Archive | Documentary RSS feed for this section

MIFF 2013: Made of Stone

11 Aug


By Cam Grace

Reunions don’t come more hotly anticipated than that of the recently reformed Stone Roses. An earth shattering, era defining debut album, years in the wilderness and a perplexing internal chemistry which exploded amid a very public meltdown.- all tempting ingredients for a documentarian.

Shane Meadows, as both a fan of the band and a director is faced with an almost impossible brief – to construct a film which celebrates the enigma of the Roses without shattering it. Not only does he achieve this but he somehow manages to deliver a stirring testament to the power of pop music.

Made of Stone appears on three acts: a triumphant free gig at tiny Warrington Hall, a mini tour in Europe and finally a colossal homecoming at Heaton Park, Manchester in front of 75,000 people. Intermittent segments detailing the band’s history include some tremendous unseen footage of the members as scooter rats and some hilarious early TV interviews. Bust ups with management and labels are touched on but the internal tumult that drove a wedge between them 20 years before, is largely sidestepped.

Meadows film is more centered on the concept of hero worship. It explores what it means to adore a group of musicians beyond basic and economic rationality. It’s also about identity. The Stone Roses are four people, or no one at all.

Interestingly, the closing credits divulge the use of a “re-recording mixer”. Anyone who saw The Roses perform back at The Metro in ’96 or during their recent Festival Hall gig will attest that Ian Brown is the most erratic of live vocalists. That some of this film had obviously been sonically doctored (particularly a suspiciously pitch perfect 12 minute long Fools Gold which closes the film) – comes as no surprise to those of us with ‘the knowledge’

Melbourne Cinematheque- Helen Levitt

3 Apr

Photographer Helen Levitt is the focus of this week’s Melbourne Cinematheque with two feature films and two shorts she worked on screening. Levitt, a staple of the New York arts scene from the 1940s to her death at 95 in 2009, has been noted for her ability to capture the everyday life and moments of joy and heartache in the working class lives of those in New York. She also transferred to colour prints quite early, experimenting with overexposure, saturation, and dyeing the image. After being introduced to Luis Bunuel she took an interest in film and worked for many years as a consultant and cinematographer on various low-budget and collective films.

The Quiet One (1948) is a semi-documentary directed by Sidney Meyers which follows the life of a ten-year-old African-America boy growing up in Harlem. Having never been shown kindness or compassion in his home or school life Donald Peters lashes out against society. Eventually he is sent to the Wiltwyck School for Boys which focuses on rehabilitation and reform where psychiatrists try to find out what is ‘wrong’ with him, never realising that it was societies neglect that meant that Donald never had a chance.
Following this feature is the short In the Street (1948) which Levitt worked on, showing life in Spanish Harlem.

The Savage Eye (1959) is an essayistic documentary, the product of a four-year long collaborative between various directors (Sidney Meyers, Ben Maddow, Joseph Strick) and cinematographers (Helen Levitt, Jack Couffer, Haskell Wexler). Barbara Baxley is recently divorced and looking for a fresh start in Los Angeles. The film takes the viewer to various instances in Barbara’s new life from car accidents, to religious fanatics, to burlesque shows- all beautifully shot.
Following is Emotions of Everyday Living: The Steps of Age (1950), a short directed by Ben Maddow and produced by Levitt that focuses on the retirement of a crane driver and the effect this has on the relationship he has with his wife.

The People v George Lucas (2010)

23 Feb

By Ronan MacEwan

Warning this review includes swear words. No discussion of the Star Wars remakes and prequels can be had without them.

Lovers of the original Star Wars have finally got the film they’ve been waiting for.

No, it’s not the prequels remade to by James Cameron, David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, or Peter Jackson. It’s the People v George Lucas, which elegantly and precisely catalogues every grievance with the work of George Lucas ever since he fiddled with Star Wars: A New Hope bits.

The complete jeremiad is here – many seen by the fans as personal slights or direct attacks by Lucas on their very existence: Han shooting first (takes away his roguish edge), midi-chlorians (reduces the universal, accessible, spiritual nature of the force to a genetically superior blood type basis – i.e. an Ubermensch) and, of course, Jar-Jar Binks (a preposterous, endlessly irritating and arguably incredibly racist character – described by one fan as the archetype of “what someone with no sense of humour thinks is funny.”)

