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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WEINER – it’s (unfortunately) all in the name

Posted on Thursday 3/30/2017 March, 2017 by

 

I believe we all have that one friend – in some cases, maybe more – who dates and then marries an utter dickhead. You endlessly hope that the aforementioned idiot will change, or that your friend will one day and wake up, hit themselves on the forehead and yell: “what they HELL have I done?”

That person for many of her friends is the clever, sassy and gorgeous Huma Abedin, key aide to Hillary Clinton and wife to the appropriately named Anthony Weiner. Yes THAT Anthony Weiner, sender of both solicited and unsolicited dick pics, and the subject of tonight’s BAFTA-nominated documentary, WEINER.

A good friend and political ally to the Clintons and once a highly respected member of Congress, Anthony Weiner is a man often painted as that guy on the inside who is always proudly sticking up for the everyday person, and a career politician of the highest order. Passionate about what can be achieved in office and a true social activist, he’s the kind of person I would have dreamed of having as my own MP… until one day when it all went horribly wrong. It all changed in June 2011 when he was forced to resign in disgrace after admitting that yes, he did tweet lewd "headless" (phnar phnar) photos of himself from his public Twitter account to women he met online, and that it was not the work of a hacker or that the photos were of someone else. At the time, wife Huma Abedin was pregnant with their first child, and stoically decided to stand by her man.

Weiner and Abedin married in July 2010 in a glamorous, celebrity-attended ceremony that was officiated by Bill Clinton and covered in the pages of US Vogue. The couple was not even a year into their marriage when the aforementioned news broke that Weiner had been sexting women online after he tweeted out a photo of his erect penis that he had “meant” to privately send to a woman on the social media site. He resigned from Congress soon after, and in December of that year Abedin gave birth to their son, Jordan.

Fast forward to 2013, when with much counseling under his belt Weiner decided to run for mayor of New York City and also agreed to be filmed for a documentary about his return to politics. That documentary was tonight’s WEINER, and it is one hell of a ride. With Abedin still by his side and knowing other lewd photos from that era that may also come to light during the campaign, Weiner is a man on a mission, putting his political agenda first and attracting many supporters along the way, As we all now know, it once again went horribly wrong… as the man can clearly not keep it in his pants.

Our friend Abedin’s attempts to survive the mayhem are excruciating to watch, and infuse the film’s tragic core. As she gives a performance worthy of a Best Supporting Actor award, we see her stand by her man no matter what – even when lewd images are released from his Twitter account that feature their sleeping toddler son in the background. She’s constantly on the margins of the documentary’s cameras, looking at her pathetic husband with a mixture of contempt and abject sadness. It is a tough watch – and bizarrely, as horrified I was by his behavior I also felt pity for him, and what is clearly a compulsion that he just can’t control.

In a press conference during Weiner’s ill-fated mayoral campaign, Abedin finally spoke publically to plead that her family’s private life is just that - but the documentary makers were there to film her speech in all its glory, or lack thereof. Directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Sternberg captured the pair’s losing battle in extraordinary detail, invoking sympathy for Weiner as passionate defender of working-class values, as well as his wife as passionate defender of her doomed relationship. Like a car crash, it’s difficult for many of us to look away. From his self-destructive narcissist to her doomed wife and loving mother, it makes for compulsive viewing.

I have been following Abedin’s ups and downs since, her separation from Weiner following his second scandal to her forays into the dating world and now, their rumoured reconciliation. WEINER ended up being just a part of that, but a very private look into their compelling tale all the same. Don’t miss it.

WEINER premieres on Thursday 30 March at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

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WHERE TO INVADE NEXT – and some more Moore you may not have seen

Posted on Thursday 3/23/2017 March, 2017 by

At Rialto Channel we love us some Michael Moore, and tonight’s documentary WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is a stellar example of what the American author, political activist and documentarian does best.

