Posts by Andrew:
West of Sunshine is the directorial debut of Jason Ratopolous. It’s an exploration of the modern Australian working class man, Jim, here portrayed by one of the finest actors working in Australia at the moment, Damian Hill. He’s joined by his step-son, Ty Perham, who plays his son, Alex.
The plot is simple: Jim’s in over his head. He’s already late for work. He’s drowning in debt. He’s forgotten it’s school holidays and that it’s his day to look after his son. But Jim’s an Aussie bloke. He’s not going to let the stress get to him, he’s going to soldier on and tackle each problem as they arise, and in the end, everything will be ok.
Just like Strange Colours, the apparent simplicity of West of Sunshine is deceptive. We know little about the debt that Jim’s racked up, other than the fact that it’s been unpaid for a while. We know little about the relationship with his son, other than that he’s been a less than attentive father. Yet, there’s a deep exploration of masculinity and what it means to be a working class father who doesn’t even have a brass razoo.
Where Australia once held the working class man on a VB can-made pedestal, the increasing pressure of capitalism has forced wage growth to remain below long-term averages, forcing more pressure on the trade and service industries, in turn, making the idea of becoming a ‘working class man’ less desirable. Long gone is the lionisation of the Aussie bloke who works a long day, lifting, shifting, doing anything, ending the day with a big cold beer for that hard earned thirst. The modern working class man still works hard, long, tiring days for pittance, yet has the same pressures as everybody else – they have hobbies, families, vices. But they’re time poor and cash poor, and the stresses pile up quick.
This is the foundation that West of Sunshine is working on. There’s no need to have Jim’s world spelled out when it’s clear through his actions what kind of life he’s living. It’s obvious how stressed and exhausted Jim is from the get go. He wakes up ten hours late for a day he’ll never catch up to. He lives a life where he’s always behind, always on the back foot. Yet, he has no choice but to keep pushing forward.
This disadvantage becomes a learned disadvantage that ends up tricking Jim’s mind. After a lucky gamble on a ‘sure thing’ horse, Jim ends up in the black. He’s home safe and has the ability to clear his debts with some left over for his family. But, in a moment that’ll cause extreme anxiety in anybody who is averse to gambling, Jim loses it all after seeing another eternally out of reach pot at the end of the rainbow. (I won’t lie, the act of gambling in films often causes me extreme anxiety, so thanks to having the ability to watch West of Sunshine at home, I was able to pause the film, take a walk, then come back for the inevitable pain that will befall Jim.)
The grip of gambling isn’t the only thing that wracks Jim’s subconscious. The spectre of his long gone father hangs over him, with the only physical memento of his life being the well kept vintage car that Jim drives around in with pride. Fathers learn from their fathers about how to raise their own kids, so for Jim, the absence of a father means that he has little to work with. He’s not an abusive dad, he simply makes the wrong move at times. Take the juvenile comment of ‘boobs’ that Jim makes to Alex as a woman walks past as they wait at a red light. It’s mildly comical, but the laugh is taken out of the situation with Alex’s reproachful glare at Jim that Jim seemingly misses.
Jim may not be the perfect Dad, especially evident with the eventful day that he and Alex go through, but from Alex’s perspective, at least he’s there for him. Damian Hill doesn’t paint Jim as being a deadbeat dad who berates Alex simply for being young (although there is the obligatory ‘get off the phone and look at the world’ speech), his dad is a guy who’s trying to keep his head above water. As the film wraps up in a purely symbolic manner, Jim is finally free of the weight of the father he never had and is finally able to move forward in his life with just a little less weight than what he had before.
Raftopolous writes and directs with an urgency that carries Jim’s story through to a natural conclusion. Given this is a ‘day in the life’ film, we can only hope that the positive note that we’re left on is one that will ring true through the rest of Jim’s life, but of course, we’ve seen that the life of the working class man is not one without its pitfalls. It makes sense then that Raftopolous employs the use of the great composers Lisa Gerrard and James Orr (The Insider, Gladiator) to provide a Greek chorus-esque vibe to the film. The score elevates Jim above being ‘just a delivery driver’, to being someone who matters. The vibe that Gerrard and Orr’s score creates is one that’s similar to that of Cliff Martinez’s synth heavy score for the period drama TV series, The Knick. By applying a rarely associated type of score to this modern day domestic drama, the allusions of tragedy are recognised.
West of Sunshine isn’t a deep tragedy, but it is one that laments the downfall of the traditional Aussie male. One can trace the path from the hard working shearers who are left down on their luck in Sunday Too Far Away, to the warehouse full of drivers, waiting to start their day in West of Sunshine, showing through the art of cinema how the Australian government has gradually worn down workers rights. This is not an explicit film, it simply presents a situation and asks the viewer to gather what has gone on. (In fact, to bring a modern comparison, there is a similar feeling that runs through Two Days, One Night that is present here: two souls doing their hardest to work through an awful situation, and seeing how they are forced to navigate the looming darkness that awaits.)
It would be remiss of me to not mention the work of cinematographer Thom Neal. Neal manages to capture Melbourne through fresh eyes. The sites of St Kilda, the Yarra, and the backstreets of suburban Victoria, are all shown in fleeting glory that evokes the eyes of the ever moving delivery man. This is Neal’s first feature film, and when paired with the searing, unflinching work in Hannah Gadbsy’s essential stand-up show Nanette (seriously, when was the last time that cinematography in a stand up special praised?), it shows the sign of a great talent to come.
