2006 was a rough year I’d rather not talk about but in 2007 I was working full time and was eager to return as a volunteer to the Brisbane International Film Festival. I like the idea of trilogies so for some reason I wanted to be a Volly 3 times rather than 2 but I also had the sense that this would be the last time I would do it. Given how much fun I had in 2004 and 2005 this feels odd but I guess I just had a sense of things passing and not being able to hold them in place. The 16th Brisbane International Film Festival was launched with Opening Night film Fay Grim and closed with Angelina Jolie’s A Mighty Heart running from 2nd August 2007 to 12th August 2007. Again I didn’t attend Opening Night. I did buy a Take 10 Pass and I did Volunteer on weekends now that I was working regular hours during the week and I did see most of the old gang of front box office staff who I had missed since 2005. There were two films I was keen to see that I didn’t get which include The Walker by Paul Schrader and the Oscar winning Once. I also note with interest a favourite film of Karen’s, The Jammed a harrowing tale about sex trafficking was also screened here. I did aim to see films from every continent again and I think I did alright.
FLANDERS: Friday night after work I raced across to town to see Flanders at 7:10pm in Palace Centro Cinema 2 back when the only Palace cinemas in town were Centro. Flanders was a fascinating film to start off my BIFF viewing that way. Made in France by Bruno Dumont, the Iraq War was in full flight at the time. Flanders shows young French men from the farming community of Flanders conscripted and sent to fight in a Middle East or North African landscape, (These scenes were shot in Tunisia). An unconventional film, the characters don’t follow normal behaviour (I heard one sex scene described as two hedgehogs mating) certain plot developments are kept abstract and in the end nobody seems to have the answers but Dumont’s invitation to fill in the gaps and stand for multiple generations and wars speaks volumes. Some of his framing also recounts plays but other times he closes in on shots that still haunt me over a decade later. A perfect festival film that makes you think and is not the usual fare.
ALL MY FRIENDS ARE LEAVING BRISBANE: The next day I volunteered at Regent 1 Saturday evening. This film screened there at 9:30pm according to the program but I was positive it took place in one of the upstairs cinemas because they had stairs to them and I remember sitting on the steps for the film. It was the directorial debut of Louise Alston to a hometown premiere and she was given a bouquet of flowers at the beginning. I was handed them at the back of the cinema and told to hold onto them and hand them back at the end where there was going to be a Q&A. We’re talking a massive bouquet with a bag of water inside them and so forth. I watched the film on the steps by myself which I enjoyed. The film stars Charlotte Gregg and Matt Zeremes as friends who are in a rut post uni. At that point two of my best friends had moved away to Sydney and the other to Canberra. My career wasn’t going anywhere and I yearned to go overseas. My love life was on the operating table losing a lot of blood too. So you could say the film tapped into the zeitgeist as far as I was concerned and it was mostly this insight I enjoyed rather than laugh out laughs. It was nice to see Brisbane up on the big screen too and there was a relaxed confidence from the filmmakers plus I really enjoyed Charlotte Gregg’s performance (she later went onto some success with Underbelly but is now mostly a food and health writer) and Ryan Johnson (who is really entertaining).
As instructed after the film ended I raced down to the front to give the bouquet back to Ms Alston who was about to do a Q&A with the audience. So naturally she didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing and neither did I really beyond that it was what I was supposed to do. I can’t be sure all these years later but I think thankfully they ended up lying on the ground or a seat with met off to the side wondering why I just didn’t hold them longer. I’m sorry Ms Alston. The Q&A was a great success, actors often seem less at ease in them than directors and writers who find it easy to discuss themes and intents whereas some actors are actually really shy. Ryan Johnson was charming and funny and completely at ease and I thought this guy has got something.
I’m not sure what happened next, probably we handed out voting cards as the audience left the cinema but whatever it is it ended up the whole place had become quiet and deserted and I saw Louise Alston walk back into the empty cinema. I followed her inside and saw that she was surveying the scene, having a moment of realising her first feature film had played to an audience on a big cinema screen. I quickly left, having feel blessed to have witnessed her moment but not wanting to spoil it. There are a handful of people really who can ever do this and she is one of them. Such scenes are one of the joys of BIFF like seeing the local producers of Australia Day having dinner after their Qld premiere last year at BIFF.
THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG: Many years ago as a uni student at QUT I was asked if I wanted to come along to the Valley to go to a Trash Video Film Club night. This was in a bar upstairs that looked like it was from another time. Kids sat around on bean bags everywhere and ordered drinks and we watched B-Grade genre films from around the world. It was curated by Andrew Leovold who ran Trash Video store in the West End which stored old VHS tapes of films you couldn’t get anywhere else. The Film Club nights were a great advertisement for his store as they showed highlights of different films you could get out from there. I went a few times throughout over 2 or 3 years, getting an appreciation for Horror films from around the world, seeing Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) and also running into the Spierig Brothers. They came one night to show all the short films they had made before their first film Undead. They also gave away tickets for some new film called Shaun of the Dead with a quiz about Undead. I was a big fan of Undead but people were struggling to come up with answers. After one question I exclaimed in frustration having known the answer but not remembering it. One of them asked me if I had known the answer and I said yes and so they gave me the tickets and poster.
I asked Andrew a couple of times what he thought of BIFF and the Australian film industry in general. As a purveyor of schlock his answer surprised me, back then he had a pretty tough view of the industry and audiences saying we needed to be more discerning. I think something he loved about the films he celebrated were that many were true originals whatever their other limitations. The Trash Video Film Club was a very special place for a young person to hang out in and I am forever grateful for Andrew and his team for what they created there. It should be noted that even with the advent of illegal downloading and streaming we don’t always seem to have easier access to some of the titles that could be easily rented out at Trash Video. Of the few nights I went to the Film Club the highlight perhaps remains my first where I went and saw a program of James Bond spoofs which was followed by For Your Height Only. For Your Height Only was released in 1981 starring Weng Weng and was made in the Philippines post US productions. At one point the Filipino film industry was the 3rd largest in the world.
Which is a long way of getting to the next film I saw at BIFF 2007. Andrew Leovold went to the Philippines to look for the 2foot9inches Weng Weng whose fate was shrouded in mystery. The resulting documentary screened at BIFF at Gallery of Modern Art Cinema B at 3pm on a Sunday when I was doing a volley shift although I was covering Cinema A ten paces away. Once again I was lucky enough to get to go in and watch The Search for Weng Weng which celebrated everything great about his films and the film industry in his country at the time. Leovold introduced the film and was true to form. This was the first year BIFF had sessions running at GOMA, that I know of, and as people left the cinemas that day they were told by staff they couldn’t go to the public toilets as the Museum was closing. GOMA is on stretch of land with the Queensland Art Gallery, State Library of Queensland and the Queensland Museum. At the time the nearest public toilets were at least several hundred metres away if not more. I was furious and one of the front of house staff just told the security guard that he needed to go so he was going to go…and he did. BIFF 2018 has just been announced with its base being at GOMA and I’ve had many positive experiences since then including at the cinemas but it was really a piss poor way to treat patrons. Hopefully they’ve learnt their lessons.
Leovold is a larger than life showman who dresses like the uni students he appeals to but as time has gone on he has been able to reveal more and more a keen intellect. I noticed him leave the venue with a crowd (mostly friends I suspect and what appeared to be a younger girlfriend) and decided that a new part of his career was beginning at this BIFF with his first film and he has gone from strength to strength since. Danny one of the front of house staff who had been so kind to me over the years was also significantly involved in work of this film so people were starting to move onto new and better things.