MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 9

31 July 2011
Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard was the film I was most looking forward to this year and the screening I went to was its world premiere, where director Richard Lowenstein revealed that it had only been completed at 5pm the previous day! I am aware that there is a danger with heaping praise on a documentary simply because you like its subject matter, but in the past I have enjoyed docos about subjects I’m not interested in and I have been critical of docos that have poorly presented things I am passionate about. So with as much objectivity as possible, I really do think that Lowenstein and his team have done a wonderful job conveying the life and times of Rowland S Howard. The interviews, music clips and archival footage are woven together beautifully to capture the type of person Howard was during key parts of his life and to also convey the power of his music. Both his song writing and guitar playing are celebrated to express the intensity of The Birthday Party in concert, the legacy of the song ‘Shivers’ and the power that Howard’s later work had on whole new generation of music fans. Autoluminescent is a highlight of the festival and a rare doco that I’d happily watch again, and hopefully soon.

[EDIT 7/11/2011: Read a full review of Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard]

Before the Howard doco I caught another Australian film: Ivan Sen’s Toomelah about a troubled 10-year-old boy who befriends the local drug dealers. Toomelah has a lot in common with Mad Bastards since it not only features actor Dean Daley-Jones in a supporting role, but it’s about absent fathers and disconnection from culture in an Indigenous Australian community. Sen captures the dynamics of the community by filming on location and predominantly using non-professional actors living in the former Mission in rural New South Wales. While overall not as compelling as Mad Bastards, Toomelah features a very strong performance by Daniel Conners as the boy searching for adult guidance in a situation where there doesn’t seem to be a lot on offer.

The Kid with a Bike

The Kid with a Bike

Similarly to Daniel in Toomelah, 11-year-old Cyril in The Kid with a Bike is full of rage and looking for a father figure after being abandoned by his own dad. Despite finding a woman who seems willing to care for him, Cyril is drawn to a local drug dealer. A few days ago when discussing Win Win, I mentioned the trend in films where a troubled youth is taken in by a kindly family. The Kid with a Bike is a pleasing antidote to the simplicity of some of these films as it presents Cyril as a really difficult boy, to the extent that you question why a virtual stranger puts up with him. The reason is because she’s a good person who can see past the horrible behaviour. A main theme in the film is the consequences of choosing whether or not to forgive and give a second chance to somebody who has done wrong. Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike typically contains their brilliant faux cinéma vérité look, where the cinematography is expertly crafted and controlled despite the film looking like it was shot on the run. There is also an incredible sensation of movement throughout the film with Cyril constantly running and cycling towards a promise of something that he’s always too late for.

[EDIT 12/3/2012: Read a full review of The Kid with a Bike]

MIFFhaps
MIFF fatigue conquered me yesterday as I slept through my alarm and missed the International Shorts – O Canada! program, which I was really looking forward to. I had previously seen the excellent Sophie Lavoie and the Spike Jonze/Arcade Fire film Scenes from the Suburbs won’t exactly be difficult to track down, but I had wanted to get the big screen experience. On the other hand, I got my first proper nights sleep since the festival began and ate a meal that was hot and home-cooked. Just when I thought my MIFF fatigue had lifted my wife asked me why I was sitting at my computer miaowing like a cat. Trying to communicate with cats is a thing I do sometimes, except I’m usually aware that I’m doing it.

One fun thing to note in screenings now is who still loudly laughs at the advertisements that play before every film. It’s a good way of spotting who in the cinema is seeing their first film at the festival, as the regular attendees are pretty familiar with the gags in the ads by now. Having said that, the MIFF ads this year are so good that I’m still enjoying them and I’m enjoying hearing other people respond to them for the first time. I still find the VicRoads ad quite cute too, but I’m hearing voices of dissent about that from elsewhere. Somebody even described it as this year’s Yalumba Wine ad, which I thought was harsh.

