Wednesday 31 August 2016

Mataungan (5) - A second photo Gallery. Pictures selected by Rod Bishop

In earlier posts which you can find by clicking on these links Mataungan (1)Mataungan (2)Mataungan (3) and Mataungan (4) Rod Bishop has chronicled the story of the production of a documentary produced at La Trobe University and made with funding from the then newly-established Experimental Film Fund. It was tentatively titled Mataungan. All of this happened way back in 1972. The film was never completed and since the publication of the posts began more information has emerged to add to the troubled history of the film. 
Mataungaan demonstration. Rod Bishop with camera

This is the second photo gallery selected by Rod Bishop, one of the original film-makers who travelled to PNG back in 1972.

The surviving Mataungan footage will be used in two exhibitions at the Queensland Art Gallery – A Bit Na Ta: A Sense of Place, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea and No 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966 – 2016. The concurrent exhibitions run from 15 October 2016 to 29 January 2017.

Heinz Schütte then of La Trobe University and Mataungan leader John Kaputin
John Kaputin
Australian lawyers at the Jack Emanuel trial

Mataungan March

Tuesday 30 August 2016

New Portuguese Cinema at the MCA, Sydney - Adrian Martin selects a season from a largely unknown corner of modern Europe

The Museum of Contemporary Art has begun showing films curated by staff and guests. In August it screened a season of four films by Korean master Hong Sang-soo. It has to be asked who knew about this work. Maybe the MCA audience and aging cinephiles don't have a lot of overlap. Whatever, next up is a selection of new Portuguese cinema curated by Adrian Martin. Adrian has sent me a set of the notes supplied to the MCA and they are reproduced below. The screenings take place over the next four Saturdays beginning at 2.00 p.m. least that was how they started advertising it but 'today's screening is now on tomorrow Sunday 4th at 2.00 pm. Not sure when that was changed nor whether I'll trek in there again.....

Utopian Fantasies and Hard Realities: Four Glimpses of Contemporary Portuguese Cinema

Curation and Notes: Adrian Martin

Portuguese cinema is not terribly familiar within the art cinema and film festival circuits of Australia. Perhaps some have heard mention of the Grand Master, Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015), or seen the sprawling narrative experiments of Miguel Gomes. But there is much more to discover and savour amidst the contemporary scene in Portugal: brilliant directors with a quarter-century of work already behind them, such as Teresa Villaverde and Rita Azevedo Gomes, poetic essay-documentarians such as Manuel Mozos, and newcomers hip to popular movie genres, like João Nicolau. The tension that drives this national cinema in its most creative forms is the pull between utopian fantasy – visions of a better society, sometimes the escape into florid worlds of imagination allowed by cinema itself – and a steely grasp on the current miseries of a world that is reeling from every kind of blow, from economic scarcity to spiritual poverty. Realism and lyricism, and all stops in between: this season offers four glimpses into the richness of contemporary Portuguese feature production.

A Woman’s Revenge (2011)
Based on a 19th century tale by Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly (who Catherine Breillat also adapted for her An Old Mistress, 2007), A Woman’s Revenge is an intense, superbly modulated exploration of gender roles, social status, marital possessiveness and desire-driven retribution. The cinematic style of Rita Azevedo Gomes, who has worked as a director since 1990, sits somewhere between the hyper-theatricality of the Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira and the plangent pathos of Max Ophüls: there are stories within stories, stages beyond stages, masks behind masks.

João Bénard da Costa - Others Will Love the Things I Loved (2014)
When cinephiles and filmmakers evoke the greatest critics and theorists of cinema, we most often hear the historic names of André Bazin, Manny Farber, Laura Mulvey … but who is João Bénard da Costa (1935-2009)? In Portugal and in the international circle of the most progressive film festivals and cinematheques, he is legendary: nobody who ever heard this curator-supreme introduce one of his most beloved movies ever forgot his erudite, inspiring, charismatic aura. This imaginative, lyrical tribute by his colleague Manuel Mozos recreates that aura.

John From (2015)
João Nicolau hails from the loose ‘school’ of filmmakers gathered around the most internationally celebrated of the young Portuguese directors, Miguel Gomes (Tabu, Arabian Nights). This delightful, surrealistic teen comedy is high on whimsy (the title is an incomplete statement of origin: ‘John from …’), full of beguiling shifts in tone and mind-bending flights of fantasy. With an amazing colour palette and pop song selection, its vision of a young girl’s romantic obsession is utterly charming.

