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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CHASING ASYLUM – Australia’s not-so-secret shame

Posted on Thursday 14/09/2017 September, 2017 by

Taking us inside Australia’s detention camps, tonight’s documentary CHASING ASYLUM is one of the most distressing – but important - films I have seen this year. It’s a film we all need to watch and subject matter we need to act upon, especially if we are to change the way first world nations everywhere react to people in need.

A harrowing 90 minutes in length, CHASING ASYLUM tells the story of Australia's inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, examining the human, political, financial and moral impact of current and previous policy. It features appearances from many of Australia’s former prime ministers and politicians, and confronts the country’s shameful, hard line policy of detaining asylum seekers in offshore processing centres, effectively demonstrating how damaging and terrifying the places really are.

Crammed with damning testimony from brave whistle-blowers and disturbing footage of the truly wretched conditions inside camps on the island nations of Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, the frequently heartbreaking documentary created shockwaves on its home turf when it first aired, and unsurprisingly, stirred up plenty of interest elsewhere. It’s impossible not to be moved to tears at least once I reckon, and its incredibly moving yet minimalist delivery is a credit to its director, Academy award-winning filmmaker Eva Orner. Orner, who produced Alex Gibney’s also very affecting TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, focuses on the human cost of Australia’s hard line policy of offshore detention by using secretly filmed footage from places where no cameras or journalists are allowed. Orner and her team gathered heart-wrenching footage of detainees describing their reasons for seeking sanctuary and the sense of hopelessness brought about by long-term detention. Terrifying hidden camera footage also shows riots in progress and security personnel, some of them former nightclub bouncers from the Gold Coast, describing the centres’ residents as “c***s” and joking about the prospect of “shooting the f***ers”.

Equally as disturbing are the interviews with some of then university students with no experience in dealing with refugees that were hired as support staff on Nauru. Given no training other than to “go and be their friends,” these workers were immediately confronted by distressed and sometimes mentally ill detainees who had no idea about when, or if, they would ever leave. “Asking them not to kill themselves” is how one former staffer describes her main task on Nauru, and that included during conversations with adults and children. One support worker recalls being told about needing training on how to use a Hoffman knife. Asking why, she was told it is to cut people down when they’re found hanging. Others tell tales of detainees setting themselves on fire, stitching their lips and eyelids shut, and more. Allegations of the physical and sexual abuse of children are rampant, and graffiti scrawled above a line of payphones merely says: ‘“kill us”.

Orner won an Oscar for producing 2007’s TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, which was an investigation into torture practices conducted by America in the name of the “war on terror”. CHASING ASYLUM also shows us a government that bends the law to its own ends and even goes above it. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers has been found to violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture and has recently been ruled illegal by Papua New Guinea, yet change is slow, if at all.

It’s the small details in this grim but important film that make it so powerful, and so hard but essential to watch.


CHASING ASYLUM premieres Thursday 14 September at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Watch the trailer here

Remote record here

SATAN LIVES – the age of Lucifer rising

Posted on Wednesday 6/09/2017 September, 2017 by

As a Catholic primary school kid in the seventies, I vividly remember the culture of fear generated around two super popular horror movies at the time: The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). Both were made when I was still very young, but their legend continued for years after their release, and an excitement around their subject of choice: essentially, the devil. We all searched our mates’ scalps for any sign of the number “666”, and every time someone had a tummy bug we screamed “demonic possession”. It was hilarious but also more than a little scary, especially to children raised with the possibility that Lucifer was a very real thing.

Tonight’s great documentary, SATAN LIVES touches on the cult of fear around the devil, and how the way we think of him has evolved over the years. From Texas to the Vatican, the fast-paced and well-made film meets with practicing and former Satanists, exorcists, cult icons - believers and non-believers alike - to ask why in the age of reason the man with the horns remains so powerful and seductive. The film even features The Exorcist’s child star Linda Blair, whose life went pretty damn pear-shaped after she became the kid the great unwashed deemed most likely to follow in his footsteps.

