Best of MIFF 2011: The Turin Horse

August 10, 2011 at 12:40 pm (Writing) (, )

There are certain yoga poses that transfix you – stretching muscles and releasing tension in the exact places you need it most. They’re different for each person; mine all seem to be backbends, like bridge and bow – they’re pretty much guaranteed to make me cry (in a good way) every single time. For me, The Turin Horse was like a two and half hour dose of backbends complete with some savasana for reflection and relaxation.

The Turin Horse illuminates in bleak, repetitive, black and white detail six days in the life of a peasant father, daughter, and their horse following (so the dramatic voice over tells us) an incident in which the horse was being severely whipped until Friedrich Nietzsche threw his arms around it to protect it.

As Greg Bennett so eloquently puts it:

In a Béla Tarr film with minimal dialogue, plot, and action – you find your poetry elsewhere.

I found it in the screenplay and the strikingly beautiful cinematography – the less there was on the screen the more of myself I put into it. I pondered over the stories that were untold behind the father/daughter relationship, his lifeless right arm, the absence of the mother. I remembered the smell and feel of the horses I’ve ridden and the landscapes through which these rides took me. As the film evolved I also considered how the fate of the characters is intrinsically linked to the well-being of the horse – it may be entirely coincidental but the more the horse refuses to cooperate the worse the family’s situation becomes, to the point that The Turin Horse can almost be framed as a tale of karmic retribution.

I found poetry in the soundtrack – a swell in the wind every seven seconds (echoed in the occasional music) lulled me into a space of hyper-reality. Just as yoga makes you aware of your own physicality (your chest expanding and contracting with each breath, the push and pull of bones and muscles as you move into each pose), The Turin Horse made me incredibly aware of the audience – in a beautiful, connected kind of way, not in an irritated-because-the-guy-behind-me-keeps-talking way. Sound and movement in the audience was amplified by the silence and stillness on screen until the edges of me blurred and I lost where I ended and the windstorm on screen and the taste of salted potatoes began.

I hadn’t seen a film like The Turin Horse before, and I was quite honestly expecting to be bored by it. Instead I found it to be the wholly immersive experience of a moment, a day, a life.

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If a film does not respect its audience, is it a bad film?

July 27, 2011 at 10:10 am (Writing) (, )

CAUTION: CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS – basically, the whole plot of the film, including the ending. (This is not a review, but a rant following the 26 July screening of Michael at the Melbourne International Film Festival.)

Why did Michael make me so angry? In the MIFF program, Michael is described as:

A hard-working employee in an insurance firm, Michael leads an ordinary life, with an average car, a nice house and a nice normal girlfriend who lives abroad. Except she doesn’t exist, and neither does his ordinary life. Instead, Michael has a ten-year-old boy named Wolfgang locked in his basement.

Michael is the chilling and ambitious debut feature from filmmaker Markus Schleinzer. With a story ripped straight from the headlines, the film follows five months in the life of a paedophile and his prisoner, exploring the unsettling normalcy of a man who is secretly a monster.

To me this conjures up the idea of a film that spends a fair amount time showing you a character and their normalcy before delving into the horrible reality of their private life. Michael is not like this. Michael is the quiet story of a paedophile who is constantly negotiating the various demands in his life – specifically those arising from the fact that he keeps a boy locked in his basement. The film holds the viewer at arm’s length using long shots of hands, backs, and profiles as Michael alternates between trying to satisfy his sexual desires, trying to meet the needs of a ten year old boy, and trying to be a normal, functioning member of society.

Michael Fuith – the actor who plays Michael – seems to have been chosen for his ability to keep a dour face. Not only are all other characters surprisingly oblivious to Michael’s oddities (such as a house with security roller shutters on its windows closed at all strange hours*, or that he always wants to spend Christmas alone), but several female characters are, in spite of his obvious social awkwardness, drawn to Michael.

