Francesca Rudkin

Francesca Rudkin

Over the last 15 years Francesca Rudkin has been working in the media as a film and music reviewer (NZ Herald, Breakfast TV), a television presenter and producer, and voice over artist. Recently, Francesca joined Rialto Channel as their resident blogger, allowing her to indulge in her love of world cinema. Her next challenge is to convince her young children that being a “Cinephile” is a legitimate profession.

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Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 9/12/2016 September, 2016 by

Variety is the name of the game this week. Car racing enthusiasts and Paul Newman fans will lap up the documentary Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman on Thursday evening. If you’re looking for a truly unique film to immerse yourself in, you can’t go past Matteo Garrone’s exquisite Tale of Tales on Saturday, and if you’re fond of over the top Hammer horrors, then Sunday evening’s Stonehearst Asylum is for you.

Tale of Tales  premieres Saturday 17th September, 8.30pm

 

Inspired by 17th-century Italian fairy tales, filmmaker Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah, Reality) takes us on a luscious, violent, sensual and stylistic dreamlike journey in his first English language film Tale of Tales. Bizarre stories and beautiful settings collide with dark humour and understated performances; this is an odd but strangely compelling film.

The film follows three royals who live in different parts of the same imaginary realm. Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek) sacrifices her husband and eats the heart of a sea monster in order to become pregnant. King of Highhills (Toby Jones) pays more attention to a flea than his own daughter and finds himself alone and bereft when she is married off to a caveman. King of Strongcliff’s (Vincent Cassel) libido gets the better of him as he seduces a local girl only to discover he has been tricked and she is instead an old hag.

These aren’t the kind of fairytales you share with your kids, and anyway, the very specific pacing of the film would probably bore them. However, thanks to the exquisite costumes, music, casting and imaginative art direction, there is plenty for adults to immerse themselves in, as well as a few worthy life lessons to embrace.

Stonehearst Asylum  premieres Sunday 18th September, 8.30pm


 A fabulous cast gets to swing between sanity and madness in this loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether. A gothic romantic horror film in the vein of the British Hammer horror films, the film kicks off with the arrival of an earnest young doctor Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) from Oxford at the eerie and remote Stonehearst Asylum. On his arrival he’s greeted by superintendent Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley) who agrees to teach Newgate everything he knows about treating the insane, and Newgate immediately falls for one of the patients, the charming and accomplished Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale).

However, not all is as it seems at Stonehearst Asylum, and from here on in, it’s up to the viewer to unravel the mystery. Who is the monster in this story?  The insane or those treating them?

The film also stars David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, and Michael Caine, and is directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist) who has a knack of pulling together impressive A-list casts. Michael Caine was one of the last names to come on board the project, but he was enticed by the idea of working with Ben Kingsley again – the two hadn’t worked together since the 80’s Without A Clue. Anderson is no stranger to psychological thrillers, and if you look at his body of work, there’s a running theme throughout his film that asks the question, ‘what is madness’? In his first period drama, he attempts to answer it with high-class melodrama.

Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman  premieres Thursday 15th September, 8.30pm

 

Most people think of Paul Newman as a critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning actor, and he is, but his real passion, according to friends and family interviewed in this documentary, was motorcar racing. Paul Newman discovered a love of racing when he was preparing to star in the film Winning. He started driving at an age when many drivers would retire, and went on to become not only a successful driver, but also a team owner. Robert Redford, Jay Leno and Robert Wagner along with racing car legends, fondly recall stories of Newman’s obsession with cars as they shed light on his 35-year driving career.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 9/5/2016 September, 2016 by

Throughout September, Friday nights are dedicated to cool, small American indie films that you wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity to see. This week catch the crowd pleaser Unexpected  and over the coming weeks, keep an eye out for Kristen Wiig in Nasty Baby, and Christopher Abbott in James White.

Unexpected  premieres Friday 9th September, 8.30pm

Unexpected is the sweet story of a teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders) who accidentally gets pregnant at the same time as one of her students Jasmine (Gail Bean). Their backgrounds and situations couldn’t be more different, but the two bond over pregnancy yoga classes, and Samantha makes it her mission to get Jasmine into college.

Unexpected isn’t going to blow you away, but it’s a smart and relevant piece of storytelling, and a real crowd pleaser. The film, directed and co-written by Kris Swanberg, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, and will resonate with any woman who has had to contemplate the effect of motherhood on their life. The film reminds us that experiences and expectations of motherhood are all different, and there’s no one way of going about it; a white, financially secure, educated, married woman is just as unprepared for motherhood as an African American, financially insecure, single teenager.

Kris Swanberg, who is married to mumblecore filmmaker Joe Swanberg, creates a warm and accessible film in which her lead actors can shine. Smulders’ reminds me a touch of actress Lake Bell, and young actress Gail Bean is superb, marking her as an actress to watch. Unexpected  is a perfectly pleasant way to end the week.

Queen of Earth premieres Saturday 10th September, 8.30pm

 

Queen of Earth is the work of Alex Ross Perry, an exciting young American filmmaker, who is often associated with the mumblecore movement due to the fact he makes films on tiny budgets. However, unlike his mumblecore colleagues who like to improvise off loose ideas, Perry’s scripts are sharp and filled with scripted acidic observations that garner him comparisons to Philip Roth, Whit Stillman or Noah Baumbach.

Queen of Earth stars Elisabeth Moss and Inherent Vice star Katherine Waterston, and both are excellent. Moss plays Catherine, a young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown after her father dies and her boyfriend leaves her. Her old friend Virginia (Waterston), with whom she has been estranged, takes her to her family’s lake house to recoup and recover, but Catherine’s mental state continues to decline.

