It was one of those days neither here nor there in the life of Felix Appleton. He had experienced the dizzying heights and the devastating plummets of a life lived in the circus ring of the performing arts. He was often praised as a born performer but wasn’t sure of the truth in that. He hadn’t sprung from the womb singing and uttering funny one-liners. Perhaps his screaming was in tune? He didn’t know and was not about to reinvent his life for the joy of some hungry reporter. If he had a talent to amuse, it had come from pain and the ability to live with it. He used to say, “Show me an artist who hasn’t suffered, and I’ll show you a phoney.”
He was born in a public hospital and taken home in a taxi to a single-fronted weatherboard house in a street not many people walked down. It was in this small modest home that he got to know his parents, both workers who had struggled for their existence and carried the scars of their battles and defeats on their faces as proudly as old soldiers displayed their medals. They smiled with sad faces.and their eyes brimmed with the waters of a joy that’d rarely found the opportunity to flow. Felix instantly fell in love with them and knew he’d found the right home. His parents were that dying breed called good people. Yes, they were tremendously flawed if one was to appoint a critic to write a cold and detached review of their lives, but that critic would’ve missed the value entirely. Like the first critics to review “Citizen Kane” and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” they would’ve been dismissed as “irrelevant,” “a misstep,” a disaster of epic proportions.” But what do critics know? Because of deadlines they have to rush to judgement and, more times than not, in their haste they miss the point. The true worth of something is judged in time and weighed by the impact it leaves behind in all those changed by having experienced it.
Thus Felix was nurtured through his first steps into this world by two unsung national treasures. He inherited from them the gifts to love with all the loyalty of the poor; the joy in giving away his last coin, cigarette or piece of advice to someone in greater need; the strength to stand by your friend through their mistakes, no matter how unpopular that stance may be. For who among us is not flawed when day is done. As long as there is no meanness in it, all is forgiven. Like the Irish mantra, “No fear, no spite, no envy.”
Oh, and never show your enemies you’re hurting. No one should be
rewarded for their dark actions.
So it was from this environment that Felix went forth into the world. His parents had taken him to Luna Park, and the circus, and to Hollywood movies many times. He had grown to love the lights and the laughter and the collective tears of a reinvented world so much so that he joined it. “Hi diddle-ee dee an actor’s life for me.” He became an actor and acted out all the emotions he had experienced in his little childhood home – all the anger, the heartache, and the humour that can be found in any awkward situation that Life can throw at one.
Felix was praised for his talent to wring insight from any character he portrayed. Was he born with this gift? No, he was born into it. And how could it be called a gift when it comes at such a cost?
He never developed an arrogant ego, for his parents had clothed him in humility. He never cut down a rival due to envy, for he was sure that person’s journey had been as difficult as his. And he never said goodbye to any friend (whether it be man, woman or child) without tagging it with the words “I love you” for he had learnt that in this life we are never guaranteed of seeing that person again.
Felix was now an old man who kept to himself. He hated few things in Life but moving was one of them. It always signalled the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. And as such he not only found it physically exhausting but emotionally draining. He was hoping this last move would be his last. Not that he was morbid. Far from it. He saw a joke in everything, and put that down to the Irish blood from his mother’s side. The ability to get through even the darkest defeat with a funny line. He thought one shouldn’t take this life too seriously, after all, it’s just a long elongated dream. And dreams come and go. He was just about through this dream and hoped he’d performed as well as he could, given the extraordinary circumstances that had occasionally rained on him. And that he’d given more than he’d taken from this world, for he understood that there was a delicate balance to everything and most of the problems in this world are caused by man’s ego arrogantly tampering with that balance. He’d learnt to let it be. To leave affairs of the heart well enough alone. To respect what you don’t understand. And to do no one any purposeful harm.
When he looked back at his life he was now able to smile at not only the good parts but also the bad. For out of every disaster he had learned a huge lesson. And from great lessons learned comes great wisdom. Yes, if there is a God, he thought, he’s a very clever bastard.
Felix didn’t know if he’d be remembered. It didn’t much matter because he’d be dead. And so would all those whose opinions meant something to him. Anyway, who wants a whole bunch of strangers talking about you and dissecting you after you’re gone, and getting it all wrong?
Still, he hoped, if there was another dimension or heaven or universe one goes to, he’d still be able to remember his parents. They were good people. They had given him valuable parts of themselves. And they were worth remembering.
In November of last year Richard Wolstencroft felt it necessary to resign as Director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. At that time he asked me to take the reins and chart M.U.F.F’s overhaul and new direction. I accepted because I felt that the festival is an important outlet for emerging film makers to find their feet and their audience.
My acceptance of the top position was on the basis that I would have total autonomy to make changes and lead the festival into a brave new future.
Unfortunately after prolonged negotiations it has become apparent that the severing of the past and what is needed to create a totally free new system proved more complex and time consuming than either Richard nor I could have possibly envisaged.
So, it is my decision to not continue as my feeling is that M.U.F.F should be handed back to Richard, its creator, who will run it as a free speech absolutist event.
