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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A FLICKERING TRUTH: highlighting the importance of film

Posted on Thursday 5/25/2017 May, 2017 by

“I am truly passionate about everything I do,” says New Zealand filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly. “The risks I’ve taken in making some of my documentaries exhibit either passion or craziness.” On her website she goes on to admit that she has always been excited by stories that matter, the personal journeys that reflect a bigger issue, “and my Irish heritage has not only given me red hair but also a thirst for story-telling”.

With parents that took her everywhere from Papua New Guinea to Portugal and fostered within their daughter a wonder and appreciation for the diversity of peoples and their stories, it is no surprise that Brettkelly went on to make some of the most mesmerising documentary films of the last decade, and tonight’s film, A FLICKERING TRUTH is a beautiful example of her work.

The multi award-winning international director and producer’s self-funded 2008 film, THE ART STAR AND THE SUDANESE TWINS won the World Cinema Documentary Editing Award at Sundance Film Festival and screened in over 100 film festivals, and that kicked off one heck of a career. She has since been supported by the Sundance Institute, Gucci Tribeca Fund, BritDoc, the Binger Film Lab and the New Zealand Film Commission, and tonight’s doco, A FLICKERING TRUTH opened in competition at both Venice Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival. It is near flawless, and easily one of the most affecting documentaries that I have seen in a long time.

A moving portrayal of one man’s journey to restore thousands of hours of film heritage in post-Taliban Afghanistan, A FLICKERING TRUTH introduces us to Afghan film-maker Ibrahim Arify as he works incessantly to rescue the Afghan film archive in Kabul. After hearing that it was trashed by the Taliban in a religiously inspired frenzy, Arify, then living in Germany, returns to take command of the project. It is a tiring and thankless task at times, and we see the passionate filmmaker exhibiting visible frustration at the slow moving pace and attitudes of his compatriots. From the swindling day labourers to the naive Isaaq, the ageing caretaker who lives in the office, it appears that everyone is in some way conspiring against him.

As Arify starts to reveal to us the remains of the archive, the importance of film for Afghan history is a message that is impossible to miss. The archive is a place where the stories and culture that the Taliban has aimed to abolish can still survive, and even after Arify has to hastily leave the country, the remaining material is sent out into the provinces to enable screenings of old films for future generations. Film preservation has never looked so essential.

Brettkelly told Stuff.co.nz that for her, “film is the greatest vessel of our culture of the last 100 years and so to preserve it is so important”, and A FLICKERING TRUTH is a more than worthy testament to that.

A FLICKERING TRUTH premieres on Thursday 25 May at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

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MONTEREY, the little café that could

Posted on Thursday 5/18/2017 May, 2017 by

 

For years Monterey café in Auckland’s West Lynn shops was one of my go-to spots for eating and grabbing a dose of caffeine, a place I associate with the birth of my son and numerous scones shovelled in his then-tiny mouth whilst I read the paper. It was always warm and welcoming, and owners Paul and Mira consummate hospitality professionals. When it shut I was surprised, but moved on to yet another of the ‘hood’s many establishments with hardly a thought of what became of the Monterey crew. Which is a bit shit really, and especially shit given what I learned about their struggles by watching tonight’s documentary about the café, simply titled MONTEREY.

Taranaki-born director Lisa Burd – also a Monterey café regular – follows Mira and Paul’s dream “of creating a café together, a warm homely place they could share with the people around them”. They find the perfect spot in leafy Grey Lynn, and the addition of a proudly Samoan kitchen crew helps form the soul of a community-minded establishment. It’s a happy, nurturing family environment, and Paul’s experience as one of the founders of Ponsonby institution, Dizengoff makes it appear that they cannot fail. But it’s not making money, and HOW. Over six years the pair fights to keep Monterey open, finally resorting to bringing in a slightly stroppy but passionate UK chef to turn their misfortune around. A power struggle ensues, with more than a few casualties and not many winners at the end of the day.

Burd – who earned New Zealand's 2016 Doc Edge Best Emerging Filmmaker Award for the film – knows about professional struggle, having drawn on all of her own resources to bring MONTEREY to the screen. She came up with the story concept, raised the funds needed, and then shot, directed and produced the documentary herself, which is no mean feat. The award winner last year worked as a field producer on the reality television show, the Real Housewives of Auckland, but is clearly meant for greater things as MONTEREY so aptly demonstrates.