Catherine and Virginia’s friendship is horrible; they pride themselves on pushing each other’s buttons and spitting out brutally honest barbs to see how much the other can bear. Turns out quite a bit – and yet it all creates a level of tension and unpredictability that is hard for us to bear.

His latest couple of films, Listen Up Philip and Queen Of Earth have made world premieres at Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival respectively, and even though he’s yet to have a breakthrough moment at the box office, Alex Ross Perry’s work is not to be missed.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 8/29/2016 August, 2016 by

Spring is almost here, and if the Olympics didn’t motivate you to get fit for summer, then maybe Rialto Documentary’s ‘Charismatic Stars in Sport’ series might do the trick. Featuring films that explore the inspirational lives of boxing legends Manny Pacquiao and Muhammad Ali, and weightlifting world champion C.T. Fletcher, the series also looks at Hollywood icons Paul Newman and Steve McQueen’s obsessions with motor racing. If you prefer your games to be of the board game variety, then check out the chess moves in Pawn Sacrifice.

Pawn Sacrifice Premieres Saturday 3rd September, 8.30pm

If you think tennis players throw epic tantrums, or rock stars make ridiculous demands on tour, then meet American chess master and world champion Bobby Fisher (Tobey Maguire). Able to out-tantrum and out-demand the best of them, Fisher is famous for his 1972 battle with Russian Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in a match up that was just as much a battle between the superpowers as it was a game of chess.

Directed by Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond), Pawn Sacrifice begins by exploring Fisher’s early years. His mother was a communist who refused to tell Bobby who his father was, but encouraged his love of chess by finding him a tutor, Carmine Nigro (Conrad Pla). Fisher became the US champion in his teens, and dedicated his 20’s to becoming the World Champion. By the time he challenges the Soviet Union’s world chess champion Spassky, Fisher has become a publicly paranoid, narcissistic chess genius who spouts forth anti-Semitic propaganda – even though he’s Jewish.

The film features an impressive cast that also includes Peter Sarsgaard, but front and centre is the baby-faced Tobey Maguire as the complex and obsessive Fisher. Maguire goes some way to making this unlikable character affable, however, neither Zwick nor Maguire manage to get to the bottom of what drove Fisher to become so troubled and unreasonable, meaning Fisher remains a bit of an enigma. 

The Grandmaster Premieres Monday 29th August, 8.30pm

Wrapping up a month of Asian film on Rialto World is the Oscar-nominated The Grandmaster, a beautifully shot Hong Kong – Chinese martial arts drama. The main character in director Wong Kar-Wai romantic melodrama is inspired by Ip Man, a master exponent of Wing Chun kung fu who taught Bruce Lee.

Tony Leung (who worked with Kar-Wai on In the Mood For Love) takes on the role of Ip Man, and throughout the film we flit back and forth in time as he travels from southern China’s Guangdong province in the 1930s to Hong Kong in the 1950s, dealing with the Japanese invasion in 1938 and the loss of his wife and children along the way.

The story focuses just as much on Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of Manchurian grandmaster Gong Yutian, who is as talented at kung fu as Ip Man. The two are clearly fascinated with each other, and their fight sequences are beautifully choreographed to appear like set pieces out of a romantic musical.

Filled with spectacular set pieces that capture not just the beauty of the choreography, but of the costumes and settings as well, The Grandmaster is a romantic martial arts film that’s as interested in the small details as it is in the overall impact of its epic visuals. The transitions between places and periods might be a touch confusing at times, but this is a classy and epic tale that will delight fans of the more poetic brand of martial arts films.

London Road  Premieres Sunday 4th September, 8.30pm

London Road is the film adaptation of a successful musical directed by Rufus Norris that played in 2011 at the Cottesloe stage at London’s National Theatre. The stage show featured music by Adam Cork and dialogue and lyrics by the verbatim-theatre pioneer Alecky Blythe. The musical told the story of the 2006 Ipswich serial murders and the effect they had on the inhabitants of London Road. Blythe’s script is based on her own interviews with the locals, the media and the women who worked as prostitutes on London Road, and it makes for compelling viewing.  

The film, also directed by Norris, embraces its musical origins as its actors drift between song and speech. An impressive cast, including Olivia Coleman and Tom Hardy, do a great job of portraying the tension and fear felt by the locals during the ‘Ipswich Ripper’ time. You’ll get more out of this film if you are a fan of the musical genre, but for those of you like me who would happily watch Olivia Coleman sing the phone book, there’s still plenty here to admire.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 8/22/2016 August, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

An eclectic array of films feature on my pick-list this week; there’s a European WWII period drama starring Kristen Scott Thomas, Michelle Williams and Matthias Schoenaerts, a Scottish rom-com and an American documentary about a reclusive family. Basically there’s plenty to move, charm and fascinate you this week on Rialto Channel!

Suite Française Premieres Saturday 27th August, 8.30pm

 

 

This beautifully shot melodrama is set during the early years of the Nazi occupation of France in World War II. As the Germans rolled through France, their officers were billeted with locals, and Suite Française tells of the love that bloomed between French villager Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams), and German soldier Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts).

The film is an adaption of a novel written by Irène Némirovsky, a French writer of Ukrainian-Jewish origin. Némirovsky died at Auschwitz in 1942, and 60 years later, Némirovsky’s daughter discovered the manuscript for Suite Française inside one of her mother’s journals. Her fictional story of life in France during the war became a best-selling novel and has been adapted for the big screen by British filmmaker Saul Dibb, along with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Matt Charman (Bridge of Spies).

