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.

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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 II

BIFF 2008

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LATE AUGUST, EARLY SEPTEMBER: Saturday the 2nd of August 2008 and I went to see Late August, Early September at 2:30pm in Palace Centro 1. This was part of a 4 film retrospective on the early works of French director Olivier Assayas including Paris Awakens (1991), Irma Vep (1996), Late August, Early September (1999) and Sentimental Desires (2000). Also screening at BIFF that year was Boarding Gate from Assayas. While sitting down waiting for the film to start I noticed the girl from UQ with blonde hair whom I volunteered with at BIFF 2004. I was surprised and quite happy to see her but did not go over to her. The film started. One of the weirdest things for me in doing these retrospectives is realising how much I have forgotten about movies. Movies have always been my passion and I could effortlessly retain details about them as I struggled to remember things for school tests. It was a running joke with family and friends. Part of getting old is forgetting things you once knew and it has thrown me to realise that I have forgotten an awful lot about movies. Reading from the program I see the film is about a writer weighing up his career options and a group of friends in their late 20s over a year where one is terminally ill. It seems a slice of life film about the transition from youth to middle age and the tug of making money or being an artist. Being French it is also about sex and relationships. One thing I do remember is Virginie Ledoyen as the girlfriend of the writer having her own secrets. I recall being satisfied with the film, thinking maybe it meandered but it was interesting enough and even then felt a little nostalgic (1999 was a great year). But honestly I don’t remember much.

After the film I had to walk past the girl from UQ and I said hello and she said hello much to my relief. I struck up a conversation and we hung out throughout the afternoon. She was an incredibly kind and intelligent woman. She once described the film Raise the Red Lantern to me in such a beautiful way that I’ve always wanted to see the film ever since. She was doing a thesis on Asian cinema and spoke so well of China and filmmaking. She had a great way of looking at things and I really enjoyed our chats. She also had a gentle manner about her that I found very endearing. We did catch up again but I’m afraid we never really pursued it much further and part of that was I started a new relationship following BIFF 2008 and time just got away. I’m sure she’s doing well and kicking ass and do miss her. I of course had a crush on her a bit and fate had handed me two opportunities to hang out with her which I sadly squandered. It goes like that sometime.

 

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CARGO 200: I was attracted to see Cargo 200 in the sense that it was a Russian film looking back at the dying days of Soviet era in 1984. I think I knew it would be dark and satirical but I really didn’t know what I left myself in for when I attended Palace Centro 2 at 8:50pm Saturday night after walking back from New Farm. Following on from Hunger and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days last year, Cargo 200 was one of the roughest films I saw. Unlike those two, the horrible things depicted going on here were done with an intended heightened sense of reality. It involves a girl, daughter of a Communist Party leader being kidnapped and kept hostage by a police officer because well he’s just a sick fucker. No I don’t have a problem remembering this film. Well shot with specific choices throughout it’s obvious director Alexei Balabanov is good at what he does. There’s a lot of things that haunt, the girl’s empty threats about her father being a powerful man as we see his ignorance and ineptitude at her kidnapping. We’re desperate to see her rescued as the film centres more and more on the horrible police officer Captain Zhurov played expertly by Alexsey Poluyan an impotent mostly mute man who lives with his mother and tortures the girl (Agniya Kuznetsova)with almost casual cruelty. Alas Balabanov doesn’t deal in easy answers and happy endings. A well made film with something to say even if in an over the top mode but hard going and not for everyone.

 

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FOUR WOMEN: Sunday August 3 I went to Palace Centro 1 at 6pm to see Four Women from India. Cut from the same cloth as Padam Onnu: Oru Vilapam from BIFF 2005 in the sense that it was about the difficulties women face in Indian culture. Directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan it told four separate stories about The Prostitute (Padmapriya), The Virgin (Geetu Mohandas), The Housewife (Manju Pillai) and The Spinster (Nandita Das). I found that film fascinating and moving as each woman in her story makes choices as best she can in the face of societal discrimination. Two things stand out from the packed screening which held a Q&A with Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

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Adoor Gopalakrishnan at the Q&A of Four Women at BIFF 2008 in Palace Centro 1 taken on old Motorolla phone with 1.3 Megapixel camera. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

When Adoor was asked about the symbolism of the location in one scene he replied that’s simply how the location was saying he had not intended anything more than that. This bewildered the interviewer and the crowd for whom such things had resonated. Secondly I recognised a female academic from my workplace at QUT at the screening and hailed from the subcontinent. I asked her later in the week what she thought of the film which I loved. She however told me that she would like to see different types of films being made about that issue or maybe focussing on other issues. It’s always nice to get a different perspective.

