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The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

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

The original award-winning documentary, The Corporation, was released back in 2003 to rave reviews at Sundance and alike. Directed by Mark Archbar and Jennifer Abbot, and based on a book by Joel Bakan, it analysed the world’s biggest corporations using the same symptoms we use to identify human psychopaths – from reckless disregard of safety to continual lying to deceive for profit – only to uncover scarily similar tendencies.

17 years on, Bakan has stepped up into the director’s chair alongside Abbot to adapt his new book, modified for the current climate – this time focusing on the recent push for corporations to become more socially aware, and specifically whether or not we can trust them.

It’s impressive that they managed to create something so relevant given the times. When so much is happening around the world and film production has almost entirely ceased, the pair has somehow conjured up a fully visioned documentary that deals with real-time events like the COVID pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

What makes The New Corporation a little overwhelming to begin with, is that the over-arching theme of corporate power vs responsibility is so enormous. It feels like they had a tough time deciding where to start and what direction to take it, but thanks to the playbook-style format it eventually comes together quite well.

It’s empowering to see documentary filmmakers unafraid of treading on toes, with no major corporation or government too big to target – from oil mogul BP promoting themselves as pro climate change and then causing mass death via ocean spills (on more than one occasion) to Donald Trump personally asking for thanks after the national bank JP Morgan had a good quarter, or social media conglomerates wielding more power than most countries.

There’s also a large segment dedicated to the privatisation of schools, war, water and science, which we’ve all probably noticed happening but haven’t fully-realised the long-term repercussions of.

Sadly, the Australian government also receives a lot of attention in the film, specifically for the Morrison government’s involvement with the Adani mines and the impact it could have on wildlife and indigenous land. Thankfully, the saving grace for us is the national protests that erupted and (so-far) have prevented it from happening.

This also ties into the closing message, which looks at the different social and political movements happening in America and around the globe right now. It’s interesting to see that whether left or right wing, there are both activists and aggressors, and ultimately the conflict between them is distracting the rest of us, while these psychopathic corporations simply carry on with their many exploitations.

The downside of making something so relevant is that it’s clearly been put together quickly. The editing is clunky, and they seem to have re-hashed a lot of the graphics from the predecessor, which at almost two-decades old is outdated.

Similarly, at some points, news headlines overlay on a related video, with people narrating over the top, meaning you have to try and absorb three different pieces of information at once – it’s hard to keep up.

All in all, the theme and subjects covered here are mainstream at the minute, so you could probably learn just as much from reliable news sources. However, if you’re looking for a 100-minute overview that ties it all together and will make you just as angry, then it’s well worth the watch.

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Little Nights, Little Love

Asian Cinema, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Chance encounters are something of a cliché in films, particularly romances. There’s always some amount of contrivance behind the meeting, and the notion of it turning out to be a romantically ideal pairing is just part of the genre’s DNA. Some films play it straight, some films openly question the sheer probability behind such a meeting, and then there’s films like Rikiya Imaizumi’s Little Nights, Little Love, which manage to do both.

The plot itself is split in two parts, with the first hour and the last hour taking place a decade apart, and a lot of the film is comprised of these little chance encounters. On its own, that’s nothing new, but the framing and Kôtarô Isaka’s writing especially, draw attention to it: how a single moment can snowball into a long-lasting connection between two people, be it romantic, platonic, or just a poignant cameo in life’s narrative. The film actively points this out to highlight the need to count one’s blessings, since, to paraphrase Nick Hornby, we all have soulmates but we walk past them every day without even realising it.

However, it also points out that even though life is made of a lot of moments dependent on luck, relying solely on luck is ill-advised. In line with the film’s visual shorthand, it’s the difference between a punch made and a punch withheld.

Framed around the boxing career of Manabu Ono (Eiki Narita) – as if the romantic subplot in a sports movie Freaky Friday’d with the main action – Little Nights, Little Love emphasises that while there are a myriad of reasons why people are apprehensive about taking their chances with love, not only is every shot that isn’t made a shot that automatically misses, but even those misses can be learnt for the next round.

