August 2017 = a rare month of great cinema !

 

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It’s unusual these days to go to your local cinema and see not one or two but a handful of quality movies that cater to a variety of tastes.  This was common in the 80s and the 90s but after 2005 we just began seeing formulaic superhero franchises, lame remakes attempting to cash in on nostalgia, and low budget horror flicks .  Too many times I’d peruse the offerings at my local cinema and sadly note there was nothing I wanted to see OR that I’d seen the only decent film showing there.

The only exception to this quality cinema void, is Oscar period each year – that 4 months from November to February when the studios and indies release all their ‘intelligent’ films to be in the running for the Academy Awards.  Other than that period – most of the year is filled with the kind of films that had us groaning out loud or staying home and binging on Netflix.

But this past month at my local cinema has been replete with good quality well made films of a decent range of subjects and genres  = Variety – that one magic word that had been missing for a while from my local cinema.  And when I look around, I see the same promising content at other cinemas too.

If ever there was a time to go to a cinema in the hope of being pleasantly surprised, or thrilled even – this is it.

Look at the content that’s out at the moment : The Lost City of Z, Maudie, American Made, Logan Lucky, Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk, Spiderman Homecoming, The Big Sick, The Trip to Spain, Wind River, Valerian And the City of a Thousand Planets, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

Earlier this month we had :  A Monster Calls, War for the Planet of the Apes, Ghost Story, Paris Can Wait, The Beguiled, , It Comes At Night, Wonder Woman [was still showing in some cinemas in the beginning of August].

If you’re still skeptical about the point I’m making – take a closer look at these films:

The Lost City of Z is something we don’t make anymore but should – a big scale humanistic exploration and adventure film that asks the big questions about imperialism, civilization, the search for wonder.

Maudie is a good biopic of folk artist painter Maud Lewis. It has Sally Hawkins who shone in Happy-Go-Lucky and soars in this. It also has my personal northstar – Ethan Hawke.  He always picks interesting unconventional projects and makes great choices as an actor. I know if he’s in something – there’s a good chance it’s pretty darn fine.  [Ethan Hawke and the concept of a northstar , will be the subject of another blog post soon].

American Made sees Tom Cruise shake off the dross was The Mummy and back in form with director Doug Liman in this gripping true story about the TWA pilot who ended up bring drug running for the CIA.

Even the most flawed of these movies – Valerian – is still fascinating and brave and does venture into new territory with resonant themes, spectacular unique imagery and a rocketing story, even if the leads are a let down.  It doesn’t feel generic or dull in any way.

The superhero entries that played in the cinemas this August are probably the best ones we’ve seen in recent years. Wonder Woman did gangbuster business as the first positive portrayal of a female superhero coming from DC.

Spiderman: Homecoming is a superhero flick as a John Hughes film in disguise, and is a lot better than it has any right to be.

Dunkirk is another grand film from visionary Christopher Nolan tackling a rarely visited war story with an approach that feels like a visceral first person POV experiment. It’s the closest you’ll get to being there without actually being there.

Baby Driver is a fantastic car chase heist film that oozes style and panache, and a kickarse soundtrack.  I absolutely adored this film, except for the ending which was unexpected but had me on the fence.  See it as soon as you get a chance.

Atomic Blonde is a brilliant action-spy film of the same calibre of the best recent Bond or Bourne films.  If you really want to know what a female bond looks like than watch Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton. As highly efficient, deadly and capable as Bond, Charlize Theron rocks a steely resolve and cool unruffled demeanour that exudes a world weariness that is very familiar. But unlike Bond, Charlize Theron is vulnerable – she takes a beating and every one of her wins are earned, and does have the odds stacked against her. Bloody eyed, bruised and battered but stolid and relentless – she’s a bona fide action star who deserves a whole franchise playing this character. She really is THAT good.  Atomic Blonde has nail biting action sequences and unexpected twists, and the perfect lead performance is bolstered by a great supporting cast too. James McEvoy always delivers the goods as the devilish Brit agent connection in Berlin, Eddie Marsan, and Bill Skarsguard and John Goodman make welcome appearances in key roles.

