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LOWENSTEIN, RICHARD: HE DIED WITH A FELAFEL IN HIS HAND

USE THE FORCE
Filmmaking is a more powerful force than stories by the fire, Richard Lowenstein tells Andrew L. Urban, and Australians should be using its powers to tackle bigger subjects.

Richard Lowenstein believes that the power of cinema has greater power and potential “than sitting by the fire and telling great yarns. Some people say we filmmakers are but simple story tellers, but I think it’s more than that.” Because of that, he wants to “take audiences on a cinematic journey in visual and aural ways, also to entertain them with not only linear but episodic ways.”

That’s what he tried to do with his latest film, He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, starring Noah Taylor as a neurotic obsessive would-be writer, having troubles sharing his 47th house with others. “I hope to appeal to people tired of conventional movies. That’s what appealed to audiences with films like Pulp Fiction and The Usual Suspects – a combination of things, of different ways of telling stories in cinema. That’s where some of the film’s references come from, also from the French New Wave….you don’t have to signal them, they’re just understood. I’m also a great fan of silent comedies…they show how you can tell a story without dialogue.”

"a quickie film project ... before knuckling down to something meatier"

Originally, He Died With A Felafel In His Hand was meant to be a quickie film project (it ended up taking five years) before knuckling down to something meatier, by way of a political anti-conspiracy theory movie he’s been developing for years, called Phreakz. It is based on a true story of a female computer hacker, and deals with the complicity of the American and Australian intelligence services. “It’s more of a chaos theory than conspiracy theory,” he says. Phreakz is a term for people who acquire computer passwords by masquerading as someone else on telephones.

Noah Taylor will again play a leading role, this time as the ex-hacker who is tracking down the lady hacker. “It’s an amazing female role,” he says.

"We make some groundbreaking documentaries, but not drama features."

Lowenstein is critical of Australia’s lack of feature films with bite. “We make some groundbreaking documentaries, but not drama features. We tend to leave the political thrillers to the Americans and the social realism to the British – who also make films like The Killing Fields and Welcome to Sarajevo. We’ve got stories like East Timor on our doorstep yet we seem afraid of tackling that. It was the Americans who made Missing, about the political chaos of Chili – they also visited the stories of Vietnam. We shy away from that material – and that’s a bit depressing. Although there are a few exceptions, like The Year of Living Dangerously and Ground Zero.”

Together with writer John Birmingham (He Died With A Felafel In His Hand), Lowenstein is also working on a film about East Timor, to put his filmmaking money where his mouth is.

Published August 30, 2001

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