Rising Australian Stars

Corey Hogan

If you’re a regular reader of Hooked on Film, then you certainly don’t need to be reminded that the Australian film industry has become a powerhouse in recent years. Australia has always been known for its endless stream of acting talent ready to export to the city of stars and beyond: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Toni Collette… sometimes it feels like there’s more Aussies in Hollywood than Americans. Our invasion looks set to only grow from here, especially with so much up and coming talent.

Here are three local actors who you soon won’t be able to stop hearing about. And here’s the catch – none of them have reached their twenties yet. It’s enough to make anyone look back and think, “damn, what the hell have I done with my life?”

Odessa Young

2016 - 01 January - Looking For Grace
A quick glance at nineteen-year-old Odessa Young’s filmography might seem a tad underwhelming; there are just a handful of short films, guest roles on TV series and two features to her name. But this is what makes Young’s career so impressive. The few roles she’s had have made such a splash that the teenager has skyrocketed to one of Australia’s most promising up-and-comers. Her scene-stealing performances as the titular characters of both Looking for Grace and The Daughter have mesmerised; the latter of which earned her an AACTA award, ranking her alongside seasoned greats like Jacki Weaver and Cate Blanchett.

Young now has a whopping list of projects on her plate this year –  another two local short films, two TV series and a shift to Hollywood for high-profile thrillers Assassination Nation and Sweet Virginia.


Angourie Rice

04 April - Rising Aust Stars AR
Sixteen-year-old Angourie Rice kicked off her career in Perth with the aid of her director father (Jeremy Rice, Cloudstreet) and actress mother (Kate Rice, Ocean Star). Her fame has now surpassed them both; starting with a number of shorts and commercials, Rice attracted attention with her role in Zak Hilditch’s post-apocalyptic short film Transmission. So pleased with her work, Hilditch kept her on as the female lead in his similarly-themed feature film These Final Hours, which enjoyed such a healthy festival run that Rice was almost immediately exposed to (and swept away by) Hollywood.

After lending her voice to the animated Walking with Dinosaurs, Rice cracked the big time in a starring role next to Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, and returned home again for another lead in this year’s Jasper Jones. Next up? Only Sofia Coppola’s new film The Beguiled, and an entrance to the unstoppable Marvel universe in Spider-Man: Homecoming.


Levi Miller

red-dog-true-blue
Another young actor appearing seemingly out of nowhere and skipping straight to stardom, Levi Miller has shown he holds the charisma and charm to carry entire films on his shoulders – pretty amazing for a fourteen-year-old. Leaping from a mere extra role, to guest starring on popular shows Terra Nova and Supergirl, to playing the one and only Peter Pan in Joe Wright’s reboot Pan, Miller has crossed that bridge to Hollywood and achieved in a couple of years what most actors take a lifetime to barely crack.

Granted, Pan was a critical and commercial failure, but it’s done nothing to stop Miller, who’s atoned for this by leading two Australian films in the last six months alone – the prequel Red Dog: True Blue and Jasper Jones. Miller’s back to Hollywood next, for Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of the classic science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time.


Image courtesy of  Madman Entertainment, Palace Films & Roadshow Films 

Flickerfest 2017

Josip Knezevic

60 Shorts. 1 Academy Accredited Award for Best Australian Short Film. Yes, it’s the 26th Flickerfest Short Film Festival: a showcase from Australian filmmakers to Australian audiences. Compared to Australia’s most popular short film festival Tropfest, which displays 16 films each year, Flickerfest has the ability to boast a larger catalogue, which will be sure to please anyone’s genre tastes.

But with a larger array of films, it can be more challenging to decipher which ones are worth your time. Never fear: Hooked On Film is here to help. If you do get a chance to see the festival, be on the lookout for these four, which are bound to impress you with what Australia has to offer. While there may be a series of international films also available in the festival, we’re only looking at the Australian entries today.

