Tag Archives: Film

Human Rights Arts & Film Festival – Melbourne

HRAFF

Privilege is not in and of itself bad; what matters is what we do with privilege … Privilege does not have to be negative, but we have to share our resources and take direction about how to use our privilege in ways that empower those who lack it

bell hooks, Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism

I recently attend the excellent Australian Human Rights Arts & Film Festial (HRAFF) in Melbourne where a collection of short films were presented at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).  The HRAFF has been running for nine few years, and seeks to “hold a mirror to the uneasy truths of our times and reflect our stories” through creative means – and that it does.

acmiThe International Shorts screening that I attended comprised a collection of five award winning films from around the globe that presented a broad range of international and social issues in bold, despairing, humorous and challenging ways.  All of the five films (perhaps with exclusion of Ave Maria) where tied together by common themes of: power, privilege and capacity.

The film-suite seemed to emphasise how privileged we are in Australia, while also inspiring and subtly challenging the audience to consider how we can more fully use our vast capacity to facilitate change and empowerment of vulnerable people both locally and internationally.

 

I have briefly reviewed each of the respective short films:

Shipwreck (2014: Netherlands and Italy – 15min) shipwreck

Using clever camerawork to provide a feeling of disorientation as well as buoyancy at sea, this Shipwreck is light on dialogue and heavy on impact.  26 year old Morgan Knibbe‘s moving film is shot through the perspective of one of the 155 survivors of the well publicised ship-wreck that was carrying 500 Eritrean refugees that sank off the cost of the Italian island Lampedusa, 3 October 2013.  The viewer is presented a world of disperse, chaos and loss as the remaining survivors and the local police are forced to deal with the aftermath of the tragic voyage.

 

Listen (2014: Denmark, Finland and Colombia – 13min)

listenListen is a painfully realistic lesson in understanding the difficulties of migrants who cannot communicate in the primary language of their new resident nation.  Somewhat reminiscent of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga‘s tragic film Bable, Listen tells the story of a Musilm woman seeking Police protection from her abusive husband against the wishes of her intentionally  misleading Muslim translator and her teenage son.  Change for this woman is shown as nearly impossible against such cultural inertia and language barriers.

 

A few seconds (2014: France – 16min)

A_Few_SecondsNora el Hourch‘s film tells the story of a small rough-edged band of young women in France that are coming of age amidst passively and actively abusive men.  With plenty of humour, and plenty of shock A few seconds shows the importance of community and friendship when coping with life away from the support of family.

 

Everything will be OK (2015: Germany and Austria – 30min)

everything will be okPatrick Vollrath’s ‘short’ film tells the story of a desperate father seeking to kidnap his child out of his loneliness, despair and anger at his current custody arrangement.  Tastefully shot, Everything will be OK, allows the audience to simultaneously sympathise with the father while understanding the suffering of a poor child caught in the middle of parents’ fighting and broken relationships.  In the final moving scenes the daughter seems to behave more like an adult than her Dad while literally being pried from his arms.

 

Ave Maria (2015: Palestine, France and Germany – 15min)ave maria

A start contrast to the other four shorts – it is clear that the program directors had learned from last year, the importance of allowing the audience to leave the cinema smiling as well as being shockingly moved.  Ave Maria is a quirky tale of a handful of Nuns and Jews that are forced to help each other in the West Bank under the most unlikely of circumstances.  Making light of some Jewish and Catholic cultural traditions and stereotypes, Ave Maria seems to ironically elucidate the similarities between different religious and cultural groups by forcing the audience to somewhat laugh at the small and large things that makes some communities appear different.

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Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman

Anomalisa - Running.jpg

This is not how I am;  I have become comfortably numb

Roger Waters, 1979

Charlie Kaufman‘s latest film, Anomalisa, is an understated piece from the award winning screen writer.  In his second role as director, Kaufman is joined by Duke Johnson to produce this heavy stop-motion feature based on a 2005 play of the same name.

The film is set almost entirely over the course of one evening spent in a hotel room Cincinnati hotel where the protagonist, Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a famous self-help author seeks to find human connection in a world where everybody else looks the same.  This is until he meets a sweet and unconfident young woman, Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who unlike all the other characters has a unique face, voice and a sky childish honesty.  Stone is immediately drawn to her as an escape from the familiarity of everyone that he meets that seems to be causing his feelings of isolation.  In Lisa, Stone sees an escape from his tired routine, and a reason for hope and joy.