It’s no surprise that music features heavily in the film, due to both the nature of its subject and the CVs and hobbies of its makers. Scot McFadyen is an award-winning director, producer and music supervisor, and after starting his own theatre company, ran the largest music production company on Vancouver Island. His first feature documentary was the awesome Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, and now he and his partner Sam Dunn’s production company, Banger Films is one of the world’s best-known documentary filmmaking operations focusing on heavy metal and hard rock. Dunn is also an anthropologist and musician, and his film Global Metal explored the globalization of metal in China, Japan, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and the Middle East. The metal genre is inextricably linked with Satanism, and their work in music reportedly influenced their work in SATAN LIVES.

I was really interested in the way that the filmmakers carefully divided the documentary into several sections, one of the most shocking being the daycare witch hunts in the early eighties after the release of the book ‘Michelle Remembers’. For those unfamiliar with the tome, it was the story of a young woman named Michelle Smith, who was a patient of distinguished psychiatrist Dr Lawrence Pazder, in Victoria, Canada, during the late 1970s. Pazder was married, a devout traditional Catholic family man, and Michelle presented originally with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Pazder suspected child abuse might be a factor in Michelle’s psychological problems, but she had no memories of such, so Pazder started probing her subconscious memory through hypnosis. These hypnotherapy sessions became more and more frequent, sometimes lasting a day. Sometimes they were conducted in settings beyond Pazder’s office, including in hotel rooms located in quiet tourist retreats towns. After several years of treating Michelle, Pazder divorced his wife, Michelle divorced her husband, and Lawrence and Michelle got married to each other and published ‘Michelle Remembers’. The book detailed the horrific sexual abuse and torture that Michelle supposedly suffered at the hands of a sadistic satanic abuse cult, as a very young girl. Pazder became an expert in “recovered memory”, and as more and more everyday parents began to question the slightest changes in the behaviour of their toddlers, the US became obsessed by the idea of satanic abuse in the childcare system. The specific cases detailed in the film are terrifying, and it goes without saying that the book has subsequently been discredited by several investigations that found no corroboration of the book's events. Others have pointed out that the events described in the book were extremely unlikely and in some cases even impossible, but nonetheless, lives were ruined on both sides.

The film also explores the evolution of Satan as the ultimate figure of blame: for bad behaviour, for brutal killings, for all that is bad in the world. He has also effectively become the “enemy” over the last hundred or so years, giving governments and armies a reason to hurt what they don’t know. Communists, Jews, atheists and more have been killed for being an unfamiliar other, and if the actions of the Alt Right are to be believed, he has morphed into those who threaten the future of the United States.

The film also talks to the aforementioned Blair and occultist Anton LaVey’s daughter Zeena Schreck, who is now a Buddhist. Says Schreck: “Satan is someone I no longer need to have around”, and perhaps we should no longer have a use for him either.

SATAN LIVES premieres Thursday 7 September at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Watch trailer here

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DON’T BLINK: ROBERT FRANK

Posted on Thursday 31/08/2017 August, 2017 by

“The best way to be is to be curious, stand up, keep your eyes open, don’t shake, don’t blink…” Robert Frank, photographer and filmmaker

The sage advice above is given by enigmatic photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank near the end of Laura Israel’s documentary portrait, DON’T BLINK: ROBERT FRANK, showing tonight on Rialto Channel. It’s just one of many clever, quirky utterances by the super creative Swiss-born American, who will turn 93 this year and shows little sign of slowing down.

With its cooler-than-thou, multi genre soundtrack, snappy editing and lashings of attitude, the documentary brilliantly captures the essence of the man, who most definitely can be called one of a kind. Influenced by - and close friends with - the infamous Beat writers, Frank is perhaps best known for his seminal book The Americans, which truly made his name. A collection of 83 photographs culled from thousands he took while traveling the United States, it generated controversy for images that to some viewers starkly portrayed America's extreme racial divide, as well as the poverty lurking beneath happy displays of wealth and prosperity. The book is now regarded by many as the most important American work of photography in the post-war era, and its influence has travelled far and wide. If you haven’t checked out imagery from it then I highly suggest you do – Frank has an innate ability when it comes to capturing more than just his subject in each frame, and it is brutal and beautiful in turn.