The rage and frustrations of the fans is palpable, but what the documentary makes clear is that the objections come from a place of love. The fans see themselves as wronged lovers, willing to take back George Lucas if he would just cede to what they see as reasonable demands. The fans want Lucas to gently woo them, but instead he’s just fucking them.

This is a first-world indulgent issue of the highest order, and it one I once cared deeply about  but I’ve moved on. Thinking about it or keeping up with the latest Star Wars release was, as Shaun of the dead Simon Pegg has articulately stated, a bit like being a part of an abusive relationship. You just have to a walk away – it’s not going to change, Lucas will just keeping hitting you in the face with a wet fish.

The fish will be CGI, but it will still hurt.

Nevertheless, there’s a great deal of catharsis and satisfaction in seeing Lucas’ outrageous acts of cultural vandalism so clearly spelt out. It feels like a rebellion order of fans that just can’t give up the hope – the old hope that the traditional Star Wars Empire will strike back and everything we loved about the Jedi will return.

For those who do not give a single fuck about things like Lucas changing the Ewok’s theme the end of episode VI– this may be a little ‘challenging’ (read: insanely boring). But if you want to know why your Star Wars loving fans get so mad when the fact you mention that you “didn’t mind”  the menacing phantoms, attacking clones or revenging Sith – this is an ideal primer and may spare you some sullen evenings.

In conclusion, George, we the people hate you but we wouldn’t be who we are without you. Mr Lucas, you have made generation with some extreme cognitive dissonance issues, who are will likely go on talking about this well into their twilight years.

Out through Hopscotch Entertainment.

Film Review: Leonardo Live (2012)

21 Feb

By Mia Robinson

Documentary, 90 minutes.

 Leonardo Live is a documentary on the Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition currently delighting gallery-goers at the National Gallery in London. This Blockbuster art exhibition, intends to make us “imagine how da Vinci thought” – such an exercise proving to be enigmatic and worthwhile. For those of us who can’t make it to London, Leonardo Live captures the magic on screen. It presents as an enjoyable blend, that of viewing the works in the gallery with commentary from various experts, to interviews with the gallery managers on the progress of setting up the exhibition and what’s involved in transporting and displaying the da Vinci pieces.

Observing the reactions and theories from the different experts was a very satisfying element. This is the first time that such a large collection of daVinci’s works have been in the one gallery at the one time, including one never seen before painting and two versions of The Virgin of the Rocks. Being able to view his works side-by-side, reportedly has a different effect on the viewer than experiencing pieces individually.

The effect of experiencing da Vinci’s works through the medium of film was very moving, even for someone relatively uneducated in the realm of art history such as myself. Therefore, I can only imagine how inspiring the real-life experience would be. I left the cinema a believer, in what – I’m not entirely sure… perhaps it’s that da Vinci is eternal, he continues to communicate with the world through the eyes of his paintings and through the eyes of us, his audience – and his medium.

Leonardo Live opens nationally on 18 February.

The Shadow Electric- Tabloid

30 Jan

By Eleanor Colla

When I saw that Tabloid (2010) would be playing at MIFF in 2011 I think I may have actually gasped in delight before quickly uploading the MIFF website to secure a ticket. And I am so glad I did.

Tabloid is Errol Morris’ most recent documentary and it follows the life of extraorindaryJoyce McKinney: beauty queen, fiancée, kidnapper, escort, dog-lover, stalker, and seemingly misunderstood prey of the British tabloids. Throughout Tabloid Morris once again exhibits his masterful use of documentary cinema as he draws out the story from his subjects whilst simultaneously drawing the viewer in.

In the early 1970s, McKinney had just been crowned Miss Wyoming World and began dating Kirk Anderson, whom she eventually became engaged to. Yet Anderson was sent to England as a Mormon missionary by his church, something that McKinney believed was against his will. Thus with the help of childhood friend Keith May she chartered a private plane to England to find him, rescue him, and bring him back home. Reports differ as to whether Anderson went willingly with McKinney or was forced at gunpoint into her car- but what happened afterwards played out on newspaper headlines across the world, causing ‘The Case of the Manacled Mormon’ to become hot gossip.

