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Trailer: The Sparks Brothers

They've written the songs in Leos Carax' upcoming Annette, and have had the sort of rollercoaster musical career since the '70s that ensures cult status, and now Edgar Wright has made a documentary about them... meet Sparks.
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My Name is Gulpilil

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

In the opening shot, we watch who we presume to be the titular Gulpilil walk down a featureless dirt road — his beanpole legs carrying him away from us at an entrancingly slow pace… Then suddenly, out from behind him, and to our mystification, emerges an emu who walks at a similarly leisurely cadence to Gulpilil, and whose mode of transport also happens to be a pair of pencil-thin legs. It is an image of nature’s inevitable divergence from the path of man, but one which also reminds us of their inseverable bond — a bond never more profound and complex than in the life of Gulpilil.

In 1969, David Gulpilil’s hunting skills, tribal dancing and undeniable charisma caught the eye of British director Nicolas Roeg, who was scouting a lead actor for his upcoming film, Walkabout. Following Roeg’s masterful capture of said charisma, and the film’s consequent success, Gulpilil rose to international stardom. From that point on, he was a man of two realms: the western and the tribal.

Here, director Molly Reynolds (Another Country) shows us the final chapter of Gulpilil’s life: he has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and the doctors’ forecasts are far from promising. As made evident from the aforementioned opening, Reynolds (like us, like Roeg, and like so many subsequent casting agents) appreciates the magnetic virtue of her subject. On countless occasions, she gifts us with these unhurried and intimate holds on Gulpilil’s face, whose indecipherable expression we never tire of.

As the film wades through the gloomy stints at sterile hospital wards, we concurrently skate through his life, from his rapid rise to celebrity, through his steady career, and into his twilight years when he succumbed to a number of vices. In this way, the film magically works as one might expect a mind would when confronted with its own mortality, reminiscing on the happier years, while ruing over the irretrievable ones. This is all tied together with a masterful sound design, which is able to melt these seemingly infusible phases together, altogether forming a rich yet endlessly complex character.

All throughout, Reynolds exhibits a noble devotion to the truth, just as a true documentarian should, as the film always shows the necessary restraint for such a modest farewell as this: Gulpilil’s fight against cancer isn’t dramatised, his past misdemeanours are neither defended nor absolved, and his enfeebled body and mind is presented with little subterfuge — whittled by its vices.

While the film centres around a man who throughout his adult life has been torn between two worlds, the story is more so focused on his preparations to depart from both realms — and to do so with redeeming humility.

My Name is Gulpilil is produced by Molly Reynolds, David Gulpilil, Rolf De Heer and Peter Djigirr.

Photo by Miles Rowland


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This is Port Adelaide

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

A documentary about the tribalism and fervent passion evoked from supporting football teams, This Is Port Adelaide is an unabashed celebration of the club’s history on its 150th year of existence.

In a rich black-and-white tapestry, the film focuses primarily on the fans’ hell-bent enthusiasm to support the club. One sequence early on transitions from grainy archival footage of fans rushing out of trains and packing the stands, to supporters in the modern day following the same ritual.

This enduring loyalty is encapsulated in the numerous anecdotes and locations that typify the sacred rituals ingrained within the club, and its reverence for its fans. One gentleman describes his mother’s mood oscillating when he was a child; “if Port Adelaide lost, we probably didn’t get dinner”, while others have entire rooms dedicated in their house to Port Adelaide paraphernalia, showcasing his most treasured memorabilia from premiership eras.

The documentary narrows itself down to the club’s on-field performance in its 150th year, 2020. However, COVID inevitably meant many months went by without football, and when it returned, crowds were either non-existent or sparse, devastating fans who live for their club.

The documentary’s music video-like temporality intersperses highlights from matches with fan involvement, building momentum for something important to occur. However, when COVID brings the season to a screeching halt, the film’s lack of access to the club’s inner sanctum in what would be historical decisions during 2020, detracts from the significance of the 150th year itself. Having said that, interviews with AFL luminaries such as former commentator Bruce McAvaney, Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams, and former AFL CEO Ross Oakley, just to name a few, gives credence to the club’s cultural significance on the sporting landscape.

Nicole Miller’s nostalgic reminiscing illustrates the fans as the epicentre of the football club, while success, be it from grassroots level to the national competition, has been the binding strength of this Australian sporting behemoth.

More on This is Port Adelaide

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Rosemary’s Way

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

Rosemary Karuki dedicates her life to helping migrant women in Sydney’s local suburbs to access information that they need to assimilate into society, as well as providing emotional support.

Her tireless efforts and boundless empathy are celebrated in Ros Horin’s second feature documentary Rosemary’s Way, produced by Pat Fiske, which conveys Rosemary’s passion for “different women from different cultures coming together”. It ranges from organising events such as mountain walking and dance nights, to simply visiting them at home and developing strong friendships.

A fly-on-the-wall atmosphere captures Rosemary’s conversations with her ‘clients’, as she encourages them to join a Cultural Exchange Program, whereby migrant women stay with an Australian host family to build their social skills and confidence. Rosemary’s efforts to organise this, as well as listening to the various struggles of the women she speaks with, provides structure to the film.

Not only this, the emotional interviews with migrant women, where Rosemary is described as a “healer”, “connecter” and “lifesaver”, creates a genuinely moving optimism about her impact.

However, much of the film lacks an arc or style to compliment Rosemary’s big-heartedness. Initially, it delves into Rosemary’s daily routine of meeting and calling with people, while also organising events and building her own knowledge. This frequent leap-frogging from scene to scene diminishes the emotional impact of the subject matter.

One striking example includes a roundtable discussion with migrant women who compare their harrowing histories. The documentary slows down to a heavy silence as the effects of domestic violence, arranged marriages, and fleeing warzones extract a sadness and empathy. However, it suddenly transitions to Rosemary’s ebullient grandson in voiceover: “it’s that time of year again…the African Women’s Dinner Dance!”, as Rosemary dances in the street with her grandson. This jolt of excitement feels incongruent with what was previously happening and takes away from the pain… perhaps deliberately.

Furthermore, the film’s festive moments are intercut with captions that offer a commentary to generate excitement. This cheap production quality becomes obtrusive and unnecessary when the palpable joy of women finally building confidence in a foreign country is effective on its own.

Although the documentary is unafraid to confront the harsh realities of the diaspora of migrant women, the tangible change in their happiness by engaging in group activities uplifts the film into its hopeful mood. This celebration of migrant women coming out of their shells sheds light on Rosemary’s positive work, but also motivates ordinary Australians to engage with the country’s multicultural heritage.

Fan-Force Films

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Mark Hartley: Ozploitation, Stone and Not Quite Hollywood

The revered local documentarian (Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films), features director (Patrick) and classic DVD extras producer (too many to mention) on his affiliation with Stone, and the re-release of both Stone and Not Quite Hollywood under Umbrella’s Ozploitation Classics label.
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The art of Incarceration

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

Aboriginal and Torres Strait people account for 3% of Australia’s general population and yet, make up 27% of the prison population. This is one of many sobering statistics brought to the foreground in The Art of Incarceration, a new documentary by filmmaker Alex Siddons.

As shocking as the facts on display are, the film is not simply something that can be dismissed as an act of virtue signalling by certain people on the political spectrum. Siddon is looking for solutions to address the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in prison.

Narrated by Jack Charles, a man who also had his brushes with the law, Art of Incarceration takes us on a potted history of atrocities that have occurred since white settlement began on this land. There is generational trauma that runs through modern-day Australia that’s impossible to ignore. The impact has seen a cultural dislocation for many Indigenous people. In Victoria, Siddon takes us to Fulham Correctional Centre, where Indigenous inmates have been given an opportunity to reaffirm their cultural identity and potentially find a way to start a path to a new life.

Led by Not-for-Profit organisation, The Torch, inmates have been partaking in an art program where they create works of art that provide spiritual healing and can be shared with members of the public. Siddon follows three people in particular: Troy, a former freelance photographer for ABC, now inside for violence; Christopher, who has been in and out of prison since the age of 12; and Robby, a former heavyweight champion who has been trying to turn his life around after four years in prison. For each of these men, art means something to them and offers a chance at redemption.

Siddon doesn’t focus on their crimes or why they did what they did. To do so would dehumanise them. They are shown to be people who have had opportunities or no opportunities. However, they are united by their culture, their heritage, their trauma and their addictions.

