Hullabaloo Youth Festival

This Wednesday, October 3, the Hullabaloo Youth Festival is on at Stafford on Brisbane’s northside from 1:00pm until 6:00pm. Musical artists on the bill include Button Factory, Lauren Napier, Tryumph, Erin Reus and Ellie Starr-Nolan. There will be an Open Mic from 4:00pm to 5:00pm and there will also be a range of other entertainment and activities including big screen gaming, food, festival stalls, art and sports competitions, all for the measly price of a gold coin donation.

Hullabaloo

The Hullabaloo Youth Festival will take place at 32-54 Hayward St, Stafford and is supported by Salvation Army Youth Outreach Service, Brisbane City Council, The Smith Family, Headspace and YACCA.

New Talent Unearthed

At a time when so much music is either the result of televised karaoke competitions (X Factor, Idol, The Voice etc) or manufactured artists of dubious merit (One Direction) or from singers whose media profile outstrips their talent (Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus et al), the Triple J Unearthed High Muck Up Day at the Brisbane Powerhouse on October 28 was a pleasant change. The event featured performances from genuinely talented young singer/songwriters and musicians, almost all of whom are still in high school.

Brisbane-based finalists Vancouver Sleep Clinic (Citipointe Christian College) and Cypher (Redlands College) were featured on the bill, along with 2013 Unearthed High winners Lunatics on Pogosticks from Newtown High School in Sydney. The atmospheric Vancouver Sleep Clinic are the second finalist from Citipointe in as many years, with Tyler Touche performing at the corresponding show last year.

Last years Unearthed High winner Asta returned to Brisbane to headline the show as part of a national tour. Since winning the competition last year, Asta has also secured significant radio play across the country and was even shortlisted for the prestigious Vanda and Young Songwriting Prize at just 19 years of age.

Lunatics on Pogosticks proved themselves to be worthy winners with an infectiously enthusiastic set featuring a string of catchy pop-punk tunes, while Asta closed the show with a mixture of old favourites and less familiar songs that seemed to be met with equal enthusiasm by the crowd.

Photos from the event are in the Gallery.

The East

Despite its many qualities, it isn’t surprising that The East has failed to secure anything but a very limited release in Australian cinemas. This intelligent, well-crafted espionage thriller lacks the excesses that seem so necessary to attract audiences in large numbers these days, namely exotic locations, sex, violence, special effects, elaborate action sequences and explosions galore. Thankfully, The East eschews these superficialities in favour of crafting an intriguing story populated by a variety of morally compromised characters.

Brit Marling, who also co-wrote and produced the film, stars as Sarah, an operative working for a private security and intelligence organisation who infiltrates an eco-terrorist collective known as The East. This group has been responsible for a series of ‘jams’ targeting individuals and organisations polluting the environment and Sarah is charged with gathering information about their future activities in an effort to protect potential targets. Led by Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) – who is equal parts charisma and enigma – the group is a ragtag bunch of eco-terrorists, all of whom seem to have their own agenda. Whilst able to infiltrate the group with surprising ease, Sarah is subjected to significant resistance from Izzy (Ellen Page), whose distrust grows as the inevitable relationship between Sarah and Benji blossoms.

The East 1

The contrasting worlds that Marling and co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij have created are fascinating and it is hard to know which side we are supposed to support. Likewise, Sarah finds herself conflicted between her mission and this group of pariahs whose intentions, if not their methods, seem noble. As she becomes enmeshed in the lifestyle of The East – eating food salvaged from dumpsters and living without electricity – Sarah finds it harder to return to her normal life. As the stakes are raised, she is forced to decide where her loyalties lie and just how far she is willing to go.

The only real problem for me with The East is that Marling’s performance lacks depth and, as a result, Sarah’s expressions never change. We are expected to believe that she is torn between these two disparate worlds, but this conflict is rarely visualised through physicality or emotion. Furthermore, Sarah remains a glamorous, staid and somewhat straitlaced figure throughout, making it hard at times to accept her as part of a group for whom the superficiality of appearances and traditional attitudes/behaviours are only acceptable when they suit the purposes of achieving their ultimate aims. Marling’s character is more in keeping with her roles in the likes of Arbitrage or The Company You Keep (which bears many thematic and ideological similarities to The East) than that of somebody trying to ingratiate themselves with a radical band of quasi-anarchists. Given that she had so much input into the production of the film, it is surprising that Marling wasn’t prepared to push the envelope in transforming her character physically, behaviourally and emotionally.

