Posts by Andrew:
Over the past few years, the wealth of teen girl focused comedies has been going into overdrive. With everything from Edge of Seventeen, to Easy A, to Lady Bird, to Blockers, the quality has been top shelf, premium material. So it’s with great pleasure to say that the latest in the line of these high school girl comedies is not only a genuine treat of a film, but arguably the finest of the bunch. Yep, Olivia Wilde’s debut film Booksmart is just about the best comedy of 2019, and, once this year is done and dusted, it’ll likely be the film I’ll be returning to most frequently.
Booksmart follows two high school seniors, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), as they celebrate the end of school and the beginning of their college lives. Both are dedicated students, focusing completely on their academic achievements with the hope of getting into the most prestigious college, having completely avoided all parties and ‘fun’ that would have distracted them for their goal. After Molly overhears the partying-type students talking about her and her lack of ‘fun’, she confronts them, berating them for their lives of leisure, telling them how she got into Yale and they didn’t. It’s a prime assumption that’s thrown out immediately when the other students retort with the prestigious colleges they got into themselves. Realising that they could have had both the study life and the party life, Molly and Amy vow to have one night of partying debauchery to send off the year.
Look, let’s get something out of the way about Booksmart before we jump into why this film is excellent – in the age of ‘wokeness’, there is a plethora of reasons to throw Booksmart out the window: everyone is privileged, there’s little to no conflict, and, after the Aunt Becky college scandal, it’s arguably a little bit difficult to care about wealthy kids getting into wealthy colleges. I’m certain there’s a truck load more that can be said about Booksmart that nit-picks it out of existence, rejecting all the glorious fun that comes with the central heartwarming friendship, but you know what, fuck that.
Even with heavy reliance on the well-trodden tropes that come with the subgenre of ‘one night on the town’ flicks – with everything from ending up at wrong parties, to unexpected psychedelic consumption, to run-in’s with police, to ‘I am a golden God’ dives into pools – Booksmart becomes its own beautiful entity, a wonderfully optimistic film, free of judgement, and full of heart. The core friendship between Amy and Molly is so pure that it can’t help but be aspirational. The way they both encourage each other with their endeavours is joyous and is the core basis why these characters simply work – they feel real and like they have had a wealth of life experience before we meet them. Beanie Feldstein was already a treat in Lady Bird, but given the chance to lead a film like this, she simply shines. When paired with the ever enjoyable Kaitlyn Dever – who gives a performance here that almost works as a reminder to all the directors she’s worked with before that her superb talent has been wasted up til now – the two give one of the great modern comedy duo performances.
The supporting cast is also great, with superb cameos from Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, and Will Forte. Also commendable is Noah Galvin as a theatre obsessed student whose idea of a wind-down party is a murder mystery event that overtakes his parents house – a perfect throwaway gag has his family relegated to the kitchen, sitting in silence so they don’t interrupt his well-planned event. Billie Lourd’s airy Gigi is a delight to watch, with her presence throughout the film working as a brief moment of heightened levity. But my favourite would have to be Skyler Gisondo’s Jared – a hyper-wealthy trust fund kid who is so earnest and eager to be liked and part of everyone’s life that he can’t help but push everyone away. Skyler’s performance is superb, getting the right balance of eagerness right and ensuring that Jared never falls into the ‘annoying rich kid’ realm.
Booksmart is so perfectly written, so perfectly performed, and so wonderfully earnest with its intention to provide joy to the audience, that you can’t help but leave feeling lighter than you went in. To call it one of the best films of the year feels like an understatement. This is the exact kind of film that fits into the ‘slap down’ category for me – meaning, the sort that you buy on DVD, and when you find out that someone hasn’t seen it, you rush off to pick up your copy and slap it down on the table in front of them and demand they watch it right away. I love Booksmart, and I sure as heck hope you do too, because darn it, we need more films like this.
Director: Olivia Wilde
Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Skyler Gisondo
Writers: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman
A stretch of forest on the border of Lithuania and Russia stands naked and bare, the leaves of the trees have been seared off by the caustic shit that cascades down from the cormorants that call the forest home. These cormorants are stunning birds that were once regionally extinct within the forest, and after having made a resurgence in the area decades ago, their population has swelled to overwhelming levels. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is itself is suffering because of their presence, but because of their once threatened status, the cormorant is a protected species. In solitude, without the cormorants, the forest would protected forest would thrive, but, without the forest, the cormorants would likely have faded into the ever growing annals of extinct animal history.
