Tag Archives: documentary

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’


MIFF 2013: Valentine Road

5 Aug

Marta Cunningham, USA, 2013


By Patricia Tobin

Eighth-grader Larry King was an openly gay biracial teenager, who often cross-dressed when attending high school in Oxnard, California. A few days before Valentine’s Day, King walked into the middle of a basketball game, and asked his classmate, Brandon McInerney, to be his Valentine in front of his friends. On the morning of 12 February 2008, during a class session at a computer laboratory, McInerney shot King twice in the back of the head.

Marta Cunningham makes her directorial debut in Valentine Road, a documentary that unravels this American tragedy. Cunningham reveals the circumstances behind both King’s and McInerney’s upbringing, followed by the aftermath of this shocking crime. King came from a troubled past, who suffered under abusive foster parents to eventually, being placed with a caring family. McInerney, too, had a difficult childhood, as both his parents were reckless, drug addicts. McInerney had also befriended white supremacists, and was a suspected neo-Nazi as well.

Valentine Road also highlights the flawed system that surrounds this case. For example, several distressed classmates, who witnessed King’s brutal murder in the computer laboratory, were immediately taken away. Instead of attending to their needs, these teenage students were confined to a room and were forced to watch — of all movies — Jaws. The judicial system gets put into question too, as McInerney’s trial was repeatedly delayed and mistrial-ed. The strikingly polarised views of members from the Oxnard community shows that a much more complex, but disordered societal structure is at work.

One of the film’s most appalling moments concerns a juror who stated that McInerney’s action was a result from him “solving a problem”. In fact, many members of the jury appeared on an American talk show, and showed off their “Save Brandon” wristbands. McInerney’s teenage girlfriend also continues to stand by his side, following McInerney’s belief that “white people are now a minority”. The widespread sympathy for McInerney even extended to one of his defence attorneys, who tattooed “Save Brandon” on her wrist. In a surreal moment, she cried and declared her love for her client, citing that she “can’t explain it”, but that McInerney was “one of my favourite people on the planet”.

This resounding, bizarre support for McInerney is highly disturbing and hard to digest. It is easy to see where Cunningham’s sympathies lie, as the blatant intolerance and discrimination provokes both frustration and grief.  As teachers and psychologists openly disregard King’s plight, it is unfortunate that a modern American society still privileges the straight, white male. Valentine Road paints a horrifying case of victim-blaming, as one detective states, “They made a murder victim the cause of his own murder”.

Valentine Road is timely in the wake of racial issues sparked from the verdict of the Trayvon Martin shooting and America’s relentless gun-law debate. By interweaving personal testimonies and news reports, Cunningham illustrates the far-reaching consequences of this senseless killing and in particular, the repercussions on Oxnard’s own LGBT youth. Cheesy pop songs aside, Valentine Road aptly calls for a need for tolerance and justice for the often neglected communities in today’s world.


Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film athttp://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

MIFF 2013: The Act of Killing

1 Aug

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2013)


By Patricia Tobin

The Act of Killing is not meant to be an enjoyable film. It defies any notion of the conventional good-versus-evil dichotomy and instead, director Joshua Oppenheimer poses a few questions: why does man commit acts of evil? What sort of repercussions are formed from such crimes?

In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military and anti-Communist resentment was on the rise. Gangsters Anwar Congo and his friends were employed by the army to execute suspected Chinese communists in North Sumatra. Today, Anwar is a rich and powerful man in his community. He is now a rather dapper aging man, often seen in bright, well-dressed suits. He has close ties to heavyweight political leaders and is seen as a role model for young paramilitaries. Anwar and his associates have not been punished for their crimes against humanity. They appear on glossy talk shows and are cheered on at political rallies; their community wholeheartedly celebrates their “victory” against communists.

As a response to their incessant boasting about their past murders, Oppenheimer gives Anwar and his friends an opportunity to reenact their experience of the killings. However, as with every good documentary, The Act of Killing neither sympathises with these killers, nor does it paint them in a bad light. These killers are seen as very human characters, yet their responses to their past deeds are shocking, gross and offensive. There is hardly any gory or graphic imagery shown on screen, but their cavalier stance towards their past crimes is appalling. When the group is reminiscing about the past, they discuss the best age to rape women ¡ªfourteen. “Sedap!” one member happily cries, meaning “delicious”. It is this sort of awfully sickening behaviour that is hard to digest, but the film’s uncompromising position forces the audience to make their own opinions about these mass murderers.

The retellings by Anwar and his friends present an attempt by The Act of Killing to understand their openness towards their acts of genocide. It gives a deeper insight into the minds of the killers, and in particular, Anwar’s own personal feelings towards his past deeds. From the gun-touting cowboy John Wayne to the slick dance moves of Elvis Presley, these killers are great admirers of Hollywood cinema. They recreate an interrogation scene by drawing from Al Pacino and mafia mobsters, and surreal dream sequences are akin to lavish musicals. The fictional scenes are interwoven with Anwar’s narrative and his reactions from watching the finished products. The deliberate blurring of the lines between fiction and reality micmic Anwar’s own failure in his endeavour to escape the past. The film gradually reveals his vulnerability, hypocrisy and eventually, his sheer inability to properly grasp the true dreadfulness of the crimes he has committed.

