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Where is Anne Frank?

animation, family film, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, Where is Anne Frank? is a poignant, lovingly detailed animated film following the adventures of Kitty, the human manifestation of the imaginary friend of Anne Frank, world famous teenage diarist and victim of the Holocaust.

As a lonely girl hiding alongside her family in a crowded annex to avoid Nazi persecution, Anne invented Kitty as an outlet for her secrets and fears. Each entry in her famous diary was addressed to Kitty as if Anne were writing to a beloved friend. As the film opens, “one year from now” in the Frank House in Amsterdam, Kitty awakens from the printed page to find herself surrounded by tourists and museum guards, with Anne nowhere to be found. What follows is a fanciful tale of magical realism as Kitty embarks on a dreamlike journey to uncover the truth of what became of Anne after the last diary entry was penned.

The story unfolds in a classic, hand-drawn style of animation that has its own sort of charm. Aimed at an exclusively younger demographic, Folman’s screenplay does its level best to introduce audiences to this undeniably dark period of history without overwhelming them with the grief and horrors. Kitty is seeing the world with fresh eyes and struggling to make sense of it, relying on the connection she forges with Peter, a pickpocket who falls speedily and perplexingly in love with her. Amongst all this, the film also draws pointed parallels between Anne’s experiences beneath the Nazi regime and the current plight of asylum seekers in Europe, a family of whom Kitty befriends along the way.

Softening the tragedy of Anne’s fate by reframing the tale as a love story between a boy and the anthropomorphised personification of Anne’s private diary is certainly a fresh take on the subject. By contextualising the grim reality of the situation within Kitty’s own experiences of love and her sorrow over the loss of her best friend, Folman takes us on a fanciful flight of the imagination that, while soaring to impressive heights, never quite manages to stick the landing.

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Stephan Wellink: Mavis Bramston Returns

The Mavis Bramston Show was a phenomenon in mid ‘60s Australia, ‘the mother of Australian satire’, and now a documentary subject in Pushing the Boundaries, directed by Stephan Wellink (Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches, Sam Spiegel: Conquering Hollywood).
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Hostile

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

In 2012, under David Cameron, the British Government announced an immigration policy that would be cited as one of the harshest that the UK had ever put in place. Dubbed the Hostile Environment policy, then Home Secretary Theresa May went on record to introduce the policy’s aim of creating ‘a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’ with a hope to ‘deport first and hear appeals later.’ With vans going around the country carrying billboards telling immigrants to literally ‘Go Home’, the policy was, and still is, seen as an exercise in undiluted dog-whistling and the actions of a government desperately trying to meet the immigration targets they set themselves years before.

Through Hostile, filmmaker Sonita Gale explores the ramifications of the Government’s actions to force immigrants to leave the country. This is done through the lens of four subjects who, in one way or another, have had their visa – and even citizenship – ripped from under them without a moment’s hesitation. Take, for example, one man whose parents moved from the Caribbean to London over 50 years ago at the behest of the Government. Given the legal right to enter the country, they, like many others, were never given official papers once they were here. As such, he is now considered an unlawful non-citizen and faces deportation back to a country he doesn’t even know.

Filmed during the start of the pandemic, Gale’s documentary highlights how even apparently simple laws around overseas students can come apart under closer scrutiny. With no access to public funds, many overseas students supplement their income with money from their parents that they can barely afford to give in the first place and working shifts in bars and restaurants. Once lockdowns put heed to all forms of social gatherings, these students would find themselves with no income and, given travel restraints, could not even get home. Unable to pay tuition fees or even their rent, Gale highlights how the students, some as young as 17, are doggedly pursued by the Government to leave the country.

Gale is clear-eyed in her assessment of the current state of affairs in old Blighty. In the final moments, she touches upon the Government’s plan to send supposed illegal immigrants to detention camps overseas. A project which, as of writing, has begun and is facing such a barrage of legal battles, the Prime Minister is considering leaving the European Courts of Human Rights just so he can save face.

Not that Gale keeps her targets set on Boris Johnson and his ilk. Although there is a sense of schadenfreude to be had from listening to current Home Secretary Priti Patel struggling to discuss new policies that would have seen her own parents shut out from the country, Gale understands this kind of rhetoric has been going on for decades. In a disturbing montage, she highlights how the British Government, including both major parties and the Lib Dems, have been gunning after immigrants since the days of the British Empire.

