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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last year I sought to do a review of every movie I saw in the cinemas. I decided early on for this year I would not repeat that but I will hopefully list all of the films I saw at the movies and then offer some thoughts on what were my favourites. This list always come a little later then the end of the year when some American 2017 releases and Oscar hopefuls have reached Australian audiences. I contributed to an end of year list for X-Press Magazine which you can find here http://xpressmag.com.au/the-x-press-top-20-films-of-2017/ I was pretty lucky this year, I saw free screenings courtesy of my wife, went to preview screenings as a reviewer for Scenestr Magazine and attended for the first time the Bryon Bay Film Festival and the triumphant return of the Brisbane International Film Festival. All up it appears I saw 57 films last year on the big screen and reviewed 27 and counting for various publications. It was a thrill to say the least but plenty were missed, The Florida Project stands out to me as an Oscar contender I would have liked to see along with The Post, Molly’s Game and Call Me By Your Name. Plenty of interesting films have slipped past my radar too like Raw, Happy Death Day, It Comes At Night, Okja, and many more. Most indie and foreign which I am really regretful about but I will get to them in due course hopefully. So as always any list from me is subjective, last year I hadn’t seen Nocturnal Animals and 20th Century Women and I guarantee they would’ve been in that Top 10. None the less it’s always fun to look back and do a summation so here goes. Ratings are based on the classic 4 Star scale as per reviews I read growing up by the great film critic Roger Ebert.
David Stratton: A Cinematic LifeNot Reviewed **1/2
In lesser hands this could get terribly tedious, two middle aged men travelling around eating to their hearts content and occasionally bedding women considerably younger than them. The Trip remains perhaps the best, following comic performers Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing themselves in a fictional film made to appear like real life as they bickered on a paid trip through a series of eateries in a regional area. My wife who did not care for that movie has thoroughly enjoyed the follow ups that coincidentally or not coincidentally left the Gothic Northern English countryside for the sunnier sea breezes of Italy and now Spain. For me the sequels are variations on the original classic but here with the pair getting ever slightly older the musings on ageing, legacy and regrets bite a little harder and these are themes I’ve always been fascinated with. In a packed preview screening the ending certainly left an impression. I liked it.
The opening night film at the 2017 Brisbane International Film Festival was the The Square winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund it tells the story of Christian (Claes Bang) the curator of the X-Royal art museum in Stockholm, Sweden. On his way to work one day he is pulled into a confrontation with a girl being chased by her partner, rallied by another bystander to stand their ground against him. After a little push and shove the man leaves and then the girl. Christian finds he has been pickpocketed in the exchange. To say more about the plot would take away one of the joys about the film but I will say it has themes linked to the new exhibition Christian is promoting called The Square. “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” The film has a lot to say about ideas of masculinity, art, femininity, classism, race, inflated opinions of art. It has a dark sense of humour, I found it riveting until somewhere close to the finale I did not find the resolution as memorable as the set-up. Yet The Square continues to haunt in a way that few films do. I imagine men of physical courage and carefree attitudes would not find much of interest here but since I’m neither I was fascinated.
The Shape of Water will top many end of year lists. It has rich subtext, is wonderfully constructed in terms of narrative and look, throws in a few surprises and boasts a wonderful cast doing great work. An adult fairytale it delights from start to finish even in the way that it can graphic or dark in humour. I’ve never seen a woman boil on egg on a daily basis either if you know what I mean and I like it. There are a few missteps though for me in terms of filling out back story for maximum effect. The love story is based on ideas, the male romantic lead in a lot of ways remains a mystery and that failed to engage me as much as I hoped the film would. However what it has to say about power dynamics, the boundaries we have to overcome and the power of choices makes this a film to pore over again and again. Not to mention the cinematic beauty of it. “Of course themes and allegories are great but they don’t really matter if you can’t engage the audience. Screenwriters del Toro and Vanessa Taylor craft an interesting romance between two creatures who never speak a word to each other. One of them risks an awful lot faster than expected with very little to motivate them except how the other makes them feel. While that might be difficult to believe completely, the writers have argued is there anything more romantic than that mindset?“.
Well as always thank you for reading and I encourage you to mention in the comments your favourite films of the year and why. As Oscar nears it’s interesting to note how many of the Ten are not in contention at that ceremony. Of those that are, like last year I found this video about them from Screen Junkies very amusing.