Film Fess by Helene Ravlich

25 Latest News Articles

07 January


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Rialto Admin

“An engrossing study in the communication possible...between man and beast...” said Variety of the exquisitely filmed, unabashedly sentimental documentary WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE, a tale of nature vs. nature in the form of some true equine beauties.

It has been said that the best so-called “horse-y movies” are especially successful when they manage to seduce those members of the audience who have never really identified themselves as horse lovers, as opposed to their usual captive fans. Alex Dawson and cinematographer Greg Gricus have created such a film, with this incredible portrait of just a few of the individuals who train fully wild mustangs (described as “never been touched” horses) in just three months. It takes the viewer on an unforgettable journey across the American Southwest where cowboys and cowgirls still reign supreme, astride their trusty – and breathtakingly beautiful – steeds.

At the heart of WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE is the story of the Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge, an annual contest that dares 100 people to each tame a totally wild mustang in order to get it adopted into a better life beyond the usual federal corrals. It is Dawson and Gricus' debut feature documentary and immediately leaves you wanting more with its gorgeous big-sky, all American vistas, amazing shots of the majestic mustangs and intimate moments between trainers and trainees.

Which all made me think about the plight and the uneasy future of Aotearoa’s own wild mustangs, the Kaimanawa. New Zealand's only true ‘wild’ horses, they have grazed the rugged Kaimanawa Ranges south of Lake Taupo for more than 100 years, but their future existence remains threatened by the Army and the Department of Conservation.

Back in seventies the Kaimanawa population had been decimated by amateur hunters, pet food suppliers, local rodeo outfitters and others, to the extent that in 1981 the horses were finally granted Protected Status under the Wildlife Act and listed by the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations as a special herd of genetic value. The horses continued to happily flourish despite their harsh living environment, but their spirit of survival was to prove their undoing by the early nineties. This was when they were said to be “inconveniencing” the New Zealand Army, on whose training ranges they graze, as well as threatening the survival of certain endangered plants in the area.

The Department of Conservation's management Plan for the Wild Horses was adopted by Parliament in May 1996, and the horses' Protected Status was lifted. All horses were removed from the "ecologically fragile" Northern Ranges, and the herd size in the Southern Ranges has been drastically reduced "to protect the environment". This is an environment that can apparently withstand damage from army tanks and vehicles, as well as from other grazing animals, but not from horses. Go figure.

After the public naturally opposed the government’s decision to cull the horses by shooting, then-Prime Minister Jim Bolger decided against taking such drastic action, and instead there was a muster of around 1000 horses in May-June 1997 and a second smaller muster in June 1998, to reduce the horse population to the Government Approved figure of 500, as quoted by the 1996 Management Plan.

The latest biannual muster was completed at the end of May with the muster of 172 horses, and now the wider community is also actively involved, with partner organisations such as the Kaimanawa Heritage Horses Trust and the Kaimanawa Wild Horse Preservation Society integral in re-homing 157 of the mustered horses. The management approach for the horses aims to keep herd numbers in the management area to 300, but horse lovers claim that if the population falls below 500, or if the number of horses in the wild does not include enough mares of breeding age, the Kaimanawa could officially become extinct in the wild.

In addition, there are reports of Kaimanawa in captivity that have not been so lucky as to be successfully re-homed. Sixteen of them starved to death in June 1998 on a Central Plateau Farm, waiting for Massey University to carry out immuno-contraception trials. There was an ownership dispute between the University, the grazier and DoC, and no one took responsibility for feeding. The Ministry of Agriculture held an enquiry into the tragedy but decided in December 1998 that there was not enough clear evidence of criminal liability for a prosecution. So once again the horses are the losers. Of the 1100 or more horses removed from the ranges in 1997 and 1998, at least 500 are known to have gone for slaughter, and some are known to have died. The survivors are at private properties all around New Zealand.

So anyway… watch WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE and enjoy every beautiful moment – but don’t forget our own wild beauties close to home.

19 December


Posted by
Rialto Admin

The stunning debut feature by director Daniel Joseph Borgman, The Weight of Elephants is one of those movies where pretty much every box is ticked. And it’s not just me that thinks so: at last year’s Rialto Channel New Zealand Film Awards it saw Molly Marlene Stensgaard take home a gong for best editor, as well as the film being nominated for a slew of others including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay… and the list goes on. It goes without saying that everyone involved did a bloody amazing job, and it is such a treat to have it showing on Rialto Channel tonight, Christmas Eve.

Borgman is a Kiwi who lives between Europe and the country he grew up in, New Zealand, and he has definitely forged a unique path as a filmmaker, making his films both here and in Europe. Thus the works he creates are influenced by the best elements of both environments and filmmaking histories, and he has been recognised for his unique work all around the world as a direct result. It’s a unique approach and it works, and it has done for quite a few years now.

His first film The Man and The Albatross premiered at ‘The Leopards of Tomorrow’ Competition at Locarno 2008, whilst his second film Lars and Peter screened In Competition at the Festival de Cannes in 2009. His next short film Berik was selected for Critics Week at Cannes 2010 and won the Grand Prix for ‘Best Short Film’, and was also nominated for the European Film Academy Award in 2011. To say he’s on the verge of something wonderful would be a vast understatement, and puts watching THE WEIGHT OF ELEPHANTS tonight even more in the category of ‘essential viewing’ in my book.

The movie was a co-venture between the New Zealand Film Commission, the Danish Film Institute and Film i Väst, with support from the Invercargill City Council and Southern Institute of Technology. It is the first unofficial co-production between the two countries and at its heart is the loneliness and cruelty of childhood and the impact of abandonment on one young, mesmerizing boy. An adaptation of Sonya Hartnett’s coming of-age novel, Of a Boy, it is moody, poetic and exquisitely shot in New Zealand’s South by Swedish director of photography, Sophia Olsson.

In the lead role is newcomer Demos Murphy, an absolute treasure of a find and a talent most definitely to be watched. He plays sensitive 11-year-old Adrian with aplomb, reflecting his character’s struggle with his fears and anxieties since the disappearance of three kids in his small town in every tiny but perfect gesture.
When a mysterious family moves into a rundown house on his street, with three young children left unsupervised to gleefully run wild, he begins to fantasize that they might be the missing children and the tale unfolds from there.

I don’t want to give too much away so will stop there, but let’s just say that THE WEIGHT OF ELEPHANTS is one very special movie. Reviews at the time of its cinematic release praised the way it effortlessly combines a deeply felt connection to the sleepy suburban isolation of small town Aotearoa with a psychological approach so typical of much Danish cinema, but for me it’s this and so much more. To put it simply: tune in, sit back and enjoy.

Screening Times:

24/12/2014 08:30pm
28/12/2014 10:10pm
29/12/2014 10:55am

12 December


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Former host of Queer Nation, paperboy, self-described ‘diplomatic spouse’, Shortland Street scriptwriter and now – filmmaker. The amazing Max Currie has done it all, and then some! I was lucky enough to have a chat to him ahead of Rialto Channel’s airing of his beautiful debut feature, Everything We Loved, a tale of life, love and most importantly, family. Was he as fascinating as the emotionally riveting tale? You bet… 

How long was Everything We Loved in your creative bank before you started officially working on it as a film?

It’s not until I finished Everything We Loved that I realised how much of my childhood found it’s way into the film.  Some of it in a literal sense: like the story book Charlie reads to Tommy in bed (it’s old and frayed because my parents read it to me when I was a kid, thirty years ago). But other stuff is more visceral.  The composition of Charlie on the beach with the tide out, with his back turned to us after he gets confronted by his son - I used a memory of my Dad, standing in the garden, looking at the fence after I came home from school and accused him of lying to me about Santa Claus.  And then there’s all the magic - I put on magic shows for my poor family, with my brother as my assistant.  I’ve always been fascinated by illusion, and the way that magic is kind of a lie that we love, a con-job we applaud for.

Did you always know you had a film in you?

No.  Not at all.  To the extent that when the idea first came to me, that I could write and direct a film it hit me like a five-tonne epiphany.  It took ten years and a lot of unproduced scripts to become a reality.

The truly dramatic revelations in the film are quite staggered, to great effect. Was that the plan from the get-go?

You know that thing where, if someone loses their sight, they start to hear and taste better?  I feel like, by holding back some of the key information; it heightens the audience’s senses to the textures, tonne and nuance.  Rather than being told what’s happened to this family, you’re feeling it in Charlie and Angela’s faces, in what they don’t say to each other, in the dust and the spiderwebs.  It also means your judgement of this couple is always shifting as you find out more - I love that.  We judge people so quickly, and in this film, time and time again, we have to keep re-evaluating how we feel about these loving people who may or may not have done something monstrous.  We have to keep re-evaluating our own morality.

The film is highly emotive but also quite traditionally filmed, was that deliberate? It felt like it was dialled down in that area to make the characters seem so more raw.

This is a performance-driven film, no doubt about it.  There’s a beautiful, ethereal sequence at the midpoint, where time and gravity slow down and bend around this family for a moment - it was a great chance to push the visuals.  We had a great review in The Hollywood Reporter that said the actors do the heavy lifting here, and I couldn’t agree more.

The two leads have a really natural chemistry together, did it take a long time to find such a compatible pair?

We were so lucky.  Six years after vowing never to act again, our leading man Brett Stewart told his agent he wanted one more crack at it a week before our casting call went out.  Brett made me tear up in his audition - he nailed it.  Once we had our Charlie it took a while to find his wife, Angela.  Sia Trokenheim stood out from the start but… she was over eight months pregnant with her first child!  So we had to consider all these unexpected questions - how would she breast feed?  How would she cope not being with her baby? Or would she bring Torenzo to set?  How would it affect her performance?  As it turned out, Sia’s maternal feelings for wee Torenzo bought a riveting new dimension to her craft.  Her body was literally aching for baby - she had to run off between takes to express milk!  But when her character first meets Tommy in the film, and wrestles with her maternal instincts - man, you can really feel it.  She’s incredible.

Ben is an amazing, natural talent. How did you find him? He seems so ‘real’, for want of a better word.

This was the hardest part of the audition process and the biggest risk in making Everything We Loved - the whole production rests on a little set of five-year-old shoulders.  In the end I think it came down to extraordinary luck, and our sharp-eyed casting director, Linda McFetridge.  Linda was at a hip-hop class with her son and saw a little boy listening very carefully to the instructor and repeating the moves.  And that was Ben.

Your debut has garnered no end of praise, does that put enormous pressure on you to repeat history with another feature?

Actually, the success of Everything We Loved kind of does the opposite.  If it had tanked and disappeared without trace then I’d be feeling enormous pressure - I don’t know if I could have come back from that.  But instead, there’s this sense of strength and possibility and optimism.  The odds were staked so hugely against us - tiny budget, new director, New Zealand’s youngest ever actor in a leading role, and unknown cast.  But we did it, we exceeded all expectations, and we all want to work together again.  There’s so much that seems possible now.  I guess the only sense of pressure is choosing my next project wisely - of not squandering the ‘gold pass’!

What are you working on right now?

This week I’m finishing the second draft of a script for Step Dave before jumping on a plane to the Marrakech International Film Festival, where Everything We Loved is in competition for best film.  Last year Martin Scorcese was President of the Jury and this year it’s Isabelle Huppert, who I’ve been mad for since her jaw-dropping performance in The Piano Teacher.  Further afield I’m developing three films: one’s a thriller about digital voyeurism, the second is a romance about falling in love across a language barrier, and the third is a pyschosexual drama about fathers and sons.  I’m also super excited about a TV drama I’m working on about New Zealand’s modern day Bukowski.  I know… TV about a poet - I reckon we’re ready for it! 

You’ve been a writer for Shortland Street and Step Dave, did you see that as just another ‘day job’, or a chance to practice writing for screen?

What people don’t realise about Shortland Street is that the most talented screenwriters in New Zealand are writing for it.  Think about that - it’s the only weekly paying job for a screenwriter in the country.  It’s an incredible opportunity to hone your craft if you can make it into the show’s writing pool, but competition for those writing spots is fierce, and the standard is extremely high.  To be honest, even after five years, I never really cracked it.  And the relentless time-pressure is hard on people.  Writing Step Dave is more fun - you get much more time to work on the writing, and the show is a comedy so we have a lot of laughs on the writing team.  It’s also fun writing comedy for Sia Trokenheim, my leading lady from Everything We Loved - she has quite the range.

You’ve travelled a reasonable amount – as with any Kiwi, I guess! – do you fancy making films overseas, or are you going to stick close to home for now?

Like a lot of Kiwis, some of my most formative experiences were overseas - I was a diplomatic spouse in NYC for two years, I lived in Berlin for a year on an arts scholarship, and when my first script got optioned by a US production company I used the money to quit my job and move to Los Angeles to waste time writing derivative crap that never got me anywhere!  But now, a lot of the stories I want to tell come from these experiences.  I’ll go wherever the films take me, but it’s vital I can bring my Kiwi collaborators along for the ride.  So in that sense, my work will always be close to home.

Screening Times:
17/12/2014 08:30pm
21/12/2014 10:30pm
22/12/2014 07:25am


10 December


Posted by
Rialto Admin

In honour of the Rialto Channel debut of the film CRACKHEADS, I spoke to director, co-writer Tim Tsikaluri and Producer, co-writer Andy Sophocleous about the movie that has been described as a “Kiwi Breaking Bad meets the Hangover” – and then some.

They are both industry pro’s and it shows – the film is a sharply paced giggle as well as a cautionary tale. Director Tim is originally from the Republic of Georgia whilst Andy has a multi disciplinary background and has worked as an actor and writer (he has written eight feature films, one of which has been in development with the NZ Film Commission).

