Thursday, August 31, 2017

MWF- Janet Mock: Visability and Voice

I first heard writer and transgender activist Janet Mock on the podcast Politically Re-Active so was excited when it was announced she would be coming to speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival. It was a packed house at Deakin Edge in Fed Square as Janet took to the stage to give a speech and presentation about her life, including growing up as a trans women of color in Hawaii, and moving to New York City in her twenties and working as a magazine editor before going public about being transgender. She paid tribute to the trans activists that have come before her and spoke about the importance of having an intersectional and inclusive movement that fights for the rights of everyone.

Benjamin Law then led a short Q&A before inviting the audience to ask questions. It was lovely to see how important Janet was to those in the LGBTIQ community that came to see her tonight. It was also interesting to hear her take on the marriage equality vote here and how it compares to the current situation in the US around transgender bathroom and military bans. Janet spoke about the fact that a lot of people felt their work was done with the US Supreme Court ruling, which has allowed conservatives to target other groups, including trans people. She urged everyone to continue the fight for social justice until everyone shared the same rights and privileges.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

People Of Letters

The literary salon Women Of Letters holds events each month in Melbourne at The Thornbury Theatre to celebrate the lost art of letter-writing with people from different fields. Occasionally they invite men along to participate in either Men Of Letters or like this afternoon, People Of Letters events. Hosted by Angie Hart, today we had pairs of people (friends, siblings, partners) who wrote and read letters to each other.

The afternoon started with comedian Joel Creasey and television and radio personality Chrissie Swan talking about their friendship, where we learned the phrase "bitch cheese." Next up were the most moving letters of the afternoon from co-directors of Chapter Music and life partners Guy Blackman and Ben O'Connor, who talked about their lives together and love for each other. Then we heard from life long friends musician Clare Bowditch and actress Defah Dattner, who have been there for each other through many key life stages.

After an intermission the next three pairs took to the stage. Siblings and writers Benjamin Law and Michelle Law spoke about growing up together and what they meant to each other. Former WA Senator and Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens Scott Ludlam and his friend and Communications Advisor David Paris talked about life in politics and wishing they had looked into Scott's citizenship before he first took office nearly ten years ago. The final pairing was musician Paulie Stewart and his mentee, rapper Fablice Manirakiza (aka FLYBZ) who was a former child soldier in Burundi and refugee who arrived in Australia in 2007. They ended the event by getting everyone up out of their seats to dance along as Fablice rapped a song. Overall it was a moving and inspiring afternoon about the importance of relationships and bonds between people.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

MIFF- Step and City Of Ghosts

Today was the last day of the MIFF and my final two films of this year's festival. I began my afternoon with the documentary Step about the girls representing the Lethal Ladies step team from the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. The film focuses on three of the girls as they go through their senior year of high school and try not only to win the state level step competition but also get into college. It's a fantastic film that honestly shows the struggles the girls and their families face, along with the great support provided by school staff and their step coach to help the girls to succeed.

Next I watched the documentary City Of Ghosts about the Syrian citizen journalists from the website Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (R.B.S.S.) who documented the atrocities of ISIS' occupation of their city. Risking their lives to show the world what is happening in their homeland, this group of men fight against ISIS not with guns but by transmitting the truth and facts to counteract the ISIS propaganda machine. The men end up in exile in Turkey and Germany, but still work with informants inside Syria to get stories of the war and realities of life under ISIS out to the public. It's a difficult film to watch, but one that is really important for everyone to see.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Kimbra- Audio Electric

The Supersense Festival is on at the Arts Centre Melbourne this weekend, and tonight Kimbra performed at the Playhouse, doing her show Audio Electric for the first time in Australia. Kimbra came out onto the stage wearing a neon yellow dress that glowed under the lights along with some black lace up platform boots. Joined by musicians Spencer Zahn and Timon Martin, this unique audio-visual performance featured mainly new songs along with some amazing 3D computer animations projected onto the screen at the back of the stage. The new material was more electronic and beats focused, with Kimbra's voice sounding as strong as ever.

Kimbra was so excited to be back in Melbourne for the first time in years and was very appreciative of the love from the sold out crowd. Besides the new songs, we were also treated to reworked versions of older tracks throughout the hour long set with "Settle Down" and "Two Way Street" off the album Vows as well as The Golden Echo's "Love In High Places" and a beautiful rendition of "As You Are." To finish off the night she played the recent single "Sweet Relief." Despite some technical glitches at the start the show was an immersive experience and I look forward to the release of her new album.

Here's the video for "Sweet Relief"

Saturday, August 12, 2017

MIFF- Something Quite Peculiar, Westwind and Mountain

On Wednesday night I attended two more MIFF documentaries. The first was Something Quite Peculiar: The Life and Times of Steve Kilbey. The film focuses on Steve's 40+ years in the music industry, mainly as the lead singer of The Church. While the film covers the history of the band, it focuses more on the present day and doesn't use much archival footage. It also uses their greatest known song "Under The Milky Way" as a character throughout the film. It's an interesting device which I don't think quite works. Steve Kilbey himself is quite honest about his past and present and needing to continue to tour in The Church for money. One of the funniest lines in the film is when he admits that in the 1980s he autographed a bunch of albums as Neil Finn. After the screening we had a Q&A with both Director Mike Brook and Steve Kilbey. A few members of the audience voiced their concern that Steve was a bit harsh on the Gold Afternoon Fix album (which I really like), but Steve feels it was The Church paint-by numbers. It's not your typical documentary, but was still interesting to watch.

