Interviews with filmmakers

New Horizons Film Festival, Poland – The Place to Catch Up on the Buzziest Titles of the Festival Circuit This Summer

New Horizons Film Festival, taking place every July-August in the beautiful city of Wrocław, Poland (home to the oldest restaurant in the world, legend has it), is the perfect example of what I would call a boutique film festival catering for a discerning audience. Unlike most film festivals, that are usually spread out all over a city, almost all the Nowe Horyzonty film screenings take place in one venue, making it possible to maximise on your viewing time, a precious asset for a film journalist.

The programme is diverse and bold, as far away from conventional cinema as possible, with a penchant for personal, provocative films from all over the world, experimental and hybrid works,  films made by artists from other artistic disciplines, forgotten and underrated works, yet atypical and searching for something fresh and innovative.

Nowe Horyzonty

If you’re lucky to be invited, the festival will put you up in a nice hotel (I stayed at the delightfully minimalist Puro Hotel last year) and invite you to all kinds of exclusive film gatherings & art/music events every evening. Last year I had the chance to meet some new independent filmmakers whose films were making a lot of buzz on the festival circuit, such as  People That Are Not Me, a personal film about millennials struggling with love and relationships, from Hadas Ben Aroya, a young female filmmaker I would describe as an Israeli Lena Dunham, as well as catch up with filmmakers I’d already met and interviewed before, Florian Habicht being one of them (read my previous interview with Florian here).

His latest film, Spookers, a documentary about New Zealand’s only haunted attraction theme park, is as spooky as it sounds. Set in a former psychiatric hospital, the film is a multi-faceted portrait of the fascinating people who work there. The film also touches on mental illness and includes a fascinating, in-depth interview with one of the former patients who was hospitalised there for years suffering with schizophrenia.

Below is my interview with Florian Habicht from Nowe Horyzonty 2017.

Spookers Park in New Zealand is known as one of the biggest scare parks in the world. What drew you to this place?

I was actually asked by Mad Men production company if I wanted to make a film about this place.  I knew about it but I was too scared, horror is not my thing. It’s been going for 10 years, it’s open on Friday and Saturday nights, half an hour South of Auckland. It’s the only scare park in the world where the scarers are allowed to touch you.

This time I had a feeling I should go and check it out. When I got there all the performers were putting on their make-up and masks and prosthetics and…what I got was a lot of joy and excitement.

Did you get to know them before starting shooting?

Yes, on camera, I spontaneously gravitated towards certain people and they ended up being the main characters in the film. That was quite strange, out of 200 people who work there, the people I went to at the beginning, or came to me, ended up being the main characters.

200 people work there but not on the same night?

No, it’s 60 on a night.

And you focus on 10 main characters in the film. Talk a little bit about them.

I think they are a very special group of people because they are very brave, very young, honest, which makes great artists. They are ready to share very personal things.

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And they are all actors, right?

Yes, they are all actors but they haven’t been trained. They auditioned to work at Spookers and then they learnt the job by scaring people. Then they taught each other…

Some of the people in the film refer to themselves as freaks. They are very unusual characters, it’s probably what drew you to make this film.

They are unusual characters, like you and me.

And everyone else!

Yeah!

 

Who fascinated you the most?

The first who fascinated me was David, who is Zombina. When I saw Zombie Bride in the dark, we met in the dark in an alley way, I thought it was so amazing. Then I got to know him and he’s the most soft and beautiful person…He only dresses up as a female character at Spookers. The character is totally his creation, the clothes, the make-up. He’s such an amazing performer.

The dance you captured in the film is astonishing…

Yes, they had techno music for Halloween once at Spookers and he was dancing like that.

Most of them have deep issues that resonated with the film…and they opened up on camera. Did that surprise you?

Yes it did. Almost everyone has an interesting issue and then the masks, a bit like myself with my video camera, I saw a similarity there. It’s something that lets you be more free, more who you really are.

You found a former psychiatric patient, Debra, who was hospitalised there for 18 years. Tell me her story…

She’s remarkable. For me, she experienced the horror of life but also the magic of life, all in one body and soul. Right now she’s teaching mental health at an university. She lectures there and she’s also helping people who hear voices. She heard voices when she was young and was diagnosed with schizophrenia later on. Her doctors told her patients that their visits upset her and they stopped visiting. But she was not upset by that, she was upset for being there. Now they changed the whole system in the way they deal with mental health patients, now it’s community care. There are still psychiatric hospitals but it’s not for long term, only for short-term.

Debra was adopted twice. Her first adopted parents gave her back and then she was adopted again. You need so much love as a child, and being adopted is hard enough for adopted people, imagine being adopted twice!

In your interview with her, she came across as someone so vibrant and optimistic, she totally blew me away.

Me too. And she only got out because the place closed. She only got well  afterwards. The electric shock therapy didn’t help her at all, it was the community that helped her recover.

Half of the people there are Māori and islanders. As a New Zealander, I love Māori, they are amazing on camera, very natural. Most of them don’t have much money. In  New Zealand, there’s a problem with poverty. I live in a city and where I live it’s money, money, money, it makes me depressed. It used to be the colourful, artistic, cool part of town and now it’s the trendy, money people. And most of the people in the film have so little money. The park makes money but the actors work only twice a week there. But the background where they come from.

What I found interesting is that this place is a family business. 

Yes, the idea was to have a maize, then they asked the local bank manager if it was OK to dress up and scare people with a chainsaw! And there was this guy, a friend, the mayor of the city and his wife Beth, who had the brains. And when that bank manager was chasing people with a chainsaw, the people just loved it, they went crazy for it. And it was supposed to be just one show. Then they realised they can make a business out of it. So they got other friends involved, to dress up, put on masks.

So that was the pilot…which became a series…

Exactly. That’s when they relocated to Auckland and they were looking for a building.

Was it a coincidence that they chose this former psychiatric hospital as their location?

They say it was, yes.

Is it true the place is haunted?

Yes, everyone who works there experiences supernatural things. For me, I could feel the energy was very heavy, different rooms felt different, vibrations or whatever you call it. But other people hear things, see things…There were a lot of intense things that weren’t allowed in the film.

But you didn’t capture any ghosts on camera?

No. (laughing)

Ghosts or no ghosts, there’s a very dark side to this documentary. 

Yes, and come to think of this, New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Every day, one and a half people kill themselves. And the government cut funding to mental health. There was a line you ring if you’re feeling depressed and the government took the money from them, they needed to give more money to the rich! We have a very right-wing government that is very money-focused.

I thought Scandinavia had the highest suicide rates…

Actually there’s a Scandinavian country where men live very long and it’s because every night before they go to bed they meet each other and they compliment each other: You’re so wonderful, I love your jacket…And those men live 10 years longer. That would make a good subject for a future documentary!

15+ Films I Most Look Forward 2 Seeing @ BERLINALE 2017

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COMPETITION

1      The Party  – United Kingdom
By Sally Potter (Orlando, Yes, Ginger & Rosa)
With Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall

Why? Because the director is a risk-taker who never disappoints. The film was also described as “a comedy wrapped around a tragedy” and I’m in deep admiration of anyone who can pull that off.

2     On the Beach at Night Alone –  South Korea
By Hong Sangsoo (Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, Right Now, Wrong Then)

Why? Because his films can stimulate my parasympathetic nervous system like nothing else (in cinema today). If looking for something intelligent as well as light-hearted, look no further.

3      The Other Side of Hope – Finland / Germany
By Aki Kaurismäki (The Match Factory Girl, I Hired A Contract Killer, Juha, Le Havre)

Why? Curious if he changed his mind about something he mentioned in a 2012 Guardian interview:

“For mankind, I can’t see any way out,” he says in his deadly monotone, “except terrorism. We kill the 1%.” Which 1%? “The only way for mankind to get out of this misery is to kill the 1% who own everything. The 1% who have put us in the position where humanity has no value. The rich. And the politicians who are the puppies of the rich.” (very radical but I’m also thinking: you can’t get more Vitamin D deficient!)

4        Ana, mon amour – Romania
Romania / Germany / France
By Călin Peter Netzer (Child‘s Pose, Maria)

Why? Because his latest film was the most intense drama I saw in ages. It also won the Golden Bear in 2013 so let’s see how this one compares.

5       The Dinner – USA
By Oren Moverman (The Messenger, Rampart)
With Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Chloë Sevigny

Why? Do I really need another reason besides the very intriguing cast?

PANORAMA

1       Fluidø – Germany
By Shu Lea Cheang

Set in Berlin and described as a “para-pornographic work of underground science fiction”, this is the first feature film immersion by Taiwanese-American artist Shu Lea Cheang.

2        Kaygı (Inflame) – Turkey
By Ceylan Özgün Özçelik

The story of the incremental roll-out of wide-spread censorship of the press in Turkey and its effect on the work of a young female journalist.

3         The Misandrists – Germany
By Bruce LaBruce

The favourite filmmaker of the punk/underground art crowd whose 1994 film Super 8½ was a kind of “fuck you” valentine to the world” continues to question authority and the dominant ideology in this feminist fairy tale.

