AQUAMAN FIRMLY HAS ITS TRIDENT IN ITS CHEEK

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I really don’t want to lead you the garden path, Aquaman has a lot of flaws. Amber Heard’s acting for one. Related imageBut also the fact that if it is making a point in its narrative then the ending fails to capitalise on it. Also that the characterisation is weak and inconsistent, I couldn’t tell you who Arthur Curry really is at this point because in any given scene he is whatever the scene requires him to feel. And yet…..and yet God help me I had fun watching this movie. Part of the fun was how bad it was like when a cover a Toto’s Africa played, but part of it was how silly it was and how much it knew that when signifying Italy and burgeoning love they the soundtrack played Roy Orbinson’s Mystery Girl. If Adam McKay does smart dumb comedy then maybe director James Wan is on his way to making smart dumb blockbusters and that’s a good thing.

The plot picks up a little after Justice League, Aquaman goes around the ocean saving the day and beating bad guys up, sculling a beer with his old man and mostly keeping to himself. Then destiny calls and well mostly scenes of exposition interrupted by sudden explosions follows. Thank God they cast big names because I can’t remember the names of the characters just that they were played Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson and Jack the Muss.

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Aquaman is a film that goes to a lot of effort in its world building but is less about what and why something happens and more about how. Plate work ensues, we go to Italy, Africa and Maine and I’m not even sure if they even went to a water tank set let alone left the studio to shoot on location there’s so much green screen on display. Yet the film looks gorgeous, if its a cartoon it is a pretty and inventive one unafraid to have big name actors astride sea horses and sharks.

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Speaking of the cast Dafoe and Lundgren play as you expect, Lundgren actually plays it so straight and earnest it makes the unique kind of straightforward. Wilson, an actor I greatly admire proves game and doesn’t look awkward as his costumes grow more ridiculous but a film like this really deserves a villain who doesn’t bring earnestness but  theatrics. In fact Wilson, who looks like the comic book Arthur Curry and was cast as the villain partly because of this, would have made a good Curry it has to be said. Amber Heard fits into her costume snugly and tries hard, she is stuck in another female sidekick role where she cares more deeply about the plight of the story than the hero and has to prod him into fulfilling his destiny. A thankless role I grant you but Heard fails to bring any nuance and little joy to the role and the chemistry between her and Jason Momoa is non-existent.

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Momoa a man who has the body that leaves many swooning and the smarts to have a sense of humour about his image. The character as written is all over the shop but Momoa clearly has a passion for what he is doing. Its exciting to have an actor of islander heritage cast as an aquatic superhero but beyond that, his attitude, comic sensibilities and physique suit the role too. He also gets to show vulnerability here as a man born of two worlds who feels he belongs to neither and mourns a mother he barely knew. Which brings us to Nicole Kidman who may just be the best thing about the movie, she plays it straight too no matter how weird her costume and she brings real pathos to her role as a Queen, warrior, wife and mother. When they say great actors are slumming it in blockbusters they don’t always have reason to mention how the actor can elevate the production, Kidman here does.

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As for the production itself, the movie moves fast but is too long. Cut a villain here, an action scene there, slow it down and get to the guts of why these people are doing what they’re doing and you might have a great movie. A final epic end battle has really nothing to do with anybody we care about until late in the game and just feels like it is there because you got to go big and Hollywood-you really don’t. Yet the movie zips along and there’s a few jokes here and there and it certainly doesn’t tax your brain as it proves a feast for your eyes. Good looking people, cool looking worlds, big explosions and lasers, crab monsters and mystic tridents. It never bores and that’s a crime too many blockbusters have been guilty of lately. In fact when people square off and thump their trident down and you hear a big brass reverberating sound you can’t help but smile. We’re not the only ones having fun with this.

-Lloyd Marken

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THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2018 PART V

 

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THE CAMERAMAN: I’m not an expert on Buster Keaton, having only seen The General many years ago at BIFF 2005 but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out another one of his films screening at BIFF 2018. Arriving solo on an early Saturday morning 20OCT2018 at the Gallery of Modern Art South Bank I quickly saw a line backed up outside the entrance to the 11am session. Clearly I was not the only who thought this was a good idea. On the 80th anniversary of The General I watched the great organ player Ron West accompany live, and here on the 90th anniversary of The Cameraman I was to see David Bailey play the gallery’s 1929 Wurlitzer which came up out of the stage just beneath the screen. The audience was amused by his inventive addition of the iconic Jaws theme amongst other playful choices.

The Cameraman was a crossroads for Keaton, the silent era was fading, he lost creative control in his ventures and his personal life was about to go through an upheaval. In some ways The Cameraman is the last great Buster Keaton film despite him going on for quite some time after. The audience was full of all types of people drawn to the opportunity to see something as unique as a silent film. The print had long been believed lost and the film survives today as a mesh between two old prints. In some ways Keaton’s old movie seems more grand now, in an era of CGI effects I heard one youngster marvel they must have built that whole set for such a short gag, Keaton’s stunt work and balletic grace remains impressive even if it is reported he was not allowed to do them all himself this time around. Some things have dated its true, you can see the construction of how we’re meant to feel but the reason why these films remain timeless is the same reason they had such broad appeal back in the day. The characters were archetypes, the story simple and the gags broad because that is what it makes them universal. Seeing The Cameraman at BIFF 2018 was a treat. Afterwards David Bailey received an ovation.

 

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IN THE AISLES: The next day Karen and I went and saw at 3:45pm at New Farm Cinemas In The Aisles which was in a way a choice made jointly by Karen and I after she got Arctic and I got Ash Is Purest White. From Germany and starring Sandra Huller, Franz Rogowski and Peter Kurth it tells the story of a night shift at a retail store in Germany. A few things came flooding back to me of my time working at BIG W as a young man, the veteran who knew all the good hiding spots, the jittery movements of using a power pallet jack for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect with In The Aisles a romcom that turns dark maybe but instead I got a powerful character piece about three people. There is so much care in every frame and shot of this film from Thomas Stuber that perfectly creates the geography of the store and being out of it. Delicate dialogue that says enough of the characters thoughts but not all of it and the way that the people who knew you at work know you in a way your family never will and vice versa. That they are a family of sorts. I don’t know if it will create the buzz needed but it would be no injustice if this received a nomination for Best Foreign Film at this years’ Oscars. I also noted that seeing a film at an old cinema like the New Farm Cinemas made it feel more like BIFF for me and reminded me the Old Regent Cinemas.

BIFF 2018 for me at least will go down as a particularly rainy BIFF. Also my suggestion would be to move the dates back to the traditional late July Early August run rather than having BIFF running the same time as the Byron Bay Film Festival and I wouldn’t mind seeing Palace as one of the venue partners in future. However I saw some fantastic movies at BIFF 2018 which was a relief since there were so many good ones on offer. I didn’t cover the globe as much but I saw 7 films, two from Australia, three from Europe, an American classic and one from Asia. Only one of them bad. Still have not gotten around to seeing an Iranian film at BIFF yet and there were plenty on offer this year. I couldn’t help but notice there were lots of callbacks to earlier BIFFs and earlier films I had seen there, that is the nature of film festivals I guess. One thing I am very excited about is Artistic Director Amanda Slack-Smith continuing in the role and seeing what she comes up with next year.

-Lloyd Marken

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2018 PART IV

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TERROR NULLUS: We attended the Gallery of Modern Art at 6pm Wednesday 17OCT2018 to watch a free but sold out screening of Terror Nullius. This “film” made me feel really old, I’ve always slanted a little to the progressive side of things but as I get older I found more and more my tastes, politics and views are more and more out of touch. As a fat middle aged white male I can’t help but sometimes wonder why is there so much negativity attached to those things and feel a little targeted even as I acknowledge the traditional disadvantage of those who were not those things throughout history. Even that sentence feels so little limiting though, I guess I hesitate at the politics of division but want to support new opportunities and new voices to be heard. To that end I’m happy that Terror Nullius exists, I’m happy there are people out there with this viewpoint who put films like this out there. If it is for youth and the fringe dwellers and if I’m neither one of those now then so be it.