The Hostile Environment Policy has dehumanised many to the point that there are those who only realised it was a massive issue once Brexit was triggered. At that point, instead of the usual non-white targets, Europeans who moved over decades ago are now seen as a threat to a post-Europe Britain. Hostile is a film that will infuriate you and likely be one of the most uncomfortable viewings you’ll have. And that’s a good thing. This is a call to action wrapped up in a documentary.

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Make Me Famous: The Art of Documentary

Director Brian Vincent and producer Heather Spore explain the making of their debut feature, a documentary about artist Edward Brazinski, who was a contemporary of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Richard Hambleton in New York's Lower East Side, but unlike them and various others, he never quite cracked the big time, or did he?
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Doctor Who Am I

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, Streaming, This Week 1 Comment

Lift the right rock up in any franchise and you’ll likely find swathes of toxic fandom. Relegated mainly to online discourse, whether it’s Star Wars, Star Trek or, in this case, Doctor Who, there will always be someone unhappy with a show they claim to love. It could be something as trivial as a lapse in continuity, or something more concerning, such as the ‘fan’ backlash/racism against Kelly Marie Tan.

For screenwriter Matthew Jacobs, his biggest crime was allowing time travelling alien, The Doctor to kiss his companion. And whisper it: make him half-human. That probably sounds trivial for those who have been watching Doctor Who since its reboot back in 2005. Under three showrunners, the Doctor has destroyed his home planet, regenerated into Jodie Whittaker and even got it on with Madame de Pompadour.

Back in 1996, Doctor Who: The Movie, with Paul McGann in the starring role and backed by an American budget, was a big deal. Fans had been salivating for new adventures for ten years since its cancellation. And for many of them, what they got was not what they wanted. The backlash was such that Jacobs has been avoiding Doctor Who conventions for years in fear of running into these, as he calls them, ‘anorak boys’.

Directed by Jacobs and filmmaker Vanessa Yuille, Doctor Who Am I sees him finally bite the bullet and attend a couple of conventions in the US. Since the show’s revival, we’re told, Doctor Who has gone from being a quaint piece of sci-fi hidden away on PBS to a fully-fledged phenomenon. As one fan points out, you no longer have to hide your love of the show. Does that mean then that Jacobs is no longer the target of divisive comments?

In his travels, Jacobs meets fans who, falling short of having an actual TARDIS, find ways in their lives to reflect the Doctor’s values of inclusion and supporting the needy. Of course, wading into convention waters means that Jacobs exposes himself to the very thing he was worried about. Take, for example, the guy who grumbles that the movie was too American. ‘Well, it’s an American movie,’ Jacobs shrugs. Perhaps the most egregious and teeth-grating moment comes when Jacobs is being interviewed in what turns out to be merely a way for the interviewer to bark about Jacobs’ script. For these people, shows like Doctor Who must be preserved in amber, never changed. They mean so much to them, that deviating from the tried and tested formula is to affront and an attempt at pushing them away.

As a subject, Jacobs comes across as affable, still taken aback by the veracity of opinion his work evokes. Underneath this lies his own relationship with Who and the impact it has had on him. The show has been part of his life since his father (Anthony Jacobs), who was bipolar, appeared in it back in 1966. At times, Doctor Who feels like something Jacobs chooses to both embrace and run away from.

Similar in fashion to Kyle Kutcha’s Fantasm, which treads the boards of America’s Horror conventions, Doctor Who Am I is perhaps too niche for some. However, the film wears its heart on its sleeve to offer a glimpse of a fandom that wants you to love what they love without gatekeeping it.

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The Humans

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

Writer/director Stephen Karam adapts his 2016 Tony Award winning one-act play The Humans into an intimate, at times universal, cinematic drama about the comfort and discomfort found in family gatherings.

Set in a dilapidated Manhattan pre-war duplex, the film weaves in themes of loss, religion, uncertainty about the future, familial divergence, and secrets kept that assuage conflict and personal reckonings. Although these themes are relatively common, what sets Karam’s film apart is how he allows the drama to unfold and the unsettling setting in which it does.