And speaking of kickarse soundtracks – Atomic Blonde has that late 80s ultra cool pop-rock fusion that’ll have you digging out your old records.  If Wonder Woman was aspirational feel-good girl power, than Atomic Blonde is the power of a steely eyed pragmatic woman.

The Big Sick is the rom-com for those who lost faith in rom-coms and thought that nothing good could be made in this genre anymore.  It’s surprisingly good. Just ignore the title. The title is terrible, the film is not.

Logan Lucky is a comedy heist that sees Steven Soderburgh make a welcome return to the cinema. After he threatened retirement, it’s great to see him back making smart, funny, accessible movies. He was once the shining star of intelligent humanist accessible cinema. He made stylish relatable movies without obvious flashy ‘auteur’ touches that might otherwise put off non film buffs. Logan Lucky may not be on the super high level of ‘Out of Sight’ but it’s still really good.

And coming out this week we have well reviewed Australian horror, Killing Ground. A film that will make you think twice next time you decide to go camping. Get off your arse and see it before it gets swallowed by the next blockbuster in the cinema schedule !!

Look at that survey of cinema titles this month and what do you see ?

There’s a whole variety of genres in all those titles – horror, biopics, action thrillers, car-chase flicks, war movies, sci-fi, murder mystery, superhero flicks, rom-coms, comedies.

And they are all good quality films !  Well structured, visually striking, and well paced with stories and characters you could care about.  Some titles may appeal to one crowd, some titles to another – but it felt like one of those rare months where there was something for everyone.  I hadn’t felt that since the 1990s.  A tentative flame of optimism has been lit in my soul.

[ The only major genre I see missing is kids movies.  And that’s usually the only genre where something decent is on throughout the year, but this year, it’s where we had the one of the few major celluloid crappers on the screen – The Emoji film. The less said about this – the better].

But still – overall it’s been a great month at the movies !

Don’t believe me ?  Compare August 2017 to last year – the major releases were Suicide Squad [all the proof Luc Besson needed to prove that Cara Delevingue can’t really act and he ignored it and gave her a lead role in Valerian. (Sigh)…], Ben Hur [a horrific unnecessary remake of an old era cinematic gem], Nine Lives [even cat lovers couldn’t save that flick], The Legend of Tarzan [even Alexander Skarsguard’s spectacular abs couldn’t elevate that flick], The Secret life of Pets [almost as banal as the Emoji movie].  And there was a boring Jason Bourne film. The only shining light that whole month was a little film called ‘Don’t Breathe’.

This August is a massive improvement and an answer to all those naysayers that say cinema is dead.  There’s been a bunch of great original films [Dunkirk, Logan Lucky, Baby Driver etc], and good franchise entries, and great adaptations of fresh existing intellectual property that hadn’t been tackled before [Atomic Blonde is an adaptation of a graphic novel].

August 2017 should restore your faith in cinema. Good movies ARE still being made. You just need to go out and see them.  And hopefully box office support means we might see a wide choice of good movies every month not just around Oscar time.

 

 

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Do audiences really want to see original films ?

 

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I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret – sometimes people say what they think you want to hear.  And to go further with this notion ; Too often what people say ain’t what they really mean, but what they actually DO in their actions and their choices = that’s the truth right there.

I’m starting on this note because too many times I find that reality is at odds with the ideals that the public has stated they want. Eg.  Free education and healthcare – yet they vote for folks who do the opposite,  a clean environment – yet they leave plastic bags and litter everywhere. And this maxim rings true with entertainment too.

Case in point – endless movie remakes and sequels. You’re totally over it, right ? Wrong !

-Always the feedback I see online is ‘oh another remake, sequel, prequel – how boring  ! Hollywood has run out of ideas and is run by hacks, my grandma could do it better blah blah’

-I took these proclamations at face value and totally sympathised until recently.  How dare these uncaring studio suits keep foisting thoughtless remakes and pointless sequels on us ? Why does this keep happening ???

And the answer is….

Because you make it happen !  The box office numbers show that most of the time, audiences flock to existing IP instead of going to see original movies.