Michael Stone: I think you’re extraordinary.
Lisa: Why?
Michael Stone: I don’t know yet, it’s just obvious to me that you are.

Despite the serious themes, the film is consistently funny, with plenty of dry-wit and dark humor.  It is through the tired eyes of the educated traveler that the all-so-familiar rituals of a bland work trip interstate are poked fun at through Stone’s frustration.  However, his desire to be left alone in peace and quiet from the hospitality staff is ironically contrasted with his need for simple human connection that he spends the whole evening and day-thereafter seeking.

Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman

In scale, Anomalisa is juxtaposed to Kaufman’s previous work – Synechdoche New York (2008) – which follows the drawn-out life and death of the protagonist: Caden Cotard.  Cotard’s desire for his life to be made significant through his work is echoed by his never ceasing attempts at grandeur and honesty in an all encompassing theater piece.  He is never content with the simple small human connections in and of themselves, instead, Cotard seeks something big and bold often at the expense of true human interaction with his family and closest friends. Anomalisa’s Michael Stone by contrast seems to have given up on the grand, and is desperate for connection, a hug – and some..

Anomalisa - Scene

That stop-motion sex scene

In a 2015 interview, Kaufman and Johnston explain how the most difficult part of the production was filming the sex scene that took over six-months.   The challenge was made even harder by trying to avoid connections to that oh-so famous Team America: World Police (2004) montage.  Too often intimate scenes in films are forced to be either funny or passionately erotic; however, here, a simple tone is carefully presented where a basic human connection is shown by balancing their genuine affection for each other with the sadness of the situation, including Stone’s adultery.  The use of stop-motion figurines paradoxically enables the directors to present somewhat ‘universal’ characters that the viewer is able to connect to without the distraction of a human actor.

The theme of not being able to being able to distinguish between faces is based on a real condition – Prosopagnosia – famously suffered from by portrait artist Chuck Close.  However, the viewer is asked to question whether in-fact everybody is actually the same, or whether Stone cannot determine the differences in their faces – perhaps due to his

Chuck Close

Chuck Close – Self portrait

disengagement from others’ lives.  Or perhaps even more so, that Stone is the only person in this fictional world that is truly alive in seeing that everyone else is the same.  Or finally, is it that Stone asks too much of the world and others?

The film ends with his wife reminding a disengaged Stone, “Don’t you realize we all love you“.  To which we are forced to question whether asking for something new, exciting and different is genuinely as important as simply loving others and being loved in return.

Perhaps the final irony of this film is that despite Stone seeing everybody as the same, this movie is distinctive in its quiet ability to capture both a person’s disconnection with the world and their desire for human’s connection.


 

Kaufman’s Filmography:

Being John MBeing John Malkovich (1999) – Disturbingly entertaining and more than entertainingly disturbing.

 

Human NatureHuman Nature (2001) – Far better than it looked; but unfortunately it watched no better than it looked.

 

 

NicCageAdaptationAdaptation (2002) – If you can tell me what it all means – you are a liar; if you can tell me you didn’t enjoy being taken on a trip down the garden path – you too are a liar.

 

CDMConfession of a Dangerous Mind (2002) – Such a perfectly unbelievable true-story, even with Clooney‘s directorial debut as a Coen brothers disciple he couldn’t do any true harm to Kaufman’s modified script.

 

 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindEternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (2004) – Not your average rom-com – as the greater the plot twists, the tighter the knots of love and loss.

 

synecdoche new yorkSynecdoche, New York (2008) – Directorial debut and epic navel-gazing true horror film about dying without living in the quest for greatness and meaning.

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2 Autumns, 3 Winters – Film Review

2 Autumns, 3 Winters

When you’re in your early 20s your love life seems to explode every 20 minutes or so.  By the time you’ve reached your thirties, it is every five or ten years.

Patrick Marber

If you were not previously afraid of turning 30 then perhaps French director and screen writer Sebastein Betbeder’s recently released second film will have you fighting to ensure that your youth is not wasted while you are still young.

2 Autumns, 3 Winters follows three thirty-something year olds falling in and out of love.  Trying to embrace this new phase of life, each character is both shocked and regretful at how their youth has passed them by.

