I’ve been waiting to see this film for a very, very, very long time. Admittedly, it’s not the kind of film I would normally seek out to see – as I’m not the biggest fan of drug use and graphic violence up there on the big screen – in fact watching people injecting themselves really freaks me out. But this is a film that I’ve had the privilege of “following” for a very long time because it was edited at The Butchery (where I work three days a week, when I’m not doing LateNite things), by one of my favourite editors and people in the world, the incredible Peter Sciberras (who now works for Method Studios). Because of this, I got to see the glimpses of rushes as they came in, rough cuts every now and again, and also witness just how hard the director, Amiel Courtin-Wilson and producer Michael Cody worked to get this film up and finished. I really didn’t have much to do with the film apart from fixing things in the edit suite when they broke, and making sure that Pete could get on and do what he does best, but I’m so glad I played a small part, because this is one very special film.

Hail has screened all over the world to great reviews – however despite being made in Melbourne, MIFF 2012 is it’s Melbourne Premiere – so as you can imagine, the ACMI theatre was absolutely packed out, so the atmosphere in the room was fantastic. A lot of people have been waiting a very long time to see this film! ACMI is one of the best theatres in Melbourne – it has great projection and fantastic sound, so it was the perfect place to have the premiere.

Hail is essentially a love story about Dan and Leanne. The film opens with Dan getting released from prison early due to good behaviour, and he comes home to the love of his life, Leanne, who wasn’t expecting him home quite so soon. Things start off great – they’re soul mates, and extremely thankful to be back into each others arms. After several failed attempts, Dan eventually gets a job, and things are really looking up. But after a minor workplace accident in which Dan hurts his arm, slowly but surely, his world starts to fall apart, as Dan and Leanne go back to their old criminal ways so they can sustain their diet of alcohol and cigarettes. Dan’s happiness spirals downwards, as he grows to further hate the world he lives in, getting constantly more angry and frustrated, with only Leanne to take it out on. One night, after Leanne and Dan have a fight, Dan returns to discover one of Leanne’s old friends at their home, who offers Dan a job transporting drugs. Dan’s really not happy with this, but goes along to keep Leanne happy – but in the morning, Dan’s world comes crashing to a halt when he discovers the love of his life, has overdosed. Broken, angry and devastated, Dan then goes on a mission to revenge his wife’s death.

Hail is full on. It’s graphic, it’s intense, it’s real.

It’s also very poetic and strangely beautiful.

To give you some back story, back in 2005, the director Amiel first met Daniel P. Jones (the main actor in the film) whilst shooting documentary on “Plan B” – a Melbourne based theatre company founded to rehabilitate ex-prison inmates through performance. Danny had been released the previous day from prison and arrived at a Plan B rehearsal to take part in that year’s performance. Amiel became really interested in Danny, because – well, he really is quite a character! He has a really black sense of humour, and a really interesting way of looking at the world. Amiel decided that Danny’s life and stories would make a really interesting documentary, and so they spent more and more time with each other, filmmaking interviews when they could. Eventually some of the stories of Danny’s childhood, life on the streets and life in jail was channelled into an extremely successful short film called CICADA.

After the huge success of CICADA (which had it’s international premiere at the highly prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2009), they started developing a feature film project – but Amiel soon realised that for a feature film, the really interesting thing for him was not the crime element of the Danny’s life – but more the passion and love between Danny and Leanne. And so, instead of filming a documentary, Amiel decided to blur the lines between cinema and reality, and using Danny’s real life as a base, together they constructed a story that had elements of what really happened once Danny was released from prison, combined with fictional elements to heighten the love story element.

Being a documentary filmmaker, Amiel decided to use real people instead of actors, and spent three months rehearsing the film, so that the cast in the film could use language they were comfortable with to eliminate any signs of “bad acting” which sometimes comes with non-actors. The acting in this film is phenomenal – it has some of the most powerful performances of any film I’ve ever seen – probably because it’s so hard to tell what’s real, and what’s manufactured. Everything that happens in the film is loosely based on fact, stories Dan has been told by others – so every element of this film has a deep seated reality to it. It’s a film told by real people, who have had these actual experiences, replaying themselves for the camera.

The thing I really loved about Hail was that the story telling was so powerful. From the opening shot in the film, to the very end, you’re glued to the screen. It also really takes you on a roller-coaster. The film starts off quite happy, quirky, funny and positive, but rapidly spirals downwards as Dan’s world, basically just turns to shit. One of the most interesting elements of this film is that as the film descends into dispair, so too does the editing style, sound design and content – for instance, half way through the film, you see a dead horse flying through the sky – a metaphor for what’s happening in Dan’s world.

This is the kind of film that really affects you – as you walk out of the cinema, you feel like you’ve not only learnt something, but you been given a unique insight into someone else’s world and mind. It’s absolutely full on – but in a good way. It’s not a happy film, it’s not a popcorn film – this is real life, in the roughest and darkest parts of town.

Obviously I’m biased – but I just thought the editing of this film was absolutely incredible. There are scenes are are incredibly intense and almost overwhelming, but they are carefully crafted to just be long enough – with calmness straight after, so that you have time to catch your breathe. The sound design by Robert Mackenzie is also incredibly intense, but also so beautifully and carefully crafted. There are moments in the film where you could hear a pin drop, and others, when you think “one more second and my head is going to explode”. Music plays a massive role in the film (original score by Steve Benwell) – as it almost plays a bridge between scenes.

Visually, the film is gritty and real. Shot on Super 16mm – the film looks stunning. Almost everything is hand held – keeping with the documentary feel. The cinematographer, Germain McMicking also shot Wilfred (one of my favourite all time shows) – so there’s no surprise there!

This is just a really powerful film. It’s intense, it’s graphic, and it really makes you feel for the characters, and also makes you release how lucky you are. Amiel does such a good job of setting up Danny as a character you want to really like, but at the same time, some of the things he does, and the madness he develops makes you really question your judgement.

Luckily, Hail will be having a very limited theatrical release soon, and will then be released to the home DVD market – so I HIGHLY recommend you check this out. You definitely have to be in the right zone to watch this film – because it’s not really a happy film, but it’s just so well done, it would be a real shame not to see it.

Sadly, I’ve only been able to see a few films at MIFF this year – but I’m so glad that this was one of them. I think it’s going to take me a few days to process what I’ve seen – and admittedly, I probably could have come up with a better crafted blog post if I’d let my feelings sit and process for a few days first – but this is the kind of film that really sparks emotion, and generates all kinds of feelings. There was definitely a million things running through my head on the drive home!

I can’t wait to see what Amiel & Michael come up with next!