Monday, June 30, 2014

"Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait" Book Review and Interview with author, Kendra Bean

Author: Kendra Bean
Publication Year: 2013
Pages: 275
Publisher: Running Press
To purchase "Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait", please visit the below Amazon page.


Vivien Leigh was one of the most talented and beautiful actors to have ever graced the cinema screen and will be forever remembered for her grace and versatility in both her film and theater roles. "Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait" gives a most in depth exploration of the woman behind such unforgettable characters as Scarlett O'Hara (Gone With The Wind, 1939) and Blanche Dubois (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951). Kendra Bean's biography of the star is wonderfully written and accompanied by an absolute treasure trove of beautiful photos, many of which have never been seen before. There have been many biographies written about Vivien Leigh over the years, but "Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait" allows one to see her from a most unprecedented personal and loving perspective.

Vivien Leigh was born Vivien Mary Hartley on the 5th November 1913 in India (then known as British India). From when she was six years old, she was raised in England and began her lifelong passion for theatre and acting at a young age. Although she appeared in several British film productions, it wasn't until 1939 that she became a household name world over when she gave her Academy Award winning portrayal of southern belle Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind. She won her second Academy Award in 1951 for her portrayal of the damaged Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Off screen, she was part of the marriage which many referred to as being theater royalty as the wife of Sir Laurence Olivier. Despite her elegant public persona, behind closed doors Leigh fought demons which would haunt her until her untimely death in 1967.

"Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait" is unlike any other Vivien Leigh biography ever printed. This illustrated biography shows Leigh in a light which is loving, but extremely saddening and often heartbreaking. In her research for the book, Kendra Bean hadd access to the Laurence Olivier Archives, which allowed her to discover more about Leigh than any other past biographer. In the past, many Leigh biographers have struggled with understanding Leigh psychologically, as she never left behind a memoir of her own and Olivier refused interviews. With Bean's access to the Laurence Olivier Archives, Leigh fans and classic film fans alike are able to understand for the first time the extent of her illness (which would these days have been diagnosed as bipolar disorder) and what really went on behind closed doors in the Leigh/ Olivier marriage. There are some incredibly heartbreaking tales of Leigh in her darkest days, stories which those who are fans of Leigh's public persona and blissfully unaware of her private turmoil will find disturbing. However, Bean retells these times without judgement. She allows the reader to feel an intimate connection with Leigh and her love and warmth for her is contagious. Yet, in the harsh reality of the Olivier's marriage breakdown, there is also beauty. The way in which Leigh and Olivier still obviously cared for each other and had a lasting connection in spite of their divorce is wonderfully reassuring for all their fans. Bean's love and passion for Leigh radiates off each page and makes the reader care just as much for her as she does.

The biography is first and foremost an illustrated biography, as Bean had envisioned a coffee table book. The photos included are absolutely exquisite. Hundreds of these photos have never before been seen by the public and are an absolute treat. There are some incredible private moments captured from Leigh's life, including photos of her and Olivier before and during their marriage and shots from behind the scenes of many of her films. Leigh's beauty shines off the page with every photo and each photo has a beauty of it's own.

"Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait" is a wonderful treat for any Vivien Leigh or old Hollywood fan in what would be her 100th year. Although there is so much beauty in this biography, it is quite a powerful read in a most respectful way. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman.


Movie Critical were lucky enough to catch up with "Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait" author, Kendra Bean. Kendra, who is originally from California, has an MA in Film Studies from Kings College London and is the designer and editor of , an historical archive and film blog dedicated to Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier.

Firstly, congratulations Kendra on the amazing success of your first book, “Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait”! When you first had the idea to make a coffee table style book about Vivien Leigh, did you ever imagine it being so successful?
Thank you! Not really, and I mean, it’s not Harry Potter status or anything, but I’m so glad people have responded so positively to it. I knew the turnout for the recent Vivien Leigh centenary events would be pleasantly surprising to naysayers who thought no one was really interested in Vivien anymore. It’s a great feeling to have been a part of that in some way. 

When did your book journey first begin and what made you want to write a book about Vivien?
It began in 2009. Through my work at, I had started collecting vintage magazines and accumulating a lot of photographs. I was also scouring local libraries for books that might contain rare photographs of Vivien to add to the online gallery, and it was through this interest in photography and fashion books that I decided to try and put together my own.  My original idea was actually to do a book that focused on Vivien and Laurence Olivier, and it was with that proposal that I landed my agent. However, after doing my MA in Film Studies, I decided that perhaps it would be a bit more interesting and timely to focus on Vivien’s life and career.

What were the high points and the low points of writing “Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait”?
The high was definitely getting the publishing deal after what seemed like years of waiting and shopping the proposal around. I also loved meeting and interviewing people who knew or had already written about Vivien, and, of course, digging through archives for photos and interesting information. I wouldn’t say it was a low point – I don’t think there was one - but it was definitely a challenging process trying to finish everything and get it in on time. I did it, but was totally knackered afterward. You hear about a lot of authors requesting deadline extensions and whatnot, but I didn’t really have that sort of leeway, and because I’m a first-time author, I felt it really important to meet whatever deadlines were set for me. It was a huge learning experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world because now I know that I’m capable of working under that sort of pressure.

Were there any parts of Vivien’s life which you found it particularly hard to research or to find any information about?
Even though I chose not to focus too much on the early years of her life, her childhood was difficult to research. This was because her personal archive was not available at the time, and as far as Vivien goes, Laurence Olivier’s archive really starts when they got together in 1936-37. There wasn’t a ton to go on for her early years other than what’s been printed in newspapers and previous biographies.

What was it like having the wonderful actress Claire Bloom write the foreword for your book?
That was a great honour. She was actually the first person I interviewed, and she has fond memories of Vivien. It was an even greater honour when she turned up at my book launch!

Besides Ms Bloom, who was the most exciting person you met during your journey?
Everyone was exciting in their own way! I was just really happy to be in the company of people with interesting experiences and stories. I was really lucky that everyone I met was very encouraging and supported my enthusiasm along the way.

Now for a question you probably get asked quite often, when did you first become a fan of Vivien Leigh?
When I was 18 and fell in love with Gone With the Wind.

If you could ask Vivien one question, or talk to her about anything that happened in her life, what would that be?
“Can you talk about what it was like to work on certain films, with certain directors?” That’s vague, but I’d love to find references to her speaking in-depth about her film career. She seemed to gloss over a lot of it with very trite answers whenever she was asked about it in interviews.

Do you think that Vivien is a good representation of a beauty of the golden age of Hollywood?
I think she transcended a lot of other actresses in terms of beauty, to be honest. A lot of female stars back then were very careful about make-up and requested specific lighting during photo shoots. Vivien had this to an extent, as well, but she also looked stunning with no make-up. 

Julia Ormond played Vivien Leigh in the film, My Week With Marilyn. Do you think she was the perfect person to play her, or can you think of another actress who would be perfect in portraying her?
I didn’t like how Vivien was portrayed in that film (actually I didn’t think very highly of the film as a whole, but c’est la vie), but I don’t think it was Julia Ormond’s fault as much as it was the script, costumes, and make-up. I thought she was wonderful in Legends of the Fall, but in this film she just plays a side character and is portrayed as a stereotypical , frumpy ageing actress. 

As the centenary celebrations of Vivien Leigh’s 100th birthday are still continuing, what events do you know that are coming up? What should a Vivien Leigh fan do to celebrate?
There’s the Gone With the Wind 75th anniversary celebration in Atlanta in June. In London, the Starring Vivien Leigh exhibit runs through the end of July at the National Portrait Gallery before going up to the Laing Gallery in Newcastle in September.

If someone was to travel to England and wanted to visit some of the places associated with Vivien and her life, where would you recommend them visit?
I did a blog post about this a few months ago actually,

And for our final question, Vivien Leigh related or not, what are some of your all-time favourite movies?
Gone With the Wind, Wuthering Heights, Waterloo Bridge, Brief Encounter, Nights of Cabiria, Plein Soleil

We thank Kendra Bean for taking the time to speak to us at Movie Critical and wish her all the best of luck! Kendra will be signing books and introducing A Streetcar Named Desire on the 16th of July at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. Tickets are available through Fandango.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 165 minutes
Director: Michael Bay
Writers: Ehren Kruger
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Jack Reynor, Sophia Myles
The Transformers franchise is turning into the franchise that just keeps on giving. That doesn't mean that what it gives is particularly good, but there seems to be no stopping these films. Even when the last film wasn't particularly a masterpiece, that's still doesn't stop people getting excited about the next film and this trend appears to be continuing with Michael Bay's fourth Transformers film. Transformers: Age of Extinction is the victim of a disastrous screenplay which proves that sometimes we really don't learn from our past as it makes the same mistakes as the third film. While some of the sound editing and special effects are well done, it is gift-wrapped in the ridiculousness of the situation that it is impossible to take even the action sequences seriously, which is what Transformers is all about.
It has been three years since the battle of Chicago and the Autobots have all gone into hiding after the government has ruled that all Transformers are now considered a threat. A struggling Texan inventor, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is the one who finds the incognito and injured Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and restores him to health. There is a huge bounty on his head which would help Cade and his teenage daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz) out immensely and even though Cade is hesitant about giving away the whereabouts of the head Autobot, they are soon found out and it becomes not just the Autobots who are running for their lives.
Sequels are often talked about as being films which take the things that worked in the first film and exaggerating them in hope of continuing that success. So what happens when you get to the fourth film? You would think that if a franchise has got to a fourth film the screenwriters would have worked out what works and what doesn't, but if Transformers: Age of Extinction is anything to go by, this is quite clearly not always the case. The screenplay is absolutely atrocious and it's dialogue particularly dreadful. It is usually acceptable for the dialogue in an action film to be a little bit corny, but this film takes it to a whole new level. It is the type of dialogue you would expect to hear in a B grade movie. Many of the words that come out of the character's mouths are just laughable and the result of screenwriter, Ehren Kruger trying to do too many things at once. There is no way which the actors could have delivered some of these lines and not have them sound ridiculous. For example, a line like "My face is my warrant" makes very little sense and Mark Wahlberg's Cane exclaiming "I'm an inventor!" prompts you to wonder "Who really calls themselves an inventor in this age?"
Time is something which Transformers: Age of Extinction has little grasp of on various levels.   Firstly at two hours and 45 minutes, it is needlessly long. Much like the third film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, there comes a point in the film which feels like a finale and if it had finished here, it would have been almost bearable. However, it drags on for another hour while the audience still remains ready for it to finish. From a production side, the film is terrible at representing time and distance. The Yeager family begin in Texas, then travel by truck/Optimus Prime to Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border and then in no time they are in Chicago. This whole trip would take them at least 35 hours if they drove non-stop, but seems like it happens in the blink of an eye in the film. The drive from Monument Valley to Chicago itself takes 22.5 hours at least, but this isn't represented at all.
However, Transformers films have always been more about the action and special effects than the brilliant story and witty dialogue. As one could expect, the CGI used to create the Transformers is quite impressive, but there are also some scenes in which the CGI looks removed from it's live action surroundings in a way which it shouldn't. Another failing occurs when the situation is so ridiculous that the special effects seem comical. The slow motion screaming in the car is more funny rather than thrilling. With such wonderful special effects and also impressive sound editing on hand, it feels as if they are wasted by trying to support and save the screenplay.
Again, with a screenplay such as this there is little hope for any good performances, not that one would be expecting any Academy Award performances in a Transformers film. While Mark Wahlberg's performance is lacking emotion (especially when his daughter has a gun to her head), he is a more convincing Transformers lead man than Shia LaBeouf. While the two characters are quite different, physically and characteristically Wahlberg gives the impression that he belongs in the film more than LaBeouf. Stanley Tucci's Joshua Joyce has one too many comical lines and starts to waver on the brink of becoming annoying.
Michael Bay loves his Transformers leading ladies. First there was Megan Fox, then Rosie Huntington-Whitely and now there's Nicola Peltz. Tessa is quite a weak character and is regrettably so as she has the potential to be a strong character. Towards the beginning of the film, she points out to her father all the things she helps him with and how he couldn't get by without her, which would normally indicate that this is a strong and independent woman to be able to take on the role as woman of the house. Yet, she rarely puts up a fight during the film and is more than often the damsel in distress. This is no fault of Peltz as this is what the screenplay calls for, but with a character like this there is really no way to be able to acknowledge what type of actress Peltz actually is. There is very little chemistry between her and on screen boyfriend, Shane played by Jack Reynor, or between her and Wahlberg. Also, what girl wears incredibly high wedges to school and to walk along a long dirt road when she comes home? A Michael Bay Transformers girl, that's who.
The incredibly funny thing is that when the fifth Transformers film will be released, nothing that has been said about Transformers: Age of Extinction will matter. The pull of the Transformers franchise is too strong to allow the previous film's success to detract from the excitement of future films. All we can hope is that Ehren Kruger will learn from the mistakes of this film and make up for it in the next film.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Exclusive Interview with THE LAST IMPRESARIO Director, Gracie Otto

With The Last Impresario opening in cinemas across Australia this week, director, Gracie Otto took time out of her incredibly busy schedule to have a chat to Movie Critical about the film. Otto, 27, comes from one of the most well known Australian entertainment families which includes father, Barry and half-sister, Miranda. However, she has made a name for herself with her incredible documentary about English producer, Michael White. The film has screened at both the BFI London Film Festival and Sydney Film Festival to positive reviews, and with the opening on the film in Australia on Thursday, Otto is currently travelling around the country participating in a set of Q&A's about the film.

Firstly, congratulations on the success of The Last Impresario! You must be absolutely thrilled with the way people have responded to it!
Yeah! So far the response has been quite positive. I mean, it's always exciting to have your work seen by others and it's now about finding the right audience and about people finding out who Michael is. As we say, he is the most famous person you have never heard of and I think that's true and I think it's great that people are starting to find out about him and learn what an incredible human being he is and career he has had.

So let's go back in time to that party at the Cannes Film Festival four years ago when you first met Michael. He must have been completely in his element in that environment. What was going through your head the first time you met him?
Well, I guess in all honesty when I first met him I didn't think anything of it. You know, I didn't think in four years time there will be a film about him! I had just noticed him at a party I had been at and later I had ended up at his table with a person I had just met who was a friend of a friend of his, it was just one of those things. So I just met him there and I still have the little drink coaster which he wrote his number down on. Well first he gave me his address and I was like, I'd never been to London before except for one day and I had this address which had a weird postcode on it and I was like "Why are you giving me this? Am I going to send you a letter?" and he said "Oh I will give you my mobile!", and I said "You've got a phone?!"
He just said "You've got to come and visit me!" and I was like "Yeah, sure!", as you are after you have had five or so drinks! And then the next day I was walking down to a meeting and he called me and I was like "Oh my god! Michael White! That old guy!" How funny that he was actually calling me! I mean, he doesn't talk that much, so I was saying 'Hey! Michael White!" and he said to come to the hotel that night and he barely gave me any details. So I was deciding whether I really wanted to go, but I put a dress on and I remember the first people I saw were Mick Jagger and Loretta Scott, she was so tall and had this beautiful elegant dress on and I thought "Oh my God, I am wearing this little cocktail dress!" I didn't know they were going to this dinner I was going to. Then Michael saw me and was telling me to come through, as all these people with clipboards were saying 'Who are you?" It was about a week before Dennis Hopper died so they were honouring him there.

After such an informal greeting to him, was it actually a shock to find out how popular and famous he really was?
I guess it didn't come until I was making the film. After the week I had spent going to every party and meeting every person with him, I realised that he was obviously quite well respected among celebrities and I knew that he produced The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Monty Python and The Holy Grail. You can say the name to most people and they will know at least one of those productions. Then it wasn't until I went to Sussex. I went to visit him in London because I had never been to London. I went down to visit my family friend, Greta Scacchi and I just told him that I had met this guy named Michael White and she said "He started my career! You have read his book, right?" and I said "No..he has a book?" So she gave me his autobiography and I started reading it. I don't read that many books, but I love autobiographies and I love old Hollywood and the Bette Davis and Ava Gardner era. The fact that he was helping put on these shows and Marilyn Monroe would go and see them. The book got up to the time The Rocky Horror Picture Show finished in 1984, so then I was like "Then what happened?"
 I felt like I had learnt so much about him by reading this book because he doesn't really talk that much anymore. They are actually re-releasing it later this year, it's called "Empty Seats" and it is a really fascinating memoir. So I really felt like I needed to fill in the gap between 1984 and 2010. I was working on a documentary as Assistant Editor and I went to London a few months later and went to this party with Michael that Harvey Weinstein was at. I asked Michael that night if I could make a film about him and he had said no. It was an idea I had been thinking about, but even then I knew he was good but I didn't know he was a documentary worthy subject because I didn't know how much potential it had to be a film. It was really when all these celebrities would come up and give a story about meeting him that I realised how prolific and revolutionary what he was doing is and was.

When you asked him if you could make a film about him and he said no, did you really feel as though you had to earn his trust so that he would agree to this?
Well the way he does stuff is a bit like the way I do stuff. I knew that he liked having me around and when I was around we would go out to dinner and meet people, so it was kind of an excuse to be overseas and I was funding it myself at the time. I had a camera and I was staying with friends and staying at cheap places. It was only when my producer, Nicole O'Donohue came on board that she asked if I had a contract with me and then said "What do you mean you don't have a contract?!"
So then we drew up a contract and then it felt more like we were making a film. That was when I went and interviewed 65 people in total.

As you said in the film, Michael doesn't really like talking about the negatives in his life, yet it is the other people you interview who fill everyone in on the more negative things that have happened in his life. How did he feel about someone else saying these things about him?
I actually think he was interested to find out what people thought of him. He knew I was interviewing all these people but he wasn't there for any of the interviews with me besides Kate Moss' one. I asked him once about drugs and he made a valid point and said "If drugs were legal, there wouldn't be all these issues". He has interesting ways of thinking about things. I think mainly he didn't like seeing himself with the walking sticks. The health side of it has been something which has been hard for him to deal with on a personal level, and then to see himself walking was confronting and something he really didn't like.

Michael does come across as an extremely charismatic man, and this is proved by how many people adore him. Was it easy to get people such as Kate Moss, Yoko Ono and John Cleese to want to take part in the film?
Yeah well, John Cleese I thought may be a bit hard but I e-mailed his website one night in Paris when I was killing time. I was meant to be interviewing Anna Wintour, but that was when Hurricane Sandy hit and I was kinda stuck in Paris waiting to hear back from Vogue. And then Yoko Ono was one of the first people on board. After two days of working with my producer we just looked up contact details and we thought we would have to send letters and do it all the right way. For most people I just said to them "Michael gave me your number..", or they were told that I was going to call, but for Yoko Ono her publicist just picked up the phone and within 24 hours I was going to New York to meet her. The same with Kate Moss, she was really easy going and she doesn't really do many interviews so I felt really privileged that she took the time to talk to me. She gave Michael the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Laurence Olivier Awards in London as he was in a wheelchair.

So these people all really wanted to talk about him. This must have made your job a lot easier!
There was still a lot of hard work as it wasn't easy doing 65 interviews. It's actually quite insane, especially as I'm not from any cities and I'm from Australia! I did do about six interviews here though which was easy as I just got in my car and bought a mate along! Some of the ones that killed me were getting to Kate Moss' Bulgari Hotel on the tube with camera equipment and all these things you can't get insurance on. Things like that were just always a bit tedious and carrying a lot of equipment. Once I was carrying two suitcases and a handbag and hand luggage and a computer when I was in Paris on the Eurostar and no one would even help me off the train! I do love the French though!

The Last Impresario is such a fun film, but I'm sure it was hard work as though like you just said! Was it fun to explore Michael's crazy life?
Yeah, definitely. There was a moment in the film which I didn't include in the film when he took me out to dinner in London and took me past one of his old haunts and said "The end of an era". I looked at the house and I could just see Linda Hobbs and all these interesting people just having a great dinner party. I would just love to go back to that time for just one night!

So is that the point in Michael's life that you would most like to go back in time to experience with him?
Definitely! I think after just meeting all the Australian's who were in London at that time, it would have been such a great time to be there. I know my mum was planning on going to London then but she ended up meeting my dad and staying here.

One of the most memorable parts of the film is when you are going through Michael's medical appointment book and Michael then reveals to you how close he came to death at one point in time, which completely shocks you. Were there any times during filming when you really worried about his health?
Yeah, I mean he is incredible and I worry every time I see him if it is for the last time, I always kind of get a bit upset. Yet recently just after the film came out, he was in hospital for about a month. It was really bad and I thought that was definitely the end and all of his family friends were going to see him nearly everyday at hospital. I had to come back to Sydney, which I was really sad about. He saw the film and he was really happy about it, and then he got the Lifetime Achievement Award and he was out in a wheelchair and at rehab! Then he went to Italy last week because we were playing the movie there. We wanted to bring him out to Australia, but it was just too far for him to go. So I organised him to go to Italy instead and he had a great time there. He was happy as it was 35 degrees and he wanted to know were the party was. The film is coming out in the UK in September. So this is probably the longest I haven't seen him. I normally see him every few months and last time he was in hospital so I didn't really get to hang out with him. He still see's the humour in it all.

You two have obviously became really good friends then?
Yeah, I think so!

And how does he feel about the movie? Is he happy with it?
He is really happy with it. He says he is, but I mean he changes his mind about things from time to time. Mainly the walking sticks shocked him and stuff like that, but obviously he would love to have had the whole film just about the early days. I keep telling him that I met him as he is now and I found him interesting, and other people are going to find that fascinating about you.

That's really sweet! I'm sure he appreciates that!
I think he does! I'm sending him all the reviews and things like that, but I have to send originals of all the press clippings and that. I've got a few with me and I have to go and put them in the post today, because he doesn't have e-mail. I try to explain to him that it is going really well, and everyone knows who you are now! It's funny!

What has been your highlight in the journey with this film so far?
I mean, the funnest day was one that didn't actually make the cut of the film. It was going to Jack Nicholson's house and that was one of the first people I had met. Then we went out to dinner at Chateau Marmont in LA, and he just told my best friend who is an editor about Easy Rider and what fun they had making that film. It was just like a cool thing that will never happen again! He was just such an awesome dude who made you feel like you were just sitting down for dinner with one of your mates talking about Easy Rider. It was just so cool for me because I am such a film buff and love all that kind of stuff. The Chateau Marmont night wasn't in the film and he didn't do an interview, but that was probably my highlight. Also when we went out to dinner at Matteo's in LA, which is quite an expensive and good restaurant and Michael got a tap on his shoulder and he turned around and it was Elton John. That was also really cool.

Who would you say has been the greatest influences on your career so far?
I think definitely...well, in Australia Gillian Armstrong. I've known her since I was a baby and I think we really became close when I was in the movie, Three Blind Mice and she was on the jury at Sydney Film Festival. Then overseas, Sofia Coppola definitely and then David Lynch is someone I really admire. In terms of influences, Gillian Armstrong because she has always been kind of pro me directing. The other day I told her I went to an audition and didn't get it and she said "You don't want to be an actress! You want to direct!" I wouldn't mind doing both! Sofia Coppola's movies I love because they are all about relationships.

Anyone who follows you on Twitter will notice that you have the Alfred Hitchcock quote, "Blondes make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints", as your description. Are you a Hitchcock fan?
Yeah., I have watched all of his movies and I just love that quote. I think it is such a great quote.

So which Hitchcock blonde are you then?
Oh! I don't know! Um...we'll go with Kim Novak! She's pretty awesome.

A big thankyou to Gracie Otto for her time and we wish her all the best of luck with her continuing The Last Impresario journey!

The Last Impresario (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Gracie Otto
Writer: Gracie Otto
Cast: Michael White, John Cleese, Yoko Ono, Naomi Watts, Rachel Ward, Anna Wintour, Kate Moss, Barry Humphries, John Waters, Jim Sharman, Richard O'Brien, Nell Campbell, and more!

Society loves the famous, and The Last Impresario gives society the opportunity to love the most famous man you have never heard of. Gracie Otto pays tribute to the incredibly crazy but brilliant life of English producer, Michael White in a documentary which is like the man himself, the life of the party.  Exceptionally well researched and constructed with a whole lot of love and care, The Last Impresario is a great deal of fun and allows you to gate-crash the party that is the life of Michael White.

When Gracie Otto was at a party at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010, by chance she met Michael White, a man who everyone seemed to know and wanted to speak to. She soon found out about the incredible life that White has led and the extraordinary people who he befriended along the way. White was the producer who bought such scandalous stage productions as Oh! Calcutta! and The Rocky Horror Picture Show to life, and also such film productions as Monty Python's The Holy Grail and numerous other successful productions. He helped shaped the culture of 1970's London and in doing so created a circle of celebrity friends, many of whom are interviewed throughout the course of the film.

Gracie Otto's portrait of Michael White is constructed evidently with the love and care which is employed when the director truly cares for their subject. The Last Impresario is an incredibly respectful piece of work, which is a fitting tribute to a man who is ultimately a very private despite his high profile. The audience goes from not knowing who Michael White is to 85 minutes later feeling like they have known him for years. He has indeed led an incredibly interesting and intriguing life and from the very beginning the audience becomes addicted to White's lifestyle and has the thirst to be pulled further into his world by way of the film. While White himself may not be especially talkative or open about his private life, a great deal of his life story comes from over 50 interviews Otto conducted with White's friends and family for the film. Among the interviewees are Kate Moss, Anna Wintour, Naomi Watts, John Cleese, Yoko Ono, Nigel Planer, Barry Humphries and John Waters. An incredible amount of research went into the making of The Last Impresario to create an accurate and complete portrait of the man. It is also quite touching to see White grow older, but often saddening how he is miserable in the realisation that he is not the man he used to be.

 The Last Impresario has an overall very fun atmosphere. It really captures the essence of the lifestyle that White has led over the past few decades and makes the audience feel as though they were part of his life in the 70's, 80's and 90's. The film opens with a luxurious shot of Michael in Cannes and then follows with an encounter he and Otto have with Rolling Stones front man, Mick Jagger. With these two shots the scene is set to experience the high life in the way White does. There are so many ways in which the audience can indulge in the celebrity culture White is and was part of over the years through photographs, news clippings (which are displayed in the most intriguing fashion using some impressive cinematography), interviews and archival footage of both White and his projects, and also other historical images to indicate the culture of the times. White has had a life which many would be envious of, but this film allows them to feel as though they really were part of it.

The Last Impresario is a fascinating look at an intriguing individual who everybody wants to be friends with. An incredible amount of fun and a beautiful, atmospheric journey.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

2014 Sydney Film Festival Round-Up

After a highly successful and wonderfully entertaining week and a half, the 61st Sydney Film Festival wrapped up in perfect style. The awards have been announced and the film fanatics finally have a chance to sleep and once again eat a home cooked meal. The Closing Night Gala provided the perfect ending the festival with the final film being the hilarious What We Do In The Shadows and a Q & A session unlike any other with Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi and Jonathan Brugh.
Closing Night also saw the announcing of the winners of the 2014 Sydney Film Festival. It was Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Two Days, One Night which took out the coveted Official Competition Award and 35 Letters which won the Documentary Australian Foundation Award for Australian Documentary. It was announced earlier today that the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner, Winter Sleep was the winner of the Audience Award and Love Marriage in Kabul the winner of the Documentary Audience Award.
Here at Movie Critical we were lucky enough to catch 26 films at this year's Sydney Film Festival. This included 19 feature films and 7 documentaries. We played witness to 9 out of the 12 films featured in the Official Competition and 2 of the 10 Australian documentaries. We had the privilege of seeing a true classic restored on the big screen, and in the space of a week and a half travelled via film to the United States, China, Iran, Bosnia, Ireland, Austria, France, England, Japan, Poland, Sweden, New Zealand and Turkey. It was such a hard job deciding which of these incredible films were our favourites of the festival, as there were so many that were enjoyable and entertaining. We have put together a one paragraph review of each of the films we saw and our top 5 films of the festival to follow.  Please note that the films which will be receiving a theatrical release in Australia will also receive closer to their release date.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of June
Directed by Chapman Way, Maclain Way
In 1973, Bonanza actor and father of Kurt, Bing Russell bought the struggling Portland Mavericks baseball team, which became the only independent team in the USA and extremely successful during the 1970's. The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a highly enjoyable and often very funny documentary, which is also quite inspirational. The stories of the Mavericks players remind everyone to stay true to their dreams, and that true love of the game is greater than the love of the dollar. There is also a good amount of Hollywood and baseball history thrown into the mix here with some fascinating footage of the past. Definitely one for baseball fans.
Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 11th and 12th June and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by Diao Yinan
The winner of the Golden Bear at this year's Berlinale, Black Coal, Thin Ice is an extremely atmospheric thriller set in contemporary northern China. Police officer Zhang Zili (Liao Fan) is injured on the job during an investigation into a grisly murder and retires to live a quieter, but more self-destructive life. When murders start happening which are very much like the one which he was working on all those years ago, he is propelled back into the world he has tried so hard to escape. Although there are elements of Black Coal, Thin Ice which are similar to many other films of it's genre, it presents it's audience with a fresh take on these elements. There is a period towards the middle of the film which is really quite slow, but even in this lapse the film is still captivating due to the power of it's visuals.The film is beautifully shot in the snow and the cinematography exquisite.
The Case Against 8 (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 9th and 14th of June.
Directed by Ben Cotner, Ryan White
When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008, there was reason for many to celebrate. Yet when Proposition 8 was passed in California, there was devastation for many in the gay and lesbian community who were planning to get married or were already married and were then informed that their marriage was in fact invalid in the eyes of the law. The Case Against 8 follows the court case against Proposition 8 and in particular focuses on the two couples, Kris and Sandy and Paul and Jeff who are propelled into the spotlight as part of the case. Although the documentary starts off slow and does give the impression that it is being staged rather than being filmed as actual events are happening, it soon kicks into gear and becomes a captivating and often suspenseful journey. It is also a beautiful story of two couples who are deeply in love which each other and the film is a great deal more personal and emotional than what a typical political courtroom documentary can be.
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 5th and 7th of June.
Directed by Jasmila Zbanic
When Kym (Kym Vercoe) travels to Bosnia and to the seemingly idyllic town of Visegrad, she is struck by the beauty of the place but experiences an overwhelming sense of dread and unease when staying at the Vilina Vlas Spa Resort. When she returns to Australia, she finds out that her hotel was the site of unspeakable horrors against women during the Bosnian War and decides to return to Bosnia to find out why this was hidden from her. The subject matter of For Those Who Can Tell No Tales is extremely interesting, but the film does not deliver the emotional punch that such a subject should give it's audience. It is the cinematography and the haunting musical score which give the film an eerie edge, but the thirst for an emotional attachment is left unmet.
Frank (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 7th and 10th of June
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
When struggling and uninspired musician, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is called up to replace the keyboard player in an avant-garde band led by the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), he believes he knows what it will take to make this band popular and more accessible to the public. Frank is a deep, but sweet film which explores how people learn to live with a mental illness and the realisation that what is best for you isn't necessarily what is best for everyone else. Although this film may be a little too quirky for some, it is entertaining, enjoyable and often very funny. Michael Fassbender gives an incredible performance which is not at all limited by the fact that he is wearing a giant paper-mache head the whole film.
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 7th and 8th of June.
Directed by Johannes Holzhausen
The Great Museum is a documentary about the world inside the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It explores how items are chosen to put on exhibit, how they are put on exhibit and how they are maintained, as well as how the museum operates day to day. This documentary is an absolute must for any art history fan and is made in a rather unique fashion. There are no curators who speak directly to the camera, but rather the viewer finds out what they need to know about the museum by playing witness to conversations between museum workers and also by watching them go about their work. The museum is an absolutely beautiful institute in itself, but the cinematography enhances it's beauty and does the Kunsthistorisches complete justice.
Jimi: All Is By My Side (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 5th and 13th of June
Directed by John Ridley
Jimi: All Is By My Side is John Ridley's tribute to legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix. The film chronicles Hendrix's (Andre Benjamin) life from when he was discovered by Keith Richards' girlfriend, Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) through to the beginning of his worldwide fame. Andre Benjamin does well as Hendrix, as does Poots as Keith and Hayley Atwell as his girlfriend, Kathy, and the soundtrack is also memorable. However, the film tries to do a little too much and believes it is amazing, and it is never a good thing when you can tell that this. There are too many elements of a documentary thrown into this biopic, such as captions informing the audience who is who and real photos thrown in when the character is talking about a particular event. Many of the creative choices of this film bring a film that could have been so much more down.
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 5th and 6th of June and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by Guillaume Nicloux
In 2011, the author Michele Houellebecq did not turn up for his book tour and seemingly disappeared. His disappearance made a lot of people speculate as to where he could be, and this film is a fantasied answer to those questions which people have had. Houellebecq (who plays himself in this film) has experienced a kidnapping like no other where his every needs are attended to and he befriends his captors. The Kidnapping of Michele Houellebecq is an odd film with no real direction to it. It is quite funny at times and there is an interesting underlying theme of celebrity obsession, as Houellebecq's kidnappers are clearly impressed by his star status. However, the film doesn't seem to make a huge amount of sense and is not overly interesting for those who are not familiar with Houellebecq.
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of June and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by David Zellner
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a retelling by the Zellner brothers of the Fargo legend. Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a painfully shy, Japanese girl who travels from Tokyo to Minnesota in the belief that the Coen brothers film, Fargo is real and that there really is a treasure buried in the snow there. It is a wonderful retelling of the myth with some glorious images, particularly those in the Minnesota winter. There are some brilliant underlying themes of cinema obsession and the need for adventure and self-importance. Rinko Kikuchi does wonderfully to portray a character which is completely introverted, but there is a thirst to know why Kumiko is the way she is which isn't fulfilled.
Please see out exclusive interview with director, David Zellner here
The Last Impresario (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 11th of June.
Directed by Gracie Otto
The Last Impresario is a documentary on the "most famous person you have never heard of",  Michael White. Gracie Otto's film explores the life of the extraordinary man who was known for defying the norm and breaking out to produce such controversial stage productions as Oh! Calcutta! and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. White has an impressive group of friends, many of who are featured in the film, including Kate Moss, John Cleese and Yoko Ono. The film is a load of fun and the party atmosphere which White's personality projects is felt throughout the film by the audience. It is an intriguing look at a man who has had an incredible life.
Locke (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 8th and 9th of June and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by Steven Knight
Locke is a film like no other. For the film's entirety, the lead character, Ivan Locke (Tom Handy) is in his car by himself and is faced with a number of challenges during his car trip. There is no physical appearance of any other characters, yet we hear them all during Ivan's phone calls. Locke is a minimalist film, but it demonstrates how much you can do with so little. The cinematography is quite beautiful and the way the lighting is used brings so much to the film. The story is unpredictable and the way which Ivan is trying so hard not to be the way someone was to him, that he becomes like that person in the areas of his life that he has taken the focus off. It is a theme which many can relate to. Tom Hardy gives an intriguing and wonderful performance as a man who is trying to hold it together in the most stressful of situations.
Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 7th of June.
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Rebel Without A Cause is a classic which had been beautifully restored for the Sydney Film Festival. Nicholas Ray's film was completely ground-breaking when it was released in 1955 for the way which is portrayed rebellious teenagers. The film has survived the test of time for so many reasons, but one of the main reasons it is so memorable is because of it's three ill-fated and talented young stars. James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo are all completely flawless in their roles and it is so saddening to see the three of them in the same shot in the scene at the mansion. Dean did not live to see the release of the film and his performance as Jim Stark reminds you of the talent and years of brilliance that was lost. Wood is also very good, but Mineo is an absolute scene stealer and his character, Plato had so many layers and was incredibly complex.
(As this was a restored classic, it has not been included in out top 5 of the festival)
Screened at Sydney Film Festival on the 7th and 8th June and was part of the Official Compeition.
Directed by David Michod
The Rover is the long anticipated follow up to David Michod's highly successful Animal Kingdom. Set 10 years after the collapse in Australia, Eric (Guy Pearce) has his car stolen by three men and sets out to avenge the men who took it. He encounters Ray (Robert Pattinson), the brother of one of the men along the way and together the two men travel through the outback in search of the car thieves. The Rover is an angry, but completely subtle film which is highly character driven and enjoyably so. Pearce and Pattinson are a wonderful onscreen duo and both give wonderful performances. The cinematography is also outstanding and musical score wonderfully haunting.
Snowpiercer (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 14th and 15th of June
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Snowpiercer was one film which had completely divided the opinions of festival goers. Bong Joon-ho's film takes place in the future when the world has frozen over and the only survivors are on a train that runs continuously around the world. The train, like society, is class divided and during the film, the back carriages rebel and try to take over the front carriages. Snowpiercer is very dark and violent with a quirky sense of humour which could be read as being a terrible script or an acquired taste script. It is incredibly unpredictable and suspenseful, as nobody is safe on the train. The production design of the train and it's numerous carriages are very well done and visually intriguing. It is a very odd film which gives a twist on the action genre and is definitely not a film which will be enjoyed by everyone.
Tim's Vermeer (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 4th and 14th of June.
Directed by Teller
Tim's Vermeer is an astonishing and intriguing documentary which is driven by passion and the search for the truth. Tim Jenison, a Texas based inventor, believes that 17th century painter, Johannes Vermeer used an optical apparatus in order to create such lifelike pieces of art, such as The Girl With The Pearl Earring. In order to prove this theory, Tim sets out on a highly ambitious project to paint his own Vermeer painting. It is a project which is a great deal more consuming than he, or anyone else could have ever imagined. This documentary plays out like a video diary of Tim's incredibly ambitious project and is completely intriguing and captivating. There is some incredible and beautiful pieces of art involved, but it is the beauty of this man's passion in his work which is just as entrancing.
Two Days, One Night (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of June.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Winner of the Sydney Film Festival, Two Days, One Night is a small film, but an incredibly effective one. Sandra (Marion Cotillard) receives a call informing her that she will lose her job, unless she can convince her co-workers to give up on their bonus for the year. Over the weekend, Sandra visits each of her co-workers individually and asks them if they will consider saving her by giving up their bonus. Two Days, One Night is suspenseful in an extremely subtle and unusual fashion, as it is unclear what is going to happen at the end and how Sandra, who is already a fragile person, will react to either situation. It is really quite an emotional film, and Marion Cotillard does brilliantly in a role which makes the audience feel a great deal of sympathy and care for her.
We Are The Best! (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 8th and 15th of June.
Directed by Lukas Moodysson
Swedish film, We Are The Best! is an ode to growing up and the time when adult ideas first start to enter the mind of a child. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are two 13 year old girls who decide to start a punk rock band without any musical experience of their own. It is when they convince Hedvig (Liv Lemoyne) to join the band, that they finally find their feet as a band. We Are The Best! is a fun and sweet film about a group of girls who start to see the world differently than they did as a child, and believe there is more to this world than what the other girls who are their age believe. Yet, it is still wonderful to see these girls at an age where they are starting to see things differently, but still hang on to the fun parts of their childhood such a running around laughing and throwing food at each other.
What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival Closing Night on the 15th June.
Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
The hilarious What We Do In The Shadows was the perfect end to the festival. This vampire mockumentary follows four vampire flatmates in Wellington as they explain how they live in a modern world and the obstacles they face being an immortal beast, including their werewolf rivals and how they seek out victims and clean up after them. What We Do In The Shadows is universally funny and extremely creative. It is a new take on vampires living in the modern world and does well at interlacing history (both fact and fiction) into the film. All of the actors, especially Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement and Jonathan Brugh do wonderfully well as their undead characters.
Winter Sleep (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 14th and 15th June.
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The Palme d'Or winner, Winter Sleep takes place in the Cappadocia region where Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) runs a hotel with his sister, Necla (Demet Akbag) and his younger wife, Nihal (Melissa Sozen). The film focuses greatly on Aydin's relationships with the two women in his life and how in this beautiful land they live in, nobody is truly content. Watching the unravelling of these relationships can be draining and quite upsetting at times, but watching the film take place in this gorgeous region where the houses and the hotel are carved out of rock is so delightful. The cinematography is truly exquisite and absolutely breathtaking. However, at over three hours the film does feel rather dragged out and at many times rather slow and uneventful.
Wish I Was Here (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 14th and 15th of June.
Directed by Zach Braff
Zach Braff fans have been waiting a long time for his directorial follow up to Garden State, and he does not disappoint with Wish I Was Here. Braff stars as Aidan, a family man who cannot give up his dream of being an actor while his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson) works in a mundane office job. When Aidan's father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) falls ill, he can no longer pay for his grandchildren's tuition at their Jewish school and Aidan decides to home-school his son and daughter. Wish I Was Here is an incredibly sweet and funny film, which feels more like Scrubs than Garden State. It can fall into the trap of being oversentimental at times, but it is a welcome oversentimental in a harsh world. The soundtrack is enjoyable and there are some wonderful acting performances, particularly by Joey King and Josh Gad.
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 6th and 7th of June.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a charming film told by the unique and magical storytelling of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. 10 year old child genius, T.S (Kyle Catlett) lives in an unhappy world where he feels like he is a constant disappointment to his family, despite his incredible achievements. He decides to leave behind his home on the prairie and travel to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, which is where his genius is recognised and exploited. This film is a sweet and often surrealistic film which can sometimes leave you pondering what is actually really happening and what is not. The cinematography and production design is exquisite and so intriguing to see on the screen. The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a rather emotional and often heartbreaking journey.
 Movie Critical's Top Five Films of the 2014 Sydney Film Festival
5. Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 8th and 14th June.
Directed by Frank Pavich
Jodorowsky's Dune is a documentary about the film that never was. Back in the 1970's, eccentric filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky started work on the extremely ambitious adaption of Frank Herbert's "Dune'. The film was to have an impressive cast including Orson Welles and Salvador Dali and had some wonderfully talented designers behind the scenes. However, it was never to be and became legend. This documentary is absolutely brilliant. Jodorowsky is such a passionate man and so full of energy that his love for the film radiates off the screen. After seeing Jodorowsky's Dune, you really do feel as though you did see Jodorowsky's Dune, even though it was a film which was never made. The depth of information of the pre-production of the lost film in this film is perfect and the whole documentary has the atmosphere of a science fiction film, just like it's subject matter. After watching the film, you are devastated that Jodorowsky's Dune never got off the ground, but still in high spirits after experiencing something so fun and passionate.
4. Once My Mother (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 8th of June.
Directed by Sophia Turkiewicz
Once My Mother is the incredible story of director, Sophia Turkiewicz's mother, Helen. Turkiewicz was placed in an orphanage by Helen when she was seven years old and even though she came back for her when she married, she never got over the abandonment she felt. However, as Turkiewicz got older she found out the reasons behind her mother's decision to leave her there and with the knowledge she gathers finds peace and forgiveness. Helen's story is incredibly powerful and unbelievable. The way which Turkiewicz tells her mother's story is as though the film is a present of love for her, and this love is felt in an overwhelming way as the film progresses. The film is not just about Helen's amazing life, but also about the relationship between mother and daughter and how when daughter's become mother's, they see their mother in a whole new light. There is also a wonderful mix of history with this deeply personal story, which is supported with powerful video footage and photographs.
3. Fish & Cat (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 12th and 13th of June and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by Shahram Mokri
Fish & Cat is a truly remarkable film. What it does with the art form of film is spectacular. Shahram Mokri's film is a single shot film and what it does with one single shot is pure brilliance. Set on a lake in rural Iran, a group of university students are camping out while taking part in a night of kite flying. Little do they know that there are two very dangerous men nearby who have something else on their mind. Fish & Cat may not be to everyone's liking as it is very quirky and unless you are 100% committed to the film, it can be very confusing. However, the ways which the film avoids continuity problems that would arise from it being a single shot film is incredible and so well done. It truly challenges the rules of film making and is highly entertaining and atmospheric while doing it.

2. Dinosaur 13 (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 7th and 15th of June.
Directed by Todd Douglas Miller
Dinosaur 13 does exactly what a documentary should do. It informs, entertains, inspires and rises emotions of the viewer. In 1990, the most complete and largest Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil was found and was moved by palaeontologist Peter Larson and his crew to Black Hills, a small town where they wanted to keep and display the dinosaur known as Sue. The FBI and National Guard turned up soon after and seized the dinosaur skeleton and a court case followed with an outcome which no one believed would have even happened one that happy day when Sue was first discovered. The amount of emotion which this film provokes is surprising considering one would not believe this subject matter would be so. Yet, it makes you happy, sad and angry. The way the people saw Sue was not as though she was just a group of bones, but as though she was still a living breathing dinosaur and it is a beautiful love the palaeontologists and the town of Black Hills had for her. It is an incredibly interesting subject and ultimately is a story of love against money.

1. Boyhood (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 6th, 7th and 15th of July and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater's Boyhood is a beautiful and ground-breaking piece of cinema that's power lies in the subtlety of life's most meaningful moments. Twelve years in the making, Linklater's masterpiece is the true definition of a coming of age film and is revolutionary in it's production. Boyhood is made with a huge amount of love for life and for the process of growing up without any use of exaggeration. Mason is more than a character in a film, he is a boy you form an attachment to and cherish the opportunity to watch grow up.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Exclusive Interview with Filmmaker, David Zellner

One of the great filmmaker guests which this year's Sydney Film Festival has played host to is the director and co-writer of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, David Zellner. Zellner and his brother, Nathan who hail from Texas, are no strangers to the festival circuit after first having their short film, Flotsam/Jetsam  appear at Sundance in 2005. Their first feature film, Goliath made it's debut at Sundance in 2008.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is in competition at this year's Sydney Film Festival and we were extremely lucky to sit down and have a chat with Zellner about the making of the film, the urban legend surrounding it and some of the challenges involved in the production.

Firstly, welcome to Australia and welcome to the Sydney Film Festival! How has your trip been so far?
Thankyou! It's been great! I love the city and the festival has treated me really well and yeah, it's been great!

Congratulations on the success of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter! When did you first come across the story of Takako Konishi?
We came across the story in 2001. We saw it online on message boards as this was before Facebook and Twitter and it was just simply about a Japanese woman going from Tokyo to Minnesota in search of the mythical fortune from the movie. At that point in time, there was really no information about it beyond that and what was interesting was that over time people started contributing to what their version of the truth was. A lot of it was contradictory and eventually the real truth came out that a girl really did go and a lot of the more personal details were released eventually. The elements that drew us to it in terms of this epic quest or treasure hunt were things that grew out of this urban legend and at first we were concerned to see such discrepancies with all the stories out there, but then we liked it even more because it played with what the truth actually is and the line between fact and fiction. It was also the fantastical elements of the urban legend in terms of this epic treasure hunt that drew us to the story in the first place so that's what we ran with.

How did you and your brother, Nathan decide that this was something you wanted to make a film out of?
I think from the get-go I became really obsessed with the story and out of personal interest just wanting a type of closure as to what would lead someone on this journey and that led to us trying to fill in the gaps and the script grew from that. I think growing up liking adventure films meant that I liked the idea of this quest for a mythical fortune and I liked the idea of something like that in contemporary society because it's so an antiquated thing. There is no longer the mystery in the world that there once was. There is no uncharted lands, there is no foreign places to discover as everything is mapped and discovered. Everything is available online so there is no gratification. So I really like the idea of there being this quest where there is a hunt for information and a sense of mystery.

Speaking of all this information online, was there a great deal of research to be done when developing the screenplay?
In terms of the elements that came out of the real details of it not so much. We started working with so little information and we did our own version of the truth. As more information came, we had lived with our version of the truth so long that we ran with that! But from a wider cultural perspective, we certainly did a lot of research. I had been to Japan before as a tourist but something we wanted to avoid was looking like white guys from Texas doing a Japanese film. So we had to do a lot of research there and particularly of the office lady culture, which is dying out but it still exists, and things that would give a certain kind of legitimacy and resonance to the world which she was part of.

Takako and Kumiko seem like two very different people, even though one is based on the other. Takako, according to the information available about her on the net was supposed to have come to the United States because she was having an affair with a married man!
Yeah! Well, you probably know more about it than I do, but that is why we just stopped reading about it because we didn't want that to taint what we were working with. It had already been a couple of years that we had been working on this story and that instantly strayed it from the urban legend which we had been drawn to in the first place. We didn't want it to be a biopic or something ripped from the headlines. The character in terms of the personality and why she was going on this quest was completely our creation and we were more interested in being true to the urban legend.

How did the attributes which Kumiko have come about? Was she the type of character which you believed would do something like that?
I think we wanted someone that could be plausible within that universe where she would embark on this kind of thing. She was plagued with a certain sense of isolation, alienation and she's at a difficult point in her life where she is having problems connecting with those around her. Taking things from Japanese culture that would lend themselves to the state that she is in, someone regardless of her geographical background that is relatable on a human level.

You went to two pretty much polar opposite places in Tokyo and Minnesota for the film. How long did you spend in both of these places filming?
It was a total shoot of 32 days and it was pretty much close to half each. We had scouting trips to each place before and it was almost like we shot two features back to back. We had a different cinematographer, we had two totally different crews and there was a lot of local people in each place that could help these outsiders. We just took a good amount of time to get everything ready, but the actual making of it was so smooth because we had such great teams.

One could imagine that working in the snow in Minnesota would have been particularly challenging, particularly on Rinko (Kikuchi). What were some of the challenges filming in conditions like that?
Well, it was all just about being able to adapt to the weather. Sometimes when you are filming you are trying to avoid bad weather and you use covered sets for when that arises, while we did the opposite. We scheduled filming in the worst weather possible as we wanted a harsh winter environment. So in Japan and America we wanted the landscapes to essentially be characters in the film and really embrace them. And these are things you can't really fake. You can't really do CGI blizzards or that sort of thing. We had limited means but that is where we were able to be adaptable easily and that's how we were able to find these blizzards and go out and embrace them for cinematic purposes.

Was it hard on Rinko who was out in all of this weather?
That was something I was very concerned about from the start. Without spoiling it, we did things to make sure she stayed warm and there was an element of acting involved. But she was a good sport and they were tough conditions to work in and incredibly cold. Her character was not prepared for that weather so inherently it was going to propose challenges for us and I think she did a great job adapting, but we did our part to make sure she was taken care of.

And you were actually on screen in quite a few of those scenes with her in Minnesota and your brother is in the scenes in the airport. How did you and your brother decide which roles you wanted to play?
We always act in our films where appropriate and it's just kind of an intuitive thing based on our strengths. We don't have a lot of in depth discussion about it, it just kind of comes naturally.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is great in that it has themes such as cinema obsession and the need for adventure. Would you say that another theme is the need for importance, as in to make ourselves feel like we have given our lives a sense of importance?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that's such an inherent part of human nature and for some people that's where religion comes in, but I think on a broader level it is regardless of your ideological beliefs or cultural ethic background it is still an inherent need for fulfilment in that sort of way. It was something on a more general human level that we wanted to touch on.

Another thing the film does amazingly well is that even though to everyone except Kumiko this journey seems hopeless, yet the film does not judge her in any way.  Was this a challenge to do?
That was one of the most important things to us in making the film. Outsiders are such easy targets and it would have been really easy to make her part of a joke and to beat her down constantly, and all I wanted to do was just humanize her and have people connect with her on that level. So I didn't want to stigmatize her with a label as to what is wrong with her or anything like that, because from her point of view everything is fine and we wanted it to be from that perspective. We really wanted to write with the humour in the pathos and not have the humour be at her expense. There is circumstantial humour which comes up, but we always wanted to be on the journey with her. We didn't want to go to any extremes, we didn't want to go to the extreme of being cruel and heartless to her or go to the other extreme of being sentimental with her as that would have been just as false and alienating to me. So we wanting a kind of truthfulness right in the middle.

So are you a fan of the Coen brothers movie, Fargo?
I am. That was inherently part of the urban legend and so we were just being true to that legend. If it was some other movie and some other treasure, that's the way it would have gone.

Was it a bit of a surreal moment recreating that pivotal scene from Fargo for Kumiko?
I don't know, some things in the film I could analyse and some things were just a bit more intuitive on a gut level feel right and that was one of those things.

What has been your highlight with the film so far?
I mean, it was such a difficult film to pull together. The shooting of it was just a joy, but making it happen took a long time. So I think being in the trenches with it for so long and finally being able to step out and share it with an audience and having it resonate with them has been really special. It's one of the big reasons I create films is because it is a way of communicating and sharing ideas so it has been great to finally do that with this project and have it resonate with people.

Thankyou very much to David Zellner for taking the time to speak to us and to Palace Films for making it happen.