4. I’m Raymond (17 mins)
Produced by Lib Kelly, Catherine Williams
Written and Directed by Eddy Bell

03 March - Flickerfest Im Raymond
Distorting the lines between fiction and reality, I’m Raymond takes a trivial idea and extorts it to the highest of consequences. 8-year-old Raymond Banks starts a name and shame campaign against his family’s company on the sole basis that they are responsible for jeopardising his future by contributing to global warming. Soon a drug-addicted model becomes involved, an official case is lodged and Karl Stefanovic reports it on the news – see what I mean by the highest of consequences?

Whilst the ludicrousness of the situation escalates on screen, a deeper meaning subsides the visual conflicts. Ultimately this is what elevates Bell’s short film to be in top 4 of this list. It becomes a message not about global warming or climate change but one that deals with the relationships between children and adults.

3. Face (13 mins)
Produced by Luke Tierney, Michelle Hardy
Written by Luke Tierney, Henry Nixon
Directed by Luke Tierney

03 March - Flickerfest Face
Speaking of distorting lines, Luke Tierney’s Face takes it to another level. The pitch: James urgently needs to get to the pharmacy by midnight to receive his “mysterious” pills otherwise his face will literally fall off. Unfortunately it’s 11:30pm and the only one who can drive him is his weird neighbour Steve. OK, let’s go.

What I enjoyed the most about Tierney’s experiment was the way the film was shot and presented. There’s a real lucid like feel to the whole drive and it works incredibly well with the overall tone of the short. It’s strange, but that’s what makes it great. The humour is unique and unsuspecting and you can’t help but be completely induced by its trippy presentation. It’s a stoner’s idea for a movie but thankfully it’s one that holds up to its absurdity and is enjoyable to watch.

2. Fish With Legs (10 Mins)
Produced by Nikos Andronicos, Tania Frampton
Written by Nikos Andronicos
Directed by Dave Carter

03 March - Flickerfest Fish with Legs
Short but bittersweet. Fish with Legs effortlessly brushes through the conflicts of science and religion with humour, emotion and beautiful animation to leave a lasting impression long after the credits roll. The story follows a school of fish who awake to discover that everyone in their society has now grown legs. A young enthusiastic preacher of science takes this as the proof he’s been waiting for and declares that evolution is occurring and it is now time for them to take action and move forward out of the seas. What lies ahead is short film that is smarter that what it appears to be.

Andronicos’ script carefully weaves logic with faith to present an array of meanings to take away. This is not a short film bashing those of religious faith over those in the scientific community; it’s a presentation of how these ideas would have manifested in earlier times and how they still reflect the reality of today. Steadied with the careful eye of Dave Carter at the helm, Fish With Legs represents a rare but well overdue gem of Australian animation.

1. The Eleven O’Clock
Produced by Derin Seale, Karen Bryson, Josh Lawson
Written by Josh Lawson
Directed by Derin Seale

03 March - Flickerfest Eleven Oclock

It’s hard to argue against the winner of the Flickerfest festival, Josh Lawson’s The Eleven O’Clock. A cleverly written, sharp and fast paced film that packs memorable lines of dialogue – I can’t wait to watch this short film again. Following the footsteps of iconic comedy routines by Abbott and Costello, the setup involves a delusional patient of who believes he is actually a psychiatrist up against his “real” psychiatrist. As they attempt to treat each other, a battle of wits begins with all glory going to the winner and a tragic end to the loser.

The best part about Lawson’s script is how actively it includes the audience in its story. You become the detective trying to solve the very puzzle itself of who’s who and this is what makes it so much fun. Up until the very last minute, you have no clue on what the outcome is going to, be but looking back, the subtle foreshadowing will make you kick yourself. Truly an equally funny film as it is smartly written.

Images courtesy of Flickerfest

Movie Review – A Few Less Men

This Aussie comedy sequel no one asked for may be flogging a dead corpse, but surprisingly it isn’t quite dead on arrival. Only just, though.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

Immediately following David’s (Xavier Samuel) farcical wedding (the events of A Few Best Men), his honeymoon plans are put on hold when his drunken friend Luke topples off a cliff and is crushed to death by a rock. David and his remaining friends, Tom (Kris Marshall) and Graham (Kevin Bishop), board a plane to return Luke’s body to England, but things naturally go awry when Graham accidentally causes the plane to crash land in the middle of rural Western Australia. The boys must now find their way to Perth carrying the corpse, depending on the colourful characters of the outback they come across, before missing Luke’s funeral and facing the wrath of his violent cousin Henry (Ryan Corr).

