Film Review – Three Summers

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Over three years, the same people attend a music festival Westival, staged in rural outback Western Australia and during this time relationships change and evolve.

The main storyline concentrates on the love story between Keevy (Rebecca Breeds), a down to earth pub band fiddler, and theremin player Roland (Robert Sheehan), together they meet at the festival. Roland encourages Keevy to apply to a music conservatorium which causes great drama, especially with Keevy’s father played by John Waters. There are great supporting characters in the film, such as Michael Caton, who plays a racist and Magda Szubanski who is the community radio announcer and Deborah Mailman who plays a therapist who runs the festival’s Alcoholics Anonymous sessions. As a secondary storyline, the film concentrates on some aspects of contemporary Australian society such as the plight of refugees left in unlimited detention and the problems some Aboriginals experience in their communities.

The film was beautifully shot, capturing the beautiful Aussie outback in rural Western Australia. It also ticked all the boxes which is a good step forward in terms of diversity, portraying Multicultural Australia in film. My only question is, “Did the filmmaker concentrate on ticking all the boxes more so than creating a more organic storyline?”

Ben Elton says, “The idea for Three Summers came about during one of my family trips to the Fairbridge Folk Festival in WA. I was sitting in the bar tent doing some people watching, there’s such a rich tapestry of humanity at these sorts of family music events and so much comedy. People from different walks of life suddenly living in a field together with only sheets of canvas and polyester between them. Everybody’s equal in the queue for the portaloos!”

Three Summers’ Aussie soundtrack includes tracks by Little Birdy, Dan Sultan, the John Butler Trio, Xavier Rudd, Gotye, Sarah Blasko , Dr. G. Yunupingu and many more.

The Run time 102 minutes

6.5/10

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Diversity Spotlight – Interview with Monica Sayers

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Monica Sayers, is an Australian-Chinese actress and yoga teacher who has worked extensively in different performance mediums over the past 15 years in Australia, the UK and Ireland. She has worked on a number of television series including Love My Way, All Saints, Home and Away, The Clinic (Ireland) and The Royal (UK) and Sydney Theatre Company’s Australian Graffiti and Chimerica and is currently starring in Melbourne Theatre Company’s Hay Fever. 

JOY: What is your cultural background?

MONICA: Chinese with dash of Incan blood! My great grandfather was part Chinese and South American.

JOY: When and where did you graduate?

MONICA: I studied The Journey at Actors Centre Australia in 1998, before graduating from the NIDA acting course in 2004.

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JOY: Who were your role models growing up & why?

MONICA: My mother Barbara was a very big role model in my life, as were my 2 grandmothers, May See and Lily.

Barbara sang in talent quests, was a model for fashion house, Mr Simons, and met my father whilst singing in the band called Parker. They fell in love and became a duo, playing in RSL clubs, cabaret venues and cruise ships. I grew up watching my mum perform regularly whilst holding down a full time job and run a household – I thought she was Superwoman! She was creative, witty, charismatic, yet she was down-to-earth and pragmatic.

My grandmother May See was an extraordinary woman of strength and dedication to her family’s survival during challenging times in China and Hong Kong. She had learnt to speak English at a young age – an invaluable tool utilized time and time again throughout her life. She fought tooth and nail to protect her kids and mother from the Communist party and was courageous and daring in her efforts. Her memoirs have been published by my aunt – Phoebe Sayers, a book called ‘Tomorrow is Another Trial’ a truly unbelievable recount of May See’s journey and her mother’s (my great grandmother’s) life.

My grandmother Lily was the happiest person I ever met! She would smile and laugh mid sentence and just light up a room with her little cackle. She was an animated storyteller and very expressive and emotional. She could cry at the drop of a hat and was soooo in the moment – she could never hold a grudge for very long. She was always the first to laugh at herself and not take things too seriously.

I cherish all that I learnt from these three women and miss them all everyday.

JOY: What made you want to get into the industry?

MONICA: Seeing my parents doing their cabaret act over my childhood and into my young adult life, it made me think having a career in the entertainment industry was possible and not out of the ordinary. Sure they had other day jobs and needed to juggle parenting, but they just made it work. When my sister was born, they stopped doing the tours and settled down in Sydney, but continued to perform.

JOY: How did you get started in your career?