My second film on Wednesday night was the world premiere of the film Westwind: Djalu's Legacy. We had a Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy and short musical performance by some of the key people in the film before it started. Filmed over eight years it tells the story of Yolngu elder and master Yidaki (didgeridoo) player Djalu Gurruwiwi. As the keeper of his people's Songlines and culture, he is desperate to pass them on to his son Larry, who is not quite ready to take on the responsibility. As Djalu allows outsiders to come and learn about culture and the Yidaki from him, he develops an unlikely friendship with Wally De Backer (aka Gotye), who manages to help bridge the musical gap between Djalu and his son. The film culminates with their performance together at WOMADelaide. After the screening we got to hear from Producer Kate Pappas, Director Ben Strunin and Djalu and Larry Gurruwiwi in the Q&A session.

Today I got to see the breathtaking film Mountain, which was a collaborative project between Director Jennifer Peedom, Artistic Director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra Richard Tognetti, and author Robert Macfarlane. Exploring the increasing human fascination with mountains, footage was primarily sourced from that shot by Jennifer Peedom and cinematographer Renan Ozturk, along with other Go-Pro and drone material from high adventure athletes. The score by Tognetti includes original pieces as well as ones from classical composers, and the film is narrated by actor Willem Dafoe. Being able to see this film on a massive screen was fantastic, and some of the shots of people climbing up sheer wall faces or skiing down from the tops of mountains is nerve wracking. There was a Q&A after the screening with Director Jennifer Peedom where she described the process of putting this film together and collaborating with the others.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

MIFF- The Song Keepers and Ingrid Goes West

I began this evening of MIFF films with the documentary The Song Keepers about the Central Australian Aboriginal Women's Choir. These women (and two men) from remote towns in the Northern Territory come together to sing 14th-century Lutheran hymns that were brought over by German missionaries. The really special thing is that they sing them in language. The film focuses on their 2015 tour of Germany with their choirmaster Morris Stuart. It's a lovely film that tells the story of the choir members and how they have kept their culture alive. After the screening we were incredibly lucky to have the choir there to sing a few songs and then do a Q&A.

My next film was the American dark comedy Ingrid Goes West. It stars Aubrey Plaza as Ingrid Thorburn, a troubled social media addict who becomes infatuated with Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an Insta-star and social media influencer. Ingrid moves to Los Angeles and manages to insinuate herself into Taylor's life. This movie is like the Instagram version of Single White Female, and is a biting commentary on the truth behind those living a #blessed life on social media.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

MIFF- Faces Places and The Go-Betweens: Right Here

Today's Melbourne International Film Festival films were both documentaries. I began my afternoon with the French film Faces Places, which featured the pairing of French New Wave artist Agnes Varda with the much younger street artist JR. The film follows them as they drive around rural France in a mobile photo lab van photographing people and doing large scale paste ups of images both past and present. They meet some interesting people along the way and hear about their personal stories and the history of the villages they visit. The pair also develops a sweet relationship and rapport with each other, and bring together their artistic talents to create some amazing large scale pieces. I absolutely loved this film and cannot recommended it highly enough.

Next I saw The Go-Betweens: Right Here, a film that chronicles the life and times of the Brisbane band and the relationship between its founders Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. The film is organised chronologically from the mid-1970s to mid-2000s, and intersperses archival photos, audio and video footage with present day interviews with each band member as well as the people around them in the scene at the time. I really liked the device used by Director Kriv Stenders of having a rural Queensland property as the base where each band member came and went from the house to document their time in the band as they experienced it. There were many turbulent times, including line-up changes, their break-up in 1989 and Grant's untimely passing of a heart attack in 2006, which is where the film ends. We were fortunate to have both Kriv Stenders and Robert Forster do a Q&A after the screening, in which Robert joked that he felt he came across too serious and would be more funny in a future film. It's a very well done documentary done by someone who intimately knew the band and its importance to Australian musical history.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

MIFF- The House Of Z, Pecking Order and Patti Cake$

It's that time of year again with the start of the Melbourne International Film Festival this week. On Friday night I went to see my first MIFF film, the documentary The House Of Z on the American fashion designer Zac Posen. It covered his childhood growing up in an artistic family in NYC, and the rise of his fashion label with his mother and sister working by his side. As his popularity grew he got funding support from Sean Combs ("the hip-hop years"), but his celebrity and the GFC ultimately led to the downfall of the label and his relationships with family members. Zac then started over from scratch, assembling a new team and going back to his atelier roots to re-energise his creativity. With interviews from all the key players in Zac's life and fashion label, it's an interesting insight into what can happen when you gain success at such an early age.

Tonight I started my evening with the New Zealand documentary Pecking Order about the members of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club. It covered not only the internal (and generational) politics of the club, but also everyone's preparations for the annual National Show, which was like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for chickens. There were some amazing characters in the film, and we were fortunate enough to have Director Slavko Martinov introduce the film and do a Q&A after the screening, where he spilled some of the secrets of the bird show circuit.

My other film for the night was the drama/comedy Patti Cake$, which featured Aussie actress Danielle Macdonald as Patricia Dombrowski, an aspiring rapper from New Jersey. With her friend Hareesh by her side, they strive to make their dreams come true while facing down the doubters both within the community and her own family (her mother is brilliantly played by comedian Bridget Everett). Once Patti and Hareesh encounter the African-American anarchist Basterd they form an unlikely musical union under the name PBNJ and record a demo in the hopes of breaking into the music business. It's a great film about not giving up on your dreams and being resilient in the face of adversity.
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