearance here. The underprivileged kids in desperate need of a father figure. The killjoy principal antagonising the class’s obvious progression, purely because the new teacher’s unorthodox methods seem radical. The build up to a big competition at the climax. There’s even a love interest in a fellow teacher. Ho hum.

But Härö’s delicacy lies in the details. The seldom explored Stalin era of oppression in Northern Europe is an interesting backdrop to a formulaic story, even if it isn’t quite explored to its full potential. The rural, still somewhat war-torn Estonian village is wonderfully shot, with a dull grey melancholia hanging in the outside air – everywhere, except of course the fencing gym, where light and colour comes to life along with the children’s hopes and dreams. The fencing itself is particularly joyous to watch; orchestrated with great precision and passion, it genuinely feels like we’re learning something along with the kids.

It’s these scenes, along with the little moments of suspense effectively peppered throughout that let The Fencer shine at times. Härö wrings a great deal of tension out of small, sudden revelations that indicate that Endel’s hideout may finally be compromised. Overall, The Fencer pokes just enough holes in the formula to make it one worth seeing.

The Fencer is available in Australian cinemas from November 24

Image courtesy of Palace Films

Crazy Star Wars Theories

crazy-star-wars-theories

Cody Fullbrook

Whether it’s Boba Fett surviving the Sarlac Pitt, Han Solo having a wife or the last member of a skinny robot quartet hacking into the second Death Star, Star Wars has an ocean of stories buried in the expanded universe.  Since many of these stories have been wiped clean and stored in the legends category, it has given the universe a degree of narrative flexibility, opening the floodgates for many fan theories.  Here’s several of my favourites.

What If…Jar Jar Binks Was A Sith Lord?

“You know, I find that Jar Jar creature to be a little odd.”

It took a surprisingly long time for the idea Darth Jar Jar Binks to even appear.  The prequels were well over a decade old before Star Wars fans toyed with the concept of the bumbling gungan covertly manipulating the minds of those around him, covering his malicious intentions with his infamously silly persona.

The “evidence” of this are key moments in Episodes I and II, mostly involving subtle lip and hand movements, alluding to Jedi Mind Tricks.  These are easily boiled down to casual gestures and character designs that coincide with his general alien goofiness, but also consider that it was him who convinced the senate to provide Chancellor Palpatine with Emergency Powers, allowing the construction of the army sleeper agent clones.  Combining all the pieces together paints a very malevolent picture of the floppy eared klutz.

What If…Obi-Wan And Padme Were Secretly Dating?

“She seems to be on top of things.”

Attack Of The Clones is a mixed bag for many Star Wars fans.  I’m sure I’m not the only kid who watched Obi-Wan’s investigative adventure while fast-forwarding Anakin and Padme’s romantic scenes.  Remember; nothing wins a woman’s heart like pretending to get trampled to death, mass murder and casually advocating for a dictatorship.

Although not even slightly hinted at, viewing the prequels as if Obi-Wan and Padme are in a secret relationship adds immediate depth to their actions, most effective of which is Padme’s realisation that the two men she loves are going to kill each other and it’s all her fault.

What If…Luke’s Second Lightsaber Was Qui-Gon Jinn’s?

“Ah, yes.  A Jedi’s weapon, much like your father’s.”

Many find it confusing that The Force Awakens revealed Maz Kanata possessing Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, but what I find stranger is why so much focus is on one lightsaber when Luke used two?  One was lost with his hand and a green one was then used throughout Episode VI.

A deleted scene from Return Of The Jedi shows Luke finishing his construction of this second lightsaber, but since that footage didn’t make it to the film, a new theory emerged which, I feel, adds a depth to the films that connects them in a quick, simple and beautiful way.

We never get to see what happened to Qui-Gon’s lightsaber after he was jabbed by Darth Maul, and even though it’s a shame Anakin’s lightsaber was sliced away from Luke so soon, given its lineage, this theory repairs that.  Since Obi-Wan died in Episode IV, Luke was never made aware of any other trinkets inside that box at Kenobi’s home on Tatooine, so maybe after returning there to warm up a bit after Hoth, Luke comes across another lightsaber.  A green one.