Terror Nullius is a cutting together of old archival footage to present a new narrative, it is intended to reinterpret conventions of storytelling, cultural norms and to provoke. It is also meant to entertain I hope. Yet I rarely laughed, I found it one note and while some moments resonated in how they cleverly spliced together things (Mel Gibson’s abusive phone rant cut together with Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road for one), for the most part it felt repetitive and unimaginative. Like a kid thinking they’re a freedom fighter because they wearing a Che t-shirt at uni rather than say fighting and dying in the jungles of Central America for a communist guerilla. As a former arts student who railed against the policies of a conservative Prime Minister it s interesting to reckon with the passing of time and the challenging of norms that come from a culture I grew up in that has evolved into something new. The makers interviewed at a Q&A afterwards seem like intelligent, thoughtful and hard working people with ideals. If you enjoy their work I am happy for you and I wish them continued success. Yet for me Terror Nullius was boring, disrespectful and for the most part a wank.

-Lloyd Marken

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2017 PART IV

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THAT’S NOT ME: This little Australian film directed by Gregory Erdstein is the kind of little local film that can be championed by home country festivals and boost them towards international deals. One of Karen’s picks I was still happy to go along and had solid hopes. If you’re keeping score all of Karen’s choices came a cropper and mine didn’t fare much better but I picked the best film of 2017 so there’s that. Karen still stands by The Party and I still don’t think it’s that great. We saw this film at Palace Centro Cinema 7, Thursday night at 6pm 31AUG2017 and grabbed some chow from a nearby Italian restaurant after.

Co-written and co-produced by star Alice Foulcher, who plays dual roles of aspiring actress Polly and her twin Amy also an actress who gets a big break and is off to Hollywood. Specialising in the kind of awkward understated character driven humour that Ricky Gervais made an industry out of, I admired a lot in this film but can’t say I really enjoyed it. I admired the work from Foulcher and the rest of the cast, to be natural in their performances and to play their roles as imperfect humans.

I liked the low production values that still lit atmospherically backyard townhouse parties favoured by young broke artists getting older every day. I liked how it was shot in L.A. and Victoria and showed how clearly without the 35mm film lenses of my childhood Hollywood more and more is just another pretty Pacific Ocean town not too different from where I live. As a comedy though I seldom laughed and as a character piece I found it more and more challenging to get caught up in the plight of this flawed character no matter how honest and real she was written and performed.

 

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AUSTRALIA DAY: Those who follow my blog will recall I covered with some excitement getting to review this film at BIFF for Scenestr magazine. Australia Day screened at 6pm, Palace Barracks Cinema 1 Saturday 02SEP2017 with BIFF 2017 closing down the following day. It turned out to be a great way to finish off BIFF 2017 with a good local film made here in Brisbane. As “press” I got to mingle at a party beforehand and by mingle I mean stand and chat to my wife. I did notice Hornblower himself – Iaon Gruffudd was present. BIFF 1.jpgAfter the film there was a Q&A with some cast, producers and director Kriv Stenders who also made the excellent closing night film of BIFF 2017 The Go-Betweens: Right Here which I later saw at Byron Bay. Kriv Stenders is one of the great modern directors of Australian cinema and the producers were local boys, of Hoodlum Productions, who had done good and were making their first feature film. Karen and I went to Libertines again afterwards for delicious crab sliders and other favourites where I noticed them celebrating with loved ones.

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Libertines on the night of 2nd of September, 2017. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

You can read more of my recap of events here and my review of the film here but suffice to say it was a great way to end our attendance at the Brisbane International Film Festival 2017. Australia Day was a moving energetic film perhaps not subtle in its themes but I found it terribly effective and affecting. I put it in Honourable Mentions for my end of year list and I still stand by it. Getting to be on assignment for Scenestr at BIFF was a personal highlight and I was pleased everything went well.

 

All up Karen and I had seen 7 films, 2 from Asia (one animated from Japan and another from Vietnam), two films from the U.S. (one a documentary), two films from Australia and one film from Europe (in this case the U.K.) Not a bad collection and while only two really passed the grade with me they did so by a far margin. BIFF is returning in 2018 and I hope to share some memories with you about it soon. I also hope to write about my attendance at the Sydney Film Festival in 2008 at some point but we have come to the end for now of my recaps of past BIFFs. I hope you have enjoyed, I admit there is a nostalgic twinge for the ones of the previous decade that I do not get for 2017 but time moves on. You treasure memories and create new ones and I look forward to making many new BIFF ones. I will close by thanking Palace Cinemas once again for bringing back my beloved BIFF.

-Lloyd Marken

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2017 PART III

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Some films arrive at Brisbane International Film Festival having won at Cannes or made a splash at Sundance and expectations can be high. Films like Chop Shop or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Most come with some kind of buzz or recognition but you don’t know what film you’re really going to fall in love with until you see it. That was how it was like for me and the formerly mentioned and S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and Black Ice and The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess and Away From Her and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

 

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IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD: Again Mike was steering me to good things with his recommendation of Japanese animated films. On a whim I choose to see a Japanese animated film that was screening at BIFF 2017. On a quiet Sunday afternoon 27AUG2017 Karen and I arrived at Palace Barracks for a 12:45pm session and I saw the best film of the year. Set before and during World War II, it followed the story of one young girl’s personal growth into a woman set against the backdrop of Japan’s transformation during those years ending with the agony of defeat and the simple need to rebuild no matter the trauma if there is to be a better tomorrow. A film that took Japan 70 years to make but it is a timely reminder of the true losers in war and the hope that comes from tomorrow. I was later lucky enough to have my review of the film published in the magazine FilmInk but I never see truly happy with the words I use to recommend it. See it for yourself.

 

CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY: Monday night after work Karen and I went to Palace Centro Cinema 7 to see the American documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City at 6pm. Some good documentaries have screened at BIFF and Citizen Jane had a lot to say about rising populations and the urban housing projects of yesteryear. There are many lessons that could be learnt from the showdown between activitst Jane Jacobs and urban planner Robert Moses in mid-20th Century New York that is relevant to today. Yet as the film went on I found myself asking for a different viewpoint, it seemed the film lacked any nuance or alternative argument. It wanted to celebrate Jane and belabour these foolish men who had built buildings but torn down communities. A under-resourced but indomitable spirit and intelligent mind going up against big interest groups is compelling to be sure but I couldn’t help but feel there was more to it than that. That Jane Jacobs had got it right and if not for her efforts we would have lost out more but why she had to fight, whether there were good intentions gone wrong there, what the solutions ultimately are for us now in the 21st century I felt the film could have gotten into a bit more. By not presenting somebody from the other side arguing their case you don’t really have a debate that you win. Just an echo chamber that feeds your narrative. Still maybe I was tired, I think I may have nodded off for a little and it wasn’t a bad film by an means.

 

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THE WAY STATION: Wednesday night 30AUG2017, 6pm we went to Palace Barracks Cinema 1 for The Way Station from Vietnam. Trumpeted it as a seminal moment in the history of the Vietnamese film industry it was a gala screening we attended. Directed by Hong Anh a famous actress in Vietnam it won best film, best actor and best cinematography at the ASEAN film awards. Not bad for her feature debut. It follows the story of a young man who gets work in the kitchen at a small restaurant and starts to learn the secrets of the compound he lives and works in. It was a passion project for Hong Anh and it deals with ideas of gender, sex and family. We had a Q&A afterwards with Hong Anh and 2017 Festival Co-Director Maxine Williamson and something that impressed was her discussion of how to shoot the space of the restaurant.  For me they did a great job of keeping it interesting, maintaining clear sense of geography and also bringing forth such a strong sense of place that it almost becomes another character. In some ways this a tragic story and I can’t deny that it was not one of my favourites but it was shot well, had interesting ideas and took me to another small pocket of the world I had never been in which I what I love best about the films I see at BIFF. Afterwards we came outside to eat food put on by the nearby Libertines which Karen and I both love. These included little bamboo boats with mushrooms dumplings inside them.

-Lloyd Marken

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2017 PART II

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The Brisbane International Film Festival‘s triumphant return in 2017 included many features long missed. There was a Baltic spotlight, short films, world premieres, a showcase of Masters, opening and closing night film (The Square and The Go-Betweens: Right Here which I was lucky enough to see at the Byron Bay Film Festival and placed in my Top 5 Films of last year) and a retrospective on Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev which included Return, The Banishment, Elena and Leviathan with at its centrepiece  his latest film Loveless. Buying tickets we wanted to cast a wide net and I also wanted Karen to get some picks in plus schedule around our jobs. We missed The Baltic Spotlight also in the running was Ali’s Wedding, Loving Vincent (Karen has since seen it), Maudie and Loveless (alas two Canadian films too including one directed by Bruce McDonald who did The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess from BIFF 2005), Last Men in Aleppo and Returnee from Kazakhstan (just the type of obscure foreign film that can transport you to another place on Earth at street level so to speak), Aussie flick Watch the Sunset and Karen was keen on My Year with Helen. Saw none of them but I was very grateful to be back at BIFF seeing multiple films. It perhaps should be noted that beyond the focus of a film festival most of these films missed I have not gotten around to seeing which I think there is something in that. A film festival really elevates and spotlights interesting movies.

 

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The Leviathan: Screening Sunday 20AUG2018 at 10:30am in Palace Centro Cinema 7 was this movie which I proudly chose and bought tickets to see on the big screen. But alas while going to opening night on Thursday, seeing a Chekov play Uncle Vanya for Scenestr on Friday night after work and heading along to my first Impromafia show Lord of the Thrones on Saturday night for Scenestr and writing the reviews I noted we were running late Sunday morning and decided to give it a miss. All my old BIFF traditions were in full force. I’ve heard it’s great and will be interested to hear if any of my fellow bloggers have seen it and what they think.

 

THE PARTY: This was one of Karen’s choices (although it had been on my shortlist) which we went to see late Wednesday night 23AUG2018 at The Palace Barracks Cinema 1 at 8:15pm. It was the ninth anniversary of the first date I went on with Karen. So we had dinner beforehand at Libertine restaurant which included delicious crab sliders, beef san choi bao and delicious cocktails.

The Party shot in black and white and directed by Sally Potter follows a dinner party of well to do privileged members of class celebrating the hostess Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) having ascended into the parliament ministry. Of course as the guests arrive simmering tensions come to the boil from old friends, partners and unexpected guests. Just describing it gets me all excited about the possibilities but alas I found the characters for the most part unlikeable and the comedy lacking. One of those films where people think they are cleverer and funnier than what they actually are and more is the pity given the extraordinary cast including Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy and Timothy Spall but there you have it. Karen on the other hand loved it so they’ve got that going for them.

 

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FUN MOM DINNER: Now to another of Karen’s choices in the form of a comedy from America starring the amazingly talented Toni Collette in what has to be arguably the worst movie I saw last year and probably one of the worst if not worst films I ever at the Brisbane International Film Festival. It was Friday 25AUG2018 at 6pm Palace Centro Cinema 7.

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After some of the renovations to Palace Centro, just in time for BIFF 2017. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

Okay it’s a film about mums having a night out on the town, a more mature and nuanced attempt at the premise of Bad Moms except well that film was funnier and better. Sorry. I admire the ambition to go deeper in terms of characterisation but the film is trying to have it both way by remaining a broad comedy. Classic example, two Mums don’t like each other so they light up a joint and hilarity and reconciliation ensues. Except it doesn’t. Bridget Everett’s character ran the gamut between being obnoxiously opinionated and bossy (at both the beginning and end – did her character learn nothing during the course of the story) and honest and profound at tother times. The only shining light was Molly Shannon’s take on a older divorcee trying to find her way back to true confidence and happiness. There are good ideas but close to zero good execution. Even in the most lacklustre films I’ve seen at BIFF I”ve been able to defend the ambition and lack of funds of new filmmakers, originality of ideas, the transformative ability of taking me to another culture and landscape. Maybe I’m harsher on Fun Mom Dinner because it takes me to California, had the benefit of some money and is totally unoriginal but when I think of the worst film I saw last year this always comes to mind. Bad Mommy, Bad Mommy and not in a fun way.

-Lloyd Marken

 

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2017 OPENING NIGHT

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It was Karen who texted me that BIFF had ceased to exist years ago and it was Karen who texted me that BIFF was back on last year. It kind of struck at the right time and enthused to show what support I could, Karen and I bought a few tickets and I finally went to the Opening Night of the Brisbane International Film Festival. Palace Cinemas came on board as major partner of the Brisbane International Film Festival 2017 effectively making it possible and making it happen in short turnaround. In some circles this has been criticised for compromising smaller community led events with commercialisation. As cinemagoing dwindles in Australia and other countries, film festivals have remained lucrative and seen an increase in numbers.

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At Palace Barracks early for Opening Night. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

Palace cinemas has been at the forefront of this.  I’m of two minds when it comes to this but for me it really boils down to the fact that without Palace cinemas we may not have seen the return of BIFF at all. On opening night at BIFF 2017, Antonio Zeccola was thanked and given credit for making the return of BIFF possible. It made me feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to thank his son Benjamin, CEO of Palace Cinemas, earlier for the return of BIFF. This is personal for me having been a long time attendee and former volly and while I would not want it to be not without business considerations and ambitions for the Zeccolas but I feel that it is personal for them too. They are business people yes but they have made their business cinema and it appears that has been borne out of their ongoing love for the art form.

The 23rd Brisbane International Film Festival ran from the 17th August to the 3rd of September (moving it back closer to the time of year it used to run) showcasing over 60 films from Australia and the rest of the world. There were the two  venues of Palace Barracks and Palace Centro. There were no volunteers and the staff listing was significantly smaller than the years I was a volly. This was seen as a re-launch and a testing of the viability of BIFF. As much as things had changed though, as much as my heart aches at fond memories of the Regent and my twenty something self racing around excitedly, BIFF 2017 was a wonderful experience for me and proof that we turn over to new pages and begin anew.

 

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THE SQUARE: Opening night I came from work to meet Karen and her best friend Erin to watch The Square. Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier that year I was more entranced with the film than the girls. Directed by Ruben Ostlund it tells the story of a museum curator who gets caught up in a series of escalating situations. Pointing a finger at the contradictions of art, wealth, altruism and gender tropes I found it riveting although the conclusion was underwhelming for me.

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The thoroughfare after the screening. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

The thoroughfare where years earlier we had eaten at the Gala screening for Copacabana in 2010 was now jumping with people again. There was champagne when we arrived and later when we came out there was a board of donuts hanging on pegs. Appearing like an art installation several minutes passed before some brave soul grabbed one off a peg and chomped it down but once that happened people quickly got the idea. Delicious.

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Karen with a doughnut. We may or may not have had more than one each. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

There was a bath tub with glitter balls in the middle of the thoroughfare and a dancer inside a bubble. From the official website there is a picture of me grabbing something delicious.

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Courtesy of BIFF 2017 website.
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Copyright Lloyd Marken.
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Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

I went upstairs and stood in line for a caricature portrait. As I was sketched I talked to my renderer about the struggle to be an artist and pursue that in a way to make a living out of it. It was a really good conversation and I was well pleased when he handed me a very handsome looking portrait. Karen and Erin though criticised it for not looking like me at all. Given the handsome visage I saw before me I was not pleased with this response. I ask you to be the judge.

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Walking around I saw what appeared to be a few familiar faces from BIFFs gone by that I was happy to see there. Time marches on, things change but BIFF was finally back and I couldn’t be happier.

-Lloyd Marken

 

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Copyright Lloyd Marken.