The larger than life talent also forged a parallel career as an experimental film-maker, and his best-known movie is one that few people have seen at all. Emerging from the bowels of the hedonistic, tragic and overblown music scene of the early Seventies, 1972’s COCKSUCKER BLUES is a documentary about the bacchanal that was the Rolling Stones’ American Exile on Main St. tour. The band originally commissioned the film themselves, but moved to prevent its release once they’d had the sobering experience of watching their own beyond-debauched behaviour on the screen. The fast-paced documentary goes into some detail of the experience for Frank but I wish I’d got to know more – it looks like it would be a fascinating tale of rock 'n roll excess and valiant efforts to cover it all up.

I wanted a lot more detail when it came to some other subjects touched upon in the film too, and I’m not alone when it comes to wishing that Israel - who has worked with Frank as an editor – had slowed things down a little. It’s very reflective of Frank as a person though, and it’s been said that the deliberately choppy editing and jukebox-style soundtrack give the film the distinct air of a “runaway slide show”. Israel has said that she took her cues for the overall vibe of the documentary from the subject itself, telling Nonfictionfilm.com: “I think personally that films should embody the feeling of what you’re trying to convey. So the form should actually follow that. And that’s what I went with because Robert is from the Beat generation and because his films and his photographs have a certain feeling and emotion, and like a rawness to them -- the film about him should also have that too. I think Robert Frank has that energy and his work has that energy and I made a film to go with that”. 

Made by a friend and a fan, the film definitely feels true to the spirit of its eccentric, fun subject, who looks to be set to keep stirring things up for many years to come.

DON’T BLINK: ROBERT FRANK premieres Thursday 31 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Watch the trailer here

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RICHARD LINKLATER: DREAM IS DESTINY

Posted on Thursday 24/08/2017 August, 2017 by

“This film is not just about Richard Linklater and his films but the spirit and need of independent filmmakers and films, emphatically saying to all: just do it! Go and make your film!”

Louis Black, Director, RICHARD LINKLATER: DREAM IS DESTINY

 

Slacker. Indie filmmaker. Oscar nominee. Aspiring novelist. Director. Producer. Actor… it’s about time someone made a film delving into the supreme talent that is Richard Linklater, and that has been done most admirably in tonight’s documentary, RICHARD LINKLATER: DREAM IS DESTINY.

A feature documentary on the life and work of the indie filmmaker, it was produced and directed by a long time friend of the subject’s - Louis Black (founder of the SXSW Festivals and the Austin Chronicle) - and Karen Bernstein, an Emmy and Grammy Award winning documentary filmmaker. And as much as it uses Linklater as its point of focus, it’s also a fascinating insight into the fiercely independent style of filmmaking and scene that arose from Austin, Texas in the late 1980s and early 90's.

Linklater's efforts have gone on to really epitomize what is now known as the Austin filmmaking style, from SLACKER and DAZED AND CONFUSED through to BOYHOOD, and have long inspired a low budget, bang it out in your own backyard movement all around the world. In his early days, Linklater really was a one-man band, filming himself using a tripod and recording audio tracks on his Sony Walkman. Once he got serious, though, what made the still-supremely chilled director special is that he became a communal artist but one with a clear vision – and that vision was always all his own. This documentary demonstrates that ably, by showing us how he might have made SLACKER with an Austin cinematic collective, but every shot and idea was ultimately Linklater’s. It has been said many times that he was the artist, and the collective were part of a community who had become - without always quite knowing it - his crew.

I love how RICHARD LINKLATER: DREAM IS DESTINY celebrates the director’s continuing ambivalence toward big studios, even as he worked within them. His decision to remain living and working in Austin is radical in itself from a career-politics point of view. His decision has kept him away from where the action is, and given him the freedom of distance that not many young directors could afford. The film also features testimony to the uniqueness of his way of working from big names like Jack Black, Kevin Smith, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Patricia Arquette and Matthew McConaughey. The late Jonathan Demme also speaks, and it is fondly and with much respect.

