Interviews from The Casting Couch available as podcasts

15 September 2009

After a short absence The Casting Couch podcasts are up and running again so if you haven’t done so already you can subscribe to the podcasts by either clicking the link at the bottom of The Casting Couch program page or by going direct to the podcast hosting page. MP3s of the shows can also be played from these pages.

Podcast feed URL: http://www.cpod.org.au/feed.php?id=147

Some of the featured interviews from the show are also saved as separate audio files, which I’ve listed below:

Interview with Blessed director Ana Kokkinos from 5 September 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1998

Interview with Balibo writer/director Robert Connolly from 15 August 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1796

Interview with The 10 Conditions of Love director Jeff Daniels from 18 July 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1621

Interview with My Year Without Sex writer/director Sarah Watt from 23 May 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1525

Interview with Samson and Delilah writer/director Warwick Thornton and producer Kath Shelper. Recorded 10 March 2009 and broadcast 2 May 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1660

Interview with Mary and Max writer/director Adam Elliot and producer Melanie Coombs from 4 March 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1615

You can find more information about The Casting Couch and what is coming up each week on the On Air and Podcasts page.

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Robert Connolly interview (Balibo)

20 August 2009
Writer/director Robert Connolly

Writer/director Robert Connolly

I meet writer/director Robert Connolly on the day that his latest film, Balibo, received a general theatrical release all over Australia. Connolly’s extraordinary film depicts what happened to the Australian journalist Roger East in 1975 when he went looking for five younger journalists after they went missing while reporting on the impending Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Connolly has just come off a gruelling three-week promotional tour all over Australia and although very keen to chat with me, he is irked by the criticism about the film’s occasional use of handheld cameras.

“The handheld in Balibo is so not overt,” Connolly tells me, “but it’s what we did because that was how those guys filmed.”

Connolly is referring to the fact that a lot of technology from the 1970s was used to film the Balibo Five scenes.

“I used ingenue lenses from the ‘70s, standard 16 lenses not super-16 lenses, I graded it – using Brett Manson, an amazing grader who also did Tsotsi – to make it look like reversal, we used a faster stock that had more grain in it and a whole range of things. We emulated the style of that time with the camera movements – handheld!”

Gyton Grantley as Gary Cunningham and Thomas Wright as Brian Peters

Gyton Grantley as Gary Cunningham and Thomas Wright as Brian Peters

I have to admit that I was surprised to hear that other people had made such comments because the use of handheld in Balibo is minor and when it is used it feels stylistically correct. Perhaps the issue has less to do with the film itself and more to do with the people making the criticisms?

“Filmmakers took the camera off the tripod four years ago – continuing to complain about that is getting embarrassing.”

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Film review – Balibo (2009)

10 August 2009
José Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) and Roger East (Anthony LaPaglia)

José Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) and Roger East (Anthony LaPaglia)

The Australian writer/director Robert Connolly had already established himself as a director to keep an eye out for with The Bank (2001) being a first rate corporate thriller and Three Dollars (2005) wonderfully articulating lower-middle class angst way before it was fashionable. However, with Balibo Connolly has exceeded all previous expectations and made a masterpiece of modern Australian cinema. Balibo begins in present day East Timor with the recording of an oral history being given by a woman who was a young girl during the 1975 Indonesian invasion. Her story – which at the end of the film we are reminded is but one of the lifetime of stories she has – is about Roger East, an Australian journalist who went looking for five younger journalists who went missing while reporting on the Indonesian invasion. The original five journalists became known as the Balibo Five and the Indonesian army murdered them all. Beginning the film with the recording of an oral history establishes that the events that are about to be depicted in the film have come from the testimony of eyewitnesses; testimonies that differ significantly from the official position of the Australian and Indonesian governments who still claim that the journalists were simply caught in crossfire.