This war story is told from the point of view of those left to deal with the occupation, and it not only captures the compassionate and heroic deeds undertaken, but also how poorly people behaved. Denunciations and collaborations are very much part of Suite Française, as well as controversial love affairs.

Dibb isn’t a fan of working on studio sets so Suite Française was shot on location in Belgium and France. Not only does Dibb believe it provides the actors with a more genuine setting, it also proved to be an emotional process for some of the locals who can still recall the tanks rolling in during WWII.  

The Wolfpack  Premieres Thursday 25th August, 8.30pm

The Wolfpack, directed by Crystal Moselle, premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival where it won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize. It tells the story of a family who raised and homeschooled their seven kids inside an apartment on the Lower East Side of New York City. Prevented from leaving their home, the six Angulo brothers and one sister were encouraged to play music and re-enact famous movies to pass the time, until one day, one of the brothers left the apartment to explore the real world.

Moselle, a graduate of New York's School of Visual Arts, discovered the brothers on the street of New York where their waist length hair and Tarantino-inspired outfits caught her attention. They bonded over their love of film, and after learning they’d been kept inside for 14 years, convinced them to let her document their lives.

It’s almost unbelievable that after being locked up by their father, who wanted to protect them from the criminals and drug dealers on the street, that the family would let a film director into their house. It’s clear that Moselle has been very careful as to how she has pieced together this film, and who appears in it. The boy’s younger sister who they describe as ‘special’ is mentally handicapped and barely features, as does their father who quite possibly has mental health issues. Their mother Susanne fronts for the camera, and even though she is concerned about the boy’s safety outside of the house, seems pleased they now have an opportunity to connect with the world.

Obviously psychologists would be fascinated to talk to these boys; there is plenty of confronting and disturbing behavior going on in this family. And yet, Moselle’s film is one of warmth and hope. You can tell she only wants the best for the Angulo brothers, and considering their young ages, that’s a good thing.

Not Another Happy Ending  Premieres Sunday 28th August, 8.30pm

If you’re in the mood for a lighthearted Scottish rom-com then Not Another Happy Ending might just do the trick. A wonderful advertisement for Glasgow, the film flits from stylish shopping districts and offices, to cool apartments and lovely parks. Distracting us from all that Glasgow has to offer is the film’s leading lady, the charming Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy).

Gillan plays Jane Lockhart, a writer whose first book (inspired by paternal abandonment) has turned her into an award-winning, best-selling author. But all this success has made her happy, and the one thing Jane can’t do when she’s happy, is write. Desperate to leave her publisher, with whom she had a falling out but is clearly attracted to, Jane tries all sorts of ways to get the creative juices flowing, but still the words fail to come.

Even her hard-up publisher Tom (French actor Stanley Weber) gets in on the act, doing everything he can to make Jane miserable. It makes for a quirky, colorful and upbeat rom-com, albeit one that wears its heart on its sleeve. The script needs tightening up and subplots seem to fade away without coming to anything, but Gillan manages to hold the show together with her klutziness and charisma.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 8/15/2016 August, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

If the increasing number of 4th places at the Rio Olympics is starting to get you down, step away for a moment and enjoy some drama of a different sort... 

Life  Premieres Saturday 20th August, 8.30pm

Robert Pattinson has tried hard to shake off the heartthrob label since he catapulted to fame as moody vampire Edward Cullen in The Twilight Saga. Making a decisive move away from mainstream young adult melodramas, Pattinson has immersed himself in smaller, indie films working with Canadian director David Cronenberg on several films; Map to the Stars and Cosmopolis.  

In Life he works with Dutch photographer, music video director and filmmaker Anton Corbijn. Corbijn’s fourth feature film, Life tells the real life story about the relationship between James Dean (Dane DeHaan) and photographer Dennis Stock (Pattinson), who captured that iconic photo of the actor in Times Square. The film is set in 1955 just weeks before East of Eden premiered; a film that turned Dean into an overnight sensation. This drama captures Dean’s hesitancy to lose his anonymity, and his loneliness, as well as the power film studios exerted over their stars.

It’s a moody, slow burner and features an excellent performance by Dane DeHaan who also did a great job playing Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings. DeHaan presents us with a complex character filled with outsider angst that contrasts with his ambition. Clearly shot on a budget, but Corbijn still manages to replicate on screen the settings of many of Stock’s iconic photographs.

The Source Family  Premieres Thursday 18th August, 8.30pm

This documentary tells the fascinating story of The Source Family, a radical group living a utopian life under the guidance of their spiritual leader Father Yod in California during the 70s.

The film is directed by Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulous, and is based on the cult-classic book The Source: The Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13, and The Source Family written by The Source Family members Isis Aquarian and Electricity Aquarian.

Father Yod makes for great subject matter. Edward Baker was a teenage weightlifting champion who went on to become a decorated World War II solider and martial arts expert known to have killed two people in California with a karate chop to the neck. He became hugely successful, starting up trendy health food and vegetarian restaurants on Sunset Strip (including one called The Source Family) with money earned from bank heists.

Along with his wife Robyn, the two began offering meditation classes, and The Source Family commune grew from there, taking over a large estate that had at one time been the home of the Chandlers Family, founders of the Los Angeles Times. With an interest in eastern spirituality and communal way of life, Father Yod, as he renamed himself, attracted plenty of curious, beautiful young people to his movement, and for a while The Source Family epitomized the counterculture movement.

That was until Father Yod decided he needed more than one wife, marijuana and LSD became part of daily life, modern day medicine was banned, and members began to see through the promises of lasting enlightenment.