As bolstered by a terrific cast, a capital first shot at feature-film scripting from Isaka, and a very eclectic soundtrack that covers everything from jazz to electronica to the busker ballad that gives the film its name, Little Nights, Little Love plays out almost as deconstruction of how romantic tropes are fetishised in cinema. It sketches out a parable about chance encounters and the people involved in them, and that neither element should be taken for granted. It’s clear-eyed but without cynicism, taking into account the odds stacked against those seeking love… but still admitting that it’s worth the risk.

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

There are several points during the course of watching Collective – a new documentary from Alexander Nanau (Toto and His Sisters) – where you have to pause and remind yourself that what you’re watching actually happened. This is a frightening and important film.

It all begins with a fire which broke out at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, where negligent planning – the club had no fire exits – led to the death of 26 people onsite. A further 38 would die in hospital, but not from the burns they had received. No, these unfortunate souls were victims of negligence within the very hospital that should have been caring for them; many of them dying of bacterial infections. The outrage was so loud that the Prime Minister and his party resigned. Nanau’s film follows sports and investigative journalist, Cătălin Tolontan as he and his team uncover the rot that has set in within Romania’s health care system.

Collective does not overstimulate its narrative with talking heads, narration or a bombastic score that tells you how you should be feeling. Instead, Nanau presents everything clinically, allowing the audacity of people to speak for itself. When revelations are made, they resonate not because they are shouted from rooftops, but because they are murmured with disbelief in conference rooms.

There are times when the corruption is so overt, it becomes covert and you can see the despair in Tolontan’s face as he wrestles with the idea of how things could possibly have gotten this bad. It’s a similar expression worn by the Minister for Health, Vlad Voiculescu, quickly sworn in after the last one resigned unceremoniously. His voice quivers slightly as he talks to a Doctor about the things she has seen and can only ask, ‘How the hell can all this be solved?’

At times, the film can be unbearably bleak with the only light coming from Oprea Mariana, who Nanau follows as she continues her life with 45% of body badly burned. Mariana is seen using art to process what she went through and it’s inspirational to watch her put herself out there.

As news channels, with their 24 hour rolling coverage, garner viewership through sensationalism, Collective is a fantastic portrait of how journalistic integrity still exists and how it can still stand up for things worth fighting for.

Collective is also screening in Sydney at Antenna Selects.

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Asian Cinema, Festival, Film Festival, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

Momoko Ando’s 0.5mm is a meditation on the generation gap as it pertains to Japanese culture – the divide between the young and those old enough to remember when their country was at war. It is an epic yarn told primarily through the perspective of caregiver Sawa (played by Momoko’s IRL sister Sakura), with each act following her employ under a different older gentleman, looking after them, learning about their lives, and occasionally doing bizarre things for them.

Starting with a sequence that echoes Yasunari Kawabata’s House Of The Sleeping Beauties, as Sawa is asked to sleep with her ward (in the most literal sense; no sex, just in the same bed) because he misses his mother’s breasts; what follows involves episodes with a literal bicycle thief, a lecherous war survivor, and a jaded man who wants to burn his family’s inheritance; all done to highlight how disconnected these men are from everyone else, as dependent as children, but without the innocence or hope for what comes next. Sawa performs as surrogate mother/wife for people so lonely that they’ll willingly go along with scam artists just for someone to talk to. It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic.

And Momoko wants the audience to witness every second of that tragedy. She treats time much like David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, where the prolonged lingering on every moment is meant to draw the audience’s attention to the passage of time, both on our side of the screen and as warped by the standard conventions of film editing. The audience, awash in classical music and domestic horror, is forced to take note of just how much time these men have already lived through, how much has changed for them and, more depressingly, how much hasn’t.

