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Sammy J Is The Political Comedian Canberra Needs And Deserves

Column: Exhibitionist   |   Date Published: Sunday, 14 May 17   |   Author: Zoe Pleasants   |   2 weeks, 2 days ago

     "I was sort of living this double life of trying to be a law student by day, but all day long, I’d be thinking about my gig at night-time."

Canberra looms large in comedian SAMMY J’s latest show, HERO COMPLEX. It is an autobiographical show which starts with the Federal Police searching Sammy J’s attic last year. “I sort of trace that moment back to 1996, when I started swapping Phantom comics with my school gardener,” Sammy J tells me. “And I make the case, in the show, that that moment led to me meeting my wife and ending up in Canberra committing a crime!” Hero Complex has been receiving rave reviews and it was nominated for the revered Barry Award at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival (the award was won by Hannah Gadsby for her show Nanette). Sammy J has been touring it around the country and his last stop will be the Canberra Theatre on Saturday May 27.

Sammy J took a well-worn path into comedy. At school he was an outsider who used comedy as his way in socially, and after school he started a law degree. “That was a huge mistake,” he says. “Literally the first week of uni was the first week I started doing comedy gigs at night in Melbourne pubs. So, I was sort of living this double life of trying to be a law student by day, but all day long, I’d be thinking about my gig at night-time.”

After two and a half years Sammy J made his getaway. “I’d like to say it was a really dramatic decision where I had to go to Tibet and find myself, but I was already doing comedy enough, I already had enough confidence, I guess, to make a decent career of it.”

It turns out that Sammy J is quite a fan of Canberra. He first visited in 1996 as a 12-year-old, when he came on the obligatory school democracy camp, but unlike many Australians he has returned of his own accord many times since then. “I’m one of that strange breed of Australians who visits Canberra optionally and regularly because I love it,” he says. “I go to Canberra for family holidays just to hang out at Questacon and the Gallery. For me Canberra has always had this real allure, obviously as a politics nerd as well, I love that aspect of it.” And as revealed in Hero Complex, some of these trips, including one in 1999 when Sammy J attended a United Nations Youth Conference, have proved to be quite significant in his life.

With all this talk of Canberra and politics nerds, it doesn’t take long for the subject of Sammy J’s hit series Playground Politics to come up.

“That was a highlight of my career,” he says. The series started when the ABC approached him to do some daily, online content for the election and Sammy J, who was watching a lot of Playschool with his daughter at the time, came up with the idea of doing a Playschool parody. He didn’t have any expectations about how the series would go and was as surprised as anyone when the first episode got nearly a million views on Facebook. “I realised that I had this connection, which was amazing, but suddenly the pressure was on because I had three weeks of content to create!”

This pressure quickly turned into a daily adrenaline rush. “We were filming the episodes on the day that they were released, which was stupid in retrospect, but that meant they were really present and topical,” he says. As crazy as working like that was, Sammy J appreciated the creative freedom it gave him. “I was pretty much submitting [the show] at four o’clock and it would be up on iview at five o’clock, and creatively that was such a freedom. A lot of the jokes and styles in the show came out as result of not caring, whereas in other shows, in the past, I would second-guess myself and double-check things, or be talked out of things. But that just didn’t happen on this show.”

Another unexpected side effect of the show was its educational effect. “I had some people telling me they were watching the episodes with their family a lot, with their young kids, and it was prompting discussion, which was obviously never my intention. In fact, I’m horrified to think if anyone was learning something!” Of course, comedy is a great way to teach and inform, much better than long-winded political analysis. Sammy J’s interaction with Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, in the Playground Politics Christmas Special was a case in point. “I was amazed at that myself,” says Sammy J, “[Bill Shorten] was such a good sport. All comedians know that humour has the power, just to sort of relax people and disarm people, which is particularly pertinent in today’s political climate.” 

For the many of you that enjoyed Playground Politics, the good news is that Sammy J is currently in discussions with the ABC. “So, there is nothing official yet,” he says, “but I think I can say I’m a fairly decent chance of more political puppetry action in the coming months.”

