Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ABC documentary The Day the Wind Changed

The Day the Wind Changed is a documentary looking closely at the aftermath of the Black Saturday bush fires in the small town of Strathewen. The fires on Feburary 7th 2009 were the worst natural disaster for Australia in recorded history.   Strathewen which lies 40 kilometeres from Melbourne in rural bush land, was dubbed ‘the valley of death ‘after the events of Black Saturday 3 years ago.  The death toll was high; 102 people from Srathewen died.  Director Celeste Geer was a local resident who got out with her family just in time, only to return to a scene of utter devastation and unfathomable loss. 

Her documentary does not try to make sense of unbelievable events, nor does it dwell on disaster. It looks simply at a community trying to rebuild their lives after tragedy. Celeste’s intimate knowledge of the town and it’s residences allows her to capture the private and difficult moments with insight and care.  Her personal story is interwoven with that of the town and drives the narrative and voiceover adding power and weight to the unfolding stories.  In doing so she makes a multi layered documentary which is affecting in many ways and the memory of which lingers long after the closing credits.  

Geer looks at the nature of grief. She touches upon how men and women grieve differently. Women come together and talk and nurture.  Men stay isolated and keep busy.  There are no judgements. No right or wrong answers simply observations into human nature.  One man who lost his wife in the fires finds new love with a case worker assigned to help the Black Saturday victims.  Three years on the two live together and try to put the past behind them. Yet the documentary ponders, whether  anyone can in fact, put a time limit on grief? As one of the survivors says “to acknowledge grief is to acknowledge love”. 

Everyone in Strathewen knew someone who died, some of those were their close relatives.  Many people lost homes, businesses and animals in those terrible fires.  One family followed from the beginning got trapped by the fire, but managed to survive hiding between their two water tanks.  The little girl was understandably traumatized by the experience and blamed her parents for not leaving when they had a chance.  Her major loss of innocence and safety is one which is difficult to repair, but little by little, inch by inch, with time, some counselling and a new home she appears happy and safe again.  The headmistress of the local school acknowledges though, that all the children are different now. That this experience unites them and changes them forever, possibly in ways they are still to discover.
The tragedy also brought new beginnings and new rituals.  Rituals created to bring them together. ‘Soup Night’ which started just after the initial events and has become an ongoing tradition for Strathewen; it is a night of music, food and belonging.  The healing never stops. This beautifully assembled documentary offers insight into grief and meditations on hope.  

Published in Tharunka Magazine Feb 2012 -!/Tharunka/info

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review of Jurassic Lounge

What did you do on Tuesday night? I bet it wasn’t as cool as what I did! Does this sound a little childish? If so, well tough, I can’t help it. I’ve been thrown back to the giddiness of childhood fun by the delights of Jurassic Lounge. There’s so much to say about Jurassic Lounge it’s honestly hard to know where to begin.

I’ve been to Jurassic lounge once before, not long after it had started, earlier this year I think, the layout was different then and it felt a little too crowded and not all that easy to get around. But now with the new season, a little reorganising of the bars and silent disco has, in the words of Robert Frost “made all the difference” and it’s a breeze to negotiate even in heels.

If I had to sum up Jurassic lounge in a single sentence I’d say it’s like revisiting childhood with wine. So really what better way to spend a Tuesday night? $15 gives you access all areas and a free drink from the bar. You can wander drink in hand, through two large floors of exhibitions stopping where ever you like to marvel at the wonders of the natural world. There are some scary looking creatures amongst the specimens most of which have extremely long sounding Latin names which I could not pronounce let alone spell.

Not everything you’ll see is dead either. You can handle various stick insects and look at tree frogs, lizards and snakes up close and personal. My friend liked the lizard so much we had to make a return trip to see him. Quite how he feels about being her new face book profile picture history doesn’t relate.

A large dinosaur which roamed around the ground floor of the museum was also quite a hit and had two body guards with him to ensure safety, his or ours I’m not quite sure, though certainly lots of dinosaur stroking went on. Yes it is amazing how excited a bunch of adults get about a man in a dinosaur costume! Or maybe it’s not really when you come to think about it.

The most exciting thing about Jurassic Lounge, even more than the man in the dino suit, is that even though you’re given a run sheet when you enter there’s always a sense of surprise about what you might find around the next corner. It could be a silent disco, a man doing taxidermy, a games room, belly dancers or, well the list goes on and on. It’s an adventure and how often can you say that these days? It should also be said that the staff and volunteers are super relaxed and friendly. There never seems to be the slightest issue with carrying glasses of wine or bottles of beer through the undoubtedly precious exhibits. Everything is easy and exciting.

Sadly all good things must end, but before they do get a fake dinosaur tattoo, that’s my new motto. If nothing else it gives you something to smile about while waiting for the bus home. I’m hoping that if I don’t wash my wrist for a week it might just last until next Tuesday. Let’s hope so kids, let’s hope so!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

In a Better World - Make sure you see it

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best films don't always win an Oscar.  Nor do they always screen for very long in cinemas.   In A Better World falls sadly into the latter category.  In Sydney it screened for about a week at limited cinemas.   I was lucky enough to see it at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, where the director Susanne Bier received a standing ovation at the post screening Q & A. An auteur in the true sense of the word. There is NO mistaking a Susanne Bier film.