2017 Yearly Box Office Results

2016 Yearly Box Office Results

[I could put links for the whole decade – but I’m sure you get the picture].

IRL –  you vote with your wallet and every time you prioritise seeing these derivative films instead of original content then you send a message louder than all your whiny posts on FB, Twitter, Instagram etc.

Yeah there are exceptions – Arrival, Interstellar, Oscar nominees , Don’t Breathe, La La Land, and Get Out buck the trend – just to name a few.

But these are TOO few and far between.

Then make better movies – you say. Filmmakers are trying to.  But you need to go and see them. Your dollars talk louder than your Facebook likes.

LIFE – a alien vs human sci-fi thriller released In March this year, kinda proves my argument. It had a social media campaign, a mid sized budget – $58M – name stars amongst the cast, a diverse cast etc.

It’s also a good film. Not perfect but damn entertaining – it marries clever execution of the simple but strong premise with relatable humane, well rounded characters, and measured pacing that rockets along.  Yes, the alien menace plot is not fresh but it does a good job with it.

Yet, LIFE  didn’t open strong enough.  It may just break even, but it’s not the knockout hit at the box office it needed to be to get more mid-sized original films funded.  And then, of course, there’s Passengers, the $110M original sci-fi film with the two biggest stars on the planet – Jennifer Lawrence, and Chris Pratt.  And even THAT couldn’t save it.

Even Having Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal Doesn’t Mean an Original Film Will Be a Hit These Days

Whereas a crappy blockbuster of $100M plus based on an existing idea will either scrape through or become a hit. Eg. Transformers [any of the ‘Bay fest’ films], Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DC films – BvS, Suicide Squad etc [they might have been critical flops but they broke even or are in the black, financially and that’s what counts with the suits in charge, otherwise they wouldn’t keep pumping them out].

Why is this really happening ?

From stage left, waiting in the wings, are four theoretical Gita’s who will try and solve this conundrum :

1} Enter cynical Gita :  People are sheep. They want to play safe and stick to what they know.  Pre-existing IP such as Disney Classics like live action ‘Beauty and the Beast’, Marvel films, remakes etc. means they kinda know what to expect when they go to the cinema so they won’t be wasting $ with unwelcome surprises. Cinemagoer : “Movies are expensive, goddamnit. And I’m not risking my hard earned cash on weird experimental shit my kid could’ve crapped out with his Iphone”  [say it with a southern accent and it sounds even better].

2} Enter logical Gita : People can’t go to what they don’t know about. I mean who’d heard about ‘Cure for Wellness’ ?  If it ain’t on BuzzFeed, What Culture, Junkee, HuffPost, N Y Times or new.com.au etc, then how am I suppose to know ?

This is actually a good argument. Most films under $50 million, don’t have the advertising spend to compete with the sheer onslaught that a studio blockbuster will do. From social media meltdowns over extensively highlighted trailers, exhaustive coverage in any and all press online, as well as traditional avenues such as bus station posters, train station billboards, radio ads, TV spots etc – all require the kind of spend that most original films made, simply don’t have the budget for.

This argument works well for why most indie films fall by the wayside, but it doesn’t explain the larger scale original films that were starved of audiences.

And surely in this glorious online age where we’ve learned to subscribe to Netflix, buy stuff on Itunes for our latest fix, and use Google for research – it can’t be too hard to subscribe to a blog, or sites that covers news of original movie releases of the kinds of content you like, and when they are coming out to cinemas. Get a newsletter to your inbox, or see posts about those films you’re intrigued by via liking and following an appropriate film page on FB. You can fix the information blackout if you really wanted to… Remember Google is your friend.

3} Enter emotional Gita: But I don’t feel like seeing that original film because “it’s not my cup of tea / doesn’t appeal to me / I just don’t feel like seeing this kind of thing now”.  And you know what – if this is your reason than fair enough.