Cisne (2011)
Teresa Villaverde, active since the early 1990s, is among the most important contemporary filmmakers, but her work is still too little known outside Portugal. Her films frequently circle bleak subjects: trauma, abuse, kidnapping, sex trafficking. Above all, she probes the fraught network of the modern family unit, seemingly the source of all horror and yet, at the same time, one of the few hopes for any grace, connection or redemption. Cisne is a characteristically enigmatic, elliptical, powerfully emotive testament.

Adrian Martin, an arts critic and audiovisual artist based in Vilassar de Mar (Spain), is Adjunct Professor of Film and Screen Studies at Monash University (Australia). He is the author of seven books on cinema (the most recent being Mise en scène and Film Style: From Classical Hollywood to New Media Art, from Palgrave), and co-editor of LOLA journal online. In a former life, he was a regular film critic for The Age newspaper in Melbourne and Radio National’s long-lost The Week in Film.

let us rally - A Poem that might be a a song by Bill Hannan

Bill Hannan was my English and French teacher at Moreland High School in the early sixties, He has remained an engaged and engaging figure with active interests across local and Australian history, literature, politics and the arts. He recently sent me this verse and I'm reproducing it with his permission.

in the wonderland of free markets
the best stuff is the cheapest
if our steel costs too much
we should sack a few steelworkers
if they’re still not the world’s best
we should throw the lot of them out
into the jobs and growth economy
where the shifters beat the shirkers

let us rally to deplore 
the rise of global capital
and gather for a party 
to celebrate its fall
stand a while beside the grave
of our ancestral radicals
and muse a while on what is
to become of us all

Thomas Picketty points out 
that the inbuilt inequality
of capitalism was restrained 
by depression and two wars
that the trickledown ideas 
of global peace and prosperity
would in the end enrich the rich
and impoverish the poor

let us rally to deplore 
the rise of global capital
and gather for a party 
to celebrate its fall
stand a while beside the grave
of our ancestral  radicals
and muse a while on wha is
 to become of us all

jobs and growth the PM mantraed
in his campaign for re-election
he didn’t bother to explain 
whether there was a connection
the voters thought like me
that there was no explanation
they gave it the big raspberry 
so he had a limp election

let us rally to deplore 
the rise of global capital
and gather for a party 
to celebrate its fall
stand a while beside the grave
of our ancestral  radicals
and muse a while on what is 
to become of us all

we had a golden age 
called post-war reconstruction
new schools free health and benefits
way better than the dole
but then we settled down
forgot about protection
and watched as the free markets 
tipped our jobs down the plughole

let us rally to deplore 
the rise of global capital
and gather for a party 
to celebrate its fall
stand a while beside the grave
of our ancestral  radicals
and muse a while on what is 
to become of us all

the least we can do for steelworkers
is buy some of their steel
it wouldn’t have cost much to save
the workshops at Ford and Holden 
what’s the problem with forcing crooks
to give milk farmers a fair price 
why not give the drover a scrap
of meat from the squatter’s table

let us rally to deplore 
the rise of global capital
and gather for a party 
to celebrate its fall
stand a while beside the grave
of our ancestral  radicals
and muse a while on what is 
to become of us all.

Bill Hannan

An Update on AFTRS - The Degree Programs Strike Back

This Film Alert post and this Film Alert post were two of a number on this blog which drew attention to the state of the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS) and the educational direction it had been pursuing by the time that the appointment of CEO Sandra Levy, from 2007 to 2015, came to an end. In brief, during Levy’s term, AFTRS abandoned the Bachelor and Masters Degree Programs which had existed at AFTRS from 1984 to 2009. 

However, by the end of Levy’s time there were reports of some consternation being registered about what was happening at the venerable institution. In the absence of any expressed vision from the school itself, the consternation had begun to focus especially on what AFTRS has actually been doing over the last decade when it abandoned the aforesaid Degree Programs, and whether it had allowed standards to slip, lost sight of its primary objectives, failed to produce any film-makers of note and degenerated in its teaching into a soft TAFE-like institution offering courses of high cost to the taxpayer but low value to the industry and the society into which the scores of certificate holders head.

That post finished with a list of films made by graduates. It was intended as a shorthand way of taking a serious look at just what AFTRS did in the distant past and what it was up to at the very moment a new CEO had arrived.