She uses shots of the natural world as chapters or signposts for story shifts in her films. This was a stunning idea in After the Wedding and she reprises the technique again here. In this film, as in After the Wedding, Bier moves her central character between Africa & Denmark. This time the scenes in Africa are more developed and integral to the films story. And again she looks at themes around death and forgiveness.  But although there are similarities between After the Wedding and In A Better World the latter is a very different film, which at it's core comments on whether anything is really gained from revenge.

Anton played by Mikael Persbrandt returns home to Denmark from an African refugee camp ravaged by war. At home Anton's marriage is falling apart and his eldest Elias son is being bullied at school. When a new boy in school, Christian, defends Elias against the bullies a new friendship is formed, but Christian is secretly deeply scarred over the recent death of his mother.  He convinces quiet, sensitive Elias to join him in an act of sabotage and revenge which could ultimately have fatal consquences. The adults in the film, especially Anton are left to trying to help the boys understand the complexities of revenge and forgiveness.
A powerful film on many levels and another stunning effort from Susanne Bier. I should add by the way, that in fact on this occasion Oscar got it right and In A Better World won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Heartbeats - A film pulsing with life

Heartbeats written, directed by, and starring Xavier Dolan opens this week at Dendy Cinemas, Newtown -

It's release is limited to one cinema in Sydney which is a shame because it is a beautiful visual feast from the opening shot through to the last line of the credits. For any film students seeking a deeper understanding of mise en scene every take of this film provides a perfect example.

The premise is that two friends become mutually infatuated with the same man, thus putting aside their friendship and becoming rivals for his affections.  The resulting heartache is palpable.  The narrative is lose and flowing, the colours are vivid and passionate, the soundtrack is vibrant and pulsing, very much in keeping with heartbeats and heartaches. Xavier is sparing with dialogue allowing the visuals to do the work. All this is made more extraordinary because Xavier was just 21 when the film was made.

I can't recommend this film highly enough. Run to Dendy Newtown, don't walk or you might miss it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Still Walking - It might be hard to find outside Japan, search it out.

I saw Still Walking at the Vancouver Film Centre one evening in late August. I knew nothing about the film I simply wanted to get out of the pervading downtown heat.  This heartwarming and subtle film by director Hirokazu Koreeda utterly transported me for 114 minutes to a small village in Japan.

Still Walking is the story of a family who come together annually to mourn the loss of their brother and son, who died many years before. He died while saving a stranger from drowning.  The stranger, a child at the time, is now in his early twenties and is forced by obligation to come and visit the family every year.  He hasn't made much of himself or his 'second chance' at life and the family (especially the mother) makes sure he knows it.  While all this could be bleak, it really isn't. It's a family just as fractious and funny as any other.  In the end Still Walking  reminds us that no matter how different we are from our parents or how we fight them we will often inevitably take on some of their traits.  And moreover that we'll miss them when they're gone. 

A film about getting older, growing up and moving on.  It might be hard to find outside Japan, but search it out.
The Rush Line at Toronto Film Festival 2010 - In no particular rush

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Toronto Film Festival through the years

Toronto Film Festival may not be the oldest film festival in the world, but it is certainly, by today's standards one of the biggest.  In 2010 as well as adding a stunning new venue, The Bell Light box (see previous post) to the program TIFF also had a milestone birthday turning a very respectable thirty five!

When TIFF was created in 1976 it was called THE FESTIVAL OF FESTIVALS and screened only 50 films. 35 years has seen, a name change and the addition of another 250 films to the program, so that this year 300 films were screened over 11 days.

For film goers and film lovers everywhere here are some highlights from years gone by -
1978 - The Censor Board of Ontario threatened to ban the film In Praise of a Older Woman, but the festival ignored them and the screening went ahead without any cuts.
1981 - British film Chariots of Fire wins the people's choice award, the first sign it might be a winner with audiences. It later won the Best Picture Oscar and prompted the famous quote by screenwriter Colin Welland "The British are coming".
1982 - When new directors Atom Egoyan and Bruce McDonald had their films rejected by the festival they set up their own projector outdoors and screened the films on the wall of the theatre to unsuspecting patrons leaving the festival.
1984 - The Cohen Brothers were quite literally discovered. Every studio had passed on their film Blood Simple, but after it screened at TIFF they got a distributor and haven't looked back since.
1986 - Heavy rain caused part of the New York Theatre's roof to collapse during a screening. It is  unconfirmed whether the screening was abandoned or simply postponed.
1989 - Seven years after Bruce McDonald screened his film on the wall of a building he won the best Canadian Feature award for Roadkill
1991- A festival van containing film prints of 21 films - including My Own Private Idaho is stolen, but eventually recovered with all the films accounted for! Phew!
1994 - The Festival officially changes it's name to Toronto International Film Festival affectionately known by the locals as Tiff.
1998 - An Air Canada strike meant many celebrities and media had to fly via to Buffalo and drive to to Toronto. One critic commented 'that it made Buffalo's airport look like a Cannes cocktail party'.
2000 - Animal activists protest the showing of Mexican film Amores Perros because of the depiction of dog fighting, although no animals were harmed during the making of the film.
2001 - The September 11 attacks close the festival for one day.  TIFF continues, but the parties are cancelled.
2007 - An audience of 1,200 sing Happy Birthday to director Dario Argento when he presents his film Mother of Tears.
2010 - Susanne Bier gets a standing ovation for her film In A Better World.

*** The majority of information for this article is taken from the September issue of FAMOUS magazine Canada.