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.
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.
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.
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).
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.