Neil Peplow, AFTRS CEO since September 2015
Confirmation of AFTRS new direction under CEO Neil Peplow seems to have been revealed in two scoops in the online film news site Inside Film. The first is an interview with Peplow which says in part:

What’s the third prong?
After the BA there’s the Graduate Certificates as well as the discipline-specific MA.
There’s been a gap there for a couple of years.
Effectively it’s back to the future. The MA Screen 2017 will have 11 disciplines, and there’ll be six students in each discipline. Highly merit-selected. 
Are those streams different in any substantial way to the old discipline-specific MA offerings?
We’ve recognised that collaboration is increasingly important in the way that people are producing content. There’s more fluidity between disciplines. Previously they’d all been delivered in a siloed way; the head of discipline developed the course and it was delivered. Whereas now there’ll be one person in charge of the entire Masters’ program and then we effectively deliver the disciplines within that. So that’s the major difference. It’s not eleven separate courses. It’s one course with eleven specific disciplines within it. We’re now hiring discipline heads, and those heads of discipline will inform the curriculum at each level. So previously they’d only inform one course. But [now] they’ll inform the MA, the graduate certificates, the BA, the diplomas and even the Open short course program. They’ll have an overview of their discipline across everything we’re delivering. So they can control the gradient. 
To reinforce this, Inside Film has a follow up story announcing the first occupants of a double figure number of new senior appointments, with a likely cost to the taxpayer of close to a couple of $mill per annum. You can read about it here.

Keen and optimistic observers are currently happy to accept the CEO’s word that it’s back to the future. 

Monday 29 August 2016

AFI Screenings 2016 - A FEW LESS MEN...more humour, more vulgarity....

For the official start of AFI/AACTA screenings,  dubbed a month long 'festival' of Australian cinema and a moment for you to see $100 million or more of your taxes at work, there were speeches thanking many sponsors and then introductions of some of those involved in the evening's entertainment. The stars, three Brits who also appeared in the previous iteration involving these characters titled A Few Best Men  (Stephan Elliott, Australia/GB, 2011), were nowhere to be seen. We had to make do with veteran Lynn Curran and a young  and glamorous female actor whose name doesn't get on the credits at the start of the film but which did appear, listing her playing a character named 'Janet' in the cast list at the end. Am I trying to say that the opening of the AFI screenings, notwithstanding the near full house in V-Max2 at Bondi Junction, was low key well... I guess I am.

That low key continued throughout the movie. On the other hand, I doubt if AFI members are its primary demographic. At least I hope not because the laughter level was modest indeed. There were two sort of droll moments. One involved a sex scene with Lynn Curran and a combi van. The other involved Shane Jacobson in his cameo leading to some cross dressing. The rest, in which the humour relies rather a lot on the employment of the words "fuck", "fucking" and "fucked" for alleged comic effect, passed without any noticeable reactions which suggested the audience found it funny. Maybe I was sitting in the old folks section and any tittering, especially at the very extended dick jokes, didn't reach me

...... or,put it another way, reviving the bare  bones of an earlier comic extravaganza, one which sold quite well around the world as well as taking some local funds, seems less of a success. It is a film which, not to put too fine a point on it, is utterly dreadful.

MIFF 2016 (4) - Shaun Heenan's Diary for Days 7&8 - Hansen-Love, Herzog, Almodovar ....and GIRL ASLEEP

Day Seven
Girl Asleep (Rosemary Myers, Australia, 2015)
Filmed in a style which simultaneously imitates both 80s Australian television and live theatre, this debut feature finds a new way to tell a story we’ve seen many times before. Bethany Whitmore is great as Greta, a teenage girl growing up in a world that’s starting to confuse her. Conflict at home and school are dealt with metaphorically in a fantasy forest, presented in a deliberately-stagey way. It’s a kind-hearted, enjoyable film which isn’t afraid to be a little silly. The film has been covered in more detail elsewhere on this blog ( Recommended.

Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve, France/Germany, 2016)
Isabelle Huppert in Things to Come
Isabelle Huppert’s wonderfully subtle performance as philosophy professor Nathalie is the driving force behind this drama. She stands as a solid object, weathering what must be the worst year of her life as people die, relationships end and her professional career begins to slip away from her. We see that this hurts her, but she keeps the reaction internal, making this a moving film, but not an overly dramatic one. There’s also much to ponder in her friendship with an ex-student who challenges her views on life. Highly recommended.