 

 

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THE MAN FROM HONG KONG: Following the Q&A with director Adoor Gopalakrishnan I darted across to Regent Cinema 1 in town to see my next film from the Ozploitation programme at 9pm. I’ve had a lifetime of watching American productions get made here but be set elsewhere. The Australian film industry I grew up with made some spectacular films The Lighthorsemen, Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max but I always wondered what it would be like to make a full action blockbuster in Australia. The closest to the visuals I guess would be Sydney getting shown off in Mission Impossible 2 but that seemed all wrong too. Little did I know the film had already been made and released in 1975. There are a whole bunch of films lost to time before the VHS era and part of the joy of going to a film festival was not only discovering these lost treasures but having them showcased and put up on the big screen. DVDs have helped too but you have to promote the films and get them into the culture again and as streaming takes off I’m seeing again a lot of classic titles just be lost to time.

Anyway the screening for The Man From Hong Kong in that beautiful classic downstairs Regent cinema late on a Sunday night was a film festival event in the best sense. Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, the film starred Jimmy Wang Yu as a Hong Kong cop out in Australia to bring down a major villain played by George Lazenby (who I think fared here even better than he did in his James Bond outing). Along for the ride were Rebecca Gilling, a young Sammo Hung, and Roger Ward and Hugh Keays-Bryne (the crowd absolutely erupted when he got put in his place by Wang Yu) both of whom would go on to feature in the original Mad Max. Also Bill Hunter is in there somewhere because Bill Hunter had to feature in every Australian movie ever made. It’s the law. Since it’s the 1970s there’s a lot of racist jokes going around but Wang Yu lets his fists do the talking eventually winning the day. Lazenby who knew martial arts also dives thick into the action and it blew my mind when I saw a series of classic 1970s Australian sports cars present in a full on car chase through Australian country roads that could measure up to anything being done today. There’s also a fight on top of Ayers Rock, (not possible today due to recognition of the sacred value it holds to the Aboriginal people now being recognised as Uluru) and they blew up the floor of high rise in Sydney’s CBD. It’s trashy, dated, over the top and fun as hell. One of the most fun films I saw at any BIFF but it only got better.

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Most will know about the classic Australian directors who came of age in the Australian film renaissance, amongst them Gillian Armstrong, Philip Noyce, Peter Weir, Fred Schepsi, Bruce Beresford but I had never heard of Brian Trenchard-Smith who is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite directors. Who stepped forward after the film to do a Q&A with Trash Video legend Andrew Leovold. I think I attended with a mate of mine who I worked with at QUT and we had a blast. Trenchard-Smith like his more well known contemporaries has gone on to work overseas too but in films like Leprechaun 3 and 4. He also directed Nicole Kidman in her film debut BMX Bandits.

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The now long gone Regent 1 with Brian Trenchard-Smith holding court on the left during the Q&A. Apologies to the low quality but it gives you sense of the atmosphere hopefully. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

Here he regaled us of tales from The Man From Hong Kong‘s shoot including one where he set himself on fire to convince Lazenby to do the same for a fight scene. According to IMDB however when Lazenby shot the sequence he struggled to get his jacket off and subsequently received burns to his arm. You can see this in the finished film. Another close call can be seen in the final shot of the trailer where a car explosion saw the door come flying off towards camera barely missing the cameraman. Such stories are covered in the excellent documentary Not Quite Hollywood which screened at BIFF 2008 and covers a lot of the films from the BIFF 2008 Ozploitation program including The Man From Hong Kong. Apparently none of the car chase was filmed with closed roads or permits either. Brian also told us that the hero car a 1974 Chrysler Valiant Charger got smashed up for real and was then sent back to the wreckers and repaired. Then the car was sold and apparently when the buyer saw his rego number in the movie he understandably was taken aback. Image result for the man from hong kong

 

The film also features the classic Sky High by Jigsaw. When I was a teenager in the 1990s a group called Newtown did a cover of Sky High which was a favourite of mine. I was surprised and delighted when I heard the original in the film which charted around the world and is a bonafide classic. My goodness this film just has fuckin everything!  It might be hyperbole, all kinds of genre films got made over the years by the Australian film industry, but I think there’s something very special about The Man From Hong Kong. Check it out if you haven’t already. My friend Brian and I took off into the night and had a few drinks at the nearby Treasury casino before heading home to get up for the work next day. It had been a great weekend at BIFF 2008 and there were still lots of films to see. Little did I know the next day would change the course of my life.

-Lloyd Marken