What If…Mace Windu Survived?

“The oppression of the Sith will never return.  You have lost.”

One of the most prevalent theories within Star Wars is the loser of a battle intentionally failing for a secretly higher purpose.  Mace Windu’s survival of a seemingly fatal fall can only live on in the expanded universe.

Considering the theory of Mace Windu avoiding a messy splattering onto Coruscant’s chrome street floor, he joins characters like Grievous, Dooku and Asajj Ventress, who can do little but play within the cracks of the movie saga, resulting in stories that must be intrinsically less interesting than the films, lest they accidentally overshadow them.

Windu’s story has the potential of being extremely solemn, serving as a fly-on-the-wall perspective, with a lone Jedi observing Order 66 and forcing him to hide away from it all without hope.  He would live a short, nomadic life and die a quiet, unceremonious death.  Honestly, it’d make a gritty comic book.

The timeline of Star Wars covers thousands of years and there are stories covering every nanosecond of it. Star Wars may never truly end as much as it’ll simply re-invent itself, allowing interesting theories to rise and fall.  For now, let’s just keep wondering who Snoke is. Face it. You’re probably all wrong.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

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Ang Lee paints a harsh picture of American excess in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

⭐⭐⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk sees the titular solider (Joe Alwyn) and his squad being carted around America on a promotional tour following a highly publicised skirmish in Iraq in 2004. Their victory lap is set to culminate with an appearance at a halftime show during a football game in Dallas, with the entire film switching between this daunting day and a summary of their deployment in the Middle East.

The biggest issue with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is that it isn’t a film you’ll walk out of feeling upbeat or even relatively happy. That’s not because it’s bad; it isn’t by any means. I just mean that you need to know what you’re getting yourself in for, which is essentially a collection of heavy themes and relatively unsubtle satirisation concerning the War on Terror and its associated politics.

Lee lays bare America’s disconcerting fetishism with war and conflict through powerful yet heavy-handed messaging about the misconstrued perception of honour and glory. During the halftime extravaganza, garish pyrotechnics, cheer squads and marching bands are contrasted with rocket launchers and bullet storms to convey this impactful message in the bluntest of terms.

Lee takes a hard stance and doesn’t dish it out in half measures; this is a grim and controversial examination of war that is totally at odds with something rousing like Mel Gibson’s recent Hacksaw Ridge. For Billy Lynn, Lee leaves his rose-tinted glasses at home and serves up a confronting film that isn’t going to be a crowd-pleaser – especially in Donald Trump’s America where everything needs to be great and good again.

If Alwyn was at all fazed by taking the lead role in his first feature film, it doesn’t show in his compelling performance as the homespun Texan kid torn between his family and his duty. It helps having an unknown at the forefront of the film as it allows the audience to project their own thoughts and feeling onto the protagonist.

Lee also extracts moving performances from his star-studded supporting cast (Vin DieselSteve MartinChris Tucker), even when the material they’re given to work with tips into cheesy territory. The emotional backbone comes in the form of Billy’s sister Kathryn, played by Kristen Stewart who continues to make her case as one of the best actresses working.

Thought-provoking and contentious, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk isn’t close to Lee’s best, but it is far from his worst. If you like war films where good triumphs over evil, this one isn’t for you.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is available in Australian cinemas from November 24

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – The Founder

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John Lee Hancock continues his brand of innocuous biographic examinations, this time by demonstrating how easy it is to make money by stealing.

⭐⭐⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

You don’t tell the story of one of America’s most ruthless, savage businessmen and expect children to come along with their parents to the theatre. That’s just not right. If you want to discuss a mean guy, your film should be equally mean. It should be rough round the edges. It needs to seem unfriendly, even hostile, so that we can recoil in disgust when Ray Kroc swindles the McDonald brothers out of their own company. This is a man who got away with intellectual theft and was punished with a fortune. We need to hate this guy. Instead, John Lee Hancock’s The Founder would seem right at home as an educational video at Disneyland.