Australian cinema has become a truly respectable entity, especially these past few years, consistently releasing content that rivals the best of Hollywood’s recent offerings. And yet, every once in a while, there still seems to be an incessant need to drop all standards and fart out a mindless, lowbrow raunchy comedy to appease the masses. Why a sequel to 2011’s A Few Best Men was thought necessary is perplexing, given its forgettable critical reception and lukewarm box office takings.

On the bright side, A Few Less Men is definitely an improvement on its predecessor. It’s still completely braindead, of course, but in shaking off the single setting and ensemble nonsense of the first film, it finds firmer ground as a ridiculous road trip, focusing on the mismatched dynamic of its three leads – now essentially Australia/England’s Hangover trio. Each has a more clearly defined role in the group – the straight man (David), the sex-obsessive (Tom), the moron (Graham) – so each bounces off the other and gives a neater flow to their reactions in the many zany situations they find themselves in.

The plot of Dean Craig’s script (who also wrote Death at a Funeral) is essentially an afterthought; all that really matters here is what ludicrous character the boys will be forced to seek the help of, or what is going to go wrong for the boys next. The supporting cast are clearly having a ball with their eccentric weirdos – Chloe Hurst’s horny backpacker, Lynette Curran’s 70-year-old sexual deviant, and Shane Jacobson’s Norman Bates-esque crossdresser all raise amusing hell for our trio. But it all becomes a bit too repetitive, fizzling out and becoming tiresome as the frequent finding and losing Luke’s body out of stupidity becomes numbing. And despite a well-intentioned emotional scene near the end, it’s impossible to become invested or feel anything in a story so relentlessly silly.

It’s a scrappy affair, but raunchy comedy aficionados should be satisfied enough with all the corpse boners, granny shagging, pants shitting and penis-shaped coffins. It’s unlikely to win any AACTAs, but there are enough cheap laughs to make for a modestly amusing, switch-off-your brain time. Maybe just down a few beers first.

A Few Less Men is available in Australian cinemas from March 9 

Image courtesy of StudioCanal

Movie Review – Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones is certainly one of the stronger Australian films that we’ve seen in recent years, but it falls just short of achieving the status of beloved classic.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½  
Cherie Wheeler

Appearances: we’re all very quick to judge one another by what we see on the outside, and how this fits in with society’s expectations, but what really goes on behind closed doors can be a very different story.

It’s these sorts of prejudices and secrets that fuel the story of new Australian film Jasper Jones – based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Craig Silvey. Set in the 1960’s in a fictional, rural Western Australian town, Jasper Jones follows 14-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller), who inadvertently becomes tangled up in the town mystery surrounding the disappearance of Laura Wishart. The finger is immediately pointed at mixed race outcast Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath), who enlists Charlie’s help to prove what really happened to the beautiful girl next door, but the deeper Charlie digs, the darker the truths he uncovers. This all becomes further complicated by Laura’s younger sister and object of Charlie’s affections Eliza (Angourie Rice), Charlie’s overprotective mother (Toni Collette) and dangerous town hermit Mad Jack Lionel (Hugo Weaving).

In trying to cover so many storylines – often shifting in tone from light and humorous, to foreboding and thrilling – Jasper Jones does become an uneven viewing experience at times. It explores almost every possible theme associated with a small Australian town in the 1960’s, from the Vietnam War to the corruption of those with power, and this often detracts from the core conflict. For me, the enigma of Jasper Jones is the most intriguing and engaging part of the story, so I found deviations to frivolous scenes such as a community cricket game to be enjoyable, yet slightly annoying distractions. Additionally, drawn out moments of Charlie considering all the clues bring the pacing of the film to a grinding halt.

