GOLD (2016) director, Stephen Gaghan

gold-poster This film “GOLD” (2016, directed by Steven Gaghan) is currently doing the rounds of multi-plexes in Australia and might turn up in Indonesia too, (a note for my friends there.) This is because it’s loosely ( very loosely) based on the true story of the Bre-X Mining scam during the nineteen-nineties, in which a small Canadian mining company claimed to have found possibly the richest or second richest goldmine in the world, in the jungle of Kalimantan…at Busang, 360 km from the nearest airport in Samarinda and 1400 km from Jakarta. It’s a story worthy of Joseph Conrad, and contains echoes of his book “Almayer’s Folly”, set in Malaysia.

They raised vast sums by convincing no less than the J P Morgan, merchant bankers, and floating their mining company on the Canadian stock exchange. Greedy gold-crazed investors bought into it and the value of the shares sky-rocketed. Bre-X duped executives of a major gold mining company already working in Indonesia, and they even got the family of military dictator, President Suharto (starting with the eldest son, Sigit Harjoyudanto, then the daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana) to buy into it. This gave the project “clout” seeming to be bankrolled by the Indonesian government. Later the Suharto shares were transferred to Bob Hasan, the multi-millionaire forestry magnate and best pal/golfing buddy of President Suharto! He lost all of it (nothing) when the whole scam finally collapsed. It was eventually proved there was no gold, just faked core-samples which had been “salted”, in mining jargon. Bob Hasan said, “It’s good propaganda – Now everyone in the world knows where Indonesia is.”

The geologist from whom it all started, a Filipino named Michael de Guzman, fell (thought by pilot and co-pilot to have jumped) from a helicopter into the jungle below, while on a flight to meet executives from the other major mining company. A suicide note was found and he left four wives and some children with the wife in Manila. The other wives were Indonesian women, after he converted to Islam. However, in the film they show his fall from the helicopter was forced, by members of military.

The film-makers have changed most of the actual facts and details. When the Indonesian military are shown in the film, they are wearing the red berets of Kopassus, an exclusive section of serious tough guys who were then led by Prabowo Subianto, who was a Presidential Candidate several years ago, losing to Joko Widodo.

An Indonesian friend has just told me about an investigation by an Indonesian reporter in which he claimed that de Guzman is alive and living in South America. This could be possible, as the Indonesian government autopsy was reported by TIME Magazine as being very difficult because the body had been savaged by wild boars. The Suharto regime would have been in a hurry to close the embarrassing issue. The real circumstances of the death or not, of de Guzman are open to question.

To add to the disappointment, the film was shot in Thailand, and the only authentic Indonesian things were two authentic Javanese Batik textiles, and one woman in the background of a cafe, wearing a headscarf/jilbab, in not quite in the correct way for Indonesian style. The Indonesian actors were played by Thais and no Indonesian names seemed to appear in the final credits. The background of the scenes claiming to be in a Jakarta luxury hotel, were beside a wide river with obviously Thai buildings and boats in the background. No such thing exists in Jakarta. Very poor attempts at authenticity in this film, working on the assumption that no-one will notice, I guess. But that isn’t good enough in film-making these days, when many production companies and directors make a great effort towards authenticity. There wouldn’t have been anything to prevent them shooting in Indonesia, and several Hollywood films have already done so. Maybe they were afraid of revenge from still living Suharto family members depicted?

Stephen Gaghan also directed “Syriana” which was a better film. Matthew McConnaughy has gained lots of weight for the part of the miner, who plays a gullible victim of the real bad-guy, de Guzman ( played by Edgar Ramirez). Even this character is white-washed, especially by a sort of final ‘twist’.

This version of a story which proves again that truth is stranger than fiction, is weak and dull and should and could have been a whole lot more engrossing. The protagonist, Kenny Wells ( McConnaughy) is such an average and sloppy sort of guy, and only Edgar Ramirez, as the geologist/scammer saves the picture, but even he is struggling.

Note: my information about the actual events that inspired the film, have come from a TIME magazine feature article, from edition of May 19th 1997, and from my other reading at the time of these events. There’s a novel based on the same events, by Kerry B. Collison,Pub. January 2002, “Indonesian Gold”, which has recently been translated into Bahasa Indonesia, by my friend Rossie Indira. I’m not sure if it’s in publication yet…
(Copyright, Cynthia Webb) February, 2017

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“Landscape in the Mist” (1988) directed by Theo Angelopoulos


LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST (1988) Directed by Theo Angelopoulos
Today (January 2017) I watched this 1988 masterpiece from the late Theo Angelopoulos. It won the Silver Lion at Venice Film Festival, and many other awards too. It’s an exquisite allegorical tale and perhaps knowledge or lack of it, about modern Greek history could determine what you think it might be about. I have my own ideas as do reviewers before me, here on IMDb. I love the way this maestro director has used a sort of Odyssey (what could be more appropriate?) by two young siblings, (Voula, aged 14 and her brother Alexander, aged 5) travelling Greece in search of someone (or something) they want to believe exists, just to “understand and know but not to stay,” the older girl says. This is a film that is not about what it appears to be about, but is an allegory and a poem, a work of visual art, and profound emotional truth. The visual power and beauty, the gorgeous music (by Eleni Karaindrou), every frame on screen, are all spell-binding. To me, each scene and episode in their young lives on this journey through Greece to find the landscape in the mist, can be linked to the story of the Greek nation and its people. The landscape in the mist is tellingly, first seen on a few frames of 35mm movie film found in the muddy street by their young motor-cyclist mentor… a kind of guiding angel travelling with them for a time. Perhaps he can only see it on the celluloid because he is searching for this mythic landscape (or condition) too. This piece of “found film” serves to link the director himself into the collective experience of all the Greeks. Perhaps it’s the modern day “Golden Fleece”? What a gorgeous and poetic film. Almost as beautiful as the director’s “The Weeping Meadow” – one of my all time most admired works of art in cinema. (so long after the film was made, I (who live in Australia) had to order the DVD via Amazon, and it came to me from Greece, in a beautiful transfer supervised by the director himself, and with good English subtitles.)
Copyright Cynthia Webb, January 2017
photo: courtesy of the Producers and IMDb

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“LA LA LAND” (directed by Damien Chazelle, 2016)


“La La Land” (2016) by Damien Chazelle (Proudly credited as “Made in Hollywood”.)
Post-viewing comments by Cynthia Webb

“La La Land” is a love-letter to Los Angeles, and to the studio era of Hollywood, when musical films were nothing unusual, as they are today. It is full of nostalgia – in particular, nostalgia for the jazz era.
It also contains reminders of certain other delightful things from the history of film: The early scenes are full of wild colors that brought to mind the early films of Pedro Almodovar.
The hero offers to take the heroine, to see a re-run “Rebel Without a Cause” – a legendary James Dean film by Nicholas Ray. It is being screened from a film reel (not a DCP – Digital Cinema Package) and it stops in the projector, the projection lamp heat burns the film, visible on screen. It’s a moment that a lot of people experienced in days gone by, and pulls the events back into the past.
The scenes featuring views over the city, bringing to mind “Mulholland Drive”. (David Lynch).
The strong accent on love of jazz, which recalls an earlier era, and various films which have featured jazz musicians.
I looked at the scenes shot in fake studio streets that look just like “Warner Bros Movie World” on the Gold Coast, Australia, where I worked for nine years… and I recalled reading that most studio back-lots that were once in Hollywood, have been sold off for their real estate value. Now is the era of shooting on location, or using CGI (computer generated graphics).
I thought of Francis Ford Coppola’s early film, ‘One From the Heart’ while watching “La La Land”, which was all shot on a Hollywood sound-stage in 1981.
Then I thought of Jacques Demy’s gorgeous, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, (France) a film unique in that it had no dialog at all. Every word was sung, but was also about 2 lovers and filmed in streets.
Then I thought of my all-time favorite musical, “West Side Story”, which had far better music and dancing, than “La La Land”.
But then – I just lost myself in this charming film. The stars are so real, not too glossy, and don’t sing or do anything TOO well. …. but just well enough to fit into today’s film world, while telling us an eternal story of young people in Los Angeles, with high hopes, trying to make their dream come true, almost giving up, and in the end trading true love for their ambitious dream. Have they settled for second-best? The big question is whether or not fulfilling one’s youthful ambitions is more important than following the heart, by way of the offers that Destiny puts in our way. .. these offers, might be Love, or sometimes something else. Most of us can look back and identify a moment when this choice was before us, and wonder – “did we really have a choice” or is it all ‘written’ in Destiny?
This lovely film is a welcome relief from Hollywood’s typical output of recent years. Thank you to the director for breaking the pattern, for daring to go back to some good old-fashioned entertainment. The mega-plex audience with whom I saw the film were certainly enjoying themselves and there was even a spontaneous burst of applause at the end. I think they are all relieved to get away from super-hero films, violence, and endless sequels that are not living up to the original thrill of the originals.
“La La Land” has won seven Golden Globe Awards, and deserves most of them, but perhaps not the Best Screenplay award. Yes, it’s nice, but it isn’t powerful and there are other films such as “Manchester by the Sea” that I think have a better screenplay. Emma Stone is a wonderful actress, and in her scene during an audition, she shows us with her immensely expressive and enormous eyes just what she can do. I think that is for me, the most memorable moment in the whole film, although I’m sure it isn’t meant to be.
I think the Academy will love this film – because they always respond strongly to any film that shows their own world, Los Angeles, Hollywood, the film business, and as this is an affectionate homage, they are going to vote for it, just as the critics did at The Golden Globes.
It seems to me that this film will take over 2017’s Academy Awards, even though it is light stuff, but very well done in every way… a lovely movie. However perhaps there are films with more substance and power,that might get pushed into the shade, by this bright starry and delightful film. (I’m writing on 11th January, and the Oscar nominations are yet to be revealed, however it is 2 days after the Golden Globe Awards.
Copyright January 2017 by Cynthia Webb
Poster photo credit – The producers and IMDb

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

APSA/BAPFF – fabulous film-makers of 2016 “In the Last Days of the City” directed by Tamer el Said (Egypt)


“IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE CITY” directed by Tamer el Said (Egypt)
(Nominated in APSA’s Cultural Diversity Award, under patronage of UNESCO)

There is an experience of immersion while watching this melancholy and poetic film.
A young film-maker , 35 year old Khalid, living in Cairo, is struggling with all that is happening in his world, and with finding a way to convey the situation in his beloved city. He collaborates sometimes with several film-maker friends, who have already left the city, in an attempt to find the right way to tell his story. One friend has gone to Berlin, one to Beirut and another to Baghdad. To me that seems to refer to other suffering cities in the region, and to the end result, fleeing the region as a refugee.
He has an ex-girlfriend, Laila, who is about to leave too. And he is looking for a new apartment, but his real-estate agent is frustrated, because no place is ever suitable. This works as a metaphor for the fact that not only is he not comfortable in his apartment any more, – he is not comfortable in Cairo any more, even though it’s his beloved home. He wanders in the yellow-tinged world of the decaying and suffering city. The yellow color in the air, is from the desert dust that often blows over the city.
Tamer el Said says, ‘I don’t know where the film starts and my life ends. I see the yellow colour in Cairo all the time. This colour goes with a sense of loneliness.’
Old Ottoman era houses are being demolished, there is unrest in the streets, and everything feels wrong, wrong, wrong. The film is clearly autobiographical, and Tamer reveals his soul via his alter-ego, Khalid.

Tamer el Said explained, “The process of making the film is also the process of trying to understand himself, reflecting on many things. My main project is myself, although the film’s main “character” is the City. I call Cairo the city that made me who I am. I live in the flat seen in the film, and that is my local neighbourhood. The people in the streets and cafes are my actual neighbours. The filming took place over two years and ended in 2010, only six weeks before the Revolution. I wanted to be part of this change. The editing process was a kind of battle with a beast – 250 hours of footage. Then I worked for a year doing the sound and post production, with collaborators, my amazing crew. Sometimes I spent the whole day editing one scene, then walked in the streets and saw the same people who had been in the footage I’d been editing that day, although four years may have passed. Then I asked myself, ‘did something really change? How can we change anything without changing everything?’
He continued: ‘We grew up, used to experiencing loss and war around us. It shaped our lives and made us different from other people who grew up in Europe, for example. When travelling I realized that I get nervous when I see a police-man, because of my life-experience in Cairo. We cannot carry on like this – things have to change. The situation is no better under our new government, in terms of freedom of expression.’

Tamer is disillusioned with the results of the “change he wanted to be part of.” He was hoping for freedom and social justice.

Tamer el Said graduated in 1998, and has been making short films and documentaries. “In The Last Days of the City” is his first feature film. It has been a slow process and low budget too, because there is no funding for film-making from the government, and there is strict control over freedom of expression in Egypt. However the end result of his labour is one of the most profoundly moving and poetic films I have seen in many years.
Better than all the news bulletins and articles we read about what’s happening to people in Egypt and other countries in the area around the Middle East, this film expresses the wounds, the disappointment, the eternal hope for a better life for everyone in the surrounding region. It is so tragic to see such ancient lands and cultures, that have had rich cultures and days of glory, now feeling this endless pain. A study of history will show that a lot of this turmoil today, was actually caused by events at the end of the First World War… when the victorious Allies sat over maps deciding on how to carve up among themselves, the former lands of the recently collapsed Ottoman Empire, and beyond. Also, by more recent political actions from modern powers too, but that’s another story.
Note: This film did not win the award, which went to another exceptional film “The Dark Wind” by Hussein Hassan. (see my separate review)

By Cynthia Webb
Copyright, December 2016
photo of Tamer el Said, by Cynthia Webb
copyright December 2016

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

APSA/BAPFF fabulous films and film-makers of 2016 ‘THE DARK WIND’ directed by Hussein Hassan, (from Iraqi Kurdistan)

the-dark-wind-posterPhoto caption shows: Hussein Hassan, director of “The Dark Wind”IMG_0106.JPG

“The Dark Wind” by Hussein Hassan of Iraqi/Kurdistan
UNESCO sponsored Cultural Diversity Award, at the Asia Pacific Screen Award is a special place in the list, because the heart and soul and ambition of APSA is to give a platform for, and reward films that express and explain to us, unique cultures of our vast region, so much of which is unknown to wider cinema audiences. This story is about the Yazidi people, who number about half a million, a unique group within the Kurdish people.
The story of the film is desperately sad. A young and very much in love couple, Reko and Pero, have just become engaged. Their remote village is one day horrified to see ISIS riding towards them in their fleet of Toyota trucks, black clad, waving guns and their ominous flag. ISIS considers this group who practice a religion called Yazdanism, to be Infidels. The people flee, some die, most end up in a UN refugee camp, but all the young women are kidnapped, to be sold as slaves. The most beautiful girl of all is Pero. When it becomes possible for him, Reko gets leave from his fighting unit, and goes in search of his beloved. He finds her in the care of Kurdish soldier women… She has been used and abused and sold back to them, but she is shell-shocked, eyes vacant, and no-one needs to tell us the horror she has endured.
The village people, including her family receive her with fear and Reko’s family want him to forget her, now that she is no longer a virgin, and because of her state of trauma. Her own father is wary too, and only her mother and her fiancée Reko, stand beside her and support her. Slowly she recovers somewhat, able to speak again and walk about. But there are always the stares of suspicion, condemnation from the community. There is more, but I will not go on to tell you what happens.
The film is shot on real locations in the desert, and in a UN refugee camp, and is chillingly realistic. Two hours with these Yazidi people, and we have a far more compassionate idea of what it’s like to be victims of ISIS. As if Kurds did not already have enough of a problem, being without a land of their own, but scattered across the corners where Turkey, Syria, Iraq borders meet, and oppressed by their ‘hosts’ who have the land that should be Kurdistan.
Text by Cynthia Webb
Copyright December 2016
Photo of Hussein Hassan, by Cynthia Webb
Copyright December 2016

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

APSA/BAPFF Fabulous films and film-makers of 2016.

img_0131 Caption for photo – This is Leena Yadev, director of “Parched”, the Opening Night film for the film festival.