The East 2

The sexy Skarsgard (What Maisie Knew, Melancholia) is perfectly cast as the mysterious and damaged Benji, while Page (Juno, Inception) is, as always, terrific as the impassioned Izzy. As Sharon, the head of the intelligence agency for whom Sarah works, Patricia Clarkson is more Disney-style wicked witch than spymaster M, seemingly devoid of any conscience whatsoever. British actress Julia Ormond (Inland Empire, My Week with Marilyn) and TV regular Jamey Sheridan (Arrow, Smash, Homeland) also feature as targets of the group.

In an industry generally devoid of opportunities for actresses seeking challenging roles, Marling has followed perhaps the only path available to her in creating roles for herself; she also co-wrote and produced Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, the latter of which was also helmed by Batmanglij. As a result, we have a film that refuses to pander to a common denominator of style over substance, raising timely questions about corporate ethics and responsibility in a mature and sophisticated way. Despite its flaws, The East delivers on most fronts and definitely deserves to secure an audience, so catch it while you can.

Cinema for Young People

The schedule of screenings for the BIFF Gen Next International Film Festival for Young People has been released, with a diverse selection of films from Australia and overseas. Along with the likes of The Rocket and Satellite Boy, which have already been released in cinemas in Australia, there are feature films, shorts and documentaries from more than 10 countries in the festival. All weekday screenings are reserved exclusively for school group bookings, so there really is no excuse for media teachers not to be taking advantage of this opportunity to introduce their students to films and filmmakers from a range of international contexts.

Last year I took a class to see Swedish comedy/drama Simple Simon and they loved it. For many, it was their first real engagement with a foreign film. Media teachers in Brisbane and south east Queensland are lucky to have the BIFF Next Gen at their disposal and it would be great to see each session filled with enthusiastic young film lovers.

There are also free public weekend sessions of selected festival films, with a special opening night open air screening of animated classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit on the green outside the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) on Saturday, October 12. All other screenings will take place in The Australian Cinemateque at GOMA.

For event information and the full schedule of events, which includes filmmaking workshops, click on the image below:

BIFF Gen Next

The Rocket

Set and filmed in a country that has no real film industry to speak of, the fact that The Rocket has even been made should be cause enough for celebration. The fact that it is such a finely crafted and highly polished production is a remarkable achievement. An Australian production filmed on location primarily in Laos using local actors, some of whom possessed no previous experience, The Rocket presents an engaging family narrative that also offers considerable insight into the tragic history of the country and the ongoing hardships being endured by many residents in the name of progress.

Rocket 3

In particular, the film addresses Laos’ ongoing legacy as the most bombed country in the world, with literally thousands of unexploded ordnances littering the landscape and impacting on the lives of residents, often with deadly consequences. However, this is not a film that becomes bogged down in apportioning blame for the sins of the past, it is essentially about family, tradition, superstition and, ultimately, redemption. Writer/Director Kim Mordaunt combines humour and drama to great effect to construct the most unlikely of feel-good narratives. Whilst emotionally wrenching at times, there are enough laugh-out-loud moments and an obligatory happy ending to satisfy even the most fickle film goers.

The story begins with the birth of twins – the second of which is stillborn – in a mountain village in rural Laos, where superstition dictates that one of the children will be evil. Mother-in-law Taitok (Bunsri Yindi) insists that the living baby must also be killed to protect the family. However, Mali (Alice Keohavong) convinces Taitok to keep the second birth a secret and we fast forward 10 years to meet Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe), who possesses a happy-go-lucky attitude and a close relationship with his mother despite being subjected to the constant scorn of his grandmother and her fervent proclamations about the bad luck he brings to the family.

However, when the entire village is forced to relocate to make way for a dam that will flood their valley, tragedy strikes and Ahlo’s relationship with his father Toma (Sumrit Warin) deteriorates. Ahlo retreats into a friendship with 8-year-old Kia (Lougnam Kaosainam) and her eccentric Uncle Purple (Thep Phongam), an alcoholic outcast who models his appearance and movements on James Brown. With the authorities failing to deliver on the new homes promised as part of the re-settlement and Ahlo having fallen foul of their neighbours through a series of misadventures, the family – including Kia and Purple – decide to move into town in search of work. It is here that a rocket festival – which is held to entice rain from the gods – provides an opportunity for Ahlo to redeem himself and prove that he is not a curse.

