A real-life flim-flam film man imbued with shameless showmanship and an unethical streak is rescued from obscurity in the awkwardly titled "Hunt Angels," a captivating oddball semi-docu from Down Under. After positive responses at Oz fests, pic opened commercially in late November. International fests and pubcasters seeking cinematic confections should track this down.

A real-life flim-flam film man imbued with shameless showmanship and an unethical streak is rescued from obscurity in the awkwardly titled “Hunt Angels,” a captivating oddball semi-docu from Down Under. Consisting almost entirely of reenactments (including thesps playing talking head witnesses), “docu” is predominantly lensed in black-and-white and is at its best when it uses digitally-enhanced archive photographs to create a noirish beauty around the bedazzling bio of a forgotten Aussie helmer. After positive responses at Oz fests, pic opened commercially in late November. International fests and pubcasters seeking cinematic confections should track this down.

Film opens with a glorious composition of archival photographs which re-creates 1930s Depression-era Sydney. Movies are projected on Sydney’s night sky before culminating in a screen that reads: “Produced and Directed by Rupert Kathner.”

Kathner (Ben Mendelsohn) speaks directly into the camera as he explains that this film is about “him” and says he wanted to “get in first before anyone told you too many lies.”

On cue, pic then inserts excerpts from three contempo witnesses, also thesps playing real-life people. This heavy reliance on re-enactments may cause some to cry foul, but regardless of liberties, pic is more docu than not.

Film charts Kathner’s career from his beginnings as a check forger from Adelaide who arrived in Sydney to shake down “angels” (aka producers with cash) to help him make movies.

Kathner made a series of “pilots” that caught the eye of his future camerawoman and mistress, Alma (“Al” for her on-screen credits) Brooks (Victoria Hill). Success arrived with their production of shocking (for the time) newsreels. Their most popular was about an unsolved murder case, “The Pyjama Girl Murder.” The newsreel was set to sell internationally when WWII broke out.

Kathner then turned to feature films. Working with little money, Kathner killed off his hero half-way through his first war-time feature, “Wings of Destiny,” after the actor dared to ask for his pay.

Kathner’s films — some of which are excerpted in the docu — are of low-budget quality and left Kathner a mere footnote in Oz film history.

Exhibiting sleazy charm and a twinkling eye, Mendelsohn, is perfectly cast as the brash helmer, and Hill strikes the right tone as the ahead-of-her-time camerawoman. Thesps playing the witnesses are augmented by onscreen interviews with actual experts like cinema historian and film distributor Andrew Pike.

Jackie Farkas’ chiaroscuro lensing and the enchanting “Zelig”-like digital manipulation of archive photographs, however, are the real stars of pic. Tech credits (except on Kathner’s original films) are impeccable.

Hunt Angels

Australia

Production

A Film Art Doco, Blusteal Films, Film Finance Corp. Australia in association with the New South Wales Film and Television Office, Film Victoria, Palace Films, Australian Broadcasting Corp. presentation of a Hunt Angels production. (International sales: Fortissimo Film, Amsterdam.) Produced by Sue Maslin. Executive producer, Antonio Zeccola. Co-producers, Alec Morgan, Daryl Dellora. Directed, written by Alec Morgan.

Crew

Camera (B&W/color), Jackie Farkas; editor, Tony Stevens; music, Jen Anderson; production designer, Tony Campbell; costume designer, Margot Wilson; sound, (Dolby Digital) Leo Sullivan; visual f/x supervisor, Rose Draper. Reviewed at Verona Cinema, Sydney, Sept. 15, 2006. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Rupert Kathner - Ben Mendelsohn Alma Brooks - Victoria Hill Clarice Kathner - Eloise Oxer Stanley Mount - Robert Bruning
With: Charles "Bud" Tingwell, Andrew Pike, Paul F. Kathner, Allan Peters, Barry Noonan.
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