A freelance writer and copywriter for over fifteen years, Helene has written for publications and brands all over the world and couldn’t imagine herself in any other job. A shameless film freak, her first onscreen experience involved a trip to Avondale’s Hollywood Theatre at the age of five to see Yul Brynner in The Ultimate Warrior and she hasn’t looked back since. A big fan of documentaries, she has interviewed subjects as diverse as Henry Rollins, Jimmy Choo and Beyonce Knowles, and also has her own beauty blog - which can be found at www.mshelene.com - for the purpose of raving about red lipstick, big hair and other essential indulgences.

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Film Fess by Helene Ravlich

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DO NOT RESIST and the militarization of the US police

Posted on Thursday 20/07/2017 July, 2017 by

“We are at war and you are the frontline. What do you fight violence with? Superior violence. Righteous violence. Violence is your tool … You are men and women of violence.”

The man speaking in the quote above is a certain Dave Grossman, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel with a packed national speaking schedule who at that point, is addressing a room full of police officers.  It’s a key scene from tonight’s documentary on Rialto Channel, DO NOT RESIST, in which Grossman also proclaims that one perk of violent encounters is that police often say that afterwards they have the best sex of their lives. Watching the movie by Craig Atkinson - which won the award for best documentary feature at the Tribeca Film Festival - has never made me feel gladder to be living in New Zealand, where yes, police brutality surely occurs, but the majority of our force is more friend than foe.

Opening on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, as the community grapples with the death of Michael Brown, DO NOT RESIST offers a stunning look at the current state of policing in America and a glimpse into the future. It puts us as viewers in the centre of the action, from a ride-along with a South Carolina SWAT team and inside the aforementioned police training seminar that teaches righteous violence, to the floor of a congressional hearing on the proliferation of military equipment in small-town police departments.

Centred around concern about the US’s increased militarization of the police force, Atkinson reportedly originally started making the film because he felt the hunt for the Boston marathon bombers was chaotic and heavy-handed in its use of military equipment, but his interest actually started closer to home. I read an interview where he talks about how he grew up with a father who was an officer in a city near Detroit and a longtime SWAT team member, and how he was shocked to learn how the SWAT mission had gradually changed over the years. In the age of fear generated by the increased threat of terrorist attacks, SWAT deployments are terrifying, and also occurring at a greater rate than ever. Atkinson’s film cites statistics like the fact that in 1980 there were 3,000 Swat deployments but by 2005 that number had climbed to 45,000. Estimates place current annual numbers between 50,000 and 80,000.

Fearing terrorism and supposedly fighting an ongoing war with the drug trade, the federal government has been gleefully handing over everything from bayonets to armoured vehicles to police departments over the years, and many of its more prejudiced officers have certainly taken the ball and run with it. It has essentially created an occupying military force in its own country: since 1997, the Pentagon’s surplus giveaways have been worth more than USD $4 billion, while the Department of Homeland Security has provided millions more in grants.

What is particularly evident from the film – and press reports of the killing of innocent young black males in the US that seem to be appearing every day – SWAT teams and local law enforcement are targeting black and brown communities with a vengeance, and clearly don’t approach predominantly white areas plagued by heroin use with the same fervour. One officer justifies it all by citing the need to be ready for ISIS at all times, the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction and “a situation like what they had in Missouri”. That public protests warrant tanks and machine guns seems just absurd to me, but clearly not many of these cops.

DO NOT RESIST is not an easy watch, as troops of police choose to rape and pillage rather than protect and serve. In the Trump era this can only get worse, which makes it all the more terrifying.

DO NOT RESIST premieres Thursday 20 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel 

Watch trailer here

Remote record here

LO AND BEHOLD: Reveries of the Connected World

Posted on Thursday 13/07/2017 July, 2017 by

Forty-seven years ago (October 29, 1969 to be exact), the first ARPAnet (later to be known as the Internet) link was established between UCLA and SRI. Twenty-eight years ago, Tim Berners-Lee circulated a proposal for “Mesh” (later to be known as the World Wide Web) to his management at CERN. Together, they have so far connected more than a third of the world’s population and have made millions of people both new consumers and new creators of information. It’s a wonder and it’s a minefield, and it’s also the subject of tonight’s film by the inimitable Werner Herzog, LO AND BEHOLD.