Burd’s style is very easy to watch, with plenty of face to the camera interviews with Paul, Mira and Jacob, their first hire and someone whose potential they really believed in with all of their hearts. It gives you an insight into their world, the struggles of owning a café and the amazing bond they share, going beyond “fly on the wall” to almost make the viewer part of their crew. We really feel Jacob’s discomfort and sense of failure when Paul decides he needs to bring in a chef with more experience and new ideas, and also Paul’s anguish over the decision. It is a quiet watch but a compelling one, and I can’t wait to see what story Burd’s deft touch brings to the screen next.

New Zealand film critic David Larsen said in Metro magazine last year that with MONTEREY, “Burd has done a lovely job of capturing a chapter in the life of Auckland”, and it’s one that I am glad to have been lucky enough to witness. I just wish I had watched the story at its heart unfold more closely.

MONTEREY premieres Thursday 18 May at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

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TICKLED AND THE TICKLE KING – is this really the end?

Posted on Wednesday 5/10/2017 May, 2017 by

When news broke in mid-March that David D’Amato, the antagonist of David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s infamous TICKLED documentary, had died, it was a shock for everyone I know who became obsessed by the strange tale. The filmmakers issued a plea for respect over his passing, and seemed genuinely affected by his sudden death despite the grief he – and his much-moneyed team – had caused them.

TICKLED revealed that the internationally renowned documentary about the seriously exploitative world of so-called ‘competitive tickling’ only really exists because of David D’Amato, who is barely seen in the film. I loved it when one film critic totally nailed it by referring to him as “a kind of tragic super villain, hurling legal threats and stand-ins at Farrier and co-director Reeve at every opportunity”. He was a dangerous man but clearly also a very troubled one, and upon hearing of his passing Farrier and Reeve issued the statement below:

Statement on Death of David D’Amato

We are incredibly sad to learn that David P D’Amato, the subject of Tickled, has passed away.

We don’t know any specific details about his death at this time.

David D’Amato has been a part of our lives for around three years now – a very unusual three years – and despite the various lawsuits he brought against us, this news is something that brings us no joy, and has hit us pretty hard.

We mostly knew David through talking to those he had interacted with online over the last 20 years, and people that he had been close to.

We only met him twice; once in Garden City, and another time when he turned up to a screening of the documentary in Los Angeles. We met a man who came out swinging, so to speak – threatening more lawsuits, while at the same time commenting that he enjoyed certain elements of the film. It seems to us that underneath it all, he did have a certain sense of humor.

It is also clear that he had certain troubles, and those are troubles that we hoped he would come to terms with at some point.

While making Tickled we always thought it was important to portray David D’Amato not just as an online bully, but as a person. That is why the closing minutes of Tickled are so important to us – an insight into D’Amato, the person. Ultimately we’ll never know all the things that made David the man he was. Like all of us, he was complex and complicated.

So we ask you to keep in mind that while David appears to have lived a fairly solitary life, he did have friends and family members. We ask that in comments online, and out there in the real world, you treat this information, and this man’s passing, with respect.

David Farrier & Dylan Reeve


Which brings me to the return to Rialto Channel of TICKLED tonight, followed by THE TICKLE KING, a 20 minute follow-up to the highly successful and controversial documentary that attempts a little closure… although not as much as D’Amato’s death. It features compelling, previously unseen footage documenting the bizarre and unsettling events that happened to filmmakers as TICKLED premiered at film festivals and theatres throughout 2016, with elements almost impossible to believe. Think: lawsuits, private investigators, disrupted screenings and surprise appearances… and more. It also answers a few of the key questions that bothered a few people when the TICKLED credits rolled, and is the perfect follow-up to one hell of a twisted tale.

Word has it Farrier and Reeve are currently at work on yet another shocker of a doco, to which I say, BRING IT ON. Watch tonight’s lineup and get very, very excited.