RICHARD LINKLATER: DREAM IS DESTINY also details some of the creation of the beautiful BOYHOOD over the years, which I love. Linklater gives us a fascinatingly honest account of how, in shooting the movie over 12 years, he genuinely didn’t know what he had on his hands and in the can. He recounts that he knew he had a great gimmick and an outline, but actually wrote the script year by year, and at moments worried that there really was “not much there”. But like many a Linklater film there definitely was much there, and I cannot wait to see his creative endeavours still to come.

RICHARD LINKLATER: DREAM IS DESTINY premieres Thursday 24 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Watch the trailer here

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DENNIS HOPPER: UNEASY RIDER

Posted on Thursday 17/08/2017 August, 2017 by

“Dennis Hopper didn’t die… he escaped.” Satya de la Manitou

In tonight’s film, DENNIS HOPPER: UNEASY RIDER, the enigmatic actor’s self-confessed “henchman” Satya de la Manitou says of his friend: “Dennis got in trouble with the whole alphabet – the FBI, the CIA, the IRS…” And he wasn’t kidding. It’s just one of the funny moments in what is a super entertaining documentary about the life and hard times of one of Hollywood’s most rare talents.

It has been said that EASY RIDER legend Hopper's unflappable veneer belied a man constantly teetering towards his next larger than life role. An influential artist, filmmaker, musician and dyed-in-the-wool eccentric, Hopper's crammed and colourful life offers a riveting narrative and makes the film a fun watch. Director Hermann Vaske knew Hopper well and delivers a sometimes-hilarious exposé of the man (literally, in BLUE VELVET) behind the mask, and as a long time fan I wasn’t disappointed.

The film begins with Hopper’s early career and delves into his friendship with – and hero worship of – the equally troubled James Dean, who he first met on the set of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Hopper played the role as Goon, part of Dean’s group of friends, but the doco shows the former in almost every scene with the star, gazing at him and taking in his every move, the subtlest nuances in his delivery. Hopper was reportedly shattered by news of Dean’s death at the age of 24, leading to a long-time disillusionment with the Hollywood scene that saw him withdraw completely at a time when his career looked like to be at a high.

Up next is a celebration of his work in EASY RIDER and APOCALYPSE NOW, as well as a little more detail about the experimental picture Hopper made in 1971, THE LAST MOVIE. The story of a film crew member in Peru who discovers that villagers, stunned by having a location crew in their midst and having no conception of what a film is, later set about ‘filming’ a killing with mock cameras and boom mics made of sticks, it has been majorly mocked. Looking at it now though, it is easy to see why, over time, it has evolved into a cult item among cinephiles, and I found this section of the doco absolutely fascinating.

But Hopper is not just remembered for his creativity and talent, but for the regimen of self-destruction that by the early eighties, had reportedly reached a daily intake of half a gallon of rum, 28 beers and three grams of cocaine. Pretty epic by anyone’s standards, and coupled with Hopper’s volatile personality, it could have been a recipe for disaster. The fact that he gave it all up and remained pretty much sober until his death in 2010 is damn impressive, as is the fact that it did nothing to dim his shine. Explaining Hopper’s continued success, his friend, artist and film director Julian Schnabel says: "He represented freedom and rebellion and the outsider. He was rebelling against the ordinary. If someone said he couldn't do it, he tried." 

Indeed, one of the things that Hopper was known for was his complete commitment to the characters he played. Actor Isabella Rossellini is shown reliving a fond memory of catching a glimpse of Hopper crying during a scene in BLUE VELVET - an aspect of the movie that director David Lynch decided to keep, although it hadn't been included in the script.

Hopper's big personality also resulted in tension with his co-workers, and that too is included in the film. Actor Diane Kruger recounts the moment during the shooting of APOCALYPSE NOW when Hopper was so high that he got lost for 10 days in the jungle, whilst director Roland Klick happily confirms, "Sure, he was also an asshole”. But a talented, original asshole, and it is at that intersection where the magic seemed to happen.

With archive footage and interviews with directors such as Wim Wenders, Isabel Coixet and Alex Cox, actors such as Rossellini, Kruger, Michael Madsen and Harry Dean Stanton, photographers such as Anton Corbijn and architect Frank Gehry, DENNIS HOPPER: UNEASY RIDER tells a great story, of an even more interesting man. As an outsider, it’s fascinating to watch how drug and alcohol abuse, along with an unpredictable and contrasting personality, didn't stop Hopper from reaching the global acclaim that still defines him. RIP, uneasy rider, you were one of a kind.