Michael: Buster Bluth's surly twin

Yet these are merely irritations and easy enough to look past as Michael slowly but surely pokes its cold fingers into your chest and begins to squeeze vital organs. The highlight of chilling is reached when Michael tries to lure a second child home, ostensibly as a playmate for the other boy, and for the first time we see his “true form” in a public place. As for the moment of greatest heartache, for me it lies somewhere between the boy, his back to the camera, sobbing on his bed after Michael’s told him his parents don’t care about him any more, and the dead cat that serves to reinforce Michael’s lack of regard for other people’s desire to know the fate of missing loved ones, be they cat or son.

The film builds to a climax with a detour via humour. Michael, having received a promotion at work and thrown an office party to celebrate, drives home with hitherto unseen cheer, singing along to Sunny. The good mood doesn’t last for long as the boy unsuccessfully attempts to escape by throwing boiling water in Michael’s face. Scalded, shaking, and possibly blind Michael gets back in his car and drives… presumably for the hospital, but we’ll never know because he fatally crashes the car.

When this happens the film stops being about the life of a paedophile and the relationship between him and his victim. It should have become a film about the fate of his victim. Instead it becomes lingering shots of grieving relatives and blatant, emphasised irony in the form of funeral speeches.

If the film had ended here I would give it credit for being a character study of a paedophile. But it keeps going! We watch drawn-out scenes of Michael’s mother taking a nap in a child’s bedroom, of the family eating dinner. Eventually the family go to clean out Michael’s house. At last! The boy shall be set free! (Assuming he’s still alive.) The whole audience was desperate for this moment – the pay-off for all the emotion that has been poured into the film. And still we waited… and waited… as Schleinzer teased us with characters walking past the boy’s door without paying it any attention. Then, that golden moment when, as we watch from a distance behind her, Michael’s mother tries the door handle. It doesn’t open – the door has a bar-like locking mechanism across it. She unlocks it. Tries the handle again. It turns and the door sticks a little as she opens it a few inches and – showing the audience nothing – looks inside. A little gasp escapes her – cut to black.

The cinema resounded with the frustrated cries of the audience. I am not very tolerant of such endings and as I sat there trying to reconcile my grief and shock Schleinzer practically reached through the screen to slap the audience in the face for, as the credits rolled what was the soundtrack? Sunny.

I cannot think of anything more disrespectful to the character of the boy, and to the audience who has invested time and emotion. The boy’s fate remains unknown, unseen but HEY, REMEMBER THAT FUNNY SCENE IN THE CAR WHEN THE PAEDOPHILE WAS REALLY HAPPY?

The lack of pay-off filters the whole film’s ending – the character of Michael becomes something of a joke at the boy’s expense, which escalates my response from irritated to furious. I spent the rest of the night pondering and challenging my response, and whether this lack of respect for the audience makes the film itself “bad”. I don’t know the answer, but imagine if the audience had a chance to see the boy and be assured that he was alive, perhaps even see him step from the basement – then a cut to the credits/Sunny would be provocative without being alienating – the boy reclaiming his life but left irrevocably marked by Michael. That, I think, would have been good.

If you would still like to see Michael for yourself it screens again as part of the festival on Monday, 1 August.

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*I haven’t been to Austria so I am assuming this type of security is not normal.

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Fairy Tales Re-imagined: part two

March 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm (Conferences) (, , , , , )

Fairy Tales Re-imagined was a two day symposium (10-11 March 2011) exploring the evolution, and contemporary relevance of, fairy tales. You can read part one of Fairy Tales Re-imagined here.

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Warning: contains adult themes and language.

Old Tales, New Platforms: the creation of Re-enchantment

(Chair: Prof Norie Neumark)
Sue Maslin (Producer, Re-enchantment), Sarah Gibson (Writer/Director, Re-enchantment), Rose Draper (Designer, Re-enchantment)

  • Professor Norie Neumark introduces today’s Re-enchantment panel by talking about the project.
    Says the term “multi-platform” is too cold for this work that involves and allows new forms, knowledge, and experiences.
  • Today’s Re-enchantment short being screened is ‘Fairy Tale Sex’. (Available at the Re-enchantment website + ABC’s iView.)
  • A lot of today’s Re-enchantment information is the same as yesterday. Currently exploring the Hansel & Gretel section of the site.
  • Fun fact: it’s believed that German gingerbread houses were inspired by Hansel & Gretel, not the other way around (- Gibson).
  • Gibson’s encouraging people to contribute to the user gallery on the Re-enchantment site. Anyone have some fairy tales artwork they’d like to share?
  • Rose Draper (Re-enchantment digital animator) talks about linear vs non-linear storytelling processes.
    In non-linear you have no control over how content is accessed and experienced. Both Gibson & Draper are from linear backgrounds.
  • Draper showing the different design stills from the development of Cinderella’s Wheel of Fortune (on the site).
  • Great images of different ways they communicated site design. Picture attached so you don’t feel too left out.
  • Gibson: non-linear positives: layering, potential to work poetically; interactivity.
    Disliked: things “disappearing into the bowels of IT”; every image being an accession number.
    As Maslin elaborates – the IT requirements turn ‘an intuitive process into a logical process’.
  • Maslin outlines challenges of producing an innovative project like Re-enchantment eg no established business model, rapid technological change.
    When #Reenchantment started, flash was big news. #changingtimes
  • Maslin encourages anyone looking to do a transmedia project to talk to universities, rather than traditional funding channels.
  • Q&A! Q: Any similar projects in the world that you could draw inspiration from, or share knowledge with?
  • A: No, tried what we wanted until we were told we couldn’t. (- Gibson)
    Pan’s Labyrinth website was inspiring in its world creation. (- Maslin)
  • I have to say, the second half of that panel was exactly the sort of information I was wanting to get from this symposium.

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Working Creatively with Fairy Tales

(Chair: Dr Esther Milne)
Joy Norton: The Curse of The Witch

  • Their darkness fascinates and scares. Assign to Witch the attributes of the “other”.
  • The association of witches with herbal law and healing has been lost over time.
  • In Hansel & Gretel facing their fear of the witch facilitates their emotional growth, learning responsibility.
  • Sleeping Beauty: life can keep us unconscious and asleep when we ignore our darker aspects (witch).
    Something new at the right moment brings life in.
  • Rapunzel: if we’re not careful, our hungers and desires can make us abandon our commitments.
  • Norton encourages us to meet our witch, accept what she has to offer, and start a unique journey into a new and wonderful life.

Adam Hunt: Advertising People are Cultural Thieves

  • Adam Hunt is providing an entertaining vitriol about the sad state of the advertising industry.
  • All purchasing is emotional, not rational. “How else do you explain high heeled shoes?”
  • Successful advertising makes you smile, presents an idea. (“If they feel good, they might just buy your product.”)
  • Fairy tales give advertisers an easy way to present an idea – hook into cultural subconscious.
  • Great example of advertising (& cultural thievery):

Raid advertisement

Dr Meredith Jones and Suzanne Boccalatte: Hairy Pictures and Narratives

  • Jones & Boccalatte are talking about their book Hair.
  • Boccalatte’s interest in hair stems from her journey from hairy half-Italian to laser treatment. Has offered to show us her (hairy) legs later.
  • Exploration of hair as appealing and appalling. “Hair is chaos” – impossible to control. (- Boccalatte)
  • Rapunzel : hair as desireable, magical, shared experience. Cutting of hair=separation from mother &/or castration.
  • Historically: heads shaved as punishment eg for adultery. French women who’d slept with Nazis: hair publicly shaved, and were tarred, packed onto trucks & paraded through the streets.

  • Gender duality of hair associations/expectations. Cosmetic hair removal treatments. Pictures of merkins!
  • Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard – lure of the hairy beast. Desire.
  • Hair as a keepsake, hair is memory, hair as life, hair as death.
  • Trunkbook.com – submissions (art & stories) open for the next book, on the theme ‘blood’. NB: Will only publish 1 menstrual & 1 vampire submission.

