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In a first for Brisbane, the Festival has a 12-film sidebar showcasing Bohemian gothic – movies that explore the dark and the frightening, in a section dedicated to Czech Horror, with a features program that has been touring the US. But there’s much more, as Festival director Anne Demy-Geroe outlines to Andrew L. Urban.

Of the 12 films in the Czech Horror section of this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF, July 27 – August 8, 2004), 10 are directed by filmmakers whose first name begins with J, and one of the other two has a J in the title.* I bet you didn’t know that. Or that the films have been curated by Steven Jay Schneider, the American film academic who edited 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die. (These films toured the US last year, starting at the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York.)

Perhaps more than any other country in Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic has produced a body of films that explore the sensation of fear, the grotesque, the morbid or the uncanny. In this rare exploration of that cinematic sub-genre, BIFF director Ann Demy-Geroe goes into the dungeon and brings up some classics made over three decades. “Some of it is cult, some of it animated and it all comes together as a window an aspect of Czech society and politics,” says Demy-Geroe. It’s a first for Brisbane, a special focus on films from Eastern Europe.

"The diversity is staggering"

The diversity is staggering, with films ranging from Jiri Barta’s The Pied Piper (1986) - one of the most ambitious projects in Czech animation history, an expressionistic visual metaphor for the fall of a materialistic society. The medieval drama is told via an assortment of techniques, including wooden puppets, oil paintings, and footage of live rats – to Juraj Herz’s The Cremator (1968), about a crematorium operator in the early stages of the planned Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, with dark desires for highly efficient mass cremation.

The program shows the diversity of this school of filmmaking, proving that there are more where the celebrated Czech horrorist, Jan Svankmajer came from: included in the festival are three of his films, with The Fall of the House of Usher perhaps the best known.

But Demy-Geroe has aimed for a balanced program overall, adding a 10-film Cocteu retrospective here, a minor Argentinian spotlight there, five new Australian films and a World Cinema section of 27 features. In all, almost 150 feature films are slotted, and another 50 or so documentaries and shorts. Less than 20 of the films have an Australian commercial release planned or pending, a ratio she says she is careful to maintain.

“There are some threads in the program,” she says, “but there’s no one overriding theme. It’s enormously diverse. In the contemporary films, as you would expect, there are responses to the world as it is today in various ways.”

One major change patrons will note this year is the absence of the State Library as a venue; it’s being renovated. But Demy-Geroe doesn’t see the loss as a loss, as it were. “We’re running the full program at the Hoyts Regent, so it’ll be crowded, but that can be a good thing in terms of atmosphere. Also makes it easier to move between sessions…”

"The Life and Death of Peter Sellers'

The Festival will open with The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, to gain maximum impact from the Chauvel Award being presented to the film’s star, Geoffrey Rush. Closing night will be celebrated with Richard Linklater’s touching and revealing Before Sunset.

* The Czech ‘J’ filmmakers: Jan Svankmejer, Juraj Herz, Jiri Svoboda, Jan Nemec, Jiri Barta, Jaromil Jires. The title with J – Who Killed Jessie? (Vaclav Vorticek). Also in the program: Zbynek Brynych’s The Fifth Horseman is Fear. 

A Take 5 pass for $57 is good value, with access to the premium evening sessions and a selection of others. For economy, the $45 pass also gives you 5 sessions, but not the evening ones. Single tickets are $12.50, down to $9 for the late night sesions, and VIP seating can be purchased for $16 – and you can even upgrade to VIP for $6 from standard a ticket. Note: all but three of the films are restricted to 18+; the other three are 15+.

Published July 8, 2004

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Jiri Barta’s The Pied Piper

Brisbane International Film Festival - 2004

Festival director, Anne Demy-Geroe

The Cremator

Ornamental Hairpin

Hiroshi Shimizu

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