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A spontaneous post-screening haka, Picasso and seared emu were just some of the interstitials at this year’s Brisbane film fest (July 31 – Aug. 10), which recorded a 10% rise in ticket sales and a satisfying and challenging program, starting with Morgan Spurlock’s Osama Bin Laden. Andrew L. Urban reports.

The spontaneous haka by some of the Maori guests in the cinema after the screening of Vincent Ward’s fascinating and moving documentary, Rain Of The Children, was a special moment in this year’s BIFF. The film was screened in one of the two cinemas inside the new riverside Gallery of Modern Art, which was simultaneously hosting the extraordinary exhibition of Picasso’s private art collection. The GoMA environment adds remarkable texture by the juxtaposing of such disparate events and serves to expand the film festival’s creative as well as physical presence.

The festival opened (Thursday, July 31) with Morgan Spurlock’s Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? to a full house, and the next afternoon, Morgan spent 90 minutes discussing the film, his life, his wife and raising money for Supersize Me with your reporter. He turned out to be not only engaging and entertaining but decent and generous.

Then the festival gathered speed and mass in an eclectic but manageable program across three screening venues: the splendid old Regent cinema in the centre of the city, the Palace Centro cinemas in funky Fortitude Valley, and the aforementioned Australian Cinémathèque at the GoMA.

With ticket sales up 10 per cent on last year and 24 sold-out sessions, including opening and closing night, both Galas and many of the screenings for schools and young people, BIFF Executive Director Anne Demy-Geroe is entitled to be pleased with the response.

Audience favourites were:
1) Persepolis; 2) Lemon Tree; 3) Son of Rambow; 4) Hunger; 5) Sukiyaki Western Django; 6) In Bruges; 7) Black Ice; 8) Katyn; 9) Redbelt; and 10) Lorna’s Silence.

Top 5 docos were:
1) The Burning Season; 2) Garbage Warrior; 3) Global Metal;
4) Man on Wire; 5) Not Quite Hollywood.

The indie Chinese film, Good Cats, took the FIPRESCI Award for Best Asia Pacific film.

At one festival guests dinner, Australian director Mark Hartley, who presented his doco, Not Quite Hollywood, shared a dinner table with some of his Ozploitation subjects, Brian Trenchard Smith and Antony I. Ginnane. Your reporter had a seat between Trenchard Smith and Japanese horror icon Eihi Shiina who had come to the festival to present her latest film, Nishimura Yoshihiro's wild and very bloody, Tokyo Gore Police. Eihi is internationally renowned for her jaw-dropping performance in Miike Takashi's Audition as a young woman with a very dark past. My small claim to fame at the table is my success at convincing the shy Eihi to sample the seared emu on our all-Australian bush tucker menu. To her credit, she not only ordered it but cleaned the plate.

Nudity and rudity, blood and gore are the main menu of the films discussed in Not Quite Hollywood, which challenged the establishment back in the 70s and 80s. It’s enthusiastic reception threatens to make Ozploitation mainstream. But if that’s a good story about Australian filmmakers in the 70s who walked the tightrope between popularity and disdain, Man on Wire is a good story about Philippe Petit, the man who literally walked a tightrope – not only over the Sydney Harbour Bridge but the World Trade Towers in New York, also in the 70s. Challenging the establishment makes satisfying cinema.

With its Spotlight on Britain, Asia Pacific Cinema, Thai Meteorites and Australian Cinema, BIFF had a strong regional program, but the festival also made room for documentaries, horror, experimental and music films. For its two Gala presentations, the fest offered a huge contrast: Nadine Labaki’s Caramel, the sweet Lebanese film about a relationship-hub of a beauty salon – and Martin McDonagh’s black comedy crime thriller, In Bruges. It’s this kind of contrast that make a festival appealing, rich and satisfying.

"posthumous presentation of the Chauvel Award to Heath Ledger by David Stratton"

One of the other highlight events of the festival was the posthumous presentation of the Chauvel Award to Heath Ledger by David Stratton, The presentation (August 7) at the Regent was sold out and included many clips from his films (eg Two Hands, Monsters Ball, Candy, Casanova, Brokeback Mountain, The Dark Knight) and several interviews by David. “For someone without any formal training,” says David, “he was a remarkable actor, incredibly versatile. It was fascinating how he could choose such varied material as, say, Casanova and The Dark Knight.”

For one so young, says David, he also had done lot; he made his first film at 15 “and had an amazing career”. As the tributes show, Ledger was also much loved as a person.

For BIFF Executive Director Anne Demy-Geroe, the award was “about redressing the media sensationalisation that surrounded his death.”

Published August 14, 2008


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Festival Director Anne Demi-Geroe with Morgan Spurlock


David Stratton - posthumous presentation of the Chauvel Award to Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger


Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden

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