This is the cruel irony at the centre of Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė’s documentary Acid Forest. The symbiotic relationship between the forest and the birds is one that harms each other. While the birds can call these trees home now, what will happen when the damage their refuse creates causes the entire forest to collapse? Where will they be able to roost and call home then? Will the cormorants then be once again threatened? And, if not, then what is humanities role in ensuring this protected stretch of forest remains viable?
Thanks to a tourist viewpoint in the middle of the forest, we’re presented with the ever opinionated dialogue of tourists visiting this forest, standing in the opening and espousing all manner of tips and directions to whoever will listen about what should be done to save the forest. For some, they dictate to their friend or partner about what they should do, for others, they are alone on the platform lamenting about the devastation caused by these birds. Whether these tourists are aware that their stream of consciousness is being recorded by hidden cameras and microphones, we never know.
What is clear is that there is a grand lack of self-awareness about the analogous relationship of the forest and the cormorants and humanity and the world we live in. The notion of oblivious birds destroying their home, no doubt dooming their future selves while they procreate into oblivion, is terrifyingly no different to the relationship that humanity has with the world. Tourists stand and judge, demanding that for the sake of the forest, these birds should be killed, all the while recognising that in the same breath these birds are protected. It’s almost as if, thanks to the viewing platform, this stretch of the world is a stage, and these tourists are the ever judging audience. No doubt if there were a bucket of rotten fruit and vegetables, they’d be throwing them with glee.
As Acid Forest closes, renegade activists take it upon themselves to ‘save’ the forest by setting off fireworks in the middle of the night, presumably to scare away the birds. After being privy to the tourists dialogue, we can’t help but ask, are these activists doing the right thing? After being presented with sixty minutes of this forest, we’re left to wonder, what deserves to be saved – the forest, or the birds? And, possibly the most pertinent question, should we – humans – step in to ensure one of them reigns victorious?
This is a question that’s rolling around the world, as fence-free zoos are essentially crafted in the wild to keep minute populations of threatened to endangered animals alive. In Australia, the question of whether the population of koalas on Kangaroo Island should be culled or not for the safety and sanctity of the island is one that has been raging on for years. A parliamentary inquiry peers over collated data and in the grandest realisation of man playing God, they sit in a taxpayer funded room and decide the fates of populations of koalas, or western grey kangaroos, or long-nosed fur seals, or little corellas. The word used is ‘overabundance’, but who deems what population of wild animals is correct? And, most importantly, what is the number that tips these populations from being a healthy group to being one that causes irreparable damage to the habitat? This grand irony runs rampant throughout the world, where on mainland Australia, the koala is an endangered species, and the wild population of kangaroos being wildly miscalculated (see the documentary Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story for more information), all the while, we’re happy to clear away precious habitat for endangered creatures just to put a pollution spilling mine in the ground.
If we’re so busy corralling regions in the wild for animals who call said ‘wild’ their home, utilising imaginary boundaries to dictate where these creatures can and cannot live, then at what point do those rules start to get applied to humanity itself? In Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky, and Nicholas de Pencier’s documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, that question is raised through soul crushing imagery of a world in chaos. This is a visual record of humanity in a perpetual state of panic – with concrete seawalls in China being established over decades to ward off the ever increasing sea levels, or the increasingly disappearing heritage and towns in Germany, being consumed by a mammoth land devastating machine that terraforms its path through the endlessly obliviated farmland, all the way to the military secured functionally extinct white rhino, protected day and night by soldiers who attempt to ward off ever greedy poachers who yearn for the last slice of rhino ivory.
The definition of the word ‘Anthropocene’ is:
relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
“we’ve become a major force of nature in this new Anthropocene epoch”
the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
“some geologists argue that the Anthropocene began with the Industrial Revolution”
But, then you have the word ‘Anthropocentric’ – the term that cements the arrogance of mankind, where it suggests that we – the human race – are the central and most important element of existence, especially as opposed to animals and God. Religion plays a major role in the humility of mankind, with its presence playing as a way of reminding those who follow a faith to question what exactly humanity is doing to the world that God gave them. If the lesson of original sin is to remind humanity the weight of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, with their consumption of the forbidden fruit damning the world, and depending on which reading, gave humanity the inclination to sin, the will of ignorance, and the domination of death. What joy! But, surely, with the knowledge of what original sin is, and the desire to appease God and honour the sacrifice that Jesus made, then surely there would be a greater respect given to the world that God delivered us?