PARCHED directed by Leena Yadav (India)
Nominated for Best Screenplay, “Parched” written by Leena Yadav, was the Opening Night film for the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to great success. It is a riot of colour by virtue of being shot in a Rajasthan village location. We follow the lives of four women who are connected by friendship and family ties and by the most powerful thing of all, ‘sister-hood’ as women, living in a world controlled by men.
Their only chance is to bond together and support one another.
They are all in different situations. Tanishtha Chatterjee plays Rani, a young widow of only 32, whose teenage son is just married to a fourteen year old girl. Her neighbor is a physically abused frequently by her husband, and her best friend is the village prostitute, who works from a tent at the carnival on the outskirts of the village.
Indian tradition is still oppressing women in the remote areas, even if the cities now contain many highly educated, and liberated Indian women. The screenplay contains talk of matters sexual, the sort of thing that women might laugh about together or say to one another, when men are not around. It has somewhat shocked audiences at home, but the Brisbane audience loved it, and this sort of innocent fun talk about ‘getting off’ by the vibration of sitting on your cellphone in your jeans pocket, served to bring them closer to these oppressed characters. It contains powerful and moving moments too, when the things these four women must bear are shocking to behold.
Leena Yadav pointed out that the sexist talk and behavior of the men and even abuse are a universal problem, (not just happening in Indian villages). She said, “Now in some places people have learned to hide things better.” She also noted “Parts of our lives (as women) are not represented on screen. There is a lack of women’s sexual politics on screen.”
With the content of this film being unusually daring for Indian cinema, Leena had a long battle with the censors, but eventually, it was passed un-cut, but had a very limited release in India. However, the battle with the censors took so long that it had already screened in Western Europe and been pirated and was being sold on the streets of India, by sellers of porn films, This categorization was just because of a pure and innocent scene featuring bare skin and closeness between two women after one has been severely beaten and has injuries, and her friend is caring for her.
The budget was small, but Leena said that she ‘reached for the stars’ when it came to choosing the people she wanted to work with. The film looks stunning on screen and it’s no accident because there are three Oscar winners in the crew, including the Director of Cinematograpy.
When Leena served on the APSA jury, a few years back, she became inspired to get the project into production. She already had written the screenplay. She was happy to see it come back home so to speak, by screening as the Opening Night Film of the film festival. It has already won 18 international awards and screened in 25 international film festivals. Box office was great in France and Spain, and it’s still in the early stages of it’s career.

Text and photo by Cynthia Webb
Copyright December 2016

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

APSA/BAPFF Fabulous Films and film-makers of 2016

Asia Pacific Screen Awards and Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival

“THE STUDENT” (directed by Kirill Serebrennikov, Russia)the-student-poster

This film was nominated in APSA’S Best Feature Film category, and tells a cautionary tale for the whole world, not just the director’s homeland, Russia. The theme is the danger of religious fundamentalism. It is adapted from a German play by Marius Von Mayenburg. Kirill Sebrebrennikov is a big name in Russia and in Germany, who is based in the Gogol Theatre in Moscow and said that the theatre had performed the play for two years. For the film’s screenplay there is an extra layer of social commentary, and the setting is a Russian small town’s high school, where a highly intelligent student (played by Pyotr Skvortsov) becomes a fundamentalist in the Russian Orthodox religion. He begins to cause disruptions at school and at home, causing worry to his mother and major stress his teachers. His fanaticism grows worse, and a tragedy occurs.
The voice of reason and of science is embedded in only one character, a female science teacher (played by Viktoriya Isakov) who finds herself at loggerheads with this bright but misguided young man, and then with her colleagues and the school Principal. Actually, the message is that she is at loggerheads with the top leadership of Russia too. The finale is powerful, as she is the only one with the courage to stand up for common sense. She pleads with her colleagues, for common sense. Saying “He doesn’t belong here. I belong here.”
“The Student” premiered at Cannes in Un Certain Regard section. It screened for about seven weeks in Moscow cinemas, and won a music award in the 2016 European Film Awards.
Kirill explained that the rollout of Russian Orthodox religious teachings is becoming bigger and bigger. Priests now come to schools. They teach religious dogma, they ban things, they dictate the dress code and moral code.
The Producer, Ilya Stewart who has lived all his life in Russia, although he has an Australian parent, said that the feeling of the days of the Soviet Union are coming back.
“The church goes not only into my brain but also into my pants,” said the director, Kirill, who when asked to explain said he meant said they are not only telling people how to think but dictating the standards for one’s sex life too.
“I do not want to divide the world into parts. I want to belong to all of the world,” he said. His fear is that if each nation’s people sink deeper into their particular religious teachings, and become closed-minded, there will be a bleak future for our world. The film unfortunately offers no solution, but who can be expected to come up with that? This is the oldest and also the contemporary problem for Humanity.

Photo below:  Left, Ilya Stewart (one of the producers) and Kirill Serebrennikov (Director) of The Student.


text and photo by Cynthia Webb
Copyright December 2016

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2016 The winners.

IMG_0333.JPGBrisbane, QLD, Australia, 24th November, 2016.  List of winners of the tenth Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

Best Feature Film: “The Cold of Kalandar” from Turkey

Best Youth Feature Film: “The World of Us” from Republic of South Korea

Best Animated Feature Film:  “Seoul Station”  from Republic of South Korea

Best Documentary Film:  “Starless Dreams” from Iran

Best Achievement in Directing:  Feng Xiaogang (People’s Republic of China) for “I am Not Madame Bovary”

Best Screenplay: “Happy Hour” from Japan

Achievement in Cinematography:  went to DOP Cevahir Sahin and Kursat Uresin for “The Cold of Kalandar”

Best Actress:  Hasmine Killip for “Pamilya Ordinaryo”  from The Philippines

Best Actor:  Manoj Bajpayee:  for “Aligarh”  from India…. and a SPECIAL MENTION for Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in “Psycho Raman” another film from India

Cultural Diversity Award:  Went to Hussein Hassan, director of “The Dark Wind” (Iraq, Qatar, Germany)

The first JURY GRAND PRIZE:  went to Youn Yuh-Jung for her performance in “The Bacchus Lady”

The second JURY GRAND PRIZE: went to Mark Lee Ping Bing, for his cinematography of the film, “Crosscurrent” (Peoples’ Republic of China)

SPECIAL MENTION by the JURY: went to: Sunny Power,(9 years old) for his performance in “LION”, (Australia)

FIAPF AWARD was presented to Manoochehr Mohammadi of Iran

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

Asia Pacific Screen Awards and Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival – what is it and why should you pay attention? by Cynthia Webb, (Gold Coast, QLD, Australia)


Hello film-lovers! Do you live in South-East Queensland? Do you love cinema enough to pay attention to the fact that the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival (BAPFF) is coming up next week? Everyone in Los Angeles knows when it’s time for the Academy Awards – the whole world knows! Yes, this is something similar, but here in Brisbane the public has a chance to see the nominated films, via the associated film festival.

BAPFF opens on 23rd November, 2016, screening an inspiring and colorful film from India – “Parched”. This film which I will be seeing for the first time at Opening Night, seems to highlight the situation of women in India, in an inspiring way. It’s about some not so ordinary women who ‘buck the system’ and so that means it’s made by women who have done the same. It has received accolades in Toronto, Canada, one of the world’s leading film festivals. It is an high note on which to begin the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival (BAPFF).

For those who don’t know, APSA can be seen as the “Oscars of Asia-Pacific”. During the last ten years, it’s been mainly dominated by Asian films. The “Pacific” part of the name, means Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands. There are less films from the latter area, although there have been some very good ones.

From the previous winning films and nominated films over the last nine years, an Asia Pacific Screen Academy has formed (similar to the Academy in Hollywood, which runs the Academy Awards). Our APSA Academy is also a list of spectacular talent. In fact APSA has been where some now world famous film-makers got their first high level international recognition.

The story of Asghar Farhadi of Iran is the most obvious one. He first came to APSA with his film “About Elly” in 2009, won the Grand Jury Prize and Best Screenplay award, and took home the APSA/MPAA funding award for his new screenplay, “A Separation”. This enabled him to make the film. The scenario repeated itself, when he returned with the finished film in November 2011, and it went on to win Best Feature Film at APSA, then continued to scoop up every major world award , finalizing Farhadi’s amazing year with an Academy Award, for Best Foreign Language Film (2012) – the first one ever for Iran. In total, “A Separation” lists 77 wins and 42 nominations around the world, and we saw it first, here at APSA. This could happen again this year for someone and their film – why not? I’m wondering if it might be “Muhammad – The Messenger of God” – a film with superb talent at its helm and behind its lens, and on an epic scale.

APSA opens doors for comparatively unknown Asia-Pacific film-makers to emerge into the international world of cinema.

This is the tenth year of APSA, and we must thank the city of Brisbane, who rescued APSA back in 2012, when the Queensland Government changed from Anna Bligh’s administration, over to the years I personally prefer to forget, under Campbell Newman. He looked around for things to cut, and a lot of things to do with art and culture were on his radar, so APSA was in serious jeopardy. But the long-sighted people in the Brisbane City Council had more vision! They committed themselves to maintain and support APSA.

Brisbane can be seen as firmly linked into the “Asia-Pacific” in identity, because of its location, so tropical, so “Pacific “— and also because it already had a high-profile event in the region – the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, based at our very own Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). I still haven’t understood why Newman’s government didn’t understand this.

This year’s Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival contains most of the films that are nominated in this world-class screen-awards event, The tenth Asia Pacific Screen Awards. It also contains a retrospective of the most exquisite Japanese films from an era of classic film-making in Japan. The black and white, 4:3 screen-ratio art films – which can make your heart and soul sing for the sheer beauty within them. This is Head Programmer, Kiki Fung’s special gift to us this year.

There is also a new “category” – which comes from hearing the comments from the fans of the previous Brisbane International Film Festival. Many people missed the opportunity to see the international masterpieces of the last year – winners from Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto.
So those of you who are waiting for “Toni Erdmann” (Maren Ade) and “Personal Shopper” (Olivier Assayas) , “Paterson” (Jim Jarmusch), “No Home Movie” (the late Chantal Akerman), “The Unknown Girl” (the Dardenne Brothers), and more – here is your opportunity. Book now, as these films have only one screening.
AND, dont forget, there is also a Gala screening of the newest and much anticipated new film by the above-mentioned Asghar Farhadi, (Iran), entitled “The Salesman”. As mentioned, Farhadi is a long-time friend of, and three time visitor to APSA. He recently served as Head of Jury. He’s now frequently mentioned by critics as a Maestro of World Cinema!

And another film of huge interest, is “Muhammad, The Messenger of God”, by Iranian director Majid Majidi. He has had a long career, and some of you may remember his film “The Color of Paradise” (1999) which was much loved in Australian Film Festivals. Also, “Children of Heaven” (1997). The newest work by Majidi, is photographed by none other than another Maestro (of cinematography),one of my life-long idols – Vittorio Storaro. The film runs for almost 3 hours and tells the story of the early life of Muhammad – yes, THE Muhammad. This film is of great interest, for those who wish to keep up with world events, as it’s made by a member of the Shia Islam group, who are considerably out-numbered by the Sunni Muslims. As far as I know it’s only the second film after a 1976 film, “The Message”, starring Anthony Quinn, (as Muhammad’s uncle) and Irene Papas, telling biographical story of Muhammad himself. That film was directed by Mustapha Akad, shot in Libya,(oh how times have changed) and ran for 177 mins) It was a co-production from Lebanon, Libya/Kuwait,Morocco, and UK. It was also nominated for an Oscar. “Muhammad, The Messenger of God” is Iran’s choice to submit to The Academy Awards for 2017.

As the film choice in mainstream cinemas becomes increasingly banal here in Australia’s multiplexes, here is your chance to see what’s really happening in the international film scene.The fact is, a lot of the best films of today are coming from the Asia-Pacific and Europe… and only occasionally from USA, but our cinemas are mostly offering us Hollywood fare, as usual. Yes, there are sometimes a few USA Indie films and some from the UK, and some semi-arthouse fare from France, which sometimes give us a lift. Otherwise, we don’t see much of great interest.

So my friends, do yourself a favour – go and see some of the films on offer at BAPFF – but also please remember to check thoroughly the trailers and information on their website and in the published (paper) program. .. looking for what suits your own personal interests. The screenings are at Palace Barracks cinemas, and at Palace Centro in Fortitude Valley.

A film festival exists to offer audiences the best of the art form. It’s a bit like going to the opera, instead of being content with listening to commercial radio all day! A film festival should bring us contemporary works, which are pushing the boundaries of the art of film-making, showing us worlds and lives that we haven’t experienced. Often there are ‘classics’ – films that are important in the development of the art of film. As you all well know, movies have many identities. They’re often just pure fun, holding no challenge, sharing no new perspectives, and making no demands, the worst of them just following a formula. Those are for a few hours of entertainment while you eat your popcorn! But even in most popular genres, there are poor, average and excellent examples.

Films are submitted to APSA from across the Asia-Pacific region, and are viewed by an international and highly qualified Nominations Council, and by process of elimination the members of that council come up with around 40 nominated films in the various categories. Amongst those nominations are usually some films from world respected directors, along with works from first time filmmakers, or at least, unknown outside their own country. Some of the works are simple and sparse, and yet compelling viewing – such as one from China,”Knife in the Clear Water” in which almost every frame is a work of art, reminding me of Vermeer and Georges de La Tour paintings. It’s up for the Cultural Diversity award, but wouldn’t be out of place if it had been nominated for Best Cinematography either.

The best aspect of APSA is that we get to see the cultures of places that some people probably cannot find on a map, where we didn’t even realize there might be a film industry. What a treat it is.

AND, don’t forget the documentaries. This is the era of amazing documentaries! They are no longer dry and boring and full of talking-heads. Some of them are unforgettable, and there’s one this year in that category , entitled “Under the Sun” which tells the story of how life is in North Korea, by following a little girl’s entry into school. This documentary has been so cleverly made and edited, and it is heart-wrenching. The film-makers have achieved a miracle in spite of being watched and often controlled every minute by government representatives. We know so little of what’s going on in that country, so don’t miss this film.

I have already watched quite a number of the nominated films in APSA, which are screening in BAPFF and believe me, they will wake you up, get you thinking, and sometimes stun you into seeing cinema in a whole new way.

Text – copyright, Cynthia Webb, November 2016

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment


A Documentary film by George Gittoes, (Australia) 2.28mins

Please go to my review, below the picture…….



“Steel”, one of the Snow Monkeys

 Snow Monkey (2015) a documentary film, directed by George Gittoes
I sat down this morning to have a look at the opening scenes of this documentary, but intending to watch it later in the evening, since the film is two and a half hours long. But, let me tell you, this is compulsive viewing, the time passes in a flash, and I couldn’t tear myself away. My plans for the morning were forgotten. This street level expose of what it’s like to live and struggle in the streets of Jalalabad, Afghanistan is a high-octane and fearless piece of cinema, not to be missed. If you are someone who still thinks that documentary films are dry and boring, forget that immediately. In spite of the tragic circumstances that it is showing us, it is unexpectedly enjoyable, and that is its brilliance.
The history of the Australian artist George Gittoes, and how he has come to this place, can be read online in other resources.
George’s relationship with his friends and neighbours in Jalalabad is one of warmth and mutual respect. His utterly non-judgmental way of relating to everyone, has brought him respect from even a local Taliban leader and the local authorities, who know that he helps people. He and his partner Hellen Rose, have established “The Yellow House” – a sort of headquarters for their artistic activities, and it appears to function as a drop-in centre too, for young people with more problems than usual.

Yes, this is Afghanistan and life is one big problem for almost everyone. But George concentrates on finding ways to assist the young children of the poor. He does what he can for these brave and tough children, (one of whom should be in kindergarten) working on the streets, to find money for their families. He finds ways to make their chosen enterprises work better for them all.
Some recycle rubbish, and there’s a group of boys who sell ice-blocks, who are frequently being picked on and robbed by another gang of petty criminal boys their own age. The leader of that latter group, is nick-named “Steel” and he’s one tough customer with razor blades between his teeth, like a Hong Kong pick-pocket. But as the film goes on, George gets close to him, and we begin to see what George is seeing… a very bright and brave kid, using his talents to live, but who has developed a merciless side, when it comes to robbing those weaker than himself. He says he despises the kids who cry when he robs them. Every other kid on the street is weaker than “Steel”. Much older men, including the drug addicts in the park, all speak of him with respect and some fear, although some are more than twice his age.

“Snow Monkey” also shows us the glorious humanity of people everywhere is strong, despite everything. Even “Steel” who seems to be hardened to the point of definitely deserving his nick-name, is a teenager in love with another young street-girl, who loves him back. “Snow Monkey” shows us the respect between the children, their fathers, (we never see any mothers, although some are reportedly rather cruel, beating and driving at least one of the children to find more money.) We are blind-sided by twice seeing a Taliban headman who seems to be very intelligent, respectful and considerate, at least towards George Gittoes! Jalalabad is under Taliban rule during filming.

