Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Paradise Without People’

TIME magazine produced their first feature documentary with ‘Paradise Without People‘, in which we follow two Syrian women, at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis, with the same dream: to raise their children away from war. Directed by Emmy-nominated journalist Francesca Trianni, the film takes unexpected turns while we get a glimpse at the lives of two families dealing with parenthood while seeking asylum.

From the very opening of this documentary, with Taimaa and Mohannad discussing what they should name their new born daughter, you get pulled into a very personal and heartfelt decision. Although dad has an old name in mind, mom gets to decide and goes for a modern name, Heln. A beautiful moment gets interrupted when Taimaa expresses her worries about going back to their suffocating life at the refugee camp in Greece, where they (and thousands of others) have been awaiting resettlement ever since fleeing war-torn Syria.

Nour and Yousef, another couple who are expected to welcome daughter Rahaf any moment now, somewhat seem to deal with the situation a lot better. The support from other women in the camp is overwhelming and shows how important community is, even when stranding in a total alien environment with no way of knowing what will happen in the near future.

As another season passes and leaves are falling from the trees, we find out that Taimaa’s marriage is being put to the test as she tries to stay strong and share her frustrations with friend Abeer. ‘Paradise Without People‘ isn’t just an interesting look into the daily life of a refugee camp, it’s tragic and frustrating knowing there’s entire communities that are struggling to keep their head above water. How easy life may have been in their home country, the constant stress and uncertainties test even the strongest of minds. “After being in Greece for the last 14 months, every day passes like a year“, says Taimaa. “You can’t know the privilege of stability until it’s taken from you.

Syria as these families used to know is no longer. Via WhatsApp, social media and other communication, family who have stayed behind share daily updates on bombings and entire streets being destroyed, while there’s no way of checking if news articles on Facebook are based on facts, or if the given information has been tampered with by ISIS. Winter rolls in and so both families get “upgraded” to hotel rooms across Greece, to stay warm. Although Nour and Yousef have a genuinely sweet moment in the snow, he later shares his horrific confrontation with the terrorist group who punished him with 30 lashes, for smoking a cigarette.

The constant ups and downs are heavy to witness, and the clearly different attitudes of these two families become more and more clear while time passes by. Marital struggles and health issues rise in one family that seems to drift further and further apart, while the other family tries to keep their hopes up high when asylum is right around the corner. The integration of these war refugees will test both families in different ways and will require efforts by all parties concerned.

Trianni does a phenomenal job at balancing both stories, handling them with much needed respect while sharing the good and the bad moments. Where last year’s Syria-centered Oscar nominated documentary ‘For Sama‘ told the story of a woman right in the middle of the war, ‘Paradise Without People‘ feels like a natural continuation of that story, focusing on what happens after your home gets taken away from you. Both traumatic and heartwarming, Trianni’s film makes you hope for a better future for these powerful women.

Paradise Without People‘ is without a doubt one of the more stronger documentaries in recent history, being able to break your heart and stitch it back together over and over again.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Paradise Without People‘ will screen as part of Melbourne Documentary Film Festival from 30 June 2020.

Tickets are available HERE

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Paradise Without People’

Reviewed online (also screening as part of Melbourne Documentary Film Festival), June 28, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 80 min.

PRODUCTION: A TIME production. Producers: Lynsey Addario, Aryn Baker, Francesca Trianni. Executive producers: Edward Felsenthal, Ian Orefice, Jonathan D. Woods.

CREW: Director/camera: Francesca Trianni. Editor: Loulwa Khoury. Music: Max Avery Lichtenstein.

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Hamtramck, USA’

Through the exploration of daily life and democracy, ‘Hamtramck, USA‘ examines the benefits and tensions of multiculturalism. Kicking the film off with a typical all American theme song, we take a trip down memory lane while a series of video clips and photographs of the small Michigan-city, grace the screen.

