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Brisbane’s film festival – its 15th – is characterised by quirks, twists, surprises and a desire to present a well planned program, including some bold Australian films, and a special (excellent) effort, with its Cinesparks sidebar, to turn curious younger audiences into future ticket buyers, reports Geoff Gardner*.

The Brisbane International Film Festival has just completed its fifteenth year and it remains as determinedly individual as ever. While it screened about the same number of feature films as Sydney its selection was characterised by quirks, twists, surprises and a continuing desire to present a program, rather than a grab bag of simply whatever is new and might take the fancy of restless audiences. It tries to keep up standards in other ways as well, most notably in refusing to abandon its superb catalogue.

BIFF does do some of the same things as its rivals. It doesn’t neglect forthcoming big art house attractions. It had palpably successful chock a block screenings of likely hits Thank You for Smoking, A Prairie Home Companion and The Wind That Shakes the Barley to name just three. It also gave us a first look at the new film by Laurent Cantet, Heading South. Cantet’s work has previously been confined to fests, film weeks and SBS/World Movies so it’s hoped that the good reception his film had here might also presage an art house hit. The film deserves it. The story of middle-aged women seeking out sexual adventures in post-colonial Central America in the late 70s is very bold indeed.

BIFF also gave special prominence to a couple of other likely local success stories, most notably 48 Shades, Daniel Lapaine’s debut feature based on the book by Brisbane-ite Nick Earls which every local I encountered seemed to have read. Another gala evening was devoted to Like Minds the curious ‘Aussie’ movie retailing a modern horror story set in an English boarding school apparently somewhere on the moors near Liverpool.

BIFF’s selection of lesser known local product was quite bold as well. It ranged through another nine titles from would be art house attractions like Ana Kokkinos’s very bold The Book of Revelation down to Zak Hilditch’s awesomely inexpensive The Actress. Most intriguing, and already a festival hit here and elsewhere, was Alec Morgan’s tribute to one of the genuine hustlers of the Australian film industry Rupert Kathner. Hunt Angels tells the story of a charming rogue whose talent lay in raising money rather than spending it to good effect on movies. The resonances with today come thick and fast.

"a deep and very adventurous selection of films from the Asia-Pacific region"

But this is standard festival activity these days. BIFF’s unique, landmark and longstanding focus remains very much where it has always been – a deep and very adventurous selection of films from the Asia-Pacific region, and its extensive retrospectives. The latter this year included a ripping selection of classic French and American film noirs put together by curators Roger Westcombe and Chris Forth, including an incredibly rare screening of Jean Renoir’s A Night at the Crossroad, featuring the director’s brother Pierre as the cinema’s first Inspector Maigret. Film buffs came out of the woodwork.

There were also spotlights on the Japanese puppet film master Kihachiro Kawamoto and on a special selection of ‘Masters of the Surreal’ featuring Australian premieres of new films by Peter Greenaway, Jan Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay, Seijun Suzuki and Terry Gilliam. Assembling that collection took hard work and the solid crowds both rewarded the programmers invention and saw some very special films. The Greenaway, A Life in Suitcases, in particular, is a brilliant collage extracted from his current ongoing work Tulse Luper’s Suitcases. It represents a return to his early experimental work and was full of the director’s erratic and unpredictable humour, its influence traceable all the way back to the Goons. The Brits have long made such material their forte and Greenaway is a dab hand at it when he’s not at his misogynist worst.

Some of the material it presents has such an esoteric quality that few punters have sufficient sense of adventure to take up the offering. A pity really, especially because of the effort that went into presenting the wonderful selection of recent films from Iran and Turkey devoted to the role of women. Those who saw films like Rakhshan Bani-Etemad and Mohsen Abdolvahab’s Gilaneh, an up to the moment story about the consequences of the never-ending war in the Middle East, voted it among the best films of the festival. Maybe it’s a sales and marketing problem.

But walkouts at BIFF are near to non-existent, even when, as in the case of the Korean Time Between Dog and Wolf (Jeon Soo-il), the audience squirmed with sheer boredom for most of the 110 long minutes it took to tell an autobiographical tale of a film-maker (!) searching for someone high up in the snowy border area with the north.

But a misfire or two in the Asian selection hardly detracted from the pleasures on hand offered in new films by both masters Hou Hsiao-hsien (Three Times), Takeshi Kitano (Takeshi’s) and, especially Shinichi Nagasaki (Heart, Beating in the Dark) as well as some of the smartest young Asian film-makers like Ning Hao (Mongolian Ping Pong), Masahiro Kobayashi (Bashing), Kim Dae-seung (Blood Rain) and Zhang Lu (Grain in Ear). Kim’s film, a rip-roaring martial arts extravaganza, did hit the button with audiences, whereas the others, much more contemplative and serious, mostly, were harder sells. Notwithstanding, BIFF now has an established and growing stable of Asian film-makers whose work it supports and it’s to be hoped that this is still going to pay off over time.

"Turning curious younger audiences into future ticket buyers"

Turning curious younger audiences into future ticket buyers is actually one of the areas where a lot of hard yakka is being done. This year BIFF expanded its Cinesparks program, produced a separate catalogue for young peoples’ screenings and offered a whole host of programs from both its main catalogue and from other sources. There were, as well, practical film-making courses. Kids packed out everything from screenings of Louis Malle’s 1959 French noir Lift to the Scaffold and the same director’s very hard to see Zazie in the Metro to some welcome presentations of old and new Aussie works dealing with indigenous issues including Australian Rules, Beneath Clouds, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and Jedda. BIFF has strong support from the Queensland Government for this section and it may just be that it does this element best of all its strands.

Prizes were given by three juries - international critics (FIPRESCI), the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) and a group assembled to give an Interfaith Award for promoting humanitarian values. FIPRESCI gave its prize to Byambasuren Davaa’s The Cave of the Yellow Dog, the aforementioned Blood Rain got the NETPAC nod and the Filipino film The Masseur directed by Brillante Mendoza won the Interfaith prize.

(*Geoff Gardner is a member of BIFF’s Programming Advisory Panel)

Published, August 17, 2006

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The Book of Revelation - bold


Ticket sales rose by 20% and attendances by 15% on last year’s figures; 11,500 people attended the public program, an increase of 32% on last year. Attendance at Cine Sparks, the Australian Film Festival for Young People, was up 15% on the in-cinema program.

Lift to the Scaffold - French noir in Cinesparks

Gilaneh – loved by the few who saw it

48 Shades

Hunt Angels

(*Geoff Gardner is a member of BIFF’s Programming Advisory Panel)

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