Guardian writer Peter Bradshaw calls the Internet “a second industrial revolution” in a review of the film, going on to emphasise that it is a revolution that has been achieved without the pollution of the first, but with a very different, potentially scary scenario at play. It may have unlocked incredible creative energy around the globe and revolutionised communication, but it has also given a huge platform to hatred, created addictive narcissism, and encouraged big business to entrust vital services to digital control and remote management, leaving them horribly vulnerable to hacking, vandalism and the like.

The Internet is also pretty fun and often ridiculous, and I have to admit that when it first arrived in my life I wasn’t really utilising the World Wide Web’s power to its best advantage. I was looking at the likes of Chihuahua Kingdom – a blog about tiny puppers that turned out to have very sinister undertones – and Rotten.com, a particularly vile website full of crime scene photos and the like that at the time, was hugely fascinating to almost everyone I knew. Why? God knows, it’s embarrassing to admit that I spent time looking at it to be honest, and even worse when I hear that stories of people like the Catsouras family and what they endured at the hands of websites just like that and the trolls who lurk in their shadows.

Herzog features their story as one of many over the course of ten chapters, and it was probably the element of the film that had the biggest impact for me. On October 31, 2006, a young woman named Nikki Catsouras, 18, took her dad’s Porsche down California State Route 241 at 100 miles per hour. As she tried to pass a slower vehicle, she lost control and crashed horribly. First responders were greeted with a gruesome scene, which they photographed, sending the photos to two dispatchers. Hideously, these dispatchers thought to share the horrific images with their mates. They forwarded them via email, and soon enough the images of Nikki found their way to sites featuring gruesome images of death. But it didn’t end there. Some sicko then made a fake Myspace page for the girl, sending the grieving family photos of Nikki, often with messages attached. “Woohoo Daddy! Hey daddy, I’m still alive,” one said.

Herzog also addresses the subject of Internet addiction, speaking to those who work at the coalface as rehab specialists and former obsessive gamers who are in recovery, and the potential impact of AI. In one of the freakiest moments in the film for me, we learn about a system that uses an MRI scanner to essentially read your thoughts, regardless of what language you speak. The scanning data is combined with software that maps patterns of electrical activity in the brain to specific concepts. It goes on to explain that in the future it’s likely we’ll have lightweight personal brain activity monitors, which opens the possibility for brain-to-brain wireless communication – i.e. telepathy. Jesus wept! If it all turns to shit, Elon Musk offers up the option of joining him on Mars, but after seeing him interviewed in the film, I’d think twice about taking him up on the offer.

In conclusion, the film is an interesting watch, and the fact that a self-confessed luddite like Herzog has tackled the most complex of subjects gives it an added layer that might not have appeared in the hands of another director. It’s not flawless, but Herzog investigates the Internet in his own entertaining way with some interesting outcomes.

LO AND BEHOLD premieres Thursday 13 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Click here to watch the trailer

Click here to remote record

TRAPPED: abortion and the politics of choice

Posted on Thursday 6/07/2017 July, 2017 by

Reproduction has always been a political act. Hell, in 2017 just being a woman is a political act! From the recent, televised version of Margaret Attwood’s stellar The Handmaid’s Tale to the worldwide Women’s March, gender, power and the function of the female body have been in extreme focus over the last twelve months, and abortion rights are a key part of that.

British Prime Minister (I use the term loosely) Theresa May’s fragile grip on power was exposed last week as she was forced to agree to demands from a backbench Labour MP for a change in abortion laws to head off a historic defeat in the House of Commons. May’s reluctant concession followed mounting pressure from MPs and a proposed amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for the Government to pay for women who are forced to travel to England to have an abortion. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland except where a mother’s health is in danger, and ministers acted after Labour MP Stella Creasy tabled an amendment to force the NHS in England to offer abortions to pregnant women from that region. The measure, was backed by scores of Labour MPs and a single Tory MP Peter Bottomley, was accepted by the Government less than three hours after it was put forward to a vote.