Similar to Fences, I think more could have been done to fully transform this narrative for the screen. As an example (mild spoiler alert), when Jasper first approaches Charlie for help, we’re provided long takes of the pair skulking throughout the town, with a voice over from Levi Miller expressing Charlie’s uncertainty and rationale behind following Jasper – someone he barely even knows. There’s a lot of telling and not a lot of showing going on, and I feel these scenes would have had far more impact and would have been far more credible if the audience had already been introduced to Jasper and how he is perceived by both Charlie and the rest of the town.

Having said all that, this doesn’t mean that director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae) has done poorly. On the contrary, there are some outstanding dramatic scenes sprinkled throughout the film that allow the all-star cast to shine. Hugo Weaving and Aaron L. McGrath steal the show in an intensely moving confrontation, while Susan Prior, who plays the mother of Laura and Eliza Wishart, packs a real emotional gut-punch during a crucial moment. Toni Collette is on fire from start to finish with her usual authenticity and sincerity, and Levi Miller (Peter Pan, Red Dog) and Angourie Rice (These Final Hours, The Nice Guys) are often left to carry the weight of the film and do so satisfactorily.

Backing up the high calibre performances is stunning production design that brings the era to life most convincingly, and the gorgeous cinematography really shows it off. Overall, Jasper Jones is a welcome addition to the repertoire of Australian film, but it’s not quite the absolute knock-out I was hoping for.

Jasper Jones is available in Australian cinemas from March 2nd 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Top 4 – Tropfest 25

Cherie Wheeler 

Around this time last year, we were all left shell-shocked by the threat of Tropfest becoming extinct, but 12 months later, against all expectations the festival has endured. Sensitive topics of lawsuits and the mysterious disappearance of millions of dollars have all be swept under the rug… and maybe that’s a good thing. With the behind-the-scenes controversies shoved firmly into the shadows, this year the spotlight has been rightfully turned to shine on the competing filmmakers for the 25th anniversary of Australia’s largest short film festival.

Tropfest celebrated its quarter of a century in style, with a televised event held at Parramatta Park where the 16 finalists were screened. This year’s short films had to incorporate a pineapple as part of Tropfest’s tradition of the signature item, and as always, there were varied interpretations of this; from subtle inclusions, to cringe-worthily obvious plugs.

Overall, this year’s top short films were a bit hit and miss; some of the weaker productions made me question whether many filmmakers even entered the competition, given the ambiguity surrounding the festival’s continued existence. On the bright side, however, there was a notable number of female filmmakers among the top crop, with roughly half of the finalists directed or produced by women.

Despite being a bit of a mixed bag, of those short films that did hit the mark, there were some truly outstanding displays of storytelling. So without any further ado, here’s my top 4 from this year’s finalists.

4. THE WALL
Story by Nick Baker
Animation by Tristan Klein

02-february-tropfest-the-wall
It always blows me away when amateur film festivals produce high quality animations. With absolutely stunning 2D visuals that bring to mind the early films of Georges Méliès, The Wall is like a children’s picture book for adults. Inspired by the plight of today’s refugees and Trump’s absurd proposal for a Game of Thrones-esque Mexican wall, Nick Baker’s short animation tells the tale of an elderly grandmother trying to survive in a tough reality. Narrated with a mystical quality by David Wenham, and supported by an emotive score from Helen Jane Long, The Wall does fall into slightly preachy territory in its final third, but its bittersweet ending more than makes up for this.

Going Vego was another animated finalist that at first appeared to be for children, but had very strong adult themes. Although boasting some amusing dialogue and excellent comedic timing from the voice talent, The Wall just pipped this one at the post in my humble opinion.


3. TALC
Directed and shot by Jefferson Grainger

02-february-tropfest-talc
In the short runtime required by Tropfest, this mini documentary only just gets to scratch the surface of what could potentially expand into a much broader narrative. Living alone in the outback, Talc is a deeply intriguing artist with a very strong worldview. At times, it’s difficult to tell whether he’s completely insane or a total genius… perhaps he’s both, but Jefferson Grainger’s exploration of this real-life character does not judge or manipulate opinion. It simply presents this incredible man through a beautifully shot and edited journey that will leave you deep in thought as you consider Talc’s fascinating theories and way of life.