In early 2009 the idea for ‘Crackheads’ was born.  It took three years of development to complete a shooting script and to raise the minimum amount of finance required to turn it into a motion picture. In mid 2012 it was shot on RED, fully crewed, over four six-day weeks in 40 locations and with 44 speaking roles. Phew.

03 December


Posted by
Rialto Admin

The really quite extraordinary ‘Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song‘ is showing this week on Rialto, and if you haven’t heard of it yet, shame on you. It’s an independent, New Zealand musical version of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy. Set in a trailer park. Yep, a trailer park, over one hot summer. 

But back to the musical bit. This musical retooling of the tragic, star-crossed love story began life as a concept album by ex Screaming Meemees members Peter van der Fluit and Michael McNeill. Back in 2010 they sent 38 songs to director Tim van Dammen, who decided to retell Shakespeare's classic romance as "a sort of trash opera — like an updated John Waters type thing". Does it work? I reckon it does, and in its honour I thought I’d take a look at some of the more famous – and infamous - versions of the romantic tale.

In chronological order my faves are…

25 November


Posted by
Rialto Admin

The annual Laotian Rocket Festival is colourful, explosive, and occasionally dangerous, and something that many say every intrepid traveller worth their salt has to experience at least once.

Also known as the Bun Bang Fai festival, it is a wild fertility celebration occurring every May in Laos and Thailand, where you can expect drinking, dancing, cross dressing and phallus shaped rocket launching of epic proportions. Actually especially the latter – in spades.

The festival's timing is around the beginning of the rainy season and its roots are in the myth of the Toad King and his epic battle with the Rain God. After war was waged the Toad King emerged as the victor and the rockets symbolise a truce between the two and are the signal for the Rain God to begin the seasonal rains. It is said that if you make the trip then be sure to keep your distance – the majority of the rockets are homemade and some are huge (up to 120 kg!), so you never know when one might blow up in your face.

19 November


Posted by
Rialto Admin

When I first started watching the quiet little flick 28 HOTEL ROOMS I thought I had put the wrong screener in the player – it definitely felt in the indie film vein, but an
American indie film? This was way too explicit and uncontrolled early on for that kind of thing, honestly. But American it was, and I have to say that I agree with the Hollywood Reporter, when they said “you expect to see subtitles when you view 28 HOTEL ROOMS: it's the kind of mature relationship film that the French can do so well…” In short, it's what the average U.S. moviegoer would consider a foreign film, which may sound a little facetious but is totally true.

11 November


Posted by
Rialto Admin

I thought of the above when I was watching THE MOO MAN - showing this week on Rialto - after a particularly frantic, borderline-mad day. Described as “the remarkable story of a maverick farmer and his unruly cows,” and the surprise hit of Sundance Film Festival 2013, it is a documentary following several years in the life of farmer Stephen Hook.

31 October


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I have long been a fan of US acting talent Julianne Nicholson, who has long been one of those ‘faces’ that you recognise in a plethora of incredible roles but don’t really know the name of… just that you think she’s bloody amazing.

That has all changed over the last couple of years though, with the actor popping up in some of the most quality series to hit the small screen in quite some time now. One of her latest roles is as troubled mother Jean Jensen in ‘The Red Road’, a Sundance TV series premiering on Rialto on Tuesday, November 4 at 8.30pm.

She stars alongside our own Martin Henderson, megahunk Jason Momoaand Tom Sizemore, in a story that revolves around a sheriff struggling to keep his family together, while policing two clashing communities – the small town he grew up in and the neighbouring Ramapo Mountains, home of the Romapo Mountain Indians.

They are currently shooting the second series in Cartersville, Georgia, and I spoke to Julianne (in a shamelessly breathy fangirl voice) about the series and one hell of an amazing couple of years. 

22 October


Posted by
Rialto Admin

As someone who has worked both as a journalist and a PR practitioner in my time (the latter thankfully no more), I have definitely experienced the feeling of being the gamekeeper turned poacher and have witnessed the joys and the stresses on both sides of the divide. Done well, PR is a force to be reckoned with and most definitely a tool for good, but done badly it can have implications for both the spin-doctor and their target.

Stupendous PR fails, bad blog pitches, media missteps, bad judgment, poor PR pitching and PR faux pas are a joy for the average journo like me to rejoice smugly in, and if the amount of people who like to chime in with, “What were they thinking?” is anything to go by then I guess there’s something about PR train wrecks that appeal to us all. In the age of social media one thing’s for sure, you’d don’t want be a bad PR example because on the trusty Internet, it’s forever!


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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 - for the purpose of raving about red lipstick, big hair and other essential indulgences.

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