 TICKLED AND THE TICKLE KING Thursday 11 May at 8.30pm

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THE SOUND OF HER GUITAR, the life of Donna Dean

Posted on Thursday 5/4/2017 May, 2017 by

"Not many artists have the imaginations of a Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. Or the creative lunacy of a John Prine, Randy Newman or Tom Waits. This is why many good musicians have short careers. It is not as easy to be consistent and creative as you may think. This is Americana music of the highest quality".  John Apice, No Depression Magazine U.S.A, on Donna Dean

It’s no secret that many country singers have encountered great tragedy in their lives, or have overcome sharp odds to get where they are today. Many have battled unbearable, unimaginable pain, and it has bled seemingly effortlessly into their work. Lost loved ones, cancer, suicide and scary, unexpected brushes with death are just a few of the events massive country artists like Reba McEntire and Luke Bryan have faced, and then there’s the story of the late Mindy McCready, who’s tale of domestic violence, infidelity and eventual suicide is a study in heartbreak. A lot of artists overcame their obstacles and turned them into positives however, and thankfully that’s the case for much applauded New Zealand country artist, Donna Dean.

Dean is the subject of tonight’s documentary by director Bill Morris, THE SOUND OF HER GUITAR. Dean is one of New Zealand’s most respected, yet little known, songwriters and helped pave the way for a new generation of Kiwi country artists like the incredible Marlon Williams, currently gaining some serious traction overseas. Respected by her peers and revered internationally by those in the know – Donna Dean is perhaps the most famous local singer-songwriter you've never heard of.

The award-winning film of her music and life challenges was a huge hit at the N.Z Doc Edge Film Festival in 2016, and has been celebrated ever since. It begins back in 2013, when filmmaker Morris travelled around the States with Dean, her frequent collaborator John Egenes, and a small band. The idea was to make a portrait of a New Zealand country musician taking her genre back to its spiritual homeland, but became so much more. After landing back in New Zealand the pair met up to film an interview about the tour, but it unexpectedly veered into Dean’s personal history, which can be described as devastating at best.

Dean’s family’s musical history goes back to her maternal grandfather, who played steel guitar in Hawaiian dance bands that frequented Auckland’s dancehalls in the fifties. She says her mother fell in love with country and American folk music, singing songs with Dean’s father around the house when she was young. “I fell asleep to the sound of her guitar,” she sings on the song from which the documentary takes its title, but she also lay down to a much more soundtrack. In Dean's own words, she grew up in a home beset by alcoholism, abuse and violence. 

She left school at 15, met a boy, married, and had her first child at 16. It was a marriage that was soon to mirror her parents’ own, unhappy and wrought with violence and addiction. “I chose that,” she says in the film, “it was familiar”. Her husband didn’t like her playing music, so her guitar was abandoned until the marriage broke up. Dean left to seek help for her alcoholism and over time, music started to play a key role in her recovery. Songs started to flow freely from her fingertips and they still do, her voice labelled “haunting”, “heavenly” and “mesmerising” by those who hear it.

The now award-winning artist has toured Germany since 1998 and been a guest at Festival Geiselwind, Germany, Illawarra Folk Festival, Australia and at home in New Zealand, Auckland Folk Festival, and Whare Flat Folk Festival in Dunedin. She has released seven albums (three of which have garnered some New Zealand’s highest honours for recording and songwriting) and has had songs covered by artists in both here and in Germany. The road wasn't easy for Dean, but she has emerged triumphant.

This film reveals how a profound love for music, sheer willpower and determination helped change Dean’s life, and it has been sensitively made. New Zealand music writer Simon Sweetman said that THE SOUND OF HER GUITAR is “brave and beautiful and it also doesn’t outstay its welcome, Morris knowing just how much of the story to share and how to tell it”, and I couldn’t agree more.

THE SOUND OF HER GUITAR premieres Thursday 4 May at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel SKY TV 039 

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EMBRACE – stop hating your body, start living your life

Posted on Thursday 4/27/2017 April, 2017 by

There’s still a lot of people out there that deny the effect that the media has on women, who are bombarded with literally thousands of altered images of already (conventionally) beautiful women every day. They’ll say “oh we all know magazine images are photoshopped and Instagram has Facetune”, but if you’re not completely comfortable in your skin – and honestly, who is? – then a little self-hatred can easily creep in after a flick through Vogue or your photo feed.