2. SERVICE UPDATE
Produced & Directed by Olly Sindle

02-february-2017-tropfest-service-update
“I smile, you smile, the whole world smile”.

These are the words of Carl Downer – a Jamaican man who has carved an unexpected career out of bringing joy to any who cross his path in the London Underground. Service Update, like Talc, is another gorgeously shot documentary that’s based around a compelling character. While Talc intrigues, Service Update is imbued with the glorious feeling of pure, unadulterated happiness. It’s a viewing experience that will leave you grinning from ear to ear, as if you’ll actually float away out of your chair from the sheer elation. Carl Downer is a beautiful soul brimming with love for his job, other people and life in general. His story is a definite mood booster if there ever was one.


1. THE MOTHER SITUATION
Written & directed by Matt Day

02-february-2017-tropfest-the-mother-situation

The winner of Tropfest 25, and also my top pick, The Mother Situation is easily the most cinematic of all the finalists. Starring experienced Australian actors Sacha Horler (Offspring), Harriet Dyer (Love Child) and also writer/director Matt Day (Rake) – this short film is really in a class of its own. It’s a little unfair, really. Tropfest has always been a showcase of amateur filmmaking by emerging storytellers, and these three are well-seasoned in comparison to some of the other entrants. But Matt Day’s script is so fucking fantastic that it’s hard to sit here and complain too much. Channelling similar vibes to 2014 winner Granny Smith, The Mother Situation is a black comedy that’s best watched with as little knowledge of its concept as possible. Find it. Watch it. Enjoy it. That is all.

Another dark comedy to reach the finals was Meat & Potatoes, but while it featured some great banter between its leads, and some wonderfully absurd situations that bring Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet to mind, it just falls short of my top 4, despite being the runner up of the whole competition.

Images courtesy of tropfest.com.au 

Top 5 Australian Films of 2016

Corey Hogan

If you’re still one of those people who writes off Australian film out of “cultural cringe” or fear that you’d simply be paying for big screen versions of Packed to the Rafters, then boy, are you missing out. Every year our local industry is increasing its repertoire with better and better releases; lately, much of it is even surpassing cinema from the rest of the world. Why bother with the disappointment of countless Hollywood sequels, remakes and reboots when there’s so much original content being made in our own backyard?

That said, what better way to celebrate Australia Day than to check out some of 2016’s best Aussie films? Last year was a colossal showcase for the great things our filmmakers are capable of, and if we keep releasing such excellent films it won’t be long until the industry is a force to be reckoned with across the globe.

5. Girl Asleep

08 August - Girl Asleep
Australia’s own Wes Anderson emerged last year in the form of writer/director team Matthew Whittet and Rosemary Myers, though the pair somehow managed to out-eccentric even Anderson with their bizarre coming-of-age oddity Girl Asleep. It’s basically Moonrise Kingdom on meth. Like a feature-length Tame Impala music video, every single shot is a dreamy, perfectly framed visual marvel that proves more than ever that our home-grown technical prowess can easily rival international counterparts, even on a micro-budget. The characters may be stereotypes, but they’re perfectly cast, especially young Bethany Whitmore, making a breakthrough as the titular girl. It’s awfully quirky, almost overbearingly so, but for anyone who can deal with this it’s a short and sweet sensory delight, and likely a new favourite for the alternative crowd.

Read more

4. Red Dog: True Blue

red-dog-true-blue
Red Dog is probably one of the last films you’d expect to get a follow-up – with its titular pooch tragically biting the dust at the end, where else is there left to go? Director Kriv Stenders’ answer is backwards – to the days when Red was just a pup named Blue, up to all sorts of mischief with his young owner (Levi Miller). Unlike most prequels, True Blue actually feels worthwhile, cleverly narrowing its focus to a single setting and just a couple of characters. It’s great fun, highly entertaining and once again ultimately heart wrenching, but in an uplifting way; one for dog lovers everywhere.