Formerly inhabited by almost solely Polish immigrants, Hamtramck has attracted a large muslim-community, making headlines all over the world as “the first muslim majority U.S. city”. Elections are coming up, and many citizens have discussed and agreed it’s time for a change. Mayor since 2006, Karen Majewski, loves every single one of her Hamtramckans, but as we later find out, also realises a young leader should rise, with fresh ideas to run the city she’s always loved so dearly.

Hamtramck, USA looks like the perfect little getaway surrounded by the city of Detroit, and in many ways it really is. The only tension that rises is mainly the divide between Yemeni and Bangladeshi, who respect each other, but won’t seem to want to work together. When the stakes are at their highest, every city council candidate and mayoral candidate suddenly learn new tricks from their amicable competitors to reach out in different languages and embrace all cultural backgrounds, if it means they can get more votes. In the end their collaborations will make Hamtramck a better city for everyone.

What’s so interesting about Hamtramck, USA is that there’s absolutely no narration throughout the entire film. We basically witness a chronological video diary on each one of them, personally and professionally over the course of 5 months – from the election primary up until beyond election day. It almost works as a travel advert for the city itself. Life is peaceful, people are friendly and everyone has respect for all the different cultures. Especially by taking a point of view as if both directors were bystanders throughout the entire election, makes the film feel raw and sincere without ever picking a side, but rather share the unity that is the core of this city. Technically simple, yet straight forward in what it’s trying to achieve, although it all feels a little bit unbalanced when it comes to sharing every candidate’s story equally.

Justin Feltman and first time director Razi Jafri capture the passion and heart of this multicultural community. Never shying away from the minor tensions, but embracing it by showing the change and partnerships that transcend far above race, religion, or background. A wholesome documentary showcasing a side of America we rarely get to see.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hamtramck, USA will screen as part of Melbourne Documentary Film Festival from 30 June.

Tickets are available HERE

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Hamtramck, USA’

Reviewed online, June 26, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 93 min.

PRODUCTION: Producers: Justin Feltman, Razi Jafri. Executive producer: Doug Blush.

CREW: Directors: Justin Feltman, Razi Jafri. Editor: Luther Clement-Lam. Music: Colleen Burke.

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Batman and Me’

Tim Burton’s ‘Batman‘ released June 1989, grossed a whopping $411 million at the worldwide box office, while its associated merchandise generated over a billion USD. After a childhood memory leads to a Google search for Batman slime, Australian filmmaker Michael Wayne (not related to Bruce Wayne aka The Dark Knight himself, FYI) visits a Batman-merchandise collector’s simple website, which takes him to the quiet suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, where he’ll find “Dags”. Interesting fact: the settlement that became the city of Melbourne was founded by explorer John Batman in 1835.

Darren “Dags” Maxwell, former collector of first edition Star Wars-posters, Dune-merchandise and movie soundtrack LPs, started his unstoppable obsession for Batman-merchandise as soon as he walked out of the ’89 premiere of the classic film. Collecting items from Batman jellybeans to Batman band-aids, Batman cufflinks and even ice cream kept in a freezer for the last 30 years – “Dags” has it all. Living a very normal life with his partner Lynn, his large collection is hidden in a separate room, with a Batman-logo on the door giving away it’s secrets. Overwhelming to anyone who enters, even his partner Lynn still discovers new items every time she walks in to make sure these collector items aren’t collecting any dust.

Batman and Me explores the start and end of Darren’s habits as the curator of his own little museum, and how it became a thing of the past. “Image is everything to a collector,” as “Dags” says himself. But there’s a bigger story behind his mindless collecting as Wayne starts to question the rehearsed and hollow story, “as if it’s a script to keep his identity together“.

Interviews, and inventive arts-and-craftsy stop motion toy figure animation are used to reenact important life events, which switch back and forth to tell “Dags” story behind his obsession. At times it definitely feels like it just keeps going, without really exploring much more than just the stories behind every item he once acquired. In a way definitely reminiscent of an episode of Netflix’s ‘The Toys That Made Us‘, ‘Batman and Me‘ is made more personal by Darren Maxwell and the director’s sobering look at the highs and lows of obsessive collecting in an increasingly pop culture-centric world, and the price of admission to fandom. Fandoms are alive and kicking, with no end in sight.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

‘Batman and Me’ will screen as part of Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.

