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Anne Demy-Geroe hopes this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival will bring "adventurous, innovative, challenging" cinema, with the biggest program in its history, reports DAVID EDWARDS.

She sits, chatting politely to her friend about nothing at all. The effects of the coffee she had earlier are wearing off, and a slight headache is creeping around the front of her scalp. The moment comes, she breathes deeply. The lights dim. She stops talking and stares into the darkness. The sound of the curtain opening can be heard, and in the gloom, the pale grey of the screen can be made out. A gentle whirr, a flicker, and the first images appear. The pupils of her eyes dilate and contract. There is magic.

This scene will be played out time and again from July 29 till August 8 at the 8th Brisbane International Film Festival.

The long-standing and successful team of Executive Manager Gary Ellis and Artistic Director Anne Demy-Geroe will present Brisbane with some of the country’s, and the world’s, best cinema. Demy-Geroe is confident this line up will "cater to a wide variety of filmgoers." She adds "I’m very excited about the program for this year, especially our retrospectives which will give Brisbane audiences a rare opportunity to experience some truly amazing cinema."

"opening film"

The opening film will, for the first time, be an entirely local production - Davida Allen’s Feeling Sexy. Shot in Brisbane, Feeling Sexy stars Susie Potter and Tamblyn Lord, and has been generating a significant buzz. This frank and challenging film is described as "an engagingly honest and visually arresting portrayal of the sexual frustrations and fantasies of a suburban housewife". Adds Demy-Geroe "It’s a fantastic film that’s not only charged with beautiful images and great performances but it’s also got a sincerity and candidness that affords it a really unique charm." The film will have its world premiere at BIFF before heading to Venice where it will be in the official competition.

Feeling Sexy will be accompanied by a Brisbane-made short Stanley Ovation P.I.; which picked up multiple prizes at the Queensland New Filmmakers Awards. An all-Queensland opening night program will be rounded out by the first government sponsored film in the world - a showcase of Queensland commissioned in 1899 for an international exposition.

At the other end, the festival will close with Arlington Road, a political thriller starring Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins. Demy-Geroe comments the American production will be a "counterpoint" to the opening night; with its "slick Hitchcockian style" balancing nicely against the honesty and charm of Feeling Sexy.


BIFF’s major retrospective this year is The Artificial Night, a look at surrealist cinema to mark the 70th anniversary of Bunuel’s breakthrough Un Chien Andalou. Demy-Geroe says this is "the biggest and most comprehensive retrospective ever undertaken by the festival". The retro includes some 30 titles from the 1920’s to the 80’s. Naturally, Bunuel’s work features heavily, and includes Un Chien Andalou, Exterminating Angel and Viridiana. Moving through to films from the likes of Man Ray and Borowczyk, the section enters the recent past with Blue Velvet and David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.

Although not officially part of the surrealism segment, a film that arguably fits well with the theme is Cronenberg’s latest, eXistenZ. The master of the bizarre has created a swirling cocktail of a film that never lets the audience become comfortable. It looks at a world where computer games have gone organic, plugging directly into the user’s spinal cord. The film stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law, and headlines a strong contingent of Canadian films showing, from the ultra low budget but acclaimed Stolen Hearts to Robert Lepage’s multi-layered (and equally acclaimed) new feature Nô. Stolen Hearts was reportedly made for only $100,000 without any government support. It starts as a kidnap caper but develops into a look at dysfunctional family relationships.

The other retrospective will feature the work of the American independent filmmaker Larry Cohen, probably best known for his It’s Alive trilogy. While his work is mostly in the sci-fi and horror fields, he’s also written for TV shows like NYPD Blue. Cohen will be a guest at the festival and his insights into surviving as an independent filmmaker should prove invaluable for aspiring local talent.

The Chauvel Award, presented annually for outstanding contribution to Australian feature film making will this year be presented to the man described as "the larrikin of the Australian film industry", Bob Ellis. The prolific writer and director of such seminal films as Newsfront, Man of Flowers, Goodbye Paradise, and Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train will discuss his work (and maybe a few other matters of topical interest) in a special presentation with film doyen David Stratton. This will be followed by a screening of his 1992 feature, The Nostradamus Kid.

"Asia-Pacific selection"

BIFF’s has made its name on the strength of its Asia-Pacific selection. This year shapes up as another fine year in this category with films like Flowers of Shanghai from Taiwan (declared by Demy-Geroe as the film to see at the festival), the appropriately surreal Japanese film After Life, The Power of Kangwon Province from South Korea and, in a first for this festival, a film from Kyrgyzstan - The Adopted Son.

Australian highlights will include Emma-Kate Croghan’s Strange Planet (looking forward to that one), the wild documentary Original Schtick, and Fresh Air, which some of the lucky people down south have already seen. Adding more local interest will be Tony Ayres’ powerful film based on visual artist William Yang’s work of the same name, Sadness. There’s also a special screening of Richard Kuiper’s Stone Forever, his documentary about the making of the iconic Australian biker film Stone, accompanied by the original. A raft of Aussie filmmaking talent will be attending as guests of the festival to talk about their films.

"World Cinema"

In the World Cinema section, Ken Loach’s My Name Is Joe is sure to be a highlight. This compelling drama focuses on a recovering alcoholic trying to get his life together while those around him are spiralling out of control. An audience award winner at the Sydney Film Festival, its powerful emotional impact will no doubt make its mark here too.

A strong selection of US indie films will screen; including John Sayles’ Limbo and the political allegory Election. But one of the more interesting films should be Pups directed by Ash and starring Burt Reynolds. The film explores the phenomenon of youth violence in America and ironically was released in that country only two days before the Littleton massacre.

A rather more frenetic look at American youth culture is provided by Doug Liman’s Go. This wild ride through one night in the lives of seven young Los Angelinos employs a non-linear narrative style that blends the three disparate storylines into a cohesive whole.

"masters of European cinema"

New films from three masters of European cinema - Eric Rohmer’s Autumn Tale, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Besieged and Bertrand Tavernier’s Ça Commence Aujourd’hui (It All Starts Today) - should draw big crowds. Bertolucci’s film in particular has received accolades from the usually tough American press. Besieged is a story of obsessive love and political intrigue set in the ex-patriot community in Rome.

But while big names have their place, part of the fun of a festival is discovering that overlooked gem and BIFF has plenty of possibilities. The Iranian film Children of Heaven; Sundance favourite Smoke Signals; Windhorse partially shot illegally in Tibet; and the Japanese youth film Adrenaline Drive look like good bets. Another sure to be worth a look is Forever Fever, about a young Singaporean obsessed with John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever.

July, 1999

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 Feeling Sexy - opening night film

 Arlington Road - closing night film


 Strange Planet


 My Name is Joe


 It All Starts Today

 Smoke Signals

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