Which is what West of Sunshine is – proof of talent that has arrived (Damian Hill), talent to come (Jason Raftopolous, Thom Neal, Ty Perham), and rediscovered talent that has long existed (Lisa Gerrard & James Orr). Most importantly, it’s proof of Australian talent working in harmony.
Director: Jason Raftopolous
Cast: Damian Hill, Ty Perham, Arthur Angel
Writer: Jason Raftopolous
Earlier this week I was on the receiving end of a three day Facebook ban. I’d already been banned once for 24 hours (that was for calling out a racist on their racist behaviour), so the next step was three days.
The first time I was banned on Facebook, I used directed unsavoury language to describe the person making racist comments. It was – as per Facebook‘s rules – targeted harassment. I understood exactly why I had a 24 hour ban, and made sure that if I were shouting down anyone spewing out hate speech again that I would be less direct in my anger. So far, that has worked fine.
Then, on Monday the 13th of August, I replied to a comment on a thread about James Gunn. See, James Gunn’s spot of bother with the pot of hot water he continues to find himself in continued as photos of him at a paedophile themed party surfaced. The theme of the thread was that paedophile themed parties were in poor taste (no argument there). I jumped in to comment that, yeah, they’re in poor taste, but what of Prince Harry and his Nazi costume? (If I weren’t given a ban, I was also going to point out that serial killer themed parties are a thing.)
To make my point, I dug into the Google-sphere and plucked up the notorious image of Prince Harry wearing a Nazi costume to a themed party. Ironically, I didn’t want to use the images of The Sun newspaper because I didn’t want to spread that toxic newspaper on the internet further.
Less than a minute later, I was logged out of Facebook. I thought, that was strange, and went to log back in and was presented with the above notice from Facebook. I knew immediately what had happened – that Prince Harry and his Nazi attire had been scraped by Facebook‘s image scouring, and the swastika caused the ‘Nazi propaganda’ alarm to ring. I knew I wasn’t reported by someone, because the reporting function on Facebook simply doesn’t work that quick.
And, y’know what, I was fine with the ban.
Why wouldn’t I be? Facebook have already stated that they want to remove hate speech, fake news and other toxic dialogue from their platforms. If I happen to get swept up in the wave of censorship on Facebook, then so be it. Sure, I’d innocently posted a photograph of a person wearing a Nazi costume, but that image alone could be perceived as being pro-Nazi or anti-Nazi. Context means nothing when you’re sharing an image of a swastika.
Alongside my three day ban, I’ve lost access to being able to post on The Curb‘s Facebook page. This includes scheduled posts that I have had organised for #AUSgust and for reviews that I’d written. This is mildly frustrating, but really, it’s almost no different than what’s happened to Alex Jones. The main difference between Alex Jones and myself is that Alex Jones was a targeted removal from Facebook and YouTube for his continual lie driven hate speech, whereas I was simply victim to an algorithm that exists to scrape away the hate on the platform.
(It’s worthwhile noting that I posted the same picture on Twitter and nothing happened. But, we all already know that Twitter is a platform that thrives on hatred. After all, it’s had countless opportunities to ban the President for his hate speech, but has declined doing so because… well… reasons.)
The documentary The Cleaners screened at this years Revelation Film Festival. It looks at the outsourcing of censorship on social media, taking account of the anonymous people who sit in offices in Manila, day in, day out, actioning the reported images on social media platforms. They have their rules and guidelines of what to remove and what to keep active.
The Cleaners looks at the impact that scouring through these images has on the people who are outsourced to ‘fix’ the work of major corporations like Google, Facebook and YouTube. It looks at the ethics of shovelling damaging work off to countries where the pay is low and the work is scarce. They witness everything from absurd artistic renditions of naked Donald Trump with a small penis, to beheadings, to child pornography, to acts of war – and their role is to censor and remove such images or events from being on social media.
Take the photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, aka ‘Napalm Girl‘, for example. This is one of the most powerful images about war to ever exist. It’s unforgettable. It speaks volumes about the horrific nature of war. Yet, because it contains nudity and violence, it falls foul of the rules and guidelines of Facebook.
So, it’s removed.
The censor knows the cultural impact of the photograph, they know the value of it being in the public domain and understand why it is being shared, but because of the rules, it simply cannot remain on the platform. So, while there are campaigns to ‘free the nipple‘ and mothers are upset as another photo of them breast feeding is removed, the flipside is that the algorithms and censorship of these social media platforms will never allow such a thing to exist. Is it hypocritical, especially when men are allowed to show all the nipples in the world? You bet.
But, let’s not forget that even though there are some 2.5 billion monthly active users, the fact remains that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, YouTube, and whatever other social media platform exists on the fringes of these behemoths, are free to use. Yeah, we may laugh or rant and rave at how old tweets come back to haunt us (hey Tomi Lahren and James Gunn!), and sure, we cringe at the idea of our data being mined incessantly, but we remain incessantly active on it. The reveal of Cambridge Analytica may have caused a downturn in users on Facebook, but it continues to be the social media app of choice that people can’t quit.