Many studies provide crucial data that connect these images to negative outcomes for young girls in particular, and at an age when things are already pretty hard. It has been said that three of the most common mental-health problems among girls (eating disorders, depression or depressed mood/self-esteem) are linked directly to the presentation of women in the media. I was disturbed to learn that fifty three percent of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, and that by the time they reach 17, girls have seen 250,000 TV commercials telling them they should aspire to be that little bit “sexier”, or have a body size they can never achieve. Over thirty percent of high school girls (and 16 percent of high school boys) in the US suffer from disordered eating, and adolescent girls are more afraid of gaining weight than getting cancer, losing their parents or nuclear war. Lastly, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, which is a goddamn depressing fact in itself!

Which brings me to the subject of tonight’s documentary, EMBRACE. In 2012, now-filmmaker and body activist Taryn Brumfitt had an epiphany. Contemplating impending plastic surgery that would hoik her boobs back to their teenage position and put paid to her post-baby belly, the Aussie mother-of-three wondered what her actions were saying to her children, especially her daughter. "If I go through with this, what am I saying to my daughter about body image? How will I teach her to love her body? How am I going to encourage her to accept and love her body, when I am standing in front of her with a surgically enhanced body? What type of hypocrite or mother would I be?",  she recounted on her blog. She cancelled the surgery but still had to deal with a body that she didn't love and parts she actively "detested". Then she wondered, what would happen if she could live happily with her body as it was? And if she could, how could she then help other women to think the same way?

It led the former photographer to found the Body Image Movement, which is aimed at encouraging women to be more accepting of who they are, prioritising health before beauty and objecting to unrealistic body images in the media. Its importance became even more apparent when Brumfitt posted an unconventional before-and-after photo in 2013, which was seen by more than 100 million people worldwide and sparked an international media frenzy. The "before" photo shows her grimacing in peak hard-bodied body-builder mode, while the "after" has a happy and relaxed, more curvy Brumfitt. Unsurprisingly, it attracted plenty of criticism and nastiness, and the idea for EMBRACE was born.

The film follows Taryn's crusade as she explores the global issue of body loathing, talking to a huge variety of women about how they see themselves. Her compelling group of talking heads includes actor and talk-show host Ricki Lake discussing body image and Hollywood, and an incredibly candid Amanda de Cadenet on what it was like living with tabloid scrutiny at the age of 18 (“The message I took from it was that if you were thinner you were better … these days I’d say if you want to eat the biscuit, eat the fucking biscuit”). EMBRACE also introduces us to women who have seen their bodies change in dramatic ways beyond their control, like breast cancer survivor Turia Pitt, who suffered burns to 65 percent of her body when she was caught in a bushfire. Brumfitt also talks to a plastic surgeon who spends a large amount of time telling her that her post-pregnancy nipples “should be up here” (“I took one for the team there,” she says) and magazine editors who talk frankly about the way in which the perfect  face and body are sold to the world.

For many, the film won't really be saying or offering up anything new, but its refreshingly free of gimmicks and reinforces once again how global the problem of body shaming and self-loathing has become. Highly accessible, snappy (at 90 minutes) and humourous when needed, it’s an important watch for every woman who’s ever looked in the mirror and hated what they saw – and those raising the next generation.

EMBRACE premieres Thursday 27 April at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

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On BARISTA… and the coffee geek as rockstar

Posted on Thursday 4/20/2017 April, 2017 by

Merriam-Webster defines a barista as “someone who makes and serves coffee and coffee drinks (such as cappuccino) to customers”, but when it comes to many of the bean pullers I’ve encountered around the world, they view their occupation as close to god. And god help you if you actually order a cappuccino in Auckland or Wellington, but that’s another story!

In an editorial role for a trade magazine, I once attended a coffee “symposium” and also a local coffee awards that necessitated that the organisers fly in an international specialist in the field who, naturally, went by just one (invented and absurd) name. Both events were quite pretentious but also surprisingly enjoyable, and I came away with a new level of admiration for what it takes to make the perfect cup o’ joe.