Audience Q&A

  • Q: Why do witches have pointy hats
    A: (by an audience member) Comes from traditional Welsh dress.
  • Q: What about changes to hair during menopause?
    A: Hair as journey: puberty and menopause, phases represented by hair. (- Jones)
  • Lots of questions for Adam Hunt to elaborate on how his anti shape discrimination ad got banned & cost him his job.
    Ad was done as part of the Gruen Transfer. Hunt placed shape discrimination on the same level as racial & sexual discrimination… A. Denton & W. Anderson loved it, but it breached the ABC’s policies & scared advertising clients of Hunt’s employer.
  • Audience keen to discuss the role of hair in Tangled and The Ring.
  • Someone who presumably wasn’t here yesterday has asked if new fairy tales can be created.
    A: World is full of modern fairy tales. “Like Charlie Sheen.” (- Hunt)
    True Grit as modern Red Riding Hood. (- Boccalatte)
    Old becomes new in the retelling. (- Norton)

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The Forbidden Room: From Bluebeard to CSI

(Chair: Thomas Caldwell)

  • @cinemaautopsy opens the final panel, The Forbidden Room, with a summation of the tale Bluebeard in his excellent radio voice.

Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario: The Bloody Business of Fairy Tales

  • Dr Rozario wins bonus points for quoting Tolkien in her definition of fairy tales.
  • There are many different ways blood appears in fairytales: on Cinderella’s shoe, congealed on the floor, in a bathtub…
  • Rozario describes the evolution of the Bluebeard tale, with full synopses of different versions.
  • Different appearances of wishing for a white, pale woman with blood-red lips in tales eg Snow White
    In one: a man, having cut his finger, wishes for a woman who looks like his now blood-stained ricotta (only, y’know, more poetically).
  • Rozario outlines modern “Bluebeard” tales eg episodes of Buffy; Dexter; The Mentalist.

Pref Cathy Cole: Bluebeard’s Room – the lure of crime fiction

  • Bluebeard: empowerment through the need to know, solving the mystery, overcoming dangerous situation.
  • Tension created by clue placement. Anticipation of reference in every description, object, line of dialogue.
  • Suspicion as a survival skill.
  • Desire resistence… test of reader’s stamina & morality. To enter the forbidden room or not?
  • Would some of Bluebeard’s wives have been complicent or accomplices in his habits? Contemporary narratives say yes.
  • Bluebeard is an interesting character – charismatic, generous, sexual, foreign. Easy to hate him when he is different?
  • Growth of fear in culture, instilled from young age eg don’t accept candy from strangers, don’t go down dark alleys…
    …allure of crime fiction is ability to lift the lid on this fear, explore it from a safe vantage point.
  • Tropes of Bluebeard eg.need to marry wisely, choose well.
    Can’t help but be reminded of @margolanagan‘s Singing My Sister Down.
  • Cole presents Wikileaks/Assange as modern mystery – Bluebeard or Wife archetype?

Dr Terrie Waddell: The Forbidden Room in Cinema Narratives.

  • Waddell’s favourite fairytale: 12 Dancing Princesses (Brothers Grimm) -> exploration of this sense of entitlement to intrude on female space.
  • Importance for a woman to have a room of her own eg Wide Sargasso Sea, Tomb Raider, The Exorcist, The Hours, Pan’s Labyrinth.
  • Forbidden room as womb: place of safety, place of change. Violation of it= horror eg Rosemary’s Baby
  • “shadow projections of ego discomfort” – Waddell <- perfect description of Prof Cole’s earlier Witch/curse conversation.
  • Waddell’s exploring the archetypes in Repulsion– elements of Persephone, Artemis, Medusa.
  • Forbidden room as a liminal compass to the self – time must be taken to feel each character and narrative strand.
  • Waddell finishes with a J.M. Barrie quote: “Everytime a child says ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there’s a a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead.” ❤

Audience Q&A

  • First panel where chair has engaged speakers in discussion-@cinemaautopsy raises Bluebeard/Adam&Eve parrallels; & torture-porn (eg Saw) as spectacle.
  • Great audience questions & discussion in this session… the portrayal of female serial killers (eg Monster, I Spit On Your Grave)
    …if crime writers have an ethical responsibility to portray violence realistically…
  • And that’s it! I’ll be attending the ‘In Conversation with Jeff Lindsay’, but probably won’t have the battery power to tweet it.