Balibo is cleverly constructed as a dual narrative with the flashback scenes depicting the journey of the Balibo Five being intercut with the scenes depicting East following in their footsteps. This not only keeps the film moving at a brisk pace and gives both stories equal importance, but it provides an intrinsic link between the two stories. It is a remarkable accomplishment both in terms of story structure and film editing. Balibo is also beautifully shot and the scenes depicting the Balibo Five are all slightly over-lit to provide further contrast with the Roger East scenes. All the characters are fully fleshed out entities and the lighter moments and interaction between them serves to both relieve the tension and foreshadow the coming tragedy. The young cast portraying the Balibo Five are wonderful as is Oscar Isaac who plays José Ramos-Horta, the man who sought out East and would later become a Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.

02Anthony LaPaglia portrays East as the classic burnt-out journalist figure, who is lured reluctantly back into action in the pursuit of justice. East may initially seem like a recognisable stock character but LaPaglia embodies him so confidently and with such a genuine blend of compassion, old-school toughness and righteousness, while not ignoring his flaws and weaknesses, that East is presented on screen as the real deal. LaPaglia has always been an excellent and reliable actor but nothing he has done before will prepare you for the power and conviction that he displays in Balibo. Roger East is to LaPaglia what Jake La Motta was to De Niro, what Terry Malloy was to Brando, and more recently, what Daniel Plainview was to Day-Lewis. This is the craft of acting at its absolute best.

Connolly wrote the screenplay with David Williamson, using Jill Jolliffe’s book Cover-Up: The Inside Story of the Balibo Five as their primary reference point. Williamson presence is notable and Balibo contains the best work he has done since he hit his peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Part of what makes Balibo such a great film is that among its politics and desire to set the record straight is a hugely entertaining film with appealing characters. It is not overly didactic or preachy and instead gets the perfect balance of emotional impact, political commentary and historical re-enactment. Giving a human story to acts of genocide is a powerful tool that cinema has to communicate stories that must be told and in this way Balibo is comparable to films of recent years such as Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda although it is closer in tone to the very underrated 1997 film Welcome to Sarajevo. Balibo, however, is the best of the lot.

36The key moment in Balibo is the scene where Ramos-Horta heatedly challenges East about the fact that East is trying to discover what happened to five white men while hundreds of thousands of East Timorese are being massacred. It’s a valid question and one that applies to the actual film itself. The response that East gives is sadly all too true – the English-speaking media (and cinema audiences) are simply not going to care about thousands of anonymous brown people but focusing on the fate of five white people will at least get our attention to the fact that gross acts of inhumanity were committed.

Balibo is an astonishing film with many heartbreaking scenes. The ending will leave you shattered and Australians especially will feel a deep sense of painful recognition over the fact that the virtue of being Australian no longer provides the automatic protection throughout the rest of the world that we once naively thought it did. This is a story that had to be told and it has been told in the very best way. This is as good as cinema gets – the story may be devastating but as a cinematic accomplishment, Balibo is something to be celebrated.

Read Cinema Autopsy’s interview with writer/director Robert Connolly.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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Film review – My Year Without Sex (2009)

16 May 2009
Ruby (Portia Bradley), Ross (Matt Day), Natalie (Sacha Horler) and Louis (Jonathan Segat)

Ruby (Portia Bradley), Ross (Matt Day), Natalie (Sacha Horler) and Louis (Jonathan Segat)

Suburban dramas are a staple genre of Australian national cinema and My Year Without Sex is the latest film to examine the everyday lives of a relatively typical Australian family. This time set in the slowly-being-gentrified western suburbs of Melbourne, My Year Without Sex is neither the best nor the worst example of this type of film, but like the socio-economic status of the family it portrays, it sits somewhere in the middle. The film’s title, its opening ten minutes, which emphasise society’s increasingly sexualization, and giving each segment of the film titles such as “Wet Dream”, “Foreplay”, and “Faking It” suggest that this is a film with a strong sexual theme. However, it’s not and the title refers to the fact that the film covers a period of one year during which wife and mother of two Natalie survives a near fatal brain aneurism and must avoid sex, among other things, to prevent a reoccurrence. My Year Without Sex is basically an observational comedy/drama about coping with everyday life from the point of view of an ordinary family.

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