DENNIS HOPPER: UNEASY RIDER premieres Thursday 17 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Watch the trailer here

Remote record here

VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH, and my picks

Posted on Thursday 10/08/2017 August, 2017 by

Tonight’s film, VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH is (unsurprisingly) a documentary on the life and times of Ken Loach, master director and inspiration to many. For the past half-century, the British filmmaker has been crafting stellar films that showcase the political and social experiences of the working classes, and shows no signs of slowing down. From the earlier BBC plays to Palme d’Or award-winning films, Loach’s persistence to challenge the political status quo has been relentless. With this is mind I’ve taken it upon myself to list some of my own favourites, and why you need to check them out ASAP.

 

CATHY COME HOME (1966)

Ken Loach’s history-making 1966 television drama about homelessness, CATHY COME HOME was a gritty snapshot of an era in Britain’s history that will never be forgotten. Shot in almost documentary style, it is the story of a family forced out of their flat when the husband loses his job as a driver after an accident. Their bright and hopeful future pretty much vanishes before their eyes, and it is a heartbreaking watch. At the time of first screening it proved so powerful that it led to discussions in Parliament and new legislation to tackle homelessness in Britain. It was also fundamental in the launch of the homeless charity, Shelter.

 

KES (1969)

One of the best-loved British films by far, KES was only Loach’s second feature for cinema. Based on Barry Hines’ novel ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’, it tells the tale of Billy Caspar, a misjudged, smart teenager who hails from mining town called Barnsley. A troubled young chap, Billy is trodden on at home and ignored at school, but his life changes when he forms a bond with a kestrel hawk. “Hawks can’t be tamed. That’s what makes it great”, says Billy, who comes to respect the majestic bird for what it is.

 

RIFF RAFF (1991)

Many have said that it was RIFF RAFF that kick-started Loach’s unique brand of modern social realism movies, which has continued till his most recently acclaimed feature I, DANIEL BLAKE. Part romantic comedy and part brilliant satire of Thatcherism, RIFF RAFF stars the indomitable Robert Carlyle as Stevie, a demolition crew worker in the process of converting a broken-down hospital into luxury condominiums. Veteran actor/comedian Ricky Tomlinson also appears as a union leader who takes a fine swipe at Thatcher’s horrific economic policies.

 

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (2006)

Although the movie won the coveted Palme d’Or award at Cannes and did well at local box-office, THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY drew harsh criticisms among British media for its portrayal of the IRA. The film tells the story of Damien (Cillian Murphy), a young apolitical doctor who joins the budding ranks of IRA after witnessing a brutal raid from English forces. Loach once again excels in focusing on the human experience, covering the guerrilla war for the independence of the Irish Republic as it pitted the freedom fighters against the British army, the impoverished Irish workers against the English land barons, and eventually brother against brother.

 

LOOKING FOR ERIC (2009)

One of my personal favourite movies, LOOKING FOR ERIC stars footballer Eric Cantona as the imaginary mentor of a Manchester postman who suffers panic attacks and can’t cope with his two rowdy stepsons. It’s an often hilarious but never gimmicky premise that turns hero worship on its head, as the cool-headed Cantona appears in the life of Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) to tell him to pull himself together. The pair swap tips on how to cope with the dark times and reminisce over Cantona’s goals, in a true meeting of the magic and the mundane.

 

I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016)

Fifty years after Loach raged against homelessness in CATHY COME HOME, the British filmmaker made a film infused with the same quiet but righteous anger about the failings of the society around him in I, DANIEL BLAKE. The film - screening on Rialto August 12, just FYI - is the story of an unlikely but tender friendship between Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother from London, and Dan (Dave Johns), a Geordie carpenter in his late fifties who's out of work and recovering from a heart attack. Both Katie and Dan are feeling the sharp end of the shrinking welfare state: Katie has been forced to move her children north to find a flat; Dan is stuck in a nightmarish limbo between work, illness and benefits. Loach sketches with compassion the growing humiliation felt by both in the face of their worsening situations, making for a near-flawless film.

VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH premieres Thursday 10 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel 

Watch the trailer here

Remote record here

and

I, DANIEL BLAKE premieres Saturday 12 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Watch the trailer here

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KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE: a docudrama with a difference

Posted on Thursday 3/08/2017 August, 2017 by

Warning: This blog article talks about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Ten years ago, director Robert Greene first heard the tragic story of Christine Chubbuck - a smart but troubled young TV reporter in Florida, who went on to become the first person to commit suicide on live television in 1974.

A serious journalist with investigative ambitions and a feel for community, Chubbuck’s passion was to report on issues that affected real human lives, and she despaired about the rise of sensationalism in the press. She was also reportedly very lonely, a twenty-nine-year-old virgin who lived with her mother and had a crush on a colleague who rejected her and was involved with another woman on staff. She also had medical issues - she had had an ovary removed whilst quite young, which she was told would make it difficult for her to conceive a child. Needless to say she suffered from depression, but was being treated for it.

Under pressure from her news director to increase ratings, the station’s reporting had veered toward the sensational and toward crime, a factor that dominates  - along with Donald Trump – most of our news today. In her on-air suicide note, Chubbuck even referred directly to “Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts.” In the weeks before her death, she apparently joked with co-workers about killing herself live on air, as a “nifty” way to improve ratings. Three weeks before her death, she asked to do a feature on suicide and visited the local sheriff’s office to research suicide methods, but in that age, this bought up no red flags. Also, this sort of dark humour was reportedly far from unusual for the troubled but extraordinarily clever young woman: Jean Reed, the camerawoman who was working the morning Chubbuck shot herself, told a Washington Post reporter in 1974 that, “She had a great sense of the absurd, almost a macabre sense of humour.”

She eventually killed herself during the newsreel that preceded her morning current affairs programme on July 15th 1974. And although fewer than a thousand viewers watched her show, within hours of the shooting, the story made headlines in New York, Tokyo, London and Sydney: “TV Star Kills Self”, “TV Personality Takes Own Life On Air”, “On Air Suicide”. Though some have speculated that she killed herself due to her depressive episodes, Chubbuck’s brother, Greg, has long painted a different picture. She really didn’t want her death to be meaningless. “That salacious part of television, Chris detested,” he has said in interviews. “Was her final action a raging statement against that sort of television? Yes, clearly it was.”

When Greene first heard Chubbuck’s story and decided it could make for a film, he says he never wanted to make a straightforward story. Part documentary, part fictionalised narrative, it instead explores Chubbuck through actress Kate Lyn Sheil (best known for House of Cards), as she prepares for a role that will drain all of her resources. Recognising that a film about Chubbuck is always going to be a film about her on-air suicide, Greene decided to centre KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE on the difficulty of re-creating the videotape of the event, which is known to exist but has never been made public. TV broadcasts, especially local news programs in Sarasota, Florida, weren't regularly recorded at the time, but before she went on the air that last night, Chubbuck asked a coworker to make sure that evening's broadcast was taped, purportedly for her audition reel. Whether or not that grisly tape still exists is up for the debate – it has pretty much passed into the realm of urban myth. The station's owner is said to have kept the only copy under lock and key, with his widow giving it into the care of "a very large law firm”. Obscenely, those who claim to have seen it can give no plausible explanation of how or where, which makes it all even more bizarre.

It’s fascinating and wrenching to watch as Shiel is sucked downwards into the depression that consumed the “character” (for want of a better word) that she is playing, and as for the suicide scene? The less I describe, the better. It’s interesting that in the same year as this was originally released another film about Chubbuck, Antonio Campos’s CHRISTINE was also unveiled to the public. Campos’s film stars Rebecca Hall and is a straightforward drama, following Christine (the character, to distinguish her from the real-life Chubbuck) through the troubled events of the last few months of her life, condensing them and organising them so that they culminate in the one action for which the reporter is remembered.

