BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2008 PART V

BIFF 2008

 

When I planned what I was going to see at BIFF 2008 I intended to go to a seminar and ten years later I can’t be certain but I think it was DIY- Distribution: Maximise Your Chances of Festival Success! on Saturday 9 August at GoMA Cinema B. It’s possible burnt out and tired I didn’t go. It’s possible I arrived late. It’s possible I went and it was great. So I’m putting it here. These are all about memories, sliding too much into a journal of free flowing thoughts and feelings. Hardly prose for public consumption but you have kindly indulged me and I guess even these confused meanderings are something taken on the record now before they become more faded.

The idea of this series though is not supposed to be about self musing besides a little light nostalgic fondling. It’s about a Film Festival in my home town that was so special to have and to celebrate whatever memories I have. To make a case for why these film festivals are important for creating communities of like minded patrons but also dreamers and makers who have a platform to be inspired by or even to showcase their work. I hoped to show that by saying how good it was to be a Volly, to showcase local filmmakers getting a big launch for their debut and to point out all these films I saw that I would’ve skipped past on the shelf at my local video store or now streaming content displayed on my screen. Ask around, see how many people have seen Hunger even if they’ve seen Shame or 12 Years A Slave? Ask if they’ve seen a film from India or Romania in the past year or even 10? The only Romanian film I’ve seen I saw at BIFF 2007 and it was amazing! Even average films took me to the Chinese countryside or Korean cities or Mali courtrooms. The great ones made me reconsider my life and our place in the world.

When I set out to write this series BIFF was gone, which we’ll get to shortly, and then in 2017 it came back and I want to celebrate it and bring new fans in and make others appreciate their own local film festivals or get involved in organisations that create similar opportunities where they live. Let me know if I’m doing that even a little and no…I still can’t be sure if I went to the seminar but I’m glad there was one.

 

IRMA VEP: If I did go to the seminar then the next thing I went to Saturday 09AUG2008 was Irma Vep as part of the Olivier Assayas program at Palace Centro 1 at 4:20pm. I went and saw this with my friend, work colleague and pimp Karen B who kindly set up me to meet her friend Karen earlier that week. I’m sad to report that I remember a lot about Irma Vep but not much of the plot. It was an interesting film about film making and featured Maggie Cheung in a very engaging performance and a tight black leather costume at times which I suspect was part of the reason why I was happy to see it. I can’t speak for Karen.

 

THREE BLIND MICE: Finally we get to the final day of BIFF 2008. I went and saw Three Blind Mice at Palace Centro 1 with my sister Nadia at 2:30pm. A film I’d been interested in but missed at the 2008 Sydney Film Festival, it was a great movie and solid directorial debut from actor Matthew Newton. It centres on three Royal Australian Navy officers (Ewen Leslie, Toby Schmitz, Newton) spending their last night of freedom in the city of Sydney before reporting for duty at their ship the next day. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the film and I don’t know how accurate it would come across to me now with military details but it is more and more a relevant subject matter. The men are shipping out for the Middle East yes but this is not about one last grab for freedom before the gloom of war. One of these men is haunted already and there is a tension between the three bubbling away. This is not a film about combat but about abuse. Abuse by those in positions of power and authority. That happens in the military as it happens in every part of society but it is particularly painful when considering that those who are abused are usually some of the most idealistic, patriotic, loyal and selfless people we are lucky to have put up their hands to possibly face death on our behalf. Newton was available in a Q&A afterwards with other cast members and spoke about how he couldn’t think of anything more horrible then being away on a boat surrounded by ocean and trapped with someone doing the wrong thing.

The film effectively conveys this central theme while also being a healthy exploration of masculinity within a humorous night on the town story as well. A top notch cast of Australian talent including Pia Miranda, Brendan Cowell, Alex Dimitriades, Marcus Graham, Bob Franklin, Gracie Otto, Barry Otto, Jacki Weaver and Bud Tingwell. Shot on Digibeta too the film has that nice edge of verisimilitude while also capturing Sydney at night in a beautiful way.

S/W Ver: 99.31.08R
Matt Newton at the Q&A for Three Blind Mice. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

Newton is the son of Australian television and entertainment royalty Bert and Patti Newton and was already flying high following films like Looking for Alibrandi. His partner Gracie Otto was there at the Q&A having edited Matt’s writing/directing effort and co-starred. Matt was a charming and thoughtful speaker about his film and his cast. There’s no denying his talent…So I don’t know if its ironic or not to add that a man who made a strong film about bullying and the pain it causes had several incidents of assault first reported with his long time girlfriend Brooke Satchwell in 2006, later with girlfriend Rachael Taylor (her work in Jessica Jones must be informed by her experiences) in 2010 and hotel staff and police. Newton was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and checked into rehab. I wish him the best but I’m glad to see the strong women he hurt have survived and flourished with their careers and lives in the after mark of what would have been very painful incidents. I like Three Blind Mice and I don’t pretend to know everything about anybody but I just thought I should let you know these things when considering whether you want to see the film.