And how can they? Earlier this year I left Facebook for a few months. I needed a break. I needed to stop laying in bed at 1am scrolling through the feed waiting for a new update from somebody I’ve never met on the other side of the world, ignoring the fact that I needed to be awake at 6am to (ironically) go work as a data manager. So, I shut down my page and left the platform. I gave up Twitter.
What I found was that I was more alone than ever. Sure, I’d gone through a separation, but the people I interacted with on a daily basis on Facebook or Twitter were suddenly gone. I’d sent an email or two to see if I could maintain a connection that way, but they were either rarely checked or the responses were late. The limits of my social circle (as in, it being non-existent) were suddenly evident. I knew nobody outside of Facebook and Twitter. Even though I existed in society, I was adrift in a world of strangers. It terrified me that I’d quietly become reliant on social media to keep a track of what was going on in the world.
Now, it is possible to break free of social media and live a live without being tethered to constant notifications and part of a system that may just well bring about World War III. It is. But, when you’re running a website, and trying to keep up to date with society as a whole, you become extremely reliant on these platforms to deliver you news. Long gone are the days of the rss feed. Onwards with the connected digital future.
And Facebook knows how integral it is to society. It’s well aware of the effect it has on elections. It has an issue with hate speech, and it has to do something about it. The UN advised that Facebook played a role in spreading hate speech against the majority-Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar. Footage of violence against Rohingya in Myanmar is shown in The Cleaners – showing the difficulty that censors have to grapple with in relation to live footage. How do they deal with footage that is showing the escalation and potential of violence?
One censor talks about a live streamed suicide attempt. He can’t cut the feed while a person is stands on a chair with a noose on their neck as they haven’t breached any of the rules and regulations on the platform. Yet, once the person steps off the chair and commits to the act of suicide, the feed must be cut as it shows violence. The effects of sitting there, waiting for a person to potentially kill themselves is terrifying – and it speaks directly to how impersonal the being of social media is.
Running under the guise of connecting everybody everywhere, the Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube, reporting features are extremely impersonal. Press on a tab, hit report, tick a box that fits the material you want to report, and a day or two later you get a response as to whether the post you reported broke the rules or not. When this happens to you, it’s even more impersonal. There was no way for me to say ‘well, I was posting the picture of Nazi Prince Harry to make a point about how we all have things in our past that we wish didn’t exist’. There is no nuance. There is no conversation. There is simple yes or no.
Just as there’s no way for that censor in Manila to get authorities to the house of a person who is in the midst of committing suicide. They simply have to sit there and watch. The fact that these corporations see no issue with farming out the task of removing dick pics, beheadings, suicides, and nipples, from our news feeds shows how easy it is to dehumanise groups of people. Just because the pay is low and the work needs to be done doesn’t stop the fact that these are human beings who are made to look at these images so we don’t have to see them. There’s no counselling services available. There is simply a quota of images they need to go through for their work to be considered ‘complete’ for the day.
Sure, Facebook or Twitter may release statements about why certain posts were removed or weren’t removed, but for the lay person, they simply tend to give a judgement and that’s that mattress man. Nothing more. Nothing less.
It’s recommended by some to report regularly, and to block often – to help send a message back to the algorithm as to what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’. This action has spawned a minor bout of activism on Twitter, where it has been suggested to block Fortune 500 companies to send a message to the powers that be at Twitter that Alex Jones and his dangerous conspiracy driven dialogue isn’t welcome anywhere.
Social media platforms are used by the left, the right and the undecided to argue their points. The notion of ‘free speech’ has long been removed from social media. Our feeds are curated by always changing algorithms that we’ll never fully understand. We want racism and hate speech removed from social media, but it’s a double edged sword. Anonymity has opened the floodgates for people to feel comfortable with voicing their hatred. Yet, for those who simply want to exist and connect with others, the algorithms put in place to trap those sharing images or saying things that Facebook deems inappropriate or illegal, may very well catch them too.
I know that if I simply mentioned Prince Harry and Nazi that I wouldn’t have copped a three day Facebook ban – but that photo did me in. Would having had The Sun header have kept me safe? That’s not a test I’m willing to take. I’m fine with the ban, as it shows that the algorithm works – it’s doing its job in keeping Nazi material off social media. It’s a greatly flawed system. Even if utilising a photo of Nazi material is done to make a point, its removal showed that the system does sometimes work. Sure, I want to shake up the system and not play by its rules, saying that I’m not going to tow the line. But, the website is free, and the rules are there to be followed, because unfortunately, they have rapidly become the rules of society – whether we like it or not.
And here we are – the conundrum of social media.
We know that it is a sarlacc pit for our data, retaining them for longer than the 1000 year digestive cycle of that fictional beast. We know that it’s bad for us, but we’ve grown to rely on it so much that we simply can’t let it go. We know it does equal amounts of harm as it does good. We know that we have become the product. We know that social media fractures society further than it should do.
But we simply do not leave.
Wired: Facebook’s Fight Against Fake News Keeps Raising Questions
The Verge: Who is Responsible for Taking Down Nazi Gifs?