4         Fra balkongen (From the Balcony) – Norway
By Ole Giaever

After his success with Out of Nature, the Norwegian filmmaker returns with a thematic film essay in which the protagonist observes the world from his own balcony. A film of inaction, or rather, mental action?

5         Discreet – USA
By Travis Mathews

A man approaching middle age gets caught up in the darker depths of his past.

Also:  Berlin Syndromeby Australian director Cate Shortland. This film, alongside Fluidø and The Misandrists, pays tribute to the vision of Berlin as a place of happiness and promise which is drawing increasingly large numbers of young cosmopolitans to it.

 

FORUM

1        Golden Exits by Alex Ross Perry, USA

“This movie was made for the sense of trying something new with a bunch of people I like working with,” says the filmmaker in this Indiewire interview. What better reason to make a film anyway?  With Emily Browning , Adam Horovitz, Jason Schwartzman, Chloë Sevigny, Mary-Louise Parker, Golden Exits tells the story of a young Australian woman who comes to New York for a few months and unwittingly throws the lives of two couples into disarray.

2      Casa Roshell by Chilean director Camila José Donoso

A portrait of a most unusual institution in the Mexican capital, a place where men learn to be women during the day, before the parties get going at night. Blurring boundaries between gay, straight and bi, male and female, past and present, reality and fiction.

3      Casting, by Nicolas Wackerbarth

A film dedicated to the process of filmmaking: director Vera is unwilling to compromise when it comes to finding the right lead actress for a Fassbinder remake for television.

4        Menashe,  by Joshua Z Weinstein (feature debut)

Set in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the film sees the titular Menashe fighting to keep custody of his son following the death of his wife. Yet the Hasidic community demands he lead a more ordered life and find a new spouse, neither of which come easy to this kind, but awkward loner.

5        Adiós entusiasmo (So Long Enthusiasm), by Vladimir Durán (debut feature)

Ten-year-old Axel lives with his mother and three sisters in a flat in Buenos Aires. They’d be a perfectly normal family if only the mother weren’t imprisoned in one of the rooms.

TBC

CANNES 2016 – a truly exciting line-up

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Maren ADE (Germany) TONI ERDMANN. Pedro ALMODÓVAR (Spain) JULIETA. Andrea ARNOLD (United-Kingdom) AMERICAN HONEY.  Olivier ASSAYAS (France) PERSONAL SHOPPER. Jean-Pierre DARDENNE, Luc DARDENNE (Belgium) LA FILLE INCONNUE. Xavier DOLAN (Canada) JUSTE LA FIN DU MONDE (IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD). Bruno DUMONT (France) MA LOUTE (SLACK BAY). Nicole GARCIA (France) MAL DE PIERRES. Alain GUIRAUDIE (France) RESTER VERTICAL.  Jim JARMUSCH (USA) PATERSON. Kleber FILHO MENDONÇA (Brazil) AQUARIUS. Ken LOACH (United-Kingdom) I, DANIEL BLAKE. Brillante MENDOZA (Philippines) MA’ ROSA. Cristian MUNGIU (Romania) BACALAUREAT. Jeff NICHOLS (USA) LOVING. PARK Chan-Wook (South Korea) AGASSI (THE HANDMAIDEN). Sean PENN (USA) THE LAST FACE. Cristi PUIU (Romania) SIERANEVADA. Paul VERHOEVEN (Netherlands) ELLE. Nicolas WINDING REFN (Denmark) THE NEON DEMON

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My planned Cannes 2016 coverage so far (work in progress) includes:

-an interview with Jim JARMUSCH for Dazed & Confused.  The “enfant terrible”, or better said, “vraiment indépendent” of American independent cinema participates with 2 films, Paterson, in the Official Competition and Gimme Danger in the Midnight section;

-a story around Chloë Sevigny’s first (short) film as a director, Kittythat is screening during the closing night of Critics Week – for Dazed & Confused

-a full report on the state of VR technology, immersive storytelling and the latest VR projects to be presented in Cannes – for Dazed & Confused

-an article on Romanian cinema based on Cristi Puiu‘s SIERANEVADA and Cristian Mungiu‘s BACALAUREAT for Little White Lies

-several festival dispatches for VICE Romania with my favourite films at Cannes 2016

 

Bon festival à tous!

Video Artist Omer Fast’s REMAINDER is Playing at New Directors New Films NYC Today

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If the attributes cold, callous and conceited might not conjure up the image of the most watchable of film heroes, Tom Sturridge’s nameless character in video artist Omer Fast’s feature debut Remainder might strike some as a slight surprise.