2 Autumns, 3 WintersThirty-three year old protagonist Arman (Vincent Macgaine) decides to make a change to his uninspired life by starting to regularly run in a local park. Looking like Bill Bailey on bad hair day, Arman meets the beautiful Amelie exercising and falls for her immediately.  Over the course of two autumns and three winters we witness a series of dates; double dates; stokes; serendipitous meetings with former lovers and former colleges; and mundane trips to the supermarket as the film paints a picture of life past the big three-zero.

Each scene is literally numbered, like a chapters in a book, as the detailed exposition of a series of eclectic, somewhat intertwined moments, show that life is unexpected in both joy and sadness.  In an underwhelming Woody Allen stylised way, the characters frequently self-narrate their conversations by speaking directly to the camera and describing their feelings—often as polar opposites to the other party in the conversation.

In a repeated motif, each of the male characters meets their love-interests during unfortunate incidents.  It is a bitter-sweet irony that only through suffering does something good seem to come these hapless hommes – all in spite of Arman and Benjamin (Bastien Bouillon) trying to control their own destinies.

2 Autumns, 3 WintersDespite intermittently offering brief moments of humour and glimpses of hope, it is unfortunate that Betheder’s directorial creativity is at the expense of strong storytelling.  Experimenting with the medium, the film alternates between grainy 16mm footage and High Definition (HD) producing a semi-autobiographical tone.  However, one cannot help but feel that too much effort has been placed in making the film seem cutesy and indie rather than allowing viewers to emotionally engage with the characters on a deeper level.

“I had trouble appreciating the vast landscape before me” exhaustedly says Amelie—perhaps best encapsulates 2 Autumns, 3 Winters’ contention about growing-up and life post 29.

This review has been published online through Farrago Magazine

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Helvetica

Helvetica_font_inspiration_by_RuiRaposo

I’m obviously a typeomaniac, which is an incurable if not mortal disease. I can’t explain it. I just love, I just like looking at type. I just get a total kick out of it: they are my friends. Other people look at bottles of wine or whatever, or, you know, girls’ bottoms. I get kicks out of looking at type. It’s a little worrying, I admit, but it’s a very nerdish thing to do.

Erik SpiekermannHelvetica

Who would have thought that a documentary about a font would be so engaging?   But in an age where the message is less important than the image, it makes sense we should care about how we write our sweet nothings.

Helvetica-film

This film length doco by Garry Hustwit opens our eyes to the subtle world of graphic design through the case study of Helvetica.  Educating the audience on what differentiates one type-face from another, it slowly unveils a new way of looking at the world around us.  We discover that Helvetica is ubiquitous – appearing on magazines; signs; web-pages; billboards; logos; to fast food wrapping.

Helvetica, we learn, was loved and loved to death by designers in the years after its popular release   It is even described as a ‘perfect font’, where any changes to it are only detrimental.  Apparently Apple bought the rights to use Helvetica on their early printers and computers while Microsoft chose not to pay the rights, and instead had another font – Arial – designed as a copy; where minor angles and spacings were altered to avoid copyright – but resulted in a ‘lesser font’.  And hence, Arial, has become a bit of a ‘dirty’ font in the design community.

Perhaps this is all not too dis-similar from the old joke, “Times New Roman, Arial and Palentino walk into a bar and ask for a drink.  The bar keeper says – ‘Sorry, we don’t serve your type here.’ “

Being used as a default font on many Apples products, Helvetica’s use became prolific.  So much so, that during the grunge movement of the 90s, many designers rejected the Swiss Modernist font for more messy abstract typography and wording arrangements – now made possible through the advent of the computer.  A few years ago you were ‘hot stuff’ if you could casually drop the words “I prefer a sans serif font” in conversation.   But now, the discussion has moved far beyond that to raging online forums between fans of different fonts professing more neutrality, or conversely, emotion.

For weeks after seeing the film, I became mildly obsessed in trying to discern between different fonts on signs, posters and nasty blogs, where you have to pay extra for the freedom to use certain typefaces – a la, this one!  It is fascinating to learn how many organsiations use Helvetica.  The company I work for has an official ‘Style Guide’ that all documents have to adhere to.  This requires the use of only pre-specified fonts, colours, and demands two spaces between sentences – to assist the ease of reading.