According to newspapers, McKinney had kidnapped Anderson, taken him to a country town and shackled him to a bed until he was able to escape and call for help. Bondage had been involved. People began questioning where she had acquired the funds for her botched rescue-attempt. Eventually McKinney tricked British customs officers and illegal flew back to America where the drama did not end.

I suggest you watch Morris’ television show First Person in order to get a sense of Morris’ style, and to also hear some amazing stories (personally I recommend ‘The Killer Inside Me’ and ‘The Little Gray Man’- both available on youtube).

Tabloid is showing at The Shadow Electric (outdoor cinema in Melbourne), this Thursday 2nd February. Doors open at 6pm.

The Triangle Wars: St Kilda VS Mall

7 Nov


The thing about documentary-making is, it is rife with bias. It has to be. And sometimes, as with Rosie Jones’ The Triangle Wars, the truth slips over your agenda like a lycra glove: it fits whatever you need it to, as long as you have the footage.

This is the story of the proposed super-mall development in the St Kilda triangle. For this reason alone, even Sydneysiders or (question mark?) Adelaiders are going to feel a distinct lack of connection with this offering, but they would find it interesting. This is a film for Melbournites who are interested in the physical heritage of their city, and hippies who hate malls. Don’t get me wrong: Malls suck, but if you’ve ever been to St Kilda on Saturday night, so does it.

Unchain St Kilda is an organisation started in 2007 by a series of St Kilda stereotypes: A French Photographer, the needle-thin and artily-austere mother of a NIDA graduate, University professors, Artists and Restaurateurs, all wearing designer spectacles and those clothes they sell in Toorak for a million billion dollars made to look like rags. Understandably, they don’t want the St Kilda esplanade blocked by 8 Cinemas, 5 levels of parking and 180 terribly plebby shops. They aim to get the Council not to approve it by any means necessary, up to and including getting elected into said Council. Corruption is on the wind with an asinine developer sliding dusty twenties into senior-management’s back pocket and walking away whistling.

Steve is an evil developer. You can tell. You can tell by his teeth, which could have been scripted. You can tell by the many shots of him in public meetings leaning against a wall and having an awful lot of nefarious facial expressions. You can tell by his flippancy, his arrogance, and what seems to be an incredible cultural stupidity. Sometimes he is right: a public action group does not necessarily reflect the will of the public. Except that Unchain St Kilda DOES. It is hard to say if Mr Milligan knew he’d come off as such a stereotype of the goonish, insensitive and blinkered iniquitous tycoon.

Rosie Jones knows her tropes, and she’s pretty lucky to have found them all wandering around Acland Street in berets waving placards. Former Mayor Janet Cribbes comes off pretty damned pernicious as well. Slow-motion candid shots of a person laughing at a party always look evil if juxtaposed with something bad happening: it’s a scientific fact. Former Councillor Dick Gross (honestly) is a garish clown with a desperate need for attention. This makes him come off as ridiculous, comic relief even. The silent former CEO of the Port Phillip Council David Spokes also comes off incredibly malignant and without uttering a word or making a single facial expression. This is either sublime manipulation of three years worth of footage or the former Council were actually a pack of utter bastards (with the exception of Judith Klepner who opposed the development).

Sad abuses of power aside, this film is a heartening display of the grass-roots democratic process: if the people really really REALLY don’t want it, you can’t force them to have it. Serge Thomann, Anna Griffiths, and their ilk struck a rather splendid blow to slow the homogenising of Melbourne, and for that I can only applaud them.

-Lizzie Lamb

Everyday Wonder: The Humanist Vision of Nicolas Philibert

25 Oct

And now, on to Nicolas Philbert. The celebrated French documentarian has spent his life looking at the intimate, philosophical, tragic and humorous aspects of everyday life and situations. Fascinated with how we communicate, Philibert often looks at the interaction between different groups: teacher and students in Etre e Avoir (2002), chimpanzee and human in Nenette (2010) and the hearing and the deaf in (1992).

La Ville Louvre (1990) was made over five months and looks at the inner-workings of the Louvre museum and gallery in Paris. After the renovations the Louvre went through in the 1980s Philibert’s documentary helped to introduce audiences to the museum. Running at 85 minutes the documentary covers a day at the museum for those who work behind the scenes; those who hoist paintings onto walls, the cleaners polishing glass, tour guides taking visitors around, historians and conservationists restoring paintings- everything is documented.