There’s no argument against emotions and personal taste – no one can or should dictate that …but I will leave you with this tale. On Good Friday this year, it was family movie night. We’d agreed to a late session so we could do dinner beforehand.  I was all primed to see Beauty and the Beast because I wanted to get all sentimental and romantic and shamelessly drown in nostalgia mush. But the rule of family night is that we all have to agree on a film to go to see it together. And my brother was dead-set against seeing Beauty and the Beast.  We were at an Event Cinema because I had a family pass gift card I wanted to use up, and the choices that night weren’t great – the girls voted against The Fate of the Furious, no one wanted to see Ghost in the Shell [nothing against Scarlett Johannson but we’d seen the anime version and the feature didn’t look like it would top that],  Mum, and the sister-in-law, had no interest in ‘Logan’ – much to the disappointment of my brother,  and that left us with a film called LIFE – an original film, as in – not based on any book or franchise,  whose title was vague and whose poster looked sci-fi but revealed nothing visually.  I didn’t really want to see it, but the clock was ticking and this was the only night we had so we all compromised and picked that one as the film for the night. And it turned out to be a great choice. A nail-biting survival thriller that united our family in unanimous approval, and had us discussing first contact, and our deepest fears long afterwards. Sometimes taking a risk and going against your obvious inclinations can reward you.  I will still see Beauty and the Beast at some point but I’m glad I didn’t get my way that night.

4} Enter practical Gita : This is a ‘double punch to the gut’ argument and it feels like this ;  It’s not on in a cinema near me and I ‘won’t/can’t/don’t’ travel to a cinema where it’s showing. It’s not showing at a time where I can see it, and by the time I get a night off to check it out, it’s already gone off the cinema !

The ‘punch to the gut’ is because it’s painfully true and it hurts filmmakers and cinemagoers alike.  Too many titles have a limited release at specific cinemas that will only show them at decent times [6pm onwards] for about a fortnight. After that fortnight the screenings shrink to once or twice a day at times when only the grey haired army would turn up to a cinema.

I’m still head scratching on how to counter this problem but I’ve got a couple of ideas :

#1 – Instead of lining up to be amongst the first to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2, chomping at the bit to see that latest Alien franchise ripper,  or camping out to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, on opening night in December – take a rain check and prioritise going to a kickarse original film instead on it’s opening week, and see the blockbuster the following week or two. Because the Blockbuster [your Star Wars, Marvel, big $ remake] will still be showing at watchable times for another month whereas that original film you were intrigued about – no such luck, unless it performs like a badass race car in its first week of release. It’s not a fair playing field and your blockbuster film already starts ahead of the pack with it massive marketing clout. And then like any behemoth – they rig the game:  Studios prebook the best cinema slots months ahead so exhibitors like your Event Cinemas, Hoyts, etc contractually have to show these garguatuan movies for many weeks after release.  Exhibitors do have some say in this relationship but studios hold the balance of power on this one. I can talk with some confidence on this point because I used to work at a cinema has a second job. The boss would show me their upcoming releases and their programming schedules – what films got what slots at what time, and for how long – and it was a real eye-opener.  The indie films were lucky to get a few nights in the first week with late evening sessions, than if there was no traction they were shunted to the morning sessions = the kiss of death to any film that’s not aimed at the grey haired crowd. Most of the good spots each week were filled with back to back screenings of blockbuster rehashes.  If I’d had any sense, I’d have abandoned any thoughts of a film career than and there. But who goes into filmmaking because it’s a sensible career ?!

You might say – Oh but if I don’t see Star Wars/whatever blockbuster coming out on the first week, everyone’s going to spoil it for me !  And my answer = really, REALLY !  You couldn’t guess the plots of these films ??  Because most of them aren’t re-inventing the wheel, or even changing the street directions in these stories. They are, beat for beat, the same tale as a previous entry in the existing franchise. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a near total reproduction of Star Wars: A New Hope.  The structure of Iron Man, Ant Man, Thor are all similar.  And I’ll bet my bottom dollar that Alien:Covenant is not breaking new ground.  This is not news here folks.

