Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Australian Premiere A Stone Throw

The screening of A Stone Throw went well, I'm pleased to report. Really smoothly. We had 100 invitees and maybe the same number who came to see "Little Fish". Mum did the tickets and Dad opened the beer and wines - and helped me with the Coles platters.


Mostly, everyone liked the film.

The kids who were in it loved it (of course) and I was happy to see the odd tear being shed by one or two of the adult actors. How weird is that? They're obviously over the idea of seeing themselves onscreen. I don't think I'd have the objectivity if I was an actor - to actually enjoy the film I was in. Maybe only the best actors were crying - as self-consciousness and narcissism are the enemies of good performance (according to Stanislavski) . . .

To me, the film looked good. It still feels a bit like a series of cuts, sounds and images, but it went over well. I didn't notice many of the mistakes and all had a great time. Sort of.

Hosts never have much fun at parties.

Next stop, Marx & Venus. I hope you all know about that one. 25 x 5 minute TV shows about a couple of flatmates who kind of like each other, but don't get together. I'd love to direct an episode or two and I'm writing three on spec.

I think there'll be thousands of scripts sent in. I estimate around 2,000. Here we go again . . .

Thursday, 23 February 2006

"A Stone Throw" screens with "Little Fish"

OK. I've made about 100 phone calls. Nobody RSVPs these days, so I figured I'd save catering money by actually calling people. So far, about 120 people - cast, crew and associates - are coming to the premiere. We're having it at FTI's Fremantle Outdoor Film Festival.

We have a beer sponsor:
Advance Multimedia and Animation

in association with
Cave Pictures
.

Micro-brewery beer. No preservatives.

I'd link to Cave, but they don't have a website just yet (I know because I'm doing it).

Should be fun.

Around 300 stubbies. 2 varieties. Red & white wine. 5 Coles platters and my mum and dad doing beer, wine and door entry.

I'm pretty nervous, but also looking forward to it. To the feedback. To the negative feedback in particular. I'm a bit over claps and kisses. We filmmakers need to accept criticism. If we're to move forward. I welcome it in constructive form. There's nothing more useless than, "That was a great film." But you gotta be polite. Smile. Thank you.

For those who aren't on the VIP list, you can still see A Stone Throw. But you'll have to pay. It's accompanying Rowan Woods' pretty cool Aussie flick, Little Fish starring Cate Blanchett. There are light refreshments, it's under the stars, the atmosphere is great.

Venue: FTI Outdoor Cinema, 92 Adelaide St, Fremantle WA
Time: 7.35pm, Friday 24th Feb

Hope you can make it.

Gotta get off the net and call my Mum to organise ice. See you there, Cats.

Monday, 20 February 2006

Mumbai Madness continues . . .


Hello. I'm back in Perth.

The 9th Mumbai International Film Festival 2006 is very over, but it will return in 2008 (they hold it bi-annually) and Bombay still exists in my head. A Stone Throw didn't win anything, but will be premiered here in Fremantle, this Friday 24th at the FTI's Fremantle Outdoor Film Festival. 7.30pm screening followed by Little Fish and 6.30pm for crew drinks.

So why is this BLOG entry entitled, Mumbai Madness?

Mumbai (Bombay) Madness:

After getting off the plane, I developed an annoying cough. My girl told me I smelt like human faeces and refused to kiss me until I showered and bathed for at least 2 days.

When I finally got back to my (home office) desk, there was a pile of work waiting for me.
  1. Hours and hours of tutoring Usability and Web I.T. at Curtin University
  2. Making 2 x short films with tweenies and teenagers at The Filmbites Film School
  3. Several websites to do (at least 3) and
  4. A whole host of film-related projects that I'm not at liberty to talk about right now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . :| . . . . okay, maybe later.
Perhaps getting off a plane from an exotic, faraway country is doing it to me - or maybe it's the unknown, bird-flu like cough that I have developed . . . But I feel different.

Re-energized.

Lighter.

More powerful . . .

. . . and generally more serious and more committed to my work than I've ever felt before.

Now that the party is over, I think it is obvious. I have stuff to say.

Aside: I've been told to read Shantaram- the story based on the life of Gregory David Roberts - Sydney's gentleman bank robber who escapes over the front wall of Victoria's maximum security prison and then travels on a false passport out of New Zealand to Mumbai - where he lives with the poor people in a shanty town and becomes the community doctor, counterfeiter, smuggler and gunrunner! Did Greg catch the madness, too.

I think I've caught a creative sort of madness. I can feel a film (or two) coming on. Beware the Stingray perhaps?