But, on the other hand, having put a lot of time and energy into a new look festival, as well as commencing negotiations with several legendary international film identities to visit our shores to as festival guests and share their experience and wisdom with us, I have decided to go ahead with a totally new film festival that will be clear to create its own identity and reputation as well as serve as another much needed outlet for young local and international film-makers. This I hope is not seen to be in any way competition with M.U.F.F but quite the opposite, another important spotlight that will include some categories not covered by M.U.F.F. It will also be run at a later date, in our summer months, at some very prestigious venues already locked in.
The Oz International Film Festival can assure you of a very exciting premiere season.
We welcome film-makers here and abroad to visit our website and submit their latest works for consideration of inclusion in our inaugural festival. Your films will not be judged on any bias to politics, race, gender, sexual preference or content, but purely on the execution of your film-making abilities, and a diverse and experienced jury of industry veterans will be announced within the next few weeks.
The festival will honour the bold, brave and adventurous new voices in the world of cinema and hopefully help some go on to be the new vanguard of the next generation of important film-makers.
I will be the Festival Director and ably assisted by Executive Producer Barry Robinson. Other appointments will be announced shortly.
Good luck and welcome aboard what we feel will be an exciting new chapter. We look forward to your submissions and you can trust that they will be very carefully considered, each and every one.
I went to town
And had some fun
I'd spent all my money
Before day was done
The buildings were tall
And they blocked the sun
I went to town
And had some fun
I returned home
Before night fell
I kissed all the women
But I won't tell
They said they loved me
Must've thought I was dumb
I went to town
And had some fun
I have seen it all
But missed so much
What happened to our healthy life?
Did we lose our touch?
There are women out there
That want to thrill ya
There are men who stare
That want to kill ya
I'm living in a two room condo
I think I may've died but
The stubborn part is living still
Love is not for wimps
Or just a point of view
It waivers in the wind
When it doesn't ring true
I've been to hell
They know me there
Tell 'em Frankie boy says hello
If you dare
Everyone I meet
Is somebody's girl
My dad was Jack
My mother was Pearl
They taught me how
To survive our street
And to see the beauty
That comes with defeat
(c) Frank Howson 2018
Painting by Frank Howson (c) 2017
The living are always under attack from the dead. As night follows day so do those of darkness target those of light and stalk them with words of hero worship when, the truth is, the mere existence of those with a spark irritates them and they consciously or, in some cases, subconsciously, work toward the extinguishment of that flame. Wilhelm Reich writes about this condition in detail in his book The Murder of Christ.
The people of darkness use many tools to bring down the envied. Negative rumours, stories that are unfounded in fact, and a whole range of politically acceptable words to discredit their target i.e., Narcissist (this applies to anyone who is successful in showbiz who uses social media to promote their latest ventures) because the fact that someone may actually be getting off their fat ass and doing something reminds the person of darkness how meaningless and unfocused their own life is; Nazi (it is acceptable in today’s politically correct world to call anyone with an opposing opinion this and get away with it. This is disgustingly outrageous and unfair to their target whose only crime may be to have an original thought, as well as, obviously, making light of what the real Nazis did). But let me not bring logic into this lest I be called names. Anti-Semitic is a good one too in some cases. I have even witnessed Jewish people being called anti-Semitic because they dared to have an opinion that didn’t sit comfortably with the party line. Such is the out of control world we live in where the militant wheel gets oiled first and the logical debate is not only not considered it is condemned. Here we have a perfect storm for the people of darkness to not only hide within, but thrive.
Bob Dylan has predicted for some time now that we have entered the end game. Anyone who has studied theology and the predictions of the old prophets would have to concur. In my opinion we are currently engaged in the final war between good and evil, darkness and light, and the shadow people are only going to get more and more hysterical as things don’t go their way. They are currently very confused as to why things aren’t going the way of the Polls. Could it be divine intervention?
It is difficult to untangle yourself from a person of darkness because they are cling ons – spiritual vampires sucking your energy. And the more you give them the more resentful they will become towards you. For even your kindness is an irritation. A reminder of what they are not. They will insult you by praising strangers and even abusing and opportunistic ex-partners above your efforts to help, give and support. This is to make you crazy and so confused you will cease to be able to function and end up zombie like staring out a window into the light that was once your source. Do not under any circumstances feed them. Let well enough alone. Danger and madness this way comes.
I was thrown up into this world
Or born into it
Or cast down
Some time ago
When everything was grey
Although some things were black
And your skin colour
Could be wrong or right
Regardless of your heart
It made me nervous
That one could so easily
Cross the line
And be punished
For who you were
So I locked myself away
In my room
And listened to the radio
But mostly the music was grey too
Like Johnny Ray
And Doris Day
So I dreamed in Vistavision
And lived in the movies
Where the hero stood up to the mob
And did the right thing
Regardless of the cost
Sometimes getting the girl
In the final reel
For the hero was mostly a loner
A man who'd seen too much
And didn't want to see anymore
For he too
Found that the world was grey
And was not above sacrificing his life
So that others may live
I continued on
Looking forward to Christmas
And my birthdays
When suddenly there was kindness
And glimpses of the colours
And what the world could be
If only we tore the walls down
And displayed our brokenness
And vocalised our care for others
I was about eleven years of age
With my mum in the Myer department store
In the city
When I heard a sound that changed my life
It was unlike anything I'd ever heard
My mother asked me what was wrong
I smiled because
Everything seemed somehow right
I wandered away
Toward the music
Leaving my mother to follow me
The singer's voice
Was the most exciting and dynamic sound
I'd ever heard
He sounded like a caged animal
That had just been set free
As I had
The record was "Twist And Shout"
By a group called the Beatles
And on the front cover of their EP
They looked to this kid from St. Kilda
To be from another planet
Their hair, their clothes, their boots, their sound
It seemed the planet they came from was called Liverpool
I needed to know what the singer's name was
And was told by the girl behind the record counter
That he was John Lennon
And he played rhythm guitar and co-wrote moat of their songs
John Lennon saved my life that day
And he has had my staunch loyalty ever since
I grew to read much about him
In fact, everything
And have since met many people who knew him
He was a complex, fascinating, contradictory and flawed man
All of which made him even more interesting
And still does to this day
Scarred by the early loss of his father, then his mother
And then his best friend
He put up a guard to protect himself
From any more hurt
His singing tone sometimes snarled to hide his pain
But we heard it in his soul
And in the words of his songs
And knew that behind the tough guy facade he was the kindest
And most caring of all
My friend Phil Sloan told me that John's spirit was so huge
That you actually felt his presence enter a room
Before you'd even seen him
Another friend of John's who'd known me for some time
Told me that he would've liked me
I hope so
Because I have spent a long time
He was my liberator, my hero, my friend
He made me laugh, he made me cry, he made me angry, he made me care
And sometimes when I am lost or despairing
I think about how Johnny Rhythm would handle things
And it gives me the inspiration to go on
To try and find a way
I guess it was destiny
That he left us after such a short time
But perhaps his spirit was too big for this world
As his beautiful boy Sean said to his mother when she was grieving,
"Don't worry, Daddy's bigger now...Now he's part of everything."
(c) Frank Howson 2017
Becoming the Director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival is something I had not lobbied for or ever desired. But given Richard Wolstencroft’s recent sudden departure and his request to take over the helm, it is something I couldn’t refuse as the Festival is now bigger than any one person and for it to cease to exist would be, in my opinion, a tragedy for the industry. It fills a very important role in shining a light on the next generation of Australian filmmakers and in its 18 years of existence it has discovered a number of people who have gone onto receive international success.
Years ago when I was a young creative person trying to break into the film business it was almost impossible. It seemed, at that time, to be a closed shop with the same ol’ same ol’ people getting the grants and making the movies. And of course, those who were benefitting from the system were certainly very reluctant to let new blood in. Many of those people never encouraged the next generation of talent and we have been paying for that for some time now. Who knows how many brilliant young creatives got frustrated by the red tape and closed doors, gave up and walked away. It made me all the more determined that if I broke through then the least I could do would be to help others achieve the same. And so I did. Even though at the height of my success I was making 5 films a year (in some cases shooting a movie whilst I was in post-production of the last one and pre-production of the next), yet, I still made time to meet and give advice to any young filmmaker who phoned asking for help. I am proud that my company gave several directors their first chance to direct a movie, along with giving breaks to young editors, music composers, actors, costume designers, etc., etc.
In fact I remember giving the young Richard Wolstencroft his first chance to direct a 35mm movie, which starred the very young Lachy Hulme. Although in my long and varied career I have won quite a few awards, I can say in all honesty that nothing gives me more joy than the knowledge that I helped several people into the industry who went onto achieve international recognition.
It saddens me that Richard has had to relinquish his directorship of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival so suddenly and in such circumstances. It was his creation and for 18 years his baby and I have some understanding of the pain involved in having to walk away from that. Hopefully with the passing of time people will choose to remember his contribution and achievements rather than some ill-conceived and ill-timed remarks that I know he is extremely and sincerely sorry for having made. In the words of the great director Billy Wilder, “A man is as good as the best thing he did, not the worst.”
In my opinion the mark of how far we have spiritually evolved in this life is measured by our capacity to humble ourselves by owning up and apologizing for our wrongs and, in other cases, to forgive. The latter takes an awful lot of evolving to reach.
Under my directorship at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, I will continue to spotlight new and exciting local talent, and select movies that take risks, that inspire and inform us, confront us, thrill us, and celebrate our humanity towards people of diversity. I do not undertake this leadership for ego reasons, or financial gain, but see it as a service to the industry and the community that original voices are discovered and given the forum to be heard, and debated, as well as the opportunity to go on.
I look forward to steering a new look Melbourne Underground Film Festival to an exciting future for filmmakers and cinema goers alike, and I hope you will support my efforts by submitting your work and attending our screenings. Let’s defeat apathy and build a healthy and diverse film industry one brick at a time.
Submissions will be open in January for our 19th Festival.