The Act of Killing occasionally presents a bleak sense of humour, giving the audience some breathing space between all the talk about devious and dreadful crimes. In one scene, a politician invites the camera crew into his home. Flaunting his wealth, he brags about his massive collection of crystals. “Limited edition…they are all very limited,” he says. His kitsch crystal collection, ranging from a Tinkerbell figurine to a model of a duck, is all hideously gaudy. His flamboyance becomes rather humorous, as he also gleefully shows off a latex bass singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.

Stretching at a hundred and sixty minutes, The Act of Killing‘s steady pace is not meant for an easy viewing. The documentary also unveils that the killers’ pride is a result of a much more complex problem that is deeply rooted in a corrupt society. Political leaders freely extort money from Chinese shopkeepers, editors of newspapers publish one-sided reports and votes for parliamentary election are all rigged. The North Sumatra community is so entrenched in immorality, and any unscrupulous behaviour appears to be the norm. The Act of Killing is a very powerful film, and presents the terrifying truth that murderers are mere products of a debased society.

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film at http://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

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 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

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.


MIFF review 2010: Catfish

6 Aug

Photoshop skills

They didn’t fool me. They just told me stuff I didn’t care to question”

I didn’t expect to like Catfish. I certainly didn’t expect to admire it so vigourously. It’s a documentary that starts with a cute premise. After Yaniv, a handsome New York hipster, has a photo of his published in the new York times he receives a paintings reproduction from Abby, a young girl in Michigan. An unorthodox correspondence begins: he emails photos to her, she sends him back a painting. Soon Yaniv makes contact with Abby’s whole family, and he is particularly drawn to her older sister, Megan. With 2 friends in tow, the whole process of virtual connection and a growing infatuation, is documented with care and intimacy.

The thrilling final half follows the group as they make the massive journey from NY to Michigan. The difficult confrontation is handled with a care and dignity we rarely see in tabloid accounts of the dangers of the Internet and anonymity. It’s a documentary with a lot of heart, and the sensitivity shown by the 3 boys, while full of preppy bravado, is very endearing

Still, A big question mark hangs over Catfish. It’s just too good; too perfect. Is it all real? is it all fake? If it’s the former Yaniv and his entourage hit doco gold , and they executed it marvellously. If it’s the latter, it’s still a brilliantly entertaining and insightful synthesis of some pertinent subject matter.


MIFF 2010 Review: The Oath

30 Jul

A slow but steady burner of a documentary that gently hooks you in and keeps you captivated for it’s 90-odd minute running time. A rare insight into the operations of one of the most secretive and but discussed organisations in the world, al Qaeda.

The central subject of the  doco is Abu Jandal, a body guard for Osama bin Laden for 3 years who has partly turned his back on the group, the result of which is that he is a complex and conflicted man. To many, Jandal has betrayed his oath to the organisation. He lives perilous life as an outcast, struggling to support his son by driving taxis in Yemen, while mentoring a group of young men.

An interconnected line of inquiry follows the plight of his brother, imprisoned in guantanamo for 7 years and at the centre of the historical Hamdan v Rumsfeld case. Director and producer Laura Poitras has achieved a remarkable feat with an illuminating documentary which blows some of the clouds away from a very murky subject.

Beautifully shot and full of complex ambiguity, The Oath is highly worth a viewing and an interesting companion peice to Four Lionsalso showing this year.



Last screening:

8097 THE OATH (97 min) Wed 4 Aug 7:00 PM Kino Cinemas

MIFF 2010 review: Bananas!*

27 Jul


Bananas!* follows the battle of a Latino lawyer from California as he attempts to help Nicaraguan banana farmers sue a Dole Food. Widespread sterility and other health problems exist in plantation workers, and it appears clear that Dole knew about. While this is a worthy documentary, with good pacing, it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers got beneath the surface of what the were exploring. The ending indicates there was a lot more going on that they, intentionally or not, were catching. Still, it is a good journey and highly recommended for anyone studying law or interested in social justice ( the two sometimes being compatible). Does what a courtroom doco should do, with a few nail-biting moments, but could have done a lot more and is ultimately confusing and unsatisfying. But that’s law for you.


Bananas!* Website

MIFF 2010 review: The Inventions of Dr Nakamats

26 Jul

Hairdresser: I hope they only show the good bits.
Nakamat: No these people leave all those out. they only show the weird bits.

How right he is -there is no shortage of weird bits in this outstanding doco. A pitch perfect, and hilarious, profile of a prolific Japanese inventor and full time eccentric. It captures what he is brilliantly, but not why he is – very little of his past is discussed, all we know is that he loves his mother and invented a soy sauce pressure pump for her. The director hints at a loneliness in Nakamat’s life, but this is never explicitly drawn out. His awkward interactions with his family and harshness with strangers (the non-adoring variety) indicates that he deals better with objects than people. Despite his outrageous streaks of ego, Nakamat is a charming and very amusing man; there was constant laughter in the crowd, and it was mostly with affection. Stylishly put together and very entertaining, but with a 60 minute running time it leaves you wanting more.