The Verge: Why Facebook Banned Alex Jones – and Twitter Didn’t
Gizmodo: Legal or Not, Facebook’s Banning the Sale of Kodi Boxes
Gizmodo: Facebook Forced to Block 20,000 Posts About Snack Food Conspiracy After PepsiCo Sues: Report
Another full interview episode of Not A Knife. This one is pulled from the archives of podcasts long past – an interview with director Brian Trenchard-Smith. This interview took place around the release of Umbrella Entertainment‘s great Bluray release of The Man From Hong Kong, and is released on the Brian Trenchard Smith theme day of #AUSgust – the Australian Film Month.
Check out other great shows on the Auscast Network here.
If you want to get in touch, send an email to TheCurbAU@gmail.com
Space, like the future, is inevitable. It’s a wide, open expanse that raises an infinite array of questions. These questions help fuel the eternally inquisitive nature of mankind. The why’s, the how’s, the what’s, the drive to find out about what is – or what isn’t – out there in the universe. These are all questions that may never be answered by the current generation of scientists and astrobiologists, but may very well be answered by the scientists of the future.
This is where the Australian-French co-production, Living Universe, comes into the field. It focuses on the work of the many in the present, and depicts the outcomes of their efforts in the future. It asks questions, and with the help of great minds like NASA Chief Engineer for the Planetary Flight Systems Directorate of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Gentry Lee, astrochemist Karin Öberg, and astrophysicist Tamara Davis, it answers those questions with logic and hope. In between talking head interviews, there are some truly spectacular CGI interpretations of what space travel may look like in the future.
While the concept of space and space exploration is an exciting and fascinating one, it is also a subject that can often feel impenetrable. If you scratch under the surface of discussions about space explorations, you’ll no doubt start to see an array of confusing equations flash past your eyes, and an unexpected urge to start writing on every window you see will arise in you. Thanks to the narration by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Living Universe never devolves into the incomprehensible. His enthusiasm for anything scientific is infectious – you can’t help but smile along with Dr Karl as he chimes in with genuine joy over the possibilities of space travel and the wonders of science.
Alongside Dr Karl’s narration is the voice of Professor Tamara Davis as Captain Artemis – a hypothetical Artificial Intelligence that (in 150 years) pilots a spaceship to the fictional plant of Minerva B to find life. What first appears to be science fiction is soon revealed to be (as per the press release) science faction. As in, fiction based on the established facts of the present.
What may seem fantastical and impossible is given a grounded feeling thanks to the passionate interviews from those who are making this science faction possible. Discussions about the history of insurmountable tasks that humankind has undertaken (with references to the many cathedrals around the world that took over a hundred years to build, showing that the engineers and architects who designed such a building never got to see the results of their imaginations) help provide an insight into the minds who dream of the stars. While they may never see the discovery of life on another planet during their lifetime, they at least know that they helped pave the way for such a discovery to occur.
Profoundly optimistic and eternally excited, Living Universe helps instil the notion that one day, mankind will find itself not alone in this wide universe. Through deep (yet clear) science, and a clear path to future space exploration, this documentary will inspire and fill you with hope that we are not alone.
Tip: See this on as big a screen as possible. The space sequences are stunning.
Directors: Alex Barry, Vincent Amouroux
Cast/Featuring: Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Professor Tamara Davis, Gentry Lee
When looking at what games were coming up over the next year, I stumbled onto this fascinating game called Bee Simulator. Now, simulator games are a dime a dozen, and wonky controlled animal simulator games (a certain series focused on the mammalian Capra genus) exist just to appear to give the simulator genre a bad name.
Bee Simulator looks different than all of those other simulators. For starters, it’s about bees! And, it’s about exploring the world around us from the perspective of a vital creature that exists in the world. I immediately emailed the kind folks at VARSAV Games Studio S.A. and asked them a few questions.
Founder Lukasz Rosinski gave us a deeper look into how Bee Simulator came about, and what the benefit of family friendly games are.
The Curb: Where did the idea to create a bee simulator come from?
Lukasz Rosinski: The idea to create Bee Simulator was born in very interesting circumstances. About two years ago, when I was reading my then two-year-old daughter the book “Bees” by polish author Piotr Socha, I came to the conclusion that here I have a ready scenario for a potentially very interesting game! As I have been actively playing games for about 25 years, I have seen in my life many very successful indie games based on a unique idea and very good implementation. A perfect example is for example a game like Flower, Limbo or Polish Superhot and The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter. None of these games needed a giant budget to interest huge number of players. The world of bees and a beautifully told story about their role in our lives has not been present in the world of games in the quality I expect as a player, so there is perfect place for Bee Simulator.
The Curb: What kind of educational elements can players expect from Bee Simulator?
Lukasz Rosinski: I think that Bee Simulator is unique because it connects worlds that normally are completely separate. I mean the world of arcade games, educational games and simulators. We try to connect those three genres in a smart way – balancing between them, so that fans of all genres will be satisfied.
Educational elements are focusing mainly on bee habits in beehive, their ways of communication and the way of development and gaining experience by each bee.
The Curb: How much did the current global threat to bees play into the development of the game?
Lukasz Rosinski:We are aware of how the great role play the bees in our environment. Problems with dying out bees in some regions of the world obviously have their reflection in the game. I assure, however, that we have also come to this aspect very creatively.
