A freelance writer and copywriter for over fifteen years, Helene has written for publications and brands all over the world and couldn’t imagine herself in any other job. A shameless film freak, her first onscreen experience involved a trip to Avondale’s Hollywood Theatre at the age of five to see Yul Brynner in The Ultimate Warrior and she hasn’t looked back since. A big fan of documentaries, she has interviewed subjects as diverse as Henry Rollins, Jimmy Choo and Beyonce Knowles, and also has her own beauty blog - which can be found at www.mshelene.com - for the purpose of raving about red lipstick, big hair and other essential indulgences.

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DENNIS HOPPER: UNEASY RIDER

Posted on Thursday 17/08/2017 August, 2017 by

“Dennis Hopper didn’t die… he escaped.” Satya de la Manitou

In tonight’s film, DENNIS HOPPER: UNEASY RIDER, the enigmatic actor’s self-confessed “henchman” Satya de la Manitou says of his friend: “Dennis got in trouble with the whole alphabet – the FBI, the CIA, the IRS…” And he wasn’t kidding. It’s just one of the funny moments in what is a super entertaining documentary about the life and hard times of one of Hollywood’s most rare talents.

It has been said that EASY RIDER legend Hopper's unflappable veneer belied a man constantly teetering towards his next larger than life role. An influential artist, filmmaker, musician and dyed-in-the-wool eccentric, Hopper's crammed and colourful life offers a riveting narrative and makes the film a fun watch. Director Hermann Vaske knew Hopper well and delivers a sometimes-hilarious exposé of the man (literally, in BLUE VELVET) behind the mask, and as a long time fan I wasn’t disappointed.

The film begins with Hopper’s early career and delves into his friendship with – and hero worship of – the equally troubled James Dean, who he first met on the set of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Hopper played the role as Goon, part of Dean’s group of friends, but the doco shows the former in almost every scene with the star, gazing at him and taking in his every move, the subtlest nuances in his delivery. Hopper was reportedly shattered by news of Dean’s death at the age of 24, leading to a long-time disillusionment with the Hollywood scene that saw him withdraw completely at a time when his career looked like to be at a high.

Up next is a celebration of his work in EASY RIDER and APOCALYPSE NOW, as well as a little more detail about the experimental picture Hopper made in 1971, THE LAST MOVIE. The story of a film crew member in Peru who discovers that villagers, stunned by having a location crew in their midst and having no conception of what a film is, later set about ‘filming’ a killing with mock cameras and boom mics made of sticks, it has been majorly mocked. Looking at it now though, it is easy to see why, over time, it has evolved into a cult item among cinephiles, and I found this section of the doco absolutely fascinating.

But Hopper is not just remembered for his creativity and talent, but for the regimen of self-destruction that by the early eighties, had reportedly reached a daily intake of half a gallon of rum, 28 beers and three grams of cocaine. Pretty epic by anyone’s standards, and coupled with Hopper’s volatile personality, it could have been a recipe for disaster. The fact that he gave it all up and remained pretty much sober until his death in 2010 is damn impressive, as is the fact that it did nothing to dim his shine. Explaining Hopper’s continued success, his friend, artist and film director Julian Schnabel says: "He represented freedom and rebellion and the outsider. He was rebelling against the ordinary. If someone said he couldn't do it, he tried." 

Indeed, one of the things that Hopper was known for was his complete commitment to the characters he played. Actor Isabella Rossellini is shown reliving a fond memory of catching a glimpse of Hopper crying during a scene in BLUE VELVET - an aspect of the movie that director David Lynch decided to keep, although it hadn't been included in the script.

Hopper's big personality also resulted in tension with his co-workers, and that too is included in the film. Actor Diane Kruger recounts the moment during the shooting of APOCALYPSE NOW when Hopper was so high that he got lost for 10 days in the jungle, whilst director Roland Klick happily confirms, "Sure, he was also an asshole”. But a talented, original asshole, and it is at that intersection where the magic seemed to happen.

With archive footage and interviews with directors such as Wim Wenders, Isabel Coixet and Alex Cox, actors such as Rossellini, Kruger, Michael Madsen and Harry Dean Stanton, photographers such as Anton Corbijn and architect Frank Gehry, DENNIS HOPPER: UNEASY RIDER tells a great story, of an even more interesting man. As an outsider, it’s fascinating to watch how drug and alcohol abuse, along with an unpredictable and contrasting personality, didn't stop Hopper from reaching the global acclaim that still defines him. RIP, uneasy rider, you were one of a kind.

DENNIS HOPPER: UNEASY RIDER premieres Thursday 17 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Watch the trailer here

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VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH, and my picks

Posted on Thursday 10/08/2017 August, 2017 by

Tonight’s film, VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH is (unsurprisingly) a documentary on the life and times of Ken Loach, master director and inspiration to many. For the past half-century, the British filmmaker has been crafting stellar films that showcase the political and social experiences of the working classes, and shows no signs of slowing down. From the earlier BBC plays to Palme d’Or award-winning films, Loach’s persistence to challenge the political status quo has been relentless. With this is mind I’ve taken it upon myself to list some of my own favourites, and why you need to check them out ASAP.

 

CATHY COME HOME (1966)

Ken Loach’s history-making 1966 television drama about homelessness, CATHY COME HOME was a gritty snapshot of an era in Britain’s history that will never be forgotten. Shot in almost documentary style, it is the story of a family forced out of their flat when the husband loses his job as a driver after an accident. Their bright and hopeful future pretty much vanishes before their eyes, and it is a heartbreaking watch. At the time of first screening it proved so powerful that it led to discussions in Parliament and new legislation to tackle homelessness in Britain. It was also fundamental in the launch of the homeless charity, Shelter.

 

KES (1969)

One of the best-loved British films by far, KES was only Loach’s second feature for cinema. Based on Barry Hines’ novel ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’, it tells the tale of Billy Caspar, a misjudged, smart teenager who hails from mining town called Barnsley. A troubled young chap, Billy is trodden on at home and ignored at school, but his life changes when he forms a bond with a kestrel hawk. “Hawks can’t be tamed. That’s what makes it great”, says Billy, who comes to respect the majestic bird for what it is.

 

RIFF RAFF (1991)

Many have said that it was RIFF RAFF that kick-started Loach’s unique brand of modern social realism movies, which has continued till his most recently acclaimed feature I, DANIEL BLAKE. Part romantic comedy and part brilliant satire of Thatcherism, RIFF RAFF stars the indomitable Robert Carlyle as Stevie, a demolition crew worker in the process of converting a broken-down hospital into luxury condominiums. Veteran actor/comedian Ricky Tomlinson also appears as a union leader who takes a fine swipe at Thatcher’s horrific economic policies.

 

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (2006)

Although the movie won the coveted Palme d’Or award at Cannes and did well at local box-office, THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY drew harsh criticisms among British media for its portrayal of the IRA. The film tells the story of Damien (Cillian Murphy), a young apolitical doctor who joins the budding ranks of IRA after witnessing a brutal raid from English forces. Loach once again excels in focusing on the human experience, covering the guerrilla war for the independence of the Irish Republic as it pitted the freedom fighters against the British army, the impoverished Irish workers against the English land barons, and eventually brother against brother.

 

LOOKING FOR ERIC (2009)

One of my personal favourite movies, LOOKING FOR ERIC stars footballer Eric Cantona as the imaginary mentor of a Manchester postman who suffers panic attacks and can’t cope with his two rowdy stepsons. It’s an often hilarious but never gimmicky premise that turns hero worship on its head, as the cool-headed Cantona appears in the life of Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) to tell him to pull himself together. The pair swap tips on how to cope with the dark times and reminisce over Cantona’s goals, in a true meeting of the magic and the mundane.

 

I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016)

Fifty years after Loach raged against homelessness in CATHY COME HOME, the British filmmaker made a film infused with the same quiet but righteous anger about the failings of the society around him in I, DANIEL BLAKE. The film - screening on Rialto August 12, just FYI - is the story of an unlikely but tender friendship between Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother from London, and Dan (Dave Johns), a Geordie carpenter in his late fifties who's out of work and recovering from a heart attack. Both Katie and Dan are feeling the sharp end of the shrinking welfare state: Katie has been forced to move her children north to find a flat; Dan is stuck in a nightmarish limbo between work, illness and benefits. Loach sketches with compassion the growing humiliation felt by both in the face of their worsening situations, making for a near-flawless film.

VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH premieres Thursday 10 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel 

Watch the trailer here

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and

I, DANIEL BLAKE premieres Saturday 12 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Watch the trailer here

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KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE: a docudrama with a difference

Posted on Thursday 3/08/2017 August, 2017 by

Warning: This blog article talks about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Ten years ago, director Robert Greene first heard the tragic story of Christine Chubbuck - a smart but troubled young TV reporter in Florida, who went on to become the first person to commit suicide on live television in 1974.

A serious journalist with investigative ambitions and a feel for community, Chubbuck’s passion was to report on issues that affected real human lives, and she despaired about the rise of sensationalism in the press. She was also reportedly very lonely, a twenty-nine-year-old virgin who lived with her mother and had a crush on a colleague who rejected her and was involved with another woman on staff. She also had medical issues - she had had an ovary removed whilst quite young, which she was told would make it difficult for her to conceive a child. Needless to say she suffered from depression, but was being treated for it.

Under pressure from her news director to increase ratings, the station’s reporting had veered toward the sensational and toward crime, a factor that dominates  - along with Donald Trump – most of our news today. In her on-air suicide note, Chubbuck even referred directly to “Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts.” In the weeks before her death, she apparently joked with co-workers about killing herself live on air, as a “nifty” way to improve ratings. Three weeks before her death, she asked to do a feature on suicide and visited the local sheriff’s office to research suicide methods, but in that age, this bought up no red flags. Also, this sort of dark humour was reportedly far from unusual for the troubled but extraordinarily clever young woman: Jean Reed, the camerawoman who was working the morning Chubbuck shot herself, told a Washington Post reporter in 1974 that, “She had a great sense of the absurd, almost a macabre sense of humour.”

She eventually killed herself during the newsreel that preceded her morning current affairs programme on July 15th 1974. And although fewer than a thousand viewers watched her show, within hours of the shooting, the story made headlines in New York, Tokyo, London and Sydney: “TV Star Kills Self”, “TV Personality Takes Own Life On Air”, “On Air Suicide”. Though some have speculated that she killed herself due to her depressive episodes, Chubbuck’s brother, Greg, has long painted a different picture. She really didn’t want her death to be meaningless. “That salacious part of television, Chris detested,” he has said in interviews. “Was her final action a raging statement against that sort of television? Yes, clearly it was.”

When Greene first heard Chubbuck’s story and decided it could make for a film, he says he never wanted to make a straightforward story. Part documentary, part fictionalised narrative, it instead explores Chubbuck through actress Kate Lyn Sheil (best known for House of Cards), as she prepares for a role that will drain all of her resources. Recognising that a film about Chubbuck is always going to be a film about her on-air suicide, Greene decided to centre KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE on the difficulty of re-creating the videotape of the event, which is known to exist but has never been made public. TV broadcasts, especially local news programs in Sarasota, Florida, weren't regularly recorded at the time, but before she went on the air that last night, Chubbuck asked a coworker to make sure that evening's broadcast was taped, purportedly for her audition reel. Whether or not that grisly tape still exists is up for the debate – it has pretty much passed into the realm of urban myth. The station's owner is said to have kept the only copy under lock and key, with his widow giving it into the care of "a very large law firm”. Obscenely, those who claim to have seen it can give no plausible explanation of how or where, which makes it all even more bizarre.

It’s fascinating and wrenching to watch as Shiel is sucked downwards into the depression that consumed the “character” (for want of a better word) that she is playing, and as for the suicide scene? The less I describe, the better. It’s interesting that in the same year as this was originally released another film about Chubbuck, Antonio Campos’s CHRISTINE was also unveiled to the public. Campos’s film stars Rebecca Hall and is a straightforward drama, following Christine (the character, to distinguish her from the real-life Chubbuck) through the troubled events of the last few months of her life, condensing them and organising them so that they culminate in the one action for which the reporter is remembered.

It’s sad that 43 years later, the young journalist’s case and her death still fascinate many of us. Is that a symptom of the desire for sensationalism that Chubbuck died protesting? In a world where empathy so easily turns into rubbernecking, Christine Chubbuck is apparently still making the news.

KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE premieres on Thursday 3 August at 8.30pm

Watch trailer here

Remote record here

Where to get help:

In an emergency: Call 111. 
Crisis, Assessment and Treatment Team at Lakes DHB: 0800 166 167. 
Lifeline: 0800 543 354. 
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865. 
Youthline: 0800 376 633, or text 234 or talk@youthline.co.nz or live chat (7pm to 11pm). Kidsline: 0800 543 754. 
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787. 
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757. 
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 (weekdays 11am to 5pm). 
NetSafe: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723), www.theorb.org.nz


UNDER THE GUN and the politics of gun control

Posted on Thursday 27/07/2017 July, 2017 by

A drastic rise in mass shootings has ripped across the United States in recent years, and it’s a topic that hits hard in tonight’s sobering documentary on Rialto, UNDER THE GUN. Despite a growing body count and the chorus of outrage that comes with it, America has largely failed to respond – and director Stephanie Soechtig’s film goes a little further to show us exactly why.

As the parent of an eight-year-old, the opening scenes featuring the aftermath of Sandy Hook and its victims hits hard. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members. The legacy of the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history is profound, and the actions of the mentally ill, 20-year-old recluse will surely scar a generation and all those who came into contact with the crime. The distress you feel while watching the parents of the victims in the wake of the disaster has been a carefully chosen opener for the film, which essentially gives a human face to a crisis that is scaring the conscience of a nation.

Although it could be called a wide-ranging documentary on guns, mass shootings, and the activism of ordinary citizens, the film’s focus narrows quickly on how the firearms industry's lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, has developed a stranglehold on the politics of the issue. However, Soechtig is careful to draw a distinction between the lobbying org’s pretty unpleasant leadership figures, who have close ties to gun manufacturers and actively work to block the most common-sense attempts at gun regulation, and their rank-and-file members, everyday Joes who are presented as more supportive of responsible measures (like background checks) in national polls during vox pop-style interviews. These aren’t gun nuts and profiteers but rather men and women who see gun ownership as their right, and part and parcel of protecting their families.

UNDER THE GUN’s ability to cut through political talking points to focus on facts and firsthand accounts is definitely its strength, as well as the characters that the director has chosen to engage with. Particularly compelling is the narrative featuring former Congresswoman and gun-violence survivor Gabrielle Giffords, and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts - who was motivated to action by the situation in Sandy Hook and unwittingly sparked a grassroots movement on Facebook. “When women get involved in this country, things get done” says Watts, who utilises what she calls the “power of moms” to bring about awareness, and hopefully also change.

Some snippets also really hit home, like the representative of Al-Qaeda talking about how easy it is to buy a gun in the US, and the hard fact that most mass shootings are related to domestic violence issues, making them just maybe avoidable if the perpetrators are caught and arrested for earlier crimes against their partners and ex-partners. Oh and you know how when you’re in the States it feels like there is a Starbucks or McDonald’s on every corner? Well the country actually has more gun stores than Starbucks and McDs combined. 

I appreciate the way that Soechtig has cleverly attempted to move away from the always polarising, seemingly never-ending conversations about 2nd Amendment rights, by calling for a willingness to take a harder look at the reasons why people engage in violent gun behaviour. While UNDER THE GUN is firmly on the side of stronger gun regulations, it’s not blatantly anti-gun. There’s an attempt to be as inclusive as possible, and time taken to explain why statements uttered often by the opposition - that the then-Obama government leaders wanted to take away everyone’s guns, that the only way to prevent gun violence is to own a gun, etc etc - are easier said than defended with factual information.

But for me it's the aforementioned stories of those who've lost loved ones, and some of the chilling footage shown from these and subsequent events, that are the most powerful moments. Finishing on a montage of victims and then how you as an individual can help make a change, UNDER THE GUN doesn't shy from the complex nature of the debate but it also urges you, the viewer, to get the hell up and do something about it.

UNDER THE GUN premieres on Thursday 27 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.

Watch the trailer here

Click here to remote record 

DO NOT RESIST and the militarization of the US police

Posted on Thursday 20/07/2017 July, 2017 by

“We are at war and you are the frontline. What do you fight violence with? Superior violence. Righteous violence. Violence is your tool … You are men and women of violence.”

The man speaking in the quote above is a certain Dave Grossman, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel with a packed national speaking schedule who at that point, is addressing a room full of police officers.  It’s a key scene from tonight’s documentary on Rialto Channel, DO NOT RESIST, in which Grossman also proclaims that one perk of violent encounters is that police often say that afterwards they have the best sex of their lives. Watching the movie by Craig Atkinson - which won the award for best documentary feature at the Tribeca Film Festival - has never made me feel gladder to be living in New Zealand, where yes, police brutality surely occurs, but the majority of our force is more friend than foe.

Opening on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, as the community grapples with the death of Michael Brown, DO NOT RESIST offers a stunning look at the current state of policing in America and a glimpse into the future. It puts us as viewers in the centre of the action, from a ride-along with a South Carolina SWAT team and inside the aforementioned police training seminar that teaches righteous violence, to the floor of a congressional hearing on the proliferation of military equipment in small-town police departments.

Centred around concern about the US’s increased militarization of the police force, Atkinson reportedly originally started making the film because he felt the hunt for the Boston marathon bombers was chaotic and heavy-handed in its use of military equipment, but his interest actually started closer to home. I read an interview where he talks about how he grew up with a father who was an officer in a city near Detroit and a longtime SWAT team member, and how he was shocked to learn how the SWAT mission had gradually changed over the years. In the age of fear generated by the increased threat of terrorist attacks, SWAT deployments are terrifying, and also occurring at a greater rate than ever. Atkinson’s film cites statistics like the fact that in 1980 there were 3,000 Swat deployments but by 2005 that number had climbed to 45,000. Estimates place current annual numbers between 50,000 and 80,000.

Fearing terrorism and supposedly fighting an ongoing war with the drug trade, the federal government has been gleefully handing over everything from bayonets to armoured vehicles to police departments over the years, and many of its more prejudiced officers have certainly taken the ball and run with it. It has essentially created an occupying military force in its own country: since 1997, the Pentagon’s surplus giveaways have been worth more than USD $4 billion, while the Department of Homeland Security has provided millions more in grants.

What is particularly evident from the film – and press reports of the killing of innocent young black males in the US that seem to be appearing every day – SWAT teams and local law enforcement are targeting black and brown communities with a vengeance, and clearly don’t approach predominantly white areas plagued by heroin use with the same fervour. One officer justifies it all by citing the need to be ready for ISIS at all times, the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction and “a situation like what they had in Missouri”. That public protests warrant tanks and machine guns seems just absurd to me, but clearly not many of these cops.

DO NOT RESIST is not an easy watch, as troops of police choose to rape and pillage rather than protect and serve. In the Trump era this can only get worse, which makes it all the more terrifying.

DO NOT RESIST premieres Thursday 20 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel 

Watch trailer here

Remote record here

LO AND BEHOLD: Reveries of the Connected World

Posted on Thursday 13/07/2017 July, 2017 by

Forty-seven years ago (October 29, 1969 to be exact), the first ARPAnet (later to be known as the Internet) link was established between UCLA and SRI. Twenty-eight years ago, Tim Berners-Lee circulated a proposal for “Mesh” (later to be known as the World Wide Web) to his management at CERN. Together, they have so far connected more than a third of the world’s population and have made millions of people both new consumers and new creators of information. It’s a wonder and it’s a minefield, and it’s also the subject of tonight’s film by the inimitable Werner Herzog, LO AND BEHOLD.

Guardian writer Peter Bradshaw calls the Internet “a second industrial revolution” in a review of the film, going on to emphasise that it is a revolution that has been achieved without the pollution of the first, but with a very different, potentially scary scenario at play. It may have unlocked incredible creative energy around the globe and revolutionised communication, but it has also given a huge platform to hatred, created addictive narcissism, and encouraged big business to entrust vital services to digital control and remote management, leaving them horribly vulnerable to hacking, vandalism and the like.

The Internet is also pretty fun and often ridiculous, and I have to admit that when it first arrived in my life I wasn’t really utilising the World Wide Web’s power to its best advantage. I was looking at the likes of Chihuahua Kingdom – a blog about tiny puppers that turned out to have very sinister undertones – and Rotten.com, a particularly vile website full of crime scene photos and the like that at the time, was hugely fascinating to almost everyone I knew. Why? God knows, it’s embarrassing to admit that I spent time looking at it to be honest, and even worse when I hear that stories of people like the Catsouras family and what they endured at the hands of websites just like that and the trolls who lurk in their shadows.

Herzog features their story as one of many over the course of ten chapters, and it was probably the element of the film that had the biggest impact for me. On October 31, 2006, a young woman named Nikki Catsouras, 18, took her dad’s Porsche down California State Route 241 at 100 miles per hour. As she tried to pass a slower vehicle, she lost control and crashed horribly. First responders were greeted with a gruesome scene, which they photographed, sending the photos to two dispatchers. Hideously, these dispatchers thought to share the horrific images with their mates. They forwarded them via email, and soon enough the images of Nikki found their way to sites featuring gruesome images of death. But it didn’t end there. Some sicko then made a fake Myspace page for the girl, sending the grieving family photos of Nikki, often with messages attached. “Woohoo Daddy! Hey daddy, I’m still alive,” one said.

Herzog also addresses the subject of Internet addiction, speaking to those who work at the coalface as rehab specialists and former obsessive gamers who are in recovery, and the potential impact of AI. In one of the freakiest moments in the film for me, we learn about a system that uses an MRI scanner to essentially read your thoughts, regardless of what language you speak. The scanning data is combined with software that maps patterns of electrical activity in the brain to specific concepts. It goes on to explain that in the future it’s likely we’ll have lightweight personal brain activity monitors, which opens the possibility for brain-to-brain wireless communication – i.e. telepathy. Jesus wept! If it all turns to shit, Elon Musk offers up the option of joining him on Mars, but after seeing him interviewed in the film, I’d think twice about taking him up on the offer.

In conclusion, the film is an interesting watch, and the fact that a self-confessed luddite like Herzog has tackled the most complex of subjects gives it an added layer that might not have appeared in the hands of another director. It’s not flawless, but Herzog investigates the Internet in his own entertaining way with some interesting outcomes.

LO AND BEHOLD premieres Thursday 13 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Click here to watch the trailer

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TRAPPED: abortion and the politics of choice

Posted on Thursday 6/07/2017 July, 2017 by

Reproduction has always been a political act. Hell, in 2017 just being a woman is a political act! From the recent, televised version of Margaret Attwood’s stellar The Handmaid’s Tale to the worldwide Women’s March, gender, power and the function of the female body have been in extreme focus over the last twelve months, and abortion rights are a key part of that.

British Prime Minister (I use the term loosely) Theresa May’s fragile grip on power was exposed last week as she was forced to agree to demands from a backbench Labour MP for a change in abortion laws to head off a historic defeat in the House of Commons. May’s reluctant concession followed mounting pressure from MPs and a proposed amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for the Government to pay for women who are forced to travel to England to have an abortion. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland except where a mother’s health is in danger, and ministers acted after Labour MP Stella Creasy tabled an amendment to force the NHS in England to offer abortions to pregnant women from that region. The measure, was backed by scores of Labour MPs and a single Tory MP Peter Bottomley, was accepted by the Government less than three hours after it was put forward to a vote.

Similar debates have passed in and out of the courts in the United States for many years now, and recent developments are at the heart of lawyer-turned-documentarian Dawn Porter’s film showing tonight on Rialto Channel, TRAPPED. Porter previously helmed GIDEON’S ARMY, a 2013 documentary film about three public defenders in the Southern United States, and this time she turns her lens on the lives of medical professionals who work at clinics subject to so-called “TRAP” laws in the US. The acronym stands for “targeted regulations of abortion providers,” statutes that opponents say limit access to abortion in the guise of promoting safe health practices. Pretty straightforward in approach, the film lays out a compelling and strong argument that these laws, though designed to sound innocuous and “caring”, pose significant burdens to clinics, doctors and patients.

From 2011 to 2013, hundreds of regulations were passed restricting access to abortion in America, and while these laws have been enacted in 11 states, Southern clinics, in particular, have been hit hardest and are now in a fight for survival. Porter zeros in on clinics in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas that - particularly since 2010, according to the movie’s timeline - have faced a proliferation of regulations that have had the effect of restricting their operations. In many cases, these laws have pushed clinics to shut down, putting incredible strain on those who remain and the women needing access to them. Abortion is not something that most women can go on a waiting list for in the hope that their number comes up in a few months’ time. Quick access is vital.

Although straightforward at times as I mentioned above, I love the personalities that TRAPPED has chosen to showcase, who make the story that much more compelling. Getting to know the incredible Dr. Willie Parker is a real privilege, and his approach beyond inspiring. A serious but extremely affable OB/GYN who moved his family from Chicago to the South to aid in the fight, he gets the most face time among the doctors and directors Porter profiles with good reason. A devout churchgoing man, Parker cites his “traditional upbringing in a black Baptist church” for his tireless efforts on behalf of women in need. “When you have a sense of duty about what you do, it allows you to ignore the naysayers,” he says, and in the face of absurd statements he is compelled to give by law, his grace is admirable. “I’m required to tell you that there’s a risk of breast cancer,” Parker tells a patient at the sole abortion clinic that remains in Mississippi. “There is no scientific evidence to support that.”

While Parker acknowledges people have been killed doing his job, we also meet June Ayers, a clinic owner living off a tax refund to keep her service open, and Gloria Gray, another clinic owner who describes herself as “not a typical southern woman” who supports her gay son and campaigns for abortion rights. Patients shown include desperate young women but also a 43-year-old mother completing her education who fell pregnant despite using birth control, and a 14-year-old who was gang-raped by three boys and a girl. The most devastating moment for me comes when a clinic worker is forced to turn away a 13-year-old rape victim, who made a four-hour trip to the facility, due to TRAP law complications. As a result, the girl has been “sentenced to motherhood”.

Unapologetically one-sided, TRAPPED is not a movie that is going to change anybody’s mind about abortion. It’s not the most artistically inclined documentary I’ve seen but it doesn’t need to be - the personal stories Porter captures make her argument all the more compelling.

TRAPPED premieres on Thursday 6 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Click here for the trailer

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THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING – can we reinvent the future?

Posted on Thursday 29/06/2017 June, 2017 by

Award-winning author and cultural icon Alice Walker called tonight’s environmentally focused documentary, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING “a film that brings our peril into focus and what we might learn from despair”. It’s the last in the series of films showing on Rialto Channel that deal pretty much exclusively with the topic of climate change and the destruction of Planet Earth, and is a fitting way to end what has been one hell of a lot of info to process.

Directed by Avi Lewis, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING is based on Naomi Klein’s bestselling book of the same name, and opens with a confession from the author: “I’ve always kind of hated films about climate change…”. She goes on to list their faults: they’re boring, they’re presumptive, they always, always include shots of polar bears, and she aims to play a role in creating something very different.

Filmed over 211 shoot days in nine countries and five continents over an exhausting four years, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING really is an epic attempt to re-imagine the vast challenge of climate change. The film presents several portraits of communities on the front lines, from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta Tar Sands, from Southern India to Beijing, and aims to wake us up as well as inspire.

Klein’s narration threads throughout the stories of the communities in crisis, effectively connecting the carbon in the air with the economic system that put it there. The idea-meets-solution that she offers up along the way is pretty much thus: maybe we can use the crisis that is climate change for good, to transform our failed economic system into something radically better.

The main strength of the film for me lies in the personalities that we meet along the way, who include:

Crystal - a young indigenous leader in Alberta fighting for access to a restricted military base in search of answers about what is clearly an environmental disaster in progress.

Mike and Alexis - Montana goat ranchers who see their dreams coated in oil from a broken pipeline and form an alliance with the Northern Cheyenne tribe to bring solar power to the nearby reservation.

Melachrini - a housewife in Northern Greece where economic crisis is being used to justify mining and drilling projects that threaten the mountains, seas, and tourism economy.

Jyothi - a matriarch in India who battles fiercely along with her fellow villagers to fight a proposed coal-fired power plant that will destroy a life-giving wetland.

The film has been criticised for just being one damning polemic after another on the impact of the Western world and its progress, leading the likes of you and me to feel a bit shit, really, and a lot powerless. It aims to be accessible to even the most climate-fatigued viewers, and at times it is, and although it’s not the best of the docos we have seen over the last few weeks it's still worth a watch. The cinematography alone is worth the time on the couch, and the aforementioned people that we get to meet are truly inspiring. If they can find the energy to act whilst literally living in the eye of the storm then so can we. So what are you waiting for?

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING premieres Thursday 29 June at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Click here for the trailer

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TIME TO CHOOSE – so which side are you on?

Posted on Thursday 22/06/2017 June, 2017 by

After reviewing the series of quality environmentally-themed documentaries that have been appearing on Rialto Channel over the past few weeks I have to say: it’s a popular subject right now. And with good reason. With all the deniers and corporates still waging war against environmental reforms, there probably can’t be too many of these films being made, so bring it on.

It is Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson’s (INSIDE JOB, NO END IN SIGHT) turn to point his lens at the worldwide climate change challenges in tonight’s film, TIME TO CHOOSE. It treads some familiar ground but also offers new insights that make the sometimes-info heavy film well worth the time spent on the couch.

(Pictured Above: Filmmaker Charles Ferguson and Musician Michael Stipe at the New York Screening of TIME TO CHOOSE.)

I was interested to read that Ferguson has a background in academia and also technology, and that in 1996 he became an Internet multi-millionaire when he sold his web development company to Microsoft. This means that he works with a freedom of economy (BIG budgets) that most documentary making teams don’t have, and he can talk about whatever he damn well pleases! And talk he does… His academic background means that at times tonight’s film does feel a little like a lecture, but it’s a vital one.

Ferguson narrows his focus in the film on the main crises he feels are facing Planet Earth right now, as in: coal and oil production, urban sprawl, deforestation, and the industrialisation of agriculture. It could all get a bit tough going if it wasn’t for the absolutely superb cinematography, which is one of the things that I’m assuming the director’s bigger budget allows. Ferguson filmed all over the world, and the breathtaking natural vistas poignantly underscore what we all have to lose if we choose to ignore what is going on out there. On the flipside, the director and his rather brave crew also managed to get right in the middle of destroyed forests and polluted cities, even filming without permits in China and Indonesia, two of the countries responsible for our world’s worst pollution levels.

Featuring narration by award-winning actor Oscar Isaac, TIME TO CHOOSE leaves audiences understanding not only what is wrong, but also what can to be done to fix the global threat. Ferguson explores the scope of the climate change crisis and examines the power of solutions already available through the stories of some inspiring individuals. Californian Governor Jerry Brown gets top marks from Ferguson – and me! - for encouraging solar and wind power and eliminating most fossil fuel production, whilst one innovative company in China has introduced wind power on an impressively large scale. Solar power has made major headway in Kenya, whilst in Curtiba, Brazil, former Mayor Jaime Lerner pioneered a Bus Rapid Transit system, since copied in 180 other cities (including, to a limited extent, Los Angeles) that is as efficient as a subway and 50 times less expensive. Better public transport means fewer cars on the road, a lesson that Auckland could take a few key points from.

Indeed one of the film’s true strengths is that it is not all doom and gloom, as Ferguson points out these number of positive steps that have been taken in many countries to implement change, even cautiously suggesting that it will not be impossible to reverse the environmental crisis.

One of the low points on the film for me was actually Oscar Isaac’s delivery, which really surprised me! He is a more than competent actor, but it appears that voice over work requires a very different set of skills that he hasn’t quite nailed yet. However, at 99 minutes and packed with beautiful imagery and positive energy, TIME TO CHOOSE is a more than decent watch.

TIME TO CHOOSE premieres on Thursday 22 June on Rialto Channel.

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HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD: “eco freaks” to the rescue

Posted on Thursday 15/06/2017 June, 2017 by

In 1971, a group of friends sailed into a nuclear test zone, and their protest captured the world's imagination. That ragtag bunch of Vancouver-based “eco-freaks” soon went on to be famous all around the world as the organisation Greenpeace, as the group improvised their way into starting a global movement.

That global movement really hit home for me as a young ‘un when it bought an act of terrorism to my hometown. The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, codenamed Operation Satanic (AKA Opération Satanique), was a bombing operation by the "action" branch of the French foreign intelligence services, the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE), carried out on July 10, 1985. During the operation, two operatives sank the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet, the Rainbow Warrior in the port of Auckland, on its way to a protest against a planned French nuclear test in Mururoa. Fernando Pereira, a photographer and dad, drowned on the sinking ship.

France initially denied responsibility, but two French agents were captured by New Zealand Police and charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, willful damage, and murder. As the truth came out, the scandal resulted in the resignation of the French Defence Minister Charles Hernu. On the twentieth anniversary of the sinking, it was revealed that the French president François Mitterrand had personally authorised the bombing. The act of terrorism horrified New Zealand but also galvanised our love of the Greenpeace organisation. It’s a group dear to many of our hearts, and in the era of climate change denial and the like, is still as important today as it was in the early seventies.

But onto tonight’s documentary, HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD. Largely told through 16mm footage from a vast organisational archive of some 1,500 film cans that this documentary just begins to tap, Jerry Rothwell’s film focuses primarily - and effectively - on the human dynamics of the group, particularly the role of late leader Bob Hunter. Hunter was a Vancouver Sun reporter whose intense interest in environmental issues landed him at the centre of the original group, which was made up of hippies, draft dodgers, the spiritually enlightened, fishermen and freaks. The name “Greenpeace” was designed more for writing on banners than anything else at first, as the loose crew of activists planned a disruption of President Nixon’s planned five-megaton nuclear explosion test on the Alaskan island of Amchitka. Though the test happened in late 1971 anyway, the eco freaks focused so much negative attention on it that the U.S. cancelled all further such activities there.

Buoyed by their early success and inspired by marine scientist Paul Spong (who had been astonished by his findings in researching orca intelligence), they decided to direct a new campaign against offenders in the appallingly unlawful world of whale hunting. When their crew of 13 finally found some Russian whaling vessels off the Northern California coast (after consulting the I Ching as to whether they should give up the search), they immediately realised these seagoing “slaughterhouses” were flaunting international law by killing undersized and immature whales. The dramatic footage shot on this and subsequent voyages kicked off the whole Save the Whales movement still so much in evidence today.

As the group’s profile rose and new chapters emerged around the world, egos started to fly in the face of Hunter’s original direction, and so too the infighting and disillusionment that informs the latter part of this super compelling doco. Hunter, who returned to his career in environmental journalism with a new, heightened profile before dying of cancer in 2005, found himself caught between others’ conflicting notions of Greenpeace’s mission. Today his second-in-commands control the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and an environmental corporate-consulting firm, and it appears that the original organisation is back on steady feet.

My favourite part of the film is the aforementioned old footage of the group in its early days, which seemed full of fun and excitement and positivity that even the “little guy” can make a difference. These were the pioneers who defined the modern green movement in action, and in these times, an effective call to arms if ever there was one.

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD premieres Thursday 15 June at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Click here for the trailer

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