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Bam Bam

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

Jemma van Loenen’s documentary introduces audiences to Bianca ‘Bam Bam’ Elmir, a young boxer from Canberra, on her quest to win a World Boxing Championship.

Elmir is a determined fighter who will let nothing get in her way. A Lebanese Muslim, who has won multiple Australian and International Championships, Elmir faces many obstacles – getting her family’s approval, the views of her community, opponents in the ring, among others. Elmir at one point is barred from fighting, due to a drugs ban.

Despite her unorthodox nature, and the odds stacked against her, the boxer revels in victory.

Winning supersedes everything. This is what she does it for. To stand victorious.

Elmir’s an individual who thrives on smashing expectations: she takes part in a Muslim Mardi Gras Event; her coach tells her not to go out and drink, she goes out until 4am; she enters a match a significant underdog, and wins handily.

She has no issues reflecting on, and savouring the gory blood of her opponent, and subverting her family’s expectations.

She relishes the fear in her opponent’s eyes, that moment before they receive the knockout punch.

But despite all her victories and tenacity, at the end of the day, Elmir doesn’t quite know how to deal with herself when she’s not fighting. This is what the documentary is about – identity and the subject’s life away from sport. Her biggest fight is within herself.

Elmir’s coach talks about the qualities of the boxer, how she gives back to the community. Unfortunately, at times this feels like a lecture.

Cinematographers William Sheridan and Stephen Ramplin provide intimate footage of the athlete’s struggle, capturing this flight.

Director Jemma van Loenen ultimately serves up an absorbing story of an athlete dedicated to their sport, a portrait of an individual fighting for, and fighting against herself.

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Debra Granik’s Wilderness Sojourn

Eight years have passed since Debra Granik's last fiction feature, Winter's Bone, put Jennifer Lawrence on the map. Now she's back with Leave No Trace, which will screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and in limited release after that.
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The Seen and Unseen (Adelaide Film Festival and Brisbane International Film Festival)

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

In The Seen and Unseen by Indonesian writer director Kamila Andini, the boundaries between dream, imagination and real life are effortlessly fluid. The story centres on Tantri, a nine-year-old girl whose twin brother Tantra is admitted to hospital with a possibly fatal prognosis.

Boy/girl or ‘buncing’ twins are said to have a special bond in Indonesian lore, and are meant to take care of each other, according to an older woman Tantri speaks to, but how can she look after her brother when he is dying? “If only I could replace you,” she says in the process of trying to assimilate and affect the tragedy that is occurring.

Tantri brings ritual and dance to the hospital in an effort to provoke and revive her twin. There is an extraordinary scene where both children are dressed in feathers and body paint to enact a dance of fighting cockerels that Tantri has just witnessed. Equally poignant is a scene where Tantra uses shadow puppets behind a backlit hospital curtain to tell a fable of the moon’s eclipse.

Andini’s gift as a filmmaker is highlighted in her impeccable scene setups, often with framing doorways and depth of field that separates Tantri from adult groups and conversations. The soft and natural palette underlines the delicacy of feeling and innocent child’s view of the world. The sets move easily between natural landscapes and the hospital room, night and day. The two child actors are superbly natural, well cast and directed.

Even if your taste is more towards a clear narrative line, The Seen and Unseen has a hypnotic appeal as it loosens your grip from holding to a predictable way of processing and interpreting events. The soundscape of the film adds to the effect; rhythmic undercurrents of the sounds of water and birds, or a clicking dance rhythm that becomes the rotating fan over the boy’s bed.

Andini says the film “is not based on a story but is an expression and a feeling.” She told the Helsinki Cine Aasia, “I want to explore who I am as an Indonesian,” as her motive behind the film. The finished work takes us deep into the themes and motifs of Balinese culture and folklore.

As the daughter of filmmaker Garmin Nugroho, Andini was born with the filmmaker gene. She resisted it at first, opting to study for a degree in sociology at Deakin University in Australia. She returned to Indonesia to work on music and documentary videos before gaining attention with the short film Following Diana, a deeply internal perspective on an Indonesian woman struggling with polygamy.

In 2011, Andini released a low budget feature, The Mirror Never Lies. It picked up awards and critical acclaim across several film festivals. Mirror deals with themes of magic and bereavement as a daughter tries to find her father through mirrors. The Seen and Unseen came next. Six years in the making, the seed idea came from the concept of ‘Sekala Niskala,’ an Indonesian belief in the ‘real’ world being completed by the intangible, spiritual dimension.

Enjoy a trip into the heart and soul of Indonesia at Sydney’s film festival with this original piece of storytelling.

Also screening at the Adelaide Film Festival