Most people think the – often bespectacled and bearded - men and – ironically tattooed - women behind the counter at their local cafe are just university-bound kids and unemployed actors working for a bit of extra pocket money. Many definitely are but for plenty of baristas, this is their chosen career. They are serious and they are dedicated, and their role in society these days has pretty much surpassed the bartender as a harbinger of scorn and hipster-by-numbers cool. Ignore their Breton stripe-wrapped attitude at your peril – these guys are seen by many as the rockstars of the hospitality industry with good reason.

Which brings me to tonight’s documentary, BARISTA. As the title suggests, it’s about people who make coffee. But these are not just any people who make coffee, they are the (at time of filming) top five baristas in the US, and cameras follow their journey as they work their way through the highly respected National Barista Championship. So how, exactly, does one take part in a barista competition? Well in this case it’s an intense, cutthroat competition wherein competitors get 15 minutes to prepare 12 drinks. That’s just 15 minutes to prepare a trio of beverages for a four-person judging panel - one espresso, one cappuccino, and one specialty drink of their own devising – all the while keeping up a steady chat about barista-important topics such as the origins of their coffee and their own espresso-pulling philosophies. The stress is palpable as we reach the specialty beverages stage, with competitors experimenting with the likes of liquid nitrogen and moonshine-style coffee distillery to impress and hopefully, take home the crown.

Thankfully director Rock Baijnauth keeps things light, and despite some of the characters he shines his light on being insufferably pious in the extreme, his filmmaking style is fast and refreshingly choppy. The sight of not one but two absurdly solemn competition judges stooping down in unison to closely observe how evenly a barista tamps down on his coffee grounds has been called more than a little comical, and Baijnauth knows just when to pull back on the superlatives and get back to the action. The obsessive techniques and hilarious-sounding tasting notes the baristas talk about are no sillier than what I have heard on the regular in the wine world, which seems to get a lot more respect.

Anyway, it would be too easy to compare BARISTA to Christopher Guest’s awesome mockumentary “Best in Show” - one of the film’s subjects does so herself – but it has a similar vibe and is an easy watch as a result. I wouldn’t say I loved this but it was a nice way to while away just over an hour and a half, and you might just learn a little more about what makes your local barista tick.

BARISTA premieres Thursday 20 April at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel  

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DAN AND MARGOT and the stigma of mental illness

Posted on Thursday 4/13/2017 April, 2017 by

During my twenties I had a long-term partner who was a big, athletic guy (an ex-Olympian even) but a real sensitive soul, and he struggled with life at times. A couple of years after we split I heard that he had married, moved overseas and begun “hearing voices”, eventually returning to New Zealand and plunging into what I now know is full blown schizophrenia. On the outside he apparently looks exactly the same, but the voices in his head have rendered him incapable of work and most relationships. At worst he imagines that his phone is bugged and there are cameras in his shower, at best he has a short fuse with his friends and family, many of who have struggled to watch his transformation over the years.

Tonight’s film DAN AND MARGOT follows a similar trajectory as it takes an intimate look at a seemingly together young woman called Margot, who spent years being stalked and tormented by a person who never really existed. Beginning like an art house horror movie you haven’t caught yet, it’s a sensitive but fascinating watch and a very sympathetic portrayal of mental illness by filmmakers Chloe Sosa-Sims and Jake Chirico.

The protagonist is a friend of Sosa-Sims, a smart, sassy woman who just happens to also be schizophrenic. The exact cause of schizophrenia isn't known, but a combination of genetics, environment and altered brain chemistry and structure may play a role. Schizophrenia is characterised by thoughts or experiences that seem out of touch with reality, disorganised speech or behaviour and decreased participation in daily activities, and it can affect someone for a few years, or the duration of their life. Treatment is usually life-long and often involves a combination of medications, psychotherapy and coordinated specialty care services, and it has been known to make its presence felt when sufferers are at a very vulnerable time in their lives. Unlike virtually every other mental illness, schizophrenia is fairly unique in that its first onset is nearly always in young adulthood - not childhood or as a teen, and rarely after one’s 30s. Most people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia have their first symptoms and episode in their 20s — early to mid-20s for men, a little later (late-20s) for women.