Yeah, you might get thrown a few unexpected elements – the repentant stormtrooper, Han Solo’s kid turned bad. And a few new twists – Han Solo dies.  But if you want to avoid being spoiled you can stay off the internet for a while – that’s a tough one, I know. Or choose not to read them and berate those who do reveal details without prior warning.  Or pick door number 3 – learn to enjoy the pleasure of anticipation over surprise. Let the spoilers come, and go later anyway, biting your nails waiting for the ‘big surprise moment’ to occur.  I often opt for this – it’s not as bad as it sounds. A spoiler free universe doesn’t exist here, and I adapt to that reality, but I understand if it’s not for you. Different strokes for different folks and all that jazz.

2# Got friends who want to see an original indie film and who might join you ?  Then look up Fanforce and request that film at a selected cinema on a particular night. If they haven’t got a film you wanna see on their list of titles – then email them a request.  If enough people request a film and are prepared to pre-buy the tickets – that screening will happen !  This may not work for every original film on any date – but it’s worth a shot.  It’s kinda like crowd-sourcing a film screening – you buy the ticket up front but you only get charged if the venue sells the minimum target required for the screening to go ahead. There’s lots of intriguing indie film titles on there you might want to see, from thrillers, westerns, dramas and docos.  Check them out on the site here :

FanForce website link here.

 

The-Osiris-Child-Poster

Instead of lining up like a lemming to see Alien:Covenant, then griping on Facebook about the shortcomings, you might be better off checking out another dark sci-fi film set on a foreign planet, being released today in Australia called ‘The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One’ by Australian genre filmmaker Shane Abbess. It’s ambitious, gripping and unexpectedly moving. It doesn’t have xenomorphs or big star power but it plays like a sci-fi novel with chapters and moves at a furious pace, with enough unfamiliar elements to keep you guessing.  It does have very limited release in cinemas around Australia, so you do have to get in quick before the next bloated blockbuster drives it off, and then you’ll have to see it online. Having been fortunate enough to see a preview screening of it, I can tell you that it’s a film that does merit the big screen experience.

For more on the Osiris Child, check the website link here

Likewise if you’re looking for a thrill ride or a few good scares, you might put Pirates of the Carribean : Dead Men tell no tales , and The Mummy, on the backburner, and check out ‘It Comes at Night’, ‘Wind River’, ‘Lady Macbeth’, ‘The Bad Batch’.  You might find a new love or something you debate over or you might hate it but at least you’re going into something different than that tired franchise film you’ll groan about.

Discover some new filmmakers with fascinating story worlds ready to wow you.

At the end of the day – the power is in your hands. We either build the world we want to see, or let our unconscious choices create the world we howl against. And if a diverse cinema with original stories, fresh universes to explore and exciting new characters to meet, matters to you – than start making your choices align with your stated values.  The franchise blockbusters can wait, the original films – big or small, can’t.

 

 

What the f*#k does a lady making horror flicks have to do to get noticed?

 

Inner demon pic

Ok, dear reader, cover your delicate eyes and gentle ears because profanity lies ahead in today’s blog by a usually better mannered Gita. So, you have been warned !

I was reading an online article today by ‘What Culture’ [WhatCulture.com] – an entertainment website dedicated to what’s hot or topical in film, games, sport, TV etc – aka ‘culture’.

That ‘What Culture’ article is here for those who want to see what set me off

It’s not BuzzFeed but it is high profile and has an international readership of 10 million, [unlike my poor and humble blog but you know, baby steps]

And it had a piece titled ’15 Australian Horror Movies you must see before you die’ by Helen Jones.

The tone of the piece seemed to be, to draw attention to Aussie films that might have been overlooked on the international scene.

And being the happy little [or not so little – hey I own my curves!]  genre geek that I am, I lapped up each entry with a little thrill, smugly pleased that I’d seen most if not all of them, right up until the end – when I lost my shit.

I blinked at a couple – Picnic At Hanging Rock is a horror film ? Really ? REALLY ? Sure it’s eerie and I love it to bits – there’s a picture of Peter Weir on my bedroom wall  [don’t judge me – the guy is awesome] – but I still wouldn’t classify ‘Picnic’ as a horror film.  And yeah, The Babadook got a mention, though I’d argue that it’s an Australian horror film most international genre fans HAVE heard about, and probably seen, but it’s fantastic, so  drawing more eyeballs to it = all good.