Etre e Avoir is Philibert’s most well-played documentary (and a still from the film serves as the wallpaper for the Melbourne Cinematheque’s website). Taking place in a single-room school in central France, Philibert looks at the teacher/student relationship and slowly comes to know each of the individuals in the class as the school year continues. Whilst shot within the classroom the outside world is also shown, and it is a place where not all of the children feel comfortable, accepted, or wanted, allowing Philibert to further present the classroom as a tranquil area. The extremely calm and patient teacher is Georges Lopez (who later came to take unsuccessful legal action over the film claiming that he and the parents had been mislead over the nature of the documentary) who only once raises his voice to his young charges. Following on his tradition with looking at how we communicate, Philibert presents the viewer with a charmingly shot film.

SFF 2011: Hail: Tenderness Brutality Reality

13 Jun

By Lukey Folkard, Sydney Film Festival Correspondent

I may have found my favourite Australian feature of the year and certainly the Sydney Film Festival.

Hail is a semi-fictional narrative that chronicles Daniel P Jones’ attempt to return to society and his long time girlfriend (and real life partner) Leanne Letch after his most recent stint in gaol.  A hard life and years of drug excess have left him unable to be accepted by, or adjust to, a world he has never known. Losing control seems inevitable.

Superior to the current trend of gratuitous and morally ambiguous Australian crime dramas being peddled by the networks, Hail borders on docu-drama blending both fact and fantasy from Danny’s life. This is the real thing, for the most part. It’s told by real people, who have had these actual experiences, replaying themselves for the camera.

Amiel Courtin-Wilson (Chasing Buddha, Bastardy) has known Daniel for six years since his actual release from prison and they have previously collaborated on the harrowing and award nominated documentary, Cicada.

Visually, Hail is a very harsh movie and not for the squeamish – it slots somewhere in between Wake In Fright and Candy, with nightmarish montages and a jarring, yet beautiful soundtrack. Tenderness and brutality run all the way through, realised by an amazing first-time cast.


Hail plays again on Mon June 13 at 12:45pm. Also head to Metro Screen on June 14 at 10am to see director, Amiel Court-Wilson, and producer, Michael Cody, discuss the leap from making shorts to features in the Australian film industry.

SFF 2011: HOW TO START YOUR OWN COUNTRY: The Hutt River Royals Hit The Dendy CQ

10 Jun


By Lukey Folkard, Sydney Film Festival Correpondent

His Dubious Royal Highness, Prince Leonard of Hutt River Province, graced the Sydney Film Festival red carpet on Thursday with Princess Shirley in tow for the opening of How To Start Your Own Country.

Australia’s only royal family and once controversial seceders have gotten quite a lot older since founding the Hutt River Province and now they’re subjects of one of the first films about micronations.

This Canadian documentary by Green Porn director Jody Shapiro, takes the viewer to five of the world’s more famous micronations. Inspired by Erwin Strauss’ 1985 book of the same name, what starts as a quirky narrative on eccentric, island owners soon develops into a meditation on the legitimacy of nationhood and/or the illusion of it.

From silly Seeland and Molossia Republic to the bigger, serious, questions of Palestine and the UN,
if you haven’t heard of micronations before this will be a good starting point. Unfortunately the whole piece felt a bit ‘lite’ for me, having already an interest in the subject. It’s well edited and features great music and cinematography, but lacks the humour and originality of Danny Wallace’s 2005 BBC doco series of, again, the same name. Hmmm… Jody Shapiro had originally approached BBC to produce.

Either way, Prince Lenny went home to his kingdom happy. A short, enjoyable, bit of edutainment at only 72 minutes.


Film review: Cane Toads: The Conquest (3D)

26 Apr

By Chris Harrigan

Cane Toads: the Conquest bills itself as a ‘documentary horror film’, a made-up portmanteau of a genre that would take the cake for cinema’s most insipid over-categorization had Birdemic director James Nguyen not already coined the genre ‘romantic thriller’, and then modestly ascribed himself as the Master thereof. But while Cane Toads certainly manages to document the spread of the toad across Australia’s top section, the promised horror is a little harder to find. The image of the toad itself is certainly unpleasant, but as fairly docile creatures that seem to just sit around, watching them for 90 minutes feels a lot more banal than it does horrifying. Continue reading