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Adapted from Tom McCarthy’s cult novel of the same title, Remainder is an intriguing drama of identity and memory with enough thriller elements to keep you wanting to watch more even when the events portrayed become part of a seemingly never-ending repetitive loop. Reminiscent in its basic premise of Nolan’s Memento, and in its reality-fantasy blurring strategy of Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, the film follows a 30-something London professional who receives an exorbitant amount of money in compensation after becoming the victim of an arcane accident that leaves him emotionally shattered and mentally tabula rasa.

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With £10 million in the bank and a completely clear conscience as a result of his traumatic memory loss, what does our hero set out to do? Book a flight to an exotic island and live a life of utter indulgence in a state of blissful oblivion, the kind of oblivion that alcohol, sex and drugs, our culture’s panacea, will never be able to induce? No, what kind of film would that be? Instead, in philosophically appropriate fashion, our hero responds to a most powerful inner urge that compels him to find out who he is, an action echoing the ancient adage nosce the ipsum that posits the source of all happiness as lying, irrevocably, in self-knowledge. Using his new wealth and one feeble, fragmentary memory he still detains, that of a small boy at the top of the stairs in an old house reaching out his hand to an old lady on the floor below, the hero goes about his trauma in the most extravagant fashion: he acquires an entire block of apartments and populates it with actors, cats and other such props in order to physically restage the scene again and again and hopefully trigger a more substantial memory that will “cure” his identity loss.

But as every cinema-literate person knows, it’s not about what a character does, but what his actions mean. And the character’s actions in Remainder can mean a lot of things, the film being conceptually very rich. Conceptual without being dry though: the film tackles trauma, mediation, repetition, re-enactment, the unreal nature of reality, even issues of gentrification, with much humour and irony. Visually, it is a real feast: the director’s artful sense of framing, ironic mise-en-scène and the ephemeral beauty of the shallow focus alluding to a character who completely fails to see the bigger picture, make for a very polished, very accomplished first feature.

Remainder is playing today, March 22nd, at New Directors New Films in New York.

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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. In NYC

NYC, March 3-13

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is hosting the 21st edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the celebrated annual showcase of the best in contemporary French film.

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The Opening Night film is Valley of Love, Guillaume Nicloux’s film starring Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert who play real-life versions of themselves in a completely fictive scenario: as famous French actors Gérard and Isabelle, a long-divorced couple whose son Michael has committed suicide six months before in Death Valley. In an enigmatic letter sent to them some time after Michael’s death, he asks them to visit a series of sites in the area and claims he will appear before them at the end of the tour. Mixing mysticism and skepticism in equal degree, the film intrigues by asking some probing questions about the ultimate nature of reality and delights, in true, open-ended French fashion, by answering none.

For an introduction to the film, read my interview with Guillaume Nicloux taken at Cannes Film Festival 2015.

The exciting programme contains a number of other Cannes 2015-premiered films, including the Palme d’Or winner Dheepan, directed by Jacques Audiard.

My King / Mon roi
Maïwenn, France, 2015, DCP, 128m

Disorder
Alice Winocour, France/Belgium, 2015, DCP, 101m

Two Friends / Deux amis
Louis Garrel, France, 2015, DCP, 102m

Winter Song / Chant d’hiver
Otar Iosseliani, France, 2015, DCP, 117m

21 Nights with Pattie / 21 nuits avec Pattie
Jean-Marie & Arnaud Larrieu, France, 2015, DCP, 115m

The Apaches / Des Apaches
Nassim Amaouche, France, 2015, DCP, 97m

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)
Eva Husson, France, 2016, DCP, 98m

Dark Inclusion / Diamant noir 
Arthur Harari, France/Belgium, 2016, DCP, 115m

A Decent Man / Je ne suis pas un salaud
Emmanuel Finkiel, France, 2015, DCP, 111m

Fatima
Philippe Faucon, France, 2015, DCP, 79m

The Great Game / Le Grand jeu
Nicolas Pariser, France, 2015, DCP, 100m

Lolo
Julie Delpy, France, 2015, DCP, 99m

Much Loved
Nabil Ayouch, France/Morocco, 2015, DCP, 104m

The New Kid / Le Nouveau
Rudi Rosenberg, France, 2015, DCP, 81m

Parisienne / Peur de rien
Danielle Arbid, France, 2015, DCP, 120m

Standing Tall / La Tête haute
Emmanuelle Bercot, France, 2015, DCP, 119m

Story of Judas / Histoire de Judas
Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, France, 2015, DCP, 99m

Summertime / La Belle saison
Catherine Corsini, France/Belgium, 2015, DCP, 105m

Three Sisters / Les Trois soeurs
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, France, 2015, DCP, 110m