Tickets available HERE

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Batman and Me’

Reviewed online (also screening as part of Melbourne Documentary Film Festival), June 20, 2020. Rating: G. Running time: 86 min.

PRODUCTION: A King Alien production.

CREW: Director: Michael Wayne. Written by: Michael Wayne, Andrew Martyn, Rebecca Richardson. Camera: Andrew Martyn. Editors: Andrew Martyn, Michael Wayne. Music: Scott Moseley.

STARRING: Darren “Dags” Maxwell, Lynne Brack, Peter “MPS” Sims, Chloe Strawn, Aiden Robinson, Dave Durbin, Christian Haberley, Scott Boyes, John Sellers, Mick Pylak.

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Descent’

Kiki Bosch is a professional ice freediver from the Netherlands; she dives into the coldest waters on the planet on one breath without a wetsuit, from the iceberg fjords of Greenland to the frozen lakes of Finland. Sounds cool, but Nays Baghai‘s documentary starts of with a trigger warning – viewer discretion is advised. After all, ice freediving is a very dangerous extreme sport that is not to be performed alone under any circumstances.

Why would you risk your life doing something so crazy?“. Kiki knows this is the question on many lips when people find out what it is she does. As she goes on, “it’s all about accepting the pain of the cold and resisting the urge to breathe, so you don’t panic.” This is exactly what made her overcome depression, trauma and self doubt, after being sexually assaulted by someone she trusted, as she recalls in an emotional confession. Kiki always loved the water, as we see via reenactments of her memories, explaining how her passion for swimming and nature came to be.

Ever since she discovered the joys of cold water freediving and overcame her scars, Kiki has travelled far and wide, not only to push her physical and psychological limits, but also to inspire others to harness the power of the cold in similar ways. Retelling her own story, we get to see footage shot by friends and crew, switching to neuroscientists and instructors who explain exactly what goes through your mind, and what the dangers of this extreme sport are. After a video of her ice freediving between the North American and European tectonic plates in Iceland without any protective gear, went viral, she knew her life would never be the same again. For Kiki, the cold has been therapeutic or as she likes to call it – “the pinnacle of mindfulness”. When she dives, she finds herself.

Descent‘s underwater cinematography is simply breathtaking. From the icy waters underneath the icecaps of Greenland, to in between the enormous mountains of New Zealand’s Milford Sound, you’ve never seen these places like you do in this inspiring doco. The start of the third act is a very intense and haunting experience that keeps you on the edge of your seat by how scary this extreme sport can be and how there’s a totally different world underneath the water surface. The editing of Kiki’s scenes, in which she recounts her life and career isn’t as technically strong as the rest of the film, yet ‘Descent’ is a very strong first feature by promising filmmaker Nays Baghai.

Descent‘ expands as soon as Kiki Bosch takes us underwater, like a guide descending into her own new world. An at times claustrophobic look at someone’s personal journey into the darkest depths of her mind, while finding her true self again to be free, once and for all.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Descent‘ is screening as part of Melbourne Documentary Film Festival:

Tickets available HERE

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Descent’

Reviewed online, June 16, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 62 min.

PRODUCTION: A Running Cloud Productions production. Producers: Nays Baghai, Eero Heinonen. Executive producer: Mehrdad Baghai.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Nays Baghai. Camera: Stefan Andrews, Nays Baghai, Eero Heinonen. Editor: Nays Baghai. Music: Kailesh Reitmans.

STARRING: Kiki Bosch, Stefan Andrews, Mikael Koski, Wim Hof

Doc Edge Festival Review – ‘Bare’

Dance documentary Bare follows a choreographer and his team going through a process of auditions, rehearsals and eventually a premiere. The journey reveals internal artistic conflicts between the dancers and their personal challenges during the several months of creating the performance.