George may or may not have seen Joshua Oppenheimer’s ground-breaking documentary film, “The Act of Killing”, however he is using the same idea that Joshua used. He engages the various street children in making his documentary film, and also in making their own film based on the style of local Afghan gangster films. This is a sure-fire way to engage teenagers, and they are thrilled to have the chance to learn how to use the camera, and even show some acting talent too. When they finally see themselves in the finished DVD of their home-movie their delight knows no bounds. There is a huge street poster, for their film, which enhances their street-cred immensely.
Also working to superb effect in George’s finished documentary film, “Snow Monkey” are the shots of the other posters for the Afghan gangster films, on which the children’s own movie is based.

“Snow Monkey’s” story-telling about each young worker or gangster in Jalalabad, and events in their daily lives, is also punctuated by shots of various types of flying machines passing overhead – planes, helicopters, drones.
My special congratulations to the editor, Nick Meyers and his assistant Keny Ang, who have done a superb job, assembling what might well have been a huge amount of somewhat confusing footage. The final result flows superbly, and George and his co-cinematographers have captured some powerful and moving images.

But the lingering feeling is that people are the same everywhere. They value and long for the same things. Family, food and water, shelter, safety, education, and a way to earn enough money to have this – a decent standard of living. These are basic human rights. But in this unjust world, some have it all – some don’t have any of it, or only some of it.

This documentary will tell you more about Afghanistan, in 2hrs 30 minutes, than has ever been communicated to us by our somewhat biased and often cowardly media, (or do I mean cowardly TV viewers?) When I say that, I am referring to the images of the utter carnage outside the Bank of Kabul, Jalalabad, after a bombing attack by ISIS. There are body parts, blood and horror, the like of which would not be shown on our evening news from SBS or the ABC. And to make sure we’ve seen the truth, the shot comes up twice and is held long enough to make it impossible to look away. Friends and family members of the protagonists in George’s film have died. Even the Taliban leader condemns this vicious attack on innocent citizens.

Another moving moment that actually had tears running down my face, was the day the brightest of George’s teenage Afghan comrades who had completed their crash-course at “The Yellow House” with a young volunteer school-teacher, donned their spotless school uniforms, and exercise books in hand went to the local school. George and the teacher convinced the principal to allow them to do a test to prove that they were to a standard enabling them to join up with the class, mid-term.

The hope and joy on the faces of those young boys will stay with me forever. For the first time in their young lives, the clouds have parted, and they can hope and dream of a better future. It is so heartbreaking and infuriating to think how many bright young minds in this war-torn, poverty stricken world, never have a chance to enjoy the inside of a classroom.
“The Yellow House” was the name of an artists’ communal house in Sydney, back in the Seventies, where the young George Gittoes was a frequent visitor. Back then, older artists helped the young George, and now he is doing the same, and he has uncompromisingly chosen to do it in a place where he’s putting his own life at risk.

“Snow Monkey” is the nickname of a gang of children, which they made up for themselves. But most of all “Snow Monkey” is a documentary film that you must see. We, who live in a safe and comfortable country, (Australia) one which has participated in war in Afghanistan, owe it to the people of that unfortunate country to witness their plight.

(For people in Australia, the film is currently on SBS on Demand, and it is nominated in the Best documentary category at the tenth Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (24 November 2016) in Brisbane.)
Writer: Cynthia Webb
(Copyright, November 2016)


Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“Embrace of the Serpent” (Colombia, 2015) directed by Ciro Guerra


“EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT’ (Colombia) directed by Ciro Guerra
(Best Foreign Language Film Nominee, 2016)
“Embrace of the Serpent” is visually ravishing, in black and white, emotionally rewarding, and intellectually satisfying. I’ve been thinking, that if/when director, Terence Malick sees it, he will wish he had made it, as it has similar preoccupations to his recent films. It confronts the most challenging and bewildering issues facing Mankind.
Contained in this amazing work, all the things we need to know about life on Earth! It is multi-layered, leaving us with many issues to ponder afterwards. The story is actually two similar stories, one taking place in 1909 and one in 1940, linked by Karamakate, the Native Amazonian Tribesman in the poster illustration, who guides two different white-men up the Columbian Amazon ( the titular “Serpent”), at two different stages of his own life… when a young adult, and as an old and lonely man, beginning to forget himself and everything he used to know. Both white men are searching for a rare, possibly even extinct plant, Yakruna, with profound healing properties. Of course, they are searching for more than that, but are only dimly aware of that fact.
The issues to ponder include:

profound ideas about spirituality,
the tragedy of Colonialism,
the damage done by religious conversion of people who already have their own deep spirituality,
the destruction of the wholeness of Nature and her balance, when white men begin to intrude, (in this case – rubber barons),
the way white man’s scientific and technical advancement separates him from Nature.
During the two men’s stories, it is twice stressed that all our “stuff” (material things) holds us back, down, and in a sort of quick-sand of dependency, preventing us from travelling spiritually, OR up the river Amazon. The canoes are too heavy. (This immediately reminds me of the teaching of The Buddha, respect for all living things, and that the River represents Life.)
There is a timeless archetypal theme of pursuing a “holy grail”, and strong echoes of “Heart of Darkness” (Joseph Conrad).
The importance of dreaming is stressed, and for those of us who live in Australia, there is a strong resonance that reminds us of our own Aboriginal people who also had this Dreaming wisdom and deep connection with aspects of Nature that we Westerners can barely even imagine, unless we are dreaming too.
The film’s story is based on actual events recorded in travel diaries of two white explorers… Theodor Koch-Grunberg from Germany (1909) and Richard Evans Schultes of USA(1940). The horrifying scenes with the misguided religious cult and their “Messiah” actually happened. Those scenes also link the two explorers’ visits to the river-side Mission, thirty-one years apart, by cause and effect. (The other link, of course. is Karamakate.)  Filmed on location in the Amazon, the  awe-inspiring power of nature is humbling to the protagonists, and to us in our comfortable cinema seats.
This film is like cry of agony from the heart of Mother Earth….”Please white people, change your ways before it’s too late!”
Lines of dialog uttered by Karamakate: “We must help the whites to understand us, or we’re finished,” and “The whites will consume and destroy everything.”
The interwoven structure of the film is ideal and the editing, cinematography, and acting, often by untrained local people are all superb. It is a profound Ecological prayer and a masterpiece of cinema.
Copyright – September, 2016, Cynthia Webb

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

A COPY OF MY MIND (2015)D.Joko Anwar

A COPY OF MY MIND ( Indonesia, 2015)
Joko Anwar’s Jakarta – a huge city where a large majority of the people struggle each day to make a living. They often work for tiny incomes, and they know the way to survive – eating Indo-Mie and living in cheap accommodation.
There is also a rapidly growing middle class including an inspiring group of creatives, intellectuals and good, hard-working families.
And of course the city contains people of the other extreme – rich beyond the imagining of the masses, and sometimes they are corrupt opportunists and even politicians too.
The film’s events take place during an election campaign, and Joko Anwar has taken advantage of the powerful street scenes and demonstrations during the election of 2014, when President Joko Widodo was elected, with a small majority. Those with all the hopes pinned on him were voting for a President who knows them, is “from them”, (not the Elite) and is without suspicion of corruption.
Indonesians are totally fed up and want an honest Democracy, after 32 years of Military Dictatorship, and an interim period since the fall of Suharto (May 1998), where corruptors were still pulling the strings in the background.
So in this complex socio-political situation, amongst this seething mass of humanity, we meet two nice young people from the first group. Sari works for a pittance in a rather run-down beauty salon, giving facials. Alek works for one of the businesses in Chinatown, where DVDs are pirated, putting Indonesian subtitles to newly released foreign films, and sometimes including porn movies – and not very good sub-titles either! The pay is ridiculously small, but he’s not so good at the job and it is all supposed to be illegal anyway. Those who have lived in Jakarta, and bought these discs, know that bad subtitles are common, whatever the original language of the film, until the piraters get their hands on the official international DVD release.
It was helpful of the director to tell us (within dialogue between Alek and Sari), which are the better quality DVDs (technically) and how to distinguish them from the lesser ones! The piraters copy everything – cinema rubbish, and Cannes Film Festival or Oscar winners, without discretion. They don’t know the difference, and often put wrong pictures and text on the packages too, which can sometimes give the more knowledgeable viewer more amusement than the disc inside.
Joko Anwar is a cinephile, with a huge body of knowledge of world cinema, as well as knowing how to make a good film himself. I would hazard a guess that he got this opportunity from watching a lot of pirated films, which have served their purpose well, in helping create one of Indonesia’s best film contemporary directors.
The atmosphere of the film is authentic in every detail, because Joko Anwar knows his city, and he has filmed in the city’s streets and back alleys, in real pirate DVD outlets, and Beauty Salons.
The inspiration to shoot his stars mingling in the real political campaign crowds really adds to the tension, when the plot steps up the pace in the latter part of the film. Election campaigning and demonstrations really bring out huge crowds into the streets and stadiums. Something politicians in Australia (for example) could only envy. But Indonesians have relatively recently fought a war of independence (with Dutch Colonialists and their allies) to run their own country, and now appreciate that they have a chance to live in what is probably South East Asia’s best (only?) democracy, so they are extremely interested in the politicians and the election campaigns. It’s not perfect yet, but they are working on it.
In this way Joko Anwar has told us a lot about his city and his country, which really enriches the story and our understanding of who these two young lovers are, and why they live the way they do.
Sari loves to watch Monster and Alien movies, and we meet her in a huge DVD store in Glodok, North Jakarta, (Chinatown), trying to exchange a DVD that has garbled Indonesian subtitles. Near here she meets Alek, the man who did those sub-titles, and after not long at all, his irresistible flirting and charm convinces her that he’s a nice guy and she goes with him to his room to look at his DVD collection. He lends her a handful of movies, a clever move, because he wants her to come back to return them. Soon they are lovers and their relationship develops into real love.
BUT, Sari is unhappy in her dead-end job, and she takes a position in an upmarket salon where conditions and the pay will be better, after her initial training period. After a week or so she’s not happy with a two week training period because she feels she already knows the work. The boss (Paul Agusta) compromises with her by sending her to care for a private client, who is in jail for corruption. This woman, Mrs Mirna, is at first wary of the new girl, but is soon talking a lot, while enjoying her facial treatment. Her jail cell looks more like a 4-star hotel room, (another slice of reality, in Indonesia, where well-connected and rich prisoners can have this privilege). Along with her flat screen TV she has a DVD collection. Sari spots one she’d like to watch, “Piranha v. Anacobra”, and slips it into her bag while her client is in the bathroom, intending to return it next time. It’s no Art-House film, but by now we know that she’s a sweet and smart, yet simple girl who has only recently come to Jakarta from a small town or village, to try to make a better life for her-self.
But this DVD is the cause of the lovers’ idyllic and passionate relationship running into trouble. When they start watching it, they see that the disc inside the packet is not “Piranha v. Anacobra”, but a private DVD recording of Mrs Mirna negotiating a corrupt deal for forest land on which to cut the trees and replace them with a resort. And she is talking with some of the highest level politicians of the time, who are now running for office, or trying to hold on to their places in Government. Their faces have been seen by the young protagonists, and by us, on TV several times.
The conversation reveals many topical issues of today’s Indonesia, such as polygamy, illegal deforestation and of course the ingrained corruption that still exists.
Sari asks her boss to send her back to replace the DVD, and has to confess to him what she has done, but it’s already too late. He gets violent and scared too. He tells her to just forget it, and go into hiding immediately.
But, the secret DVD has been missed already, and the crooks are on her trail. She is now not living in her own “Kost” (cheap room in a hostel), but hiding out at Alek’s place, which neither her boss nor the thugs know about. There she replaces him, as he has gone missing. She buys food for the invalid landlady downstairs, as he did, in return for free accommodation. Her own children are too busy to bother about her.
However, Alek has gone to Sari’s room to find her, and there some thugs grabbed him, put a bag over his head, beat him, and kidnapped him. The stakes are high, and once on their territory they beat him cruelly, but he will not tell them where Sari is.
Meantime Sari is desperately looking for him, walking in the election campaigning crowds, with a feeling of real dread in her heart, whose anxious throbbing is accentuated by beating drums of the marchers.
She has to find another way to dispose of the DVD, and her idea is the best bit of inspiration in Joko Anwar’s clever screenplay, which will be of great satisfaction to viewers of this well-made film, which mixes a love story with a thriller.
The love-scenes and a masturbation scene in the screener version I saw, appear sure to upset the Indonesian censors who will probably demand cuts if this film is to get general distribution. However, meantime, it is having a successful trip around the Film Festival circuit, Venice, Toronto, and Busan, South Korea.
Joko Anwar is a unique Indonesian film-maker, as his film-making style clearly demonstrates all that he has learned from a lifetime of consuming foreign-films and learning well from some of the best films ever made. Pirate DVDs were the only way to access most of them. His films stand out from other films made in Indonesia, by being edgy, daring, controversial and thoroughly contemporary.
“A Copy of My Mind” has an international style, although it’s subject matter and setting are totally Indonesian.
It stars, Chicco Jerikho as Alek and Tara Basro, as Sari. There is a short appearance by Aryo Bayu,as “man in black and Maera Panigoro plays Mrs Mirna. Paul Agusta, another Jakarta cinphile”, plays the Salon Manager, and Ronny P. Chandra plays “Mr Ronny”.
Paul Agusta’s character is another typical (and topical) Jakarta character. While trying to present the image of a boss of a high class establishment, he keeps on slipping into English when speaking with Sari about her job. Using English is trendy, to show your sophistication, and appear smarter than others. Some commentators criticize this and say it’s a cultural cringe, and that people should use and be proud of their own language, which is quite adequate for most purposes.
All aspects of the jig-saw puzzle that is a film, are good, and it is so great to see an Indonesian film which can hold its own both at home, and internationally, and I enjoyed it very much.
Copyright, by Cynthia Webb (March, 2016)

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“Phoenix” (Christian Petzold, 2014)




Poster PHOENIXPHOENIX (2014) directed by Christian Petzold (Germany)
review by Cynthia Webb
Do we ever really know or really see our partners in love and in life?
Is the beloved seen in the clear light of reality, or rather as we want them to be?
How far can the ability to deceive oneself and one’s loved one really go?
Is this what is behind the many breakdowns in relationships when the illusory image eventually breaks down, or when one person sees behind the mask of the beloved other?
Human beings are infinitely complex and capable of the unexpected.
In the film “PHOENIX”, these questions are all the more poignant, because they are raised in the most tragic circumstances.  A Jewish woman named Nelly returns to Berlin, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the Nazi Concentration Camps. A survivor returning in facial bandages, and who is in the care of a friend, Lene, who worked in an official office, and knows that Nelly’s German (a Gentile) husband had not only betrayed her to the Nazis, but also divorced her, and will now be wanting to access her fortune if she reappears.
But Nelly is in a condition of extreme shock and has lost contact with her own identity. The one thing she knows is that she once had comfort and love with Johnny, a musician. She has had her love for him in her heart and mind, helping her to survive the horror of the Camp, and now she is seeking him, even after her bandages after plastic surgery have been recently removed, and her face is still bruised, blackened and her expression is grief stricken.
As this is now post-war Berlin under United States Army occupation, she eventually finds him working in a club appropriately called PHOENIX.
In Johnny’s mind his wife is dead. It is well known that many German men, who had married Jewish women, divorced their wives who’d been taken to the Camps, in the extreme conditions of World War Two.
When Johnny (now Johannes) sees a pathetic trembling woman who resembles his ex-wife Nelly,  she is holding back, watching and waiting to see his reaction. But he doesn’t recognise her, and  quickly conceives a plan of recreating this sad creature to play his wife, returning from the Camp by train….the very same way that she was transported to the concentration camp.
Just like a film director, sees the scenario in his mind. He trains her to write, and to behave in the way he saw his wife behave. He has her change  her hair and there is a victorious red dress for her to arrive home in. He plans that he will notify her friends ( her family are all dead) and he will accompany them to the train station, and receive her back into his life, and thereby get access to the financial fortune of her murdered family. There are references to the cinema history – when he shows her the cover of a magazine with a picture of Hedy Lamarr, and references to various famous films.
Nelly’s friend Lene, who has nursed her after her facial operation, warns her many times, but Nelly is longing for things to be as they once were, and that seems to be driving her behaviour. Or does she only want to see who her husband really is, and how far he will go? Somewhere during the course of the story, one attitude becomes the other…. we are not sure of the exact moment.
Johnny is blinded by his own desire for wealth, while working a menial job in the ruins of Berlin. Even after this pathetic and sad waif of a woman has been recreated into someone that people instantly recognise as the real Nelly he still believes that Nelly is dead, and that his plan will work. He still tells her that she is different from the real Nelly – because he wants and therefore believes it to be so.
Of course, this all recalls the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, “Vertigo”, (1958) where James Stewart’s character sees a woman who resembles his lost love, played by Kim Novak, and persuades her to co-operate with his crazy plan to re-model her. She also plays along, because she loves the man.
So, here in “PHOENIX”, lurk uncomfortable questions of identity, of self-deception, and about the blindness that often accompanies love. They are in our minds as we watch this fascinating game being played out between the couple.
It is all very unsettling. All the more so, because  even the innocent (or not so innocent?) German friends, who meet the returning Nelly as she leaves the train, are willing to believe,  conveniently blind to the truth that should be plain to see. In the final scene celebrating with their friends, where Johannes plays the piano, and she sings “Speak Low” – a song that obviously means a lot to the couple,  the moments are  charged with many emotions. It is a situation where the truth might reveal itself once and for all. You must see the film, to know the outcome.
Frightening thoughts about the ambiguities present in nature of love will be your companion long after you see this enigmatic film.
PHOENIX is now getting limited cinema release in Australia, (December 2015).
Copyright, December 2015 – Cynthia Webb

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“The Assassin”


(image courtesy of the Producers)

The Assassin (Nie Yinniang) directed by HOU Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan, 2015
Review by Cynthia Webb

In the recent Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival, the stand-out film for me was Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s “The Assassin”, for which he won Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and five of the major awards at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Festival.