Father Yod’s demise is even more wacky, but like everything else in this documentary, it is dealt with in a fair-minded manner. The archive material is impressive thanks to the involvement of so many members of The Source Family participating in the film. It’s even more interesting to see what these hippies are up to now. 

Haemoo Premieres Monday 15th August, 8.30pm

 

Internationally renowned South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer), produced and co-wrote this feature film, directed by first-time director Shim Sung-bo.

A tense, high seas adventure, Haemoo screened in the prestigious Gala programme at the Toronto International Film Festival, and went on to become South Korea’s candidate for the best foreign-language film category at the 2015 Oscars. Not bad for a relatively unknown director.

The film is set in the late ‘90s amidst the aftermath of the IMF financial crisis of 1997. Facing financial ruin, Captain Kang (Kim Yoon-seok) is convinced to take on an illegal smuggling job transporting Chino-Korean immigrants from China to Korea. With the help of his five crewmen, Kang manages to get the immigrants on board his fishing vessel, but as sea fog (the translation of Haemoo) rolls in, Kang’s mission turns into a nightmare of epic proportions. The less said the better! 

An extraordinary film, Sung-bo manages to throw adventure, romance, action, horror and black comedy at us, and considering the film pretty much takes place on the confines of a fishing vessel is more than competently shot and directed. Something else to bear in mind as Captain Kang spirals towards madness – Haemoo is based on a true event.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 8/8/2016 August, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

This month Rialto Documentary is screening a documentary series called ‘Family Ties’ about families who live outside ‘normal’ society. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg goes inside the controversial Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints in the documentary Prophet’s Prey screening this week, and next week’s directors Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wile examine a 70’s experimental cult led by the charismatic spiritual leader Father Yod in The Source Family. Finally, in The Wolfpack, director Crystal Moselle looks at the life of the Angulo brothers who were locked away from society in an apartment on the Lower East Side. The siblings spend their days re-enacting movies, until one brother decides to walk out the front door. It’s a month of extremes on Rialto Documentary.

Bone Tomahawk premieres Saturday 13th August, 8.30pm 

Bone Tomahawk looks like a western and it sounds like a western, but there are things that go on in this film that will make your jaw drop, so best to be warned, it’s also a horror.

The grotesque violence that unfolds in this film doesn’t occur until the final act of the film, so you can enjoy the vistas and manly conversations first as a small group of men from the town of Bright Hope head off on a doomed rescue mission. A ‘tribe’ of cannibal savages known as Troglodytes, painted in white with bones protruding their skin, have kidnapped three locals, including Arthur’s (Patrick Wilson) wife. Even with a broken leg, Arthur insists on heading out to rescue his wife, along with Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell), Chicory (Richard Jenkins), and Brooder (Matthew Fox), a dandy who boasts to have killed the most Indians in town.

It’s a great cast and an interesting mix of genre that, depending on your love of westerns, will either resonate or not. It’s the debut feature film from cinematographer and screenwriter S. Craig Zahler. Zahler decided to step behind the camera after he sold 20 scripts to Hollywood and none of scripts ever made it to the screen. Several scripts were westerns, a genre he loves to write, and so in Bone Tomahawk he combines a ‘rescue mission western’ along with lost race fiction, and horror.

This wasn’t the only western Kurt Russell starred in during 2015 – he also appeared in The Hateful Eight, but apart from his scruffy cowboy look, there are little similarities between the films. Bone Tomahawk is subtler and slower paced than Tarantino’s dialogue heavy The Hateful Eight, and there’s clearly a difference in budget. If you take into account Bone Tomahawk was shot in 25 days on a budget of US $1.8 million – it’s a pretty impressive effort.

RAKE  premieres Tuesday 9th August, 8.30pm

 

Criminal Lawyer Cleaver Greene (Richard Roxburgh) is back and as mischievous as ever in the fourth season of this hilarious Aussie comedy. The storylines feel more expansive this time around – well, when things get as ridiculous as they did at the end of Series 3 (Greene was last seen dangling from a balloon drifting across the Sydney skyline), it seems silly to tone things down now.

The series continues to take swipes at the judicial system, politicians and media, and not only is Rake getting himself into trouble, but those around him find themselves in precarious positions too.

What’s great fun about this series is it’s steeped in a strong Aussie vernacular that Kiwi’s can relate to, and is filled with affable, flawed and complex characters spewing forth sharp, witty lines. One of the main reasons the show has been such a critical and commercial success, is Richard Roxburgh’s take on the chaotic, self-destructive and yet brilliant lawyer Cleaver Greene. He manages to be both endearing and infuriating; underneath his wicked ways is a man with a good heart, who has all the best intentions of changing.

 Prophet’s Prey premieres Thursday 11th August, 8.30pm

 

Hot on the heels of the sneak peak into our own Gloriavale comes a look into the controversial chapter of the Mormon Church, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints led by polygamist Warren Jeffs. Filmmaker Amy Berg brings to light the sexual, financial and psychological abuse inflicted on his congregation by Warren Jeffs, the son of the self-claimed Prophet Rulon Jeffs. As Jeffs Senior’s health began to decline, Warren maneuvered himself into a position of power, and on his father’s death (which some claim he had a hand in), took over running the intensely private sect.

Amy Berg collaborates with two authors on this film – both of who have written books about the FLDS. Private investigator Sam Brower and author Jon Krakauer (Into thin Air, Into the Wild) have both spent years trying to bring to light the atrocities that take place within the church. The film draws on information from Brower’s Prophets Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints, and Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, and both authors lead us through the events that finally lead to Jeff’s arrest in 2014 for child sexual assault.