This is, in part, is what makes it such a devastating disorder. Just as a person is finding their way in the world, exploring their relationships with others and whatnot, schizophrenia strikes. This is definitely the case for Margot, as we watch her struggling to take back the three years of her life that she lost to schizophrenia. During those years she was stalked, sexually harassed and tormented by a person who never really existed, ending in a deep depression until finally, she was hospitalised and diagnosed.

In the film we see Margot trying to gain back the years she lost during her episodes. She wants four things: to move out of her parent's house, to meet others like herself, to find satisfying work and ultimately to fall in love. As she gets closer to achieving what she wants, she continues to grapple with her illness. Schizophrenia is a life-long condition and the chance of relapsing is ever-looming.

The fearlessly introspective protagonist at the heart of DAN AND MARGOT is a great subject, making for a compelling watch. Her supportive network of family and friends are also wonderful people, and their observations on the mystifying changes in her behaviour are heartbreaking. I think it’s important to say that Margot gives a voice to the many stories of mental illness as she struggles to live with past traumas but still has hope. Lastly, the film asks questions about the deep-seated stigmatisation of mental illness around the world and what ways we can better understand – and support - those in its grasp.

DAN AND MARGOT premieres Thursday 13 April at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

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THE EMPIRE OF THE SCENTS

Posted on Thursday 4/6/2017 April, 2017 by

As a sometime beauty editor for the past 15 or so years, I have written about a lot of fragrances – and the people behind them. These special talents are revered and their work talked about using the most insane, seriously poetic language, and their success stories can make or break a major luxury brand’s fragrance division. We as scent consumers know what we like, and those that hit the jackpot by meeting that are paid handsomely.

Nobody knows for sure what makes our noses work the way they do, not even the USD $20-billion-a-year perfume industry's legions of chemists, whose jobs depend on appealing to those noses. Scent is such a delicate sense, and sensorial memories powerful – be they good or bad.

In tonight’s beautifully crafted documentary THE EMPIRE OF THE SCENTS (in French, ‘Le Nez’ AKA ‘the nose’), acclaimed Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen makes his debut in the documentary genre with an exploration of the importance of our sense of smell. It is a sense so crucial that those that lose it have been known to fall into deep depression and even suicide, and Nguyen honours it accordingly. The key role that olfaction plays in our everyday life is carefully analysed by sommeliers, perfume creators, truffle hunters and other people whose lives and careers are intimately linked to the nose.

I love that the film gives us what has been called an almost “kaleidoscopic portrait” of what is the sense of smell, exploring the most rare of saffrons, exotic perfumes and more. It is incredible to watch the like of astronaut Chris Hadfield attempt to describe the smell of space, while food molecule expert François Chartier talks about the “sound” of flavours. I was particularly amused by the enigmatic German Guido Lenssen, a truly metaphysical perfumer who claims to have created the scent of a woman of a woman’s crotch (“Vulva”, I kid you not), as he explains how his perfume came to be. 

Nguyen travels the world in the documentary, and has said that making a foray into non-fiction was a real challenge for him. The director is most famous for the film REBELLE (AKA ‘War Witch’), a Berlin Film Festival-winning French war drama that tells the story of Komona, a girl kidnapped at the age of 12 by rebel soldiers and enslaved to a life of guerrilla warfare in the African jungle. Forced to commit unspeakable acts of brutality, she finds hope for survival in protective, ghost-like visions (inspiring a rebel chief to anoint her 'War Witch'), and in a tender relationship with a fellow soldier named Magician. It is the most emotive watch and beautifully crafted, and I highly recommend you search it out.

THE EMPIRE OF THE SCENTS is a very different beast but also a beautiful one. There was the challenge of making a series of talking heads interesting, but the subject matter does that all on its own I think. They are all trying to explain something that is at once ineffable and invisible, and the director has said that at times that led to a moment of panic. “Very early on … I started feeling insecure,” Nguyen told a local Canadian newspaper. “I was scared we wouldn’t be able to produce an hour and a half of screen time and still entertain people”. He went on to contact Joe Bini, an editor for the legendary Werner Herzog to ask for help. He read the script and reportedly said, “I think you should be worried. Smell is not a character you can relate to”… cheers!