Closeups of male skin and non-stop graphic nudity show how vulnerable these men can be within the non-existent borders of artistic freedom. More of a celebration of the male body than erotica, Belgian choreographer and director of Anima Ardens, Thierry Smits, isn’t always clear about the way things are going but trusts his dancers with the vision he’s trying to accomplish. Anima Ardens demands the dancers to let go of their inhibitions and confront themselves with their instincts. Reminiscent of a modern art installation at times, different stages throughout the production get cut by flashes of the final performance and pieces of Early Netherlandish master Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights”.

A very simple and at times strangely voyeuristic behind-the-scenes look into this dance company, can make some uncomfortable, but it’s the unity and playfulness of this group of naked men that pulls you back to reality to remind you these are just humans with nothing to hide. Phalluses galore, there’s nothing holding them back to “get rid of their beauty and act more like a beast“, like Smits commands them at one point, when it seems like they’re not giving it their all. Luckily these gentlemen don’t take any of it personally and when an unattended camera records the men bantering in the locker rooms by slapping their flaccid penises from left to right against their legs, it’s clear the age old phrase “boys will be boys” is still alive and kicking.

These dancers all have perfectly sculpted bodies, but the lack of diversity in showcasing a wider range of body types just seems like a wasted opportunity. Surely Smits didn’t intend to end up with exactly this group of dancers, since early on we get to witness some sort of survival of the fittest where even he finds it hard to make the right choices, solely based on their technique and form.

Director/cinematographer/editor and producer Aleksandr M. Vinogradov, knows exactly what he’s doing following this group of talented guys for 11 months of rehearsal, but at one point misses the ball by inserting an unnecessary slow motion shower sequence that doesn’t entirely fit with the rest of the film and brings down the quality just a notch of what otherwise does feel entirely authentic, and at times even hypnotising. The original score by Aleksandr Vasilenko goes full Under The Skin, which seems fitting with the subject matter, and literally crawls under your skin.

Bare embraces homosocial bonding with a hint of playfulness, while once again challenging art to explore another level of humanity and a very peculiar kind of theatricality.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Bare‘ will screen as part of Doc Edge Festival on:

Tickets are available HERE

Doc Edge Festival Review – ‘Bare’

Reviewed online (also screening as part of Doc Edge Festival), June 12, 2020. Running time: 91 min.

PRODUCTION: A Vam Films production. Producer: Aleksandr M. Vinogradov.

CREW: Director/screenplay/camera/editor: Aleksandr M. Vinogradov. Music: Aleksandr Vasilenko.

WITH: Thierry Smits, David Zagari, Jean Fürst, Francisco López, Valentin Braun, Peter De Vuyst, Michał Adam Góral, Jari Boldrini, Gustavo Monteiro, Bruno Morais, Emeric Rabot, Nelson Reguera Perez, Theo Samsworth, Oliver Tida Tida, Davide Guarino.

Doc Edge Festival Review – ‘Meat The Future’

Silicon Valley, 2016. releases an article about cardiologist turned innovator, Uma Valeti. He’s able to make a meatball with new technology, fully grown from real cow and pig cells, without slaughtering a living creature. The cells take about 14 to 21 days to mature in a bioreactor and the price for just a pound of beef comes to $18,000. Groundbreaking is an understatement.

Valeti could’ve been a successful cardiologist and save about 2,000 lives in the next 30 years, but wanted to do more for the world his children have to grow up in. After several failed attempts in getting his project approved, he finally succeeds and passionately start building his company, Memphis Meats, with a gender-diverse team of environmentalist, bio-medical engineers and tissue-engineers. Business Insider, Huffpost and several podcasts report on his fascinating technological innovation, explaining what impact this all could have on reversing the damage animal agriculture and the meat-industry have caused to the environment.

Let’s make one thing clear, this is NOT lab-grown meat. Life tissue samples have millions of cells, this is where Cultivations Systems Engineer, Matthew Leung, explains how they try to understand and use the different components of this tissue to build their product. It’s also very important to keep the cells safe from bacteria, without reaching for antibiotics, which has been a problem for decades in the US meat-industry. Canadian filmmaker Liz Marshall‘s ‘Meat The Future‘ has a lot to say, and does it in a way everyone can understand the importance of this global change in the way we look at meat, while making sure the planet doesn’t suffer even more than she already does.