Berg wasn’t able to get Jeff’s to talk in this film. With his surprisingly uninspiring and creepy, whispery voice, he claims the 5th amendment or answers ‘no comment’ to her questions – much like he did during his court case. However, several family members who were cast out of the Church, and young members of the church who managed to escape its clutches give us an insight into life inside the church. While Prophet’s Prey is a fairly traditional ‘talking heads’ documentary, the substance of the stories being told makes up for a lack of visual flair.  

The subject matter is dark in Prophet’s Prey, but then Berg is not unfamiliar with difficult subjects. Her previous films have dealt with miscarriage of justice  (West of Memphis), priestly pedophilia (Deliver Us From Evil), and casting couch molestation in Hollywood (An Open Secret), and yet there’s something particularly chilling about this case. Even though Jeffs is serving a life sentence in a Texan prison, through correspondence he still controls his church.  No doubt behind the hugely protective walls that surround the compound of the FLDS, 14-year-old girls are more than likely being made to wed men who have dozens of wives already.

NEIL ARMFIELD for Holding the Man

Posted on Friday 8/5/2016 August, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

In 2006 film and stage director Neil Armfield brought us to tears with his devastating feature film about drug addiction Candy, and there’s a good chance you’ll shed a tear again watching his latest film, an adaptation of Tim Conigrave’s autobiography, Holding the Man.

Armfield is an award-winning theatre director who started out as the Artistic Co-Director of the Nimrod Theatre in Sydney. He’s also been Associate Director of the Lighthouse Theatre Company, South Australia, and the Artistic Director of Sydney's Company B at Belvoir Street Theatre. Not only is he one of Australia’s greatest theatre directors, he is also an accomplished opera director and has worked with international companies including the English National Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera and Zurich Opera.


As well as co-writing and directing Candy, Armfield has also directed for television, and last year was announced as the co-director of The Adelaide Festival of Arts (2017 – 2019). HOLDING THE MAN is his first film in nine years, and he kindly took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about it.

Rialto: For New Zealanders who might not be so familiar with Timothy Conigrave, can you tell us a little bit about him?

NA: Tim Conigrave was an actor, a playwright, an AIDS activist, a health worker...and most importantly a diarist who spent the last year of his life, after the death of his lover John Caleo, struggling against his own illness and dementia to write this memoir Holding the Man. All his life he was outspoken. Nick Enright, a friend and playwright who had taught Tim at NIDA and had helped him to edit Holding the Man, began his eulogy at Tim's funeral with the words "Tim Conigrave was a stranger to tact..."


Rialto: Conigrave’s memoir Holding the Man is a cult classic and one of Australia’s favourite books - did that weight on you as you were making the film?

NA: Of course. I had experienced something similar with my previous film Candy, from Luke Davies' cult classic of the same name. Everyone feels invested in it and wants to make sure their favourite bits will be included in the film! But finally you have to find the film that has its own rhythms, logic and truth. It can't be a series of incidents, but must grow organically across its two hour span. You remain true to the spirit of the book, but it's an utterly different form and you must allow its new life to grow.

Rialto: Getting the casting right was vital and Ryan Corr and Craig Stott do an incredible job bringing this love story to life, how easy was it find the right two actors to play Tim and his partner John Caleo?

NA: I knew the film would never work without extraordinary chemistry between the two lead actors. Tommy structured the script around an intended change of actors as they shift from school to uni, made clearer by the 8 year leap forward at the end of part 1. And so we were initially looking for a younger and an older version of the couple. But on the first day of screen testing (and there were many days, and many hundreds of actors tested) Ryan Corr's test shone out. He had the intelligence, the swiftness of wit and a facility for clowning that was absolutely necessary for Tim. Falling in the middle of the two age groups, he was a good reason for abandoning the change of actor plan. Craig took much longer. He'd sent a screen test over from LA early in the process, which I looked at on a crowded day and too swiftly dismissed. Months later I was testing in LA and a friend recommended Craig to me both for his acting and for his eyelashes. I'd forgotten his test and looked at it again. I saw what I had missed. Eventually we put Craig and Ryan together in a room in London some weeks later and they immediately generated the necessary heat. They just locked together. It was thrilling: after all those months to know we finally stood a chance of getting it right!

 

Rialto: As well as Corr and Stott, you’ve got some big names in smaller, but pivotal, roles. How did you manage to get Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, our very own fabulous Kerry Fox and Camilla Ah Kin on board?

NA: Not to mention Geoffrey Rush, Kerry Walker, Sarah Snook, Marcus Graham, Julie Forsyth, Kris McQuade...! This is a greatly loved story in Australia, and Tommy Murphy's play from the book has been a national and international success. It is also a story about the Australian theatre, and there are many great colleagues who just wanted to be a part of it. Many of those actors I work with regularly in the theatre, and many knew and loved Tim Conigrave.

Rialto:  A lot has changed since Tim passed away in 1994. And yet, this is such a timeless story isn’t it? I can imagine similar conversations still being had within families today.

NA: Yes nuclear families tend still to be bastions of heterosexual 'normality' where the assumption is the kids will be like their parents, unless they stand up and declare their difference. So that act of declaration (and not everyone is gifted with certainty!) still takes enormous courage. Of course values are shifting and maturing in some families, but by no means in all, so the conversations, the self-doubt, the pain, the relief involved remain very much alive today.

Rialto: I think it’s lovely Tim's family were involved in the process of shooting this film - what do you think Tim would have thought of the film?

