From an original story by Wan and his better half Ingrid Bisu (who also appears in the film), and starring Annabelle Wallis (Annabelle), this looks like a bit of a throwback to the kind of late 20th century horror that the filmmaker grew up on.
Director Sonia Kennebeck sets the tone for her documentary about alleged WikiLeaks contributor Matt DeHart with a quote by Oscar Wilde: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
Over the next hour and forty minutes, the concept of truth collapses and contradicts itself over and over until the viewer is forced to admit that Wilde had it right: there’s nothing pure or simple when it comes to the case of Matthew DeHart.
Born into a Fundamental Christian family with a military background, we’re first introduced to Matt as a young man who lives at home with his parents and is obsessed with his computer. It’s not a particularly original story, that is until the night Matt calls his father asking him to come home quick — the FBI have a search warrant and they’re seizing Matt’s computer on suspicion of child pornography.
Matt claims that he’s being framed and comes out to his parents as an online activist, or “hacktivist”, and a member of the social justice group Anonymous. According to Matt, he was forwarded certain files that the U.S. government would go to great lengths to keep hidden. According to the U.S. government, they have proof of unspeakable behaviour Matt has exhibited towards two teenaged boys he claims are his friends.
Alongside her credentials as filmmaker, Kennebeck is also an investigative journalist, and it shows. The interviews with Matt’s parents are heartfelt and emotionally charged, but as the film progresses and Kennebeck introduces more and more subjects outside of the DeHart family — police investigators, journalists, professors — the emotional impact is lessened beneath the sheer weight of inconsistent evidence.
The narrative structure of the film does tend to lose its way in the confusion. Kennebeck seems to want the audience to take part in the investigation as it progresses, but untangling truth from lies becomes next to impossible when each new piece of evidence contradicts the last. Re-enactments where actors lip-sync to recorded interviews feel awkward and out of place next to real life footage, but while the direction that the story wants to take might waver, the message at the heart of the film does not.
There is real power in storytelling, media can be manipulated and public opinion can be swayed. More often than not, it’s the person controlling the narrative who gets to decide what counts as “truth”. No one is more aware of that fact than Matt DeHart himself, made evident when he simply doesn’t show up for his one-on-one interview at the conclusion of the film. Perhaps to his mind, what better way to take control of how the world views you than to refuse to be viewed at all?
Price Waterhouse’s (PwC) annual report demonstrates that our appetite for content changed dramatically over the course of the pandemic, and the increased willingness to try new products and services spells positivity for some sectors and potential disaster for others.
It’s hard to use the word “unsung” when it comes to a globally influential computer software pioneer with a net worth in the millions, yet after hearing Ric Weiland’s story, it’s undeniable that whatever praise the world has heaped upon him, he’s owed all that and more.
Childhood friend of Microsoft founders Paul Allen and Bill Gates, their shared passion for technology and the dream of a personal computer on every desk led to Weiland being offered the role of Project Leader for Microsoft Works in 1975, just as the company was finding its feet. His bold determination was instrumental to the company’s success; a boldness that carried over into his personal life as an openly gay man in 1970s America. The film’s title “Yes I Am” comes from Weiland’s personalised numberplate, a proud declaration of his sexuality during an era of widespread prejudice and bigotry.
Zachary Quinto narrates passages from Weiland’s own journals, giving emotional insight into his struggles with depression, anxiety, and the mounting fear brought on by the emerging AIDS crisis.
While the US government’s response was to turn away with a shrug of the shoulders and a recommendation of celibacy, Weiland contributed an unheard-of amount of funding to AIDS research, subsidizing treatments and medical advancements.
There’s a wild, kinetic energy to director Aaron Bear’s film — a mix of home video and news reels intercut with animation and traditional talking heads. Nostalgic reminiscence is paired with vibrant re-enactment, Gil Bar-Sela taking on the role of Weiland as he transforms from buttoned-up computer programmer to lycra-clad party boy. Paired with often heartbreaking journal entries, it lends a sense of desperation, of longing to connect. The filmmaker brings to life the story of a man striving for acceptance, fighting for a brighter future for the LGBTQIA+ community as he himself becomes lost to darkness.