What works so well in this documentary, is the quality and tempo of everything going on on screen. Sure, the overload of informative PowerPoint-slides are there mostly to split up important events in Memphis Meats progress, but the flawless editing helps with taking a bit of a breather from all the information coming at you. There is so much info that keeps building up, but delivers its message loud and clear. As we can see in the film (and surely some of you already know) is that the demand for meat will double by the year 2050, which will make it impossible for the meat-industry to satisfy that hunger.

Unlike other food-documentaries, such as ‘Food, Inc.‘, ‘Meat The Future‘ isn’t here to shock you, but predominantly to educate and open your eyes for what’s already happening out there. Or as TIME wrote in 2013: “You may think you live on a planet, but really you live on a gigantic farm, occasionally broken up by cities, forests and the oceans.” It’s when milestones such as the world’s first “clean poultry” get announced, billionaire Bill Gates and the largest chicken supplier in the US, Tyson, start to invest in the project, well knowing this is the direction we need to move in.

Some hurdles aside, when US-ranchers want to use the federal government as a proxy to fight high-tech meat companies, the film isn’t here to push back against the meat-industry as we know it. The film and its interviewees raise questions around consumer right issues and explores the ethical concerns and the history around “clean meat”. Clean, as in cleaner production development and benefits in terms of energy savings. The standpoints raised during a USDA and FDA Joint Public Meeting are interestingly beneficial coming from both sides of the table, covering mostly the pros of this innovative new way of producing cruelty-free meat, which is exciting to see unravel.

Meat The Future is a revolutionary eye-opener that could easily change the way consumers look at food forever, without losing their appetite.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

‘Meat The Future’ will screen as part of Doc Edge Festival on:

  • Tuesday 16 June, 7pm – followed by Q+A on the DOC EDGE Facebook page
  • Friday 19 June, 3pm
  • Thursday 2 July, 1pm

Tickets are available HERE

Doc Edge Festival Review – ‘Meat The Future’

Reviewed online (also screening as part of Doc Edge Festival), June 10, 2020. . Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A LizMarsh Productions production. Producer: Liz Marshall. Executive producers: Janice Dawe, Chris Hegedus, Jessica Jennings.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Liz Marshall. Camera: John Price. Editors: Caroline Christie, Roland Schlimme. Music: Igor Correia.

STARRING: Uma Valeti, Bruce Friedrich, Josh Tetrick, Nicholas Genovese, Isha Datar, Mrunalini Parvataneni, Scott Gottlieb, Kevin Kester, Niyati Gupta, Eric Schulze.

Doc Edge Festival Review – ‘A Chef’s Voyage’

One of the first things we see on screen is a stack of Michelin-guides, while food critic and author, Christine Muhlke explains to us what Michelin-stars really are. They’re basically the culinary Olympic medals and very hard to obtain. Once you get a star, you strive for another and try to keep the one you already have. “It’s hard to make it look so easy“, says Emmy Award winning chef, David Kinch, from the comfort of his own kitchen in Santa Cruz, where he’s figuring out what to make for breakfast.

A Chef’s Voyage begins a year after the residency that took Kinch and his team across France, where we go back and forth in time while interviewing sous-chefs, pastry chefs and sommeliers on their experiences with Kinch, and follow them on their foreign adventure. For many of the kitchen members, this is their first time abroad. While Christine Muhlke adds, “Being on your feet in a kitchen takes a physical toll. It’s not just about the food or how it gets made. It’s about the whole dining-experience.“, the camera flies over Los Gatos, California, into the in blue-tile covered kitchen of Manresa.

The cinematography is breathtaking, benefiting from the vibrant colours of each dish that gets prepared, while quotes such as GQ’s “Touring chefs are becoming the new touring bands” fill the screen over the upbeat tunes of Plastic Bertrand’s “Ça Plane Pour Moi”. Soon we learn more about this “four hands dinner” that’s being planned. A collaboration between two chefs but above all, between their teams. After fifteen years, Kinch is closing his parking lot based, 3-star restaurant for a month. One mistake on this trip could mean living hell for him and his team. But it’s when sous-chef de cuisine, Koji Yokoyama, gets interviewed, while Kyle Newmaster‘s ominous score contributes to the atmosphere, it suddenly seems like something did go wrong along the way, but keeps you guessing until the final minutes of the film.