This is not just a film – this is a meditation on beauty, it’s a visual dream for the senses and the soul. It is allowing oneself to be absorbed into the ancient Chinese cultural traditions of painting and poetry, of the philosophy of The Dao. It is about concepts that today’s Western culture has no real equivalent of and perhaps no adequate words for. On screen I saw images similar to the ones in my book of Chinese traditional paintings of the last 200 years. (Such as these….. continue reading after the  2 photos)



Review Continued: This is a purely cinematic experience, because it’s all about the atmosphere, essence, and visual experience. The elements of nature are all-pervading– trees and grass moving in the wind, water, rocks, clouds and mist, smoke, fire, rain-forests, sunlight. To prioritise the visual , there is very little dialogue, and the acting style has been minimalized too.

The protagonist, Nie Yinniang is almost silent, inexpressive, and yet she is on high alert to her surroundings. She has been in the care of a Dao-ist Nun, after being separated from her family in the province of Weibo ten years earlier. The tale is set during the Tang Dynasty – (618-907 AD). She is the product of many long years of strict training in the arts of assassination, and she is supposed to have total control of her emotions as well as her body. The black-clad Yinniang moves like the shadow of destiny personified.

But Yinniang has failed in her first assignment, and now her strict white robed mentor is giving her one last chance, to make a life defined by the Way of the Assassins. She is sent back to her childhood home, to assassinate the powerful leader, Tian Ji’an, to whom she was once betrothed, and who is also her cousin.

The plot is simple, and it is also played down and not pressed upon the audience in the usual way. Everything is held in check, so that the visuals define the experience.

In the Q & A session after the film, the Director of Cinematography, Mark Lee Ping-Bing told the audience that actually they need not worry too much about the story because this work is all about the images, and the atmosphere. There is almost no music to distract us from the images either – only sometimes the beat of a hypnotic rhythm or the sounds of Nature.

For the images we obviously owe a lot to the Mark Lee Ping-Bing, – one of the greatest cinematographers working today. For me he must be included in the list of names such as Vittorio Storaro, Nestor Almendros, and Christopher Doyle, for the sublime beauty that they have brought to the screen.

Mark Lee Ping Bing (DOP) told us that the director had no storyboard, and almost no screenplay as a guide to work from.

“He never tells me what he wants, and I am the one who has to face up to him and find an idea that makes him happy. If he doesn’t like it he tells me so to my face. Making the entire film was very difficult, as we used natural lighting outdoors, with only one or two takes, and indoors we used only very little additional lighting to achieve our shots.”

He has known Hou Hsiao-Hsien for thirty years, and they have made ten films together so there is a lot of trust between them.

“Hou Hsiao-Hsien has thirty years of directing experience, and he doesn’t care much about the audience’s understanding of the stories. He cares about the films lasting for generations. The first movie I shot with him was in 1985, and money is still coming in from that film – from film school screenings, from creating the Blu-Ray version. They must be works of art and what counts is making a beautiful image,” explained DOP, Mark Lee Ping-Bing.

Shooting took place on the island of Taiwan, and the Art Director, Ding Yang Wong, and the Costume/Production Designer Wen-Ying Huang have joined with the DOP to bring us one of most exquisite films ever put onto celluloid.

“With my way of shooting everything is dangerous. We need to keep going. For example, the scene on the mountain with Yinniang and her Mentor, we couldn’t waste 35mm film, so we needed to begin shooting at the right moment, keeping an eye on the movement of the mist, so that we could finish the whole shot.”

There are some glorious indoor scenes in the palace of Tian Ji’an and his family – the deeply saturated rich colours are mesmerizing, with scenes of dancing women, and filmy silken drapes. Sometimes the camera is hiding behind those fine gauze curtains and peeping at the life of the family or suspiciously watching the Queen’s behavior. Is it her, the mysterious golden masked warrior who confronts Yinniang in the bamboo?

Yinniang realizes that to kill the Lord Tian Ji’an would throw the kingdom into chaos, because his children are still so young, or perhaps she still has familial affection?   Although she could have carried out her task, she begs her Mentor for mercy and even briefly fights with her, when her answer comes:  the way of the sword is merciless.

Scattered throughout this film, were many direct visual references to King Hu’s “A Touch of Zen”, from the 1970s, a newly restored version of which was also screened in the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival the day before I saw its inheritor, “The Assassin”. That was a big help in having deeper appreciation of the new film.

There is a small group of films which are legend in the annals of cinematography, that includes Days of Heaven, In the Mood for Love, Barry Lyndon, The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky, and now we must add The Assassin.

If you love art and beauty, you must see “The Assassin” on the big screen – and you will learn the denouement for Yinniang and Tian Ji’an.
“The Assassin” is Taiwan’s official entry into the Academy Awards, for March 2016.

Text by Cynthia Webb – copyright 3 December 2015


 A painting by Liu Lingcang, entitled “A great poet – Li Bai, 701-762 AD  (Tang Dynasty). Note – this is the era of the setting of the story in the film “The Assassin”.




Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA)

Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) at the Brisbane City Hall, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Thursday, November 26, 2015. The Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) recognise and promote the cinematic excellence and cultural diversity of the vast Asia Pacific region. (Photo by 275022000002 for Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA))Asia Pacific Screen Awards and Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival



History and Philosophy

by Cynthia Webb

It’s the second year that these two events have been teamed up and the idea is a good one because it enables the public to see most of the films nominated in The Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA), plus a selection of other films from the region, which includes 71 countries, and a population of about 4 billion people.

APSA always has a specially selected international member Jury made up of very experienced film-makers. Past Heads of Jury have been luminaries as Asghar Farhadi,(Iran), and Lord David Puttnam (UK), Bruce Beresford (Australia), Shyam Benegal (India), Jan Chapman (Australia), Nansun Shi (Hong Kong), Huang Jianxin (People’s Republic of China),Shabana Azmi (India), and this year Head of Jury was Korean film industry legend Professor Kim Dong-Ho.

The Nominations Council (who have to sort through 300-400 submissions) and the Jury, who view and discuss at length about 39 nominated films, are instructed to bear in mind that APSA’s philosophy is to recognize films that best express, display and communicate the culture from which they come. There are also special awards from UNESCO, and from FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producers Associations), and there are categories for short films and documentaries, and animation films too.
The November 2015 APSA was in its ninth year, after starting at Gold Coast in 2007, when it was supported by the Queensland State Government. The concept came from the first Chairman of APSA, Mr Des Power. The structure of APSA is similar to The Academy Awards of Hollywood, – it’s a film awards event and only in the last two years has had its accompanying film festival.

When a change of political climate came, with the election of Campbell Newman’s State Government, APSA was no longer funded from the State coffers. There was some insecurity and worry, during the 2013 APSA event. However, riding to the rescue came the far-sighted people from The City of Brisbane (City Council), with a promise of financial support to enable APSA to continue.

It makes sense, as Brisbane is also the home of the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, taking place right now at the Gallery of Modern Art. Also Brisbane is located in the ‘tropical north’ and as the State capital, has strong links with the Asia-Pacific islands, communities and nations to our north and east. It is our region. We eat the same tropical fruit, and frolic in the same ocean. We suffer the same cyclones, and occasional heat waves. In many ways, we have more in common with the Asia-Pacific region, than we have with the Australian cities to the south.

Since the beginning, APSA has been building an Academy made up of film-makers whose films have been nominated or awarded at APSA, and also the members of the Nominations Council for and the Jury members for each year. Now, the list numbers about 1000 and names include some of the most highly regarded film-makers in the world today.

Much loved Australian actor, Jack Thompson is the APSA Academy President and says how proud he is to have this role, and to attend APSA each year. When Jack speaks, in his sincere and authoritative and unique voice, everybody pays attention. He mentioned that an Academy should be of benefit to its members, exchanging, exploring and providing opportunities for one another.

There is also an adjoining project, with Griffith University Film School, – “Asia Pacific Screen Lab”, which was launched at APSA 2014, and is administered by Herman Van Eyken, Philip Cheah, and Ki Yong Park. Each year applicants are selected, to be mentored during early stages of their projects, by the APSA Academy members best suited and located for the successful film-makers.

In the Asia-Pacific region there are many city film festivals, but APSA is the only event that casts a wide net across the entire enormous region – one third of the surface of our planet, the fastest growing region economically, socially, which includes seventy countries. There is a huge variety of cultures and through cinema these cultures may all communicate, share their similarities and their traditions.

The present Chairman of APSA, Michael Hawkins called film-makers, “the philosophers of our time” in his speech at the APSA ceremony, and to a large extent this was evident in the films that were nominated for awards. Watching the films of this region, one learns so much. We can also empathise with people from remote places we know nothing about, because we usually see that everywhere, everybody has the same joys and sorrows, the same life challenges, and the same simple desires – just those basic human rights to security, enough to eat, a decent life, and a loving family, and circle of friends. We can also look through time and space into cultures that are still living traditional lives, but where modernity is rapidly advancing on their previously simple lives, linked strongly to nature.

I saw the same factors in the wider group of films chosen to screen in the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival. What a privilege to have a chance to see these films that speak to and from the hearts of people in our region.

APSA winners get a big boost for their film on the international market and sometimes films first internationally recognized ( even in script development stage) or awarded at APSA, go on to win the world’s most famous awards. The best example of this is Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” (Iran). The director submitted his concept for that film in the hope of being awarded one of the APSA/MPAA grants of $US25,000. At that time his earlier film “About Elly” was in competition, and was awarded one of APSA’s highest prizes. He also went away with his funding, and came back the following year, with the completed film which duly won the highest award at APSA, and later made history by winning the “Oscar” at the Academy Awards, in Best Foreign Language Film Category. (The first Iranian film to do so.) More or less overnight, Farhadi went from being a leading director in his own country, but unknown to the rest of the world, to being referred to as an international Maestro of the Cinema.

Here in Australia, we’ve always had the opportunity to see films from USA and from the UK, and if we were trying harder, we could seek out European films. It has all been valuable film-life experience. However, we Australians live in the Asia-Pacific and we need to get to know our neighbours, and the wider region that we belong to. The world is rapidly “shrinking” in contemporary times, with so much travel, cultural exchange via international study, and business, social networking and of course other aspects of the internet. Events on the other side of the world, affect us right here, immediately. What better way to get familiar with the wider world, than to watch the amazing films of the Asia-Pacific, where half of the cinema of the world is created?

At the end of the APSA Ceremony, film director/Master of Ceremonies Anthony Chen, of Singapore said, “The world population speaks six and a half thousand languages, but cinema unites everyone.”

If you are a serious film-lover but don’t live in Brisbane, consider planning a trip to Brisbane, Queensland, in 2016. It will be APSA’s tenth anniversary, and you can have a movie-binge of unusual and inspiring cinema. If you are a film-maker of the Asia-Pacific region, and you think you have made a good one, consider submitting it to APSA or to the Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival, 2016.

Copyright, 2nd December, 2015 – Cynthia Webb

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment


Partisan poster“Partisan”, (Australia, 2015) directed by Ariel Kleiman.
Review by Cynthia Webb

Watching this film, there is no way to know that it is an Australian-made film. It stars a French superstar, Vincent Cassel, and a group of accented English speakers, who seem “international”. This is deliberate and works well for the message that this enigmatic film  wishes to communicate to us.
Shot in Tiblisi, Georgia, and Mt Eliza, Victoria, Australia, this film goes out of its way to tell us only a minimum of information. The small group who live in a kind of commune, led by a charismatic male leader that the West has seen many of, consists of a well educated, highly opinionated Gregori, and his harem of lovely women and nice children. He is bringing them up to be survivors, but  to be something more sinister too.. assassins.

They live in a hidden location on the outskirts of a kind of “wall” of high rise buildings,  a grey and worn looking city which is known as “outside”.
We get the impression there has been some kind of mass destruction… it doesn’t matter what, because the subject of this film is the extreme folly of trying to control people, events, and maintain that control. It never, ever works.
Gregori begins to appear to be a hypocrite to his beloved son Alexander, who is entering puberty and gets a sort of revenge-ritual task (that he does but which breaks his heart) to mark his transition to manhood.

Alexander is smart, quiet, watchful, and he already knows that Gregori is beginning to resort to any lengths to maintain control. To emphasise the situation, Alexander now feels very protective towards his new-born baby brother Tobias… and we can see that he is behaving in the same way that his father may have initially behaved to protect him, when he was very young.

What children experience, is  usually what they imitate. What we are taught in the early years, may well affect the rest of our lives. It is interesting to note, that Julian Assange, once lived inside a Cult in Australia, along with his parents. His mother took him and escaped, pursued by his father, when he was at about the same age as Alexander in the film. The mother and son had to hide for some years, while his father hunted for them and tried to get them back to the clutches of the cult leader, who in that case was a woman who was biased towards blonde and aryan looking children. No wonder Julian’s life has panned out as it has –with him so suspicious of everything and always committed to the exposure of Truth at all costs.

One moral of this film “PARTISAN” is that Cults are always bad, and Cult Leaders are never the new messiah, or even a longed-for leader that can solve all of life’s problems for the followers. They are just fallible human-beings like everybody else, and the whole thing is going to end in tears or worse – as has happened since the days of Charles Manson and quite a few other cults that ended in real life mayhem, suicide and death.

The ‘other’ moral of the story is human beings cannot ever have total control of life and minds, either their own, or those of others.
The small community of the film “Partisan” which has obviously begun with good intentions, is on the road to ruination. Things are unraveling rapidly as the children grow to an age where they begin to think for themselves.

Gregori’s little “Family” can be seen as an microcosm of all of Humanity, and we must all take this allegorical warning lesson very seriously.
(text by Cynthia Webb, copyright, November 2015)

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment


“The IDOL”(Ya Tayr el Tayer) directed by Hany Abu-Assad
(Palestine, 2015)
Review by Cynthia Webb

The Opening Night film in the Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival, screened last night, 19th November 2015.
It was “The Idol”, directed by Hany Abu-Assad of Palestine. Two years ago this same director won Best Feature Film Award at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, with his tense and powerful film, “OMAR”. He is also known for his film “Paradise Now”.

“The Idol” is a different kind of experience – a Bio-pic about Mohammed Assaf, who 3 years ago became the first Palestinian ever to win “Arab Idol”. The typically glitzy event took place in Cairo, when Mohammed stopped and enthralled his entire long-suffering nation, when they paused to watch him sing on TV in the famous singing competition show.
How this unlikely miracle came about is told in a very enjoyable way, in spite of quite a lot of tragedy being always present in his life.