By Weiland’s own account, he was a socially insecure man who preferred to stay out of the spotlight, however as the film notes, we are still seeing the effects of the contributions he made to the community today. His is a legacy worth acknowledging, a life worth celebrating, and a name to be remembered.
The Toll is the feature length debut of Ryan Andrew Hooper, with a script by Matt Redd, and on the basis of this film alone, there could be some interesting work in the pipeline from the filmmakers in the future.
In the middle of the night, on a barren road in Wales, young police officer Catrin (Annes Elwy) has been summoned to a toll booth to hear a confession by its operator, played by Michael Smiley (A Field in England, Kill List) and simply known as Toll Booth by the locals.
Toll Booth has a history that no one really knows, but which has been filled with violence. He appears to only put his trust in two men: a paramedic, Cliff (Paul Kaye, The Watch), who likes to go dogging in his ambulance, and fixer/loan shark, Dom (Iwan Rheon, Game of Thrones). When Toll Booth has a chance encounter with the flashy Elton (Gary Beadle), who clearly knows him from his previous life, he realises that his reclusive life in Pembrokeshire is well and truly over.
Channelling the early work of Ben Wheatley, The Toll is essentially a Welsh western; a comically violent and bleakly funny piece of work where the smallest trespass can result in escalated retribution. For example, look no further than the Triplets (all played brilliantly by Gwyneth Keyworth), a trio of ne’er do well kids who rob Toll Booth’s takings of $2.40 and, perhaps worst of all, his cheese and pickle sandwich. It’s a slight and extremely funny scene, which is dampened by Toll Booth making a swift call to Dom suggesting things will not end well.
Redd’s screenplay is filled with characters like the Triplets that flesh out Toll Booth’s world. There’s the Asian, female Elvis impersonator, the blind man who plays poker even though he has no way of seeing the cards and the English servo attendant (Steve Oram, Sightseers) who laments foreigners refusing to assimilate to the British way of life, whilst also refusing to learn Welsh.
And throughout it all, Smiley dominates every scene he’s in with his quiet, moody demeanour. Bespectacled and bearded, Toll Booth looks like a threat to no man, however, Smiley knows just the right way to put an edge to his voice that insinuates that you’ve likely made some bad life choices to end up in front of him. With perhaps the only exception being Catrin, who the middle aged man seems to hold some sort of respect for.
A great piece of British filmmaking, with sterling performances, The Toll is a prime example that, like its hero, the modern Western hasn’t died, it’s just been hiding.
For most of Australia, the summer of 2019 was coloured by the NSW bushfires that tore through the state, including Lake Conjola. Local filmmaker, Ash Brennan, was in Perth at the time and watched in disbelief as he saw what used to be his house in the background of a news report.
For Brennan, We are Conjola is a way to process the tragedy and the events that followed after the embers died down. Nearly losing his brother to the fires, the documentary is clearly very personal for the filmmaker, but the focus is not on him. Brennan aims his lens at the community that was affected. Through talking heads, Conjola residents recall the New Year’s Eve fire, often accompanied by mobile phone footage recorded there and then. We have all seen the news footage of the fire service holding back the flames, however, the handheld footage of Conjola drops you slap bang into the chaos.
More than simply giving a blow-by-blow account of the fires, Brennan interviews people who have used the disaster to fuel their art or, perhaps more accurately, used art to heal themselves. Through painting, poems and music, We Are Conjola reaffirms the belief that good things can sometimes come out of the worst of times. However, it should be noted that the film certainly isn’t flippant about the trauma that many suffered, including the loss of lives.
A certain holidaying prime minister is very much notable in his absence within Brennan’s retelling, and that seems appropriate. Conjola, as the documentary tells us, is a community that felt abandoned after the fires. To them, Federal Government support was ineffectual, and it was the shared support as a community that made the real difference to people rebuilding their lives.
A hopeful and emotional documentary, We Are Conjola captures a destructive moment in time and tries to reframe it to find hope under the ashes.