Rémi Anfosso and Jason Matzner‘s culinary voyage is meticulously made, focusing not only on the chefs but on the locations they’re at and how all these strong personalities work so well together. Steven Holleran has a great eye for detail and using different cameras and very specific techniques to make everything pop and look interesting from start to finish. The Provence has never looked better. A Chef’s Voyage goes deeper than you think, pulling heart strings and uncovering what makes each chef stand out in his own unique style.

An honest documentary made for foodies and those who respect culinary insights, that not only crosses borders, but pushes for new experiences.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Chef’s Voyage will have its world premiere at Doc Edge Festival on:

  • Sunday 21 June, 11am – followed by Q+A on the DOC EDGE Facebook page
  • Friday 26 June, 11am
  • Saturday 4 July, 3pm

Tickets are available HERE

Doc Edge Festival Review – ‘A Chef’s Voyage’

Reviewed online (also screening at Doc Edge Festival), June 8, 2020. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A flapjack production. Producers: Rémi Anfosso, Jordan Feagan. Executive producers: Mark Gottwald, Mary Wagstaff.

CREW: Directors: Rémi Anfosso, Jason Matzner. Camera: Steven Holleran. Editors: Rémi Anfosso, Bryan Rodner Carr. Music: Kyle Newmaster.

STARRING: David Kinch, Koji Yokoyama, Courtney Weyl, Christine Muhlke, Jean-André Charial, Glenn Viel, Alain Soliveres, Gérald Passedat, Jenny Yun, Mitch Lienhard.

Doc Edge Festival Review – ‘The Prophet and the Space Aliens’

What is the difference between a cult and a religion? And why do some of us believe a man was able to part the sea in half to create a path, but can’t believe the story about a man who received a prophecy from extraterrestrials? After receiving a mysterious invitation from the Raelians to accept a special recognition in the arts, filmmaker Yoav Shamir starts to ask these hard questions from an atheist-perspective and with his mentor, historian of religion Professor Daniel Boyarin, he interviews “the messiah” Rael and some of his followers, from Okinawa to France.

When Claude Vorilhon first encounters a UFO in 1973, these aliens gave him the task of spreading an important message. Not much later he changed his name to Raël and established a science based religion, where love is central. Communities all over Asia, Europe and North America start to grow, and the Raelians’ “pleasure hospital” in Burkina Faso was made to restore the damage inflicted by genital mutilation. Raël’s left hand and bishop, Dr. Briggite Boisselier, explains how their religion believes humans are created from the DNA of aliens.

Director Yoav narrates part of the film, which never becomes too distracting, since he mostly puts devoted believers in front of the camera, whose stories are quite humorous (and heartfelt) at times. When we visit Elohika, a Raelian village in the area of Burkina Faso, the villagers explain how coloured ribbons show their true sexual identity. Clearly inspired by the hanky code (a traditional form of signalling others what your sexual preferences and interests are in the way of color coding, mostly used by gay men in the ’60s and ’70s), we meet several African men and women living in harmony, sexually liberated and seemingly happy. Some have escaped the huge Islamic-community they felt oppressed in. Don’t be fooled, this is not a sex cult. Raelians are all about freedom and love. Several people make this clear throughout the film, although the only people we constantly see naked on stage and fully throwing themselves at Maitreya (another name for this prophet) are women.

The constant happiness all around him, starts to annoy Yoav and this makes him dig deeper into Claude’s past, to reveal some details, although nothing’s really shocking. This is when ‘The Prophet and the Space Aliens‘ shows signs of wanting to uncover the truth behind a scam, but we never come to a satisfying conclusion. Nonetheless, the film leaves it up to the viewer what to believe and what not to, to then giving a final on-the-nose atheistic statement about religion being based on made up stories to comfort people in need of something to believe in.