It’s been a long while since I’ve found myself lost in a book to the point that I’ve felt fully immersed in the world with the characters. With Meg Caddy’s Devil’s Ballast, it was surprising how quickly I felt the splash of the waves, heard the creaking of the boats, and breathed in the salt water air of the world that Anne Bonny lived in. With this being my first encounter with the legacy of Anne Bonny (and, shame on me, the first I’d ever actually heard of her), I was impressed with how easy it was to appreciate the world that she lived in.
Devil’s Ballast kicks off with Anne’s story in full flight – she’s fled from her abusive husband, James Bonny, and has made a life for herself as a crewmate on a pirate ship run by the great Calico Jack Rackham. Hiding in plain sight as a boy, Bonny thrives on Calico’s ship, the Ranger, working with the crew to hunt down other ships on the ocean. As the book opens, we’re immediately thrown into the fray with the rapturous energy of the Ranger giving chase. Our focus is always on Bonny, but the economy and power of Meg’s writing means that other crew members are given a wealth of a backstory in a sentence or two. And, in the thrust of all this action, Meg also finds time to set the foundations of one of the most endearing, powerful elements of Devil’s Ballast – the enduring romance between Anne and Calico Jack.
In between chapters told from Anne’s perspective are chapters about the ever-eager pirate hunter Captain Barnet. As a ruthless and narrow minded man, fuelled by a brutal agenda to obliterate pirates from the seas of the world, it’s Barnet’s narrative that helps remind us what kind of life Anne is fleeing from. See, James is not going to let Anne’s escape go without a fight, and with his wealth and power, enlists the skills of Barnet to hunt her down and drag her back to him. It’s clear that there is no (and never was any) love between James and Anne, with him merely viewing her as property that has done him wrong, and in his eyes, that deserves harsh punishment.
What’s immediately clear from Meg’s writing is that there is a clear affection for the lives of pirates, and while there is a lot of sailing/pirating jargon, it never becomes so dense that it’s impenetrable. In fact, the breeziness of the writing is enough to help inform exactly what an ‘orlop’ is without the need to have a dictionary on hand. Maybe that says more about me and my wilful ignorance about pirate life than the writing, but that’s what makes Devil’s Ballast such a joyful read – it’s like Meg has extended a hand out to you, the reader, and said, hey, you might not completely understand this straight away, but if you trust me, you’ll have a great time as we go on one heck of a journey and it’ll all make sense in the end.
And that’s the key to what makes Devil’s Ballast an essential read – in a world where we seem to hold the fictional Captain Jack Sparrow up higher than the wealth of more entertaining and engaging real life pirates, it’s refreshing to be able to dive head first into the world of one of the most famous women pirates to exist. Meg’s writing immerses you in Anne’s struggle to live the live she’s meant to live, exploring the reality of what it means to be a woman hiding as a man on a pirate ship. The realisation of what would happen if the crew found out about her truth is explored through the harsh reality that comes from sailors who fear the bad luck that having a woman on board a boat brings. While the action that comes with pirate life would have been entertaining and engaging enough, the informed writing that brings Anne Bonny to life makes this more than a mere action story.
Anne Bonny is no pushover, being able to hold herself well in a brawl, even when pushed to point of exhaustion as fight after fight wears her down. The violence is powerful, with the impact of each punch and wallop clearly felt, and that’s without even touching on what happens when the guns come out. On top of this, the brutality of what a cannonball does to a ship, tearing the hull apart and causing splinters galore, is fully realised. This isn’t to say that Devil’s Ballast is a gore fest or anything – far from it – but, it’s more to reinforce that thanks to the deep characters and brilliant world building, the tension in these propulsive action scenes is amplified and carries a lot more weight than it would if this was the core focus of the narrative.
When Anne has to stay on land for an extended period of time, away from her crewmates and Calico Jack, you can’t help but want her to be back out on the open waters, wishing that she’s able to live her best life. To say more about what Anne Bonny goes through would be to spoil some of the stunning plot twists, and in turn, would also spoil some of the supporting character threads. And what characters! Outside of Anne herself, everyone is a treat to spend time with – yes, even the villains, so despicably written that you can’t help but eagerly anticipate their comeuppance. I’ll forever be thankful for being exposed to the wonderfully realised character of Read, another pirate who I knew nothing of, and whose story is famously entwined with Anne’s. I really don’t want to spoil Read’s story, but alongside Anne’s story, it’s their narrative that I’m most eager to read more about in future Anne Bonny books.