Gustav Doré: Bluebeard

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Arresting Audiences – part two

September 28, 2010 at 9:58 pm (Conferences) (, , , , , )

Identifying Your Audience – Dan Gregory (SMART and The Gruen Transfer)

Dan Gregory opened with the concept that “we’re all in marketing” – the way we present ourselves to the world, the way we engage in relationships, whether consciously or not is all an act of marketing ourselves. It’s a concept I’ve had presented to me before, at a Creative Women’s Circle event, only in that instance it was done more gently with an emphasis on talking about your work or business in a positive manner rather than a self-deprecating one because you never know who might be listening. Maybe it’s just me, but there does seem to be something repugnant about marketing when it’s divorced from honesty or fun, and the notion that relationships might be engaged out of self-interest rather than interest in the other is decidedly unappealing. Fortunately, fun is how Dan delivered the nine key messages for identifying your audience [my own emphasis in red]:

1. Accessable
– Audiences are becoming increasingly fragmented. You can’t just throw your product out into the world and expect an audience to be there. You need to know who they are, where they are, and what their interests are.
– Technology is changing ways audiences can be accessed – what used to be water-cooler conversation is now happening immediately via mobile devices.
– Dan used the branding of Nandos via a late-night tv campaign as an example, and for our entertainment included an anecdote about his business partner Kieran Flanagan bounding into a sex store asking for bondage outfits… that can fit chickens.

2. Unique
– Audiences can be identified by demography, geography and psychological behaviour.
– Identifying a unique audience allows you to speak to the “primary driver” and communicate top values.
– UK film recognises four audiences: Mainstream; Mainstream Plus; Afficianados; and Avids.

3. Defined
– Identifying an audience gets complicated by multiples.
– Need to think of distributors as well as consumers.
– Audience can be defined by who you DON’T want to talk to – who are you prepared to offend?

4. Identifiable
Identity beats quality.
Your brand needs to be ownable and identifiable. This identity needs to resonate with and be relevant to the audience, or they’ll tune out.
– e.g. Nike’s marketing campaign is not selling a shoe, it’s selling a lifestyle…

Remind you of someone?

5. Emotional
All decisions are emotionally driven.
– “Psychos are killing demos” – the commonality of consumer behaviour overrides demographic differences.

“People go to films to escape – if it doesn’t provide that you miss a key emotional driver.”
– Dan Gregory, via @GaryPHayes

6. Numerous
– Don’t confuse numbers with dollars. A small audience with passion can generate as much revenue as a large audience that isn’t engaged.
Target and engage your audience – get a dialogue going.
– e.g. For one campaign the tag “Choose your words carefully – you’ll only have four.” was chosen (based on the fact that at the peak of Mt Everest, the altitude prevents you from saying more than four words per breath). This was used in social media to open up a dialogue with the audience about what their four words would be.

7. Connected
– People don’t always know what they want until you give it to them.
– e.g. Audience had asked for a natural-tasting energy drink but when they got it (Mother) they didn’t like it.
– With audiences being more connected online, your product/campaign flies or dies faster.

8. Engaged
– Need to frame the old in a new way, that the audience hasn’t seen before.

9. Sold
– You need to be comfortable with selling and marketing.
– Need to develop an individual strategy.
Build an audience, don’t find it.
– Audience perception is greater than truth.
– To sell Australian film, make it congruent with the Australian “brand”. New Zealand has done this successfully with their film and tourism (100% Pure New Zealand).

Any insistence upon an Aussie brand irks me. As a genre geek with an affinity for fantasy I’d like to see, and would love to be a part of, films of that ilk being grown on Australian soil. Pipe dream? Maybe. Yet even Dan emphasised the importance of identity, and engaging with a target audience no matter its size. Surely the financial obstacles traditionally associated with fantasy films can be pruned, and a low budget version can find a home here? Sadly, the proliferation of “Aussie” flicks is a self-perpetuating cycle: funding bodies offer support for “Australian” themes and content, “Australian” films are made and promoted, so the audience expects “Australian” films, emerging film-makers think they have to make “Australian” films, so they submit for funding for “Australian” films…

Okay, so enough abuse of quotation marks. Maybe Aussie branding is the smart way to market a film – especially to an overseas audience. Like a franchise, it offers the power of a recognised brand and an established market presence. You may even find financial backing more easily. All you have to do in return is adhere to the product expectations. For me, this is too great a price – by tacking all our industry onto one identity we’re selling ourselves short. Let’s not be typecast. Let’s dream big.