The Prophet and the Space Aliens is a mostly respectful look into a new religion most of us have never heard of, shedding light on many faith-based questions we actually don’t know the answers to. They flirt with debunking a growing society based on the loyalty for one man, but never reach that level of sensationalism.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Prophet and the Space Aliens will screen as part of Doc Edge Festival on:

  • Sunday 14 June at 9pm (online)
  • Thursday 25 June at 5pm (online)

Buy tickets HERE

Doc Edge Festival Review – ‘The Prophet and the Space Aliens’

Reviewed online (screening as part of Doc Edge Festival), June 7, 2020. Running time: 96 min.

PRODUCTION: A Yoav Shamir Films, Big World Cinema, Wildar Film production. Producers: Tanya Aizikovich, Steven Markovitz, Yoav Shamir. Executive producers: Robin Smith, Neil Tabatznik.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Yoav Shamir. Camera: Tanya Aizikovich. Editors: Neta Dvorkis, Roland Stöttinger. Music: Manfred Plessl.

Review – ‘The Assistant’

In Kitty Green‘s narrative debut ‘The Assistant‘, we follow one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner – ‘Ozark‘), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, who has recently landed her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Her day is much like any other assistant’s – making coffee, changing the paper in the copy machine, ordering lunch, arranging travel, taking phone messages. But as Jane follows her daily routine, she, and we, grow increasingly aware of the abuse that insidiously colours every aspect of her work day, an accumulation of degradation against which Jane decides to take a stand, only to discover the true depth of the system into which she has entered.

The condition of being involved with others in an activity that is unlawful or morally wrong, that’s the definition of the word “complicity”. Just like Jane, it’s up to every one of us to address wrongdoings wherever we work or live. The film, very much inspired by the entire Harvey Weinstein-scandal, in which he used his power to mentally and physically abuse upcoming and existing talent in Hollywood. This all exploded into the ‘Me Too’-movement, where women (and men) of all ages and background came forward to address the sexual abuse and intimidation they had to endure throughout their careers and personal lives.

The Assistant plays like a whistleblower kind of story, in which we follow Jane, who is trying to stop her boss’ behaviour, before things get even more out of control. Throughout the day, we meet her co-workers, who may or may not be aware of the immoral crimes that are going on behind-the-scenes, as they push Jane in a direction to keep her job safe and her mouth shut. We, as the audience, never leave her side, and even though Jane doesn’t say a lot, keeping a composed and professional attitude, we can feel the anger boiling deep inside her as it transcends into us.

The many smaller production companies attached to the film show that director/writer Green probably had a harder time to get this made. The story stays quite simple, which shows her talent in film making as she could’ve easily gone for full on shock value to keep a more mainstream audience entertained. Every action and camera shot speaks for itself, while Garner gives another career defining performance, after winning an Emmy for her work in ‘Ozark’.

The Assistant makes you feel just as powerless as its protagonist, while the subtle signs of intimidation pile up. Kitty Green handles her powerful #MeToo-statement with a unique vision, keeping the ball rolling to remind everyone there’s still a lot of issues that need to be resolved.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Now available to rent via Foxtel On Demand
From 10 June available to rent via Google Play, iTunes, Fetch TV, Telstra Bigpond, Sony (Playstation Network), Microsoft & Quickflix

Review – ‘The Assistant’

Reviewed online, May 11, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 87 min.

PRODUCTION: A Vertigo Releasing release of a 3311 Productions, Bellmer Pictures, Cinereach, Forensic Films, JJ Homeward Productions, Level Forward, Symbolic Exchange production. Producers: P. Jennifer Dana, Scott Macaulay, James Schamus. Executive producers: Abigail Disney, Philipp Engelhorn, Avy Eschenasy, Leah Giblin, John Howard, Sean King O’Grady.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Kitty Green. Camera: Michael Latham. Editors: Kitty Green, Blair McClendon. Music: Tamar-kali.

WITH: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth, Jon Orsini, Noah Robbins, Stéphanye Dussud, Juliana Canfield, Alexander Chaplin, Dagmara Dominczyk.