The Curb: What was the most surprising thing the team learned about bees as the game was being developed?
Lukasz Rosinski: I think that the team was surprised by the level of complexity of communication inside the hive – bees use pheromones and waggle dance to communicate with each other. We were also surprised by the way that bees fight with their greatest insect threat – hornets. I will not spoil it, but YouTube shows it perfectly.
The Curb: How important is it to have a game that encourages players of all ages to play together?
Lukasz Rosinski:I remember the times that I used to play with my friends such games as Rayman, Mario Kart, Worms or Fifa on one couch for hundreds of hours. That is why we have focused in Bee Simulator on local multiplayer. We think that playing together on one screen in split-screen mode is the best way to develop relations between people. When we see the reaction of the other player, we may shake hand immediately after a good score – the emotions are on the highest level. It is in my opinion very important in current times when we have mainly Facebook friends and Twitch relations.
The Curb: When can players get their hands on Bee Simulator?
Lukasz Rosinski:All I can say for today is that we plan to have the game finished on as many platforms as possible in 2018.
To find out more about Bee Simulator, head over to the website here.
Q&A Screening next Saturday 18 August at Event Innaloo (6.30pm)
|This August, science soars into deep space in Living Universe, an Australian feature documentary tackling the momentous question: are we alone? Narrated by everyone’s favourite scientist Dr Karl Kruszelnicki and Australian astrophysicist Professor Tamara Davis, the film will screen at Event Innaloo and Event Whitford City on 10, 11, 15 and 18 August 2018. |
Space scientist Alexandre M. Kling and exoplanet specialist Megan Shabram from NASA’s Ames Research Centre, will attend a Q&A on Saturday 18thAugust at Event Innaloo (6.30pm) to answer the audience’s burning questions following the film. This screening is part of National Science Week (11-19 August).
Living Universe’s brand new trailer is available HERE and you can purchase tickets at https://www.livinguniverse.com.au/tickets/.
An interstellar adventure searching for life on another planet, the film follows the 50-year journey of a starship piloted by artificial intelligence, Captain Artemis (voiced by Prof Davis) to an imaginary planet Minerva B, set 150 years in the future. The speculative voyage is presented alongside interviews with the world’s top scientific visionaries, drawing from their expertise to offer insights into our collective future exploring deep space.
Eight years in the making, the film is not science fiction, but rather science faction. Living Universe blends state of the art visual effects with storytelling anchored solidly in the latest scientific research. We meet the best minds in the field of space exploration, planetary science and astrobiology including NASA leaders: Steve Squyres (Interplanetary Explorer) Natalie Batalha (Research Astronomer) and Gentry Lee(Chief Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and sci-fi author).
A truly international project, Living Universeis produced by independent producers Essential Media in Australia and ZED in France with co-production partner CuriosityStream.com in the US and financed with the assistance of Screen Australia, Create NSW, and Creative Europe– MEDIA Programme of the European Union.
When:10 August 4.00pm, 11 August 4.00pm, 15 August 6.30pm, 18 August 6:30pm (Q&A EVENT)
News out of AACTA today reveals the lineup of the 38 feature films in competition for the Australian Oscars. It’s a pretty interesting and diverse line-up of films on offer – all of which raise a bunch of questions about what films are eligible for the top prize.
First of all, it’s interesting that the image that AACTA have chosen to promote this news – the exact one that heads this article – with two genuine Australian films (Breath and Cargo), and three questionably Australian films (Peter Rabbit, Boy Erased, Winchester). It says a lot about what kind of vibe the AACTA’s want to represent with this years line-up – big names (Simon Baker, Helen Mirren, Joel Edgerton, Martin Freeman) with recognisable faces, and a rabbit. Sure, it’s just a picture, but what of Sweet Country? One of the best reviewed Australian films of the year?
That’s a small quibble for what is an interesting line-up of films. Now, as with every AACTA Awards line-up, there’s a truck load of Aussie films that appear to have come out of the blue – Dad, Indigo Lake, The Pretend One – that will definitely be added to a list of films to seek out via AACTA TV. If you haven’t jumped onto an AACTA subscription, you really should – for a mere $70, you get access to the majority of the films in competition during the run of the AACTA nominations. Frustratingly, sometimes this is the only place you can see some of these films, as they struggle to get a theatrical release (outside of the two week qualifying run in Sydney and Melbourne independent cinemas).
Look, I’ll have more to say about this line-up further along, and I’ll definitely be digging into these films when they’re up on AACTA TV, with predictions of what will get nominated (and win) eventually. Having a cursory glance, there’s a few obvious entries that will feature high on the nominations scale – Sweet Country, Boy Erased, Ladies in Black, Breath, West of Sunshine all feel like eventual ‘Best Picture’ nominees. And a few that are simply happy to be on the same list as everybody else – IGA will be pleased that The BBQ is mentioned in the same sentence as Sweet Country.
It’s obvious that we here at The Curb love Australian cinema, however, with a fairly heavy dose of cynicism, there has been a distinct change in the types of films rewarded with the major prizes at the AACTA awards since they changed over from the AFI award label. Films like The Great Gatsby and Hacksaw Ridge would have struggled to win under the previous label, but here we are, two distinctly American films walking away with major Australian film prizes.