The list featured films such as;  The Tunnel, Wyrmwood, 100 Bloody Acres, Andrew Traunki’s work, Greg McLean’s work etc – all great entries but as I got to the end of the article,  the only female filmmaker we had was Jennifer Kent, whilst one other lady I was kind of expecting to see, a certain Ms Ursula Dabrowsky, and a very scary film called Inner Demon, was absent. And I just did the mental equivalent of slamming my head on a wall.

I couldn’t understand how a writer, who seems to have gone to some trouble to research and view some really great ‘under the radar’ choices, seems to have totally missed this one.

But you might now say – hey , Gita , that article was the writer’s personal taste, and Ms Jones listed ’15 Australian Horror Movies’ in her title not ‘every great Australian Horror film ever made’, AND it’s not every blogger’s responsibility to have to include women or minorities in every article they write, AND who the hell are you to dictate what kind of article folks should write you noisy wannabe filmmaker chick, feminazi stooge, super-entitled ivory tower princess who probably lives with a dozen cats blah blah [pick your favourite insult and insert it].

My answer to the above response would be : Yes, I know it’s a personal blog – witness Ms Jone’s inclusion of ‘Picnic’ as a horror film. Yes, you don’t have to do some sort of arbitrary gender and racial inclusiveness to everything you write BUT why not take advantage of the opportunity to broaden your horizons. It’s called research. Try it some time, you might find something that surprises you.  And to the last point – I have one cat, I DO make films, and I dream of an ivory tower but can’t afford one yet. Why ? =  filmmaking career. See struggling filmmaker trope 101.

Normally I wouldn’t blow a fuse over this, but this isn’t a one-off occurrence. It’s happening too much for me to ignore it anymore: Lady learns that genre films get noticed, lady makes a damn good film, lady gets ignored.  Personal best lists don’t include her, critical notices do desultory mentions at best, the funding bodies shy away, lady gets overlooked in blogs and unmentioned in cultural curator websites because they don’t know and won’t find out.

So then you retaliate with : maybe Ms Dabrowsky’s film wasn’t good enough to get noticed.

Well, whilst all films are a matter of taste, there is a consensus on technical and storytelling craftsmanship that means a film has to be of a certain high standard to get into festivals and get distribution. Inner Demon got both. It got selected at horror genre film festivals around the world including Night of Horror Film festival, and Fantastic Fest.   In 2015, it got picked up by Deadhouse Films, a production and distribution company specializing in sci-fi and horror content whose founder is responsible for another film that IS on Ms Jones list – The Tunnel.  It has since then been picked up by Los Angeles based distribution outfit, Terror Films, who are releasing it on the 21st April this year ! And if you check out the trailer on Youtube – it’s cool scary stuff !

Inner Demon trailer click here

So what gives ?  Why the blanket silence from the press denizens of the net ?

This treatment isn’t just doled out to Ms Dabrowsky.  There aren’t many female horror feature directors in Australia at present, but my research does unearth a film called Johnny Ghost by Donna McRae, made in 2013. It’s a spook story genre feature in black and white. It got a good run and won some awards at indie film festivals such as Berlin Independent Film Festival, Melbourne Underground Film Festival. And after that – nothing.

So, then I tried to look up female horror filmmakers in Australia on google and got a dozen articles on Jennifer Kent and zip on Ursula Dabrowsky, and Donna McRae, until the 2nd or 4th page result. Too many people won’t click past pg 1.

And it made me wonder – What the f**k does a lady horror filmmaker have to do to get noticed in this joint ?  You can’t get mainstream press attention unless you’ve done great box office, or get major critical acclaim – the bar is high – so that door is closed.  And now it seems you can’t noticed by the big guns of the blogosphere either ?

It’s like there’s some black hole that swallows ladies up after they’ve made their film. [Unless they get tweeted by the likes of Stephen King, William Friedkin, or do gangbusters overseas].

