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Unsung Auteurs: Cherie Nowlan

FilmInk salutes the work of directors who have never truly received the credit that they deserve. In this installment: Australian filmmaker Cherie Nowlan, who helmed Thank God He Met Lizzie and Clubland.
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Kriv Stenders: Crafting Boy From The Bush

Prolific director Kriv Stenders (Red Dog, Slim & I) takes a refreshingly unusual approach with his Lee Kernaghan concert biography film Boy From The Bush, which will premiere at The Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival.
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Aaron Wilson: Chasing Little Tornadoes

The local filmmaker’s second film in his PTSD trilogy – starring Mark Leonard Winter, Robert Menzies and Silvia Colloca, with a crucial script contribution from Chrisos Tsiolkas – will premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
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Keep Stepping

Australian, Australian New Wave Filmmakers, Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, Sydney Film Festival, This Week Leave a Comment

Created by Australian enterprise Biscuit Tin Productions, Keep Stepping is an explosive, fascinating look at street dance and its place in local culture.

Luke Cornish is the writer, director and cinematographer while Philip Busfield produces.

The company had previous success with short films, notably the much awarded Alone Out Here. The film centred on gay farmer Jon Wright who was doing his best to live a meaningful life, refining the DNA of his cattle to reduce methane emissions.

Keep Stepping was filmed over 7 years in Sydney. The core story is street dancing, especially as showcased by Destructive Steps, a registered charity that has built the largest centre of street dance in Australia, hosting dancers from all over the world at its annual competition.

It’s the 12-week lead up to that competition that is the spine of the narrative, and Cornish has focused on two female dancers as his main characters. Patrix is a young Romanian immigrant who practices her B Girl style of hip hop with a fierce passion and determination. The other dancer is the extraordinary Gabi. With her mix of Chilean and Islander heritage, she mesmerises with her own unique popping style, competing in the Ladies Night categories.

What makes the Destructive Steps street dance phenomenon compelling is how it becomes a forum for multicultural expression at the most raw and immediate level. It’s up with elite athletics for training.

Forty hours a week for three to four years, says Destructive Steps founder Jo. That’s what it takes.

Most dancers can’t afford that sort of time. The reality is, most live on the fringe and in a low socio-economic environment and have to work jobs and hustle to get any time for practice. One dancer points out that this is why Australia isn’t top of the game in spite of hosting the world-famous competition.

Cornish has edited his documentary with fine style, intercutting dance scenes with candid interviews and graphic aerial shots panning across Sydney’s urban centre.

The dancers are a fabulous melting pot of race and culture, the essence of diversity and street cool.

The narrative build-up to the competition is an effective structure to keep us invested in the anticipation, as we get to know more about the two girls and the street dance movement.

Of course, it’s in the dance itself where the magic happens. We see the girls practice, Patrix with her gruelling repetition of windmills, Gabi and her idiosyncratic fluid form popping, but nothing quite prepares you for the explosion of the competition itself.

The stage is in the middle of a packed venue and the elimination heats begin, eight selected from 60 entrants in the Ladies Night category, eight from 40 in the B Girl set.

The next rounds are pairings where dancers go head-to-head. It’s a war dance, a face off, and the most raw, cathartic style of dance you’ll ever see.

As Patrix explains, you don’t know what music you’re going to get or which competitor you’ll pair with. At this stage, it’s pure freestyle, as competitors draw on their years of practice to leave nothing behind on the dance floor.

And it goes deeper than that. Perhaps the greatest strength of the documentary that Cornish captures is the expression of culture.

“Out there in the world, you can’t say anything,” one contestant explains. “Here, I can say what I want.”

They say it through their bodies, gestures, in emotion-fuelled sets that bring street and older dance forms in extraordinary fusion. It’s deeper than dance, it’s culture through individual expression.

David LaChapelle’s 2005 documentary Rize, was one of the first films to reveal how Hip Hop dancers were unconsciously channelling movements and gestures from pre-slavery ancestors. This theme of art as politics is embedded in street dance. And when Gabi, known as ‘The Queen’ brings Pacific Islander lyricism to her popping style in Keep Stepping, she transcends marginalisation in a mesmerising plea for climate change.

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All Films Great and Small

We speak with writer/director/editor Jordan Giusti (and co-producer Chris Luscri), about his short film Reptile, which won the Best Emerging Filmmaker Award at the Melbourne International Film Festival.