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Arresting Audiences – part one

September 25, 2010 at 11:24 am (Conferences) (, , , , , )

Who Do You Think They Are? – Mark McCrindle (McCrindle Research)

Mark eased the audience into the world of statistics by comparing them to a book of 3D images – at a cursory glance they are just patterns and colours, but looking deeply reveals meaning and context. The sales pitch quickly derailed when he then examined a helpful little book on How to Survive the ’80s and started talking about the “timeless realities of us as humans”, temporals, and DNA. I half expected Doctor Who to make an appearance just to chip in with “wibbley wobbley timey wimey”.

Eventually, we got around to the 7 trends in audiences – of which I got 6. (And I don’t feel bad, because @FilmVictoria missed #3 as well. Or maybe it disappeared into a temporal wormhole.)

1. Booming

I can’t say I keep an eye on birth rates myself, so it was a surprise to learn that last year there were over 300,000 births – which is 30,000 more than the peak rate in the post-World War II baby boom. It seems Australians have been, well, productive since 2001, when we hit our lowest birth rate. Of course, we’re also increasing our population – and our multi-culturalism – through immigration.

Some film and television viewing stats about this booming audience that may piqué your curiosity:
– 85% say that they watch Australian content (film + tv)
– 1/3 of this group couldn’t actually name an Australian film that they have watched
– 1/5 of Australians do not watch Australian film
This last figure did not surprise me. I had recently hypothesised to a friend that Australian films can be categorised into three main types: larrikin, intense family drama, and horror. Regardless of debates over the quality of, or even the quantity at which we produce films – without having a greater variety there’s always going to be a fair proportion of the audience who is just not interested. This debate really came to the fore during the fourth panel Investigating Genre.

2. Changing
– Households are smaller (with single households, and couples without kids, being the fastest growing type of household).
– Age demographics are shifting: by 2020 there will be as many 15-19 year olds, as there are 60-64 year olds.
From this point on, an interesting rift developed in the summit audience. While Mark and audience members were telling anecdotes about “kids these days” and laughing at the generational differences, Tweeters (#fvaudience) started getting annoyed by the stereotyping, and the patronisation of “dot com kids” – the very audience that the industry is trying to “arrest”. I think @GaryPHayes highlighted the issue best when he tweeted:

‘seeing other generations as very different not a good stance, look for behavioral, psychographic common ground’.

3. ?

4. New lifestages
child > adult
child > teenager > adult
child > tween > teen > kippers > adults

While I contained my distaste at the term “kippers” (kids in parents’ pockets eroding retirement savings, approx. 20-24 year olds), Mark emphasised the time poor, sophisticated, and demanding nature of today’s audience (a “narrow bandwidth of interest”), and the Twitter debate continued.

5. Influences
Summit attendees were surveyed prior to Arresting Audiences. Turns out that within the industry itself – for every person who thinks the industry is healthy, three say it needs work.
So, according to these results, the industry itself thinks it needs innovation and change. And, according to McCrindle Research, the audience wants user-created content, social validation, and the fulfilment of short-term needs. Apparently the solution is not necessarily changing what you say, but how you say it. Because this is a…

6. Post-structural
…world full of young post-structural people with the attention span of- oh look! Something shiny!

In seriousness, Mark did demonstrate the importance of products evolving to meet changing audience needs with examples such as the recent questioning of the relevance of printing the Oxford English Dictionary, given its success in online publication.

7. Post-rational
Mark identified four types of post-rational relationships:
By engaging with your audience in both a cognitive and emotive manner, they will fully embrace your product. Or, as 10 Things I Hate About You puts it:

Bianca: There’s a difference between like and love. I mean I like my Skechers, but I love my Prada backpack.
Chastity: But I love my Skechers.
Bianca: That’s because you don’t have a Prada backpack.

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