Another relationship I’m equally keen to read more about is that of Anne and Calico Jack. There’s a powerful tenderness to this seafaring couple that works to show the strength of their bond for each other, and, most importantly, reinforces their main love of the ocean. The times that Anne and Calico are separated are painful to read, and for me, it’s here that I found Meg’s writing the most beautiful to read, and it’s also part of the reason why their love story is as impactful as it is. Anne yearns for Calico, to be by his side, to be in his arms, just to be touched and held by him – and every word carries the weight of that yearning to the point that you can’t help but devour every page hoping that they are reunited. Of all the emotions, love and desire are the hardest to depict, given we all experience them differently, but what Meg has written here is relatable love, one that makes you yearn for a bond like the one that Anne and Calico have.
I don’t want this to make Devil’s Ballast sound like it’s a romance novel first, and a pirate story second, because in fact it’s neither – it’s the story of a powerful woman in history who faces adversities from every aspect of life, and it’s about how she overcomes those adversities with gusto. The mere fact that she’s a pirate and in love with her captain is part and parcel of her story, which is part of the reason why I can’t recommend Devil’s Ballast highly enough – even if you have no interest in pirate stories, this is a narrative that is full of exceptional characters, heroes you can’t help but cheer for, and villains you can’t help but hate.
One final thing before I let you go to rush off to your local book store to pick this up, I want to touch on how perfectly the world of the Caribbean is created here. Look, I was as ignorant about the Caribbean as I was about Anne Bonny before reading this book, so when I went and looked up what Nassau looked like when I finished reading, I was surprised to find that it looked exactly how the image that Meg had painted for me in my mind looked. The writing is so detailed and vivid, that you can’t help but be transported to this world, creating a memory of uneven paths and salt water air in your mind.
Devil’s Ballast is an exciting read, one that has left me eager for more of Anne Bonny’s stories. While this is marked as young adult, if you like a great story, and are keen on reading a story about women pirates on the ocean, kicking ass and taking names, then there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t pick this up regardless of what age you are. And, if you’re already a fan of nautical history, then this will be right in your wheelhouse.
Pick up Devil’s Ballast from Dymocks here.
Andrew caught up with filmmakers Michael Wilkins and Amanda Gibson to talk about their documentary Homefront which screens at this years Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 20th 2019. To purchase tickets, head to the website here.
Waiting: The Van Duren Story is a film about Van Duren, a hidden music icon who director Wade Jackson discovered by chance and went to work to find out what happened to him. Andrew caught up with Wade to talk about the making of the film and what went into making this film.
Perth’s Revelation Film Festival has been host to some truly brilliant Aussie rockumentaries, with Mat de Koning’s kick ass Meal Tickets and Travis Beard’s raucous Rockabul both blasting the roof off Luna Leederville. Now, for the third year in a row, Revelation brings the heat with another essential film about music – Maybe It’s Luck?
Focusing on Perth punk band, Kerb (no relation), Maybe It’s Luck? takes a look at the fire and drive that brings a band that’s been away from the music scene for almost twenty years back together again. But, the world of music has changed dramatically since the late nineties, where MySpace and Geocities ruled the internet, and every website had an overwhelming wealth of flash animations that worked to drain your feeble dial-up internet. And that’s where front man Steve Browne, ever the conjurer of off the wall ideas that find a way of working, uses his skills to reunite the band in Cambodia to record an album and to try make the whole shebang work again. But, as is the case of being a frenetic frontman trying to make everything work, the one thing that Steve couldn’t anticipate is himself.
To say more about Maybe It’s Luck? is to take away the extremely propulsive joy of rediscovering the gold that exists within both the Perth music scene and the Perth filmmaking scene. At once, the music of Kerb is as energetic and exciting as it ever was, but when paired with the breathless editing and direction from Chad Peacock and Steve himself, it shines in a completely new light. Just like with Meal Tickets and Rockabul, the drive for bands and artists existing in remote cities is as clear as ever in Maybe It’s Luck? The workload is triple-fold compared to bands in bigger, more artist friendly cities, with Steve getting his feet out on the ground to help market and promote Kerb’s first gig back by handing out thousands of flyers at a Foo Fighters gig. It doesn’t matter that the kick in the nuts at the end of the night is the realisation that essential information was missing from the flyers, with the reminder that if you want your work to matter, then you have to get out there and get dirty to make yourself known.
