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David Edwards does alphabet soup on the 7th Brisbane International Film Festival programme and hopes it will get double A.

Okay, Queensland. Enough! Enough of those dreaded "P" words. You know the ones - politics, polls, pundits, parties, parliamentarians, preferences, postal votes, procrastination and pork-barrelling. It's time for some much more uplifting "C" words - cinema, celebration, colour, clarity, conviviality, creativity and community - at the Brisbane International Film Festival.

The 1998 edition will mark the seventh BIFF, but the first under the auspices of the Pacific Film and Television Commission. This follows the merger of Film Events Queensland into PTFC last year. Although the name is different, the key personnel are familiar; with manager Gary Ellis and artistic director Anne Demy-Geroe still on board.

The challenge for this year's festival is to build on the almost phenomenal success of the 1997 event, when audience numbers rose by something like 25%. A similar increase this year will see the main venue at the Hoyts Regent strained to bursting, even with the addition of a larger cinema to cater for the popular sessions.

" ...will screen about 200 features, shorts and documentaries"

The Festival, themed Colour My World, will again run for 11 days from July 30 and will screen about 200 features, shorts and documentaries. It will be book-ended by John Ruane's new Australian romantic comedy Dead Letter Office; and Bob Gosse's acclaimed American indie, Niagara, Niagara.

A browse through the program reveals plenty to interest filmgoers of all persuasions, from the hard-core cinephile to those with a passing interest in film.

This year's likely crowd-pullers include Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy, Errol Morris' doco, Fast Cheap and Out of Control and Tom Di Cillo's The Real Blonde. And there's the rub. The inclusion of these films raises a question about film festivals in Australia - are they becoming too similar? All three films will have already screened at either the Sydney or Melbourne Film Festivals. Indeed, Fast Cheap and Out of Control has already been released theatrically in Sydney.

All festivals need product which will attract audiences, who after all pay many of the bills. This allows them to show films that might otherwise be neglected. And, let's face it, there are a limited number of films which can fill that role in any given year. But there is an apparent sameness in some of the programming of this country's major film festivals.

"A conscious decision to bypass some high profile films in favour of more challenging product."

Anne Demy-Geroe says that any similarity is entirely superficial and is usually restricted to the headliners. She argues that BIFF will have a large percentage of films which will not be shown elsewhere. Indeed, given that BIFF runs for only ten days, compared with the two weeks occupied by the Sydney and Melbourne events, she has made a conscious decision to bypass some high profile films in favour of more challenging product.

Perhaps ironically in light of recent political events, the Asia-Pacific element has always been a prime focus for BIFF - and that remains emphatically the case in 1998, despite the absence of long-time collaborator Tony Rayns. Venice Golden Lion winner, Hana-bi (Fireworks) by Takeshi Kitano (better known as Beat Takeshi) will lead BIFF's Asian component; although it will not necessarily be to all tastes. Described by Liz Braun in the Toronto Sun as "a complex film that juxtaposes dark and light in strange but compelling ways, like flower paintings ... side by side with gangsters taking a chopstick in the eye," this film will challenge. Those who know of Beat Takeshi's exploits will not be surprised to hear this.

While Hana-bi may be the most high-profile Asian film, it is by no means the only significant or interesting one. Another Japanese film likely to provoke a lot of discussion is Bounce from director Matsudo Harada (who will be a guest). The film focuses on a Japanese school girl trying to recover lost money for a trip to America, who spends a night with prostitutes. Similarly, the "revisionist" dramas The Opium War (from China) and Pride (the story of Japanese wartime prime minister Tojo) may prove contentious with an Australian audience.

"A significant amount of new Australian product will be shown"

Elsewhere, Demy-Geroe has decided it is time to emphasise European cinema, which will result in less American independents being shown. The strong European focus includes the French films Rien ne va Plus (Claude Chabrol's 50th film), Gadjo Dilo (the follow-up to Latcho Drom) and Love Tangles; We All Fall Down and Piansese Nunzio from Italy; the latter says Demy-Geroe was "definitely not a hit with the Vatican"; Felice... Felice from the Netherlands; and the new Russian film, The Brother, starring Sergei Bodrov Jr.

Fortunately, a significant amount of new Australian product will be shown. Here, BIFF has certainly distinguished itself with an exclusive screening of Rolf de Heer's Dance Me To My Song. De Heer will be honoured with BIFF's Chauvel Award for distinguished contribution to Australian filmmaking.

BIFF '98 will feature two major retrospectives. Black Music: White Screens is a selection of black musicals made for white audiences, such as Show Boat and Stormy Weather. This has been intriguingly mirrored by the late-night blaxploitation section, a reflection of a time when black American filmmakers were attempting to define their own unique identity. The highlight of the latter will be a screening, complete and uncut, of Melvin Van Peebles breakthrough Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song.

".. Audience favorites"

Pressed to predict the likely audience favorites, Demy-Geroe nominates Gadjo Dilo, The Real Blonde and Dance Me To My Song. On those likely to prove the most controversial, she says Pride and Gummo will almost certainly provoke plenty of discussion - but for entirely different reasons.

At the launch, BIFF Chair Sir Llew Edwards promised "the best [Brisbane] festival ever". Hopefully, that promise will be fulfilled and the 1998 event will be remembered with a string of "E" words - exciting, enervating, enjoyable, enlightening, energizing, and empowering.

July, 2000

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The Seventh Brisbane International Film Festival runs from July 30 to August 9 at the Hoyts Regent Centre, State Library, Tivoli Theatre and Brisbane City Hall.

For information contact
the festival office
Tel:(07)3220 0444


See Andrew L. Urban's FEATURE on the Opening of the Brisbane Film Festival


Rolf De Heer's Dance Me To My Song
An exclusive screening

John Ruane's Dead Letter Office"
Opening Night Film


DAVID EDWARDS is a freelance writer from Brisbane. He has written a short film which is still in pre-development and is currently working on the script for a feature film.


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