Similar debates have passed in and out of the courts in the United States for many years now, and recent developments are at the heart of lawyer-turned-documentarian Dawn Porter’s film showing tonight on Rialto Channel, TRAPPED. Porter previously helmed GIDEON’S ARMY, a 2013 documentary film about three public defenders in the Southern United States, and this time she turns her lens on the lives of medical professionals who work at clinics subject to so-called “TRAP” laws in the US. The acronym stands for “targeted regulations of abortion providers,” statutes that opponents say limit access to abortion in the guise of promoting safe health practices. Pretty straightforward in approach, the film lays out a compelling and strong argument that these laws, though designed to sound innocuous and “caring”, pose significant burdens to clinics, doctors and patients.

From 2011 to 2013, hundreds of regulations were passed restricting access to abortion in America, and while these laws have been enacted in 11 states, Southern clinics, in particular, have been hit hardest and are now in a fight for survival. Porter zeros in on clinics in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas that - particularly since 2010, according to the movie’s timeline - have faced a proliferation of regulations that have had the effect of restricting their operations. In many cases, these laws have pushed clinics to shut down, putting incredible strain on those who remain and the women needing access to them. Abortion is not something that most women can go on a waiting list for in the hope that their number comes up in a few months’ time. Quick access is vital.

Although straightforward at times as I mentioned above, I love the personalities that TRAPPED has chosen to showcase, who make the story that much more compelling. Getting to know the incredible Dr. Willie Parker is a real privilege, and his approach beyond inspiring. A serious but extremely affable OB/GYN who moved his family from Chicago to the South to aid in the fight, he gets the most face time among the doctors and directors Porter profiles with good reason. A devout churchgoing man, Parker cites his “traditional upbringing in a black Baptist church” for his tireless efforts on behalf of women in need. “When you have a sense of duty about what you do, it allows you to ignore the naysayers,” he says, and in the face of absurd statements he is compelled to give by law, his grace is admirable. “I’m required to tell you that there’s a risk of breast cancer,” Parker tells a patient at the sole abortion clinic that remains in Mississippi. “There is no scientific evidence to support that.”

While Parker acknowledges people have been killed doing his job, we also meet June Ayers, a clinic owner living off a tax refund to keep her service open, and Gloria Gray, another clinic owner who describes herself as “not a typical southern woman” who supports her gay son and campaigns for abortion rights. Patients shown include desperate young women but also a 43-year-old mother completing her education who fell pregnant despite using birth control, and a 14-year-old who was gang-raped by three boys and a girl. The most devastating moment for me comes when a clinic worker is forced to turn away a 13-year-old rape victim, who made a four-hour trip to the facility, due to TRAP law complications. As a result, the girl has been “sentenced to motherhood”.

Unapologetically one-sided, TRAPPED is not a movie that is going to change anybody’s mind about abortion. It’s not the most artistically inclined documentary I’ve seen but it doesn’t need to be - the personal stories Porter captures make her argument all the more compelling.

TRAPPED premieres on Thursday 6 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Click here for the trailer

Click here to remote record

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING – can we reinvent the future?

Posted on Thursday 29/06/2017 June, 2017 by

Award-winning author and cultural icon Alice Walker called tonight’s environmentally focused documentary, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING “a film that brings our peril into focus and what we might learn from despair”. It’s the last in the series of films showing on Rialto Channel that deal pretty much exclusively with the topic of climate change and the destruction of Planet Earth, and is a fitting way to end what has been one hell of a lot of info to process.

Directed by Avi Lewis, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING is based on Naomi Klein’s bestselling book of the same name, and opens with a confession from the author: “I’ve always kind of hated films about climate change…”. She goes on to list their faults: they’re boring, they’re presumptive, they always, always include shots of polar bears, and she aims to play a role in creating something very different.

Filmed over 211 shoot days in nine countries and five continents over an exhausting four years, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING really is an epic attempt to re-imagine the vast challenge of climate change. The film presents several portraits of communities on the front lines, from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta Tar Sands, from Southern India to Beijing, and aims to wake us up as well as inspire.

Klein’s narration threads throughout the stories of the communities in crisis, effectively connecting the carbon in the air with the economic system that put it there. The idea-meets-solution that she offers up along the way is pretty much thus: maybe we can use the crisis that is climate change for good, to transform our failed economic system into something radically better.

The main strength of the film for me lies in the personalities that we meet along the way, who include:

Crystal - a young indigenous leader in Alberta fighting for access to a restricted military base in search of answers about what is clearly an environmental disaster in progress.

Mike and Alexis - Montana goat ranchers who see their dreams coated in oil from a broken pipeline and form an alliance with the Northern Cheyenne tribe to bring solar power to the nearby reservation.

Melachrini - a housewife in Northern Greece where economic crisis is being used to justify mining and drilling projects that threaten the mountains, seas, and tourism economy.

Jyothi - a matriarch in India who battles fiercely along with her fellow villagers to fight a proposed coal-fired power plant that will destroy a life-giving wetland.

The film has been criticised for just being one damning polemic after another on the impact of the Western world and its progress, leading the likes of you and me to feel a bit shit, really, and a lot powerless. It aims to be accessible to even the most climate-fatigued viewers, and at times it is, and although it’s not the best of the docos we have seen over the last few weeks it's still worth a watch. The cinematography alone is worth the time on the couch, and the aforementioned people that we get to meet are truly inspiring. If they can find the energy to act whilst literally living in the eye of the storm then so can we. So what are you waiting for?

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING premieres Thursday 29 June at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Click here for the trailer

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TIME TO CHOOSE – so which side are you on?

Posted on Thursday 22/06/2017 June, 2017 by

After reviewing the series of quality environmentally-themed documentaries that have been appearing on Rialto Channel over the past few weeks I have to say: it’s a popular subject right now. And with good reason. With all the deniers and corporates still waging war against environmental reforms, there probably can’t be too many of these films being made, so bring it on.

It is Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson’s (INSIDE JOB, NO END IN SIGHT) turn to point his lens at the worldwide climate change challenges in tonight’s film, TIME TO CHOOSE. It treads some familiar ground but also offers new insights that make the sometimes-info heavy film well worth the time spent on the couch.

(Pictured Above: Filmmaker Charles Ferguson and Musician Michael Stipe at the New York Screening of TIME TO CHOOSE.)

I was interested to read that Ferguson has a background in academia and also technology, and that in 1996 he became an Internet multi-millionaire when he sold his web development company to Microsoft. This means that he works with a freedom of economy (BIG budgets) that most documentary making teams don’t have, and he can talk about whatever he damn well pleases! And talk he does… His academic background means that at times tonight’s film does feel a little like a lecture, but it’s a vital one.

Ferguson narrows his focus in the film on the main crises he feels are facing Planet Earth right now, as in: coal and oil production, urban sprawl, deforestation, and the industrialisation of agriculture. It could all get a bit tough going if it wasn’t for the absolutely superb cinematography, which is one of the things that I’m assuming the director’s bigger budget allows. Ferguson filmed all over the world, and the breathtaking natural vistas poignantly underscore what we all have to lose if we choose to ignore what is going on out there. On the flipside, the director and his rather brave crew also managed to get right in the middle of destroyed forests and polluted cities, even filming without permits in China and Indonesia, two of the countries responsible for our world’s worst pollution levels.

Featuring narration by award-winning actor Oscar Isaac, TIME TO CHOOSE leaves audiences understanding not only what is wrong, but also what can to be done to fix the global threat. Ferguson explores the scope of the climate change crisis and examines the power of solutions already available through the stories of some inspiring individuals. Californian Governor Jerry Brown gets top marks from Ferguson – and me! - for encouraging solar and wind power and eliminating most fossil fuel production, whilst one innovative company in China has introduced wind power on an impressively large scale. Solar power has made major headway in Kenya, whilst in Curtiba, Brazil, former Mayor Jaime Lerner pioneered a Bus Rapid Transit system, since copied in 180 other cities (including, to a limited extent, Los Angeles) that is as efficient as a subway and 50 times less expensive. Better public transport means fewer cars on the road, a lesson that Auckland could take a few key points from.

Indeed one of the film’s true strengths is that it is not all doom and gloom, as Ferguson points out these number of positive steps that have been taken in many countries to implement change, even cautiously suggesting that it will not be impossible to reverse the environmental crisis.

One of the low points on the film for me was actually Oscar Isaac’s delivery, which really surprised me! He is a more than competent actor, but it appears that voice over work requires a very different set of skills that he hasn’t quite nailed yet. However, at 99 minutes and packed with beautiful imagery and positive energy, TIME TO CHOOSE is a more than decent watch.