Show us your MIFF
Those of you on Twitter probably already know Paul Anthony Nelson, who has a remarkable ability to ever so concisely sum up his responses to films in 140 characters or less on his account @mrpaulnelson. An ill-timed work assignment prohibits him from seeing the 60-odd films he’d hoped to see this year, but he’s still aiming for the low 50s. He’s been coming to MIFF since 1998, where he saw four films from a Blaxploitation retrospective and fell in love. This year his highlights have been MelancholiaMartha Marcy May Marlene and Super. Attending the Australian premiere of Inglourious Basterds in 2009 and sitting within ten feet of director Quentin Tarantino, one of his heroes, has been his biggest MIFF highlight to date. Paul jokes that  Tarantino has since taken a restraining order out against him. I’m not sure if that really is a joke. To get through the festival Paul recommends plenty of Vitamin C wherever possible, always having muesli bars on hand and taking a break between films every so often, if only to check out the wonderous Festival Lounge at the Forum. Paul’s all-time favourite film is The Godfather, which he describes as ‘cinematic perfection if that is possible’. Outside of MIFF you can hear Paul talking about films on the Hell is for Hyphenates podcast, encouraging others to write about films at Why I Adore and making his own films through his production company Cinema Viscera.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – Mad Bastards (2010)

9 May 2011
Mad Bastards: TJ (Dean Daley-Jones)

TJ (Dean Daley-Jones)

TJ (Dean Daley-Jones) is a mad bastard. Full of attitude and prone to aggressive outbursts, TJ travels over 2000 kilometres to see Bullet (Lucas Yeeda), his 13-year-old son whom he’s never met. Unfortunately, the environment of domestic violence and alcoholism that Bullet is living in means that he’s quickly becoming a mad bastard too. Like many men who suffer from an inability to communicate and grow-up, TJ is the source and recipient of so many frustrations and so much harm. However, Mad Bastards is not a film about despair but a film about overcoming masculine pride and reconnecting with what matters in life.

Writer/director Brendan Fletcher has a long personal history with the Kimberly region of north-western Australia where most of the film is set, and uses the stories and experiences he cultivated to carve out Mad Bastards. Almost the entire cast are non-professional Indigenous Australian actors and as revealed in a series of interviews before the final credits, in many cases they play characters derived from personal experiences. The resulting performances are confident but contain an unpolished rawness that contributes to the film’s authenticity. Fletcher also has a documentary background (including collaborating with Leah Purcell on Black Chicks Talking) so is clearly comfortable with the improvisational approach he has taken with the actors.

Mad Bastards: Bullet (Lucas Yeeda)

Bullet (Lucas Yeeda)

There is an aching sadness running throughout Mad Bastards that often catches you unawares, especially when the camera lingers on the extraordinary landscape that surrounds these troubled men. The contrast between the natural beauty of the Australian wilderness (beautifully shot by cinematographer Allan Collins) and the social problems that plague the people within it is heartbreaking. It also means that moments where the characters reconnect with each other are extremely poignant. Water is an evocative motif for healing and there are several scenes where the characters reach out to each other, wash away their demons or reflect on their lives while situated near or in bodies of water.

The final driving force behind Mad Bastards is the music score by Alex Lloyd and the legendary Pigram Brothers, who are also producers and appear in the film as themselves as a sort of Greek Chorus. There is a gentle melancholy underneath their simple melodies but also a sense of hope for a brighter future. Combined with the film craftsmanship so evidently on display and the honest performances, Mad Bastards is simply Australia’s most impressive film since Animal Kingdom.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 379, 2011

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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An interview with Brendan Fletcher, the writer/director of Mad Bastards

30 April 2011
Mad Bastards writer/director Brendan Fletcher

Mad Bastards writer/director Brendan Fletcher

Brendan Fletcher is the writer and director of Mad Bastards, a new Australian feature film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is set for a general release in Australian on 5 May 2011. Almost set entirely in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and predominantly starring non-professional actors, Mad Bastards is an insightful and moving look at some of the problems facing Indigenous men today.

This interview was recorded on Thursday 7 April 2011 and then played on Film Buff’s Forecast (Triple R, 3RRR 102.7FM) on Saturday 23 April 2011.

Part 1:

Download link (running time = 15:14)

Part 2:

Download link (running time = 12:16)

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