It’s sad that 43 years later, the young journalist’s case and her death still fascinate many of us. Is that a symptom of the desire for sensationalism that Chubbuck died protesting? In a world where empathy so easily turns into rubbernecking, Christine Chubbuck is apparently still making the news.

KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE premieres on Thursday 3 August at 8.30pm

Watch trailer here

Remote record here

Where to get help:

In an emergency: Call 111. 
Crisis, Assessment and Treatment Team at Lakes DHB: 0800 166 167. 
Lifeline: 0800 543 354. 
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865. 
Youthline: 0800 376 633, or text 234 or talk@youthline.co.nz or live chat (7pm to 11pm). Kidsline: 0800 543 754. 
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787. 
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757. 
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 (weekdays 11am to 5pm). 
NetSafe: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723), www.theorb.org.nz


UNDER THE GUN and the politics of gun control

Posted on Thursday 27/07/2017 July, 2017 by

A drastic rise in mass shootings has ripped across the United States in recent years, and it’s a topic that hits hard in tonight’s sobering documentary on Rialto, UNDER THE GUN. Despite a growing body count and the chorus of outrage that comes with it, America has largely failed to respond – and director Stephanie Soechtig’s film goes a little further to show us exactly why.

As the parent of an eight-year-old, the opening scenes featuring the aftermath of Sandy Hook and its victims hits hard. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members. The legacy of the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history is profound, and the actions of the mentally ill, 20-year-old recluse will surely scar a generation and all those who came into contact with the crime. The distress you feel while watching the parents of the victims in the wake of the disaster has been a carefully chosen opener for the film, which essentially gives a human face to a crisis that is scaring the conscience of a nation.

Although it could be called a wide-ranging documentary on guns, mass shootings, and the activism of ordinary citizens, the film’s focus narrows quickly on how the firearms industry's lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, has developed a stranglehold on the politics of the issue. However, Soechtig is careful to draw a distinction between the lobbying org’s pretty unpleasant leadership figures, who have close ties to gun manufacturers and actively work to block the most common-sense attempts at gun regulation, and their rank-and-file members, everyday Joes who are presented as more supportive of responsible measures (like background checks) in national polls during vox pop-style interviews. These aren’t gun nuts and profiteers but rather men and women who see gun ownership as their right, and part and parcel of protecting their families.

UNDER THE GUN’s ability to cut through political talking points to focus on facts and firsthand accounts is definitely its strength, as well as the characters that the director has chosen to engage with. Particularly compelling is the narrative featuring former Congresswoman and gun-violence survivor Gabrielle Giffords, and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts - who was motivated to action by the situation in Sandy Hook and unwittingly sparked a grassroots movement on Facebook. “When women get involved in this country, things get done” says Watts, who utilises what she calls the “power of moms” to bring about awareness, and hopefully also change.

Some snippets also really hit home, like the representative of Al-Qaeda talking about how easy it is to buy a gun in the US, and the hard fact that most mass shootings are related to domestic violence issues, making them just maybe avoidable if the perpetrators are caught and arrested for earlier crimes against their partners and ex-partners. Oh and you know how when you’re in the States it feels like there is a Starbucks or McDonald’s on every corner? Well the country actually has more gun stores than Starbucks and McDs combined. 

I appreciate the way that Soechtig has cleverly attempted to move away from the always polarising, seemingly never-ending conversations about 2nd Amendment rights, by calling for a willingness to take a harder look at the reasons why people engage in violent gun behaviour. While UNDER THE GUN is firmly on the side of stronger gun regulations, it’s not blatantly anti-gun. There’s an attempt to be as inclusive as possible, and time taken to explain why statements uttered often by the opposition - that the then-Obama government leaders wanted to take away everyone’s guns, that the only way to prevent gun violence is to own a gun, etc etc - are easier said than defended with factual information.

But for me it's the aforementioned stories of those who've lost loved ones, and some of the chilling footage shown from these and subsequent events, that are the most powerful moments. Finishing on a montage of victims and then how you as an individual can help make a change, UNDER THE GUN doesn't shy from the complex nature of the debate but it also urges you, the viewer, to get the hell up and do something about it.

UNDER THE GUN premieres on Thursday 27 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.

Watch the trailer here

Click here to remote record 

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

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