Albüm (Mehmet Can Mertoğlu, Turkey/France/Romania, 2016)
An exercise in misery just barely funny enough to keep an audience on its side. A Turkish couple is unable to conceive, and goes to great lengths to avoid letting people know they are planning to adopt. Before the adoption, they travel to various locations, taking holiday photos with a fake pregnancy belly, which is good for a few laughs. It’s a slow film, filled with long takes I didn’t always understand the purpose of, but there are some very funny/utterly horrific moments towards the end which are worth seeing. Very mildly recommended.

Muito Romântico (Melissa Dullius & Gustavo Jahn, Germany/Brazil, 2016)
An ‘experimental’ film, which too often seems like a label designed for films crafted entirely from random footage. This is a vaguely autobiographical film about a Brazilian couple who travel to Berlin by sea, shot on 16mm film over the course of a decade. There are individual moments which held my interest briefly, largely for visual reasons, but as a general rule I have a fairly low tolerance for this style of film. Strongly not recommended, but if you told me you loved it, I’d believe you.

Day Eight
A Dragon Arrives! (Mani Haghighi, Iran, 2016)
I was a little hesitant to include this film in my schedule since it comes from Mani Haghighi, whose previous film Modest Reception (2012) proved too cynical and depressing for me (this from a Lars von Trier fan, by the way). This is a much more enjoyable film, telling the story of an Iranian detective in the 1960s. He appears to have fashioned himself after the heroes in American films of the era: sunglasses, hat and Chevrolet, and the film’s thumping soundtrack helps sell the style. The film’s central mystery is potentially supernatural, and these elements work well. Meta elements featuring interviews with the film’s crew are much less successful. Mildly recommended.

Apprentice (Boo Junfeng, Singapore/Germany/France/Hong Kong/Qatar, 2016)
Showing here after playing in Un Certain Regard at Cannes and in competition at Sydney, Apprentice presents a deeply troubling scenario, but stacks the deck just a little too heavily with its plot. This is the story of young prison guard Aiman who finds himself taken under the wing of an executioner. We learn early on that this executioner hanged Aiman’s father, and when this becomes the focus, the plot actively detracts from a film which was strong enough without the added twist. The film takes its time, letting us feel the grimness of the situation as Aiman learns the science of breaking a man’s neck while hanging him. The film stands as a statement against the death penalty simply by making us look at the process, and to think about it, without actually needing to say anything political. Recommended.

Mimosas (Oliver Laxe, Spain/Morocco/France/Qatar, 2016)
Winner of the Grand Prize in the Cannes Critics’ Week sidebar, this was my favourite randomly-selected discovery at MIFF. In this truly unusual film, someone who appears to be a guardian angel (or culturally appropriate equivalent) travels by taxi into the mountains of Morocco, where he is tasked with helping two men deliver the body of a sheik for burial. It’s a slowly-paced, spiritually-focused film positioned mostly as an arduous trek through beautiful, inhospitable locations. The film also features an odd brand of humour, as this is the angel’s first mission, and he’s kind of terrible at his job. My audience didn’t seem very receptive to this one, which is their loss. Highly recommended.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (Werner Herzog, USA, 2016)
Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog freely admits he doesn’t understand many things about the internet and its technology, but here he has made a broadly-focused documentary on that very subject. This takes the form of short segments, each exploring different aspects of web technology. One sees a famous hacker telling stories of his glory days outsmarting the FBI, one takes a look at teens affected by addiction to videogames and one particularly horrifying segment sees Herzog interview the family who had photos of their dead daughter’s body emailed to them over and over by heartless internet trolls. It’s all a bit scattershot, and Herzog for the first time risks becoming the distracting comic relief in his own film, but there are moments here we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Herzog (jokingly?) asks his participants if the internet could ever dream of itself. I’m not sure that question deserves one good answer, but the film offers us three. Mildly recommended.

Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 2016)

An unusually simple story for Almodóvar to tell, this Palme d’Or nominee is presented largely in flashback, as the distraught titular character tries to reconnect with her estranged daughter through an explanatory letter. It’s a romantic and tragic tale, told with all of the director’s usual visual flair. It’s enjoyable and involving, and the film ends very well. This is Almodóvar at his least abrasive. It’s less ambitious than usual for him (and certainly less sexually transgressive) and the result is a modest success, even if it feels like a footnote in his career. Recommended.