Catch Sammy J in Hero Complex at the Canberra Theatre on Saturday May 27 at 7:30pm. $38 + bf through canberratheatrecentre.com.au.

Six Degrees Café Delivers Coffee With A Difference:

Black Mountain School launched their SIX DEGREES CAFÉ, GARDEN AND GALLERY on Tuesday May 9. This exceptional social enterprise aims to develop the workplace skills of students with a disability ensuring they have the skills to be ‘work ready’ upon their graduation from school and be valid contributors to future workplaces. It also gives Canberrans the opportunity to purchase a delicious coffee and other products from the friendliest customer service in town, in a beautiful relaxed environment whilst supporting these greater aims.

The Six Degrees enterprise aims to provide a centre for independent growth and development at a school and community level. They envision a world in which people can influence decisions which affect their lives, enjoy their rights, and assume their responsibilities as full citizens. The facility will be used to train and certify young people with a disability in areas of industry, and increase opportunities for people with a disability to gain future employment and volunteering work. Six Degrees is a venue where young people with a disability are able to develop their independence and social skills in a safe environment. It connects the wider community with people with a disability, showcasing the skills they have in the areas of Industrial Art, Hospitality, Horticulture, Hydroponics and Sustainability. A variety of student created products in these fields will also be available for purchase from the enterprise.

The role of education is vital to Australia having a productive, sustainable and inclusive future. There remains a gap between young people with disability and those without, including in the attainment of vocational education and training. Targeted support, such as that being achieved at Black Mountain School, is needed to assist people with a disability in education and in the workforce. By showcasing the skills and attributes of young people with a disability in a working environment, the enterprise also aims to promote the employability potential of people with disabilities to the wider community.

The facility has been purposely built and includes an outdoor courtyard and swing set (a handy option for parents with young children). They aim to increase opening hours of the café as it proves successful to the wider community. It is also a great spot for workplace meetings, and has the potential to be booked for this, with options for catering for lunch. It also has some potential for acoustic music performances or similar events in the future. 

So come along and be part of an exciting venture that aims to make a significant difference to the lives of people with disabilities and create a more inclusive community in Canberra.  

For further information about booking the facility for meetings, or other enquires please contact Stephanie Knott at the school. The Six Degrees Café is located inside Black Mountain School. The best entry is via the front school car park at Cockle St, O’Connor. 

‘Viceroy’s House’: Film Director Gurinder Chadha On Partition And Her New Historical Epic:

Gurinder Chadha, internationally and critically acclaimed director of films including Bhaji on the Beach, Bend it Like Beckham and now VICEROY’S HOUSE, has often addressed themes of identity and ‘the clash of cultures’ with nuanced humour, emotion and mainstream appeal. For Chadha, cinema is “magical storytelling – [taking] an audience into a different world, [showing] them the rules of that world, how we as humans can connect to that world through various emotions. You go on that journey and you come out the other side hopefully with a different view of the world and of the people you’ve just seen on the screen.”

Chadha’s new film, Viceroy’s House, captures the catalyst for inter-generational and inter-cultural trauma that is little talked about. The film explores the upheaval associated with the 1947 division of British India into the separate dominions of India and Pakistan. The last Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten (played by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville), was tasked with overseeing the transition of British India to independence. Millions of people were displaced during Partition, resulting in a refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale, far-reaching violence and large-scale loss of life.

2017 marks the 70th anniversary of this event.

The human tragedy of Partition is a very personal story for Chadha, and contributed to her motivation for making the film. “I’d grown up under the shadow of Partition, and my ancestral homeland [was] on the other side of the border, the Pakistan side,” Chadha explains. “Partition had deeply affected my family, and it’s a subject that no one hears about, no one really talks about, so I wanted to shine a light on it before that last generation of people who were alive then, pass on. There’s been so much tension between India and Pakistan and I think that’s rooted in Partition. So I wanted to make a really healing film, a sort of reconciliatory film.”