He fled his beloved family, friends and wrecked country, to cross the border into Egypt to participate in auditions. As he slipped past the first border guard post, who I gathered are the Israelis, he has never been allowed to return, although he has been given a diplomatic passport and travels the world.

Mohammed’s life before this life-changing decision shows us how he was encouraged by his feisty sister, Nour, who was always a force to be reckoned with. Her antics provided a lot of amusement and delight for the audience, until suddenly her young life takes a tragic turn for the worse

Because of her courage, Mohammed finds his own. He works hard at his singing…. and the film tells us that he has a voice that mesmerizes all with its tenderness.It’s wonderful, to hear the beauty of the Arabic singing – and when he sings/chants a verse from The Koran, one sceptical (about the singing competition) border guard heart melts and he stamps the passport he knows to be fake, on the spot.

There is a touch of “Rocky Balboa” here, in that the underdog who looked like he had no chance whatever, experiences luck, good turns from strangers to combine with his immense talent, and triumphs in the Arab Idol contest. He hit the headlines around the world, and a CNN broadcaster said he was ‘doing the impossible’: giving the Palestinians something to celebrate.

However, there is something else going on too, in this well-made ‘feel-good’ film. The director shot it all on location in Gaza. So he did not waste his chance to show us our golden-voiced hero at home, in his childhood with sister and friends, and in his early working life as a taxi driver, moving around on roads lined with collapsed buildings, wreckage everywhere in sight. We realize the sheer persistence needed to live day to day in Gaza in such bizarre conditions. But for the Palestinians this area has always been “home”. They love it in spite of everything, and have nowhere to go even if they wanted to.

Twice Hany Abu-Assad shows us spectacular wide shots from the sea, looking across to the Gaza Strip, what’s left of the territory squeezed up against the barrier of the Mediterranean Sea…. pushed to the West, sandy coloured buildings, matching the colour of the beach, densely piled up by the pressure of Israel’s relentless movement in their direction.

These shots of the reality of life in Gaza speak volumes. When Mohammed’s courage fails him, when he is getting close to the final in the IDOL competition, his mother tells him via the telephone – “Nothing is as hard as living in Gaza! Of course you can do it.”

In the final scenes, the director switches over to the archival footage, of the real Mohammed Assaf, and real shots of the Palestinian people gathered in the streets, jubilantly cheering their beloved Mohammed Assaf, who said that he only wanted to use his voice to speak for the people of Palestine.

For a privileged audience in Brisbane, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the film, these contrasting images brought a ‘reality check’ as we collectively felt grateful and perhaps a little guilty for the fortunate life we lead in our beautiful part of this troubled world.
(copyright, Cynthia Webb, 2015)

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“Far From The Madding Crowd” (2015) directed by Thomas Vinterberg

“Far From The Madding Crowd” (2015) directed by Thomas Vinterberg
By Cynthia Webb

“It’s difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language chiefly made by men to express theirs,” says Bathsheba Everdene – the heroine of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel, “Far From The Madding Crowd”. The 2015 re-make film by Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg has the heroine say these words, which define his modern take on the character. She is far more of a feminist and 21st Century-girl than the Bathsheba played by Julie Christie, in the 1967 John Schlesinger directed version.
Vinterberg’s Bathsheba doesn’t primp and preen in front of the mirror, and goes about her work and business in a matter of fact way. She has a lot of self-esteem and confidence. She doesn’t mind getting into the sheep dip to work beside her male employees, even if she does do it to impress her shepherd and first suitor, Gabriel Oak, the first of three men to propose to her.
Gabriel Oak, is played by Belgium’s Matthias Schoenaerts, who is an actor rising rapidly to stardom, and who is always reliable and often brilliant. He also has great versatility – compare his characters in “Bullhead” or “Rust and Bone” to this one, and that point is amply demonstrated.
Bathsheba is wilful, headstrong, and capable. She cannot see any reason why she’d want to marry and become someone’s property, particularly after she inherits a very nice house and farm from her uncle.
Bathsheba is played by Carey Mulligan, whom we’ve seen a lot of lately, (“The Great Gatsby”, “An Education”) and she too is always superb.
The three suitors portray three different types of men: Gabriel Oak, steadfast (like his name) reliable, honest, hard-working and proud. Mr Boldwood, the older wealthy man of impeccable character, who is a pillar of local society, and the flashy, self-centered and rather dangerously unpredictable Captain Francis Troy,(Tom Sturridge) wearing a “don’t trust me” moustache, a dashing army uniform and slashing his sword about. The red jacket looks stunning in the surrounding green forest, on the morning when he has a rendezvous with Bathsheba, and sexually assaults her, with a grab and a kiss, after showing off his swordsmanship skills. Worse still, Bathsheba falls for it!
Hardy’s book seemed more interested in which one she should choose, whereas the film is concentrating on Bathsheba herself – who she is and what aspects of her character are causing her to do the things she does. Pride is almost her undoing.
Thomas Vinterberg, the also dashing young Danish director, who was born in 1969, was a co-partner with Lars Von Trier, in the “dogme95” movement. For those who are not familiar with it, the idea was to make films to a set of concepts aimed at reintroducing an element of risk in film-making. It seemed to me that they dispensed with all technical aids and conventions, tripods, lighting, even sets. Some of the films were difficult to watch, – jerky camerawork, and a Spartan look, and some plots that pierced our expectations, formed by our previous film experiences.
Now, with “Far From the Madding Crowd” (and also “The Hunt” 2012) Vinterberg has departed from dogme95 and returned to the classical film-making mode, taking advantage of every kind of aid and technique that could help it to be so. It is in no way challenging, or surprising. The story telling is chronological, and it is apparently as true to the source material as a film can be, given the limited time available. He has made a truly graceful and perfect traditional film.
It is difficult if not impossible, to find any fault. My only quibble is that it would have been good to have a little more exposition of what went on between Bathsheba and Captain Troy, before the wedding scene, to make this determined refuser of marriage proposals, suddenly smile and say yes. Just the grope in the woods, the flashing swordplay and the kiss, were not quite enough, compared to the screen-time that was given to the other two suitors. There is an enjoyable contrast between Gabriel Oak and Mr Boldwood (played by the always fine, Martin Sheen.) These two have a revealing scene, which Boldwood completes by saying “I think we two understand each other.” Both of them are in love with the same woman, and know it, and yet have mutual respect.
The design, art decoration, costumes are all gorgeous. The cinematographer, Charlotte Bruus Christensen has done superb work. She has used the late afternoon golden light, with sun low in the sky, to romantic effect. She came in close for the conversations between Bathsheba and Gabriel, which works persuasively on the audience who are always hoping that he will win her hand. Whereas, for Bathsheba’s talks with Mr Boldwood they are shot from further away and stand further apart. Bathsheba even sits at the other end of the table from him.
The wheat harvest scenes recall trips to a London art gallery, or pages of art books where we saw the paintings of John Everett Milllais, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and a contemporary of author Thomas Hardy. The scenes are surely based on the study of artworks of the period.
The costumes worn by the heroine were always impeccable, and a joy to behold, particularly the crimson hat and gown in which she drove her carriage away from her old home, to take up residence at her newly inherited farm – expressing her confidence, strength and ambition to succeed in her own right.
I feel confident that there will be few or no English language films as good as this one this year, and so I expect BAFTA nominations to be showered upon this work… a literary classic, made into a classic film. Perhaps if we are lucky there may be an equal, but this work is difficult to improve on. It’s interesting how a foreigner can see another culture with such clear and true vision. The French filmmaker Pascale Ferrari’s version of Lady Chatterly (2006) or the Ang Lee version of “Sense and Sensibility” (1995) come to mind.
(Copyright August 2015, Cynthia Webb)

Posted in Cinema | 2 Comments

U-Wei Bin Haji-Saari, film maker from Malaysia, and his film “Hanyut” (2013) By Cynthia Webb

Tomorrow is going to be a difficult day for me, said U-Wei bin Haji Saari.
When asked why, he answered “because I don’t like competing.” He referred to a day back near the endof 2013 during which the Jury of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards was deliberating their awards, for thirty-nine nominated films.
He was nominated in Best Screenplay category, for his adaptation of a Joseph Conrad novel, “Almayer’s Folly”. The subsequent film he directed is entitled, “Hanyut”.
We spoke in Brisbane, sitting on a park bench under a large bronze statue of Queen Victoria, and surrounded by Victorian architecture, an apt symbol of colonialism – and a link between that place and the film U-Wei has made. Both Australia and Malaya were colonized by the British.
U-Wei was still wondering how it happened that he was actually in Brisbane for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards at all. His screenplay for “Hanyut”, was nominated but he said he did not submit his film and doesn’t really know who did, but ‘had his suspicions.’
He knows what a jury at a film event goes through, because two years earlier he was on the Jury at the Sundance Film Festival.
This now 60-ish Malaysian indie film-maker has Indonesian parents, from the Minangkabau culture, who went wandering (“merantau”) to seek their fortunes. He was born in the State of Pahang, Malaysia, and grew up in a small town which he said was “the best small town because it had a lot of cinemas.” From his early years he watched a huge variety of films from the USA, UK and India.
Discussing his film’s title U-Wei said that the Malay word hanyut has no satisfactory English equivalent, because it means wandering, lost in dangerous territory but with no hope of return or recovery of what was before.
He said, “All of the characters are in this condition.”
The setting is around 1830, in British Colonial Malaya, and Almayer is a middle aged white man of Dutch parentage, who was born in Malaya and has never been to Holland. For twenty years he’s lived in his large house up river in a jungle location, with his Malay wife, their daughter, and obsessed by his dream of finding a lost treasure that he’s heard of, and taking his daughter to Holland. When she becomes an adolescent he sends her off to an English school in Singapore, much to the despair of the girl’s mother, who becomes a little mad, but still remains very shrewd. She scorns her husband and his unrealistic ambitions. When the girl’s schooling is complete she returns on a river steamer, appearing unexpectedly, an apparition clothed in white, transformed and calmly standing beneath her parasol. Her father welcomes her, delighted. However, U-Wei said, “She returns to him damaged, because she is now split between two cultures. The white filmy clothing is like bandages on her wounds.”
Her father assures her that he will soon find his personal obsession, a legendary fortune, and take her to Holland where she will marry a fine gentleman. She is more realistic and argues that she will not be accepted there, because she is half Malay.
Enter a handsome Malay prince from another island, who may know the location of the treasure, but finds a more desirable and accessible treasure the moment his eye falls upon the lovely girl. She loves him too.
There are numerous other players in this multi-cultural situation, Arab traders, pirates, a local village headman and the village people. Everyone is manouvering towards their own particular interests, and most of them are facing a state that could be described as ‘hanyut’ because their world is being corrupted through outside influences, such as trading and colonization. Nothing will ever be the same again.
U-Wei has presented the setting and events in a very realistic way, careful not to “exoticise” everything. He deplores that particular tendency when he sees it in other films, and wanted his film to be as authentic as possible. However he has allowed the dialogue to be in today’s style. “I don’t know how they spoke then,” he said.
At the time of our meeting, the film hadn’t yet been released in cinemas in Malaysia. When asked if it would later appear on Malaysian television U-Wei replied that he is now wary of TV. “My films are like my children and I don’t want to run the risk of them being ill-treated.” However, he will make a film for TV if commissioned, and TV channels are still holding some of his earlier works.
When asked about the situation for film-makers in Malaysia, U-Wei said that he felt that many directors there did too much complaining about difficulties, when in reality this is not entirely factual. “Perhaps they pamper themselves a little too much,” he said.
He told me that to make a film in Malaysia, one may write a screenplay, make the film, and only then must it be submitted to the censors, as in most Western countries, however not possible in neighbouring Indonesia, for example.
Around twenty years ago, he himself actually had an argument with the censors when they wanted to censor the title of his film, which contained the word ‘whore’ (jalang, in Malay). “It was as if they didn’t want to admit there could be such a woman in Malaysia,” he laughed.
“Hanyut” is a fascinating film, joining two previous versions of Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim” and “Max Havelaar” (a Dutch film by Fons Rademakers, about colonial Java), and “Indochine” (France, directed by Regis Wargnier), showing us colonial times in South East Asia. It’s an interesting but not often visited time and place for film-makers to explore further, considering the exotic people and cultures and the upheavals that have occurred there during the last five hundred years.
(Copyright, text and photos – Cynthia Webb)

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“The Mirror Never Lies” (“Laut Bercermin”) 2011, Indonesia.  Directed by Kamila Andini

Review by Cynthia Webb

IMG_8687IMG_8692IMG_8678IMG_8680 Photos courtesy of the film producers, Garin Nugroho, Nadine Chandrawinata, Pemda Kabupaten Wakatobi, World Wildlife Fund – Indonesia.

I never tire of the breathtaking beauty of this film, which shows us the way of life of the Bajo people (Sea Gypsies) of Wakatobi, Suluwesi. They live an idyllic life on the sea and from the sea, at one with nature. However the story shows us that the sea can be beautiful and generous, or it can suddenly become cruel. The Bajo understand this only too well.
The screenplay contains several themes: Conservation of nature, family bonds, grief, loneliness, and intimations of womanhood within young Pakis, (Gita Novalista), who is waiting for her father (lost at sea on a fishing trip) to return. Her mother, Tayung, (Atiqah Hasiholan) is already grieving, her face is a ghost-like mask, covered by a thick layer of white paste, except around her eyes. This gives the look of a skull, symbol of death.
Because Pakis won’t accept that her father isn’t coming back, she and her mother are at odds, and this is aggravated when a sad young man from Jakarta arrives in the bamboo village, built on stilts over the coral reef. Tayung’s home is the only one that has space for a guest, (the vacant room of her lost husband), so the village head-man decides they must be his hosts. Pakis resents another man in her father’s room, but then as she watches him, she feels stirrings she hardly understands.
The guest, Mr Tudo,(Reza Rahadian) is in the Bajo village to do research on dolphins, but he too is grieving. He has in his belongings, a white dress that was obviously for his bride, who is also gone. We’re not told the details. He sometimes caresses that dress, while in another room Tayung is caressing the sarung (garment) of her husband.
Pakis observes all this and stays up most of the night, sleepless and longing for her father to come home.
There are many lighter moments, where Pakis and her village playmates go about their daily routines, tend their pets and laugh, sing, and dance. However Pakis is preoccupied, and often visits a village elder with her mirror, (a gift from her father) through which she thinks she can somehow bring him back.
“The Mirror Never Lies” is utterly ravishing to our eyes, and our senses. Almost every frame is a work of art. There are expansive skies, in daylight and at sunset, full moon in the night sky, storms and tornados at sea, glassy water shimmering on windless days, canoes silently gliding across the water, the world beneath the surface of the water, coral and sea-life. There are colourful scenes in the small huts of the village, with traditional textiles, plastic implements for practical purposes, surrounded by the all-natural bamboo structures.
We see the freedom and early independence of the children, who all swim like fish, and are very capable in their canoes and in doing their chores. They go to school in canoes too.
During the leisurely pace of the film, which perfectly portrays the lifestyle in this Bajo village, we see the precious community which binds them together, through small details, and through important scenes of life rituals, wedding, funeral, and offerings to the sea, which Pakis says is “her big mirror”.
Through narration we sometimes hear Pakis’ thoughts, as she tells us the valuable things that she has learned from her beloved father. When at last the sea offers up evidence that it has indeed taken him, she has the support of her two young friends, and it is almost a relief for her, to let him go from her life, but keep him in her heart. Now she and her mother can be close again.
The cinematography, editing, music, and design are perfection, and the actors also capture our attention and our hearts. The film is so subtle and has an exquisite beauty that is rarely seen on screen. This cinema gem is Kamila Andini’s first feature film. However it’s a film about children, rather than for children. (The DVD will be available in Indonesia around September this year.) – Cynthia Webb, July 2015
Asia Pacific Screen Awards: Best Youth Feature Film 2011
Cinemanila: “Special Mention” in category, Best South East Asian Film
Taipei Film Festival: “Special Mention” in International New Talent Award
and “Special Mention” in Competition also.
Hong Kong International Film Festival: FIPRESCI PRIZE
Tokyo International Film Festival: “Special Mention” in Asian Film Award category,
And Earth Grand Prix

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

Kamila Andini and the Struggle for Indonesian Indie film-makers

Kamila AndiniKamila Andini, emerging young film director, of Java, Indonesia, who had a lot of film festival success with her first feature film “The Mirror Never Lies”, back in 2012. Most of this interview took place before the film travelled the Asia-Pacific Film Festival Circuit. However, the situation within her country is still the same as described and discussed.

