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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Fashion Icons Film Season: WE MARGIELA

Posted on Monday 6/08/2018 August, 2018 by

Contemporary New Zealand fashion was once defined by the "dark and intellectual" label given to it by the international press in 1999, after the "New Zealand Four" - Karen Walker, Nom*D, World and Zambesi - presented their collections at London Fashion Week to much acclaim. Nom*D and Zambesi in particular were very much in line with that vision, and at the time were compared to designers out of Antwerp, Belgium who had already begun to shake up the global style scene.

Belgium’s fashion forerunners were known for their penchant for recycling, raw seams, oversize cutting and a cerebral attitude. They offered a radical vision to face off the extravagant Eighties, and one of their biggest stars was the "invisible" designer, Martin Margiela. Sometimes called fashion's founding father of recycling and deconstruction, he was less of a personality and more of a “house”, and was famed for his dislike of being identified at a time when the Cult of Personality was huge.

Wednesday’s film, WE MARGIELA investigates the legacy of the house of Margiela and its relevance for fashion and authorship today. The unique innovations of the house, such as anonymity, re-usage, and replica versus copy, turn out to be concepts that are once again being explored today, and debated in the art and design worlds globally. At a time when recycling has become both a buzzword and an essential way of life, it is fascinating to see how Margiela did it merely as a matter of course.

For fashion freaks, the untold and intimate story of the enigmatic and singular fashion house is a compelling watch, even if many of those being interviewed aren’t hugely engaging as personalities. As the history of the house is told in parallel to the creative development and financial growth of Maison Martin Margiela, the film unravels notions of creativity, authorship, and financial return in a real examination of Art vs. Commerce.

I love how several of the interviews reveal the background to some of the most iconic images and designs of the house, which came into existence merely by coincidence and intuition, not preconceived concepts. The house lived for strong gut-feelings and took a deep pleasure in taking creative risks, although the financial constraints of being as punk rock about the whole thing as they often were eventually took its toll. As co-founder Jenny Meirens say: “When you want to please others and everyone, you will get nowhere. I think you have to diversify yourself from others. In the long run, it will give you the freedom not to answer to the system.”

It’s interesting to see how the ‘We’ of the title existed across one floor of the house, whilst the publicity-shy creative director stayed at the top.” The ‘We’ essentially allowed Margiela to function in a way that is almost unheard of for a significant name in fashion, never being interviewed or photographed, barely interested in the business side of things and supported by an inner circle of men and women who were as supremely talented as they were loyal. At the centre of the group was Meirens. She died in July last year but her presence is felt throughout the film, her voice integral to the narrative. Her voiceover is presented against a white screen - the use of white a statement for the house. The staff at the atelier wears the type of white chemises that are normally the preserve of seamstresses, and they are responsible for painting and re-painting their own desks white, meaning that no two ever look the same. “He uses fashion as a way to express himself,” Meirens says, “but he could just as easily be a conceptual artist, a great artist. Martin experienced things in a childlike way. To him, designing is so playful, so light, so… I thought that was exceptional. He would have been big anywhere, but different depending on where it was.”

The Maison was one of the earliest contemporary avant-garde fashion houses to succumb to the pressure of financial growth. After the selling of the house, the founders retired almost immediately from public life and employees were bereft. Meirens, whose commentary opens and closes the documentary says: “At the end, I was sick and tired. I was tired. I was 58 years old and I’d just lost my mum. I didn’t have the energy for another ten years. I think he’d lost sight, lost faith. I honestly think Martin didn’t see the results of all those efforts until we sold the company. Only then did he realise what his name was worth.” It’s a sad ending to a story that told of so much creativity and so much love for a group of visionaries whose passion for design took the house to such heights, although releases by the house of late point to some great things, and some of those employees are still there today.

It goes without saying that Martin Margiela himself is absent from the film. And that, perhaps, is just the way he likes it.

WE MARGIELA has its NZ TV Premiere on Wednesday 8 August 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.

RIALTO CHANNEL CUSTOMERS CAN BE IN TO WIN A VIP NZ FASHION WEEKEND ESCAPE FOR TWO! For prize details and to enter visit,  RIALTOCHANNEL.CO.NZ/NZFASHIONWEEKEND

BESIDE BOWIE: THE MICK RONSON STORY

Posted on Wednesday 27/12/2017 December, 2017 by

Tonight’s film, BESIDE BOWIE: THE MICK RONSON STORY is the last installment in a month of Rialto Rockumentaries brought to you by The Sound, every Thursday night in December. It focuses not on a major rock star but on his right hand man, and it’s an interesting series of observations that makes you take another look at an infamous duo.

Directed by former music manager, Jon Brewer, it focuses on guitarist Mick Ronson's contributions to the David Bowie sound, and the lack of credit that he got for it. Brewer – controversially, at times – puts forward the idea that David Bowie (born David Robert Jones) wouldn't have been David Bowie without the help of his most celebrated sideman, Mick Ronson AKA Ronno.

The film views the lauded guitarist and his extraordinary talent mostly through the lens of his time with the Spiders from Mars. Painting Ronno as the humble bloke that he very clearly was, it follows the rise to fame of a man who was working as a gardener when Bowie hired him, who knew nothing about money and whose naïveté left him nearly destitute when he was diagnosed with the cancer that finally killed him in the early '90s.

The modest Ronson was the musical genius behind David Bowie's greatest run of albums, and the film does a good job of exploring the making of those seminal works and how much influence the guitarist had on them. Made before his death, Bowie even provided exclusive voiceovers for the film, which looks at the late Ronson's under-appreciated career as a sideman for artists like Bob Dylan (as a member of the Rolling Thunder Revue), Lou Reed (on Transformer), John Mellencamp (on "Jack and Diane") and main guitarist on five Bowie albums, including Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and Aladdin Sane.  "Both Mick Ronson and David Bowie together were the ultimate duo. They performed and recorded like magicians and created masterpieces that will live on forever," director Jon Brewer has said, and he does a damn good job of proving that, as well as providing many an insight that will surprise even great fans.

I was interested to find out that the quiet guitarist from Kingston upon Hull  learned piano and violin as a boy and who, after his first bit of work with Bowie, took some time off to study orchestration. Producer Tony Visconti recalls how the curious Ronson watched everything he did at the mixing board as well - not content just to play a killer guitar solo, but wanting to understand how records were created, and hits. We learn that the first ever strings arrangement Ronson wrote was for the mesmerising track, "Life on Mars?" on 1971's Hunky Dory. When Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman (a Bowie collaborator back then) sits down at the piano to recreate it you really do have to sit back and say, damn. The guy really knew his stuff.

But back to the Bowie voiceover which although exclusive and interesting, really does seem a bit canned and heavily edited. The film begins with a story from Bowie about how the two met, and then the observations that come up later sound increasingly guarded.The two men remained in off-and-on contact after their split in the early 1970s, and occasionally even worked together, but it almost sounds like Bowie is a little reticent about the amount of credit Brewer is giving Ronson’s contributions. It also paints him as a bit of a twat, which could be entirely accurate too.

In conclusion, the film does feel a little incomplete, but there are some great interviews with Ronson’s family and other collaborators in there and leaves you with the feeling that he was a talent most definitely gone too soon. Its major strength is depicting him as a likeable bloke — one who just maybe was the best thing that ever happened to Bowie. 

BESIDE BOWIE premieres Thursday 28 December 8.30pm on Rialto Channel. Part of Rialto Rockumentaries, proudly brought to you by The Sound FM.

Watch the trailer here

GIMME DANGER: long live The Stooges

Posted on Thursday 21/12/2017 December, 2017 by

Years before it was overpopulated by the newly-Instafamous, I traveled to the Coachella music festival in the Palm Desert to review the then-relatively unheard of weekend of madness for a local music magazine. The lineup was absolutely spectacular, featuring desert-friendly, sludge-y acts like Queens of the Stone Age and The Mars Volta at their best, but the act that stood out most for me was the truly mesmerising Iggy Pop.

Pop had recently resurrected his career with a vengeance, and I was lucky enough to watch him play from the side stage. His performance – and his deep Florida tan! – was breathtaking to witness up close, and things really did get close when he raced briefly off stage to throw up what looked like a bucket full of water. Right next to me. It was pure, unadulterated raw energy, up close and very personal.

I was taken right back to that moment when I watched tonight’s documentary, GIMME DANGER, the latest in a series of Rialto Rockumentaries brought to you by The Sound, every Thursday night in December. An in-depth look at Pop’s early efforts as a key member of legendary punk band, The Stooges, it is directed by acclaimed talent (and unabashedly enthusiastic, massive Stooges fan) Jim Jarmusch.

Emerging from Michigan amidst a countercultural revolution, The Stooges' powerful and aggressive style of rock-n-roll literally blew a crater in the pretty lacklustre and predictable musical landscape of the late 1960’s. Assaulting audiences at all angles with a blend of rock, blues, R&B, and free jazz, the band planted the seeds for what would be called punk and alternative rock in the decades that followed. Jarmusch presents the context of the Stooges’ emergence musically, culturally, politically, historically, and relates their adventures and misadventures while charting their inspirations and the reasons behind their initial commercial challenges, as well as their long-lasting legacy.

Jarmusch has long had a connection to popular music. Since his earliest, grainy black and white days his movies have been populated by musicians as actors, with the likes of Tom Waits (1986's Down By Law) and Joe Strummer (1989's Mystery Train) featuring in his films, as well as Pop in 2003's awesome Coffee and Cigarettes. The latter started out as a short in 1993, before being reworked into a feature a decade later. In one of the film’s stand out scenes, the Godfather of Punk goes head-to-head with fellow musician and sometime actor, Tom Waits, and it is a joy to behold. Their admiration for each other is palpable, and they look like they are having a whale of a time. If you haven’t seen it – do.

But back to GIMME DANGER. Despite its charismatic subject matter, the film has been accused of being a surprisingly dry and conventional telling of the band's heady halcyon days, and eventual reformation. Is this true? Perhaps, but I found the subject matter so compelling that I was drawn in anyway. It is dedicated to the four band members who have passed away, including drummer Scott Asheton, who is interviewed in the film (including once alongside Iggy) but died in 2014 before its completion. His brother, fellow bandmate Ron, features heavily in archive interview form only, due to his death in 2009. In a statement following Ron’s death, Pop called him his “best friend”, and acknowledged the influence the musician had on acts like Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Pop is the only remaining Stooge and possibly the most compelling subject at that, but it’s clear that the band’s success and legacy was down to an extraordinary combined effort. With this in mind, Jarmusch could have been tempted to make it all about Iggy as opposed to The Stooges as a unit, but he still delves into the whole band story, which is admirable.

Iggy’s survival means he’s the film’s inevitable anchor, but at the end of the day, GIMME DANGER is an act of fanboy love – and Jarmusch clearly loved them all.

GIMME DANGER premieres Thursday 21 December at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel. Proudly brought to you by The Sound FM.

 

HEAVEN ADORES YOU, the life of Elliott Smith

Posted on Thursday 14/12/2017 December, 2017 by

As quiet and introspective as its subject could at times be, tonight’s film HEAVEN ADORES YOU is the latest in a series of Rialto Rockumentaries brought to you by The Sound, every Thursday night in December.

An almost-meditative paean of sorts to the life and music of the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, it threads the music of the much-adored artist through the often isolating landscapes of the three major cities he lived in - Portland, New York City, Los Angeles – and is a beautiful watch.

A sometimes a little too earnest review of the singer's prolific songwriting and the impact it continues to have on fans, friends, and fellow musicians, it begins with a bummer – the death of Smith via suspected self-inflicted knife wounds to the heart in 2003. Smith, who was yanked into the mainstream by celebrity fans and an Oscar nomination (for the song ‘Miss Misery’ from Good Will Hunting), found fame difficult and was a reluctant ‘star’. Many say they weren’t surprised to hear that he had (supposedly) committed suicide. He was the "unhappiest man in the land" at times, making records for "the sad kids". And his gloom was more than posturing: when Smith sang about alcoholism or depression, he was singing about things he had experienced first-hand.


That is not to say the circumstances of his death were not shocking. Smith apparently had an argument with his girlfriend, fellow musician Jennifer Chiba, at their home in Silverlake, Los Angeles, a city he had been reluctant to even visit in his earlier career. As the row got worse, Smith threatened to commit suicide. He’d done that before, and had never followed through. Even when he decided to relocate from Portland to Brooklyn in the late 1990s, he said farewell to his Oregon friends by informing them that it was likely he would never see them again because he was "probably going to kill himself".

Chiba locked herself in the bathroom to take a shower, and then heard a bloodcurdling scream. Returning to the living room, she found Smith standing with his back to her. When he turned around, she saw a kitchen knife sticking out of his chest. Despite emergency surgery, he was pronounced dead 20 minutes after arriving at hospital. It is an extremely painful way to die, a last resort for people so low they no longer care about themselves. He was 34 years old.

But the film chooses not to dwell too long on Smith’s death, going back to his roots in Texas (a fact that surprised many due to the fact that he and his sound were so quintessentially Portland). After a move to Portland he joined a few bands, settling on hardcore punk band Heatmiser, with whom he had a modicum of success. It’s clear that his bandmates cared for him deeply, and when he went solo continued to support him. After his Oscar nomination he performed at the awards ceremony, between Celine Dion and Michael Bolton, but was unimpressed: "I threw myself into it because it seemed to make my friends happy," he said. "I don't particularly like hanging out with famous folks much because their lives are too weird."

He had dabbled in heroin and was a "bad alcoholic" while living in Portland, but after a move to New York his drug problems deepened. By the time he left for Los Angeles at the end of 1999, he was also using crack. Rumours abounded that he was now incapable of performing, that he had forgotten his own lyrics and nodded off onstage between songs. And yet, in the last year of his life, Smith was alleged to have turned things around, and the only drugs found in his system when he died were antidepressants and ADHD medication for which he had a prescription.

The coroner’s report on his death returned an open verdict; some even claimed he was murdered, which the film does not really address. What director Nickolas Rossi does address is how much he was loved – by friends and fans – and how much that love weighed on him. The man who was often described as “just a punk kid” and “a genius” was troubled, and it would have been tempting to end the film on a low note. Rossi chooses to focus on his legacy instead, with footage from benefit concerts that took place on what would have been Smith’s 44th birthday.

His music will undoubtedly live on, and if like me you are moved to rediscover it all over again, then long may the legend continue.

 

HEAVEN ADORES YOU premieres Thursday 14 December 8.30pm on Rialto Channel. A part of RIALTO ROCKUMENTARIES brought to you by THE SOUND. 

Watch the trailer here

SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER: the man, the legend

Posted on Thursday 7/12/2017 December, 2017 by

“He ejaculated, and glam metal was born…” Twisted Sister frontman, Dee Snyder on Alice Cooper


I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off a month of Rialto Rockumentaries - brought to you by The Sound, every Thursday night in December – than with the super fun, super interesting film about the original god of shock rock, SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER.

The twisted tale of a teenage Dr. Jekyll whose rock n’ roll Mr. Hyde almost kills him, SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER is the entertaining tale of the musician who enthralled me when I was a kid and still elicits a giggle from me now, beginning with his early years. It is the story of the man born Vincent Furnier, a preacher's son, who struck terror into the hearts of parents and teachers when he eventually transformed into his alter ego, Alice Cooper, and feared he would never come back.

The teenage Furnier was first introduced to the blood-rushing roar of a rock n’ roll crowd when he and his mates decided to spoof the then-massively popular Beatles for a school talent show. Buoyed by the reaction (especially from the fairer sex), the Phoenix pastor’s son - along with fellow teens Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums) - decided to actually learn to play instruments properly and become an actual rock band. Calling themselves The Spiders, they became something of a regional smash whilst still at school, so after graduation choose to brave a big move to Los Angeles in 1967.

To say that the LA scene was tough would be putting it mildly. It looked like every other gang of disaffected teens in the US had made the same move, and The Spiders were literally tripping over umpteen other outfits hoping for the same big break. Rechristened Alice Cooper (Furnier’s name in a prior incarnation as a witch burnt at the stake, according to a Ouija board session), they did however cross paths with the infamous GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), a Sunset Strip female “groupie group” produced by Frank Zappa. They loved the still fairly innocent Alice Cooper lineup, and soon encouraged them to distinguish themselves by diving head first into a range of wild stage theatrics and androgynous costumes. The boys even went on stage in secondhand Icecapades costumes for example, which certainly was a look.

After a disastrous debut album experience with Zappa the boys upped sticks and went on the road, eventually settling in Detroit, where they began to make a name for themselves as a solid live act and fitted right in. Success soon followed, and the high school buddies were soon one of the most popular acts in the world.

Furnier was always the star, and when they went global, Alice Cooper went from being the group name to that of Furnier’s alter ego when the band fell apart. His solo act got off to a roaring start with 1975’s “Welcome to My Nightmare,” which was a hugely successful concept album, stage show and TV special, and soon he found himself hanging out with the likes of Frank Sinatra and George Burns. He even became the subject of a surreal hologram created by Salvador Dali (one of his teenage idols), and had clearly morphed into an entertainer rather than the rock star of his earlier career.

After his predilection for alcohol careened out of control he seemed trapped in a downward spiral of fame and excess, eventually hitting rock bottom. “I had a moral compass — there were things I wouldn’t do,” Cooper/Furnier says in the film, “and maybe I created ‘Alice’ to do those things.” Like many a rock n’ roll tale this one ends in rehab, and a return to the stage in 1986 - the first time Furnier had played Alice straight. “What if I go out there and I'm just Vince?” he asks himself, but he needn’t have worried. When I saw Alice Cooper play a few years ago the shock horror was still there, and even some of the same theatrics he employed in his early days remained.

A blend of documentary archive footage, animation and rock opera, SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER is a great portrayal of one of the first musicians to speak to “kids on the lunatic fringe”. The story is a familiar one, but the vintage footage is great, and if you like Alice Cooper, you'll love it.

SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER premieres Thursday 7 December 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

#WIN We're excited to be joining forces with The Sound to present RIALTO ROCKUMENTARIES. 10 T-SHIRTS are up for grabs and you can choose from 3 rocking designs...just click to enter HERE 

THE BANKSY JOB – when the prankster got pranked

Posted on Thursday 30/11/2017 November, 2017 by

Like an average Guy Ritchie blockbuster but with an additional extra large helping of cheese, tonight’s documentary, THE BANKSY JOB is a welcome reprieve from all of the hard-hitting, true crime films that have preceded it on Rialto Channel over the past month. It’s ridiculous and also ridiculously amusing, and key to that is its central subject, a man who is more caricature than criminal by far.

Absolutely slated in a Guardian review (which I think was unduly harsh, TBH), Ian Roderick Gray and Dylan Harvey's THE BANKSY JOB presents street-art provocateur Banksy as, for once, the butt of someone else's prank. The anonymity-craving talent dominates tales from the world of street art, but in this film the spotlight shines on another character - the slightly annoying, lots charismatic, and larger-than-life AK47 – AKA Andy Link. An ex-porn performer (the publicity material calls him a porn ‘star’, but I beg to differ) and acid house promoter turned self-titled ‘art terrorist’, Link has styled himself as the pantomime villain to Banksy’s folk hero. A ridiculously staged intro early on in the film that shows him surrounded by dozens of guards wearing hazmat jumpsuits and carrying machine guns cements this fact, as he sits in a bunker full of fancy street art and wears a series of amusing t-shirts and an impressive sh*t eating grin.

All this amusing artifice aside, the story is a good one, and it appears that everything stems from a personal vendetta from years before Banksy’s name really went large. Apparently, Link became annoyed with the artist way back in 2003, when he refused to sign a print Link bought at one of Banksy's earliest art world-attracting exhibitions. Both signed and unsigned copies were up for offer, but self-confessed cheapskate Link tried to upgrade an unsigned one for free, a request that fell on deaf ears. He becomes furious at this perceived slight, and that rage grows when not long after, Banksy wows London by sneaking a massive sculpture, The Drinker (a riff on Rodin's famous sculpture, The Thinker) into a heavily watched public area without anyone noticing. Motivated by his grudge, Link decides to steal The Drinker and hold it for ransom, a feat that proves ridiculously easy to pull off. It’s hardly the carefully orchestrated ‘heist’ that some have called it, more like nicking a fibreglass statue off a plinth with some mates and driving away.

The plotting and execution of the crime is bumblingly funny, and the developments that follow are even more absurd. Without giving too much away, Link is deemed the work's legal owner by the cops (it was abandoned property, and Banksy was hardly going to come forth to claim it) and a back-and-forth begins with Banksy's representatives about whether it would be returned. The artist himself (or is it?) even appears a few times, his voice disguised and his face hidden by a hoodie, commenting on the action.

I found Link fumbling and amusing as opposed to charmless and offensive, and the story a bit of a palate cleanser in a world of depressing real-life stories and #fakenews. The film is not perfect by any means, but it’s a bloody good laugh all the same.

BE IN TO WIN 1 of 3 DOUBLE PASSES TO 'THE ART OF BANKSY' EXHIBITION!  To celebrate the premiere of the documentary ‘The Banksy Job on Rialto Channel on Thursday 30 November at 8.30pm, we have 3 double passes to give away to 'The Art of Banksy' exhibition at Auckland’s Aotea Centre from 5 January to 6 February 2018.  Go to http://www.rialtochannel.co.nz/The-Art-of-Banksy to enter, t&cs apply.

3 ½ MINUTES, 10 BULLETS – an all too familiar crime

Posted on Thursday 23/11/2017 November, 2017 by

When it comes to an all too common crime that seems to play out in the US over the past ten years, I’ll admit I was familiar with the Trayvon Martin case, a racially-motivated killing of an innocent young black man that was so unjust that its aftermath reverberated around the world. The death of Jordan Davis however, seemed to pass me by, which is unbelievable considering the circumstances surrounding it that are told most admirably in tonight’s true crime documentary on Rialto Channel, 3 ½ MINUTES, 10 BULLETS.

Essentially, it deals with an incident that played out on Black Friday (an informal name for the day after Thanksgiving) in 2012 when four boys in a red SUV pulled into a gas station after spending time at the mall looking at sneakers and talking to girls. With music blaring, one boy exits the car and enters the store, popping in for a soda and a pack of gum. A man and a woman pull up next to the boys in the station, making a stop for a bottle of wine. The woman enters the store and an argument breaks out when the driver of the second car asks the boys to turn their music down. Three and a half minutes and ten bullets later (hence the cumbersome title), one of the boys is dead. 

Directed and written by Marc Silver, 3 ½ MINUTES, 10 BULLETS looks at the background leading up to, and what happens on the day when Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man, was finally arrested for fatally shooting Jordan Davis, a young black man, that evening.

Dunn’s case depended on his contention that he was acting in self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, claiming he had grounds to believe Davis had a weapon, although investigators recovered no evidence of firearms or other such items from the scene. The press shied away from making any kind of racial commentary around the crime, but the film shows that the case was all too similar to the Trayvon Martin killing. It slowly emerges that shooting young black men just may be something white people think they can get away with, as long as they claim to have seen their victim “apparently” going for a gun.

Silver creates a compelling storyline, which focuses on Jordan’s happy go lucky life before the attack, and how Florida's ridiculously controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law played into Dunn's subsequent murder trial. The director has said that he attempted to “look at the forensics of what happened on one level, but then metaphorically what was really going on in America," and he does so brilliantly. The judge during Dunn’s initial (and subsequent) court case permitted Silver’s crew to place three cameras inside of the courtroom for the full duration of proceedings, which takes the viewer right inside the process. “The level of access was incredible,” Silver told The Huffington Post. “It allows the audience to understand how a mistrial happened and the hard fight it took to bring Michael Dunn to justice.”

It is amazing that even though everyone outside knew race played a significant role in the case, it was not considered a factor inside. Because Michael Dunn’s absurdly arrogant actions were not technically classified as a hate crime, the prosecution and defense were prohibited to argue race as a factor. The defense lawyer was an absolute legend, and in time, justice prevailed. Dunn was initially convicted of two counts of attempted murder for firing into the car that contained Jordan’s (unhurt) friends, but received a mistrial for the first-degree murder of Jordan. After tirelessly demanding another trial, Dunn was later convicted of killing of Davis in a second trial. Dunn is now serving life in prison, plus 90 years. Result? You bet. And hopefully a warning to others who think they can justify doing the same. 

3 ½ MINUTES, 10 BULLETS premieres Thursday 23 November on Rialto Channel at 8.30pm

Watch the trailer here

Remote record here

SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR

Posted on Thursday 16/11/2017 November, 2017 by

A few months ago I reviewed a great documentary on here called SATAN LIVES. It chronicled all manner of theories about the Man With Horns, and also talked about the daycare witch-hunts in the early eighties that occurred after the release of the book ‘Michelle Remembers’. For those unfamiliar with the tome, it was the story of a young woman named Michelle Smith, who was a patient of distinguished psychiatrist Dr Lawrence Pazder, in Victoria, Canada, during the late 1970s. Pazder was married, a devout traditional Catholic family man, and Michelle presented originally with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Pazder suspected child abuse might be a factor in Michelle’s psychological problems, but she had no memories of such, so Pazder started probing her subconscious memory through hypnosis. These hypnotherapy sessions became more and more frequent, sometimes lasting a day. After several years of treating Michelle, Pazder divorced his wife, Michelle divorced her husband, and Lawrence and Michelle got married to each other and published ‘Michelle Remembers’. The book detailed the horrific sexual abuse and torture that Michelle supposedly suffered at the hands of a sadistic satanic abuse cult, as a very young girl. Pazder became an expert in “recovered memory”, and as more and more everyday parents began to question the slightest changes in the behaviour of their toddlers, the US became obsessed by the idea of satanic abuse in the childcare system. The specific cases detailed in the film are terrifying, and it goes without saying that the book has subsequently been discredited by several investigations that found no corroboration of the book's events. Others have pointed out that the events described in the book were extremely unlikely and in some cases even impossible, but nonetheless, lives were ruined on both sides.

Which bring me to the modern day witch hunt detailed in tonight’s documentary, SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR, which details a case some have called the “last gasp of the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 80’s and early 90’s”. An unbelievable true crime story, it explores the nightmarish persecution of Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh and Anna Vasquez, four young Latina lesbians who were wrongfully convicted of allegedly gang-raping two little girls in San Antonio, Texas. The film begins its journey inside a Texas prison, after these women have spent nearly a decade behind bars. They were just 19 and 20 years at the time that allegations surfaced, and it is immediately obvious that the situation has effectively broken their spirits. Director Deborah S. Esquenazi uses the women’s home video footage from 21 years ago to share their personal histories, then seamlessly adds in recent footage and interviews to expand the tale.15 years into their journey, she incredibly captures an on-camera recantation by one of the initial “victims”, now 25 years old although just seven at the time of the investigation. This brings the filmmaker into the role of investigator along with attorneys at the Innocence Project, who are just beginning their quest for truth in the case.

As poor, lesbian, women of colour, it is clear that the women hold intersecting identities that make them the most vulnerable to incarceration and juror bias. This under-reported injustice is reportedly widespread: Latina women represent one of the growing populations heading into prison. In addition, most reported exonerations and wrongful convictions focus solely on men, and cases involving women - let alone gay WOC - are largely under-reported. Unique to the San Antonio Four case, none of the four women ever took a plea bargain or even considered it, and this is despite the women serving their time in separate prisons and being permitted zero contact. Their unified innocence is palpable, and the frustration you feel as the documentary unfolds is incredible.

Together with attorneys, the film culminates with the women being released from prison to await exoneration hearings in San Antonio. Helming new legislation, theirs was the first case in U.S. history that allowed wrongfully convicted innocents to challenge convictions based on ‘Junk Science’, or debunked forensics. This is evidence used by prosecutors that they think is based on science, but which, on later examination, does not stand up to scientific testing. Junk science! With no DNA evidence to support their convictions, this is what a lot of what their incarceration came down to, and it was the same “science” used alongside recovered memory at the heart of the aforementioned daycare trials.

Anyway, this is a fantastically crafted film that I believe will give hope to innocent people who have been convicted everywhere. It ends on the women’s lives now – and that of one of their key accusers – and it is testament to their forgiving natures and incredible personal strength that they are all putting their lives together again, piece by tiny piece.

A triumph in the true crime genre.

SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR premieres Thursday 16 November 8.30pm on Rialto Channel 

Watch trailer here

 

SATUDARAH: ONE BLOOD

Posted on Thursday 9/11/2017 November, 2017 by

When it comes to notorious, rabble-rousing motorcycle gangs, you may have heard of the Hells Angels in the US, Bandidos in Australia, and the likes of Black Power and Mongrel Mob here in little old New Zealand. But have you heard of Satudarah? I never had before watching tonight’s true crime documentary on Rialto Channel, SATUDARAH: ONE BLOOD, but by god I was intrigued.

The Satudarah are known as the Netherlands' most feared biker gang, and with good reason. They frequently make headlines across Europe due to their alleged involvement in large-scale drug trafficking, extortion and murder. Busts on members’ private homes and clubhouses happen regularly, and their highest-ranking members are constantly in and out of prison, and the front pages of the press.

A relatively recent phenomenon in the history of outlaw bike gangs, the club was only founded in 1990 in Moordrecht in Holland’s south, starting with just seven members, most of whom were ex-soldiers. These days, there are more than 40 chapters across the Netherlands, and the gang has also gone international with a presence everywhere from Norway to Spain, Indonesia, Thailand, Belgium, France and even Australia – although the Sydney chapter was reportedly raided and shut down not long ago.

Unique in the fact that they are a multi-ethnic gang, initially, the Satudarah were ethnic Moluccans from the Maluku Islands in the Indonesian archipelago. The story goes that following WWII, the Moluccans helped the Dutch re-establish the Dutch East Indies as a colony. Known for their fighting skills, they served in the Dutch East India Army before 1949, and also fought with the Dutch against the Indonesian independence movement As a result, the Moluccans were seen by other Indonesians as traitors and were eventually forced to migrate to Holland. The Moluccans said the Netherlands had promised to help them shape a homeland, but the vow was never fulfilled.

In 1951, the Dutch Government re-housed South Moluccans in a former Nazi concentration camp where an estimated 15,000 Jews were confined during the German occupation in World War II. Today many of them still live in rural areas, where they feel displaced and mistreated with good reason. As with any culture that has been treated indelicately and taken from their homeland, they have suffered greatly as a result, and convictions for crime amongst the small ethnic group has been high.

The latter is explored to some extent in SATUDARAH: ONE BLOOD, which gives real insight into what makes the unusual gang of misfits tick. As aforementioned, Satudarah permits members from any ethnic or religious background, and filmmakers Joost van der Valk and Mags Gavan who were given exclusive fly-on-the-wheel insider access to the gang demonstrate this ably. It’s interesting to note that in their world traditionally 'classical' ideals like virility, brotherhood, loyalty, courage and spirituality are held in extraordinarily high value, and they live by some very strict codes.

One of the most realistic documentaries about outlaw clubs I think I’ve ever seen, SATUDARAH: ONE BLOOD is by no means perfect, but its fly-on-the-wall access is a credit to the filmmakers. The film provides a broad view of the club and still remains relatively objective, with an equal emphasis on both their strong Moluccan traditions and their terrifying impact on those that cross them in the criminal underworld. An interesting watch on a fascinating subject.

SATUDARAH: ONE BLOOD premieres Thursday 9 November 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Watch the trailer here

Remote record here

15 TO LIFE: KENNETH’S STORY, on condemning children to die in prison

Posted on Thursday 2/11/2017 November, 2017 by

“One day, I’m 15 years old I’m in society then… next I’m out. You telling me that I’m gonna never go home?” 

Writing about documentaries over the past few years I’ve had the chance to see some pretty humbling and disturbing stories, and probably use the term “heartbreaking” to describe way too many of them. Not many have actually moved me to tears however, but tonight’s film 15 TO LIFE: KENNETH’S STORY most definitely did that.

Directed and written by Nadine Pequeneza, it tells the story of a young black man called Kenneth Young, who is sentenced to what equates to a life – and more – in prison for his role in several armed robberies. This is despite the fact that he was a troubled 14-year-old at the time, and wasn’t actually armed.

“They was like, ‘Mr. Young, you know, you’re not going home, you’re going to die in prison’,” says Young in the opening minutes. “It’s just like one day I’m 15 years old, I’m in society. Then, the next day, I’m not and you’re telling me I’m gonna never go home? That’s kind of like, hard to deal with. And I couldn’t grab the concept of that.” I challenge anyone to say that they could, and when more of his background is revealed it demonstrates that the poor kid definitely had the numbers stacked against him from day one.

With a mother who was a crack addict at the time and 15-year-old sister with a baby that he was forced to drop out of school at the age of eleven to watch, it’s clear from early on that Young’s violent neighbourhood and problematic home heavily influenced his actions. Jacques Bethea, the man who coerced him into crime and Kenneth’s mother’s crack dealer, also played a major role. He was the man holding the gun, known to be a violent character and supposedly threatened the teen’s life if he did not assist in the robberies. And despite all of this, Bethea actually ended up with a lesser sentence than Young, how bloody unfair is that?

In prison now, serving four consecutive life sentences, Young - who was tried as an adult - is one of 200 Florida prisoners sentenced to life when they were children. The United States is the only country in the world that routinely condemns children to die in prison. 15 TO LIFE: KENNETH’S STORY is the story of one of those children, now seeking a second chance in Florida with the help of a dedicated, kick arse legal team.

As the film goes on it suggests that Young’s case is complicated by the fact that it’s over a decade old and by Florida’s wildly unpleasant history regarding black men, in particular, a pattern of fear and punishment that extends into today’s penal system. Quite appallingly, it turns out to be complicated even more by what he’s done right during his time inside. When the judge hearing his case assesses that his good behaviour and impressive educational achievements only go to show that his imprisonment has been appropriate, I actually laughed out loud in disbelief. A kindly retired warden, Ron McAndrew testifies on Young’s behalf, saying: “nobody’s handed him a thing. Because of the length of his sentence, [the state] won’t give him a GED program. They won’t give him any education because they feel it’s a waste”. The emotions passing over Young’s face as the court case goes on are so hard to watch, and yep, with undoubtedly lead to more than one viewer’s “leaky eyes”.

Young’s story is incredibly sad, and even sadder is the fact that he is not alone. The United States justice system has sent 2,500 children to life without parole since the early 1990’s. 70 percent of those crimes by juveniles were, like Young’s, under the direction of an adult. If by watching 15 TO LIFE: KENNETH’S STORY even a handful of people are moved to help bring about change then it is more than worthwhile – the fact that it is a captivating watch is an added bonus.

15 TO LIFE: KENNETH’S STORY premieres Thursday 2 November 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

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