The goal of the film is to show what the USA can learn from rest of the world, and director Moore playfully visits various nations in Europe and Africa as a one-man "invader" to take their ideas and practices for America. Whether it is Italy with its generous vacation time allotments, France with its gourmet school lunches, Germany with its industrial policy, Norway and its prison system, Tunisia and its strongly progressive women's policy, or Iceland and its strong female presence in government and business among others, Moore discovers there is much that American should emulate. The myth of the "American dream" which now only the top five percent have any realistic chance of achieving is front and centre, and it’s interesting to see how many of the aforementioned positive moves actually began in the United States.

Moore is at his best when he tackles political or social subjects close to his heart in a brash manner, and when he challenges the political establishment and puts an unashamed liberal spin on his work it always comes across as 100 percent authentic.

We’ve all seen his big “hits” like FAHRENHEIT 9/11 and BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, but I thought I’d round up a few of the lesser-know works by the controversial filmmaker….

SLACKER UPRISING

One of his earliest outings, in this film we see Moore travelling across the country to various college and university campuses to get the goddamn slacking kids off of their sofas, and into the voting booths to get George W. Bush out of office. Part documentary, part-infomercial and part concert, it has live performances and appearances from the likes of Eddie Vedder, Roseanne Barr, Joan Baez, Tom Morello, R.E.M., Steve Earle, and Viggo Mortensen, and although it feels a little dated now it is okay as a record of a moment in time. It has been called unashamedly propagandistic (even by Moore’s standards), but it’s interesting to note that it was one of the first feature-length films made by a known director to be released as a free and legal download online. It was freely available to those in the U.S.A and Canada to encourage voting and urge people to take part in the democratic process and it is also available on Youtube.

THE BIG ONE


This is another on the road outing, which documents Moore’s comings and goings as he travels around America on a book tour. This time he’s taking a look at the economic practices of the then Clinton administration and how economic failings had affected American workers. Extremely critical of several large companies' labour practices, he tries to hunt down and interview several heads of major corporations but only succeeds with one of them. Roger Ebert put it really well (funny that!) when he said that the movie is smart, funny and edited cleverly - which helps conceal the fact that it's mostly recycled information. There is little here that the hugely successful ROGER & ME didn't say first, and more memorably. It is interesting to see a book tour in action though: one city a day, no sleep, endless talk shows and book signings… looks like hell!

CANADIAN BACON


Moore’s first – and hopefully, only – foray into feature film, most critics have panned this but I reckon it’s still worth a watch (if you’re a fan). At the time of the film’s release, jobs in the USA were being shipped offshore, and Moore readily displays his opinion on the unjust treatment of recently laid-off workers. It follows the story of a group of ex-employees (portrayed by actors John Candy and Rhea Perlman) from a defunct weapons manufacturing plant that are forced into the collecting dead bodies of those jumping off Niagara Falls for cash. Alongside these job losses the fictional President (portrayed by Alan Alda) is losing his popularity in the polls as a result of America ending the Cold War. The President therefore decides to start a faux-war with Canada to reclaim his lead in the polls and make the average American fear their Canadian neighbours.

ROGER & ME

Michael Moore’s debut is laden with all the trademarks he will become known for and is a brilliant watch. His preference to personalise the macro issue is top of mind as he focuses on his hometown of Flint, Michigan. The film sees Moore examine the socio-economic impact that General Motors had on Flint, from the comfortable living his father made working there pre-1980s, to the urban poverty that has set in during the years following its foreclosure. To find answers Moore seeks the company’s CEO Roger Smith, but to no avail. The plot hinges on this David vs. Goliath narrative for its effect; the now-familiar dismissive nature of CEOs towards the little man (or woman). Introducing his family and stating that his father worked in one of the factories, the film has a far more personal touch than many of his other films. It’s interesting to note that in 2013 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is premiering at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel SKY TV39

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IVORY TOWER – is an education worth the crippling debt?

Posted on Thursday 3/16/2017 March, 2017 by

When I was at university the average fee total per year for most students – and it was royally lambasted! – was around the princely sum of $1400. And no, I didn’t miss out any zeros. Education was relatively affordable and scholarships plentiful, but despite this many students I know still racked up massive debts… usually due to road trips, nice cars to complete said road trips in and reluctance to enter into part-time work in case it interfered with the aforementioned long weekends. But I digress! It was a messy situation then and the impact of student loan debt even more so now, but it pales in comparison to the situation in the United States, as outlined by tonight’s documentary, IVORY TOWER.

As tuition rates spiral beyond reach in North America and student loan debt passes an insane USD$1 trillion (more than credit card debt), the film asks: is college worth the cost? Filmmaker Andrew Rossi travels to everywhere from the halls of Harvard, to public colleges in financial crisis, to Silicon Valley, in order to paint a pretty grim portrait of a great American institution at breaking point. It emerges that colleges, long regarded as leaders in higher education, have come to embrace a business model that often promotes expansion over quality learning… and students are indeed suffering.

The film is thought-provoking, and includes some interesting situations and scenarios that I really would have liked to see explored more than they were, with a few less stats flying across the screen. Its look at Harvard University, the first American college, as the “source of DNA” for all colleges was fascinating. The famous university’s influence on pretty much every single higher education institution in the United States is second to none, and it appears that it cares. One thing that Harvard does that few other schools do is provide full-need scholarships to anyone it deems to need financial assistance. It appears only 1.25 percent of colleges in the country offer full need-based scholarships, which is quite astounding. Even more interesting is the fact that it effectively means that a middle-class student can expect to pay more at a public university than at Harvard. 

In less philanthropic news, it was interesting to observe the wild competition between learning institutions when it comes to what can only be called “added extras”. When one school offers an amenity, the rest follow, one-upping each other at every turn. So when the University of Missouri and the University of Alabama have fancy swimming pools, others think about adding them to their campus. Incredibly, some schools even have tanning beds available for students wanting to get that golden glow – I mean, COME ON.

One of the most fast-paced parts of the film concerned Cooper Union, a renowned Manhattan college that was founded on the radical model of free education and continued to provide this tuition-free learning for decades. Then it all changed. Dramatically. Along came a new President, Jamshed Bharucha, who concluded that the school could no longer survive without charging students to learn there. Unsurprisingly, chaos ensued. Critics were quick to point out the debt amassed by the construction of a very expensive new building on campus and the $800k+ salary of their new leader, who in all honesty seems like a right tool. Amazingly, its students did what so many critics of millennials claim they no longer do: they staged a proper protest. In the form of a sit-in in the President’s office, no less! I won’t give away what happened next, you’ll have to tune in tonight and find out.

In conclusion, although the film is a little flawed itself, IVORY TOWER raises a number of fascinating questions about the current, deeply messed up state of the American system of higher education. It gets the conversation started and also serves as a warning to other countries around the world falling dangerously close to a similar model.

 IVORY TOWER premieres on Thursday 16 March at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel SKY 039

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ZERO DAYS – the very real next world war is here, now

Posted on Thursday 3/9/2017 March, 2017 by

I think I’ve confessed on this blog before that I am a proud Luddite, a late adopter if ever there was one and someone whose eyes often glaze over when it comes to all things ‘puter-related. I can type and navigate my Mac quite well though thank god, or I wouldn’t be talking to you now!

But enough about me, and more about tonight’s documentary ZERO DAYS, some of which went way over my head but still had me on the edge of my seat. The film has been called “investigative journalism meets conspiracy thriller”, and the deft hand of the amazing Alex Gibney (Going Clear) has ensured that even an idiot like me can get the gist of what it’s all about – enough to be very, very afraid.

A chilling and challenging documentary, it has as its primary central focus Stuxnet, a piece of self-replicating computer malware that has famously been used against Iranian centrifuges. Where the conspiracy part comes in is the fact that it has claimed by many to have originated as a joint effort between America and Israel, and initiated by none other that George W. Bush. Following the invasion of Iraq, Bush faced an Israel that was threatening to bomb Iran, which it claimed was developing nuclear weapons with the express aim of destroying the Jewish state. The then-president felt trapped between a rock and a hard place: a nuclear Iran, or Israel starting a war that the U.S. would inevitably be drawn into. Offered a third way, he okayed the development of the aforementioned cyber-warfare campaign against Iran that linked the NSA, the CIA and the Defense Department with Israel and Mossad.

The ease at which this all plays out is where the film’s secondary focus comes in – cyber warfare as the bigger picture. The threat of compromised cyber security has become our planet's new weapon of mass destruction, a fact that is clear even to the likes of me. ZERO DAYS explores the growing concern that the disintegration of online safety has set the stage for potential physical dangers as well, and that is no less than terrifying. "Our entire power supply can be cut off," a chilling we voiceover emphasizes near the beginning of the film. "Our systems can be taken over. Hospitals deprived of power would cease to function. It's not if, it's when. "It paints a frightening portrait of a cyber world that is growing far too large and expanding too rapidly to contain, and god knows where it can end up. "The bottom line is we are putting so much vulnerable, hackable, connected technology into so many places that this makes us prone to the willpower of any potential adversary or foe," says interview subject and computer security activist Joshua Corman, a man who knows what he’s talking about.

So in conclusion, ZERO DAYS is an essential watch, especially in light of the Trump/Russia connection and in the face of a terror that makes the nuclear war threat of old look like child’s play. Gibney is a documentary-maker who isn’t afraid to go where other filmmakers dare not, and this makes for one hell of a ride. I was interested to read that he is currently developing a “Zero Days” miniseries, working with Universal’s Carnival subsidiary with a screenplay by “The Americans” writer and executive producer Stephen Schiff. For now however, the reality is compelling enough on its own.

 ZERO DAYS premieres Thursday 9th March at 8.30pm Rialto Channel.  Click here to remote record

NATIONAL BIRD: the personal cost of impersonal warfare

Posted on Thursday 3/2/2017 March, 2017 by

Drones are fun, right? They go where you can’t when you want to take some awesome footage to load up to Facebook, they even deliver pizzas thanks to the lovely people at Dominos! Well love 'em or hate 'em, they're here to stay. And as well as being a pretty cool toy (if you’re that way inclined) they can do some serious stuff. They serve a serious purpose in the form of military drones, which can eliminate enemy threats without placing boots on a battlefield, and with minimal fallout. Or so we’re told.

You’ll find a very different take on drones in tonight’s documentary, NATIONAL BIRD - a sinister one, as recounted by people who know them well. Using the testimony of three courageous whistleblowers who worked on the US drone programme, this documentary uncovers some disturbing truths about modern American warfare, and doesn’t make for easy viewing.

The film follows the dramatic journey of the three aforementioned courageous people who are determined to break the silence around one of the most controversial current affairs issues of our time: the secret U.S. drone war. Plagued by guilt over participating in the killing of faceless people in foreign countries, the three have decided to speak out publicly… and despite the possible consequences.

Directed by Sonia Kennebeck and executive-produced by Wim Wenders, NATIONAL BIRD carefully weaves together the stories of Lisa, Daniel and Heather, and it makes for affecting viewing. Heather, a former drone imagery analyst, suffers from chronic PTSD after watching remote video of people carrying away the body parts of loved ones. Daniel, a former signals intelligence analyst turned political activist, chooses his words carefully to protect himself from prosecution, but in the process learns that the US government is in fact investigating him under the Espionage Act. Lastly Lisa, a former tech sergeant on a drone surveillance system, is shown returning to Afghanistan to meet civilians victimised by U.S. strikes in truly incredible footage. 

We travel to meet the maimed survivors of a mistaken drone strike on unarmed civilians in February 2010, which killed 23 people. As they describe what happened when they were attacked we hear the words of the drone operatives at work at the time, re-enacted from a transcript of the event. The juxtaposition of their almost gleefully casual attitude and raw footage of the likes of dead bodies of children being returned to their families makes the blood boil. Lisa has made a point of visiting countries her unit once surveyed from above looking for targets with drones, wanting to see for herself just what happens to those affected by a strike that was initiated a world away.

The power of the film is down to the subjects and to the incredible work of Sonia Kennebeck, a super talented independent documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist who has worked for CNN and ARD German public television's highest-rated current affairs program, Panorama. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she runs her own production company Ten Forward Films and makes films about international politics and human rights, and has clearly done her research well. She artfully weaves in drone footage from an innocent American street to really push the point home that strikes can be easily applied to any location, and by any government.

Kennebeck also cleverly juxtaposes then-POTUS Barack Obama’s speeches about drones – in which he claims that they are able to take out insurgents without harming those around them – with the testimonies of those who know that this is untrue. By examining the tales of three very broken individuals, National Bird shows that war will always be hell, even for those who aren't on the battleground.

Amazingly, under the US 1917 Espionage Act, the film and the three whistleblowers are severely restricted in what they can say, but its images haunt the audience and bring a faraway issue close to home. In the words of one reviewer, NATIONAL BIRD shows us the personal cost of impersonal killing.

 NATIONAL BIRD premieres Thursday 2nd March 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

TICKLED – most definitely no laughing matter

Posted on Thursday 2/23/2017 February, 2017 by

Shown at Sundance and picked up by HBO in the States, tonight’s New Zealand-produced documentary TICKLED may not have picked up that many Moas last weekend but damn, it’s good.

Critically acclaimed worldwide and funded by Kickstarter and the NZ Film Commission with help from the likes of Stephen Fry, the film follows ex-TV3 staffer (and generally wonderful person IMHO) David Farrier as he stumbles upon online film clips showing the phenomenon of “competitive endurance tickling”. Think athletic young men, suitably attired, sitting astride each other, tickle fingers and feathers at the ready. So far, so funny yes? Want to know more?

Well, Farrier did too...delving a little deeper until he found an online ad recruiting “male athletic and fitness models (aged 18-25)" for "situations in which attractive, ticklish, and masculine guys are actually tickled in two different restrained formats”. Naturally, his curiosity was piqued. Still ensconced at the New Zealand television network’s Eden Terrace media factory at the time, Farrier thought it looked like a bit of giggle (and might get him a free trip to LA) and decided to write a lighthearted feature about it. Prolific on social media, he sent the group behind the videos a cheeky DM asking what they were all about.

Mates of his like me followed the story with much delight; all set for many a LOL moment, and then some. But the response to his request for an interview was so unexpected – a barrage of emails and DMs spiking with vitriol, legal threats and homophobia – that Farrier decided to dig deeper, and the dark, twisted story that began to emerge was definitely worth more than a three-minute late news clip.

It turned out that sinister forces are at work in the world of recreational tickling, and TICKLED takes us on an unmissable, increasingly dark journey. In fact, many of us warned Farrier to back off as things became increasingly nasty at a level beyond what was included in the finished product, and even without that, the film becomes akin to watching a car crash happen. I liken the tale to the truly disturbing FOXCATCHER, the brilliant movie telling the true story of wealthy heir John du Pont (played creepily by Steve Carell), who invites Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to move to his estate and help form a wrestling team for the 1988 Olympics. Both FOXCATCHER and TICKLED examine what happens when obsession, creepy personas and extreme wealth come together. In the FOXCATCHER tale, Schultz soon realised that he was just another one of the millionaire's collectibles (Du Pont owned some of the world's rarest stamps, and had a collection of two million shells and 100,000 stuffed birds), whilst many of the boys popping up online in competitive tickling videos feel completely violated.

As it goes on, the film explores possible legal and ethical issues with certain individuals making the videos, and Farrier is told by associates of the man supposedly behind the empire that he is putting his “head in a blast furnace”.  As a result of accusations made in TICKLED, Farrier and his producers are still facing a barrage of legal threats from powerful figures their film accuses of being behind the videos, which increase in their ferocity almost by the day. One even attended a Sundance screening of the film, loudly taking notes. “The audience around him are watching him onscreen, and he’s sitting next to them, and that created a certain uncomfortable atmosphere in that part of the cinema. It was a 4D experience for them, almost,” Farrier told the press at the time. Private investigators were thrown out of another screening after being caught with cameras in a coffee cup with which they were trying to make a copy of the film, lawsuits were filed on the filmmakers at another. Utter madness.

The Guardian said of TICKLED “the fetish documentary goes from giggly to grim", but it is so much more than that – it’s a work in progress, if you will. Watch it now, and make up your own mind.

TICKLED premieres Thursday 23 February on Rialto Channel SKY TV 039

JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY

Posted on Thursday 2/16/2017 February, 2017 by


“I wanted to protect Jim's legacy. I think - I hope - that he would be proud of it." Brian Oakes, director of JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY

You may not recognise the name James Foley straight away, but if you’ve been following current affairs for the last few years then chances are you may have watched him die. You've almost certainly seen a still image from the day of his death, when the 40-year-old freelance war correspondent knelt at the foot of a hooded executioner in a stretch of desert somewhere in northern Syria. It was an image that became famous all over the world, and the amount of people who actually watched his beheading – captured on video and made public – is quite sickening.

In tonight’s documentary, JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY we find out more about the man behind that shocking image, which one of his colleagues has called “the second-most iconic” image of the 21st Century. Only the planes flying into the World Trade Centre on 9/11 could top it for sheer terror and brutality.In August 2014, the video execution of Foley by ISIS exposed the world to the new face of terror. Even in the age of reality TV it shocked – and for those who watched the killing unfold, it is something they will never forget.

When I was given the screener of the film to watch for this week’s blog I steeled myself for the worst – surely the footage would play a large role in the tale, and the doco would not be for the faint-hearted. How wrong was I. JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY is indeed powerful and gut wrenching, but directed by his childhood friend Brian Oakes, it takes a very different approach. And therein lies it strength as a piece of great filmmaking. Instead of opting for the lowest common denominator, it tells Foley's tragic story through interviews with his family, friends and colleagues, while his fellow hostages reveal the chilling details of their time in captivity. It becomes Oakes’ personal attempt to reclaim a man he loved from the annals of the sensational, and the film is called "Jim" because that's what the director always called his childhood best friend.

An experienced motion graphics artist who has worked on high-profile documentaries like FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (which aired on Rialto Channel last year to much acclaim), Oakes was reportedly so intent on telling his own story of Foley that he decided to get behind the camera for his first feature-length film. It has been said that in order to disentangle Foley from the shackles of his brutal death, Oakes decided from the get-go that his portrait couldn't include the video of his subject's execution, or even still frames from the footage.

JIM is particularly heartbreaking not only because we all know how the very personal look at Foley’s life ends, but because we get to directly witness the director’s sense of loss and remorse. "Maybe I have guilt that I haven't even thought of yet," Oakes has admitted. "Maybe I should've spent more time with him or talked to him more about what he was doing. But this film for me was my way of carrying on Jim's work that he was doing in Syria, and letting people who are interested in his story know who he was.”

A celebration of the life of a man best known for his death, it definitely does a fine job of exactly that.

 JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY premieres on Thursday 16th February at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel, SKY TV 039

UNDERFIRE: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro

Posted on Thursday 2/9/2017 February, 2017 by

Just when you think you’ve heard every clever anecdote, happy tale and sad story about what it was like to be a soldier or correspondent in World War Two, along comes another one with a wonderful and compelling new twist. This takes a tale of combat and weaves into it an amazing story of artistic determination, and comes complete with a happy ending. How great is that?

Called UNDERFIRE, it’s an HBO Original Documentary about the inspirational Tony Vaccaro, a WWII infantryman who smuggled his $47.00 portable camera into battle and went on to create one of the most comprehensive and intimate records of the war ever recorded.

Back in 1944 Vaccaro was a young man with an eye for photography who decided he’d like to join the official photographic ranks of the U.S. Army's Signal Corps and do his bit. It was easy to see why: they had the admirable job of both relaying the news of the troops at work so that citizens could keep up with their battles, and documenting the action for future War Department records. It would be a career that endured, and provided a legacy.

However, as he recounts in tonight’s documentary, at 21 Vaccaro was told he was too young to qualify as an Army photographer, but didn’t let that dampen his spirits. Undeterred, and despite the knowledge that an infantryman was not supposed to be taking pictures, he decided to bring his aforementioned trusty camera along for the ride when he went to war, and he created something amazing. Vaccaro didn't just snap the occasional image, but an incredible document of what he saw. Before the war ended, he had taken more than 8,000 photos that offer a rare, close-up view of what a soldier on the front lines really sees. His vivid, candid work showed the war as it was actually experienced by the men who were fighting, and it is impossible not to be moved by it. In addition, the camera he used, an Argus C3, was smaller than the large, unwieldy Speed Graphic models the Signal Corps shooters employed. And because it was a 35mm range-finder camera, Vaccaro could react very quickly and shoot what he was seeing, as it happened.

On top of all of that, he became very resourceful when it came to the end result. Naive enough to believe he could find a camera shop on the European front to actually develop his negatives, Vaccaro instead found a shop that had been badly shelled. Picking through the ruins, he found the chemicals he needed and developed the film himself in four standard issue army helmets, hanging the negatives on nearby trees.

Highly decorated with medals such as the Legion of Honor from France, the World Press Photo Gold Medal, and the Art Director's Gold Medal, World War II veteran Vaccaro was also wounded in action - more than once - when fighting abroad. He told CNBC: "I did the war, Omaha beach to Berlin, and I was wounded twice, and I could have gotten killed many times”. He became familiar with death and dying, and photographed it with great respect and poignancy. "The Last Steps of Private Jack Rose" is a Vaccaro photo caught at the moment an explosion ended the man's life, whilst "White Death" is an image of the corpse of an American soldier partially covered in snow. Vaccaro later discovered the man was his close friend, Henry Tannenbaum.

Vowing never to return to war photography again, after he returned home and recovered from his experiences abroad Vaccaro chose to “show beauty to the world”. He went on to work with the likes of Harper's Bazaar as a fashion photographer, and soon to celebrate his 94th birthday, still shoots today. He is a wonderful subject and that is what makes this documentary such a joy.

UNDERFIRE premieres on Rialto Channel on Thursday 9th February at 8.30pm  

HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS

Posted on Thursday 2/2/2017 February, 2017 by

In 2008, actor turned editor and director Tom Meadmore set out to explore the lives of two independent music artists In Melbourne. Their names were Amanda Medica and Tony Jackson, and the end result was the many-years-in-the-making documentary showing on Rialto Channel tonight, HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS.

A critically acclaimed, warts-and-all film about the creative process, HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS also comes with an interesting twist (hint: it’s in the title). In his feature-length debut, Lonely Planet film editor turned budding documentarian Meadmore has turned the camera on not only two budding musicians, but they also happen to be his girlfriend (Amanda), and his boss (Tony).

Shooting the film began in 2008 but the editing wasn’t completed until 2013, by which time Meadmore was living in London, and you guessed it - single. A former actor who appeared briefly on Neighbours, Meadmore founded his own film company, Go Fish Films in 2001 but until tonight’s outing, was relatively unformed as a director. His bread and butter was reportedly editing and producing wedding videos, until he released GRACE, a short film that screened at several international film festivals, including the Warsaw International Film Festival, and the Palm Springs International Shortfest. Next up was HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS, which has had considerable success. It has played at festivals around the world including Cinequest Film Festival in the USA, the East End Film Festival in London and at Australia’s Splendour in the Grass, also garnering four-star critical acclaim from Total Film magazine upon its limited cinema release in the UK. 

Key to the film’s success I think is the personalities at its heart, including the director’s own. We get to look on as Meadmore’s own insecurities flare while struggling to “find a story” in the process of making the film, which is a factor that could definitely grate on some viewers. It can get hard to watch as he begins challenging his participants’ flaws on camera, inflicting his own opinion at times when they are vulnerable. It starts jeopardising the film, his relationships with Amanda and Tony and quite honestly, his career. Meadmore’s brutal insensitivity at times threatens to destroy two of the most important relationships in his life, and one wonders if he actually cares.

Amazingly, Meadmore actually managed to keep his job, even after having a major falling out with his boss as a result of the film. As aforementioned, his relationship with his girlfriend didn’t survive the process, which is no surprise. In hindsight, he has told interviewers he wouldn’t have done anything differently, though he admits to feeling a bit “shameful” when he thinks about “how untactful I was at times”. As an artist himself, his treatment of his subjects when they are wrestling with their own insecurities is quite bloody awful! Having said that, the film also has some hilarious moments, especially when Tom and Tony really start to butt heads.

A fun watch? I reckon, and I’ll be interested to watch Meadmore’s career develop...

HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS premieres Thursday 2 February on Rialto Channel

DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON

Posted on Thursday 1/26/2017 January, 2017 by

Stephen Holden said in his New York Times review of tonight’s documentary, DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON that the film “looks longingly back at the 1970s when a smart, tasteless joke could make you laugh out loud without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings or being attacked on social media”. Whether he’s lamenting the political correctness of today or applauding it is debatable, but when you consider the magazine published an article calling the Indian race “dismal, obsequious demi niggers whose gods have too many arms and legs” you know that even then, they took things too far. And then some.

From the 1970s through to the (very) early 1990s, it could be said that there was no hipper, no more outrageous comedy in print than the National Lampoon magazine. It was hailed as a groundbreaking, laugh out loud tome that pushed the limits of taste and acceptability - and then pushed them even harder. Parodying everything from politics, religion, entertainment and the whole of American lifestyle, the Lampoon eventually went on to morph into everything from successful radio shows to albums, live stage revues and hugely successful movies. Some, like ANIMAL HOUSE and NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION, launched dozens of huge careers that still continue today, and industry names like Judd Apatow list the Lampoon crew as akin to comedy gurus.

Director Douglas Tirola's DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD focuses mainly on all the glory years of National Lampoon: the drinks, drugs, clubs, parties… oh and smashing publishing records, too. It’s a fast-paced watch full of big personalities, and part of documentary’s easy charm lies in the fact that Tirola’s subjects are a group of messed up but very clever satirists, a cabal of misfits who at one time helped make National Lampoon the second most popular magazine in the US and a world-changing counter- cultural force.

Founders Doug Kenney and Henry Beard are the main subjects, a couple of damaged visionaries who, along with the help of publisher Matty Simmons, launched the magazine. For those not so familiar with its history, the National Lampoon magazine actually spun off a Harvard publication in 1970. It immediately went in hard on all manner of subject matter, with no holds barred. Politics, race, gender, the rich, the famous – they were all fair game and National Lampoon tore them to shreds.

The magazine’s New York office was reportedly a hub of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, with the brief being: do whatever the f**k you want, as long as a stellar magazine came out at the end of each month. It comes as no surprise to learn that women were ridiculously under-represented at the offices, and when they did land a job there it was generally as a nude model or as a writer who was almost always objectified by her co-workers

In 1974, the magazine’s monthly circulation apparently exceeded one million – an insane amount by any era’s standards. It’s funny to note though that even when sales were healthy, no ad agency in its right mind would recommend that their client buy space in there - the humour was just that irreverent. Deadline became like a coke-fuelled marathon that ensured they kept up with demand, and inevitably, there was a fall: think broken friendships, drug casualties, untimely deaths, and other assorted tragedies.

But back to tonight’s the documentary, which features rare and never before seen footage that will thrill comedy nerds and casual fans alike. The film is also the story of the generation of writers and performers who took over and reinvented American comedy after a kick start at Lampoon’s, like John Belushi, Christopher Guest, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Anne Beatts, Harold Ramis, John Hughes, Michael O'Donoghue and P.J. O'Rourke (who was responsible for the aforementioned, outrageously racist quote).

In conclusion, I found DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON to be a little one-sided, applauding generally bad behaviour a little too much for my liking. What it does do is truly give you the sense of how savage and uncompromising the National Lampoon was in its heyday - In the era of “social media mad c*nt Jimi Jackson” and questions like “is the Mad Butcher’s racist?” it is an interesting watch, especially given how far many of their jokes really did go.

DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON  premieres on Thursday 26 January on Rialto Channel

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