Hallie (the girl who runs Filmbites - my regular Saturday teaching job) has edited a short film I shot (no script) with a bunch of tweenies just days before I went away and it's fantastic! . . . I reckon. I'm about to ask her to put another 50 hours editing into it. We have to clear music etc. Redo credits . . . All shot on a single chip camera with the letterbox function on (thereby reducing image quality). Camera sound, for God's sake! With wind-buffetting. Real off-the-hip. The acting is incredible. We're going to submit it to the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals. Plus St. Kilda. See if they take it. It's that good.

I
reckon.

But that's all that matters, filmmakers. Right? You have to like the stuff you do. Who cares if it doesn't pick up awards? That part of the process is almost random - and if it's not - it usually means the film is a 3 act joke film - not necessarily an indicator of feature-style filmmaking (a whole different kettle of fish). Juries with mandates and opinions and allegiances and friends make award decisions. An award might fast-track you to being considered for a feature - as does a stint at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) but the film remains the same.

If you like it, you've succeeded! Surely!

My madness has recently been fuelled by two long macchiatos with sugar and a bowl of fruit salad - so bear with me.

Maybe travel does broaden the mind. My mind feels very broad right now and I have all this energy which I want to put into my work. Better cash in on it. Such waves rarely come by.

Maybe the great Shiva has entered my soul? Or Kali? Or is it Mumbai's very own Ganesh?

All my work.
  1. Websites
  2. Filmmaking
  3. Writing
  4. Teaching
  5. Everything
It's all about to explode. When it does, I'll let you know how it goes.

But I feel . . . . . . VERY . . . . . . light!

It's . . .
as Milan Kundera once uttered - albeit very self-consciously . . . . . . . unbearable.

Saturday, 11 February 2006

Mumbai International Film Festival 2006

Unfortunately, A Stone Throw didn't win anything . . . *sniff* :(

Most of the international films that won prizes at the Mumbai International Film Festival 2006 had India as the subject / backdrop - or they were made by ex-pat Indians living abroad - or they had an Indian actor - or they were films made by filmmakers who had served on previous years' MIFF judging panels.

I'm not being too cynical. That is just the way these things go. I'd be naive to think differently. In fact, I was surprised that our little 10 minute film, A Stone Throw had been included at all. It was one of only a few non-Indian inspired films.

Having said that, a ScreenWest-funded documentary about the rebel army in Aceh won the judges hearts.

The Black Road, directed by William Nessen and produced by Andrew Ogilvie, was absolutely brilliant and easily deserved to win. In fact, William risked his life making the film. He filmed alongside the Indonesian army as they attacked Aceh - and he also filmed alongside the Aceh rebels! I'm talking gun to gun stuff. Torture stuff. There were no holes barred making this film. It's not for the squeamish. People get killed and tortured and you see the results. Big, graphical, close-ups!

William witnesses the death of some close friends, marrie sthe film's interpreter and ends up in jail (as one would expect). All these events filmed prior to the great Tsunami.

After watching the film, one might conclude that William Nessen has a death wish.

But Billy (his chosen nickname) considers himself an accidental documentary filmmaker. His main line of work is as a journalist / photographer. This is his first film and it began with him simply recording events in his life. It transmogrified into something brilliant - and very important for the world stage.

It was good to see a ScreenWest-funded film getting not one but two important awards. The Best Documentary awards were strictly for the directors, but Andrew Ogilvie also got an award for producing Billy's film. It was edited by Lawrence Silvestrin and sound-posted by the (locally) famous Western Australian, Ric Curtin.

Bloody good stuff.

While the chosen few basked in the glory of cash (up to AUS$7,000 1st prize) media scrutiny and some very impressive gold and silver conch statues, I slunk back to the hotel. My 10 minute short looked pretty good up there and the audience thought it was a wonderful part of a greater piece. A Stone Throw gave the winners a run for their money. I satisfied myself with that knowledge.

I stayed in my pokey hotel room the entire next day. Enthused by the renegade documentary makers, I feverishly returned to working on my next project. I'd managed to dodge disease, not get too-ripped off and I still had my passport. That counted for something.

When all had returned to their respective countries, I got a phone call. It was William - at a loose end. He shouted (bought) me breakfast and talked about staying in Mumbai.

Why?
I asked. There's no rebel army fighting for independence here.

He simply likes the place. The people. The hospitality. Billy strikes me as a kind guy with a big heart. I tended to ignore the many beggars here, but he happily gave them a few rupees. One poor beggar-lady told him, I don't want your money - only food. Half an hour later, Billy was lugging sacks of rice and water around for her immediate family.

Not having a background in filmmaking, he asked me for career advice. I felt humbled. And, the truth be told - a bit important. Keep your prize money. Don't give it away. Invest it in the film - in yourself, I pleaded.

I'd rather see William go out there and change the whole world with his particular brand of risky filmmaking than see one small family eat for a week. His kind of filmmaking can change the world.

The Mumbai Film festival had inspired me. Perhaps I can also do something worthwhile. Seeing films like The Black Road makes me do a double-take on my own stuff. I've only just started to make worthwhile films - films that touch other people. Hopefully, A Stone Throw is only the first step toward this and I'll get the chance to go a lot further.

It all starts with a piece of paper and a pen. I'm sincerely looking forward to seeing what filmmakers like Billy Nessen does with his pen.

See y'all back in Perth for my Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) podcast.

Bollywood party, baby iceblock, Mumbai police!!!

I met the lady who coined the term, Bollywood. Janet Fine is a freelance journalist for magazines like Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. After living 20+ years in Mumbai, I think Aussies make some kind of sense to her.

She invited us all to a strange, glitzy party - hosted by a famous Italian chef.

No place in Mumbai is particularly impressive, so when I got out of the car and stepped into a muddy, dirty roadway, I was surprised. We were on the doorstep of the famous downtown Bollywood restaurant, Olive.

Photographers and videographers pumped flashes and lights at model-like actors. Watching the Bollywood films which play every night on TV here (there are literally thousands of them) shows just how skilled these people are. They're not using Stanislavski, Adler or Meisner - they are more like expert dancers with fantastic co-ordination and lip-synching skills. It's a different style of acting. They are more than simply models.

I recognised nobody and ordered a Tom Collins. Fellow Aussies thought me a seasoned drinker, but I'd only read about the big Tom in a cocktail book. It wasn't great. But I can say I had my last one at a Bollywood party.

When actors so much as moved, lights would flash.

It was all very silly.

But the silliest thing by far . . . was the bathroom.

Toilets here are crazy. At one hotel, I turned around and a uniformed guy was standing there. He switched the tap on for me. He even squeezed out some soap as I approached the wash basin and then he issued me a stream of several, palm-sized towellettes for me to dry my hands on.

The Bollywood toilet was even crazier. There was the usual toilet guy standing there to show me the way to the urinal (2 metres away) but the funniest thing was a baby-sized block of ice, sprinkled with flowers - sitting right there in the urinal. I rarely laugh when I'm alone, but this thing really tickled my funny-bone. The only purpose I could think of was to cool my urine before it became an integral and perhaps spiritual part of the great Ganges.

It was an interesting night.

When an Australian actress heard that Aussies were there, she mysteriously disappeared. Out the back door, I suspect. I caught her eye and I'm sure something passed between us. Something not so good. Something nervous - awkward. A mixture of embarrassment and indignation. Being a big star in Bollywood - a film society pretty much run by India's mafia - isn't considered to be a serious career move. Down to earth Aussie filmmakers might have seemed a bit daunting. If the bepetalled ice-block in the urinal was anything to go by, I might have snuck out the back door, too.

The following night, I went to a nightclub with my new Indian friends, Somdev Chatterjee and Rajdeep Randhawa - two filmmakers with excellent documentaries screening at the Mumbai Film Festival. It took us a few tries to get into places.

No stags, sorry, no stags!
doormen kept repeating.

In India, men aren't allowed into a nightclub without being accompanied by a woman. Apparently women get hit on quite a lot here. How do men meet women in Bombay? I asked my friends. They shrugged.

The sexual divide in India is an infinite chasm - as evidenced by one MIFF film, Hoon I. Pretty much the Indian equivalent to a women's rights film (made by Amit Babulal Shah). In the film, women were almost daring each other to remove their veils - without seeking permission from their husbands.

You can't simply meet a woman at a party here and then go to bed (not that you can do that in Australia without cushioning a few good slaps on the way). It's a huge, six month battle with phone calls, SMSs and coy meetings with parental involvement. It sounds like an absolute nightmare. In India, it pays not to be single.

We finally get into a club (I think because I'm a white guy - which does mean cash to some degree, here) and we sink a couple of Kingfishers (local beer). We took a few photos and made our way to the exit . . .

. . . whereupon the nightclub was stormed by Police!

My friends hid my beer and we all crouched under the stairwell until my friends could get me out of there without being spotted by the cops.

I had no idea what was happening.

I was told later.

The police are really corrupt here and will go into a nightclub at 1am (everything finishes strictly at 1am here - despite Mumbai's exciting nightlife) to get whatever money they can from . . . white guys! They simply approach the white guy and get cash off him - for no particular reason. If he doesn't have enough, it could mean a night in a cell.

I once asked my friends if they pay much tax. Of course we do. Apparently about 25%. But there is little evidence of it in Mumbai. People are poor and dying, roads are falling apart and in a city of 20 million people, I rarely saw public works, a nice park, or a rennovated building. It's as if India has no government.

It may be different in other Indian cities and let's be fair . . .

How does one govern 20,000,000 people?



t.b.c. . . .

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Not the only white guy in Mumbai

Hi readers . . . and hi Mum! ;)

I've been watching some pretty heart-wrenching documentaries here at the Mumbai Film Festival. Watching docos seems to be a fast track to learning about the world. Many documentaries have an Indian element, but a couple stood out. I tend to make friends with the people who make films I like, so I'm pleased to say that Rajdeep Randhawa is now a close and personal friend of mine.

Rajdeep made a 47 minute documentary called, "Ek Tha Lal Pari." Shot mostly cinema verite, it documents the problematic relationship between a eunuch and her lover. It's an on and off relationship, but the two are still very much in love and have lived together for 20 years! In India, eunuchs live in enclaves. They are ostricised by society, but also revered and considered to have many spiritual powers. So they earn money by performing special rituals at marriages, births, deaths etc. It is a special honour to be blessed by a eunuch. To cross one would result in bad fortune. In one scene, a ritual blessing is performed by several eunuchs at a married couple's home. Anyway - I won't say what happens in the end, but it was an excellent first film.

I also met a British filmmaker who worked in the BBC Documentary Film Unit for 30 years before deciding to settle in India. Holy Men and Fools, documents a journey through the Himalayas with a living Baba (Indian spiritual leader) and his disciples. It's like a mini-quest, but with interesting characters. He should get a few sales with this, so look out for it.

Y'know, it's pointless describing films when I'm staying here in Mumbai. The other day I walked into a Chai (Indian tea) shop alone and several guys stood up to let me have the booth. Hot Chai was immediately set down on the table and everybody suddenly became very considerate. I thought, Uh oh - here we go. I'm about to get ripped off. But when I paid for it, the guy asked for 10 rupees - just like he had with everyone else. I left feeling a bit confused. Why all this red carpet treatment? I get stared at a lot. Often I'm the only white guy walking. But it's not intimidating. Is it curiosity?

I asked my Indian friends. At first I thought it was because white = cash. But it's much more complicated than that - and it goes right back to the British. Many people in India feel that the government isn't doing its job properly. It's a big job, but there are problems with corruption etc. Apparently most Indians (these guys reckon 90% of Indians) feel that India was better when teh British were here. Things ran smoothly - there was organisation, people had a place and there were fewer poor.

White guys are considered to have this extra thing about them. Some people think that they are more intelligent, better educated, wiser and that they have the skills to run things better. More acumen. By treating whites with respect, it is thought that a bit of this extra stuff will rub off on you. As Indians are very religious people, this ties in well.

It's all about luck, karma and anything is possible here . . .

(to be continued)

Sunday, 5 February 2006

9th Mumbai International Film Festival

Well, I'm truly settled in now. The festival has started. Documentaries, short films and animation. Great stuff. Finally found a good net place to post my BLOGs. I'm sure there are millions of readers.

The Mumbai International Film Festival is pretty cool. The Indian docos are nicely controversial and the short films are very entertaining. One short film, "Ryan" was inspiringly brilliant! It was a mind-blowing animation about a guy having trouble hanging on to his creative edge as he grew into his 40s. Not sure why that one was so appealing ;).

I'm learning about India by a mixture of sitting in an air-conditioned cinema and walking the streets. The roads are really dangerous because of the traffic. There doesn't seem to be a system of rules. The whole city is all a little random in terms of the overall organisation. I don't know how the festival organisers have managed to pull anything together.

As I was warned, India has a public service problem similar to England back in the 50s. It pays to carry a bunch of photos with you. A lot of forms and pens. You really have to ply information out of official people as they are very polite. They assume that you know a lot about things and offer only small nuggets of information.

The Indian head-wobble is hard to get used to. As I talk to Indian people, the head starts to wobble - as if in disagreement. But it's the opposite. I kind of knew this, but it's different when you see it so much. It's as if they are about to launch into a great confrontational debate - but it's more of an empathetic gesture.

Also, guys hold hands here - which is a bit confronting. I know a few people back in Perth who would punch the wall thinking about this. I'm sure those same guys would suddenly get really confused if it happened to them ;)

There are Aussies here, and I've made a few new friends - but I'm also making Indian filmmaker friends. By hanging out with them, I'm learning SUCH A LOT about this culture. There are many subleties and things can be really confusing - especially the politics. Whoever is in charge of India has a mammoth task. I don't see how it's possible to govern a country of 1.2bn people. Or this city. Mumbai has a population of between 16 and 20 million people (no census could count for the poor here).

Because there is little in the way of social welfare, people are pretty much left to their own devices - which includes begging.

I saw a documentary about shanty people living under a railway platform - right next to the tracks! The documentary was about how the government was trying to evict them so they could modernise the railway!

I told the cab driver that there was a lot of poor people in India, but he thought I'd asked him to show me the poor people. I nodded in exasperation (my accent is strong, I think) and he took me for a drive alongside the railway. After about 10 kilometres of gazing at people living under hessian potato sacks and digging holes deep in the roadside in search for clean water - I put my camera away. I felt like crap and developed a bit of a lump in my throat.

I remember a fellow Perth filmmaker (now a Producer) asking me what it was that really touched me as a filmmaker - what moved me. What brings me to tears. My answer at the time (I was 21) probably sounded a bit smart-arse. The plight of humanity, I said. He wasn't impressed.

I'm not sure what I really meant then, but I think I know what I meant now.

It freezes me to think about these people. I can't talk about it. It's a real REAL world shame.

No wonder there's a Bollywood. These people have nothing else.

Friday, 3 February 2006

Mumbai madness

Okay, so I've arrived in Mumbai for what people call the Mumbai experience.

It looks absolutely gorgeous from the plane, at night. I could see fireworks bursting in the sky below and little campfires everywhere. In fact the whole of India seemed to be peppered with lights - not like Australia at all.

But then the plane landed!

Basically, I'm in the world's biggest shanty town.

We got off and had to walk over the tarmac because airport staff were on strike. The papers are all aglow about how efficient things are here and how the government is doing so well. Hmm. Looks to me like the place doesn't have a government.

My first Mumbai night reminded me of Bali (admittedly, the only other place I've been outside Australia). Everything is rundown, disorganised . . .filthy. The taxi driver got lost, the hotelier hadn't received my booking and I've yet to hear from the festival organisers - the same ones who tout the Mumbai International film Festival as being the most organised film festival in the world . . . Read between those lines!

I'm about to go see them. Wish me luck. I could be begging on the streets tomorrow.

Later my small flock of readers . . .

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Kuala Lumpur on nothing at all


I woke up this morning at 5am. There was some guy on a super loud speaker chanting right outside my hotel room. I opened the curtains to a huge mosque. The Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Shah mosque . . . 142.3 metres high! The chanting and wailing was punctuated with short speeches - religious, I assume.


Discovered that there are two types of police here. Normal, state police and Islamic police! Their job is to enforce Islamic law for Muslims. Things such as drinking alcohol and not facing Mecca at certain times (such as 5am!) are fineable offences. But, as a little bird told me - it's not the fine, but the loss of face which really hurts.

Malaysian Airlines is a bit of fun. Not a moment goes by without a piece of food or beer being shoved into your hands. The guy next to me ordered two beers!

Very friendly people here. Not at all pushy.

Saw half a report on TV that Mumbai Airport technicians are on strike. I've been told to make sure that the taxi driver keeps his windows closed (despite the heat). Apparently beggars try to get in at stop lights.

Here's my plane . . .

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Bags are packed

Had my shots, got my digestion drugs and I'm about to cut my latest podcast with Michael Bond and upload it before I go on a filmmaker's trip to Mumbai. Thanks to ScreenWest, the Mumbai Film Festival organisers and the Lotteries Commission of WA, I'm on my way.

I'm not a big traveller, so have no idea what to expect.

What a fiasco to get Visas, medical shots and organise hotels, transfers, insurance and flights etc. Stressful stuff. I guess people who travel a lot get it all the time. I suppose you develop a knack. Anyone travel to a festival? Post a comment. Please!?

I've charged up my MP3 player with The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" - supposedly influenced by their own trip to India back in the 70s. I've also got Elvis Costello's "Watching the Detectives", Godley and Creme's "An Englishman in New York" and Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" to keep me company. Those guys will be my teddy bears. Now I know why some kids suck their thumbs and talk to security blankets.

I got the latest issue of New Scientist, Darwin's "Voyage of the Beagle" (fascinating stuff) and a whole bunch of podcasting stuff. I plan to "record sounds" and "take pictures" while I'm travelling in Mumbai and post them on geoffrey.com.au when I get back. Plus there'll be a special something for the ScreenWest website.

Stay tuned. Enjoy my podcast with Micky. I'm a bit scared (travelling alone) ... but this should be VERY interesting...