Contained within Maybe It’s Luck? is a perfect time capsule in relation to how far the world has come since the days of dirty gigs at the Grosvenor where bands could sell their five track EP’s just to afford a beer. The stark realisation about how much the world has changed hits the Kerb hard as their music is rejected from online music platforms for being ‘too short’. Not only has the world of music become restrictive to older bands, but it’s also outwardly antagonistic to punk music. Just because a song is a minute or less long doesn’t make it any less of a song, but for Steve and co., it’s just one more hurdle upon the pile of ever growing hurdles that they’re presented with.
Which is why Maybe It’s Luck? resonates so damn much. Despite everything, despite the issues the band face, despite their reappearance in a music world that has changed dramatically, these guys make it bloody well work. If there’s a will there’s a way, and sure enough, the gumption and drive for Kerb to be ‘a thing’ once again is tangible. There’s something purely ‘Perth’ about the energy of Steve and Chad, an energy that shows a need to show the rest of the world that this isn’t just a small city at the arse end of Nowhere, Australia, to show that y’know what, fuck y’all, Perth can make great stuff and you should pay attention to us. There’s a screaming from the Bell Tower vibe to Maybe It’s Luck?, and gosh it’s refreshing and purely electric.
Maybe It’s Luck? is screening at Perth’s Revelation Film Festival for one night only, and you should definitely head along to see this film. Part of the reason you should do that is not just for the film itself – which is a frenetic riot of a film that’ll leave you buzzing like a great gig should do –, but also for a music film of a completely different ilk: Connor Fantasia-serve’s short film, Peeping for Pepe. In this short documentary, Connor works to find out who the mysterious Nick Pepe was who adorned the cover of his album ‘Accordion after Dark’, an album which Connor fondly enjoys as part of his families record collection.
There’s one thing for certain with a director like Connor, and that’s the fact that he’s going to go far. With an on screen presence that is purely entrancing and entertaining, Connor’s personality is matched by brilliant filmmaking skills. Peeping for Pepe is an respectful, yet no less entertaining, look at an artist who put music out into the world and made an impact on one person. Sure, that artists instrument of choice was an accordion, but there’s no judgement about that at all from Connor. Peeping for Pepe, when paired with Maybe It’s Luck?, is a perfect reminder that no matter how big or small your artistic reach is, if you put something out into the world, somebody is going to pick it up and will engage with it.
I think back to the many bands I’ve seen throughout my gig going years in Perth, the small bands who may only exist for a year or two, and I’m grateful that they existed and that they made an effort to entertain. Then, I think about Steve, Chad, and Connor, and I’m grateful that these filmmakers – and many more of course – are telling these stories and reminding the world that the energy spent creating art is energy well spent.
Maybe It’s Luck?
Directors: Chad Peacock, Steve Browne
Peeping for Pepe
Director: Connor Fantasia-serve
Rolling on for another huge year of great content is Australia’s finest documentary film festival – the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. With a huge wealth of content and guests, with subjects stretching from remote Australia, all the way to Hollywood, there’s something for everyone at this years festival. While I could point at the Uwe Boll documentary, Fuck You All: The Uwe Boll Story, that screens with a Uwe Boll Q&A, or the raucous music film Desolation Center, or even a doco about an unreleased Peter Sellers film, I won’t do that! No! I’m going to run down the ten films that would be on my viewing list.
Make sure to check out the festival guide, and pick up your tickets as the festival kicks off on July 19th and runs through to the 30th.
I’m a sucker for a good food documentary, especially one that focuses on one of the finest food groups ever – pasta. Funke focuses on chef Evan Funke, a once successful culinary artist who walked away from the restaurant life, only to return to the world of food after a sojourn into darkness. Funke looks into the world of the ever combative LA restaurant industry through the eyes of someone trying to reaffirm their place in the world. If anything, the shots of handmade pasta will have you rushing off to Pelligrini’s after the screening to fill yourself up.
Alongside the truck load of great documentaries will be a wealth of exciting and interesting short films. There’s too many to list here, but the shorts that have peaked my interest include stories about a pop culture provocateur who once tried to take down Trump with a naked sculpture, and have now turned their sights to Harvey Weinstein; a film about a dog, George, who is surrendered to an adoption home – a guaranteed tear jerker; or a story about five tall men and their small dogs; or a look at a bizarre ritual in Yorkshire which looks to involve sheep; or a story about a family returning to a cold case about a black man who was beaten to death 70 years ago and the search for justice; and finally, a short about UFO culture in Dundee, Wisconsin. This is just scraping the top of the shorts that’ll be screening, and just like the rest of the festival, there will be something for everyone here.