Ok, enough grumbling from me. Here’s the deets from AACTA themselves:
Anticipation for the 8th AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel is growing, with the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) announcing a record-breaking 38 feature films in competition for Australia’s highest screen accolades.
The full list of feature films in competition are: 1%, THE BBQ, BIRTHDAY ADJUSTMENT DISORDER, BOY ERASED, BREATH, BROTHERS’ NEST, CARGO, DAD, THE FIVE PROVOCATIONS, THE FLIP SIDE, THE GATEWAY, GRINGO, IN LIKE FLYNN, INDIGO LAKE, INNOCENT KILLER, JIRGA, JUST BETWEEN US, LADIES IN BLACK, THE LEGO® NINJAGO MOVIE, LOST GULLY ROAD, MARY MAGDALENE, ME AND MY LEFT BRAIN, THE MERGER, OCCUPATION, PETER RABBIT™, THE PRETEND ONE, PULSE, RABBIT, THE SECOND, STRANGE COLOURS, SURVIVE OR DIE, SWEET COUNTRY, SWINGING SAFARI, UNDERTOW, UPGRADE, WATCH THE SUNSET, WEST OF SUNSHINE, and WINCHESTER.
AACTA also today announced the programs for AACTA Film Fest in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The Film Fest program is an all-inclusive look at Australian film, providing the opportunity to view the outstanding Australian films from the past 12 months – some of which you can’t see anywhere else – competing for this year’s AACTA Awards.
AACTA Film Fest is exclusive and complimentary to AFI | AACTA members, with guests permitted to attend selected events. Membership is open to everyone and starts from just $70! Click here to join today. The full Program is available here.
In addition to Film Fest screenings, 36 of the feature films in competition will be available to view online via AACTA TV from 3 September – available to AFI and AACTA members anytime, anywhere and on any device.
This year, AACTA will be shining a spotlight on Australian film by transforming the AACTA website into a conversation hub, encouraging and supporting broad online discussion around the 38 competing films. Guest writers from the Australian screen industry will share articles exploring the feature films in competition, the performers and practitioners behind them as well as sharing their favourite films of the AACTA Film Fest. New articles will be posted on the AACTA website each week here.
Testament to the energy, creativity and resourcefulness of Australia’s low-budget and emerging filmmakers, this year sees 18 diverse films competing for the inaugural AACTA Award for Best Indie Film (which honours the finest Australian films with a budget under $2 million): BIRTHDAY ADJUSTMENT DISORDER, BROTHERS’ NEST, DAD, THE FIVE PROVOCATIONS, THE GATEWAY, INDIGO LAKE, INNOCENT KILLER, JIRGA, JUST BETWEEN US, LOST GULLY ROAD, ME AND MY LEFT BRAIN, THE PRETEND ONE, PULSE, THE SECOND, STRANGE COLOURS, SURVIVE OR DIE, WATCH THE SUNSETand WEST OF SUNSHINE.
The independent filmmakers behind these films are making waves and garnering attention both at home and abroad through their innovative use of low-budgets and unique voices. The ever-changing film industry landscape has also seen filmmakers embracing new pathways to audiences, with 50% of competing films opting for non-traditional releases.
Fast facts about the AACTA Film Fest feature films in competition:
– Nine films have female directors (22.5% versus Screen Australia’s reported industry average of 15%).
– 29 films were made by writer-directors (a 34% increase from the 2017 Festival of Australian Film).
– 35% of all award candidates are female (a 6% increase from the 7th AACTA Awards).
– Over half the competing films feature prominent female leads or female-centric storylines.
– Females make up over half the award candidates in seven films.
– 60% of competing films have screened at an AACTA-qualifying Australian film festival in the past twelve months.
“In another record-breaking year for feature film entries, AACTA Film Fest is an unparalleled opportunity to view, support and discuss Australian film,” said AFI | AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella. “These 38 films showcase a dynamic mix of genres and themes; feature a variety of unique stories that audiences often can’t find on traditional screens; highlight our increasingly diverse industry and filmmakers; and shines a spotlight on the incredible work many emerging Australian filmmakers are doing in the low-budget independent sector. I encourage people to embrace this opportunity to see these films in cinema or on AACTA TV and join us in the largest conversation of Australian film.”
The AACTA Awards are supported by the New South Wales Government via its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW.
Read the full details on the AACTA website here.
Have you ever sat in a film and want to equally thank and curse at a director? Have you ever sat there as the lights rise in the cinema, feeling immensely overwhelmed with helplessness and devastation? Have you ever wondered whether there is ever going to be anything positive out of this whole ‘humanity’ experiment that seems to be running the world into the ground?
If the answer to those questions was no, then boy have I got the film for you.
A Woman Captured is a documentary by Bernadett Tuza-Ritter. It follows a 53-year old domestic slave who is given the name ‘Marish’. Tuza-Ritter wishes to tell ‘Marish’s story, and to do so, has to pay her captor, Eta, to have the privilege of filming the life of ‘Marish’. The camera almost solely focuses on ‘Marish’, with the people she both works alongside and lives with existing on the fringe of the cameras viewpoint.
For the sake of this review, and respect to Edith, I will no longer call her by her domestic slave name – Marish, and honour her birth name.