Netflix Review – ‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich’

Opening your four-part docuseries with a slide that states “The following series contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse involving minors, which may be disturbing for some viewers.”, sets the tone for what’s about to unfold. We then cut to an interrogation in 2012, where Epstein quickly uses his right to plead the Fifth Amendment to get out of some serious questioning, regarding soliciting minors for prostitution. Smiling his way through the questions and using the same answer over and over again, we jump right into the case which all started with a 2003-article in Vanity Fair.

Investigative journalist Vicky Ward is asked to write a business article on “the money manager for the überrich”, that leads her into the direction of two victims, who are labeled as survivors, a term that fits every single one of the women speaking out on the abuse much better. We find out this wealthy, but mysterious introvert, has befriended a legion of powerful men, such as Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton. (To be clear, although Trump and Clinton were seen hanging out with Epstein, none of the survivors ever accuse them of any wrongdoing considered sexual abuse). When seen at parties, he’d always be surrounded by beautiful women, because “he’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side”, to quote Trump bragging about his good friend.

Epstein was a sexual predator, and he didn’t act on his own. His wealthy lifestyle was used to show off and lure underage girls, but his longtime girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell was the one who’d recruit future victims. Ward’s original version of the article never saw the light of day, as she and her editor both were threatened and being watched by Epstein and his team. The ominous music playing in the background of every episode works stress-inducing to what’s already emotionally draining, while Epstein’s accusers are the leading voices sharing their stories on how the abuse started. There was a pattern, but by assembling a network of enablers who helped carry out and cover up his crimes, he was able to get away with all of it until his arrest in 2019.

Epstein came from humble beginnings yet managed to lie and manipulate his way to the top of the financial world. He eventually gained tremendous wealth and power while running an international sex trafficking ring. The serial sex abuser made a secret plea deal with the government in 2008 avoiding a potential life sentence and continued to abuse women.

Lisa Bryant‘s gut wrenching Netflix Original Documentary Series ‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich‘ shows just how vile and abusive the millionaire really was. But what makes the series stand out is the numerous survivors revealing their emotional scars, some even for the very first time. This is not an easy watch. Luckily everything gets wrapped up in only four one-hour episodes and never drags in any way. It does rely on cliffhangers at the end of each episode, which is a bit of a cliché, but that doesn’t undermine the strength of the series.

The way both Epstein and his partners-in-crime normalised the abuse that had been going on for years, shows how their wealth put them above the law until justice was served. Psychological profiling by the FBI, never-before-seen plea deals in court and the ways of extorting the government as a way of distracting the public, it’s all too crazy to be real – yet it did happen. One of the most powerful scenes is when a phone-interview with Epstein, in which he talks about his behaviour as if it is normal, plays under a series of photos of all the young underage victims sliding across the screen. Chilling and surreal.

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich‘ watches like a true crime drama, taking you from his apartment in New York to his horrific ‘pedophile island’. An in-depth investigative report on the monster and his accomplices, that most importantly gives the survivors of his abuse their voice back. A must watch, that will leave you stunned from the very beginning.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Netflix Review – ‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich’

Reviewed on Netflix, May 22, 2020. Rating: 16+. Running time: 4 x 55 min.

PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of a RadicalMedia, James Patterson Entertainment, Third Eye Motion Picture Company production. Producers: Lori Gordon-Logan, Bill McClane, Frank Ombres. Executive producers: Joe Berlinger, Jon Doran, Lisa Bryant, Jon Kamen, James Patterson, Bill Robinson, Leopoldo Gout, Peter Landesman.

CREW: Director: Lisa Bryant. Camera: Patrick Bradley, Andy Cope, Jonathan Deaver, John Kelleran, Mike Ollek, Daniel Marracino, Osvaldo Silvera, Thad Wadleigh, Bill Winters. Editors: Cy Christiansen, Joshua L. Pearson, Marion Delarche, James Steelman, Maria Cataldo, Manny Nomikos. Music: Justin Melland.