It’s a beautiful film that says a lot about Japanese society, how it treats the elderly, and the internal effect of its involvement in world wars… but such an experience bears a heavy cost. It has all manner of thematic rationales for its pace and methodology, from its title referring to the speed at which we go through life, to the line “Punishing roads expose life for what it is. Nothing in life is wasted.”

But none of that changes just how glacial this film’s progression is. The ability to recommend this is entirely dependent on one’s capacity for slow cinema. If you’re able to appreciate Ozu-esque storytelling, you might be able to absorb all the harrowing details at full emotional power. But if the idea of a film breaking three hours sounds more like a trial than entertainment, then a trial is what awaits you.

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Charting a recent scandal that gripped the nation of Romania, Collective is an intense documentary that unfolds much like a thriller, as it immerses us in the complexities of a tragedy and the subsequent legal recourse following the revelations of large-scale health-care fraud. Filmmaker Alexander Nanau painstakingly crafts a detailed saga that gives a voice to the numerous parties involved – the journalists, activists, as well as the victims and their advocates.

A timestamp of October 30, 2015 provides historical context. A fire breaks out during a concert in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest. We learn that 27 “youngsters” perish, while 180 are severely injured. An additional 37 burn victims die in the subsequent months from aggressive hospital bacterial infections.

There is universal outrage over the tragedy, especially focusing on the faulty fire exits at the venue. People take to the streets nationwide in protest as corruption and medical incompetency are exposed and railed against. This unrest leads to the resignation of the Prime Minister of Romania and the replacement of his Social Democratic Government.

The filmmaker plunges us into meetings and tribunals where grieving parents lament the tragic loss of their loved ones with heartrending testimonials. Fan footage from the concert, complete with pyrotechnics, is shown. The lead singer remarks, “Something is on fire here. That’s not part of the show,” before calling for a fire extinguisher. The ceiling turns into an inferno in a matter of seconds. The amateur video images are horrifying.

The filmmaker then takes us through the painstaking sleuthing process of gaining evidence to hold those accused of negligence responsible. We learn that at most of the country’s hospitals, the disinfectants used are so diluted that they were rendered ineffective. A major pharmaceutical company, Hexi Pharma, is implicated in the far-ranging corruption.

Refreshingly, there are no ‘talking heads’ style interviews to bog the action down. Narration is unnecessary next to these probing images. Rather, we tag along as the investigative journalists do their research. Cătălin Tolontan is the editor-in-chief of the sports daily Gazeta Sporturilor, and one of the main sleuths. He and his reporters heroically expose an “institutional lie at the state level, propagated through all communication channels.”

One survivor who has been horrifically scarred (including fingers rendered to stumps) is shown posing for photographs, and later attending an art exhibition’s opening.

“This story is so mind-blowing, I’m afraid we are going to look crazy,” laments one determined researcher. Journalist Tolontan asserts his main intention is to provide the public with sufficient “knowledge about the powers that shape our lives.”

There’s a dramatic turn of events involving the head of the pharmaceutical company under investigation for bribery and corruption. Eventually, his money laundering is estimated to be in the tens of millions. After the Minister for Health resigns, the new Minister promises transparency.

Alexander Nanau’s cinéma vérité style puts us almost in the shoes of the journalists, accompanying them throughout every step of their journey of discovery. We’re even privy to meetings within the Ministry for Health as the new Minister and his staff systematically try to find solutions to repair the gross incompetence and restore the nation’s faith in the medical system.

The press conferences, television appearances and the investigation itself is interspersed with scenes of the badly scarred woman adjusting to her injuries, such as trying out a robotic hand. Crucially, Collective never lets us forget the ongoing personal cost of this tragedy.

Collective is also screening in Sydney at Antenna Selects.

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Bloodshot Heart: A Direct Response to Australian Cinema

Writer/Director Parish Malfitano, Producer/Actor Richard James Allen, Producer Martin Thorne, and Actor Emily David discuss the making of the psychological thriller Bloodshot Heart, making its world premiere at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival Couched Edition.