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Becoming Cousteau

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

In the beguiling Nat Geo documentary Becoming Cousteau, famed French sea captain (and man responsible for the creation of twee) Jacques Cousteau becomes an interloper within his own story.

Expanding on several decades worth of Cousteau’s seafaring antics, a visual feast captured through archival footage in all its celluloid glory, director Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?) constructs a potent exploration of an individual reckoning with self-regret.

You’d be hard-pressed defining Cousteau’s career with fewer than three monikers: activist, futurist, filmmaker (just don’t say documentarian). Through Garbus’ deft gaze, we witness Cousteau from his younger days journeying the oceans, the imagery of which belongs on a Wes Anderson mood board, to his later life operating as an environmental activist working to undo the damage brought on by his thalassic adventures.

What begins as bright and summery nautical hijinks, brimming with all the buzzing energy of a soft-drink commercial, transforms into Cousteau’s ideological reawakening. Garbus applies inviting visuals to express the jubilance of a young and intrigued Cousteau. Only when Cousteau’s immense affinity for the ocean is established does the romanticism stop, with Garbus, impeccably, setting-up a mercurial shift in tone that grapples with the grim consequences brought on by Cousteau’s unbridled curiosity.

There is a level of self-awareness in Garbus’ direction that smartly dovetails away from defining Cousteau as a model human being. His shortcomings, depicted through his familial absenteeism and the impact his popularity had on the ocean by way of pollution and global warming, are on full display, with the film ardently denoting the seriousness of climate change and the ongoing conservational inaction from big business and politicians.

Alas, there is more to take from Becoming Cousteau outside of its environmental evangelism. It isn’t so much about ignoring the mistakes of the past, but possessing the willingness to evolve from them.

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The Brilliant Terror

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Horror, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

Non-horror fans, and genre snobs in general, will tend to look at movies like The Stall (2013) or I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday (2017) and opine “a real sicko must have made that” or perhaps ask “who the hell is that movie for?” For director/special effects creator Mike Lombardo – one of the main subjects of agreeable documentary The Brilliant Terror – this is par for the course. In fact, Mike fairly regularly gets death threats for making movies that assorted online wingnuts don’t care for and feel their dissatisfaction is best expressed through promises of graphic violence. Lombardo tries to shrug this off with dogged affability. Hey, it’s a living.

The Brilliant Terror focuses on the creative efforts of the so-called “grassroots horror” movement. These are films made so cheaply that a “shoestring budget” would be a considerable step up. Frank Henenlotter’s conjoined camp classic Basket Case (1982) looks like The Lord of the Rings trilogy compared to most of these flicks. And yet, the creators themselves are almost uniformly thoughtful, passionate and genuine types who simply express themselves through a rather niche form of creative expression. After all, who else but someone truly committed to their craft is going to lie in an ocean of (fake) blood on a toilet floor in the wee hours, shooting a short about a Lovecraftian incursion into a toilet stall? You don’t see Paul Thomas Anderson getting up to that kind of gear!

It’s not that the movies in The Brilliant Terror look particularly good, mind you, but that’s beside the point. This is a documentary in line with the likes of American Movie (1999), with some wry observations and hilarious anecdotes. There’s stuff about Gitchy (2009), a short about a morbidly obese clown who tickles people to death. “It’s huge in the tickle fetish community” director Thomas Norman assures us. There’s a nice cameo from horror author Brian Keene, getting slathered in blood and gore for Fast Zombies Suck (2015) and the welcome revelation that instant coffee makes for “good coagulated blood!”

The Brilliant Terror is a niche proposition. Well, perhaps a niche inside of another niche is a more apt description. However, it’s an appealing enough portrait of people who love horror enough to express it no matter what constraints – budgetary, personal, professional – stand in their way and that kind of passion always makes for an enjoyable watch.

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Our African Roots

Australian, Documentary, Home, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

In the documentary, Our African Roots, author/journalist Santilla Chingaipe brings to life the stories and details of Australia’s Black African history. While everyone knows of the First Fleet, they may not be aware that there were at least ten men of African descent who arrived onboard in 1788.

This documentary, part of SBS’s Australia Uncovered series, highlights just a few people in our history who were of African heritage and how they have contributed to Australia’s history.

John Randall, John Caesar, William Blue, John Joseph, Fanny Finch, William Davies, and Ernest Toshack are a few people from Australia’s history who helped shape the country today. They are all of African descent and while many of us would not have heard the names before, this documentary highlights the struggles and accomplishments which they achieved in our history.

John Randall’s ability to hunt with a rifle set him apart from the local indigenous community. He could then be viewed as someone coming from being oppressed to being an oppressor. Slave and convict labour was very profitable, but in Australia, almost immediately, convicts began to resist. Our first convict bush ranger wasn’t Ned Kelly but John Caesar in 1789, but he wasn’t as highly celebrated as Ned Kelly simply because of his race. William (Billy) Blue is credited with creating the first licensed ferry service. Governor Lachlan Macquarie was friends with Billy and saw him as the ideal type of reformed convict.

The Eureka Rebellion in 1854 is a well-known event in Australian history. John Joseph allegedly fatally wounded the British officer who was leading the offensive. He was arrested and charged for high treason in Victoria’s Supreme Court but found not guilty. Fanny Finch was a single mother of four and the first known woman to cast a vote in an Australian election, on the 22nd of January, 1856. She was able to do this due to a loophole in the suffrage law which stated that any rate paying person was able to vote. The loophole was closed in 1865 when “persons” became “men”.