Looby is one of the best Australian films for 2019. A fascinating and deep dive into the life of Keith Looby, this documentary embraces all of Looby’s eccentricities, with his impact on Australian art and politics getting the grand exploration it deserves. With a mildly unhealthy dose of antagonism directed towards Keith, Looby is never dull, and always informative. Even with mid-interview walkouts and a frenetic subject who always looks bothered, Looby is the kind of film that you can’t help but ask – why did it take so long for this story to be told? And, once you’ve finished asking that, you can be thankful that it finally did get told, and most importantly, told in such a brilliantly entertaining fashion. This right here is my pick of the fest. Do not miss Looby. Give my interview with the filmmakers a listen here.
Defending a Monster takes the book, John Wayne Gacy, Defending a Monster, written by Sam Amirante and Danny Broderick, and translates it to a documentary format. This looks to be a powerful glimpse into the world of the one man who was assigned the task of defending the worst American serial killer, John Wayne Gacy. Directed by Marc Menet and Bob Packo, Defending a Monster will likely raise questions about how somebody can actually defend someone who is so clearly guilty.
The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival has long shown great films about dogs from all around the world – take 2018’s Dogs of Democracy for example, a beautiful film about the activist dog Loukanikos, and the other dogs that live in Athens. And now, there is Pariah Dog, a film about the street dog caretakers in Kolkata, India. Painting a broad picture of life in Kolkata, Pariah Dog was filmed over four years and takes a look at the dogs that live in the city, and the people who look after them. There are even more documentaries about animals at the festival too, so if this looks interesting, then certainly there will be even more about man’s best friend to explore.
From one extreme to another, Right to Harm is an activist documentary that looks at the impact that factory farming has on America as a whole. Focusing on the expansive and destructive entities that are CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), Right to Harm looks at the citizens who are taking on these facilities in a bid to enact change. While these kinds of activist documentaries can sometimes be a little preachy, there is a definite need for this kind of story to be explored on screen, and just like the next film and its effect on me, you might find your life changed after watching Right to Harm.
Filmmaker Rob Stewart died while making his second Sharkwater film, and while that tragedy alone is enough to seek out this film, it’s the fact that there has still been little global action on stopping the ruthless slaughter that sharks everywhere face. While Sharkwater aimed to open the eyes of the many to the importance of sharks, Sharkwater Extinction aims to reinforce that same message and stress the trouble our oceans will be in without these majestic creatures. Sharkwater changed my life and changed my viewpoint on the world. I no longer eat seafood and became involved in action to help save the oceans. Hopefully Sharkwater Extinction does the same for you.
While Looby is a fascinating look into an Australian artist, Kartika: 9 Ways of Seeing is a beautiful look at an artist who you most certainly are unaware of – Kartika Affandi. Kartika’s history is explored in depth, with a brilliant look at her artworks, and a frequent look at her joyous smile. There’s a beauty and depth to Kartika’s work, and thanks to great interviews, we get a deep look into the meaning behind her paintings, and her process for creating art. The wonders of documentaries are exposed with Kartika: 9 Ways of Seeing, with their core purpose of informing, entertaining, and enlightening all working in harmony. You’ll love this one for sure – also, take your Mum, she’ll appreciate it, and very well may be inspired too.
While I found Singled [Out] a little too short, take that point as a way of saying that this is a really solid documentary that you can’t help but want more of. As a look at what it means to be a woman in your thirties and single, Singled [Out] is a fascinating glimpse at social and familial pressures that are needlessly pushed on women. The comparisons between living a single life in China versus Australia is fascinating, and will no doubt spark a wealth of discussions after the film. Take your friends and open up a discussion about what you can do differently in your life to help make your over thirty single friends feel better.
Finally, there’s Terror Nullius. Not a documentary at all, but definitely one of the best Australian films in recent years. Raucous, punk rock, left as fuck and a searing feminist statement, this is one film you really cannot miss on the big screen. It featured in my top 10 films of 2018, and if that’s not enough, it got a perfect rating from me here. See. This. Film.
So that’s it! My viewing suggestions for this years Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Head along to the website and purchase tickets here.
Playing at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival is the film, Dog’s Best Friend, a feature about one man and his bid to help rehabilitate traumatised dogs. Director Eryn Wilson joins Andrew to discuss the process of making the documentary, and the challenges facing cross-country film making.
Savage Youth is like someone distilled the joyful, open road youth of American Honey, with the caustic neon drenched vibrancy of Spring Breakers, and dashed in an unhealthy dash of misguided whiteness of Never Goin’ Back, and then smashed it all together to create one of the most brutal takedowns of white America in recent years. Writer/Director Michael Curtis Johnson pulls from real life to tell the disturbing narrative of six despondent youths who are all in their own ways directionless.