It’s come to a point where biopics can no longer survive by merely recounting interesting events. We’ve seen three hundred too many of those. It’s no longer enough to condense years of history into 120 minutes. Now your film has to seem like a character in itself.

That, above all, is what The Founder is missing. Personality. Ray Kroc is played by a renascent Michael Keaton, whose creased and weathered face threatens to crack every time his lips part. Kroc is a salesman, and not a very good one, since he’s almost bankrupt and has more doors closed in his face than he opens. That’s until he meets the McDonald brothers, Mac and Dick (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), who have completely revolutionised the food business by turning a 30-minute wait for a meal into 30 seconds. Kroc falls in love with the concept and decides to franchise the restaurant, which marks the beginning of the McDonald brothers’ tragic descent into the bowels of obscurity.

The rest of the movie is really standard stuff, pausing at landmarks familiar to anyone who has seen a biographical movie. Since we know, more or less, what will become of Kroc’s endeavour, the film lures us with ominous throwaway gags, like Kroc stopping at a drive-in stand before meeting the McDonalds and complaining that they got his order wrong. Key characters are slipped in in typical biopic fashion. You know the drill.

And that, as they say, is that. The Founder is smooth and well-made, but doesn’t offer much more than what you can learn by slouching in front of your computer, chowing down on a cheeseburger and reading about the history of McDonald’s on Wikipedia. Keaton is predictably manic, with lots of flailing limbs and disgruntled phone-slamming, and he doesn’t quite humanise Ray Kroc enough to make him work. We are taught, by the ceaseless pre-credits text, that the Kroc family donated millions upon millions of their wealth to various charities. Keaton’s Kroc would probably swindle those charities. We get none of his philanthropic sensibilities. It’s all business, business, business, engineered by a vile creature of money, framed by a movie that’s simply not angry enough.

The Founder is available in Australian cinemas from November 24

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Bad Santa 2

bad-santa-2

Hoe Hoe Hoe. Bad Santa is back in town and as per usual, he’s up to his old bag of tricks.

⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic


Billy Bob Thornton returns as our favourite cynical Santa Claus with his trusty elf conspirator Marcus (Tony Cox). As per usual, Marcus has another job that requires the expertise of Thornton’s safe cracking abilities, but this time around it involves working with a blast from the past. Kathy Bates joins the case as Willie Sokes’ mother, Sunny Soke, and together the trio are back to their old hijinks. With cameos from the first movie popping up here and there, it seems Bad Santa 2 is keen to continue carrying the proverbial torch that lit up so many offensive barriers in the original.

Having watched the original after seeing this sequel, it’s safe to say that fans of the first will love the second. In fact, one can even say the new film takes things to the next level, with even more of an emphasis on brutally crass jokes. If only the same could be said for the quality of these jokes.

Thornton is captivating in this role as he truly embodies Willie’s dispirited nature and cynicism. You can’t help but love seeing him berate everyone around him and expose the stupidity of others. It’s this black comedy that makes the Bad Santa series somewhat unique, but its downfall is its simple-minded storyline.

Too many idiotic scenes attempt crude humour purely for the purpose of being crude. There are moments when our nympho Santa really hits the nail on the head with a certain comeback or a particular punchline, but these are few and far between. With nothing else for the film to fall back on, there’s not a lot here to like.

As we often see with comedy sequels, Bad Santa 2 is simply a lesson of history repeating itself. Yes, it will please those who enjoyed the original, but that’s not saying much.

Bad Santa 2 is available in Australian cinemas from November 24

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Interview: Douglas Watkin on Ella

ella

Charlie Lewis

Douglas Watkin’s documentary Ella is the hypnotic story of Ella Havelka, following her journey from her rural upbringing, via Bangarra, an Indigenous contemporary dance company, to being the first Indigenous member of the Australian Ballet Company. It’s a stirring look at dedication, culture, identity and sacrifice. To call it inspiring would do a disservice to its nuanced and complex take on its subject. I had the chance to chat to Watkin and explore the behind the scenes of Ella.