In 1901, the Immigration Restriction Act passed into law, which marked the beginning of the White Australia policy. At a 1916 conscription rally, Billy Hughes says to go and fight for White Australia in France. While the enlistment laws stated that the person must be of European descent, because of high losses at war, race was ignored when people were enlisting. This is where William Davies goes to fight in Gallipoli. Ernest Toshack was a cricketer during 1946-48 and was part of the ‘Invincible’ team with Don Bradman, nicknamed “The Black Prince”.

Due to the White Australia policy, most of our non-white history is not shared with Australians, and this documentary keeps these historical figures alive in an entertaining way, with the potential by-product of allowing us to escape our racial past and to progress towards a truer multicultural society with a shared history for all.

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Framing a Crisis – The Children in the Pictures

“Social media applications such as Tiktok, Facebook and Instagram are creating fertile ground for predators, but they’re also creating these theatres, where children who are engaging in risk-taking behaviour, feel that they’re safe because of the anonymity they have from behind their phone…”
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Eva Orner: Burning Up and Optimistic

When Oscar, AACTA and Emmy award-winning filmmaker Eva Orner returned home to Melbourne for Christmas 2019, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing and immediately knew she needed to do something.
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The Children in the Pictures

Australian, Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

As one of the police officers in this difficult-topic documentary says, child exploitation footage is not pornography in the sense of erotic adult entertainment, it is the photographic evidence at the scene of a crime. In that sense, it is closer to snuff movies although the death on screen is the death of innocence.

This harrowing work from filmmakers Akhim Dev and Simon Nasht takes us into the police work that is trying to apprehend child exploitation producers. The cops are sensible people with a strong sense of civic duty. All the way, though, we are thinking ‘rather them than me’ as they have to, in the course of their working day, repeatedly view such horrendous footage.

Sometimes, they let their poker face slip and confess to the sheer psychological wear and tear of being confronted with this evil daily. Mostly though, they muster some composure and turn it into professionalism and use their anger to fuel their endeavours. As the one female member of the team says, “if one child is saved, that alone justifies what we do”.

As noted, the film focuses on the work of a specialist unit (based in Brisbane), but the film cannot go into too much detail. For example, they use clues in the seized footage to try and trace country or city of origin, but they don’t tell us exactly what their methods are for fear of giving perpetrators an advantage.

The most problematic aspect of their work is that they have to not only infiltrate the online encrypted sharing sites, but actually continue to run them for a while to draw users in and then bust them. The implications of this tactical decision, and the agonising moral dilemma it raises, are discussed at length.

The doco is by nature a bit one note. It can’t show any footage or advertise the sites they are prosecuting and so basically all the filmmakers are left with is the talking heads. The film is quite short (there was a longer version submitted to the OFLC, which earned the film an MA rating…) but that is plenty of time to absorb what is going on.

The film also talks about how technology itself has made it easier to catch some offenders but has massively facilitated the ease of sharing the vile images. As fast as they can close them down, new ones open up. One of these recent sites seems to have over two million subscribers, which suggests that it is growing in ‘popularity’. At this point, you just want to stop watching and go and have a shower. Still, the film is measured and has significant points to make. It is also true that such things cannot be allowed to be swept under the rug, and ignoring the phenomenon won’t make it go away.

Check here for screening details.

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Making Sexual Health Sexy

Alex Liu hopes to obliterate the stigma surrounding sexual health and inspire people to talk more openly about sex through his new documentary.
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A Sexplanation

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Alex Liu’s A Sexplanation is a documentary about a topic that most of us can not define or are comfortable talking about, yet it is something we encounter every day. A Sexplanation is a documentary about sex. It is a film that questions everything we think we know about the subject and aims to get us to talk more openly about it.

Liu’s film explores how we learned about sex, what we were taught about sex, and what we don’t know about sex. It is often awkward and uncomfortable and that is exactly the point; sex is something that each of us encounters so often and is such an important part of our lives, and to not be comfortable with talking about it to others can be potentially damaging to our health.

Liu introduces this topic through his own personal struggles with sex and sexuality, which left him on the brink of suicide. And because he is so open about his own experiences, he manages to break down some of these awkward and uncomfortable barriers we put up when dealing with these conversations.

We see scenes where Liu gets personal with his family about sex, asking them how their sex life is, and whether they knew he was masturbating as a child. It is uncomfortable to watch, and you spend the whole time awaiting something terrible, except it never comes. We are left wondering if it really is that simple and are forced to question whether we have been open enough with our loved ones about sex.

Liu directs, produces, co-writes, co-edits and is essentially the main character of the film. His awkward responses and genuine nervousness ground the film and give us someone to follow. He also brings a much-needed comedic presence to the screen, inviting us to participate in the conversation by making it light-hearted. Without him, the film would be far too uncomfortable to watch.

Balanced with Liu’s personal stories are an array of different perspectives from experts, plus Liu’s friends, random people in the street, a politician and even a priest. The film does well in providing lots of different perspectives and not judging them or having an agenda. We can see the film’s primary aim is to educate people about these issues, rather than tell them what to think.

In this way, we are forced to come to our own decisions and to consider these topics deeply, which is something most of us haven’t done before.

The camerawork is personal, and makes the audience feel like we are a part of these conversations. The film is also complimented by a small amount of animation which helps illustrate emotions and the things that people are saying.

A Sexplanation is a documentary that successfully engages its viewer in conversations about porn, sex, masturbating and sexuality in a way that is entertaining and enlightening.

More about A Sexplanation here.

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