Viceroy’s House is thematically and cinematically ambitious. In order for the film to effectively engage with a myriad of perspectives and tensions, Chadha collaborated with writer (and real-life partner), Paul Berges, to create a film part-based on fact and part-fiction. For Chadha, this allowed the story of Partition to be told “in a way that is informative and entertaining as a sweeping historical epic.” Chadha elaborates, “It’s a challenge [to make this kind of film]. You need a very good team working with you, and you also need great [Assistant Directors] to manage the crowds. [It was] hard finding English extras in India … and [difficulties arose] simply because we were shooting in Rajasthan where there isn’t much of a film industry, but this is where the location was.”

Chadha’s films consistently explore the idea of the family as a microcosm of wider intercultural tensions. A key narrative arc in Viceroy’s House focuses on ‘star-crossed lovers’, Jeet and Aalia, who are from different religious backgrounds. In walking the ‘tightrope of tensions’ in bringing this story to the big screen, Chadha’s journalistic training as a BBC alumna came into play. “I had to do a lot of research and I wanted to make sure that I was very fair to all sides. [To make this type of film,] you have to be very careful and mindful of exploring the truth as you see the truth.”

For Chadha, Viceroy’s House holds many contemporary resonances. “Partition happened as a result of politicians using division and ‘divide and rule’ over an unsuspecting public to get what they wanted and I believe that’s very true today. We have a lot of division and a lot of dissention and a lot of blaming of different groups of people … I think that we have to be very mindful that whenever a politician uses these kinds of divisive tactics, the end result will always be destruction and death.” Chadha acknowledges that “history is dotted with examples of walls going up, political walls, political boundaries … I think that [Viceroy’s House] is very resonant for today. It makes us look at these economic borders, political boundaries and makes you realise how connected we all are economically and politically – and that maybe those kind of national boundaries don’t mean as much as they used to.”

Viceroy’s House features ‘cream of the crop’ British and Indian actors including Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Simon Cowell and Om Puri. The key to attracting such talent, Chadha explains, is having a strong screenplay. “I was lucky: Hugh [Bonneville] immediately signed on,” Chadha explains. Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Fall), who plays Lady Edwina Mounbatten in the film, was equally enthusiastic about being involved in the project, after reading only twenty pages of the screenplay. “That’s the best thing,” notes Chadha, “for an actor to choose to be in a film because the script touches them.”

According to Chadha, the purpose of making Viceroy’s House was to “generate debate and to inform”. Through this film, Chadha highlights the importance of a shared humanity, with the film also providing a catalyst for the audience to seek to discover more about this tumultuous period in world history.

Viceroy’s House will be released in cinemas Thursday May 18.

Dancing Through The Infinite With Sydney Dance Company's Orb:

Sydney Dance Company is opening its 2017 season with ORB, a double-billed production comprising two equally striking dance pieces. The first is Full Moon: choreographed by Cheng Tsung-Lung, it also marks the company’s first collaboration with an Asian choreographer. The second is Ocho (meaning ‘eight’ in Spanish), which has been choreographed by Sydney Dance Company director Rafael Bonachela with composition by Nick Wales, who has collaborated with Indigenous Australian musician Rrawun Maymuru.

Nick Wales is a founding member of CODA – an experimental band that I saw in its starter days while at Uni in Sydney circa 1995. Their eclectic instruments were jammed in a corner of a seedy pub and we crouched on the stained carpet with drinks precariously balanced between sweaty bodies and beanies. The energy created with this vibrant new sound using keys, vibraphone and varying strings, was palpable. Since then CODA have released multiple albums and played to sold out venues around the world. 

Unbeknownst to me, I heard Nick’s work again when he composed for Shaun Parker’s dance piece ‘Happy as Larry’ in 2013 in Adelaide. While my memory retains the strong performances, what I notice upon reflection is the space that the music created for the performers – repetitive beats acted as a heartbeat for the show. The silence he created between the sound was like the Japanese garden where the beauty is in the space between objects.

Nick Wales strikes me as a passionate composer who truly loves his work. He was easy to talk to and articulate with explaining how his ideas come to fruition. 

This is Wales’ seventh project with Bonachela, and their respect for each other’s contribution is clear. “When you have creative freedom as a collaborator, it makes the process a joyous one,” says Nick. 

Wales says that Bonachela usually has a short rehearsal period meaning that the sound needs to be pretty complete by day one. In the three months prior, he will hear Rafael’s vision then research and create the sound.

For Ocho he looked first to numerology – and latched on to the double meaning of ‘eight’ as the representative of infinity and also the ego. He says, “There is a duality to the number eight. Some aspects I was drawn to more than others – namely absolute power and authority. Raf wanted to start the work with a series of solos so I thought this worked well with that idea. David Elton, a trumpet player from Sydney Symphony Orchestra, provided a very loud and grand sound that suited that idea of power. I let the instruments personify the meaning.

“The other idea of the number eight was the infinite. The last piece in the work is the collaboration with aboriginal musician Rrawun Maymuru – exploring the heaven and earth and the spiritual side of the number eight. The work is in three movements, and the middle movement is about dissolving the egos – they get derailed. I used the Persian flute here and juxtaposed that with strange hard-hitting electronic music. Then we bring it back together in the third movement with this ethereal beauty.

“There are moments when Raf just says ‘I hate it’ like our first conversation on Ocho when I said I wanted to use the trumpet. But sometimes I just have to ignore him.

“He’s often saying, ‘no world music – I don’t want it to sound like National Geographic channel’. But I’m often trying to sneak in some world music and see if he notices. And he loves it.

“I knew I wanted to use a song for the finale and I knew I wanted it to be a spiritual song. I could have gone to any religion for that – I could have used ‘Ava Maria’.

“But it’s not like that with Rrawun’s music. It’s not sneaking in world music – it’s the real deal. His sound is so beautiful and bold.

“There was just this synchronicity when I met Rrawun, and when I mentioned to him ideas of the infinite.

“He's a songman, so there’s a rich tradition of passing down songs. And there was this lightbulb moment where he thought of this song that had come down through his paternal line. And when we recorded it, it just felt timeless. It didn’t feel like an indigenous song.”

I ask Rrawun why he feels it is important for indigenous artists to work with companies like this. He says, “I want to tell my side of the story to people. To share that there is a culture that dates back 60,000 years and these stories need to be retold to the rest of Australia through song and dance.

“The premiere of Ocho was very special for me – looking at these dancers. I said to myself I have never ever seen anything like this before – it’s like accepting the other worlds, to experience other arts – and I thought, we do that! We dance to tell stories in our culture. We express ourselves through dance too. We are not different, we are the same.”

This beautiful duo of works should not be missed.

Sydney Dance Company’s Orb, including ‘Full Moon’ and ‘Ocho’, comes to Canberra Theatre Centre from Thu–Sat May 25–27. Tickets at canberratheatrecentre.com.au.

Gabrielle Tozer's Latest Novel 'Remind Me Ho This Ends' And A Long Overdue Catchup :

GABRIELLE TOZER’s third young adult novel, REMIND ME HOW THIS ENDS has just come out. It tells the story of Milo and Layla who as kids shared everything. But Milo hasn’t seen or heard from Layla since she moved away with her Dad at the age of thirteen. Then, five years later, she suddenly shows up in his parents’ bookshop. Soon they get drawn into a tangled mess that guarantees someone will get hurt.

Tozer has always known she wanted to be a writer. When she was in primary school she was asked to list her top ten careers, and author was on there. “Mum kept that [list] for ages, so it was pretty amazing when my first book came out in 2014 to look back at it and think, ‘wow, I can’t believe it happened.’” That first book was the young adult novel, The Intern for which Tozer won the State Library of Victoria’s Gold Inky Award in 2015. But not all dreams come true. Working in Grace Bros, acting in Home and Away and owning a craft shop were also on that list! Tozer enjoys writing YA novels because it’s a time in life that deals with so many firsts, “It’s this exciting, terrifying time, there is so much going on. It’s just interesting terrain to be able to sink your teeth into.”

Originally from Wagga Wagga, Tozer spent three years in Canberra studying journalism and creative writing at University of Canberra. During her time here, she wrote for BMA. “It was my number one training ground as a writer,” she tells me. “I covered a lot of bands and pop culture stuff; it was a wonderful gig.” Tozer was living on campus at the time, “so you know when you have eleven people on a dorm, and I was doing these interviews with these international stars in my bedroom and there would be these people bashing on my door saying, ‘come on, we’re going to the pub.’ And I’d be like ‘hang on, wait a sec I’m interviewing Regurgitator, or Grinspoon!’ It was such a highlight.”

Tozer wrote her first two novels while holding down a full-time job. “It was a disaster in the sense that there were just not enough hours in the day,” she says. “I managed to do it but it wasn’t a pretty sight! And after that, I kept trying to experiment with different schedules and time management and you realise you can’t do everything.” Tozer is now a freelance writer and works on her own terms to support her writing, “I love it, it’s the perfect mix,” she says. It seems to be working for her; as well as Remind Me How This Ends, she has two more projects coming out this year, a picture book called Peas and Quiet and a short story in the #LoveOzYA anthology Begin, End, Begin

Remind Me How This Ends and Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA anthology are published by Harper Collins and are out now.

Essential Viewing: The American Essentials Film Festival:

Over the past decade, there seems to be an observable decline in the amount of independent feature films from the USA released in Australian cinemas. Sure, there are the occasional breakout hits like Get Out or Whiplash, but twenty years ago there seemed to be a more regular presence on our screens from the emerging masters like Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, Gus van Sant and Sofia Coppola.

So when the Essential Independents film festival came into being last year, it was a welcome showcase for many of the smaller independent American movies that would otherwise go unseen in most Canberra cinemas.

The festival, renamed the AMERICAN ESSENTIALS FILM FESTIVAL, makes a valued return for 2017. Drawing from the high-profile international Sundance, Berlin, SXSW, Toronto, Venice and Rotterdam film festivals, American Essentials brings us many new works just weeks after their world premieres.

The opening night film is the highly anticipated, Oscar-nominated 20th Century Women, the new work from director Mike Mills (Beginners). A tale of a divorced mother bringing up a teenage son in 1970s Southern California, it is ostensibly a showcase for the talents of the wonderful Annette Bening (in a Golden Globe nominated performance) as the central character.

The Centrepiece film is Becoming Bond, a documentary-drama on the life of former Goulburn and Queanbeyan local, George Lazenby, who took over the role of James Bond after Sean Connery retired from the franchise. Featuring candid straight-to-camera recollections from Lazenby, combined with dramatisations of his life scenes from the likes of Josh Lawson and Jane Seymour, this distils the natural charisma of the actor into a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale.

Other new release highlights include: Wiener Dog, Todd (Happiness) Solondz’s latest work depicting the impact of quirky humans on the life of a dachshund (including a reappearance of two characters from one of Solondz’s classics, Welcome To The Dollhouse); Walking Out, a wilderness survival thriller that got good reviews out of Sundance and SXSW; and The Transfiguration, a meshing of horror and minimalist realism, an unusual take on the vampire genre that was a surprise hit at Cannes last year.

The festival also contains a retrospective section, and this year there is a focus on visionary director David Lynch. David Lynch: The Art Life documents his lesser-known visual art from the 60s and 70s, and there are screenings of his two masterpieces of dreamscape nightmares, Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive. There are also screenings of Mike Nichol’s American classics The Graduate and Postcards From The Edge (the latter written by Carrie Fisher, based on her own memoirs about her relationship with her mother Debbie Reynolds), rarely seen cult masterpieces Barfly and Andy Warhol’s Bad, and what is undoubtedly the greatest rom-com of all time, Annie Hall.

American Essentials Film Festival 2017 comes to Palace Electric Cinema from Tue–Sun May 16–28. For screening times, visit americanessentials.com.au.

‘Don’t Tell’: Producer Scott Corfield On New Courtroom Drama Based On Landmark Australian Case: "I didn’t want to sensationalise [the story] … which I felt [would be] a betrayal of Lyndal and her story."

Australian film DON’T TELL is an engrossing ‘David and Goliath’ courtroom drama based on the true story of the 2001 landmark court case that initiated changes to Australian child protection laws. Directed by Tori Garrett, the film is a testament to the human spirit, perseverance and courage in the face of adversity. Don’t Tell follows the story of a young woman known as Lyndal (Sara West), who was sexually abused as a child by her boarding master (played by Gyton Grantley) at a prestigious private school in Queensland. With the secrets and burden of the past weighing on Lyndal, she decides to fight for her voice and story to be heard with the help of lawyer Stephen Roche (Aden Young) and barrister Robert Myers (Jack Thompson). BMA caught up with Producer Scott Corfield to find out more about the making of and impact of the film.

Don’t Tell is based on a book written by Lyndal’s lawyer, Stephen Roche. Corfield explains: “[Roche] came to me through a mutual filmmaking friend [and] said, I’ve been practising law for many years since [Lyndal’s case] and nothing seems to change. These cases keep popping up, and they keep getting settled out of court. And he said, I wrote a book … [but] I wonder if a film would be a better way to get this story out there.” After Corfield had read Roche’s book and met the real-life Lyndal and her barrister Robert Myers, it became increasingly apparent to Corfield that it was imperative that he to try to bring this story to a wider audience.

Corfield has recently returned to Australia from California where Don’t Tell won the Audience Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival, where it premiered. For Corfield, this is a testament to Lyndal’s story and people’s ability to listen. “We did a great Q&A [after the screening] and the moderator had to close it down because people kept wanting to talk about it and ask questions. So I think that once [the film is released] and a few people start to see it, people will start to see that it’s an important film.”

The 2012 announcement of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse and even the release of Oscar-winning film Spotlight (2015) helped to change the conversation. Corfield and the team behind Don’t Tell have provided another means for discussion, by taking the issue of child sexual abuse out of the shadows and into mainstream public discourse through accessible entertainment. The response from survivors who have seen the film has been positive and supportive, explains Corfield. “What I’m getting from survivors, [is that the story is] in a format that encourages people to talk about child sexual abuse … And that was the early intention of the film. It’s gratifying to get that kind of reaction.”

But there were challenges in getting this story to the big screen. “Films are tough things to pull together,” Corfield says. “From the start, trying to get the script right and trying to be respectful of the true story. I didn’t want to sensationalise [the story] … which I felt [would be] a betrayal of Lyndal and her story, so we [tried to] craft a film that was very close to the truth.

“We weren’t a big budget film – just over $4 million – it’s not a big budget film for that cast. … You’re relying on the cast to do it for the good of the story. And they were incredibly committed and dedicated … to try and turn this into something special. So it was a real privilege to work with every one of them.” The film boasts powerhouse performances from Australian screen icons Jack Thompson, Rachel Griffiths, Susie Porter and Martin Sacks.  Corfield gives particular praise to Sara West’s central performance: “it’s heartbreakingly good”. Award-winning Australian musician Missy Higgins also wrote a song for the film, called ‘Torchlight’. “[It’s a] beautiful song,” Corfield says.

Corfield encourages audiences not to balk at the film’s subject matter, but to support survivors by seeing this film. “I think first and foremost – this is a piece of entertainment, and it is a good watch, it’s a great piece of drama. I think it’s a very courageous story. Like a lot of courtroom dramas, there are incredible moments of honesty … Audiences should not be afraid or scared to watch this film … it’s about injustice and it’s about trying to right those injustices.” He elaborates, “I’ve got a little daughter of my own now that was born during the production and I’m just far more aware of the responsibilities we all have [to protect children] … so I hope that the film finds a good audience and that people give it a chance because it’s certainly worth it.”

Don’t Tell is a powerful, moving and highly relevant story.  See this film and continue the conversation.

Don’t Tell will be released in cinemas on Thursday May 18. For more information, visit the film’s website, donttellmovie.com. If you or anyone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

 

 





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