TIME TO CHOOSE premieres on Thursday 22 June on Rialto Channel.

Click here to remote record

 

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD: “eco freaks” to the rescue

Posted on Thursday 15/06/2017 June, 2017 by

In 1971, a group of friends sailed into a nuclear test zone, and their protest captured the world's imagination. That ragtag bunch of Vancouver-based “eco-freaks” soon went on to be famous all around the world as the organisation Greenpeace, as the group improvised their way into starting a global movement.

That global movement really hit home for me as a young ‘un when it bought an act of terrorism to my hometown. The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, codenamed Operation Satanic (AKA Opération Satanique), was a bombing operation by the "action" branch of the French foreign intelligence services, the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE), carried out on July 10, 1985. During the operation, two operatives sank the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet, the Rainbow Warrior in the port of Auckland, on its way to a protest against a planned French nuclear test in Mururoa. Fernando Pereira, a photographer and dad, drowned on the sinking ship.

France initially denied responsibility, but two French agents were captured by New Zealand Police and charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, willful damage, and murder. As the truth came out, the scandal resulted in the resignation of the French Defence Minister Charles Hernu. On the twentieth anniversary of the sinking, it was revealed that the French president François Mitterrand had personally authorised the bombing. The act of terrorism horrified New Zealand but also galvanised our love of the Greenpeace organisation. It’s a group dear to many of our hearts, and in the era of climate change denial and the like, is still as important today as it was in the early seventies.

But onto tonight’s documentary, HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD. Largely told through 16mm footage from a vast organisational archive of some 1,500 film cans that this documentary just begins to tap, Jerry Rothwell’s film focuses primarily - and effectively - on the human dynamics of the group, particularly the role of late leader Bob Hunter. Hunter was a Vancouver Sun reporter whose intense interest in environmental issues landed him at the centre of the original group, which was made up of hippies, draft dodgers, the spiritually enlightened, fishermen and freaks. The name “Greenpeace” was designed more for writing on banners than anything else at first, as the loose crew of activists planned a disruption of President Nixon’s planned five-megaton nuclear explosion test on the Alaskan island of Amchitka. Though the test happened in late 1971 anyway, the eco freaks focused so much negative attention on it that the U.S. cancelled all further such activities there.

Buoyed by their early success and inspired by marine scientist Paul Spong (who had been astonished by his findings in researching orca intelligence), they decided to direct a new campaign against offenders in the appallingly unlawful world of whale hunting. When their crew of 13 finally found some Russian whaling vessels off the Northern California coast (after consulting the I Ching as to whether they should give up the search), they immediately realised these seagoing “slaughterhouses” were flaunting international law by killing undersized and immature whales. The dramatic footage shot on this and subsequent voyages kicked off the whole Save the Whales movement still so much in evidence today.

As the group’s profile rose and new chapters emerged around the world, egos started to fly in the face of Hunter’s original direction, and so too the infighting and disillusionment that informs the latter part of this super compelling doco. Hunter, who returned to his career in environmental journalism with a new, heightened profile before dying of cancer in 2005, found himself caught between others’ conflicting notions of Greenpeace’s mission. Today his second-in-commands control the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and an environmental corporate-consulting firm, and it appears that the original organisation is back on steady feet.

My favourite part of the film is the aforementioned old footage of the group in its early days, which seemed full of fun and excitement and positivity that even the “little guy” can make a difference. These were the pioneers who defined the modern green movement in action, and in these times, an effective call to arms if ever there was one.

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD premieres Thursday 15 June at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Click here for the trailer

Click here to remote record

Just over a week ago, US President – and Orange Mephistopheles - Donald Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Accord, much to the dismay of 99.9 percent of intelligent people out there. Echoes of dismay were heard far and wide, and it seemed like the future of Planet Earth was moving ever closer to disaster.

FRACKMAN: what is fracking, and why should you care?

Posted on Thursday 1/06/2017 June, 2017 by

A FLICKERING TRUTH: highlighting the importance of film

Posted on Thursday 25/05/2017 May, 2017 by

MONTEREY, the little café that could

Posted on Thursday 18/05/2017 May, 2017 by
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