Rocket 1

The casting is terrific and the performances are excellent. With the exception of Taitok, who seems a bit over-the-top in her treatment of Ahlo, the characters seem genuine and natural. Young Disamoe does a wonderful job as Ahlo and it is his accomplished handling of the lead role on which much of the success of the film can be pinned. Kaosainam is great as the wise-beyond-her-years Kia, with Phongam’s Purple an absolute delight as a character, despite being a less than ideal role model. Warin doesn’t have a lot to say as Toma, but he captures the heartbreak and conflict within this broken man tremendously well.

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Some may struggle with the humour given the perils faced by the characters and those still living under such circumstances in Laos, but it is these elements that will likely make the film – and thereby the issue – much more accessible than Mordaunt’s 2007 documentary Bomb Harvest. The scene in which the family travels in the back of a truck loaded with bombs and missiles is both funny and frightful in equal measure and is very effective in demonstrating that such perils are the reality of life for the people of this region.

The Rocket is Australia’s submission for the Best Foreign Language category at the 2013 Academy Awards and is a most worthy contender. I just hope that the film is seen as much more than a good ‘foreign film’ or a good ‘Australian film’ and is recognised, as it should be, on a much broader scale as a great film in its own right.

Muck Up Day Music

This Saturday (September 28), talented young musicians will take the stage for Triple J Muck Up Day at the Brisbane Powerhouse. The gig will feature Lunatics on Pogo Sicks, the winners of the 2013 Triple J Unearthed High competition, along with fellow Unearthed High finalists Cypher and Vancouver Sleep Clinic . Returning to The Powerhouse to headline the afternoon is 2012 Unearthed High winner Asta, who put on a terrific show last year and has enjoyed tremendous success since.

This is an all ages show with tickets just $25.00 each. This is a great opportunity for people of all ages to support talented young Australian artists and enjoy an afternoon of great music in one of Brisbane’s best venues.

Zombie Walk

Click image for more event information.

Education Matters

The last week or so has seen several education-related issues appearing within the mainstream news media and it has certainly been interesting watching how these issues have been addressed. Education, schooling and the safety of young people are topics that appear regularly in the media, almost always in superficial, sensationalistic ways. This week, schools and education have been featured through examination of the following issues:

1. School Closures

The decision by the Queensland Government to close several schools across the state has left many parents and students angry and somewhat bemused. Yes, the Government has the right to close schools if they want to, but the few schools they have selected make the whole process seem tokenistic and somewhat pointless. Furthermore, some of the choices they have made seem very strange indeed. For example, the proposed closure of Fortitude Valley State School defies logic. Yes, the school has low enrolments, but student numbers have grown in recent years. Furthermore, with the explosion of residential development in the direct vicinity of the school and surrounding area, it seems certain that in a few years there will a considerably increased demand for schools in the area. These inner-city suburbs are boom regions for population growth and it defies belief that the Government would want to close this school to enable the subsequent sale of the land on which the school is situated. I would have thought that keeping this school operational – particularly in light of the fact that there is plenty of scope for expansion on the site should population growth require it – would be a high priority. It seems as though the Government is more interested in making a quick buck now with no regard to the potential long term consequences.

2. Stranger Danger

The recent attempted abduction near Eagle Junction State School saw the media launch into a frenzied campaign of fear mongering and hysteria. Whenever this type of thing happens, it is with such predictability that the mainstream media can always be relied upon to roll out their ‘are the streets safe’ rhetoric. Um, hello, yes the streets are fucking safe. Just as safe as they were yesterday and just as safe as they will be tomorrow. The most annoying part of these reports are the interviews with parents outside schools in the days immediately following. One parent claimed ‘I never let my child walk to school, it’s just not safe’, which really just means that they live too far away from the school or they are too disorganised in the morning for their child to have time to walk to school or they just pamper their child by driving them to school when they don’t really need to. When a child is threatened in some way, such parents rub their hands with glee because it allows them to try and convince us, and themselves, that they are some kind of ‘caring’ mother trying to protect their child from danger, when the truth is nothing of the sort. Another parent interviewed stated ‘I used to walk him to the corner and he liked to go the rest of the way by himself so he can be independent, but now I walk him all the way’. Yeah right, let’s see if dad is still walking him all the way to school in a month’s time. The novelty will soon wear off and things will return to normal once the media are no longer interested and there is no further opportunities for dad to continue his campaign for parent of the year. It is disgusting the way the media trivialises what is a very serious issue, particularly for those children who fall prey to predators. I don’t really see how reducing their exploration of these incidents, or the issue more broadly, to a series a vacuous sound bites from parents – who somehow think they are responsible for the fact that their own child has not fallen victim to such an occurrence – achieves anything at all other than to make their viewers relax safe in the knowledge (and thankful) that it happened to somebody else instead of them. Schools will ramp up their focus on ‘stranger danger’ awareness for a few weeks until the dust settles and then all will be forgotten again until the next incident.

3. Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I am getting sick of parents who enrol their child in a school and then decide that the rules they have agreed to follow as part of that enrolment somehow shouldn’t apply to them. The latest case involves a boy who has been told by his school that he cannot return to his Prep class whilst he has the stupid haircut his parents have given him. Regardless of whether schools should have rules around hair styles – and I certainly don’t think they should – the fact remains that the child has presented at school with a hairstyle that is in clear contravention of the policy that formed part of the enrolment agreement signed by the parent/s. Therefore, they have no cause for complaint, but that doesn’t stop them running to the media crying foul. Aaarrgghhh. This kid has got more problems than his hair cut with parents such as these. Yes, it may be unfair for a school to have such a rule, but if you don’t like the rule, don’t send your child to the school. Don’t enrol the child and then complain when the school actually enforce their policy. I can guarantee that these same parents would be the first to complain if they felt their child suffered in some way as a result of the school failing to implement a particular policy. This is just another case of idiotic parents using their children in an effort to secure their own few minutes of fame. They don’t really care passionately about the child’s right to have a stupid haircut, they just want some time in the spotlight so they can try and present themselves as loving parents who will do anything to ‘stick up’ for their child. Give me a break. I bet these same parents who have time to do media interviews don’t make the same effort to join the P&C and work to have the rule/policy changed. These parents should just shut up and do one of two things, either give their child a haircut that complies with the school policy or enrol the child in another school with a policy that is to their liking.

4. Falling Standards

The media again fixed a spotlight on Australia’s declining educational standards in comparison to the rest of the world, apparently dropping from fifth overall to 22nd. I wouldn’t think that any teacher would be surprised by these results, despite the amount of effort that they put in. It is exasperating at times trying to teach people anything given the number of distractions/interruptions encountered on a daily basis. Hell, on more than one occasion I have found myself with far less than the prescribed amount of class time for a subject over the course of a year because of the number of lessons lost for myriad other activities/events that, for whatever reason, are given higher priority. The excessive focus on preparing for NAPLAN also has a significant impact on curriculum delivery, along with other factors such as poor attendance levels and a real lack of effort from some schools to implement the strategies necessary to ensure students are maximising their opportunities in class. There is no doubt that funding plays a role and whilst money alone isn’t the answer, it can certainly make a difference in some schools. The biggest problem, as I see it, is that we as a nation don’t seem to take education seriously anymore. There are a lot of parents who really don’t seem to care about whether their child is educated at all, let alone worry about how well they might be doing at school. The Government certainly doesn’t treat education as a priority and many schools are failing their students by not being vigilant enough in demanding high standards and putting the strategies and resources in place to ensure students can achieve at a high level. There are too many schools for whom the focus is simply securing enrolments to ensure their survival. It’s almost as though having sufficient students enrolled is enough for principals and school administrators; now they can sit back and take it easy knowing that their jobs are secure for another year. Another problem is that students can achieve reasonable results with very little effort. There will be a very large number of students who will complete Year 12 with a passing grade in English who are practically illiterate. Universities have raised concerns about this and with good reason. For example, I was instructed by a Head of Department that I could not fail a student for an oral assessment if they refused to deliver the presentation. The argument was that their speaking/delivery was only one part of the assessment and that the content alone could be enough to secure a passing grade or better. This means that a student could pass Senior English, which means they have passed both the written AND spoken elements of the course, without having undertaken any spoken tasks at all. I had a Year 9 English student who submitted a short story for assessment that was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, almost to the point of being indecipherable. On this occasion, the Head of Department advised that I couldn’t fail the student because they had completed the assessment satisfactorily in that they submitted the required task (a short story) of the required length. Now, the student and their parents would believe that their English skills are of a suitable standard, which they clearly weren’t. It is a joke that schools and some individual teachers somehow think that it is okay to mislead students with regard to their ability simply to make the schools overall results look good or to avoid upsetting the student or the their parents. Ridiculous! This is typical of how schools will go out of their way to make sure that students get better results than their effort or ability suggests they should be getting. Of course, these shortcomings are quickly identified by universities or employers as soon as they leave school. When you think that schools are manipulating results in such a way and yet our overall results are still pretty poor, it tells us how bad things really are. It is easy enough to reverse this downward spiral, but it needs the Government, parents and school administrators to get serious about taking education seriously.