Phillipe Sands @ Melbourne Writers Festival 2016

‘What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others’ – Nicolas Abraham

I was worried the early Sunday morning timeslot would deter some from experiencing the brilliance that is Phillipe Sands. But, I needn’t have worried as it seems that Sands had drawn a full house for his Melbourne Writers Festival appearance at the wonderful ACMI. He managed three appearances at the festival over 48 hours and I was lucky enough to catch his last presentation, ‘Phillipe Sands: The Origins of Genocide.’ Yeah, I know it’s not the most cheerful of subjects to be talking about early on a weekend morning but it was more than insightful.

Sands is a prolific criminal barrister, working on many of the biggest cases we have seen in recent years—the Iraq Inquiry, anybody heard of it? This is a man who knows his stuff and his stuff just happens to be crimes against humanity. What began as an exploration into the origins of the words ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ quickly turned into something more personal for Sands. The more he researched, the more he found little coincidences that connected his own family to the two men who created those phrases post-World War II. He presented his research and own family story with gusto and just a twinge of sadness—he never spoke to his grandfather about his wartime experiences but boy were they worth talking about.


Photo credit: Tegan Sizer

Sands explored the often under researched relationship between grandparent and grandchild, made especially tricky when that grandparent had experienced trauma. Sands’ point was made with little jargon, weaving everyday language with psychological research that left the audience (an audience of mainly over 55s—I, at 25 years old, stood out like a sore thumb) questioning their own relationships with others.

Sands is a charismatic speaker, the (in my opinion) too-short 60 minutes flew by and I was left wanting more. Sands was joined on stage by esteemed ABC Radio presenter Rafael Epstein who seemed to be just as much in awe of Sands as his audience was. Epstein asked questions that prompted just the right answers without revealing too much of East West Street’s plot.

I want you all to go out and read Sands’ resulting novel, East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity”, so I will not reveal any of the captivating things Sands discovers here. Just know that this novel will have you hooked from the beginning.

For me, this was the highlight of a wonderful Melbourne Writers Festival for 2016. I urge you all to do yourselves a favour and read East West Street. No, genocide is not fun to talk about but if we don’t educate ourselves on the past we are doomed to repeat it in the future. And that is exactly what Phillipe Sands is afraid of.

Words by Tegan Sizer.


A Worthy MIFF Report

It’s 12:00 at night, and I am so tired. I have just seen my 5th movie of the day, speeding backwards and forwards between the major cinemas of the festival: Kino, Forum, Comedy Theatre, Hoyts in Melbourne Central etc., interspersed with meet-ups with mates, drinking cheap Japanese beer, and discussing the festival with feverish excitement. It is the 65th Melbourne International Film Festival, and from 28th July – 14th August, I and many other die-hard cinephiles will be in movie heaven. I sit where I normally sit; the 14th seat of the 3rd row of the ACMI cinema, one of my favourite cinemas of the festival. It is dark, moody, dramatic and refreshingly modern with exceedingly comfortable seats. The screen is displayed in front of me and my mate, here to see the 40th anniversary restoration of the American independent horror movie PHANTASM. We cannot wait as the background music plays in smooth jazz and beat-bop saxophone solos. On the screen we see, in giant, colourful fonts: MIFF Melbourne International Film Festival. Then the screen dims, the title screen shows, the foreboding music booms through the cinema. And the few of us dedicated or stupid enough to see the movie when most cinema goers had long gone home? We would not rather be anywhere else. This is MIFF in a nutshell.

This is the third year in a row I have attended MIFF. It costs around $300 to get a members passport to see as many movies as you are humanly able to. Pricey? Yes, but sweet Jesus it is worth every penny spent. You see movies from all over the world: Iran, France, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Venezuela, China, Japan, Brazil, Spain, Thailand, Indonesia, Russia, Nigeria, Ethiopia etc., and they come from almost every era of film history, from the recently produced, to undiscovered classics. To enter, all you need is one of the amazing volunteers to scan your tickets—and you’re in. On top of these amazing films, from the usual digital projections right up to the exceedingly rare 35mm film prints, you will also have the opportunity to see the opening premieres of some of the most exciting names in cinema at the moment as they come for the film’s opening, or for a Q&A session with the directors themselves! You also have access to bars, little member’s lounges to indulge in a bit of free food and drink for relaxation, while chatting away to your fellow film nerds. It’s a wonderful life.

Phantasm remastered 2016 1979

PHANTASM: Remastered (2016;1979)

The fun of the movie-going experience really is the most exciting and nerve-racking part of the festival. For me, this year has being a rollercoaster of emotions and it still isn’t even finished! I have been blown away by films such as Ceila Rowlson-Hall’s Ma, a road trip film about the Virgin Mary told entirely through dance. Despite some walkouts and curses muttered under people’s breath, I was staggered at its extraordinary beauty, and when the director herself turned up for Q&A? I lost my mind. I walked up to her, nervous by her raw talent, and shook her hand and said ‘Thank you for such an amazing experience’ before I quickly ran away, along with my giddiness.

I have also shed tears over Studio Ghibli’s new film: The Red Turtle. This was an ecstatic experience of beautiful animation and the first film made under Studio Ghibli that was not created in Japan, instead, having animators from all over the world create a work of sheer beauty. Experimental films such as Khalil Blues, Evolution, My Life as a Courgette etc. I have also seen works that completely mystify me in their strangeness, such as the new Polish musical, The Lure, about two mermaids who become cabaret singers and how their sex lives and eating habits (closely intertwined) are obscuring their dreams of musical glory…

Where else but MIFF?

The Red Turtle 2016

The Red Turtle (2016)

The biggest highlights for me were four films: Starless Dreams, Cosmos, Death in Sarajevo, and The Family. These films represented what was brilliant about MIFF and the quality of the stories that are shared at the event. Cosmos is a nonsensical, yet witty and wholly original magical journey into cinematic creation, which is sadly the last film of wondrous (and personal favourite) Polish filmmaker Andrzej Żuławski (who created the wonderfully demented Possession in 1981). We also had a fantastic exposé documentary on a female detention centre in Tehran with Starless Dreams, with some of the most heartbreaking scenes I have ever seen in recent cinema (one of the girls calls herself 651 after how many grams of crystal meth she had being caught carrying). Death in Sarajevo is a loose adaptation of Hotel Europa, which was a provoking and contagiously arresting piece on Blakan region politics and the resulting violence. The Family, however is one of Australia’s biggest and most disturbing contribution to the festival, discussing the bizarre family cult that emerged in Melbourne during the 60s and 70s, featuring LSD injections, indoctrination, and child abuse. It is one of the most disturbing documentaries about one of the darkest times of recent Melbourne history.

I am always of the strong opinion that if anyone believes or thinks that cinema itself is dead, mutilated or slowly becoming extinct, they are very, very mislead. Thanks to MIFF (which is, as of now, the SECOND largest film festival in the world, next to Cannes Film Festival in France), everyone in Victoria is but a stone’s throw away from some of the most enlightening, funny, dark, tragic and beautiful stories that world cinema has to offer.

And now as the festival is wrapping up, I can say that I have had no sleep, watched dozens and dozens of films, interacted with the lovely volunteers of MIFF, and run across the entirety of Melbourne for some of the most magical and luminous stories modern cinema has to offer. I cannot wait to do this all over again next year.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for us cinema nerds.

Vivre la Cinéma!

Words by W.D Farnsworth.

For the Night is Dark and Full of Spoilers

On 8th March, HBO released the first trailer for season six of Game of Thrones and it has since garnered over 24 million views on YouTube. The new season is set to be released in April, and for the first time those who’ve read the books are no better informed than those who watch the show. This is partially due to the creative choices of showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who have been deviating further and further from the source material with each passing season. But mostly it is down to what is probably an unprecedented state of affairs: for the first time in television history*, a TV adaptation has overtaken the book series on which it is based.

A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin is a slow writer, something his legions of fans lament louder each month that passes without a hint of his sixth book, The Winds of Winter, appearing on the shelves. Combine that with the swift pace of Game of Thrones production and it becomes inevitable that this situation would come about. What this means for the fans, however, is far less clear-cut.

As a bona fide ‘have read the books’ snob, I can inform readers that up until recently the more optimistic Song of Ice and Fire fans were holding out for an early 2016 Winds of Winter release, which would allow us to finish the book before season six started airing and thus avoid potential spoilers and retain our air of superiority. Sadly for us this has not occurred, and George Martin got himself in hot water recently when he revealed that he originally planned to have The Winds of Winter finished by Halloween last year to allow for an early 2016 release, but blew through that deadline and a follow-up deadline on 31st December. Curse you, you slow typing serial killer. Curse you to the seven hells!

Thankfully for show fans, George Martin’s snail-paced fingers have saved them from yet another season of teasing hints and gloating from book readers. For the first time in Game of Thrones history, book and show fans are diving into a new season on level ground, and this is why the season six trailer is so important. For those who haven’t watched it, it does what all trailers do: gives us a few hints of what is to come without revealing anything truly important. We see soldiers in battle, arrows firing, windows breaking in, Drogon flying and women kissing: all the hallmarks of what makes Game of Thrones great. But there is also a mournful tone to this trailer; it opens with an image of Jon Snow’s bloody corpse and the words ‘he’s gone’, and as we see each of our surviving favourites in turn they all seem to be suffering: Jaime and Cersei are mourning their daughter, a careworn Jorah searches for Daenerys, Melisandre is confronting failure, Arya gets hit, Daenerys is a ragged slave amidst a Dothraki horde, and Tyrion looks unshaven and afraid. There’s a real sense even in one minute and forty-one seconds of everything that’s been lost, exacerbated by the sorrowful melody of James Vincent McMorrow’s ‘Wicked Game’. Whatever this season is, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be happy. But by now that’s what we expect.


Image Source: HBO

But it’s not all doom and gloom; with a new season comes new possibilities. Rumours have been swirling ever since season five ended that Jon Snow is not really dead, and high profile actors Max von Sydow and Ian McShane are joining the crew. On top of this Isaac Hempstead-Wright is returning as Bran after his character’s one-season hiatus, looking older and more capable though faced with more deadly foes. I’m quite looking forward to not knowing what will come next, safe in knowledge that thanks to the show’s independence any and all revelations will only be confirmed as spoilers by reading The Winds of Winter when it is released. And book readers do have something exclusive to look forward to; after some humming and harring George Martin has decided to go ahead with a twist for book six that the show cannot do as they have already killed one of the characters involved. That’s what you get for ignoring the source material, fools! I kid. Game of Thrones is an excellent show, and everyone who watches season six is in for a treat, as (blink and you’ll miss it) the trailer shows part of a flashback sequence featuring Ned Stark in battle against the Kingsguard. As for where the fight is and what they’re fighting over, well, us book readers know, but giving any hints would just be spoiling it.

Happy viewing everyone!

WORDLY’s resident medieval fantasy correspondent,
Rowan Girdler


*Probably. I didn’t check or anything. (Editor’s note: definitely not!)