A dramatized documentary about the life of Australian filmmaker Rupert Kathner (Ben Mendelsohn) who together with Alma Brooks (Victoria Hill) forged checks, stole equipment and bent rules to get their films made in 1930s Australia, all the while desperately hunting 'angels' with cash to finance their productions. Using archival footage and stills, the film reconstructs the era and the environment in which 'Rupe' tried single handedly but with the help of the good woman Alma, to kick start a film industry while lacking money, opportunity and facing overwhelming competition from America.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The world premiere of Alec Morgan's iconoclastic treatment of a documentary about 1930s Aussie filmmakers Rupert Kathner and Alma Brooks was the perfect choice to re-open Sydney's Chauvel, the city's last arthouse cinema, now operated by Palace Cinemas after smartly re-furbishing the old Paddington Town Hall venue.
It was the perfect choice partly because Kathner and Charles Chauvel were contemporaries - Chauvel is briefly seen in archival footage - partly because the subject is indie filmmaking, and mostly because it is the kind of quality arthouse fare that is typical of what the Chauvel is programming.
Innovative and entertaining, Hunt Angels plays with cinematic tools to bring the 1930s mood alive by clever use of digital technology. Archival stills and footage is seamlessly integrated and enhanced; for example, a still shot of the pipe smoking police commissioner of the time has smoke spiralling out of the still pipe. Other tricks put the film's re-enactment stars into the 1930s picture.
Well told story of pioneering (and buccaneering) filmmakers Rupe and Alma is absorbing and a salutary lesson to filmmakers today. Nothing's changed, and if you want to make films, you might need to be unusually inventive - although Rupe's practice of rubber checks is not romanticised. He gets caught.
But the larrikin spirit of the man - and woman - is well captured in the film's stylish production, and the little known filmmaker finally gets to be a hero in an industry he was so passionate about he could even con a judge.
Review by Louise Keller:
They were the Bonnie and Clyde of the Australian film industry in the 30s, two creative innovators whose extraordinary story has never been told. Shot in black and white with integrated documentary footage and innovative but simple special effects, writer director Alex Morgan has created a striking and fascinating film about guerrilla filmmaking at its wildest. This is a story about passion, and it is clear that everyone concerned with the project was imbued with plenty. Reinforcing the notion that truth is stranger than fiction, the result is something special.
Filmmaker Rupert Kathner's philosophy was to always think big. He wanted to tell Australian stories and dreamed his films would be projected on a giant screen in the sky, viewed by the whole world. His golden rules for filmmaking comprised four steps, beginning with a script. Then came a pilot, followed by the search for an 'angel' or investor. Finally, and if all else failed, it was time to get a partner. All else did fail, and Alma Brooks, a former barmaid and rodeo rider, became not only his business partner, but cinematographer and lover. Impossible was a word over which Kathner simply leap-frogged. Making things happen by his own rules was his forte. If the lead actor wanted the impossible (ie to be paid), kill the character. No access to the body of a murder victim? Find another body. If things are going badly? Head out of town.
Ben Mendelsohn brings attitude and verve to Kathner, whose colourful life spooled out like a B movie. Alma, in the assured hands of Victoria Hill, is a plucky and no-nonsense kinda dame, while Kathner's long-suffering wife is sympathetically portrayed by Eloise Oxer. Morgan's adept script cleverly grounds us in reality with its interviews from historians, participants and even Kathner's son, whose voice gives the story emotional resilience. With a wink to us, the audience, Mendelsohn's Kathner provides the bridge in time, enabling us to appreciate the audaciousness, the context and relevance of a pioneer who deserves his place in history.
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HUNT ANGELS (M)
CAST: Ben Mendelsohn, Victoria Hill, Eloise Oxer, Peter Hansen, Greg Poppleton
PRODUCER: Sue Maslin
DIRECTOR: Alec Morgan
SCRIPT: Alec Morgan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jackie Farkas
EDITOR: Tony Stevens
MUSIC: Jen Anderson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tony Campbell
OTHER: Costume Design: Margot Wilson
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 30, 2006