NA: Tim's mum, Mary-Gert, came along with his brother Nick and sister Anna (and her daughters) to be extras (along with a host of other friends of Tim and John who were characters in the film) at Anna's wedding. It was a very rich blending of realities! Mary-Gert turned up in a fuschia pink dress that almost matches the one that Kerry Fox is wearing in that scene playing Mary-Gert. So there is a cut to (real) Mary-Gert and Anna looking slightly amused and perplexed by the proceedings. It was a long day. Mary-Gert commented at the end of it that it was like "watching paint dry - and not acrylic!". But they have been extremely supportive and are immensely proud of the film and of Tim's legacy. I think Tim would've loved it. At his death bed, his friend Tony Ayres, having just read the proofs, came to him and said "I've read your book, and I think there's a film in it." Tim smiled, opened his eyes and whispered "Fabulous". It was one of the last things he said.

 

Rialto: You’re a respected theatre, opera and television director as well as film director  - what can film bring to a story that these other mediums might not be able to so well?

NA: Film can bring intimacy. In some ways this is a story told through a series of scenes of sexual coupling, culminating in that heartbreaking final fuck when John returns from hospital. It's something that can only happen on film I think. Rufus Wainwright watched that scene and immediately wrote that beautiful song that plays under it. But we also wanted to show how funny sex can be - and Tim's and John's relationship grows across the years with all the time it takes for two bodies really to understand each other.

HOLDING THE MAN premieres on Saturday 6th August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

MAYA NEWELL for Gayby Baby

Posted on Thursday 8/4/2016 August, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Gayby Baby is an Australian documentary that follows the lives of four children raised by same-sex parents. Directed by up and coming filmmaker Maya Newell and made in collaboration with producer Charlotte Mars, Gayby Baby premiered at Hot Docs, Toronto in 2015, and its young stars have continued to charm people around the world with their story. For four years Maya filmed in the homes of kids being raised by gay and lesbian parents, and as Maya explains, it’s a subject close to her heart.

Rialto: You yourself are a child of same-sex parents - was this the motivation behind making Gayby Baby

MN: We all need stories that reflect our lives, but when I was growing up, I didn’t see my family structure on billboards, in magazines, at the movies or on TV. There exists a silence around LGBT families and this was reiterated as the Marriage Equality debate in Australia began to rise in volume about 6 years ago. Politicians seemed to be talking about me, and kids like me as if we were hypothetical. They’d repeat the argument that children would be the collateral damage ‘if’ we allowed gays to marry.

Firstly, marriage is not a prerequisite for children (my mothers wouldn’t get married if you payed them) and actually ‘gaybies’ have existed for generations already. I am 28 (22 at the time the producer Charlotte Mars and I began making Gayby Baby) and my mothers have been together for over 30 years. Our voice appeared to be missing from the debate.

Charlotte and I were fresh out of university and it felt like the right time to stand up and say something…  The last decade has seen an incredible shift in the queer community as for the first time in history, due to the lifting of discriminatory legislation, developments in reproductive technology and the greater queer acceptance, LGBTIQ+ people can realistically expect to have a family. Now, there are hundreds of thousands of gaybies growing up and spreading their wings. We are in a ‘Gayby Boom’ and Charlotte and I wanted to make a film that represented the voice of this new generation of kids.

We are proud to say that Gayby Baby is the first feature documentary that tells the story of same-sex families, from the perspective of the kids.

 

Rialto: What a wonderful way to explore the issue of same-sex parents by observing those who matter the most - the kids. Was this a story you always envisioned telling without domineering politicians and ‘expert’ talking heads debating the issue? 

MN: The vision for Gayby Baby was always to make an intimate observational style documentary and retreat from the conventional ‘talking head’ style. Besides, experts, psychologists, researchers and politicians have been talking about us and for us for a long time without listening to our opinions. Gayby Baby is a film that offers you a window into the lives of four incredible children – Matt, Ebony, Gus and Graham – as they traverse the usual challenges of growing up, amidst a world that is debating their wellbeing due to their parents sexuality.

Gayby Baby is a film that is not about fighting for LGBT rights, or proving a point, it offers a soft entry for people who have genuine concern for children with same-sex parents because they have never met any. It is a gentle invitation and says ‘come and spend a year with these unique children and see what you think’. It aims to replace the usual polemics surrounding our families by disarming audiences with personal stories. 

Perhaps it is Chris Graham from New Matilda who best captures the spirit of the film:

“GAYBY BABY manages to be possibly the most endearing and entertaining hour and a half of mundane Australian family life ever put to film. It’s frequently hilarious. And if the audience reaction is anything go by, it’s also extremely uplifting…

GAYBY BABY corners the bigotry directed at same-sex couples, and leaves it with absolutely nowhere to go. The argument that opponents to same-sex marriage have clung to with increasing desperation – ‘who will think of the children, won’t somebody please think of the children!’ – evaporates in the face of a film that reveals it’s the children doing the thinking for themselves.”

Rialto: I believe the documentary caused quite a stir in Australia. Did that surprise you, and how did you handle it? 

MN: Yes it did!

The story begins when we were selected to participate in Good Pitch Australia 2014. This is a new highly competitive event that allows documentary filmmakers to build coalitions of partners across philanthropy, community organisations, corporate Australia etc… and use documentary storytelling for social change. Here, we gained the resources and partnerships to construct a campaign to put the experiences of children in same-sex families front and centre to the Marriage Equality debate and build acceptance for queer family structures in Australian education system.

As the Gayby Baby is about kids, we thought we would offer preview screenings of the film to Australia’s youth first at a national youth-led initiative called Wear It Purple Day, a week prior to the cinema release…


Then, a few days before the 80 screenings were to take place in school halls across the country, one of Australia’s major newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, ran a cover story citing a 'Gay Class Uproar’; commentators were outraged schools would show a film that 'promoted a homosexual lifestyle’. Government ministers responded by preventing screenings across the entire state during school hours, media went into overdrive, it was trending on Twitter, a big protest was held and a State vs. State battle erupted, as another State Premier declared the film welcome in his state’s schools...