CL: Tell me – how did the project come about? 

DW: My producers actually approached me regarding the project, about 2 or 3 years ago, because Ella was on their radar. Actually – going back a bit – at the time I had already established a relationship with Bangarra dance company, and I was filming some of their shows. So because of my background in the arts, filming dance in particular, I guess I was an obvious candidate to push the project forward. So then I approached the Australian Ballet, just saying, “Hi, I’m Douglas, these are some of the things I’ve done, and I’m interested in one of your dancers.” So we set up a meeting and it sort of went from there.

CL: What was it that initially drew you to Ella as a subject? Were you already familiar with her work?

DW: Yes and no. She was always on my radar; when you have Indigenous people succeeding in their craft, they’re your people, you know? We’re few and far between, so you’re always aware of them. There’s always someone who knows someone who knows someone. So she had also been involved in Bangarra, and we both knew the artistic director there, Steve Page. So we kind of already felt connected in a strange way, we had the same peers.

CL: I noticed that often the film will just let performance footage run without giving the audience a great deal of context – was it a conscious decision to let Ella’s dance tell her story as much as her words do?

DW: Yeah, very much so. It’s sometimes a bit of risk, because with a lot of documentaries, you’ll have voice over, or text, to really direct the audience, and sometimes the director will put themselves into the work, to really reinforce the focus. But for me, I really just like to let things play, let people draw their own conclusions, their own interpretations. So in that way, it becomes more of a docu-drama, almost a theatre piece, rather than a straight documentary, as such.

CL: Another theme I sensed in the film was that of being torn between two worlds – do you think that’s a risk for any Indigenous person pursuing a career in a traditionally European medium like Ballet?

DW: The thing is with indigenous people is – we can adapt to any culture, but can other cultures adapt to ours, you know? I mean, as a filmmaker, people ask me, “Are you an Indigenous filmmaker?” and it’s like, “No, I’m just a good filmmaker who has Indigenous people in his films”. So for me, it does feel like your walking in two worlds. Actually, it’s three worlds, because you have the mainstream world, your cultural world, and then the ballet world is something else entirely – it’s not exactly normal!

CL: Your background is largely in documentaries and creative non-fiction – are there any plans to pursue drama in the future?

DW: For filmmakers to survive, especially in this country, you kind of have to do everything. I’m actually working on a drama feature as we speak, which has development through Screen Australia and I’m also working on a VR project. The thing for me is, and maybe this sounds a little full of myself, but if you give me any visual medium, I’ll do it. For me it’s all about storytelling. When people ask what’s the difference between documentary and drama – it’s kind of a fine line. Which is what I wanted to do with Ella, there is that drama, tension, the same peaks and troughs you find in drama. So for me the same principles of storytelling can be applied to anything, whether it’s a drama or a documentary.

What I hope people will take away from Ella are the different levels of meaning from the story. There are a lot of different things people can take from the story. You could see it as a success story, a story of achievement. But some people look at it and think “well, maybe she’s better than the ballet”. Or some people say she doesn’t get the same family warmth from Bangarra that she’d get from the Ballet. So it’s interesting, the whole point of the documentary is give people perspectives. So there is definitely that sense of achievement, but there’s a difference between achievement goals, and achievement dreams. So I think in many ways, her journey is just starting and who knows how it will unfold. But I really hope people take those layers away from the film – whether the decision to stay with the Ballet is a good one, or if she should perhaps do her own thing? So an interesting point – she says that that Bangarra do a lot of low floor work, and she prefers being high and on point with the Ballet. But then you see the last dance she does, and where does she end up? On the ground. So people will take different things away from Ella and I think that’s the good thing about documentaries. They can really evoke those feelings.

Image courtesy of Wildbear Entertainment