MONICA: I studied music, art and drama in high school; I was in the choir and I used to learn piano, ballet and jazz dancing. I took singing lessons – opera as well as contemporary. I did TV commercials and catalogue modelling. There was no way I was ever going down a different path really – but I made sure to get a few back up jobs to keep the bank balance (and my father!) happy. In my late teens, I joined an extras agency and did some time on Heartbreak High. It grew from there.

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JOY: Do you think there have been positive changes in the industry in regards to stereotype casting or do you think we still have a long way to go?

MONICA: I think in some areas we are making great steps forward to balancing out stereotypes but I also feel, because we do have those characters that are based on real people, it’s hard to break the mould. I think what’s important here is there’s nothing wrong with using stereotypes, so long as they don’t stay confined in that box. Let there be more information about the character come through – something that you might not expect from them. What I find interesting is the thing you’d least expect from something that looks a certain way. Not only do the audience recognise those stereotypes, but I think the wider community can learn from them too. There’s still a way to go yet but certainly heading in the right direction.

JOY: How do you think diversity can be improved in the industry?

MONICA: Seeing people for their talent and skill and not for the colour of their skin, the sound of their accent, or the frizz of their hair.

JOY: What is your breakthrough role?

MONICA: I played Calpurnia in the satirical spoof Dead Caesar at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2007’s second season; directed by the amazing and passionate Tamara Cook, written by the Chaser team, Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen. It was a hilarious piece and I got to sing on top of a baby grand piano!

JOY: Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years time?

MONICA: I would love to try a hand in directing and possibly producing. Definitely still acting, perhaps in something of my own.

JOY: What advice do you have for future up and coming actors?

MONICA: Keep at it, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it, find a way to make it work if this is why you live and breathe. Also, stay healthy, keep fit and sane (because it’s an insane business and world!) and have a laugh on a regular basis. Oh, and be super nice to stage management and crew – they are our rocks!! No one wants to work with a diva or an ass and word gets around quick so play nice people! 🙂 Also keep a healthy portion of reality on your plate – it’s easy to get swept away when things are flying high or to spiral into a black hole and not know how to climb out. Remember you are not defined by your job or a single review or lack of auditions or the number of awards you win! For me, acting is part of my life – a big part – but I know I need a balanced perspective to be able to have longevity in the industry and there are natural ups and downs. Be prepared. Take action and find other things that make you happy and fulfilled.

 

Photos by Joe Chan & Susan Le Strange.

Diversity Spotlight – Interview with actor Max Brown

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Max Brown is an Asian Australian actor (half Chinese-Singaporean / Anglo-Australian) known for his television roles as Robin Dawal in Neighbours, David Goldman in Glitch Series 2 and Kevin Dang in Secret City and the feature film We’re Not Here To Fuck Spiders (2017).

JOY: What made you want to get into the film/TV industry?

MAX: Story telling. Everyone in the industry has personal goals, but I reckon one thing we share is that we all watched a film or TV show at some point in our lives that had an impact on us and we’re all looking to recapture the moment that moved us and give it back to audiences through story.

JOY: Who were your role models growing up & why?

MAX: I was a bit starved for Asian representation so I grew up identifying with the majority white characters and actors on my screen, but thanks to my Aunty bringing over Hong Kong DVDS when she visited, I got to grow up watching Brigette Linn and Adam Cheng. That recent scandal where the Hollywood Casting Director said Asian actors were expressionless? They obviously never got to see Adam’s charm or Brigette’s depth and presence on screen. I watched their movies again and again as a kid and I still have them on high rotation today. I’ll also add Dante Brasco from Hook as a childhood role model! Such a bad ass. Ru-fi-ooo!

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JOY: How did you get started in your career?

MAX: I actually wanted to be a director and someone told me the best directors knew how actors worked, so I took a part time NIDA course which was being taught by Sam Worthington; he ended up convincing me to ditch directing and give acting a go. My first professional gig was a small part on Home and Away, which involved some complex blocking with cars and guns on my first day…it was a steep learning curve!

JOY: Do you think there’s a positive change in the TV/Film industries for more diversity?

MAX: A lot of actor friends from diverse backgrounds who were struggling for ages are now getting auditions and booking roles and that’s not because they all coincidentally became better actors overnight, it’s because diverse roles are finally starting to be written. The key word there is “starting”. It’s not just about upping the numbers but specifically writing characters that challenge preconceptions across all minorities. I’ve still had to say no to racially stereotypical roles as recently as this year…so we still have a long way to go until we achieve true parity in the industry. But we’re on the right path.

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JOY: Who inspires you in the industry?

MAX: All my friends in this industry inspire me, because I see their constant struggle to be recognised and contribute. Watching them hold down multiple day jobs, deal with the constant rejection and disappointment while still pushing themselves to improve…that always amazes and inspires me.

JOY: What are you working on now?

MAX: Wrapped a small role on the second season of the ABC Netflix series Glitch earlier this year and just got back from LA where I was in the final rounds for a lead character in a TV new series.That was an opportunity that came about partly due to the push for diversity we’ve seen recently, they’re definitely looking for more Asian faces on screen internationally. Coming up, I have a role in a queer short film starring Ra Chapman from new director Chloe Wong. It’s a great script that pokes at society’s views on queer behaviour.

JOY: What is your dream role & why?

MAX: I’d like to remake one of those old Hong Kong movies like “Lover Beware” or “Swordsman II” which also starred Brigette- I think there’s nothing like them in the west and I’d love to bring the ideas and themes from the Chinese fantasy genre to a new viewership. Hero and Crouching Tiger opened that door but they both portray a very stoic interpretation of Asian heroic fiction, and I think the “smiling wanderer” trope would be fresh. It would be interesting to see how the role of a gender fluid character like the Dongfang Bubai would be cast today.

JOY: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? What do you think you’ll be doing?

MAX: Hopefully I’ll be a lot healthier than I am now haha. But I’m the worst with plans…I have no idea what next year looks like let alone 10! Helping to redefine the depiction of Asians in Western media and diversity in general, would be great.

JOY: What’s your advice for graduates / up and coming actors trying to get in the industry?

MAX: I’ve heard people call acting a marathon, and I reckon that’s good advice. Beyond talent and skill, succeeding in this business is about not giving up and outlasting those who do. Its hard and you’re going to hate it and have no money a lot of the time, but f you want it bad enough, you’ll eventually get a chance. Never give up and be ready for it when it comes.

 

The Casting Game (feature film) by Joy Hopwood

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The Casting Game is an ensemble piece that highlights the journeys of a group of unconventional actors trying to make it big in Sydney, an Asian-Australian family trying to make a visiting relative feel at home with Might- T- mite and meat pies, and a seemingly ill-fated love.

Gary is a 35-year-old brick layer who has had no luck in love. On a night out with his high school mates – Lynn, Indigo, and Luke – he ends up in a bet to see if he can land a date with the next woman he sees. Along comes Sarah, a beautiful radio producer who is in a wheelchair.

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In a Love Actually meets Muriel’s Wedding in a modern day twist, this film explores what it means to find happiness and joy in a diverse, dynamic world, in a beautifully fun and meaningful way.

An Aussie story full of heart and triumph amongst a diverse group of friends, The Casting Game is a relatable story that tugs at our heartstrings while making us laugh. It reminds us that we can find belonging in unexpected places.

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Writer / producer, Joy Hopwood, wrote the screenplay just under two weeks after watching an Australian film last September in 2016 and was inspired to write something just as good with diversity at the forefront!

“In our current modern society, I feel that it’s driven by ego, self importance and over evaluation, this film takes us on a journey and reminds us, in a subtle way, what it’s like to step in other people’s shoes from all walks of life and to be mindful of others. I feel that’s what our society is missing – mindfulness and humility. My aim is to entertain people yet bringing that sense of community back into our society, which I feel is desperately missing,” says Joy.

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Leading lady, Stacey Copas says, “when Joy asked me to act in her film at our first meeting together I couldn’t believe what an amazing an opportunity it was and I pretty much jumped at the opportunity right away! I’m passionate about everyone getting an equal opportunity and I’m so inspired by Joy and the whole team who have poured blood, sweat and tears into getting the project off the ground. Our camaraderie and joint purpose on set can definitely been seen in the final edit. I’m really proud of the Casting Game; its beautifully told story which everyone will be able to relate to.”

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Supporting actress Erica Long says, “During my script read, I found that with every page I turned, I became more and more immersed in the characters’ lives. The characters are all so different (in terms of their personality, ethnicity and personal background) and I loved reading about how they interacted with each other – it’s not everyday that you read a script, which reflects our multicultural society. There’s also so much warmth and hilarity in the script – I knew instantly that I wanted to be a part of the transformation from paper to screen. Pearl Tan (director) and Joy Hopwood (producer, writer and actor) are champions of diversity in this country and you really see this come across in The Casting Game. Joy specifically incorporated into her script a group of friends from different ethnic backgrounds, an intelligent and beautiful woman with a mobility disability, 2 Australian-Chinese sisters (who are more Aussie than Chinese!) and their long lost sister from China. It’s quite a feat! The different characters’ backgrounds of course contribute to the story but the characters are not reduced to a stereotype (e.g. your Asian nerd). During rehearsals we created each character’s own backstory and Joy was happy to make our suggested script changes to ensure that we were each happy with the complexity of our characters. When you watch the film, you will see that Joy has weaved a series of funny and nuanced stories together into a coherent whole and, simply put, you will forget about “diversity” as such – the end result of Joy’s hard work is that you just focus on how the characters interact with each other.”

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When asked, “Why did you want to act in The Casting Game?” Supporting actor Nicholas Brown says, “I’ve been a fan of Joy Hopwood and Pearl Tan for a long time. I met Joy several years ago when we both made speeches for the Asian Alliance for parliament We both found a synergy because of our experiences as non Caucasian actors in Australia. Pearl and I have written and worked together for several years. I’m inspired by both of these amazing women, their advocacy and their creativity. Besides fluffing I’d do anything on film for them! Plus it’s rare to see a cast so diverse in Aussie cinema. The fact that there’s no major reference to anyone’s ethnicity is refreshing. The cast are all Australian who just happen to be from diverse backgrounds. My character is a brickie! I love that. The actors have been cast against type and this is exciting and rare.”

The Casting Game, written & produced by Joy Hopwood (Joy House Productions) and produced by Priya Roy (Vissi D’Arte Films) and directed by Pearl Tan (Pearly Productions) premieres at the annual Joy House Film Festival September 10th, 2017. 4.30pm at Hoyts https://Joyhousefilmfestival.eventbrite.com.au

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Stacey Copas about her latest film and diversity.

 

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How did your acting career begin?

I’m currently in the midst of my first acting gig – a totally newbie to the world of acting. I’m playing the role of Sarah in the feature film “The Casting Game”. I was initially approached to consider the role via a LinkedIn message which was totally unexpected.

Who were your role models growing up?

As a young person I was mostly drawn to athletes and musicians – neither of which I actually aspired to be. There certainly weren’t any diverse role models who represented my own diversity in any area of public life I was aware of.

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Do you think there are enough diverse representations on TV / Film?

There is a lack of diversity in TV and film. Who we see on screens does not represent who we see in the community in our daily life. I feel having roles written that are specifically for diverse characters will help to improve this. Also having viewers support TV and film with diverse characters/casting and demand more diversity will help.

What are you currently working on?

Currently preparing for the feature film “The Casting Game” in which I play the lead role of Sarah. It is exciting to be part of a project that has a very diverse cast and crew. As a person who uses a wheelchair it is fabulous to be cast in the role as the majority of characters with disability in TV and film are played by actors without disability.

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What more do you want to achieve in your career?

Being such early days, I’m looking forward to exploring a variety of roles that will challenge me and tell great stories.

Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years time and why?

In 10 years time I would like to be continuing to stretch my comfort zones in all areas of life. By being the best person, speaker, athlete – and actor I can be I hope to inspire others to aim higher and dream bigger and to be the person with a disability with a strong public profile who can be the role model that I lacked as a young person.

Chimerica review – Sydney Theatre Company’s best production

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Last night I was honoured to attend a special preview performance of Sydney Theatre Company’s Chimerica. I have to say that this is Sydney Theatre Company’s best production yet. I was blown away by not only the script but also by the performance of the whole cast, stage direction and especially the set transitions that looked more like a well choreographed dance. There were also a few wonderful elements of theatre magic incorporated into the show.

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Chimerica is a play by the British dramatist Lucy Kirkwood directed by Kip Williams. It draws its title from the term Chimerica, referring to the predominance of China and America in modern geopolitics. It tracks two decades of complex US-China relations alongside the personal stories that exist beyond the margins of history. It’s a gripping drama, has a touch of romance, and has great comedy – all in one. One of my favourite lines is, “be careful of your tooth” …”you can’t handle the truth!” The whole audience erupted into laughter at this scene and Gabrielle Chan’s money exchange scene and many more.

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Award-winning Artistic Director Kip Williams (All My Sons) directs a visually enthralling Australian premiere of this captivating epic which takes the audience on an emotional journey that leaves you in awe by his directorial vision and strong performance of the cast. After winning Helpmann Awards in 2016 for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, Mark Leonard Winter (King Lear) features as the photojournalist at the centre of the action, together with Jason Chong (Netflix’s Marco Polo), and a magnificent ensemble cast who are joined by 20 young artists from the National Institute of Dramatic Art.

Mesmerising performances by the cast – Matthew Backer, Gabrielle Chan, Jason Chong, Tony Cogin, Geraldine Hakewill, Brent Hill, Rebecca Massey, Monica Sayers, Mark Leonard Winter, Anthony Brandon Wong, Charles Wu & Jenny Wu.

This is theatre at its best. It’s visually stimulating and leaves the audience in awe by the cast’s performance and a well written script. Congratulations to Kip Williams and the cast & ensemble cast. This is a 10/10 production.

 

 

One of my favourite places in the world – Kings Park

Whenever I go to Perth and need some time to myself, I head to Kings Park. This amazing park has been my favourite since I was a child. Kings Park helps me clear my mind, and relax, escaping the hustle and bustle of everyday city life. It was originally opened in 1965 and has been one of my favourite parks in the world. I would rate it an equal first to New York’s Central Park. When you stand opposite the modern Fraser’s restaurant, you can see the spectacular views of Perth city and the Swan and Manning rivers.

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What I love best about King’s Park is the Botanical Gardens. There’s 17 hectares of wonderful garden displays to enjoy and has the largest display of Western Australian flora in the world. One of my favourite garden displays is the Conservation Garden. The plants are grouped according to their region or type of country and was designed to preserve Western Australia’s precious biodiversity. I love taking photographs of these garden displays, enjoying the beautiful colours.

 

Also when I need time out to clear my head, I like going on long bush walks in Kings Park. There’s the Bushland Nature Trail which is about a 1km loop walk with raised sections of boardwalk and is assessable to all the park users. When you take this walk you would need to wear appropriate footwear as it’s very sandy and bushy. I like taking my time doing this bush walk and just stroll, enjoying the peacefulness and mother nature at its best. Many others who visit this area like to exercise by jogging or cycling by.

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Kings Park also has two wonderful art galleries. First, the Aboriginal Art Gallery which has traditional Aboriginal art exhibited. It has beautiful paintings, sculptures and sometimes pottery. And on some days you can actually meet the Aboriginal artists and observe them as they work or listen to their intriguing stories. It transports me to their land whenever I go inside and talk to them. This gallery has a high reputation and is substantially recognised in the Aboriginal community and amongst collectors of fine Indigenous art from around the world. There’s also the Aspects of Kings Park Gallery, which is more modern and commercial. I love spending a good hour here, looking at their unusual gift collections. They have unique books, homewares, jewellery, stationery – especially cards and trinkets. I always end up buying one or two items here for my friends as gifts.

 

Whenever family and friends arrive to visit me in Perth, I always take them to the Botanical Cafe for lunch and we can just sit outdoors for a good two hours and talk and enjoy the view over Perth city and the Swan River. They’re open from 7am to 6pm, breakfast, lunch and dinner. My favourite food on their menu is the Beef burger and the beer battered fish and chips. They’re both priced around the $20 mark and are delicious. All my family and friends who dine here with me say this is one of their favourite dining out places in Perth, not only because of the company, but because of the good service and the outdoor views – it’s spacious and the decor is casual, giving you that home-away from home feeling.

 

For families with children, there are a lot of picnic areas around the beautiful fountains and gardens and a lot of people pack blankets and picnic baskets full of foodie treats and enjoy the trees and just sit and talk for hours. This is total bliss for me. Personally I love lying down on the luscious green grass and breathing in the fresh outdoor air. And depending on what season you visit Kings Park, you can sometimes smell flowers like lavender. Research shows that the scent of flowers and walking through nature, like a park, can help you feel calmer and happier and that spending time in fresh air, surrounded by nature, increases energy in 90 percent of people. “Nature is fuel for the soul, ” says Richard Ryan (Researcher and Professor of Psychology).

 

So, if you’re ever heading to Perth and need time out to relax….head on down to Kings Park for the day. There’s so much to do and explore. I highly recommend this – it’s one of my favourite places in the world!