Brigid Blake (Beanie Feldstein) and her live-in boyfriend, Richard (Steven Yeun) have invited the Blake family to Thanksgiving in their barely furnished Chinatown apartment. Travelling from Scranton, Pennsylvania for the festivities are patriarch Erik (Richard Jenkins), matriarch Deirdre (Jane Houdyshell, reprising her role from the Broadway production), and Erik’s mother Momo (June Squibb) who is in the grips of advanced Alzheimer’s. Joining the family is Aimee (Amy Schumer), the eldest daughter of Erik and Deirdre, who now lives in Philadelphia.

The Blake family appears to be functionally broken in many aspects, yet they also display love and loyalty to each other. Brigid, a graduate composer, is eking out a living bartending. Aimee has recently broken up with her long-term girlfriend and is about to be fired from her job as a lawyer due to time she has had to take off due to a chronic health condition. Deidre works as an office manager, but after over thirty-years in the company is being overtaken by younger and more educated co-workers. Erik’s job is janitorial at a prestigious religious school in Scranton – one he continued with so his daughters could get a subsidised private education. Richard is an eternal graduate student studying to be a social worker.

Karam’s dialogue teases out the frustration that the Boomer generation feels for their more educated offspring. Erik casually castigates Brigid for not going to a State college and instead opting for a more expensive course. The generational gap in the family is made more palpable as both daughters have rejected the religion that Erik and Deirdre tried to instil in them. Deirdre is extremely active in her church and community and although she doesn’t outright say it, she disapproves of both her daughters’ personal lives. She sends Aimee stories about lesbians committing suicide and not so subtly pressures Brigid to marry.

As the Blake family tussle with each other in small and sometimes cruel ways, the apartment acts as a (un)sympathetic background to the emotional state of those within it. The apartment is an uncanny space where ruin seeps through the walls. Explicable and inexplicable noises act as jump scares that increase in frequency as the family begins to peel back their own facades.

Production designer David Gropman has created a space that begets psychological horror. The apartment itself seems illogical in its floor plan. Many aspects of it are abject and provoke disgust, especially from Erik. Moreover, the wiring is faulty and as the evening progresses lightbulbs routinely go out, leaving the family in what seems a haunted space. In effect, the apartment acts almost as a character of its own, metaphorically hostile, yet for Brigid and Richard, a place they accept as their home.

Adapted plays that exist in a single location can often lack cinematic flair. In the case of The Humans, the frankly brilliant work by cinematographer Lol Crawley proves the opposite. The camera is often positioned to give an off-kilter flavour to the proceedings by setting shots through multiple rooms and doorways. Where it is necessary, the camera also captures micro-expressions on the characters’ faces. The push and pull of the cinematography adds immeasurably to the tension in the film.

The performances by the ensemble are in short, excellent. The naturalism of their work gives authenticity to the story. Amy Schumer as Aimee does career-best dramatic work. Richard Jenkins, the most seasoned dramatic actor in the cast, is utterly believable as the increasingly fragmented Erik – a man who is used to being the moral backbone of a community and family who has failed to fulfill his own expectations of self.

If there is a standout performance in the film, it belongs to Jayne Houdyshell who embodies her character’s complex fragility. Deirdre is perhaps the most derided character in the film but is given the least opportunity to verbally express the hurt she feels. Shamed for her overweight body and her busybody nature, Deirdre enacts gestures to convey her emotional state. Houdyshell gives a master class in acting from top to toe.

The Humans is very much a human story that is resonant because it is so real. The Blakes are unique but also representative of shifts in contemporary culture. One of the plot points revolves around Erik narrowly escaping death on 9/11 and for a while losing Aimee in the tumult after the Twin Towers came down. Erik’s nightmares are infused by trauma. Although Karam is not deliberately trying to capture an essential American zeitgeist with his story of one family, it can be argued that he certainly taps into it. What we fear most in the world isn’t necessarily outside us, it exists within us. When our external methods of validation fail, what do we hold on to? Karam’s drama is thought provoking and quite chilling, and as we move to the final act it is difficult not to feel a sense of profound unease. The Humans is a drama that has the power to live on in the mind of the audience as they ponder their own relationships to those they love, and more importantly, to their own selves.