Kamila Andini and the struggle for Indonesian Indie film makers
Cynthia Webb, Jakarta, Indonesia.

‘Maybe I am crazy, but I will prove myself,’ said Kamila Andini, the twenty-five year old film director, of “The Mirror Never Lies”, her first movie which opened in five cities in Indonesia. It only had a total of fifteen thousand tickets sold, between 5th and 25th May, 2011 before its screening ended.
Cinema 21 (the dominating cinema chain at the time) has the right to stop screening the film any time and they’ll do it if the cinema is not at least half full. I even had to buy and give away tickets to try to boost audience numbers,’ said Kamila, who likes to be called Dini. She was hoping that word-of-mouth would build audience numbers, but Cinema 21 did not want to wait. She only had enough funding for ten prints of the movie, whereas usually a minimum of twenty-five copies are required for Indonesian multi city release. Everything depends on the number of ticket sales in the opening period.
She says that most Indonesian film reviewers do not really know how to interpret and review an alternative type of film, so reviews did not help either.
This “so far” history of her film is making it difficult to find investors for her next project, however her debut feature film’s journey is not yet finished and neither is Dini’s dream.
Dini continued, ‘Most investors are looking for a business proposal, and it is pretty hard when someone asks me how much profit they will get. I don’t know if I can give them anything, and sometimes I even have to use my own money to get the project completed. There are only a couple of people who will invest in films just because of their interest in the film industry,’ explained Dini. ‘It’s all based on audience numbers and Indonesian audiences do not know how to watch alternative cinema. It took three years to make this film, and most of that time was spent finding the funding.’
Her funding eventually came from the Indonesia office of the World Wildlife Foundation, and other environmental departments, the Wakatobi district government, and some corporate producers.
Indonesia is a very challenging country in which to live and work, if one has aspirations to be a film-maker who produces the kind of film which gains respect internationally. Having interviewed or talked with quite a few of Indonesia’s top film directors, I always hear the same despairing story. It seems the only way is to “break on through to the other side”, and enter the film in overseas film festivals, and gain a reputation that way, as did Dini’s father, Garin Nugroho.
There is no government support for the film industry in the form of funding. Many countries whose films are doing well internationally, both with the critics and the box office, have a government funded film institute, or some kind of system to encourage film-making, such as in South Korea, China, and Australia.
A general Indonesian audience is not very cinema-literate, accustomed to teen romances, horror and sex movies, (that have escaped the censor’s office in a severely watered-down condition), ghost movies, and Hollywood block-busters . They have little or no experience of film-festival quality movies.
Dini told me, ‘We have to compete with these films, and I don’t know what is going on in our censorship office that some of them are even getting on to the screen. Here she was referring to the violence in some films. They make money because of cheap production values and large audiences who want something entertaining and do not want to have to think. There is no room for other types of films. I want to make a balance. We have to show people how to appreciate different kinds of films, not only the ones that are pure entertainment.’
She’s right. Cinema can be so much more and her film “The Mirror Never Lies” is one such film. It carries strong environmental and conservation messages, and it is a valuable record of the lifestyle of the Bajo (or Bajau) people of the region of Wakatobi, South East Suluwesi, one of the world’s diving paradises. They are sometimes known as sea-gypsies, and are also found in the southern islands of The Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia. Dini and her crew filmed on location in a Bajo “village” of bamboo houses built over the water, on supports driven into coral reef.
She chose this subject for her first film because she is a keen scuba diver, and appreciates the beauty and purity of the ocean.
‘I started with what I know. That’s what got me going’, she laughed.
It is a film of ravishing images of wide skies, sunsets, the sparkling ocean, and the world beneath. The cinematography is beautiful and many of the actors are the Bajo people themselves.
There were moments when I felt I had to freeze the frames and look longer at some of the beautiful imagery that Dini and the director of photography have captured, and I was wishing that I was seeing the film on the big screen.
It’s as if we, the audience are just dropping in to stay a while with these unique people and live their amazing way of life with them, as is the character Mr Tudo, a researcher from the city. It all progresses in a quiet way, day to day, in harmony with the cycles of life and the weather. The editing expresses the pace of lives which are determined by Mother Nature, rather than by human forces.
The film tells the story of a young girl, Pakis, whose father has gone missing at sea. She longs for him to return, and finally comes to terms with the fact that he isn’t coming back. Not much is going on compared to a Hollywood blockbuster, but if you go with it you can learn a lot.
The purity of the Wakatobi environment contrasts powerfully with the lives of Indonesian city dwellers and they would be fortunate to see the film and think about environmental issues, which have reached crisis point in their country. Many Indonesian city dwellers never get a chance to travel, even within their own country, so this film could be inspiring for them to see this unique part of their amazing archipelago.
Dini grew up in a film environment, and she later studied Sociology and Media Arts at Deacon University in Melbourne, Australia.
‘I’ve been in the film industry since I was in high-school, doing workshops and making short films. I am one of the youngest Indonesians to make a feature film. It was not easy. I am lucky and also a bit crazy, trying to do this in a country which has a “film climate” like Indonesia. Usually a film-maker starts doing the clapper board job and works their way up. Many young people my age are still in the learning process. I have my father’s name behind me, so I had the chance to make this film early and I want to make more films to prove myself as a director,’ said Dini. ‘Every country in Asia has its problems for film-makers. We have to find a way.’
To her, the Bajo people symbolize the fact that Indonesia is a nation of islands, and they, who understand the ocean intimately, remind Indonesians to look at the sea, not as a separator but as the linking and binding factor of the nation. She says that the mirror (in the film) is a symbol of hope, self reflection, and seeking.

Postscript June 2015
Dini is now married to Ifa Isfansyah, who is also a film-maker and they have a one year old daughter. He directed, “Garuda di Dadaku”(The Garuda on my Chest”), “Sang Penari” (The Dancer), and “The Golden Cane Warrior”. Dini has this year made a one hour short film called “Sendiri Diana Sendiri”. The film is a quiet protest against polygamy which still occurs in some Muslim marriages in Indonesia, although it is official ly frowned upon.
The DVD of “The Mirror Never Lies” will be on sale later this year.

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

Philip Cheah – Promoting Asian Cinema

IMG_8319 (Photo shows Philip Cheah in dark shirt on right, with Garin Nugroho of Indonesia – together in Brisbane, March 2015)

Philip Cheah: Promoting Asian Cinema
by Cynthia Webb, QLD, Australia

“I didn’t talk much”, said Philip Cheah when asked about how he became hooked on cinema.
This quiet Chinese boy, growing up in Singapore in the Seventies found his best means of experiencing other people, and learning about the world, in movies. When he was around thirteen years old his brother was working in the Twentieth Century Fox office. So Philip had a free pass to see any films that Fox distributed. When his brother left the job, Philip had to find another way to see films, so he attended screenings at the various Embassies in Singapore, the Alliance Francaise, and the British Council. In that era, he remembers seeing “Cabaret”, “The Culpepper Cattle Co”, and “Taxi Driver”, the latter heavily censored.
“Actually, I saw the restored version of “Taxi Driver” this year at the Shanghai Film Festival, and I saw where Tarantino got his ideas from,” he commented.
Philip still doesn’t talk much until you get to know him, and even then, he’s still ‘quiet’. However, he certainly knows his stuff when it comes to cinema, which has become his career, although he never studied it formally. He now works as an observer of South East Asian cinema, a critic, and film festival program consultant. He’s a good listener, and a sensitive man and he has applied his astute powers of observation and empathy to gain a deep understanding of the cinema of the region. He attends as many of the leading regional film festivals as he can and often sees value in such documentaries, as “Prison and Paradise”, (from Indonesia), that Western orientated professionals cannot identify with. He once wrote a very interesting essay on the problem of “cultural misunderstanding” that can occur when films travel from one culture travel to another, and saw “Prison and Paradise” and a classic example.
His life in cinema began when he gave up on social work, soon after he graduated from university. He decided it was futile to try and change things in Singapore society, at the time under the iron grip of the late Lee Kwan Yew. However, when he did his two and a half years of military service he was assigned to a job as a counsellor. He later ended up in journalism and then in film reviewing, during an exciting time in South East Asia’s film history. It was the time of the Hong Kong, and Taiwanese ‘New Wave”.

“Because of my standing as a film journalist, in 1985 Geoff Malone, (an Australian architect who had made his home in Singapore) enlisted me into a committee to plan an international film festival in Singapore. My first role was handling publicity, but then it expanded. The Mill Valley Film Festival of California, USA, gave us a framework for a successful festival, and the first event went ahead in 1987.
“After the first year, I told Geoff that the festival had no local content or character, and that for the second year we had to find an Asian voice,” Philip explained.
“In the second year we had a retrospective of Singaporean film-makers. They were mainly films in the Malay language. The Shaw film studios had existed in Singapore since 1937.”
The Festival has survived until this year, although it ran into funding problems and wasn’t held in 2012/13. However Philip was one of three curators for 2014’s Southeast Asian Film Festival in Singapore.
Philip Cheah considers that the two strongest national film industries in the ten nations that make up South East Asia, are first, The Philippines and second, Indonesia.
“The reason why The Philippines is ahead is because the freedom of expression is broader – there are a lot more subjects that can be covered. This is the issue that is stifling the film-making of Indonesia,” Philip explained. “These two countries have a lot in common – the same cultural diversity, the same youthful spirit, and they have similar ways of behaving socially, excepting the obvious difference in religion.”
Philip was called upon by the British Film Institute, to list his most admired documentary films, for the September 2014 issue of their “Sight and Sound” magazine devoted to ‘the greatest documentaries of all time’, with lists by leading world critics and film-makers. This is strong recognition for Philip’s reputation as commentator on South East Asian cinema, from one of the most respected and longest running film critique magazines in the world.
Another of his projects is “The Big O Magazine” – Singapore’s only independent pop-culture voice to be found online.
Asked to name some of his all-time favourite films, Philip first mentioned, Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story”, “Aparajito” and “Charulata” by Satyajit Ray, of India, “A One and a Two” (Yi Yi) by Edward Yang of Taiwan, “Manila by Night”, by Ishmael Bernal, “15” by Roystan Tan (Singapore) and “Si Mamad” by Sjumandjaya of Indonesia.
Regarding Indonesian films, he says that his favourite is Garin Nugroho’s “Opera Jawa” which he calls ‘a stand-out film’.
Philip likes films with a balance of story and film-language. “The Buddhist middle path is the best,” he said. However, he also likes a film style that he calls “balanced extremity”, such as is demonstrated in “Apocalypse Now” or “A Clockwork Orange”.

Philip was in Brisbane for ten days in October 2014, for his role as a member of the Nominations Council for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2014 (APSA). He has been a member of the Nominations Council for seven out of the eight years of APSA’s history.
Philip Cheah has since returned to Brisbane in early March 2015, because of his role as curator of a mini film festival of the work of Garin Nugroho, Indonesia’s most internationally known filmmaker. The six films are Philip’s own favourites of Garin’s work and they also demonstrate Garin’s work as being a kind of cultural and historical record of Indonesia. Garin has worked on many far-flung locations within the enormous archipelago, and in a variety of ethnic cultures. Because of this he was chosen to give Master Classes to the senior students at Griffith University Film School, with a focus on pre-production and location shooting.
Amongst Philip’s film related activities, he is the Vice-President of NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) and is therefore involved with Griffith University Film School’s new mentoring program, called Asia Pacific Screen Lab, which was launched in late 2014. (See the university website).
He is Patron of the South-east Asian Screen Academy in Indonesia and is involved in the NETPAC-Yogya Film Festival, as Vice-President of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC). He’s also a consultant for several Asian film festivals. He has received awards from Cinemanila International Film Festival, and from the Pusan International Film Festival, for his work in promoting Asian cinema. He has also co-edited several books on Indonesian, and Vietnamese cinema.
Discussing the situation for contemporary filmmakers, Philip observed, “Now everything is moving too fast. You are supposed to become successful really quickly, but if you can’t keep up with the pace you are also forgotten really quickly. This is making it all the more difficult. This fast pace and massive volume of everything coming at us all the time is the real weapon of mass distraction, “he said.
Philip’s advice to emerging film-makers in South East Asia is, “keep going, and choose the right material.”
(Copyright April 2015 Text and photos by Cynthia Webb)

Posted in Cinema | 7 Comments

Biography of Indonesia according to Garin Nugroho by Cynthia Webb

IMG_8323The biography of Indonesia –according to Garin Nugroho

Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

When the Head of Griffith Film School, in Brisbane, Australia, was planning a week of Master-classes for his senior students, Garin Nugroho was the name suggested. Professor Herman Van Eyken’s colleague in film, Philip Cheah, a Singaporean cinephile, curator, and expert on South East Asian cinema has known Garin since 1991, when he watched Garin’s first feature film, “Love on a Slice of Bread”. He knew Garin was the perfect person to help the students in the special area of pre-production and location shooting.

Garin Nugroho was invited for the event in 2014, but as he was so busy with his newest film, that his visit was postponed until early March, 2015.

Garin had flown direct from Thailand where he was working with the producers putting the finishing touches to “Guru Bangsa: Tjokroaminoto” which will open around Indonesia on April 9th. A premiere screening will take place in Jakarta on 31st March.

Philip Cheah was also in Brisbane for the week of the event. Philip selected a mini-film festival at the Film School of Garin’s past works, all of which show the amazing experience that this director has had, with working on location, and in often very challenging locations. The titles were:
Opera Jawa, Birdman Tale, The Poet, And the Moon Dances, Letter to an Angel and Soegija.

I asked Philip why he chose this particular five, of Garin’s films. “Just because they were my favorites,” he answered, however, it is also an interesting selection which demonstrates that Garin’s body of work over about thirty years of film-making is a unique collection. In fact, his films are an anthropology and history of the nation. Garin has worked from West Papua, to Aceh, including Sumba, Bali, Central Java, and Jakarta.

“I chose places where socio-political problems of our Indonesian multi-culture are revealing themselves,” Garin told me. “This gives a situation of tension and the story is bound to be interesting, taking place within this setting. I research the local community very carefully over an extended time. I often make several visits there, and get to know the people and especially the influential local people. It is very important to get their understanding and trust.”

Garin has more recently started making films on the modern history of Indonesia, tackling the tragic times after the overthrow of Sukarno – the lingering pain of the 1965/66 killings in Bali, (“Under the Tree”) oppression in Aceh, (“The Poet”) and Islamic fundamentalism in current times, (“The Blindfold”). Then he went on to look for historic moments – such as in “Soegija” which is set throughout the 1940s, (including colonial times, Japanese occupation, and the declaration of freedom) and now there is his newest film, “Guru Bangsa: Tjokroarominoto”.

Tjokroaminoto was the teacher of Sukarno, a man of vision, leader of Syarikat Islam – the first political Islamic Organisation. The setting is 1906 and Tjokroaminoto had a profound awareness of a changing world outside Indonesia, then a colony of The Netherlands.

Garin has also examined with an un-flinching eye, the problem of poverty in the way that it creates street-kids, (anak-jalanan). (“Daun di atas Bantal”).

More recently, his interest in music and theatre and his strong political and social conscience is revealed loud and clear, through his creativity in film and theatre, and his writing in Kompas.
In spite of his busy schedule and many activities, Garin told me that (when in the city) he goes over to play with his first grandchild, one year old Rintik, every day. She is the daughter of Kamila Andini ( Garin’s daughter) and Ifa Isfansyah, who are both well known film directors. Last September, Garin joked, “Rintik doesn’t have a film project yet”, however it seems there’s a film-making dynasty emerging in Indonesia.

All of his cinematic work has involved location shooting, and a lot of historical and/or anthropological research. Garin’s own Javanese culture was gloriously explored in his “Opera Jawa” (2006) which was seen around the world, and made him Indonesia’s most internationally recognized film-maker. This film was screened as the closing film at Venice Film Festival (2007) – a huge honor.

Garin Nugroho has also made about around thirteen documentary films. Here is a man with a strong spirit, a lust for life and a strong artistic sensibility, across the disciplines. He closely observes the people of Indonesia, his beloved country, whoever, and wherever they may be.

Gerard Mosterd, a Dutch choreographer and frequent visit to Java, who played a supporting role in “Guru Bangsa: Tjokroaminoto” told me in a report from the location, that working with Garin was an absolute joy. He said that the entire company was like a family and there was a lot of intuition and inclusiveness employed by the director. Gerard explained that Garin worked from draft scenario but would be open to discussion, and improvisation. Therefore, the entire company felt included and willing to give their best.