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3. The Daughter

03 March - The Daughter
The quarrelling family drama is a long-time staple of Australian cinema, and in some ways Simon Stone’s debut does channel classics like Lantana and Jindabyne. But the sheer operatic volume of strife, contorting twists and juicy secrets breathe a new life into the genre, and make The Daughter a familial storm for the ages. Stone rewards patience, with a brooding unease hanging overhead throughout the film’s slow build as a man (Paul Schnieder) returns to his rural Australian home to witness his father (Geoffrey Rush) remarry to a younger woman, culminating in explosive showdowns and a bleak finale as he unearths some deep, dark secrets. The cast is to die for too, also including Sam Neill, Miranda Otto and breakout star Odessa Young.

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2. Down Under

08 August - Down Under review
Divisive is certainly one way to put Abe Forsythe’s pitch-black comedy Down Under. To some critics and audiences, it was making light of a taboo event (the 2005 Cronulla riots), and many found it difficult to follow an ensemble of such violent, hate-filled characters fuelled by xenophobic impulses. But they missed the point – Forsythe wants us to step back and deduce these characters and their actions, and deconstruct the abhorrent beliefs that are stilled ingrained in Australian culture; boldly, he shows that both sides of the coin are both equally capable of brutality. On top of its strong messages, it’s suspenseful, shocking and incredibly compelling – and it’s bloody funny. A biting and timely satire.

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1. Goldstone

07 July - Goldstone
Indigenous writer/director/editor/composer/cinematographer Ivan Sen must be some kind of filmmaking miracle worker. Pulling off all of the above simultaneously on his sequel to Mystery Road, Goldstone is a rip-roaring blend of neo-Western, mystery thriller and balls-out action, all under the guise of an art film. Australia has a new icon in the form of Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson), whose investigation of a missing woman in a desolate town far removed from reality stirs up massive repercussions. David Wenham and Jacki Weaver have an absolute ball as the sinister inhabitants of Goldstone, as does Alex Russell as Pederson’s buddy cop. Darkly comical, beautifully shot, and packing more punch than most major Hollywood releases of last year, it’s a true crime that Sen was so largely ignored at the last AACTAs – but then again, how often do awards shows really get it right?

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Images courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment/Kojo Group, Roadshow Films, StudioCanal and Transmission Films

 

Movie Review – Red Dog: True Blue

Cat people, avert your eyes! Red Dog is resuscitated for a most unexpected all-Aussie prequel.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

In Perth 2011, hard-working dad Michael Carter (Jason Isaacs) is guilt-tripped by his wife into forgetting about work for an evening to take his children to see a new movie in cinemas – Red Dog. Michael’s son notices his dad crying during the film and confronts him afterwards, leading him to reveal that he was in fact Red Dog’s original owner as a young boy (played by Levi Miller); only the name he gave the dog was Blue. Michael shares the tale of his time spent on his grandpa’s outback ranch with Blue and how Blue became the Australian legend.

While it’s hardly a shock that there’s another Star Wars prequel playing in cinemas right now, the prospect of a local Aussie film expanding its lore in the theatre next door is a little surprising, especially for one that seemed so complete the first time around. And yet here we are, with director Kriv Stenders returning for the puppy years in Red Dog: True Blue. Is it entirely necessary? Like all prequels, perhaps not. But what’s more surprising is just how well True Blue manages to work; radiating charm, laughs and tugging the heartstrings all over again.

Stenders and screenwriter Daniel Taplitz wisely focus on a straightforward boy-and-his-dog tale, which does tilt the film toward a younger audience. Lessening its broad appeal results in a smaller, sharper and in some ways more rewarding journey.

As young Michael, 14-year-old Levi Miller atones for the sins of Pan and does a splendid job of carrying the entire show. His antics with Blue are great fun, but the real weight lies in his relationships with the various occupants of the ranch – clashing, then eventually bonding with his gritty grandpa (Bryan Brown), and lusting over his considerably older tutor Betty (Hanna Mangan Lawrence).

It’s a breezy, infectiously fun affair, but Stenders doesn’t forget what made the original stand out from the pack – those big, emotional punches. And while it would seem damned near-impossible to match the heartbreak of the first film, True Blue laudably manages another, quite different moment of melancholy at its conclusion; one bound to hit any dog-lover where it hurts and wonder why these films don’t come with mandatory tissues handed out.

