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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Film Fess by Helene Ravlich

25 Latest News Articles

WALT DISNEY: the documentary and the man behind the brand

Posted on Thursday 23/06/2016 June, 2016 by

If you can dream it, you can do it…” Walt Disney

In turns magical and well, mammoth, the Walt Disney Co. has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last couple of weeks. The bad press kicked in after an alligator took off with a toddler on the shores of one of its most popular US resorts, but the mega brand is creeping its way back into the good books for all of the right reasons now that Finding Dory has hit and is set to wipe the floor with all animated film records that have gone before it. Walt Disney is a brand that has gone beyond the films, the theme parks and the man after whom it takes its name, a clever creative who stayed one step ahead of the game all his life.

He is the man who also happens to be the subject of tonight’s two-part documentary, WALT DISNEY. Few creative figures before or since have held such a long-lasting place in American life and popular culture. Born in 1901, Walter Elias "Walt" Disney was an international celebrity by the time he was 30 and hailed a genius before he was 40. He has long represented all that America – and much of the rest of the world – wants to believe in, but was as flawed and well, “human” as the rest of us. Biographer/cultural historian Neal Gabler speaks of the great Walt’s “dark soul,” and a former animator is quoted is saying of Disney, “if you crossed him, he was one mean SOB.” Disney was by no means a saint, but by god was he a creative force to be reckoned with.


A young Disney attended McKinley High School in Chicago, where he took drawing and photography classes and was a contributing cartoonist for the school paper. At night, he took courses at the Chicago Art Institute, always upskilling and fuelling his creative fire. When he was 16 however, he dropped out of school to join the Army but was rejected for being underage. Instead, he joined the Red Cross and was sent to France for a year to drive an ambulance.

When Disney returned from France in 1919, he moved back to Kansas City to pursue a career as a newspaper artist. His brother Roy got him a job at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio, where he met cartoonist Ub Iwerks. From there, Disney went on to work at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, where he made commercials based on cutout animation. Around this time, an always-curious Disney began experimenting with a camera, doing hand-drawn cel animation, and decided to open his own animation business. From the ad company, he recruited a bloke named Fred Harman as his first employee.

Walt and Harman made a deal with a local Kansas City theatre to screen their cartoons, which they called Laugh-O-Grams. The cartoons were hugely popular, and Disney was able to build his own studio, upon which he bestowed the same name. Laugh-O-Gram hired a number of employees, including Harman's brother Hugh and Iwerks. By 1923, however, the studio had become burdened with debt, and Disney was forced to declare bankruptcy. He knew his stuff creatively but not when it came to keeping the books, a fact that would plague him his entire life (whether he chose to acknowledge that or not).

Disney and his rather more financially savvy brother Roy soon pooled their money and moved to Hollywood. Iwerks also relocated to California, and there the three began the “Disney Brothers' Studio”. Their first deal was with New York distributor Margaret Winkler, to distribute cartoons they had created during the Laugh-O-Grams years. They also invented a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and contracted the shorts at USD $1,500 each.


A few years later, Disney discovered that Winkler and her husband, Charles Mintz, had stolen the rights to Oswald, along with all of Disney’s animators, except for Iwerks. Right away the Disney brothers, their wives and Iwerks produced three cartoons featuring a new character Walt had been developing called Mickey Mouse. When sound made its way into film, Disney created a third, sound-and-music-equipped short called Steamboat Willie. With Walt as the voice of Mickey, the cartoon was an instant sensation. The rest as they say, is history.


He and Roy co-founded Walt Disney Productions, which became one of the best-known motion-picture production companies in the world. Disney was also among the first to use television as an entertainment medium. The Mickey Mouse Club, a variety show featuring a cast of teenagers known as the Mouseketeers, became a cultural phenomenon and launched the careers of numerous young stars. He won 22 Academy Awards during his lifetime, and was the founder of theme parks Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Variety put it perfectly when they said that few lives can sustain a two-hour documentary, but with WALT DISNEY four doesn’t seem nearly enough. Feast your eyes on tonight’s first installment, and book a date with your couch for the next.

 

 

 

 

 

BEING EVEL – the man, the stunts, the general stupidity

Posted on Thursday 16/06/2016 June, 2016 by


In the world of stunts and generally nutty behaviour, few names are more recognisable than that of Evel Knievel. He is synonymous with motorcycles jumping over cars and backpack rocket launchers, and when I was growing up every kid wanted to see the great man perform one of his stunts in person at least once. Wearing the white leather jumpsuit and cape too, of course.

The infamous daredevil has already been the subject of two fiction films (one in which he amazingly played himself, or “himself”), one self-produced documentary, a good number of television specials and retrospectives. So what makes tonight’s documentary BEING EVEL different? Well it brings a little more again when it comes to revealing the man behind the abject lunacy.


And what lunacy it was. Knievel made a career out of ridiculous stunts, like his botched attempt at jumping the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas that saw him spectacularly fail to nail the landing and instead wipe out on the asphalt. Atrociously. Few were truly successful, but he never did recover from the PR nightmare that was a failed jump across the Snake River Canyon when his “mighty rocket” didn’t even well… launch. He was a shocker if I’m to be totally honest, but where he did succeed – every time – was in the area of showmanship. He passed away in 2007 - not in any kind of stunt mind, but from a pulmonary ailment exacerbated by Hepatitis C, which the performer likely contracted from one of countless blood transfusions after failed stunts – but the legend lives on.


BEING EVEL’s point of difference from all of the tales that have gone before it is that it cleverly tells the story behind the 1970s American daredevil for today’s Extreme Sports generation. And this is done in a variety of clever ways. Many of the kids who watch it won’t be at all fazed by his antics after a lifetime of viewing the likes of the Crusty Demons and Jackass, but director Daniel Junge and co-writer Davis Coombe have cut his footage carefully for maximum impact. BEING EVEL also features notorious Jackass Johnny Knoxville in the role of both interview subject and co-producer, and he is clearly an unashamed fanboy when it comes to the infamous daredevil.

Despite this, the exercise in hero worship doesn’t shy away from its subject’s least admirable traits, of which there are quite a few. Instead it focuses on the previously untold and very much darker tale of the man behind the ridiculous cape; a one-time outlaw whose wildly dangerous career spanned 75 ramp-to-ramp motorbike jumps and saw him break every bone in his body. After hours, a combination of large amounts of alcohol, a weakness for anything in a dress, and an obsession with stunts bordering on death wishes saw a character emerge who definitely wasn’t in line with the all-American hero Knievel liked to portray himself as.

Having said that, although he’s depicted as behaving pretty badly (particularly with respect to women) what he does isn’t all that strange when you hold it up to the attitudes of the time and the general reaction from your average idiot when they find themselves earning craploads of cash. Many a rags-to-riches story is associated with less than admirable behavior, and this is definitely one of them.

It is interesting to acknowledge the legacy he left behind. Daniel Junge and co-writer Davis Coombe essentially credit him for launching the thriving, money spinning arena act that is extreme sports. Testimony from l fans like Knoxville and the legendary Tony Hawk make it clear Knievel’s lasting influence is as big as his personality.

I AM BIG BIRD: THE CAROLL SPINNEY STORY - the story of the man behind the bird

Posted on Wednesday 8/06/2016 June, 2016 by Rialto Admin


Having a bit of a shitty day? Then have I got the film for you – documentary I AM BIG BIRD: THE CAROLL SPINNEY STORY, which is as light, happy and lovable as its subject. The work of Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker, it is a beautifully made documentary about the man who has been making Sesame Street’s Big Bird walk, talk, sing and be generally goddamn adorable for some 45 years. There is a reason Big Bird is so universally liked and has been for many a year, and that is the clearly wonderful human being beneath the suit.

SALINGER – a documentary about the man, and the babble that still surrounds him

Posted on Thursday 2/06/2016 June, 2016 by Rialto Admin


Tonight’s documentary SALINGER gives us all an unprecedented look inside the private world of J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of the modern literary legend that is ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. To say the book has made a major impact on the lives of many of its readers would be a vast understatement, and Salinger himself has been often held up as a reluctant god.


THE SALT OF THE EARTH – through the lens of Sebastião Salgado

Posted on Thursday 26/05/2016 May, 2016 by Rialto Admin


For the last 40 years, internationally renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling in the footsteps of what has been called “an ever-changing humanity”. He has witnessed some of the most dramatic, major events of our recent history such as mass starvation and exodus, and his lens was there to chronicle what unfolded, every step of the way. To call his work from that time arresting would be an understatement, its beauty is brutal.

When tonight’s documentary, THE SALT OF THE EARTH kicks off he is instead focusing on the good in the world, embarking on the discovery of pristine territories and wild fauna and flora as part of a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet's beauty and resilience. It is in sharp relief to the despair of his earlier images and is a great place to start.

THE LAST OF THE UNJUST – a new look at the Holocaust

Posted on Thursday 19/05/2016 May, 2016 by Rialto Admin


When I was eight years old my parents and I were living in Yugoslavia, and one of my mum’s goals in life at the time was to teach a young Helene about “the real world”. This included all manner of trips to other European countries to visit places like the catacombs and famous sewers of Paris, as well as Dachau concentration camp. Dachau was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany and was intended to hold political prisoners, and I vividly remember that our trip there was via a bus that left from a busy Munich bus station with no number or destination displayed on its front. The camp is located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory northeast of the medieval town of Dachau, about 16 km northwest of Munich, and it was interesting to me even then that the local people were fully willing to acknowledge its existence to visiting tourists, but literally dared not speak its name. Opened in 1933 by Heinrich Himmler, its purpose was enlarged to include forced labour and eventually, the imprisonment of Jews, ordinary German and Austrian criminals, as well as foreign nationals from countries that Germany occupied or invaded further down the track. I was hugely affected by the trip as a kid, especially as the day was grey and we were amongst just a handful of people there. The gravity of its history weighed heavily on my mind even at eight years old – it was my first knowledge of The Holocaust, and a very vivid one at that.

NATIONAL GALLERY – on the documentary, and the world famous institution

Posted on Thursday 12/05/2016 May, 2016 by Rialto Admin


The world famous National Gallery in London is one of the great museums of the world, with an incredible 2400 paintings from the 13th to the 19th century housed within its ‘must visit’ walls. Showing tonight on Rialto Channel is NATIONAL GALLERY the film, a fly-on-the-wall documentary that takes the lucky viewer behind the scenes of a true London institution, a destination that is amongst the top five places to visit for tourists visiting the city and those that live there. The film has been called more than just a documentary but a “portrait of a place”, its way of working and relations with the world, its staff and public, and, of course, its exceptional collection of paintings.

HIPPOCRATES: THE DIARY OF A FRENCH DOCTOR

Posted on Monday 2/05/2016 May, 2016 by Rialto Admin

“The doctor is in, but he’s neither motivated, competent nor altogether sober…” says The Hollywood Reporter of this clever little flick, which is definitely no visit to Shortland Street on a Monday evening in May.

HIPPOCRATES: THE DIARY OF A FRENCH DOCTOR is a rather darkly comic, at times sad and most definitely socially potent portrait of a Paris hospital, as seen through the eyes of a young intern making his very first rounds. But what’s fascinating about its treatment is the way director Thomas Lilti has Benjamin deliver the lines directly to the camera, almost docu-fiction style. It’s as if Benjamin is talking directly to us, the audience, trying to convince us that he has what it takes to make it in this high stakes profession, saving lives all along the way.

DEEP WEB - going beneath the tip of the internet’s iceberg

Posted on Thursday 28/04/2016 April, 2016 by Rialto Admin


If you’re into online personal security and the likes (or in fact, buying illegal weaponry), you may have heard terms bandied about like “Deep Web” and “Dark Web”. The internet is like an iceberg with just 10 per cent floating above water. This is the 'surface web' like Google and Facebook, whilst the other 90 per cent is the deep web and it requires special servers to access it.

The terms can be confusing, so I fell back on the words of Daniel Miessler - an information security professional and writer based out of San Francisco, California – to help me out with a little summary of the basics:

The Internet: This is the easy one. It’s the user-friendly internet we all use to read news, visit Facebook, get angry about politicians and shop. Just consider this the “regular” Internet. It’s the bits you can access and see easily, and although some of it looks wildly offensive and gives a platform to utter bell ends, it’s all pretty much transparent.

Celebrating CARTEL LAND – and my top five cartel films on the big screen

Posted on Thursday 21/04/2016 April, 2016 by Rialto Admin


The seemingly never ending – and escalating - drug war in Mexico seems to have been all over screens both big and small during the past few years, as well as in the tabloids thanks to the likes of douchebag Sean Penn, who made headlines after supposedly “reporting” for Rolling Stone onhis trip to Mexico to meet notorious drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Tonight sees one of the better representations of the issue making its New Zealand debut on Rialto Channel in the form of CARTEL LAND, an Oscar and BAFTA-nominated documentary about two vigilante groups tackling the murderous Mexican cartels.

CARTEL LAND director Matthew Heineman has said: “it was always incredibly important to me that the film reach audiences throughout Latin America, especially Mexico. I made CARTEL LAND to give voice to those trapped by senseless cycles of violence, suffering and corruption,” and it’s for this reason that I love both its authenticity and sensitivity to the victims of its subject.

The documentary follows a physician in Michoacán, Mexico who leads a citizen uprising against the drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Across the U.S. border, it focuses on a veteran who heads a paramilitary group working to prevent Mexico's drug wars from entering U.S. territory. By focusing on responses to the cartels by factions on both sides of the border Heineman has created a fiercely gripping tale that isn’t an easy watch, but a rewarding one.

With CARTEL LAND in mind, I bring you my pick of on screen cartel tales, which in no particular order are…

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