Supporting Gerard’s experience, in an interview with Philip Cheah, Garin explained that Asian culture is largely an oral tradition and that spontaneity is a strong characteristic of Asian culture. Garin told Philip Cheah that film is the medium for change and to resist stereotypes which create prejudice, or banality.

From this statement and from his body of work, it is clear that Garin is working, in his own way, on the unification of Indonesia, just as much as were Sukarno and Hatta back in 1945. He is creating an incredibly valuable filmography which will speak to future generations, telling about the struggles, the difficulties and the commitment and love which made a country great. His own love is a powerful contribution.
photo: Left- Garin Nugroho, and right – Philip Cheah
IMG_8310a (Photo of me (Cynthia Webb) with Garin, taken by Philip Cheah

(text and photos by Cynthia Webb – copyright March 2015)

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“Between Two Worlds”: David Lynch at GoMA, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

IMG_8371 Photo by Just Loomis, Los Angeles,2014

Between Two Worlds: David Lynch at GoMA, Brisbane
Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Do you remember watching the twenty-nine episodes of “Twin Peaks” on TV, back in 1990-91? Do you remember the unsettling feeling, the mystery and fascination – followed by the absolute compulsion to tune in next week? Everybody was talking about it. The combination of David Lynch’s ideas, visuals and the soundscapes of composer, Angelo Badalamenti gave us one of the most memorable experiences television has ever broadcast. Each week it left us wondering about strange rooms, peculiar people and curtained doorways into the unknown – and, how many days until the next episode?
What about his feature films? Many who didn’t know him before, researched the writer/director – David Lynch. His name became famous even amongst non-film buffs.
His work for the big screen has also been unforgettable, penetrating into a hidden, dark place in our unconscious — giving us a tantalizing glimpse of darkened, mysterious parts of ourselves, where we would not have ever dared to explore. “Eraserhead”, “Elephant Man”, “Blue Velvet”, “Mulholland Drive”, “Wild at Heart”, are but a few of them.
Do you remember the Academy Awards broadcast of 2002 when “Mulholland Drive” was nominated? There were so many comments from the host, jibes and jokes, about the difficulty of understanding the film. Hollywood’s establishment had come up against their nemesis – a brilliant film-maker whom they recognized as such, but didn’t quite follow. Lynch was far ahead, in the distance, exploring hitherto undiscovered regions of the cinematic landscape and possibilities.
On 14 March 2015 an exhibition of the work of David Lynch the fine arts practitioner, opened at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art, and will run until 7th June 2015.
David himself, jetlagged, but in fine form attended the opening, and the following morning gave a 90 minute personal interview with Jose da Silva, the curator of this rich and wonderful exhibition of Lynch’s work, paintings, drawings, installations, video, prints, and photographs. David Lynch is an intrepid explorer and creator in an area where mind, mystery and matter meet and the show is aptly entitled, “Between Two Worlds”.
He spoke about his early life as a student, in the mid sixties, his underwhelming experience at the Boston Art School, where he said the students were not serious about painting, so he moved on to and then had a quite opposite experience at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art.
“I was still searching and experimenting and I did not have an original thought, until I was at Philadelphia Art School. There I found out that I liked the combination of women and machines, at that time.”
He went onto describe the powerful effect on him, of seeing an exhibition by Francis Bacon. “The way he did flesh – perfection!”
Lynch says, “I did a lot of drawing but not much painting. I didn’t really understand that when you became a grown-up you could become an artist.” His own father was a scientist.
“Then I met a friend, who told me that his father was a full-time artist, which was a concept that amazed me. When I met his father, (Bushnell Keeler) he turned me on to the book “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri (1923). While at art school, David had a studio adjoining Keeler’s own workspace.
David Lynch did not complete his study at Philadelphia’s Art School because of several things, he explained – “I like to make work (rather than studying), my girlfriend was pregnant, and I got a grant from the AFI (American Film Institute), which was a huge blessing.”
“I began to experience the flow of ideas. Sometimes you have a complete idea. Other times, it’s action and reaction. It is a thrilling thing to think about. I make a mark, look at it, make another mark, look again, a third mark, then suddenly with a fourth mark, an idea comes which unites the previous three! With his film-making as well as his fine-art work, David lets his ideas show him the way.
“I think ideas are the most important things, and they are gifts. Fate plays a huge role in our lives too. You can have talent but if you don’t get a “green light”, you are fresh out of luck.”
“But, don’t be afraid of another part of it – destroying. Sometimes from that all kinds of good things can come,” he adds.
Sometimes he leaves his paintings out in the rain – for days on end. “I like nature helping me,” he said, grinning.
David spoke of his practice: “As soon as you start working in a medium, it begins to talk to you. Ideas come. I like all kinds of media – acrylics, oils, printing, video, but perhaps most of all I love oil paints- – so organic.”
He also mentioned how much he loves working with sound, and that cinema is actually sound and image.
When an audience member asked about keeping control of a project when making a film, David emphatically declared: “This question should never even be asked. He quoted the saying “Keep your eye on the donut and not on the hole.” He says that no film-maker should ever let them self end up in a position where they don’t have full control, and final cut. He commented that here are so many rules and regulations today, and that making a film is very, very expensive, but a lot of that money is not up on the screen because of the rules and regulations.
“Nobody should ever make something without total control and final cut. Think of a painter. No one interferes with a painter. Cinema should be the same. Otherwise, why do it? It’s a heartache and an absurdity.”
“Once I sold out in that way, (with “Dune”,(1984) and I died twice. The film was not a success, and within myself I died because I sold out.
On the subject of digital cinema, Lynch was enthusiastic about how the digital technology offers many new options – lightness, speed, and a change in working methodology. It’s a beautiful thing he said, but he also added that there is nothing quite as beautiful as motion recorded on celluloid.
Speaking about his commitment to Transcendental Meditation, he became even more passionate and eloquent than when speaking about art and cinema. He said, “It serves the work and serves the life.”
He explained about the inherent beauty of all human beings, no matter where their location or what their colour. There exists a field of absolute totality, that every person also contains within. It has always been there and will be there forever. However, most people are living on the surface. “Transcend is the key-word, said David Lynch. “From the time a human being transcends he begins to live an aware life. It is a thing that is missing from today’s life.”
He elaborated by saying many people who are ‘living on the surface’ don’t enjoy every moment of life, or work, but only enjoy the fruit of their work (the money earned). He advised that we should infuse all that we do with energy from the field of eternal consciousness available to us all, through transcendental meditation practice. This would enable even a toilet cleaner to do their work in a meaningful way and gain reward and satisfaction.
About the matter of Time: David said, “Time is slippery. It can go back, forward, and yet all time is there at the same time. It is a really interesting thing to think about. It is like cinema, in that it can be in any (chronological) order.”
Lynch is disappointed at the trends of modern day cinema.
“There are all year round block-busters monopolizing the big screen, and rarely do those screens show mid-budget or independent films. Those are going to film festivals and to the internet. “It is a huge sadness,” he said. And he is not happy about people watching films intended for the big screen, on their mobile phones, but at the same time, he observed that people can now have big screen televisions and good sound systems in their homes, so cable TV, and downloading has become the new “Art-House”.
However, Lynch stressed that he treasures the cinematic experience, where the lights go down, and there are no interruptions, and a film is seen as it is meant to be seen – on the big screen as a shared experience.
(Text copyright March 2015 by Cynthia Webb

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“Two Days, One Night” (“Deux Jours, Une Nuit”) directed by the Dardenne Bros. (Belgium)

two days one night poster review written by Cynthia Webb

The compassionate eyes of Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne see the real world of ordinary people with great clarity. They see humanity’s dignity and courage, but do not fail to notice streaks of selfishness, weakness, meanness. Even as they accept the bad with the good, they show us their respect for the working classes of this world.
In their newest film, they have given us a 90 minute lesson on the realities of today’s world of work, and survival in tough times. Everything is there, in this briskly edited weekend, while we watch the brave Sandra Bya, married with two children, who is only just returning to work after time off caused by illness in the form of severe anxiety and depression. She must do something that, for a woman in her condition would be excruciating. She must fight to keep her job. She and her husband have two children, the marriage is under strain, and they badly need her wages to make ends meet, as do most of her work colleagues.
You see, while she was off work for an extended time, the boss, Monsieur Dumont and his foreman, Jean-Marc, noted that the remaining workers were able to handle the work load at the solar panel factory, by all doing a few hours overtime a week.
So on her return to work, she’s confronted with the news that a vote has been held, where her co-workers had to choose between their one thousand Euro bonus, or Sandra keeping her job. They have voted for their bonus, however, she and a union representative manage to arrange a second secret ballot for Monday morning. This was on the grounds that the foreman had misrepresented the situation and even implied that perhaps others might lose their jobs if Sandra was kept on.
During the weekend, Sandra goes to visit all of her work colleagues to plead her cause. What an agonizing weekend for anyone, – to swallow their pride, and go begging. Her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) is there all the time, encouraging, and more or less forcing her in a not so subtle way, to keep going until she has talked to all her co-workers. She has some successes, and some failures. But will it be enough to have a majority vote in her favour on Monday morning?
Through these visits to her work colleagues, we see a typical cross-section of a section of today’s society – the struggling workers, migrants, young married couples, ordinary people, with ordinary problems, just like the rest of us!
The ending contains a bitter-sweet victory for Sandra, not the one that she was hoping for, but perhaps something even better. Her dignity is returned to her, by her own decency of character. This weekend has taught her a lot, – something more valuable than holding on to a job.
What a brilliant piece of work this is. The Dardennes are famous for this type of film, where they observe modern society and the problems faced each day by the poorer people. The Dardennes work and live in small industrial towns in Belgium, which they know well.
“Two Days, one night” was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, of 2014. It won the Sydney Film Prize in 2014. Ms Cotillard was nominated in the Academy Awards, for her performance. At the BAFTAs it won in the foreign language film category. It has many other nominations and wins and was widely considered one of 2014’s best films in the critics circle.
Marion Cotillard’s performance is pure immersion into the character. She doesn’t act, she is, Sandra.
This story is more real than reality itself, – showing us the quiet desperation, along with courage in the face of insecurity, which hangs over the lives of so many millions in a heartless world focussed on principles of capitalism.

Image from IMDb courtesy of the producers of the film
Text – Copyright: Cynthia Webb, 14 March 2015

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

BIRDMAN (2014) directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

BIRDMAN (2014) directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Oh, the tragic emptiness of modern lives! Self obsessed, insecure, needy for attention, recognition. What has modern society become? It all seems so hollow, so meaningless.
That’s the picture painted by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in his new film,’Birdman’, starring Michael Keaton, and I think he’s right.
Almost the entire film takes place in the underworld corridors and dressing rooms of a Broadway theatre, or on its stage, rooftop, or façade to the street, so it is rather claustrophobic, which adds to the atmosphere Inarritu wants to create. Occasionally, the action takes to the air, as the protagonist’s fevered imagination takes off.
The problem is that Riggan Thompson, who was once a Hollywood legend for playing a comic book character, Birdman, in three films – wearing an impressive black bird suit with wings, and mask, is now trying to validate himself by directing and starring in a serious Broadway play. But he’s riddled with confusion, insecurity and is a bit schizophrenic, because there’s a voice inside his head – the voice of the Birdman – talking tough to him, trying to reassure him but actually undermining him. Attempting to persuade him to forget about all this intellectual nonsense, and give the shallow audiences more of what they want….. The Birdman!
The backstage areas of the theatre are like a kind of Hell, where insecure actors scurry about like rats. We learn how inadequate they all feel, and how un-rewarding it all is, even though they have seemingly achieved their dreams of performing on Broadway. Now they are facing the fact that nothing can fill the void inside them. Is everything meaningless?
All the main characters acting in Riggan’s play (an adaptation of a famous Raymond Carver story) express their deep insecurities. The people who seem most “together” are his daughter who has just come out of re-hab, and his ex wife, whom he still loves, and she still cares about him too. But both of them have suffered from Riggan’s obsession with himself, and so they are now wary of him. Riggan can’t relate in a meaningful way to anyone, because his ego is in crisis, and the voice of the Birdman character taunts him.
His nemesis is personified in a powerful theatre critic who detests everything he represents – washed up Hollywood stars using Broadway as an after-thought, in an attempt to gain public respect before they retire.
The soundtrack features some well-known classical music, but is mostly a powerful drum solo, which gives the film the dark and anxious edge, to complement the black comedy and accumulating human tragedy. It gives a feeling of a “kill or be killed” jungle right there in the centre of New York and in the claustrophobic tunnels of the theatre’s hell. That theatre even seems to have a mind of its own, when a stage door slams and leaves Riggan out in the alley, in nothing but his underpants and his dressing gown. The gown is caught in the door, so he has to suffer the ultimate humilation, walking on Broadway and into the theatre’s lobby in his undies. Earlier in the film, a younger and brilliant actor, Mike, played by Edward Norton, arrives to rehearse at the very last minute – taking the place of an inadequate performer. This man goes to the wardrobe department, and is revealed to be wearing no underpants beneath his trousers. There’s a message here, in these two “underpants scenes”. These famous people have no protection.
Mike is the up and coming young genius, something Riggan knows he can never be.
There’s a scene in which Riggan’s daughter tells her dad the agonizing truth about who and what and where he is. He was telling her off, for having smoked a joint after re-hab, so she lets him have it! AND, he doesn’t even have a Twitter account or a Facebook Page! He’s the ultimate failure.
But, don’t lose hope. There is sometimes a dash of magic, where the visualizations and fantasies seem to conquer boring reality.
Inarritu, who co-wrote this savage script, has given us a lot to contemplate in his latest film. He can observe the American way of life, and particularly the Hollywood/Broadway world, more acutely than most, as he is a relative newcomer from another culture, – Mexico. His observations will be most appreciated and understood, by his colleagues in Hollywood and on Broadway, who live this story every day, in one way or another. And the fact that Michael Keaton himself, once played the comic book character Batman, should not be ignored. Expect nominations for major awards.
(copyright – Cynthia Webb, January 2015)

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“Mr Turner” (2014) Directed by Mike Leigh, (UK)

“Mr Turner” (2014) – a richly rewarding biography of a great British painter
Directed by Mike Leigh
“Mr Turner” is a fascinating film which the director Mike Leigh dreamed of making for about fifteen years. We see the latter years of Turner’s life, from 1826 to his death in1851. Leigh has drawn a lot of information from biographical sources, and historical facts known about the times of Turner, but has also taken some creative licence with certain aspects of the film’s story. It’s a not-to-be-missed film, particularly for those interested in art history.
Leigh and brilliant actor, Timothy Spall, (who seems now to have been born to play the role of this eccentric, curmudgeon of a painter), have brought us a window on a fascinating time in British history. Timothy Spall won the Best Actor Award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, for this performance.
This was when the young Queen Victoria was on the throne, and the approach of the industrial age was on the verge of changing everything, and yet there are references to Lord Horatio Nelson’s triumph at the Battle of Trafalgar, (1805) still fresh in the minds of the people of Turner’s times.
There’s a telling scene when a Scottish scientist/mathematician Mary Somerville visits Turner at his studio-gallery. She brings a prism and a camera obscura to demonstrate to him the properties and behaviour of Light, and how it splits into the light spectrum.
Another new fangled thing was the Daguerrotype – the first ever photographs, made on glass plates. We see Turner go to a studio to have his own picture recorded, and he asks all the right questions, that a man who has thought a lot about light would ask.
During this time that we share with Turner though out the film, everything was changing, including the accepted style of painting. This latter is drawn to our attention near the end of the film, when Turner comes along to the Royal Academy to see another annual exhibition, and stops in his tracks, looking at the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, the next fashion in art. It’s very different from his style and the subject matter is often people from myth, legend and literature.
Turner had himself, pushed the boundaries of traditional painting to a huge degree, and his work changed and developed immensely throughout his lifetime of drawing and painting, to the point that at the end of his life, he was working in a totally abstract manner, and was like a man intoxicated by the wonders of the light. All detail had disappeared from his last painting, and it was all “atmosphere” and glowing yellow tones and texture. There was a lot of contradictory opinion amongst the public, about his work, as it became more and more abstract. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are shown in the film, visiting a show at the Royal Academy of Art and the young queen does not like what she sees. “A dirty, yellow mess,” she said.
The film refers to the coming of the steam engine, by showing us Turner’s observance of a steam engine coming towards him. The resulting painting was entitled, ”Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway” of which a biographer Anthony Bailey wrote, ‘It was a masterpiece’, but nobody bought it.”
The ‘end of an era’ message is symbolised in the most famous and beloved of all Turner works, “The Fighting Temeraire” (painted 1838) which we see in a wondrous shot (with a little digital help), being towed up the Thames to its last resting place, and to be broken up for scrap. Turner and friends are in a rowboat, observing the scene, and someone mentions that it would make a wonderful painting. Indeed it did, and graced the lid of many a biscuit tin in later years. The ship played a major role in the Battle of Trafalgar, with Admiral Lord Nelson aboard “The Victory”, leading the British Naval force to a resounding victory against the Franco/Spanish armada, near Cape Trafalgar (Spain). In this battle Lord Nelson lost his life.
A print of this painting of the “Temeraire” was on the wall in the living room of my own childhood home. Researchers now say that probably Turner didn’t actually witness this towing scene on the Thames and may even have been abroad at the time, but his vivid imagination was certainly up to the task of visualizing it.
Turner was indeed an artist-visionary, and his obsession with light, and the ever-changing visual beauties that the sun could cause to appear on atmosphere, water, clouds and sky was his lifetime study. He travelled a lot, which we are shown in the film, both in UK and also abroad. Stories of shipwrecks and storms filled his imagination and his canvases.
He was a contradictory character, shown in Leigh’s film as quite cruel and unable to show affection to his ex wife/mistress? and two daughters, or to his loyal, psoriasis-wracked housekeeper, who was at least very fond of him. She is known to have worked for Turner for forty years, but perhaps his off-hand treatment of her and sexual episodes are part of the characterisation of the film.
He was very close to, and affectionate towards his father, and when his father dies, we see Turner sobbing and devastated, unable to sketch a model in a brothel where has gone to make some drawings.
Another side of him reveals itself, when he meets Mr and Mrs Booth, of Margate, the seaside resort town, in whose home he boards on his incognito forays to the resort town for sketching. There he calls himself Mr Mallord, one of his middle names. They do not know that he is the very famous artist, Mr Joseph Mallord William Turner.
After Mr Booth dies, he and the warm-hearted Mrs Booth (now twice a widow) become lovers and later live together as man and wife in Chelsea, up-river from central London. When he’s with her he is no longer the thumping, grunting, growling and harrumphing bulldog type character we see when he’s with most others. He is even smiling and tender and at last we begin to warm to this extraordinary characterization, courtesy of Timothy Spall and Mike Leigh.
There are a few friends to whom Turner shows an understanding heart and sympathy, but certainly not to his abandoned wife and daughters. Even when he’s told of the death of one of the daughters, he has nothing to say. We wonder what it takes to touch this man, but we know well actually, that what touches this man is THE LIGHT. The wonder of this film is that we get to see the world through the acute, attentive eyes of an artist who was so pre-occupied by the visual, that he found it difficult to come back to the everyday world where most people exist.
Quite a few of his peers, are shown to be as eccentric as Turner, but in different ways.
Turner had to endure becoming the butt of jokes in the Music Halls, but he was stubborn and rich enough from his popular earlier career to be able to carry on with his own painterly explorations into the properties of light.
John Ruskin, the eminent critic/commentator/writer of the time plays quite a major role in the film, as he did in the artistic lives of Londoners at the time. He was quite a defender of Turner, but also critical at times. Ruskin is shown as rather a comic character, but his son is shown as outright ridiculous, with an extremely pretentious manner of speech. It appears that Mike Leigh and his actors have had a great deal of fun creating the 19th Century characters. John Ruskin’s critiques influenced a lot of people, and later he supported the new young painters, known as the Pre-Raphaelites, whose work is still popular to this day.
The film’s recreation of the 19th Century is convincing and Mike Leigh says in an interview published in “Sight and Sound” magazine (Nov 2014) that he has a most useful book bought in Charing Cross Road, London, called “The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811”, which was obviously very useful for scripting the amazing dialogue in “Mr Turner”. Leigh chooses actors who are capable enough to improvise, even in such antiquated language, which they develop during rehearsals.
Mike Leigh also explained in that interview, that Timothy Spall had spent a lot of time learning to paint so that he could be shown working at his easel. As an artist myself, I did not think that it was a success, as he was only shown putting some simple strokes on the canvases, that would have taken only a few hours to master, and his position of holding of the sketchbook and pencil were totally unrealistic at times.
The artist, J.M.W. Turner was born near Covent Garden, in the East End of London, and spoke in that dialect. His father and mother and grandparents were all working class people. However Turner showed drawing talent at a very young age, and his father was thrilled enough to value this talent and send him to art school, and supported his art career always, working with him, mixing paint and helping run his gallery adjoining the studio, where Turner had a peephole in the wall, to watch as his father escorted buyers viewing the finished works for sale.
On his deathbed, with the kind Mrs Booth at his side, his last words are said to have been, “The Sun is God” – – spoken like a latter-day Akhenaton, (an Egyptian Pharoah of approximately 3350 years ago, who also came to that conclusion.)
Copyright : Cynthia Webb, January 2015

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“Beatriz’s War” (East Timor’s first feature film) 2014, 101 mins), directed by Bety Reis and Luigi Acquisto

IMG_8290IMG_8291 It seems necessary to mention that the plot-line in the second half of the film “Beatriz’s War” is inspired by the 1982 French film, starring Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye – “The Return of Martin Guerre”. Audiences watching who’ve seen that film, or the American re-make starring Richard Gear and Jodie Foster, will realize this, once Beatriz’s husband comes home from the mountains, half way through the film. However, this doesn’t much matter, because this is the point at which the film starts to gain a good deal of interest, and drama. Also,“The Return of Martin Guerre” is mentioned in the notes on the DVD cover, and the trial of Martin Guerre actually happened in sixteenth century France.

Up until that point, the horrific times that the people of East Timor actually suffered under the occupation of the Indonesian army, (TNI) 1975–1999, are portrayed in a rather weak style, with little or no tension. The scenes involving rape and violence are handled “off-screen” and we are told what happened in an oblique kind of way, by seeing the results but not the actual events. Perhaps this is the Timorese way of approaching such confronting memories still vivid for them, or perhaps it is inexperience in film-making. The first half of the film is somewhat ‘plodding’ and lacks drama, although the events happening should feel very powerful.

The real drama begins when Beatriz’s husband Tomas returns. Now the situations become truly complex and fascinating, and the drama is in our minds, while we identify with the protagonists in their complex emotional as well as practical situation. A very long time has passed, and they have all endured much and changed from very young adults, to be adults who have faced every tough reality war can bring.

During that past time, the women, led by Beatriz, realized collaboration was their only remaining course of action, because their primary responsibility, in their own eyes, was to survive. When the “Martin Guerre” figure comes into their lives, they suspect him, and yet also want to believe in him. As time passes new facts are revealed and they call him a traitor it’s interesting because they too have crossed boundaries and nothing is simple anymore.. perhaps they too have been traitors?

Now the story is a web of twists and turns, of ethics and empathy, forgiveness and still about survival too. All this has to be balanced with traditional “old ways”, which the returned soldier claims to no longer believe in. He says that he found God in the mountains, wherehe was with the Falantil (Freedom fighter).

There are some interesting traditional rituals shown or mentioned, and the cast is made up of Timorese people, often wearing their superb traditional hand-woven ikat textiles. The locations in Timor-Leste are beautiful, and give a lush look to the film, which makes it appear to have a much bigger budget than it actually had. (I read in a Sydney Morning Herald review that it was made for only about $200,000. Thanks to their reviewer.)

Congratulations to the film-makers, and all involved for bringing to the screen, a personal story of one family and their village, that gives audiences an indication of what those twenty-four long years of suffering were like.

Apart from the Portuguese, (whose colony this little country was, for 450 years,) and Australians (close neighbours), and Indonesians, most people in the world probably don’t even know where Timor-Leste is).

The East-Timorese were at last offered a Referendum. They could choose either, Autonomy within Indonesia, (a big concession for the Indonesian government, in view of their terror of their relatively young nation (independence declared in 1945) going the way of the ex Yugoslavia), OR option two was total freedom to form their own nation. Although it would be the weakest and poorest nation on earth, the East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for freedom, of course. This opportunity only came about because President Suharto’s military dictatorship was at last over-thrown in 1998 and the new President Habibie had so many problems, it appeared that this was one problem he decided to just get rid of by permitting the Referendum.

The Catholic people of East-Timor couldn’t imagine being part of majority Islamic Indonesia, not after their 24 year experience with the TNI. During the occupation, the Indonesian people mostly had no idea what was happening in the distant far east of their island nation, where the army was a law unto itself.There was no freedom of the press back then.

(Although this historical information isn’t a “film review” it’s helpful to understand something about the situation, when watching the film.)

“Beatriz’s War” is the first full length feature film made in Timor-Leste. There was an interesting documentary film a few years ago, by Victor de Sousa Pereira…. called “Uma Lulik – a Casa Sagrada”. As with everything in East-Timor, (a nation of brave people that began from the ashes after the aforementioned referendum,) the film-makers have had a lot of help and support. Before the Indonesian army departed their country, they destroyed everything they could, buildings, infrastructure – in one last spiteful and unnecessary act.

I might mention that the name of General Prabowo Subianto was mentioned not once but three times in the film’s dialogue, and in July 2014 that same man was one of the two candidates who ran for President of Indonesia. (He did not win.) Many Indonesians and others too, were of the opinion that he was an un-tried war criminal, and a relic of the “bad old days under the Suharto regime, whose son-in-law he once was, as well as being Head of Kopassus, (TNI elite forces.) It would seem that the people of Timor-Leste haven’t forgotten him and never will.

The film is not any kind of masterpiece, but please watch it if you get the chance because it is well worth your time – especially in the second half. It is always interesting, and we owe it to the people of Timor-Leste to learn about their experience in such recent times, when the world abandoned them, in favour of political expediency, giving secret approval to the 1975 invasion by the Indonesian army, and then pretending not to know what was going on there for the following 24 years.

(Text by Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Australia
Photos – courtesty of the film producers of Beatriz’s War)

Posted in Cinema | Leave a comment

“THEEB” written and directed by Naji Abu Nowar

THEEB Poster
“THEEB” (Wolf) directed and written by Naji Abu Nowar
(Jordan, Qatar, UAE, UK)

A Bedouin boy’s coming of age

This first feature film by the director, tells the story of a young boy’s awakening to the dangers and treachery in the adult world. Theeb lives in a time of change, during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, and the coming of a railway has already changed the lives of the tribesmen of the area. There are bigger things happening on the world stage around them, than these tribesmen, living out their traditional lives, actually realize. One day Theeb’s older brother Hussein, is approached by another Arab who doesn’t know the area, and who is guiding an Englishman in a desert crossing to a particular well. Hussein, continues the family tradition and doesn’t ask too many questions about who the Englishman is, or why he wants to go to the well. Hussein and Theeb come from a family of pilgrim guides, and Hussein agrees to escort them to the well.

Theeb disobeys his brother and  tags along,   He’s anxious to observe and learn from his older brother, and this is looks like a perfect opportunity.  By the time Theeb reveals himself, it’s too late to send him back.  From events that take place on this journey, comes his rapid advancement into manhood.

The desert settings shot in wide-screen ratio are superb and it’s the dawn of a new age, unbeknown to Theeb and his brothers, sons of a departed but highly respected leader.

The direction by Abu Nowar is very assured with the adventure story holding our attention at every minute of the film. The performances are excellent, particularly the intelligent wariness (tinged with fear), that young Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat shows, playing Theeb (Wolf). You can read in his eyes, and face that his sharp mind is calculating the risks of alternative courses of action during the several scenes when events reach crisis points. From watching this young man, we understand that the life of desert tribesmen involved strong traditions, a strong sense of hospitality to other travelers (once identified and shown not to be a threat),  acute observational powers and the sharp sense of self protection that must always be at 100% efficiency.

It’s always wonderful to see a well-made film like this, but it’s a special treat when the events are happening in a place and time, that is unfamiliar to us on screens of today. “Theeb” reminds us of Lawrence of Arabia, because of its setting, but the film is on a much more modest scale than that epic masterpiece. However, it is very well worth our attention. It is the Winner of Best Director award in the Horizons section of the Venice Film Festival, 2014. Shot in Jordan, using mostly non-professional actors. The feeling is very authentic, and actually the plot resembles a 1950s Hollywood Western movie. It just goes to show that the same sort of dramas play themselves out in every time and place…. always have and always will. This is the story of the human condition – families, traditions, homelands, strangers who may or may not be enemies, war, life, death.

Highly recommended, this is a very good film for young adults as well as for their parents.
Text by Cynthia Webb. Photos, courtesy of the film producers.  THEEB image 2

Posted in Cinema | 1 Comment

Asia Pacific Screen Awards and Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, 2014

(PHOTO: The Nominees on stage at APSA 2013 Ceremony, City Hall, Brisbane. Photo by Cynthia Webb)

The former Brisbane International Film Festival, has a new identity.  It’s been linked to the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA), so that the two can complement one another, and so that nominated films can be screened for the public, as part of The new Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival.  The Festival will start on Saturday 29th November, until Sunday 14th December.

On the 11th December, the Asia Pacific Screen Awards will be announced at a star-studded ceremony at Brisbane’s City Hall, in King George Square. These two events in combination, re-balance the global world of film, where up until recently all the highest level film Awards and Festivals were held either in Europe or the USA. It was difficult and sometimes impossible for films from the Asia Pacific region to “get a look-in” at such events as The Academy Awards, the Cannes Film Festiva, or at Venice, or Berlin. Yes, a few legends, such as Jafar Panahi, Asghar Farhadi, Zhang Yimou, Abbas Kirarostami,  Nuri Bilge Ceylan, broke through. Now that I’ve watched many of the APSA nominated films since 2007, I can assure my readers that the standard of films coming from the region is often astounding. The  makers of films that win prizes at APSA,  know that they are receiving recognition from the world’s foremost film makers. Members of the Jury are chosen from around the entire region, and the Head of Jury this year will be Asghar Farhadi, of Iran. Previous heads of Jury include, Lord David Puttnam, (UK),  Bruce Beresford (Australia) Shyam Benegal (India), Jan Chapman (Australia), Nansun Shi (China) Huang Jianxin, Shabana Azmi (India).

The Asia Pacific Screen Awards began in 2007, and until 2011 were held at the Gold Coast.

From 2012, APSA moved to Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane.  That year was the final year, of APSA being supported by the State Government, after a political change of state leadership, and with it a change of attitude, came an outbreak of severe expenditure-cutting, which included APSA.

The City Council of Brisbane stepped in to support APSA. The far-sighted city leaders realised that APSA is the perfect companion for the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, which has been held at the Queensland Art Gallery since 1993.  Also, the Griffith Film School, which had long been associated with APSA, is in the heart of the city of Brisbane.Now the long running film-festival has also been re-modelled to make the concept complete.

The Griffith University Film School  and APSA have recently announced valuable new opportunities for aspiring film-makers to receive mentorship in their own country, under the Asia Pacific Screen Lab (see the university website), from members of the APSA Academy, which has well over 500 members from the various nations. These are people who have been nominated or won APSA awards in the past. The Academy  includes such luminaries of the film world, as Asghar Farhadi, of Iran, whose film “A Separation” won almost every leading award in the world. He has had a long association with APSA, since bringing his film “About Elly” to APSA some years ago.  The mentorship will help an emerging film-maker, to bring their screenplay to the ‘ready to begin shooting’ stage.

As for the films –  APSA’s nominations include the film which won the Golden Palme at Cannes this year, “Winter Sleep”,  by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and this film will be screened during the Film Festival.

I’m excited about many of them, but especially, New Zealand’s first ever screen epic in the Maori language, with English sub-titles, “The Dead Lands”, directed by Toa Fraser. It’s about the tribal times, long before the coming of the British.

There are some amazing opportunities to see these uniquely different cultures on screen, and quite a few of the films will never get released in Australia, so it may be your only chance.  Do your research, if you live in Brisbane.

Go to website: and study the program carefully.
also, please visit to see the nominations and further history of this film event.


(Asghar Farhadi, Head of APSA Jury 2014
photo taken at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast, by Cynthia Webb)

Posted in Cinema | 1 Comment