While the support for the film was truly incredible, we were shocked at how even the idea of same-sex families could cause such vicious debate amongst people who had not seen the film.

While there were a few weeks where our film landed in the crossfire, what was incredible was the utter groundswell of support that followed. What may in fact be the true litmus test – we were trending on Twitter for two full days.

How did we handle it? We are incredibly proud of the teenage stars of the film, who stood strong that week and actually were the ones that offered Charlotte and I the courage to take on the media and continue to send positive messages out into the community.


Rialto: One thing that struck me about this film is how the kids remind us that families are made up of people - all different kids of people - not sexuality, and all people deserve equality and respect. That’s a powerful message, and one I imagine partly crafted in the editing suite. How easy was the editing process? 

MN: We spent about a year editing and completing post-production on Gayby Baby. The editor, Roschelle Oshlack wove a beautiful narrative from the 150 hours or so of rushes. Also, I’d like to mention the crucial input of the executive producer, Billy Marshall Stoneking who always asked the hard questions and whose understanding of story and character brought this film to life. This core team, Charlotte, Rochelle and Billy were all necessarily honest and able to be utterly brutal in the edit room, never pandering to any individuals’ creative ego but putting the story first.

Rialto: The film itself isn’t political and yet there are some very hot political issues in the background – same-sex marriage for example. How are you Aussies going on that? 

MN: While over 70% of Australians support marriage equality, we have some very conservative voices at the top of our power system that will not budge. We have just confirmed that the result of last week's election is that we have a conservative, right wing Turnbull Government once more. This means that it is likely that we will be having a plebiscite on Marriage Equality before the end of the year. For LGBTIQ+ people and families, this is terrible news. It means we will have a government-endorsed hate campaign that will most likely use children and families as political footballs in an attempt block progress. It will be a step backwards and will be utterly devastating for the thousands of LGBT people, in particular LGBT youth and children growing up with same-sex attracted parents. I want to move to New Zealand!

We didn’t want to sit on the sidelines and watch… so over the past year, we have formed ‘The Gayby Project’ which is the social outreach arm of Gayby Baby. With support garnered from Good Pitch Australia (mentioned above), we have spent the last year screening the film to politicians, public figures and leaders and have hosted screenings of the film in Federal and State Parliament house/s all around the country.

Over 250 MPs, Senators and their staffers have seen the film and made personal and moving speeches on parliament house floors, following the screening and panel event in Federal Parliament House, one MP, Adam Giles beautifully articulates the impact of the film on him.

“It is one thing for someone to support a matter of principle, another to directly understand how such a principle directly impacts on people's lives. These people told powerful stories about the need to have equality in marriage and equality more broadly, about the need to recognise that what unites happy families is love, not the form of the family. I would like to send a message to them and all other children of same-sex families that I will stand up in this place and in my community for them to be treated with respect and equally.”

Rialto: This is your debut feature film - typically a massive learning experience. What are a few of the most important things you learnt throughout making Gayby Baby?

  • Always trust your instinct and do not sway in the face of older, white men questioning you because you are young, naïveand female.
  • Work with good-hearted people you admire.
  • Put the needs of your documentary subjects first.
  • Take risks and have the courage to do things differently . "What you risk, reveals what you value"  –  Jeanette Winterson)

Rialto: The kids are the stars of this film - can you tell us briefly how they’re all doing now? 

 

MN: Gus – is 15 and while, to our dismay, he sold his wrestler figurines on eBay. He just got his first job as an Akido (Martial Arts) instructor!

Ebony – is 17 and is studying to be a journalist or book publisher. She is in the gifted and talented stream at Northmead High. She still loves singing… She has a new baby brother ‘Makaya’ who just turned 1 and I am his godparent!

Matt – is 17 and saving for a big trip around Europe when he finishes school. He is still obsessed with AFL footy and still doesn’t go to church.

Graham – is 15 and still lives in Fiji. He is very tall and read me a whole chapter of his book on Skype the other day!

Rialto: Congratulations on the success of the film, what’s next?

MN: Charlotte and I are both in the midst of writing and creating new films! We are both very excited about the prospect of new stories into the future.

Gayby Baby premieres on Rialto Channel on Thursday 4th August at 8.30pm

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 8/1/2016 August, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

The Nightingale Premieres Monday 1st August, 8.30pm 

This charming family dramedy is the second ever film collaboration between France and China, and it sees French director Philippe Muyl adapt his 2002 film The Butterfly (Le Papillon) to a Chinese setting. As well as moving countries, The Nightingale also changes around the characters. It’s still a story of a young girl and her grandfather bonding on a journey together, but this time around the grandfather is a pleasant, kind and caring gentleman, and his granddaughter a rude, spoilt brat.

The setup is simple and plays out in a stereotypical manner. Renxing (newcomer Yang Xinyi) is the daughter of two very successful professionals (clearly heading for divorce) living in Beijing. Addicted to her iPad and headphones and often left in the care of the housekeeper, she is mortified to learn she must go with her estranged grandfather on a journey to his village in Yangshuo.

Instead of flying, they travel by train, bus, bike and then foot to Zhu Zhigen’s (Li Baotian) village in the southwestern Chinese province of Guangxi. It’s a journey filled with wonder for Renxing as she discovers the natural world around her and makes friends with locals for what seems like the first time in her life.