Pick-A-Bad-Photo-Apply-A-Vintage-Effect-And-Use-Helvetica

Because we spend too much time in front of screens we have become somewhat obsessive about the minor details.  I believe that because modern life is so hectic and because we ‘undergo information’ overload daily, that we have really do appreciate clear, simple design.  Just consider the popularity of the white spaced Google home page compared to the Yahoo hyperlink/underlined/italicized everything overload.  Moreover, consider the shear appeal of sleek Apple products.  However we have been spoon-fed to believe that clean design and simple fonts are the best – partly because of Apple brilliantly marketing its products. 

Sepia tones and Instagram effects are a natural response to the overly slick design elements that we see in our everyday life.  People try to reject the ‘point and shoot’ camera where both the foreground and the background are in focus; people are choosing to wash their high resolution image with a particular effect – emulating the imperfections of previous technology such as over exposure –  to make their images feel more authentic.  And less commercial / squeaky clean.  (I wonder whether the orange date-stamp will ever come back in?)

It is as if we are caught between two extremes: on one hand the simplicity and clarity of sleek, clear design – including Helveitca and sans serif fonts; and, on the other hand, the warmth of and genuine nature of imperfection, textured styles, and type characters with character.

As Garry Hustwit’s first installment of his Design Trilogy Helvetica stands as his finest piece.  Objectified – his second film looks at industrial design; and Urbanized, his third, focuses on Architecture.  Both are engaging but lack the intrigue of his opener –  a must watch for anybody who uses a computer or reads – basically, just see it.

Typography is the new calligraphy.  So sorry Mum, but a ClipArt picture of a stick man and a light bulb teamed up with a rainbow coloured heading from WordArt no longer cut it.

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Bill Cunningham New York

Image

The best fashion show is definitely on the street – always has been and always will be.

Bill Cunningham

How excited about fashion can a twenty-something Australian engineer get about street fashion in New York when friends mine say to me, “You dress so poor!” – and not in an ironic sort of way?

However, I recently watched Richard Press‘ delightful documentary – Bill Cunningham New York – after a tip from a menopausal middle-manager came good.

Perhaps because the doco is only partly about fashion, or perhaps it is not about fashion at all.  Nevertheless, the film follows octogenarian street fashion photograph Bill Cunningham around the sidewalks of New York, to the high-society parties for the (oh so) rich and famous, to the catwalks of Paris – where Bill shoots for the New York Times.

Bill waits on street corners “It’s always the hope that you’ll see some marvelous exotic bird of paradise, meaning a very elegant stunning woman or someone wearing something terrific” and then it may be some shoes, or a hat, or matching pairs – but he quick snaps his manual film camera and he’s captured it – a moment, an image!  Probably only because of his age, and trademark blue jacket he doesn’t get assaulted for taking snaps without permission.  But the fashionistas seem to relish the attention lauding the praise of his eyes.

Bill shooting on bike

Just a regular day at the office

Saying things like: “I don’t know how to work, I only know how to have fun everyday”; and “If we all went out looking like a slob like me, it would be a pretty dreary world” – it is hard not to like Bill.  Energetic, honest, excitable, gifted and level headed, his passion for beauty is engaging.  Unlike other pretentious artists, Bill seems to enjoy his simple bike, blue cardigan and his humble, pokey little apartment – sleeping on the floor next to filing-case after filing case filled with a lifetimes’ worth of film.

Press shoots the film with both an energy and an honesty.  Alternating between shots of Bill at work; shots of Bill’s work; and interviews from upper crust celebrities including flamboyant author and socialite Tom Wolfe.

However one particular scene is unique – Bill is asked two questions – one about his personal relationships; and the other about religion.  Attending church every week, Bill is perhaps much like many of the older US generation, and yet it is the only time in the rollicking 83 minutes of footage that he is lost for words.  Struggling, after a substantial pause, and looking away from the camera, “It is something I need”.  Bill gives the impression that he values his Catholic faith in a deep and personal way; and yet, humbly does not want this to distance him from his friends and colleagues – from progressive NYers that may not hold such regard for Christianity.  A man of opposites, Bill straddles the fence – mingling with the Bold and the Beautiful, while not being seduced to compromise his beautiful spirit and love for the NY – “It’s hard to play a straight game in this city”.

In my workplace where us engineers ironically look more similar on casual Fridays than weekdays when the good old’e check shirts come out. Yet, I now feel somewhat inspired to be a little bit more flamboyant with my ‘fashion’, as Bill quips near the end of the film – “Lots of people have taste; but few have enough courage”.

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