Going back to Ms Jone’s list of ‘15 Australian Horror you must see before you die’ – I pondered – Maybe it’s a Netflix thing ? In that neither Inner Demon or Johnny Ghost are on it, whereas The Reef, Black Water, The Tunnel are.  But I can’t see 100 Bloody Acres, or Road Games, or Wyrmwood on Netflix, and they got name checked. [I must confess here that as a law abiding citizen – I only have access to Netflix Australia – not the comprehensive Netflix of the USA – so god knows what’s on their film menu].

At the end of the day Ms Helen Jones, and any other blogger, can choose to include or exclude whatever film they want from ‘must watch’ lists. No list is going to please everyone. No list is comprehensive.  And she’s not the only one guilty of overlooking films by women that are worthy of inclusion.  Ms Dabrowsky’s work is, at the least, on par with The Tunnel, and Andrew Traucki’s films – but you won’t find her in any of the widely read Aussie horror film lists online.  Micro bloggers like me, try to redress the balance but I’m not ‘What Culture’ or BuzzFeed.  No one is obliged to include what their reader’s whine about.

But when you’re one of the few female filmmakers trying to carve a niche in a male dominated world and you’re constantly ignored, that’s gotta sting, and worse discourage others from entering a field where the stakes always seem against you.

So, bloggers, for f**ks sake try harder !

PS – I note that this years WIFT run film festival, rebranded FFS [For Film’s Sake] Festival has a Fright Night full of Horror flicks made by woman. I’d recommend checking it out. And let’s hope one day soon in the future  – there’ll be a night full of Australian made entries amongst them.

 

Where are the Australian female creators in fantasy & sci-fi movies onscreen ?

IMG_5033

Today is International Womens Day. A day where we celebrate the achievements of women, and take stock of our progress. And today, filmmaker friends posted the feature films recently made by Australian women filmmakers all over my Facebook feed.  And whilst it was exciting to see so many ladies doing diverse projects and taking up the directors mantle, all listed together in one post, I was disheartened in one respect – there weren’t many speculative genre films amongst them.

Of the 50 entries listed – only two could be termed a speculative genre feature.  Speculative genre for those new to the film world is the term for any films in the horror, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, and supernatural themed genres.  These genres tend to be populated with the most commercially successful films of all time. The films that are in many top ten lists of audience favourites.

The two listed that met that criteria were both horror genre features – Inner Demon by Ursula Dabrowsky, and The Babadook by Jennifer Kent.  Both films are a few years old now.

When I look at my top 50 favourite films of all time, very few were made by women. I won’t bore you with a list of those films here, but let me confess that I carry amethyst to remind me of The Dark Crystal, that I still thrill to Cary Elwes saying “as you wish”, I play act Jami Gertz’s Star flirting with Kiefer Sutherland’s David in The Lost Boys,  and that I can quote word for word the “tears in the rain” speech by Roy Batty at the end of Bladerunner.  [Please note – I’m saying ‘favourite’ not ‘best’ – it’s about what we personally love, not always what is critically esteemed].  Now I can swear that it wasn’t a conscious decision to discount women filmmakers, and perhaps I haven’t seen enough films directed by women to judge [though I’ll wager I’ve watched more than your average cinemagoer] – but my list is chock full of speculative genre films, with the odd drama, and documentary making an appearance.  And I’m not alone.

If box office is any indication, then the most loved films that audiences went to see en masse, and for repeat viewings,were full of ; Hobbits, wizards, spaceships, toys, superheroes, Lion Kings, spooks, demons, spies, robots and aliens. There’s barely a drama amongst them.

You could argue that these films were a display of spectacle, and had the backing of a colossal budget behind them. But the point still stands if we reduce the budget and look at the performance of spec’ genre films compared to similar budgeted dramas.  Many of the biggest hits last year and this year were in the horror and thriller section of the market.  ‘Get Out’, ‘The Witch’, ‘Don’t Breathe’ are just a few instances of a long running trend. These kind of films have a primed audience, can often perform better internationally, and are in many instances, easier to market. But most importantly – these films launch careers. If you look at some of the most successful international women filmmakers, they made films in these genres. Kathryn Bigelow turned heads with ‘Near Dark’ – a vampire western horror, before she moved onto action thrillers.  She even had a go at sci-fi with Strange Days. Mimi Leder had made several mystery thriller features before she was handed the blockbuster Deep Impact. Decades later Ana Lily Amirpour got serious buzz off ‘A Girl Walks home alone at night’.

So where are the Australian women making exciting speculative genre features ? Are they, as some filmmakers and critics have suggested, simply are not attracted to escapist genre ?  I refuse to believe that. Australian women write some of the best fantasy and sci-fi novels in the genre – check out Fiona McIntosh, Isobelle Carmody, Kate Constable. In fact, two-thirds of Australian fantasy authors ARE women.

Aussie girls have embraced geek culture as if they were born to it – go to any cosplay at a comic convention and start counting.  And then compare those numbers to a decade ago – we aren’t hiding our inner geek anymore.

Is it a matter of what I call ‘genre snobbery’?  The idea that serious dramas are a better form of art because they capture the complexities of the human condition, and are layered with deep themes and metaphors that fantastical films gloss over.

Well, if you haven’t been paying attention – then in the last few years we’ve had horror films that explored the idea of grief, identity, loss and inhumanity. Science fiction films have plumed the nature of memory, of our destructive relationship with the environment, of gender identity in an anti-social world.  Fantasy films have touched on racism, the nature of friendship, the danger of zealotry, the exercise of politics in the corridors of power. And that’s just for starters.

Is it artistic restrictions ? “these genre films are too formulaic” whined a fellow filmmaker recently. “It’s why I don’t make them”, she continued. And I promptly had to restrain myself from braining her with my iPhone. All films have a pattern or formula – even arthouse dramas. And too many of those films meander or lag as filmmakers bury themselves in the mistaken belief that characters spouting circular conversations are an adequate replacement for motivated action.   The rules of fantasy films are very fluid indeed, and has for horror flicks and thriller films – I’d argue that their conventions aren’t boxes to contain you in, but are challenges for you to conquer and surmount.  They are a discipline, not a cage.

Is it a matter of budget ?  In spite of the many colleagues who bewail this question as though it’s the culprit at the scene, I have trouble believing that money is the key factor to this conundrum. I can’t deny that this plays a big role in perceptions of why more speculative genre films don’t get made – high concept ideas can be expensive. Costumes and prosthetics and CGI costs big buckeroos,  but this doesn’t explain the imbalance of gender in the product that does get released.

Because: [a] raising $ for films is always hard. Unless you have a sugar daddy or mommy or  rich parents.  [b] I’ve met many super capable lady producers who’ve shown they know how to run a film budget soundly, and if anyone could spin straw into gold – it’s these ladies – and they’re working on dramas instead ! , [c] low budget spec’ films have been made that didn’t break the bank. At the micro budget end, we have examples such as Primer, Paranormal Activity, Cube. [d] When they DO get made – it’s guys at the steering wheel who are daring to turn fantasy into reality.

A few days ago, I got to see a preview screening of a Australian feature – ‘Boys in the Trees’ – a beautifully told fantasy take on the ‘coming of age’ film. It was written and directed by a guy, Nick Verso.  I raved about it because it really resonated with me. Some years ago, I had a rip roaring time watching ‘Wyrmwood’, and was quietly appreciative of the ambition behind ‘Arrowhead’ – both low budget Aussie features that dealt in horror and sci-fi, and both made by guys.

The last time I saw a film by an Australian woman that got me really excited was ‘The Babadook’.  This isn’t to say that I haven’t loved drama films directed by women, but I’m talking about the anticipation that flutters inside you for an adventure, an escape, for the chance to imagine a place where the otherworldly blurs the line of reality, where life isn’t about the practical, the common and the mundane.

I’ll continue to support my filmmaking sisters, ladies and lasses who are working hard at the filmmaking game, but it feels more like duty than desire, a place where I don’t dare to seek the different because I’ll always find the same.

There are small signs things are changing but certainly not in the fantasy and sci-fi movies being made.

Maybe instead of merely asking why there aren’t more female directors, we should also ask why aren’t they taking a punt on spec’ genres ?  What are the reasons they are staying away ?