The most stunning aspect of this film though is Sun Ming's lush cinematography. Beijing is presented to us as cold and industrial, but when we get into the countryside, the colours are bright and vibrant and the views and villages are stunning. Veteran actor Li Baotian is a delight to watch, and even though the family dynamics unfold in the way you expect, The Nightingale is visually a lovely way to start the week.

Gayby Baby Premieres Thursday 4th August, 8.30pm

 

Gayby Baby is an Australian documentary that follows the lives of four children raised by same-sex parents. The film is directed by up and coming Australian filmmaker Maya Newell who was inspired by her own upbringing as a gayby, to make the film in collaboration with producer Charlotte Mars. As the Marriage Equality debate began to take off in Australia around 6 years ago, Newell and Mars found there were a lot of people talking on behalf of gabies, but no one listening to them, and it was time to gently present their side of the story.

Newell filmed Matt, Ebony, Gus and Graham for four years and the result is a warm and moving observational film that enables people with no experience of same-sex relationships to see that gaybies are just like other kids. OK, so maybe they’re a bit more thoughtful and switched on than most! The kids are the stars of the show here, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in their stories, and shed a tear or two.

 Holding the Man Premieres Saturday 6th August, 8.30pm

 

Tim Conigrave was an Australian actor, writer and activist who contracted AIDS and tragically died at the young age of 34. His final piece of work was an autobiography called Holding the Man (1995), now regarded as an Aussie classic, that chronicles Conigrave’s 15 year love affair with John Caleo, who he meet at high school in the late 70s.

The book was originally adapted into a multi-award-winning play by Tommy Murphy, who also wrote the screenplay for this film. Directed by Neil Armfield, one of Australia’s most respected theatre and film directors, the film does a wonderful job of presenting us with a beautiful love story, as much as it captures this devastating period of time when so many young lives were cut short by AIDS. Ryan Corr (Tim) and Craig Stott (John) are both excellent and their chemistry is spot on, even if it is hard trying playing a character that spans three decades convincingly. Holding the Man will make you laugh and cry – it truly is a great love story.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 7/25/2016 July, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin
 

Rock the Casbah Premiering Monday 25th July, 8.30pm

Laila Marrackchi’s dramedy about a family gathering to mourn its Patriarch is a warm, enjoyable and visually scrumptious affair, even if the premise is familiar. 

The film starts off in a slightly offbeat manner as a wealthy upper-class Patriarch, played by Omar Sharif, informs us of his death. It’s a delightful cameo appearance from Sharif, who pops back briefly now and then, as his family, friends and mistress gather to mourn his passing.

A film about family dynamics with plenty of melodrama unfolds over numerous mouth-watering meals. An estranged daughter Sofia (Morjana Alaoui) returns from America for the funeral along with her young son, a missing daughter is grieved over, and a mistress and her moody son struggle to find their place amongst proceedings. Lebanese filmmaker and actress Nadine Labaki (Caramel) does a fabulous job of lightening the mood as a sister trying to catch the attention of her distracted husband through her plastic surgery.

It’s pretty obvious to see where Marrackchi’s script will take us next, and the American vs. Middle Eastern theme is predictable, but the film moves along at a steady pace and the interiors and garden provide an exquisite setting for this funeral to take place. If nothing else, you’ll be transfixed by the culture and food on display here.

A Royal Night Out  Premiering Saturday 30th July, 8.30pm

 

Who knows what happened on May 8th, 1945 when Princess Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), the future Queen, and sister Princess Margaret (Bel Powley) went onto the streets on London to celebrate VE day, but in director Julian Jarrold’s interpretation of events, they had a jolly old time!

This is a light-hearted and charming film that captures the Princesses’ brief moment of freedom as they swirl champagne, chase each other around London and mix with ordinary folk. Humour, as well as class, are pillars of the story with Elizabeth in particular interested in observing how the ordinary citizens view the Royal Family – a scene captured nicely when Elizabeth stands outside the gate of Buckingham Palace watching her parents wave to the crowd.

Princess Margaret, played delightfully by Bel Powley, gets to have all the fun and provide most of the laughs as she skips around London oblivious to the fact her older sister is frantically trying to find her. Princess Elisabeth played by Canadian actress Sarah Gadon (A Dangerous Method) recruits Jack (Jack Reynor), a young Republican airman to help her get her way around London, and the two flit from the Ritz to Trafalgar Square, Soho to the Chelsea Barracks as London’s citizens celebrate the same thing, but in different ways and with different expectations of the future.

The film is based on true events and yet it’s clear from Jarrold’s romantic comedy approach plenty of creative license has gone into crafting this story. Most importantly, he does a great job of capturing the genuine feel of the dawning of a new era, and this makes A Royal Night Out a pleasure to watch.

No More Heroes  Premiering Wednesday 27th July, 8.30pm

 

As a child of the 70s, my childhood was spent teetering at the top of our neighbour’s steep driveway on a skateboard, plucking up the courage to push off. If you made it down the steep incline in one piece, you had a glorious ride all the way to their front door – a good 70 meters or so. This, like many other Kiwi kids, was how we passed the time after school and in the weekends and thanks to Andrew Moore’s documentary No More Heroes, you too will find yourself reminiscing about those glorious Pokémon Go free days.

No More Heroes captures the rise and fall of New Zealand’s skateboard scene in the 1970s along with the story of one of New Zealand's biggest skateboarding manufacturers, Edwards Skateboards that turned over $10 million between 1975 and 1980.

The film features plenty of interviews, a Flying Nun soundtrack and photos, but it wouldn’t be a legitimate skateboarding video without home movie footage. Moore has also unearthed plenty of previously unseen footage of New Zealand’s skateboard scene, so sit back and enjoy this nostalgic ride.

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