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Jack Sargeant Reveals

The programmer of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival tells us about his approach to putting together one of this country’s best film culture events.
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Paris is in Harlem

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

In 1926, during Prohibition, the New York City Cabaret Law decreed a ban on all dancing in public spaces selling food or drink unless the venue obtained a cabaret license. Notoriously difficult to process, the cabaret license had a hugely detrimental effect on Harlem’s clubs and jazz scene, a systematic oppression that wasn’t officially lifted until 2017.

Set against the bustling New York backdrop, writer/director Christina Kallas presents a snapshot of lives colliding and emotions overflowing as we follow a discordant group of stories all taking place on the day the Cabaret Law was finally lifted. It’s a key historic moment made personal through the lens of interwoven relationships, all the more impactful for its smaller scope.

Kallas weaves together a captivating narrative using a complex spiderweb of different viewpoints, the camera seamlessly switching focus as background characters become protagonists, stepping forward when the time comes for their story to be told. From Leon Addison Brown’s club owner to Souleymane Sy Savane’s lost soul, each story represents a voice longing to be heard; the intersecting lives of strangers passing one another on the street, unknowingly linked by music, by hardship, by the city they live in. The film brings together a diverse cacophony of voices touched by racism, sexism, and oppression, finding a harmony through shared experience.

The ever-present soundtrack of free jazz flows through each scene, whether providing an outlet after the tension of an awkward uber ride, or building to violent crescendos as the Chekhov’s Gun plotline laid out in the opening scene finally runs its course. The music tells its own story and becomes its own character equal to any of the protagonists sharing the screen.

Kallas offers up an authentic depiction of living, breathing New York City. Naturalistic dialogue and honest sentiment blended with the immediacy of the camerawork all work together to drop the audience directly into the middle of the scene. The director is a deft hand at building tension, from the use of split screen dropping back to single frame as a harrowing phone call repeatedly drops out, to the carefully layered plot building towards an emotional climax, Paris is in Harlem is a masterclass in storytelling.

Just as jazz finds its form in a complex harmony of spontaneous, improvised notes flowing together, the film combines jarringly different perspectives and experiences to create a cohesive and wonderfully vibrant story of human connection.

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Namarali

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

This understated documentary achieves a lot in its short running time. Gorgeously filmed and focused on a pilgrimage by a community of First Australians, it turns out to be a spiritual journey for the viewer as well.

“Having created the world, the Wandjinas retired to the caves within the landscape,” explains Donny (Yorna) Woolagoodja, a Worrorra man. In those caves in the remote Kimberly coastal region of Western Australia are depictions of Namarali – the “big boss” Wandjina, or rainmaker spirit, who is a prime creative force.

Donny – a grey-haired artist with a somewhat boyish face – is the documentary’s narrator and the leader of the spiritual journey. He tells of the Worrorra being moved off their land (near Fresh Water Cove), south to the town of Derby – it’s another country, far from the Namarali caves.

His task is to travel with his community from Derby to the caves, and repaint and refresh the Namarali rock art. He does it to carry on a tradition, to replenish his culture, to keep the spirit of Namarali alive – and to pass on the knowledge to young Worrorra people. Bringing Namarali into the wider world is also part of Donny’s mission.

Donny’s father, Sam, led a filmmaking expedition to the caves in 1972. In 2002 – when this documentary was filmed – Donny returned, continuing his father’s work. The 1972 footage provides some of the archival images in this film that is 21 years in the making.

The depictions of Namarali are incredible – non-Indigenous Australians will recognise him, the illustration of a face with no mouth, a mystical kind of halo wrapped around his head. He was at the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, a huge figure that rose to the sky – designed by Donny.

Between the haunting soundtrack, the rich colours of the landscape, the earthy colours of the Indigenous art, and watching Donny meditatively repaint Namarali, the film is like a therapy session. Donny’s serene presence and devotion to task are inspiring.

Director Tim Mummery – who co-produced this with Donny – appears to have had delays and other projects that protracted the making of this film. But with the Indigenous Voice to Parliament soon to become a national talking point, perhaps the delay was fortuitous. This could be the perfect time to experience Namarali.

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