Recently I served as a member of the judging panel for the 2015 RMIT Film Awards alongside Daniel Binns (RMIT), Kess Broekman-Dattner (Oh Yeah Wow) and Katrina Wilkinson (eOne). As a condition of my participation in the judging process I offered to produce reviews for the winning entries. Congratulations to the recipients of this year’s awards and, on a personal note, an additional honourable mention to Nicholas Simpson for his darkly comic short animation, Eye You.
Gasp – Anna Jones (Best Film and Best Documentary)
The opening of Gasp in which we hear a voice confess, “I don’t know why I wanted to go to the Aquarium…” may seem an unlikely introduction for a film dealing with a cancer diagnosis. And yet initially catching the audience off guard seems precisely the point here: events of this scale aren’t something for which you can ever be truly prepared. Contrasting the voice of the interviewee with imagery of jellyfish and accompanied by a subtle piano score (Dan and Adam Skinner), Gasp presents one woman’s account of the unexpected call from her doctor regarding a breast screen and the attempts to connect with family members in the immediate aftermath. There’s something sublimely poetic about the way director Anna Jones approaches this emotionally raw subject. While the imagery of sea creatures work as an abstract counterpoint to the woman’s emotional tale, reinforcing a sense of the incomprehensible, the jellyfish’s unmistakable similarity to the form of the female breast also serve as a poignant symbol of the interviewee’s fears regarding her body. Honest and moving, Gasp is an extraordinarily powerful film.
Arrogant Grace – Alex Kirwood (Best Experimental/Music Video)
Three eclectically costumed male skateboarders encircle one another beneath the cement structures of a highway overpass while a wide-eyed young girl in roller-skates watches on. There’s a startling dreamlike quality to director Alexandra Kirwood’s Arrogant Grace, gleaned in part by the film’s fusion of forms: music video, fashion film, abstract narrative. While the settings and tribalism of the close-knit skateboarding crew bring to mind Nick Verso’s short Flight (2010), Kirwood’s direction is oriented more towards creating an atmospheric sensibility that resists any straightforward interpretation. This particular quality of the work is aided by the wonderfully delicate black and white cinematography of D.O.P. Mark Constantine Inducil (including a remarkable shot in which pigeons and seagulls take flight around the stationary figures of the three men) and perfectly underscored by a hypnotically charged musical composition from Michael Kesa and Elle Shimada. Like the simple contradiction implied by the film’s title, there’s an aspect of competing impulses at play here and yet the result is a strangely mesmerizing and harmonious work.
Out of My Mind – William Anugerah (Best Animation)
A young man struggles to find respite from the noisy and over-crowded city streets, before retreating from the world into a nightmarish space of his own consciousness. Exploring aspects of urban alienation and depression, William Anugerah’s Out of My Mind is a visually complex and truly accomplished animation. Of particular note is the uniquely expressive feature the director uses to represent the chaos of city sidewalks. Substituting voices for graffiti-like flourishes that burst forth from the mouths of passers-by, Anugerah presents his muted (and initially colourless) lead character trapped in a vibrant world of beautifully textured backgrounds and menacing forms. Beyond this intuitive use of colour and design, the structure of the narrative reflects some careful consideration, gradually withdrawing into the character’s mind and crescendoing with a wonderful abstract sequence involving terrors drawn from the unconscious. Accompanied by a moody score from Gemma Notapietro Clarke, Out of My Mind should leave you in no doubt that William Anugerah is a talent to keep a very close eye on in the future.
The Rule – Tazkia Welong (Best Drama)
The Rule explores the inner conflict of a young woman caught between the freedom of her life in Melbourne and the ever-present burden of expectations imposed by her mother in Indonesia. Employing a voice-over to express the character’s most intimate thoughts amidst scenes in which her overbearing mother chastises her appearance, eating habits and religious compliance, Welong grants the film a formal tension that ably mirrors the daughter’s emotional turmoil. In casting herself in the role of the daughter and through her even-handed direction of Mulyani Chodir (who turns in a wonderfully stern yet sympathetic performance as the Mother), Welong reveals a distinctly personal connection to the narrative. While The Rule could easily have become a didactic critique of religious conservatism and its restriction of personal freedoms, Welong’s film suggests that the religious and cultural ties that bind one’s sense of individuality are perhaps not so easily severed or overcome. As her character voices towards the end, “This rule is my heritage: too sacred to break, too suffocating to be followed”. In The Rule, such shackles aren’t so easily tossed aside.
Tomorrow – Jonathon Gittus (Best Comedy)
Wake. Get up. Eat. Shower. Dress. Go to work. Repeat. The humdrum of daily life is a staple of the comedy genre but director Jonathon Gittus and his perfectly cast leading actor Stanley Roach (as a single, middle-aged man working phone sales for a tin foil company) bring a suitably melancholic touch to this familiar scenario. Revealing a knack for both understated humour and quick-witted banter (the scene involving a lunchtime conversation over dietary decisions is a definite highlight) Gittus’ direction effectively operates across multiple comic modes without losing a sense of tonal consistency. Arguably, this also has much to do with the screenplay by Jamie Cilia that is underscored by a genuine empathy for the lead character and builds nicely to a pitch perfect ending. Tomorrow also shines as a beacon of hope for men who still believe it’s ok to use an empty pizza box as a substitute food tray. I for one am grateful for that.