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Australia's youngest, most intimate and, some would argue, most interesting film festival starts on 31 July. The Sixth Brisbane International Film Festival promises some 70 features and 100 shorts over 11 days on the theme "Imagination ... Inspiration". The degree of inspiration involved remains to be seen, but a good deal of imagination is already evident in the Festival programming, reports DAVID EDWARDS from Brisbane.

Kicking off BIFF 1997 is Peter Cattaneo's debut feature, The Full Monty; starring Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting). Its story centres on a group of down-on-their-luck steel workers who decide to stage a strip show in their native Sheffield. Although hardly prime examples of male pulchritude, they plan to distinguish themselves from their competition by going "the full monty" (i.e. completely nude). Although it sounds a little like Strictly Ballroom transplanted to the north of England, it has received good reviews overseas. The film was described by Lael Loewenstien in Box Office magazine as "... an unqualified delight" and is tipped to be a hit with Festival audiences.

"BIFF's major retrospective features the wild, wonderful and occasionally just plain weird Dennis Hopper"

BIFF's major retrospective this year features the wild, wonderful and occasionally just plain weird Dennis Hopper; whose career has been (according to Baseline's Encyclopedia of Film) "... a process of self-mythification". His work really began with his role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and he is still going strong today.

The retro will showcase five films: Henry Jaglom's Tracks - pictured - (1976); the Australian film Mad Dog Morgan (Phillipe Mora, 1976); the Hopper-directed Out of the Blue (1980) and Colors (1988); and his 1969 classic Easy Rider.

Easy Rider has always divided critics and audiences alike. To some, it is the landmark protest film of the '60's; a defining moment in both film culture and societal change. To others, it is a shallow and fatuous story of drug-dealing hippies. BIFF Artistic Director Anne Démy-Geroe is probably of the former view. She says that Easy Rider is "... such a seminal work and so important in one's memory of film culture, ... it seemed appropriate to view that again in the context of some of his (Hopper's) other pivotal works". The BIFF screening is a rare opportunity for Festival-goers to make their own decisions after seeing the film as it was intended - on the big screen.

"a strong Asia-Pacific focus"

The Brisbane Fest has always prided itself on its strong Asia-Pacific focus (ably facilitated by the local doyen of Asian cinema, Tony Rayns). Sections on Indian cinema and Hong Kong director Tsui Hark (probably best known for his Chinese Ghost Story series) will attempt to sate the appetites of aficionados of Asian cinema. But the highlight promises to be the Young Japanese filmmakers series. Naomi Kawase's 1997 Camera d'Or winner Suzaku will feature and Kawase will be a Festival guest.

Suzaku was apparently not widely seen at Cannes, but obviously made an impression on the jury. It also picked up the FIPRESCI Prize at Rotterdam. The film examines family relationships set against the backdrop of economic decline in a remote village, and is partly based on the director's own experiences. Visually stunning and brutally honest, Suzaku is part of an international resurgence for Japanese cinema, capped by Shohei Imamura's The Eel sharing this year's Palme d'Or.

Other films to be shown include Sogo Ishii's dark and complex tale of murder and madness, Labyrinth of Dreams; documentary maker Nobuhiro Suwa's feature film debut, 2 Duo, which looks at a relationship under strain (and won a prize at Rotterdam too); and avant-garde director Hiroyuki Oki's Heaven-6-Box.

Démy-Geroe promises that these sessions will be a talking point. "They will divide audiences, and one of the aims of any good film festival has to be stimulating and controversial" she said.

"Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey will present his directorial debut, Albino Alligator"

Another international guest will be Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey, who will present his directorial debut, Albino Alligator. Spacey's presence in Brisbane is a major coup for BIFF and will raise the profile of the Festival significantly.

Albino Alligator tells the story of three criminals cornered after taking hostages in a New Orleans bar and the stand-off which follows. Urban Cinefile editor Andrew L. Urban says Spacey has made a film that is "as taut as a coiled spring, as edgy as a psycho on heat and as moving as a mother dying for her child."

Silents have also become something of a feature

Silents have also become something of a feature of BIFF in recent years. This year, two rare films by Herbert Brenon will be shown; Peter Pan (pictured) and A Kiss for Cinderella. New prints of both (from MOMA and George Eastman House in New York) will be brought into Australia specially for presentation.

The two films were selected by Démy-Geroe from the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. She says they "... absolutely enchanted me".

World Cinema

World Cinema is normally a vibrant component at BIFF. This year's selection appears no exception, and includes the surreal and erotic The Conspirators of Pleasure from Jan Svankmayer (Czech Republic) and Isaac Julian's Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask (UK). A potential crowd-pleaser is the new feature from Olivier Assayas, Irma Vep (France), which stars Maggie Cheung as herself. This film-within-a-film story of an attempt to remake a silent classic echoes Truffaut's Day for Night. New films from Greece, Brazil, Canada, Spain and American independents will also be screened.

As always, Australian films (features and documentaries) will be spotlighted. Two significant new Australian features are to screen - Bill Bennett's noir-ish Kiss or Kill and Chris Kennedy's country music comedy Doing Time for Patsy Cline, which closes the Festival on August 10. Between them, the two feature are a virtual who's who of young Australian acting talent, with Frances O'Connor and Matt Day (Kiss or Kill), Richard Roxburgh and Miranda Otto (Doing Time for Patsy Cline).

Chauvel Award will be presented to Academy Award winning cinematographer John Seale

The Chauvel Award for distinguished contribution to Australian feature filmmaking will be presented. The Award is unique in this country in recognising Australian filmmaking talent and dedication.

This year's recipient is Academy Award winning cinematographer John Seale (See Whizzards of Oz in our features section for more on Seale). Born in Warwick, Qld., Seale is a (if not the) leading cinematographer in Hollywood today. Of course, Seale won the Oscar this year for his brilliant work on The English Patient. He has also been nominated twice before, for Witness and Rainman. Seale garnered an AFI Award for cinematography in 1983 for Careful He Might Hear You.

The Chauvel Award is named after Australia's pioneering filmmaker, Charles Chauvel, who was also from Queensland. Fittingly, this year's Festival includes an interesting sidebar event titled Queensland Images. Timed to coincide with the Chauvel centenary, the component will show works from contemporary Queensland filmmakers; past winners of the Queensland Young Filmmaker Awards; and a special screening of Chauvel's 1949 classic, Sons of Matthew, with guest Michael Pate, one of the stars of the film. (He told Urban Cinefile how it took over a year to complete shooting - in dribs and drabs.)

For those who aren't up to sitting in the dark with complete strangers for the duration, there will also be a program of seminars and lectures.

The 1997 Brisbane International Film Festival runs from July 31 to August 10 at the Hoyts Regent Cinema and the State Library. Further info can be obtained from the BIFF office on (07) 3220 0444.

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Brisbane International Film Festival image

Albino Alligator - director Kevin Spacey is pictured with Faye Dunaway

Robert Altman's Jazz '34

Easy Rider - part of the Spotlight on Dennis Hopper

Chinese Ghost Story

Bum Magnet

The Full Monty

A Queer Story

Late night horror with Hysteria


Stella Does Tricks

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