There’s no denying that A Woman Captured is a film that needs to exist. Worldwide ignorance or complacency may lead people to think that nope, slavery was eradicated when Abraham Lincoln abolished it way back when. But, this is clearly not the case, with the Global Slavery Index estimating in 2016 that there were 45.8 million people in some form of modern slavery.
That’s almost double the population of Australia.
Edith’s story is one that needed to be told. Extreme poverty in Eastern Europe has dragged many unfortunate souls into the trap of domestic slavery. In Edith’s case, a visit to a hospital over a decade ago brought her in contact with Eta, a woman who promises Edith a job for her and her daughter when she is out of hospital. Ten years later, and Edith’s daughter has managed to escape, leaving Edith behind to work for Eta, giving all the money she earns to her.
We only get to see a brief glimpse of Eta as she sits in a light-less room, a cigarette between her garish, tacky pink fingernails. She doesn’t want to be shown on camera, and because of the agreement that Bernadett has with Eta, she has to comply with this request. See, for Bernadett to tell Edith’s story, she has to pay Eta to have access to her house and to film there.
Immediately, you get the feeling that Bernadett is complicit in keeping Edith captive as a slave, with her payments to Eta perpetuating the domestic slavery cycle. Fortunately, the feeling of this turning into a ‘freak show’ never eventuates. Instead, you get the feeling that if Edith did not escape the prison she is in, that Bernadett would have struggled to complete the film.
The difficult, unsettling early scenes of Edith working day and night for people who see her as a tool to be used and abused, and not as a person, make way for an immensely powerful finale. Even so, it’s hard not to question the role of Bernadett as a filmmaker when she engages with Edith in ways that has her saying things like ‘your intuition is shit’ to her. Is she there to document and observe, or is she there to help adjust the narrative of Edith’s life and get her into a safe place?
Initially, Bernadett appears to be there simply to document the situation and get out. As she grows to know Edith and learn her story, Bernadett then challenges the position a documentarian, breaking down the barrier between the filmmaker and the subject and, in turn, takes an active role in breaking Edith out of her prison life. It soon becomes evident that Edith needed Bernadett to help give her the impetus to break free from Eta.
As a domestic slave, Edith thanks Bernadett for helping her story get out to the world. Slavery is a powerful, toxic entity – monopolising on the weak and subjugating those without privilege. Edith understands that for her story to have an impact, the pain and the suffering needs to be shown. At this point, Edith realises that maybe she will never be free, but maybe if her story is out there, that it will help someone else in the same situation, or help someone avoid ending up like she has.
For Eta, her excuse for keeping Edith captive is one of pointlessness and distraction – she is there almost ‘just because she can’. Bernadett’s camera is never allowed to show anyone other than Edith in Eta’s house. There are people on the outskirts of the frame, giving the impression that Edith is a spirit floating through the house unseen – as if she is operating in a world of her own. It’s disturbing and unsettling, especially as Eta’s voice rings through the obviously cold house, throwing abuse at the slaves she keeps, with Edith simply standing in a detached room, appearing to withstand the abuse as much as she can.
A Woman Captured is a truly devastating film. I walked out of the cinema into a cold July morning. The rain poured down, covering any evidence that there may be a sun in the sky. I felt consumed by helplessness, unsure what I could do to help those trapped in domestic slavery. Sure, I felt happy that Edith was out of her situation, and reunited with her daughter, but I was also reminded that she is one of millions of people trapped in a desperate, toxic, inhumane situation.
Thanks to websites like the Global Slavery Index, I can see what Australia’s involvement is with modern slavery. I can educate myself on what I can do to help reduce modern slavery. You may never get to see A Woman Captured – I do hope you manage to, it’s a film that will stick with you for a long time -, and if you don’t, I hope you will read up on modern slavery in your country.
Director: Bernadett Tuza-Ritter
Writing Credits: Nadas Bálint, Zoltan Moll, Bernadett Tuza-Ritter
Directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel are doing something quite unique with the documentary film format. As a format of filmmaking, it’s hard to forge new ‘styles’ of documentary filmmaking, but here we are with two filmmakers that have bent and forged something that feels original. By positioning their cameras as close as possible to their subjects, they force the viewer to reckon with them in ways they would never imagined.
With their first full feature, Leviathan, the viewer bore witness to the goings on of a commercial fishing vessel. With cameras capturing footage from a myriad of positions, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel subverted the documentary format by presenting a familiar thing in an unnatural perspective.
With Caniba, a documentary about cannibal Issei Sagawa, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel employ similar techniques. With his caretaker and brother Jun by his side, Issei is ‘interviewed’ about his life as a cannibal, exploring what drove him to do such an act as to consume someone else. There’s little exploration into Issei’s trial, and nor is there a need to take a journey into how Issei is still a free man. Instead, we’re given a look into the mind of a man who knows his desires are extreme and criminal, yet, they are unavoidable – an unquenchable yearning for something that will never come again.
The extreme intimacy with Issei is one that never makes you feel comfortable with him. Castaing-Taylor and Paravel utilise the format of cinema to amplify human behaviours that evoke a feeling of discomfort. The camera moves in and out of focus, constantly readjusting to the face of Issei as he lays in bed, emotionally starring into nothing as he talks somnambulistically about his life. His face consumes the screen, pushing into the viewers personal space and forcing you to constantly reckon with the presence of a man who ate a woman that he killed. Castaing-Taylor and Paravel never allow you to empathise with him, instead they – alongside the viewer – utilise the tools of cinema to interrogate Issei, and eternally ask him the unanswerable question – why?