 

Image result for boarding gate filmBOARDING GATE: After the Q&A for Three Blind Mice I went outside and said goodbye to my sister before meeting up with Brian to watch Boarding Gate kicking off at 5:10pm back inside Palace Centro 1. Boarding Gate starred Asia Argento who I knew from XXX and who was actually a real life hero by then even if the rest of the world didn’t know it for years yet. The French film directed by Olivier Assayas started Argento as a former hooker meeting up with ex-boss and lover played by Michael Madsen. Argento gave it all her and there was some great location shooting in Paris and Hong Kong but I’m not sure if I can tell it was a great film or even what I recall happened in the end. Brian did notice thought that Madsen in one scene cleared all contents off a table surface just like he did in Thelma and Louise suggesting it was a go to move of his. Certainly Madsen’s scenes stayed in my memory and seemed to have given the film some electricity.

 

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WHAT WE DO IS SECRET: The last film I saw at BIFF 2008 was What We Do Is Secret at Palace Centro 2 at 8:40pm. I think Brian and I grabbed a bite to eat beforehand. There were always a section of films/docos related to music in every BIFF program and I always wanted to go see one of those and so I managed in 2008. What We Do Is Secret directed by Rodger Grossman is about the late 1970s LA punk scene, about The Germs and about their lead singer the late Darby Crash. If you know about one of those 3 three things or are a fan of them there should be something in this film for you. For me there was not any of those things but I was impressed by Shane West’s performance as Crash having seen him previously on the show Once & Again.

I saw 21 films at the 17th Brisbane International Film Festival and one seminar or at least watched whole 20 films and maybe went to a seminar. Of the 20 films I stayed awake for there was Hunger (U.K.), The Battle of Algiers (Algeria/Italy), Alvin Purple (Australia), Diary of the Dead (U.S.), Late August, Early September (France), Cargo 200 (Russia), Four Women (India), The Man From Hong Kong (Australia/Hong Kong), Small Gods (Belgium), Wendy and Lucy (U.S.), Chop Shop (U.S.), Katyn (Poland), Raja 1918 (Finland), Stone (Australia), The Visitor (U.S.), Black Ice (Finland/Germany), Irma Vep (France), Three Blind Mice (Australia), Boarding Gate (France), What We Do Is Secret (U.S.) and quite a few short films screening in there as well with some features. That was 1 film from Africa, 2 films from Asia, 4 films from Australia (including 3 Ozploitation classics), 5 films from America and 10 films from Europe (3 of them directed by Olivier Assayas).

Never again would I see so many films in such a short span of time, I like to think when I retire I’d like to do it but getting to retirement and having that kind of cash in it seem very unlikely these days. It was an indulgence and you’re lucky if you get one in a lifetime. I still saw front of house staff and talked briefly with Andre about how I had been a gopher on a B-grade action flick shot on the Gold Coast the previous year. He was looking to make his own movie and I kindly came into possession of the BIFF booklet that have been featured at the beginning of these BIFF 2008 posts. BIFF 2008 was jam packed full of great films and memories but the stand out was meeting a beautiful girl on the steps of Palace Centro.

-Lloyd Marken

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2008 PART I

BIFF 2008

It’s almost comical to look back at this now, but I bought a lot of tickets in 2008 to see movies at BIFF. It even seems shameful in retrospect but oh how I love movies and I could and so I did. The 17th Brisbane International Film Festival ran from the 31st of July to the 10th August. Opening night film was Where in the Wold is Osama Bin Laden by Morgan Spurlock and Closing Night film was The Edge of Love starring Kiera Knightley and Sienna Miller. I saw neither nor did I attend Opening Night. What was odd is that there were a few films running after The Edge of Love on the last night so I don’t know if there was a party for the Vollys or when it started. I stuck with my decision to not be a Volly that year and cashed up with a full time job living at home I prepared to go nuts as a festival goer. I figured it would not take long to make back the money but little did I know that my life was about to radically change. There were a lot of great films at BIFF 2008 and it is interesting to note how some of choices were informed by simply being able to get to a cinema in time and also my own work hours so I missed festival darlings like Man on Wire, Son of Rambow, In Bruges and Persepolis which were all shown here. I still intended to see many films from many continents, sex as a subject attracted me and there was a fantastic retrospective on Australian B-grade cinema in the 1970s. Growing up I had heard a lot about the renaissance of Australian films in that decade with Picnic at Hanging Rock, Newsfront, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and My Brilliant Career. But these were a different type of Australian classics that pre-dated Max Max and I was anxious to see as many as possible. I’m sure I was scheduled to see a seminar as well but can’t be sure what it was now.

 

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HUNGER: One of the great joys of going to a film festival is the discovery of new talent in smaller films before everybody comes to recognise them. I have Irish roots and am always interested in stories that cover The Troubles and so it was, I chose to see Hunger at Palace Centro cinemas at 4:30pm on the 1st of August. At least I think it was since I can’t be sure of some of the sessions I attended now. Hunger was about a hunger strike carried out by IRA prisoners in the early 1980s. Such a simple sentence cannot capture what awaited me and the care with which the director would showcase the horror of his tale. The prisoners live in cells with nothing sleeping on the ground on hard concrete. They draw in their cells on the walls but they don’t use pencils. They’re beaten as they find ways to cause trouble with whatever means they have. There’s no end to the violence and squalor and we come to realise its killing the humanity in the guards too. The leader of the prisoners is a man who really existed called Bobby Sands who starved himself. The politics seem remote from the whole damn thing, we see men suffering and we’re left to wonder what the hell could justify it but also understand that its something very real and important to Sands.

A film virtually without dialogue, halfway through what seems an exhausting observance of what we do to ourselves Sands sits down with a priest (the excellent Liam Cunningham who would go on to do Game of Thrones) and discusses his resolve to not eat. In a long unbroken take for 17 minutes they talk and then the camera cuts to a close-up on the face of the actor who plays Sands. The next few minutes leaves you speechless. This was tour de force filmmaking and acting. The actor who played Bobby Sands and director would re-unite in 2 more films so far. Those films are Shame and the Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave but I saw Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen’s first work together in 2008 and was riveted.

 

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THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS: On the same night I raced across to see the classic The Battle of Algiers at 7:15pm at GOMA Cinema A. This was part of a program on Resistance and Terrorism in Post War Europe. Hunger not part of this program seemed an appropriate entrée (in fact In The Name of the Father also about The Troubles and prisoners screened as part of the program). There’s not a lot to add here about The Battle of Algiers (1962) directed by Gillo Pontecorvo which is a well known classic. I probably owe watching it to Roger Ebert.  Basically it covers Algeria’s war of independence against France in the early 1960s. It is shot like a documentary film, as IEDs were killing soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan it felt timelessly relevant. Not just for a small force targeting civilians but also for the way that an occupying force can have good intentions. As the French commander notes, some of them were part of the resistance against the Nazis. Easily one of the best films to see at the Festival and a pleasure to see it on somewhat of a big screen.

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ALVIN PURPLE: The Ozploitation program featured many films that were covered in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood which screened at BIFF 2008. Sadly I missed it here but caught up with it in general release not much later. I did a few of the programmed films and the first was Alvin Purple which was scheduled to start at 9:10pm at Regent 1. One of my work colleagues from QUT who set me up with Karen noted I was going to struggle to all these films before they started and given Algiers runtime it was definite that I would miss the opening of Alvin Purple which I promptly did. I don’t know if she could understand why I would see so many films and still buy tickets to one I would miss the opening of but Alvin Purple was not often on the big screen and I liked the look of a naked girl with leather boots and a jockey helmet with whip so missing the first 10 minutes was something I was prepared to forgo. Alvin Purple starring Graeme Blundell for a certain generation is a classic (and features plenty of young Aussie actors who would go on to have long careers including Blundell and Jacki Weaver. While it was all very risqué for the time it has probably remained a favourite due to its own humour. Since it was before my time I held no nostalgic emotional baggage for it but found it light and funny and sexy. I think I read somewhere it was the highest grossing Australian film at that time (1973).

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DIARY OF THE DEAD: Believe it or not it was still the 1st of August 2008, Friday when I saw my fourth film of the festival and the night at Regent 1 at 11:15pm right after Alvin in the same cinema. I had seen Land of the Dead and I think the original Dawn of the Dead by George A. Romero and so was interested to see what he did with Diary of the Dead. Diary of the Dead wasn’t a great landmark film in the way that his classic Dead films were but it was perfect for a late night Friday session at the Regent and BIFF. I distinctly remember the crowd erupting at one character’s actions in the film. Set around a zombie apocalypse it follows young film students as they capture everything on their handheld cameras. It is admirable to have seen that at such a later time in life Romero was still interested in trying new things and commenting on society through zombies. I’ve read he changed dramatically the way he shot footage to allow for the look of the film to reflect the students just capturing things in the moment. Well that was it for the first night of BIFF 2008.

-Lloyd Marken