Everything changed for the director however when he found writer Molly Birnbaum, a New York-based writer whose struggle to deal with losing her sense of smell is heartbreaking. “She has this great charisma,” he said. “There’s something magnetic about how she looks on screen. It was a turning point. I felt relieved, knowing (the film) could have a structure.”

Another unifying element to the story is the nothing-but-strange substance known as ambergris, a dark, solid matter produced in the digestive tract of sperm whales. The catch? It has an oddly enchanting, often polarising odour that captures the imagination of Nguyen’s interviewees. Basically whale crap, it is a rare and expensive substance that gives perfumes their seductive animalistic odour.

In conclusion, a totally fascinating doco, especially if you love scent as much as I do.

 THE EMPIRE OF THE SCENTS premieres Thursday 6 April at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

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WEINER – it’s (unfortunately) all in the name

Posted on Thursday 3/30/2017 March, 2017 by

 

I believe we all have that one friend – in some cases, maybe more – who dates and then marries an utter dickhead. You endlessly hope that the aforementioned idiot will change, or that your friend will one day and wake up, hit themselves on the forehead and yell: “what they HELL have I done?”

That person for many of her friends is the clever, sassy and gorgeous Huma Abedin, key aide to Hillary Clinton and wife to the appropriately named Anthony Weiner. Yes THAT Anthony Weiner, sender of both solicited and unsolicited dick pics, and the subject of tonight’s BAFTA-nominated documentary, WEINER.

A good friend and political ally to the Clintons and once a highly respected member of Congress, Anthony Weiner is a man often painted as that guy on the inside who is always proudly sticking up for the everyday person, and a career politician of the highest order. Passionate about what can be achieved in office and a true social activist, he’s the kind of person I would have dreamed of having as my own MP… until one day when it all went horribly wrong. It all changed in June 2011 when he was forced to resign in disgrace after admitting that yes, he did tweet lewd "headless" (phnar phnar) photos of himself from his public Twitter account to women he met online, and that it was not the work of a hacker or that the photos were of someone else. At the time, wife Huma Abedin was pregnant with their first child, and stoically decided to stand by her man.

Weiner and Abedin married in July 2010 in a glamorous, celebrity-attended ceremony that was officiated by Bill Clinton and covered in the pages of US Vogue. The couple was not even a year into their marriage when the aforementioned news broke that Weiner had been sexting women online after he tweeted out a photo of his erect penis that he had “meant” to privately send to a woman on the social media site. He resigned from Congress soon after, and in December of that year Abedin gave birth to their son, Jordan.

Fast forward to 2013, when with much counseling under his belt Weiner decided to run for mayor of New York City and also agreed to be filmed for a documentary about his return to politics. That documentary was tonight’s WEINER, and it is one hell of a ride. With Abedin still by his side and knowing other lewd photos from that era that may also come to light during the campaign, Weiner is a man on a mission, putting his political agenda first and attracting many supporters along the way, As we all now know, it once again went horribly wrong… as the man can clearly not keep it in his pants.

Our friend Abedin’s attempts to survive the mayhem are excruciating to watch, and infuse the film’s tragic core. As she gives a performance worthy of a Best Supporting Actor award, we see her stand by her man no matter what – even when lewd images are released from his Twitter account that feature their sleeping toddler son in the background. She’s constantly on the margins of the documentary’s cameras, looking at her pathetic husband with a mixture of contempt and abject sadness. It is a tough watch – and bizarrely, as horrified I was by his behavior I also felt pity for him, and what is clearly a compulsion that he just can’t control.

In a press conference during Weiner’s ill-fated mayoral campaign, Abedin finally spoke publically to plead that her family’s private life is just that - but the documentary makers were there to film her speech in all its glory, or lack thereof. Directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Sternberg captured the pair’s losing battle in extraordinary detail, invoking sympathy for Weiner as passionate defender of working-class values, as well as his wife as passionate defender of her doomed relationship. Like a car crash, it’s difficult for many of us to look away. From his self-destructive narcissist to her doomed wife and loving mother, it makes for compulsive viewing.

I have been following Abedin’s ups and downs since, her separation from Weiner following his second scandal to her forays into the dating world and now, their rumoured reconciliation. WEINER ended up being just a part of that, but a very private look into their compelling tale all the same. Don’t miss it.