Outside of the trio, Siddon captures moments that wouldn’t be seen by a lot of Australians. When we talk of cultural disconnection and how it happens, there’s perhaps no better example in the film than when a young prisoner wanting to learn the didgeridoo, and the correctional centre not having the budget to provide, resolves to make one out of lolly sticks.

Siddon has put together a powerful film that highlights the atrocities found within the systems. However, he does so by showing that there are opportunities to help people that doesn’t involve turning a blind eye and throwing away the key.

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Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Architects as individuals are often something of an enigma. Theirs is one of the most ancient of human endeavours and has been in existence ever since we have built cities and designed our environment. Further, there is a potentially wonderful mix of art and science in their practice. And yet most people take buildings for granted and don’t think about how they were made. Consequently, few architects ever become notable enough to have a profile on the public consciousness. Finnish architect Alver Aalto might be one of the exceptions. The makers of this documentary certainly think so, and they take a pretty reverential stance towards him and his achievements.

Aalto had a long career spanning much of the twentieth century. He started to come to prominence in the 1930s when his clean lines and monumentalism fitted the emergent modernist aesthetic. He and his first wife garnered a reputation and soon they were able to attract bigger commissions. It was around the early 1930s and the emerging Nazi regime (so fond of BIG architecture of course) started to admire his designs. This could have provided the story with a bit of edge as it were, but the film largely glosses over the issues and the contradictions. To be clear, Aalto was perhaps flattered but he was no collaborator. In fact, it was during this time that he deliberately decided to diversify into furniture design. In that capacity his studio at the time made those iconic bentwood chairs that are so redolent of the modernist era in design.

The doco traces his whole life and how he became a world figure in his field. We learn of him teaching in Paris and other cities, and influencing American modernism as well. A hinge moment came for him when his first wife died. He then remarried another woman (who looked remarkably like his first wife) and this new spouse also proved an able creative collaborator.

The film is mostly static and relies on either still photos or short historic film clips. Half a dozen talking heads offer praise and commentary. Aalto is described as personally warm and humanist in his architectural approach, but the problem is, we don’t really get to know the man himself from this treatment. The fault is not that the film is hagiographic (which it is), it is more that we don’t sufficiently get to understand the man and his work in any depth. It could just as well be an illustrated lecture. Still, at least we have some of his rather splendid buildings to ponder.

Also screening at Melbourne’s ACMI

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A Moment in the Sun

Australian, Documentary, Festival, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

A Moment in the Sun tells a story of gritty determination about Dr. Ugur Ortabasi, an Australian immigrant from Turkey whose work in nuclear physics pioneered a solar-operated tandem bicycle. While his fame was ephemeral, his hard work and innovation for progressive climate action in the 1980s came at enormous personal cost in the face of a nation frenzied by coal-powered energy.

Ostensibly centred around the scientific engineering involved, the documentary effectively develops a dual purpose; firstly, as a gripping local sports story, but also as a poignant family reunion.

Ortabasi was described by his friends and colleagues as “crazy”, an “eccentric” and a “visionary”, yet even still, no one was prepared to witness the four-seater tandem bicycle win in the World Championship of Solar Vehicles in 1986. Ortabasi brought together volunteers from across the country who were both solar and fitness enthusiasts to participate with him in the race, with riders alternating shifts to ride the bike. This clunky bike could ride at incredible speeds on smooth roads, where the sun “was an extra rider”. However, on rough terrain, the affectionately named ‘Supernova’ would crash and require numerous repairs.

With a mix of archival footage, and animated vignettes, these moments offer an armchair ride to sporting triumph.

Pertinently though, the film is directed by the subject’s family, which instils a uniquely close insight into Ugur’s ferocious commitment to his craft. An emotional pique comes late whereby the bike has been gathering dust in a garage and is finally reunited with its creator after decades’ separation. Not only this, co-director Leslie Ortabasi (the subject’s son) provides personal accounts of his father’s resilience to overcome doubters during his own childhood. As Ugur founded the Solar Energy Research Centre at the University of Queensland, they both go back to the same location where a photo was taken of Ugur decades earlier opening the centre up, on what once was a dusty and abandoned land, to now a bustling metropolitan area.

Although Ugur was an unsung hero in advancing solar energy, and professionally ostracised, the tale of a single individual’s efforts to forge a clean energy future is both prescient and inspiring.