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CANE TOADS THE CONQUEST

SYNOPSIS:
Cane toads were introduced into Australia in the 1930s an attempt to help sugar cane farmers beat the greyback bugs that were spoiling the cane. It was a failure - but not for the toads, which have prospered and multiplied ever since. They have now travelledacross and colonised the north eastern seaboard and are moving into Western Australia. They breed ferociously.

Review by Louise Keller:
A fascinating look at the ubiquitous cane-toad, this entertaining documentary is informative, humorous and occasionally tragic as it traces its Australian origins and laments its future. Everything you ever wanted to know about cane-toads but were very, very afraid to ask is what Mark Lewis's 86 minute film canvasses - in its distinctive, often irreverent tone.

The humble cane toad, with its bulging eyes, golden black, flecked eyes and speckled skin was brought to Australia in the 1930s from Puerto Rico in the hope of ridding Queensland's sugar cane fields of its cane-devouring greyback beetle. No such luck. Quickly becoming a pest, with its breeding cycle of laying between 30,000 and 40,000 eggs twice every year, this nomad travels far and fast with un-rhythmic leaps, eating flies and cockroaches along the way, true to its species.

Nuisance or saviour? Politicians, residents, landscape specialists, dog owners, inventors and others are divided on the answer, but we do learn certain things. Dogs that ingest the toad's toxic spray can die - or others simply ingest enough to enjoy tripping on it. A string of interviewees talk about all the methods available to kill the pests. Run 'em over, stick 'em in the freezer, spear 'em, put them in plastic bags with a puff of CO2. Then there are others who tan the skins, stuff them and create a Travelling Toad show, and we hear from those who have loved their cane toads as pets.

As the cane toads continue their spread over the continent of Australia, there is no doubt they are as hardy as the landscape they are covering. Whatever happens in the future, as we watch in close up (and 3D, in selected cinemas), these plentiful creatures that have adopted Australia as their own, make a fantastic documentary.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Mark Lewis has set the benchmark for pest docos first with Cane Toads (1988) and then Rat (1998) and now wants to explore 3D technology in pursuit of more tales of the toad. Where his first toad movie had the element of surprise, this sequel has the advantage of experience. He knows the subject matter better. (He has made docos about other animals too, including dogs and chickens.)

As is his wont, Lewis introduces us to a cast of colourful characters - from taxi drivers and 'entrepreneurs', from farmers to scientists - to help tell the multifaceted story of the cane toads and their march across Australia. We see them swat and eat cockroaches with relish (the toads that is) and we see them hop and bum around. But, given their extraordinary reproductive habits, we see them mate only once, and then briefly. How coy.

They are a danger to indigenous species and to some domestic pets with their poisonous secretion, but we see at least one dog (and hear of other such cases) which has acquired a habit, licking cane toads it comes across until it gets high. This is perhaps the film's funniest sequence, and we forgive Lewis for milking it for all its worth.

The special device of his first toad film was the clever, angled mirror he used in front of the camera lens that allowed his subjects to look straight down the lens at the audience as they talked - while in fact they were looking at his reflection. This reduced the effects of camera shyness. In this new film, Lewis takes a slightly more traditional approach, although he still applies his sense of stylisation, ensuring each subject is filmed in a suitably designed setting - even the toads.

It's highly informative and often hilarious and even though it is filled with facts, there are still questions left unanswered: why do some people freeze cane toads in their freezer? Why do others turn them into explosive fertiliser? And above all, why are we so fascinated by these creatures?



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MARK LEWIS INTERVIEW

CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0


CANE TOADS THE CONQUEST (PG)
(Aust, 2011)

CAST: Documentary

PRODUCER: Mark Lewis

DIRECTOR: Mark Lewis

SCRIPT: Mark Lewis

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kathryn Millis, Paul Nichola, Toby Oliver

EDITOR: Robert DeMaio

MUSIC: Martin Armiger

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Daniel C. Nyiri

RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Pinnacle Films

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 2, 2011







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