WEINER premieres on Thursday 30 March at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

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WHERE TO INVADE NEXT – and some more Moore you may not have seen

Posted on Thursday 3/23/2017 March, 2017 by

At Rialto Channel we love us some Michael Moore, and tonight’s documentary WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is a stellar example of what the American author, political activist and documentarian does best.

The goal of the film is to show what the USA can learn from rest of the world, and director Moore playfully visits various nations in Europe and Africa as a one-man "invader" to take their ideas and practices for America. Whether it is Italy with its generous vacation time allotments, France with its gourmet school lunches, Germany with its industrial policy, Norway and its prison system, Tunisia and its strongly progressive women's policy, or Iceland and its strong female presence in government and business among others, Moore discovers there is much that American should emulate. The myth of the "American dream" which now only the top five percent have any realistic chance of achieving is front and centre, and it’s interesting to see how many of the aforementioned positive moves actually began in the United States.

Moore is at his best when he tackles political or social subjects close to his heart in a brash manner, and when he challenges the political establishment and puts an unashamed liberal spin on his work it always comes across as 100 percent authentic.

We’ve all seen his big “hits” like FAHRENHEIT 9/11 and BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, but I thought I’d round up a few of the lesser-know works by the controversial filmmaker….

SLACKER UPRISING

One of his earliest outings, in this film we see Moore travelling across the country to various college and university campuses to get the goddamn slacking kids off of their sofas, and into the voting booths to get George W. Bush out of office. Part documentary, part-infomercial and part concert, it has live performances and appearances from the likes of Eddie Vedder, Roseanne Barr, Joan Baez, Tom Morello, R.E.M., Steve Earle, and Viggo Mortensen, and although it feels a little dated now it is okay as a record of a moment in time. It has been called unashamedly propagandistic (even by Moore’s standards), but it’s interesting to note that it was one of the first feature-length films made by a known director to be released as a free and legal download online. It was freely available to those in the U.S.A and Canada to encourage voting and urge people to take part in the democratic process and it is also available on Youtube.

THE BIG ONE


This is another on the road outing, which documents Moore’s comings and goings as he travels around America on a book tour. This time he’s taking a look at the economic practices of the then Clinton administration and how economic failings had affected American workers. Extremely critical of several large companies' labour practices, he tries to hunt down and interview several heads of major corporations but only succeeds with one of them. Roger Ebert put it really well (funny that!) when he said that the movie is smart, funny and edited cleverly - which helps conceal the fact that it's mostly recycled information. There is little here that the hugely successful ROGER & ME didn't say first, and more memorably. It is interesting to see a book tour in action though: one city a day, no sleep, endless talk shows and book signings… looks like hell!

CANADIAN BACON


Moore’s first – and hopefully, only – foray into feature film, most critics have panned this but I reckon it’s still worth a watch (if you’re a fan). At the time of the film’s release, jobs in the USA were being shipped offshore, and Moore readily displays his opinion on the unjust treatment of recently laid-off workers. It follows the story of a group of ex-employees (portrayed by actors John Candy and Rhea Perlman) from a defunct weapons manufacturing plant that are forced into the collecting dead bodies of those jumping off Niagara Falls for cash. Alongside these job losses the fictional President (portrayed by Alan Alda) is losing his popularity in the polls as a result of America ending the Cold War. The President therefore decides to start a faux-war with Canada to reclaim his lead in the polls and make the average American fear their Canadian neighbours.

ROGER & ME

Michael Moore’s debut is laden with all the trademarks he will become known for and is a brilliant watch. His preference to personalise the macro issue is top of mind as he focuses on his hometown of Flint, Michigan. The film sees Moore examine the socio-economic impact that General Motors had on Flint, from the comfortable living his father made working there pre-1980s, to the urban poverty that has set in during the years following its foreclosure. To find answers Moore seeks the company’s CEO Roger Smith, but to no avail. The plot hinges on this David vs. Goliath narrative for its effect; the now-familiar dismissive nature of CEOs towards the little man (or woman). Introducing his family and stating that his father worked in one of the factories, the film has a far more personal touch than many of his other films. It’s interesting to note that in 2013 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is premiering at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel SKY TV39

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