Opening with wannabe Insane Clown Posse-make up adorned Jason (Will Brittain) spewing a rap about life, we’re gradually introduced to the troupe of teens whose lives we’ll see unfurl in chaotic, brutal ways. Elena (Grace Victoria Cox) is a wannabe artist who is frequently reminded that her drawings could ‘make her money’, but it’s easier for her to live a life relying on her father’s shit business money (as we’re reminded, he sells manure). Her friend, Stephanie (Chloë Levine), reads off lines from Romeo & Juliet as an ode to the origins of love, only to use her risqué topless selfies as a way of courting her date, Hyde (J. Michael Trautmann). Jason and Hyde’s trio of sub-amateur rappers is completed with their dim, but earnest, friend Lucas (Sasha Feldman). Elsewhere, Gabe (Tequan Richmond) and Mike (Mitchell Edwards) realise their failure at high school has left them little choice but to turn to peddling weed as a way of making money. Across the next 100 minutes, these youths all intertwine with one another, each making mistakes and the world pushes back against them for those mistakes.
Where Andrea Arnold’s American Honey presented a world of youths who were devoid of purpose, travelling the country in search of purpose, with their crimes and misdemeanours almost coming across as inspirational actions, Savage Youth is less lenient on the youth of America. It’s clear from the get go that this group of teens have had opportunities afforded to them – namely, an education – but their lack of applying themselves to further their own future and simply expecting that their ‘talent’ is what will make them a living just underlines how deep their lack of awareness about the demands of life is. Miraculously, Johnson doesn’t ever pull the ‘kids just don’t know how lucky they have it’ card, instead painting each character as fully realised beings, and giving each actor the necessary material to bring these characters to life.
Each performance is pitch perfect, with the film centring on Grace Victoria Cox’s Elena. There’s an eerie likeliness to Evan Rachel Wood, with echoes of Wood’s career creating performance in Thirteen carrying across here. Cox is mesmerising to watch, with her uncanny ability to portray teen love with all its facets – the kind of love that, at that age, your life depends on. In an inspired move, Elena begins the film with electric, vibrant purple hair, and as her life gradually spirals out of control, the dye fades, leaving her with an unkempt, washed out look, her roots all exposed, leaving her true self open to the world.
Will Brittain’s performance as Jason is purely terrifying. His physicality and outward look is militaristic, with a set of dog tags never leaving his neck, and a crew cut hairstyle that feels straight out of Full Metal Jacket. Everybody has done him wrong in some way, and while he talks about how nobody ever gives him a chance, it’s clear that he’s not even giving himself a chance. Jason is a character who gladly takes from the world, with his rapping style clearly being cribbed from black culture, and as the film progresses, it’s painfully clear that there is nothing that Jason won’t do to succeed.
Savage Youth subtly explores the differences between white youth and black youth growing up. When Jason is arrested for breaking into a house, instead of jail time, he’s given the task of writing two essays on films. When Mike is arrested for having an unlicensed gun, he’s given jail time and has a record. His life is ruined. White privilege appears all over Savage Youth, with Johnson ensuring to show how toxic the entitlement of the young white man is when it comes to relationships and ownership of culture. Lucas continually bemoans the fact that no girl is interested in him, but does little to actually endear himself to anyone, living in the misguided view that if he keeps rapping, then surely someone will want him. These white characters don’t fail upwards, but instead, just meander through life being useless vessels for mediocrity. They hang out in drains, drink cheap liquor and smoke crack, and wonder why they’re not moving forward in life.
For Gabe, his weed peddling is a dollar making venture, albeit an illegal one. We’re never sure of how much he applied himself at school, but when his closest friend leaves for college and he’s left behind, he applies what he’s learnt to drugs. As business goes well, he laments that if he were in Colorado, he’d be making bank. But, instead of putting some of those hard earned illegal dollars into making himself a path to get to Colorado, he sticks around and continues to try to make it work in a dead end world.
There’s a lot going on in Savage Youth, and while there is a wealth of negativity being explored, it’s a testament to the direction and actors that these characters are never not engaging. They’re endearing in a toxic way – you can’t help but watch them make mistakes, and yet, outside of Gabe and Mike, you’re never actually wanting these characters to succeed. This may make it sound like they’re unlikeable, or repugnant, but oddly, they’re not. They’re just broken people with no willpower of ever actually building themselves up to be more than what they already are.