The cameras invasion of personal space isn’t the only thing of discomfort in Caniba – besides, y’know, the discussions about eating another human that is. The audio aspects of Caniba are some of the most unsettling sounds captured on film. As the documentary opens, the camera searches for an entry point into the narrative, before deciding to rest on an out of focus Issei’s face. In the meantime, as it searches for an anchor, audio of Sagawa eating something creates the soundtrack. Going in to Caniba, you know this is a documentary about a cannibal (and if you weren’t aware, you’d have a pretty good idea of the subject given the title), so immediately your mind is taken to the darkest places, conjuring all manner of images of a man consuming human flesh.
Later, Issei is fed a segment of chocolate. He takes it in his mouth, and sucks the chocolate. A look of ecstasy washes over his face – one of the few distinguishable emotions that we see from Issei. For what feels like an eternity, we watch Issei suck the life out of the chocolate, his mouth creating moist, liquid sounds that make your spine want to curl in on itself. When isolated, the idea of a man enjoying a piece of chocolate seems quaint and harmless, but when presented in the context of a man who finds few joys in life, and when we know that one of those few joys is the consumption of human flesh (as well as eating chocolate), we can’t help but wonder what differentiates someone like Issei Sagawa from the rest of us.
After all, chocolate is a common place treat in the world. If we have that in common with a cannibal, then what else do we have in common? What other things may bring the gap between basic human decency and the actions of a killer closer together? In the chasm that exists in the moments of Issei eating a segment of chocolate, our mind wanders into the worst fields, conjuring thoughts we can’t feel comfortable with having.
Yet, Caniba isn’t just about a cannibal telling his life story. There is also the relationship between Issei and Jun – a man who has his own masochistic proclivities that we are forced to endure. (An extended sequence of Jun wrapping barbed wire around his arms to draw blood, and in turn, create a sense of euphoria, is as uncomfortable as it sounds.) Even though Jun will never fully comprehend the actions of Issei, the mere fact that they are brothers dictates that he must be there to help care for Issei as he grows old and frail.
Aspects of Issei’s history are explored via an observantly shot low-fi VHS tape of a porn film that Issei took part in after his act of cannibalism, or via Jun’s reading of Issei’s manga that depicts the gruesome act of how he went about eating a woman. It’s here that the brutality of Issei’s actions are brought to an amplified level of disturbance. Here is a man who knows his actions are wrong, he knows he claimed a life, yet the manga that he created depicts his actions with extreme vigour and heightened sexual excitement. To know that he has possibly profited of his act of cannibalism is terrifying.
As Jun flips through the pages, the reality of Issei’s actions become clearer to him. Jun struggles to reconcile with the man that lays in front of him, and the actions of the man in the pages of the manga. How can this be his brother? How could he have done such a thing? Just as it appears to be too much for Jun, he flips another page, and we are forced to witness Issei’s artistic depiction of what he did. One image of a man racked with ecstasy, with an oversized erection, and a headless corpse at his feet, will be seared on your mind.
The presence of the manga in all its brutality holds a mirror up to the viewer, as if Castaing-Taylor and Paravel are asking them, ‘you came here for a story about a cannibal, and so you must have an urge to find out the details of his actions, so here you are, here are his actions. Now, reconcile with what you have seen.’ There is the disturbing notion that society as a whole wishes to seek entertainment from the minds of the disturbed – the endless swath of TV shows, books, and movies, about serial killers (real or fictional) appear to sanitise and romanticise the murders. There’s a thrill seeking nature to such ‘entertainment’. By dabbling in the disturbing, you’re able to feel like you’re experiencing some kind of darkness from the safety of your couch.
Caniba‘s presentation of Issei’s manga forces the viewer to say, well, you may have watched endless episodes of Forensic Files, and you may have thought you knew what the actions of a killer looked like, but here it is in stark, extreme reality. Here is what death and the preparation of a body looks like. Yet, the brutality is never oppressive. Castaing-Taylor and Paravel are mere observers, never asking you to sympathise or understand Issei, just merely present you with a man that did a terrible thing, and then ask you to contemplate his life and his actions. The intention is not to turn your stomach, or make you run from the theatre in fear, but to ruminate on the actions of someone who has lived a dark, extreme life.
Directors: Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel
Featuring: Issei Sagawa
On this episode, Andrew catches up with director Alina Lodkina to discuss her film Strange Colours. This is easily one of the best films of the year, and well worth seeking out. Andrew then discusses the Revelation Film Festival and all the great films and short films that screened there. Finally, wrapping up, he suggests checking out the great Australian band Moaning Lisa with their song Carrie (I Want a Girl).
Buy Moaning Lisa‘s Carrie (I Want a Girl) here.
Check out other great shows on the Auscast Network here.
If you want to get in touch, send an email to TheCurbAU@gmail.com
Also, if you want to hear Alina pitch Strange Colours at the Biennale College Cinema in Vienna, then check out this video below: