63rd Sydney Film Festival - highlights!

The Man From Mo’Wax

(Friday, June 17th, 8:45pm & Saturday June 18th, 8:15pm - Event 9 & Dendy Newtown)

Matthew Jones, a successful commercials creative director and producer, has fashioned a brilliant documentary about a pivotal era in contemporary electronic music and the ambitious young man who spearheaded one of the most influential record labels of the 90s. James Lavelle was a teenager with big ideas and a serious passion. Dropping out of school he landed himself a column, “Mo’Wax” with respected rag Straight No Chaser, and before you can say "bangbangboogiesayupjumedtheboogie" Lavelle had formed a record label named after his column, and had a swag of artists clambering at his feet. He was the architect, the visionary, and he was just eighteen. In a world of cowboys and indians, he was the pirate, an honourable rogue ... and he triumphed and suffered for his art and ambition. 

The Man from Mo’Wax (formerly known as Artist & Repertoire) features interviews and appearances from all the key players of the period (with the notable exception of co-founder Tim Goldsworthy), including DJ Shadow (instrumental to Lavelle’s initial success), Ian Brown from The Stone Roses, Thom Yorke from Radiohead, Grandmaster Flash, Gilles Peterson, and 3D from Massive Attack (Lavelle’s primary inspiration), plus many of the long-suffering friends and colleagues who were part of the evolution of Lavelle’s baby, UNKLE, and Lavelle's ongoing vision. It’s a very colourful collage and it's fascinating stuff to watch the rollercoaster career of someone like Lavelle, who lived fast and furious, nearly lost it all, and in very recent years has been able to enjoy his own legacy (as curator for Meltdown’s 2014 program, the most successful one yet, and which featured an exhibition of all the Mo'Wax art, merchandise and memorabilia), and even bury a few hatchets.

This is essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in the hiphop culture that merged with the trip-hop scene from Bristol, essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in the machinations and pitfalls of the late 90s music industry when selling vinyl was considered in its swan song, and essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in DJ and club culture and the headstrong creative artist caught in-between. Man, I just can’t recommend this documentary highly enough. James Lavelle became very wealthy, very quickly, and his unorthodox methods - being A&R and artist and not playing by the commercial rules - subsequently lead him into troublesome, divisive waters. His naiveté was a double-edged sword; he was a revolutionary, a pioneer, and some of the risks didn’t pay off. But what a legacy, and what a great documentary this is. 

Under the Shadow

(Friday, June 10th, 9pm & Saturday June 18th, 6:15pm - Event 8 & Dendy Newtown)

It’s not often you see a horror movie from the Middle East, and it’s not often you see a ghost story that gives you not one, not two, not three, but at least four terrific scares, and I mean, jolt out of your seat stuff, these aren’t just your stock-standard “Boo!” machine effects, these have serious grunt. Yup, this is a double-whammy rarity; a Middle Eastern ghost story that’ll make you jump out of your skin. 

It’s the story of a mother and daughter, struggling with a war-torn post-revolution Tehran, at the end of 80s. The father, Iraj (Bobby Naderi), has been called away to work in another city. Shied (Narges Rashidi) can no longer continue her medical training as her political active past has caught up with her. Her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) relies on a cuddly doll for comfort, and when that doll goes missing, all hell breaks loose, for it becomes apparent a malevolent spirit, Djinn, has entered the apartment building, having arrived in an unexploded missile that has torn into the top story of the building. Where there is fear and anxiety, and in the war zone it is rampant, the evil winds of these insidious spirits blow. 

This is the first feature for director Babak Anvari, and Under the Shadow is a co-pro between Iran, Jordan, Qatar, and the UK. Essentially its a chamber piece, taking place primarily in the apartment and the building's basement, and it’s a two-hander with most scenes between just Shideh and Dorsa. Anvari does a masterful job at creating suspense, tension, through his camerawork and the use of sound and music, and he delivers some truly powerhouse nightmare shocks that would give any of the best J-Horror a run for their money. The performances are excellent, especially Narges Rashidi, as she is in almost every scene. I sigh when I say that no doubt when the American execs see this dark gem they’ll be clambering over each other trying to get the rights for a Hollywood makeover/remake, so, get in quick and see the scariest ghost story the other side of The Conjuring 2