While it might not feel as complete as Red Dog, True Blue ties in so neatly to its predecessor and produces enough magnetism of its own to once again capture the hearts of dog lovers everywhere.

Red Dog: True Blue is available in Australian cinemas from December 26

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

 

 

Interview: Douglas Watkin on 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 

6th AACTA Awards – And The Nominees Are…

Josip Knezevic

Now in its 6th year, the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts returns once more to shine a light upon homegrown talent. Thankfully this year’s lineup has more of a genuine Australian presence in comparison to previous years, which have featured international winners including Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. There’s also been a reduction in predominantly overseas based productions with only a handful of Aussie talent present – for example, Predestination.

It’s great to see more of a focus on true blue Australian films, but the question remains; will this year’s pool be more stupendous than the last? I guess that depends on how you define stupendous, but nevertheless there is a fine array of films contending for the awards.

BEST FILM

It’s safe to say that it would be tough to beat last year’s winner for this category. Mad Max: Fury Road took out best film in 2015 and also best direction for George Miller, defeating films such as the family friendly Paper Planes, road movie Last Cab to Darwin and the eccentric black comedy The Dressmaker.

Striving to take out this year’s prize are:

The Daughter
Hooked On Film rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Odessa Young, Sam Neill
Director: Simon Stone

Girl Asleep
Hooked On Film rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Starring: Bethany Whitmore, Harrison Feldman, Matthew Whittet
Director: Rosemary Myers

Goldstone
Hooked On Film rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Starring: Aaron Pederson, Jackie Weaver, David Wenham
Director: Ivan Sen

Hackshaw Ridge
Hooked On Film rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ½
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer
Director: Mel Gibson

Tanna
Hooked On Film rating: TBC
Starring: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa
Director: Martin Butler, Bentley Dean

None of these nominees can compete on the same level as Mad Max, however, as an overall collection of films, this year’s lineup is far superior to the last. Except for Mel Gibson’s WWII drama Hackshaw Ridge, each nominee shows Australian culture and landscapes in fresh new ways. It’s great to see Australian cinema finally heading in the right direction.

Having said that, the strongest contender for the top prize is certainly Hackshaw Ridge. With a four and a half star rating from Hooked On Film and comparisons drawn with Steven Spielberg’s war classic Saving Private Ryan, Hackshaw Ridge is both the favourite and my pick to win.

BEST DIRECTION

It was no surprise when George Miller took out the award for Best Direction last year to leave fellow nominees, including  Jeremy Sims (Last Cab to Darwin), Neil Armfield (Holding the Man) and Jocelyn Moorhouse (The Dressmaker) in his dust.

This time around, we’re once again seeing almost an exact duplicate of the Best Picture category, with Rosemary Myers (Girl Asleep), Ivan Sen (Goldstone), Mel Gibson (Hackshaw Ridge) and Martin Butler and Bentley Dean (Tanna) all with their hats in the ring. Both Myers and the Butler/Dean duo brought us excellent storytelling for their respective independent films, and although I’d love the co-directors behind Tanna to take the win, it will most likely be Mel Gibson and his WWII drama popping up here again, following in Miller’s footsteps with the double award win.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

With a dubious nomination, Paper Planes took out last year’s coveted prize, besting the efforts of Miller, James McFarland (Kill Me Three Times) and Black Ayshford (Cut Snake), with the latter two serving as very poor competition in this category.

This year’s nominees are thankfully a much stronger bunch, with Abe Forsythe‘s unique spin on the Cronulla riots in Down Under tipped to outstrip the field. Also in the running is Ivan Sen for GoldstoneAndrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan for Hackshaw Ridge and Damian Hill for Aussie suburban drama Pawno.

So there you have it. This year’s AACTA awards are bringing us a wonderfully diverse bunch of films, all more than deserving of their nominations, unlike some of the films that scraped into various categories last year. With the ceremony due to take place on December 4, it won’t be long now until we learn the winners and losers of 2016 for Australian cinema.

Image courtesy of AACTA.org