Everybody involved with this film is someone to keep an eye on. Savage Youth may not be a pleasant experience as it rolls around to the end, but it’s one that will linger for a long while. As the harsh reminder that this is based on a true story rolls across the screen at the end, you are left shaken by the depths of arrogance and wilful harm that white men will push onto others. This is a fascinating, brilliantly crafted, and timely film, don’t miss this one.
Director: Michael Curtis Johnson
Cast: Grace Victoria Cox, Tequan Richmond, Will Brittain
Writer: Michael Curtis Johnson
Savage Youth screens at Perth’s Revelation Film Festival on these dates:
Director James Newitt utilises the tools of cinema in some of the most unique and fascinating ways in his feature debut I Go Further Under. Loosely inspired by the life of Jane Cooper, a teen who lived for a year on the remote and uninhabitable De Witt Island, the last land point at the edge of Tasmania before the precipice of the Southern Ocean crafts a void between Australia and Antarctica, this story is an exploration into the desire for isolation from the world. Yet, through visual ingenuity, Newitt reminds us that no matter how far we wish to remove ourselves from the world, the world will always seek us out and ensure we’re never truly isolated.
Working as the Jane Cooper-surrogate is actress Emily Milledge, delivering a performance that reacts to the harshness of the environment with a growing realisation that the solitude and quiet that she sought will eternally be out of reach. This journey into a world of isolation is part of her desire to realise what it means to become nothing, to peer into an absolute void of quiet and to become one with the earth. But, as she becomes more isolated on an island that openly rejects any chance of easy survival, her desire for solitude is tested, with her mind playing tricks on her – because she cannot make it to the other side of the island, is she even on an island? Or, is it actually part of the mainland and she is in fact closer to the civilisation that she so desperately sought to escape?
And yet, when it’s not her mind playing tricks on her, it’s the frustration of the many from around the world writing to her, seeking to be a companion for her in her solitude. The only other human she maintains contact with, a nameless sailor (Chas Blundell), brings her food, and a wealth of communication from the outside world. James Newitt presents these one sided, obsessively directed monologues to this isolated soul, through obtrusive digital presentations. They intrude and obstruct the natural order of the world of De Witt Island, creating an unwelcome presence for Milledge’s nameless teen. The reassurance that this disembodied soul presented as words on paper wants the same thing that she does – to be comfortably alone – works against their promise of companionship. If she had wanted companionship, then the world provides a wealth of opportunities for this, but, she doesn’t.
The way that Newitt presents this intrusion into her life comes across a lot like a prisoner receiving fan mail. The notion that simply because someone is isolated somewhere, they then turn into a vessel for the world’s problems, turning into an outlet that exists to solely receive an outpouring of emotion, reinforces the arrogance of mankind. The belief that if someone seeks solitude and desires loneliness, that they are a broken soul that needs companionship. This is made explicitly clear via letters from men who expound to a complete stranger about how they have enough money for them both to live on, and that they have a boat and a car, and that there is a place for this stranger in their life, as if their mere ownership of things is reason enough for the two of them to live together. Newitt doesn’t need to demonise these people via criticising their words, or to provide further context about where their words are coming from, as it’s clear that the words speak for themselves.
I Go Further Under is a reminder for those who are comfortably alone that it’s ok to live that way. Yes, Milledge’s character may have troubles of her own to deal with, but Newitt never vilifies her for wanting to be alone, and most importantly, never dictates why she is there. Through the powerful imagery that varies from raging, furious waves in a torturous ocean, to the appearance of Milledge submerging herself in those same waters when they appear to be at a rare moment of peace, we’re able to glean enough about her life. Sure, maybe she’s underprepared for living in such a harsh environment, but this isn’t a story about surviving in a harsh landscape – for that kind of film, there is a wealth of them out there to seek out. Instead, this is a film about someone who wants to be alone and simply can’t find the radio frequency that helps her tune out the unceasing drone of humanity.
I Go Further Under is a unique film, working in experimental film elements alongside a powerfully natural performance that is a rarity. In the moment, it’s fascinating and engaging, but it’s long after you’ve left the film that the complexities of its themes wash over you. It’s so rare to see the extremities of introversion displayed on screen, that I Go Further Under becomes a welcome and refreshing, and most importantly, respectfully careful exploration of a perfectly normal way of life.
Director: James Newitt
Cast: Emily Milledge, Chas Blundell
Writer: James Newitt
I Go Further Under screens at Perth’s Revelation Film Festival on the following dates: