2016 is shaping up to be a big year in Australian film
By Garry Maddox
One of the country's most radical and inventive filmmakers, Amiel Courtin-Wilson, is having a productive time since moving to New York with three creative new projects. The director best known for Bastardy, Hail and Ruin has a new film, The Silent Eye, having a world premiere at the Whitney Museum of American Art on Sunday. And he seems to have lost none of his edge since winning the prestigious Byron Kennedy Award at the AACTA Awards last year for his "risk-taking and evocative storytelling".
The Silent Eye is a performance film centring on two veteran artists who have been long-time collaborators – American jazz pianist Cecil Taylor and Japanese dancer-choreographer Min Tanaka. "It's literally 70 minutes of these two men performing in a room with amazingly beautiful impressionistic cinematography from Germain McMicking and a lot of slow-motion material," Courtin-Wilson says.
The Silent Eye film grew out of another inventive project that Courtin-Wilson went to New York to shoot – an essay film that shows Taylor as a time traveller. He has wanted to make a film about the jazz master since seeing him play in New York nine years ago.
"It was literally the most remarkable live performance I'd ever witnessed," he says. "He's considered in some circles to be one of the greatest musicians alive. And as a character, I was really drawn to the fact he hasn't compromised one iota – ever – over the course of his career."
Courtin-Wilson is also preparing to shoot The Empyrean, which he describes as a sprawling ensemble love story, in Oklahoma.
"It's a really similar methodology to Hail and Ruin – a group of predominantly young non-actors that we met in Oklahoma," he says. "There about 12 characters in the film all ranging in age from 18 to their mid-20s. It's a study of young couples in love and the growing sense of risk that it takes to commit to someone today."
Just as with former prisoner Daniel P. Jones in Hail and Cambodians Ros Mony and Sang Malen in Ruin, Courtin-Wilson has relished working with the unknown actors who will feature in The Empyrean, including a half-Russian, half-Cherokee young man named Odi he met at a 7/11 Slurpee machine at 1am. While that unlikely casting indicates his films remain very much at the art end of cinema, Courtin-Wilson does have a more mainstream film he wants to shoot – a black comedy about a student uprising in an American high school called Dogmeat. "That's probably going to be my first project that will have a cast of known actors," he says.
BROKE SCREENINGS LINED UP
After an impressive round of international festivals, Heath Davis' low-budget film Broke is rolling into Sydney and Melbourne. The drama, which has Steve Le Marquand playing a former rugby league legend down on his luck, is getting a series of roadshow screenings. And having had a surprising impact for a first film shot for just $100,000, Davis has started scouting locations for his next film. He wants to shoot Book Week, a black comedy set in a high school, in January. Brendan Cowell is down to star.
"It's about an English teacher who wants to be a novelist and thinks he's struck gold when it looks like his book is going to be published," Davis says. "He has to last one week at school which coincides with book week. "But instead of being the best week of his life, it spirals into chaos." Davis, who works as an English teacher when he is not making films, wants to shoot Book Week in the Blue Mountains.
"We're looking at another hundred grand movie," he says. "Again, it's character-driven so it's all about the performers but it's more of a comedy so it's more accessible this time." After a roadshow that has already taken it through Queensland's rugby league heartland, Broke is screening in Sydney at Norths at Cammeray on Thursday, Parramatta's Riverside Theatres on Friday and Casula Powerhouse on Thursday next week. It has a Melbourne premiere with the backing of the Melbourne Storm next month.
AUSTRALIAN ACADEMY ANNOUNCES NEW AWARD AND A DATE
With contenders expected to include The Daughter and the upcoming Jasper Jones and Goldstone, the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts has set the date for its awards this year. They will be held at the Star in Sydney – screening again on the Seven Network – on December 7.
The sixth awards will include a new category – best hair and make-up – as well as expanded television categories in a new partnership with the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association.
"Australian hair and make-up practitioners are internationally renowned and recognised for their technical skill and excellence, including at the Oscars and BAFTAs," says Lesley Vanderwalt, who won an Oscar for hair and make-up on Mad Max: Fury Road this year.
"Whilst we're proud of this international recognition, we're also very proud of our roots, and of our contribution to Australian screen productions, and nothing feels as good as being recognised at home." The AACTA industry awards will be held at a luncheon on December 5 with the international awards in Los Angeles in January. The academy has called for entries in the feature film, documentary and short film categories, with television entries being sought when the expanded awards are announced next month.
WOMEN FEATURE AT DIRECTORS AWARDS
The Australian Directors Guild is continuing a strong tradition of nominating women filmmakers with its annual awards this year. Last year, Jennifer Kent won best direction in a feature film for The Babadook in a field that also included Sophie Hyde for 52 Tuesdays. This year, two of the four nominees are again women, with Jocelyn Moorhouse (The Dressmaker) and Sue Brooks (Looking For Grace) up against Bentley Dean and Martin Butler (Tanna) and Jeremy Sims (Last Cab To Darwin).All five nominees for best feature documentary also have women directors or co-directors – Margot Nash (The Silences), Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa), Stefan Moore and Susan Lambert (Tyke Elephant Outlaw), Nick Bird and Eleanor Sharpe (Remembering The Man) and Lisa Nicol (Wide Open Sky). And two of the three nominees for best telefeature are women as well – Jennifer Leacey (Mary – The Making of a Princess) and Rachel Perkins (Redfern Now: Promise Me) up against Mark Joffe (House of Hancock).
Even though female filmmakers are remarkably well represented, especially by international standards, guild executive director Kingston Anderson believes the film industry still needs a gender quota to encourage more women. "Only 30 per cent of the nominations are women," he says. While there is no sign of Mad Max: Fury Road in the nominations, Anderson says director George Miller did not enter the movie.
The awards are in Melbourne on May 6.
This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald