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

 

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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.

BIFF Opening Night

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.

 

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2010 and THE LOST YEARS

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I didn’t go to BIFF in 2009, I had started a new relationship and a new second part time job and so that was that. During decluttering I found a program for BIFF 2010 which featured Jucy, the next film from All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane director Louise Alston but that was for a gala screening and I remember Karen and I went and saw the film at a normal screening so it must have been just after BIFF. BIFF 2010 was significant for a number of reasons far more momentous than whether I attended or not.

First of all Artistic Director Anne Demy Geroe who had been there since the first BIFF in 1991 stepped down at the beginning of 2010 to pursue a PhD in Iranian cinema at the University of Queensland, she now teaches at Griffith University various film classes. As a volunteer I had very little to do with Dr Gemy-Deroe or Ms as she was then but its undeniable the impact that her imprint on what BIFF was and is cannot be measured. BIFF suffered following her tenure and I noticed her last year in attendance at BIFF 2017 on opening night. It was good to see her there, it just wouldn’t be BIFF if she wasn’t there.

Other changes were in store in 2010, the festival moved from late July/early August to November and the Regent cinemas were no longer around so BIFF screened at Palace Centro and the new Palace Barracks cinemas and the Tribal Theatre over on George Street. When I was a young man, Tribal Theatre was owned by Dendy cinema but had come under new management. The Tribal Theatre actually had a long history of being a place to go for alternative cinema for Brisbanites but whatever plans the owners had, the Tribal Theatre is no longer with us. I have fond memories of Napoleon Dynamite, Bowling for Columbine and other films when it was Dendy and of seeing films for BIFF in 2010 year at Tribal. The Regent Cinemas I was even more sad to see go, in 2009 I signed a petition for them to be kept but petitions don’t always work. Money talks but here is but a reminder of what was lost albeit the grand foyer remains.

 

The 19th Brisbane International Film Festival ran from the 4th to the 14th of November 2010 and featured 101 features and 51 shorts. Significantly down from say the 2005 program but still larger than the return of 2017. Some of the language in the program reflects changing times urging people to surrender their small screens and think big while also stressing that BIFF was going digital. Following earlier artistically vague and thematic posters from the past here there was a more direct reference to the Brisbane CBD and classic mainstream cinema. For the record the Opening Night film was Cane Toads: The Conquest and Closing Night film was Reign of Assassins starring Michelle Yeoh and as usual I attended neither. There were a lot of great things happening at BIFF 2010, a writer’s room showcase, a dive-in cinema showing Jaws and Deep Blue Sea over at Splash Leisure Fitness Centre, Monsters, The Room, The Dark Crystal, Winter’s Bone, a tribute to Jack Cardiff (I really wanted to see The Red Shoes), Lebanon. I would have loved to have seen those but there were four films we saw and they were as follows.

 

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COPACABANA: My first Gala screening at BIFF and my first screening at BIFF at Palace Barracks took place on Friday 12NOV2010 at 6:30pm. I went and saw the film with a group of friends including Karen and Karen B. Telling the story of a mother and daughter it starred the esteemed Isabelle Huppert as a free spirit who seeks to change her ways when she realises her daughter is so embarrassed by her – she has not invited her own mother to her wedding. Very French and very charming we all enjoyed the film. Standing outside on the walkway outside the cinema after the film it seemed to take forever until the food arrived and was carried around by staff on platters as we all sought to grab some and fill our bellies while also grabbing a glass of something. Eventually those small tasty morsels add up and we were close to full. Most of my screenings at BIFF were solitary experiences maybe with one other person. I note that here I was with a group, an experience that has been repeated at the Alliance Francois French Film Festival and the Italian Film Festival but not often at BIFF. Although I’ve never gone to a screening alone since 2008 and this would start with BIFF 2010. I also saw Andre again who had made his first feature.

 

RESTREPO: Karen and I saw this American documentary the next day at Palace Barracks 2, Saturday 4pm 13NOV2018. Sebastian Junger and the late Tim Hetherington made the film while embedded with a platoon from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in the Korengal Valley for a year. The war in Afghanistan was ongoing at the time and Australian casualties were seeing a sharp rise. Film Festivals can’t help but reflect what is going on in culture at the time. Restrepo was an outpost named after Private First Class Juan Sebastian Restrepo a platoon medic who was killed. While the Korengal Valley was one of the hotspots of the war at the time the film footage reflects the confusion and fast movements of combat. The enemy is seldom seen and its hard to always know what is going on. A lot of action involves indiscriminate sudden rounds coming in and the outpost responding in kind but never really knowing the result. Afghan civilians and attempts to build things with them are shown too but there’s a definitely a feeling of disconnect. For the soldiers it boils down to missing home and girls and just trying to get by day by day. The most haunting part comes during Operation Rock Avalanche where in the heat of battle a soldier finds one of his friends mortally wounded and breaks down sobbing and wailing like a little boy. The striking reality of combat for all to see. An important film that should be seen by many.

 

I LOVE YO PHILLIP MORRIS: From Restrepo we headed to Palace Centro 1&2? (seriously the program says both) at 9pm Saturday 13NOV2018 to watch this French/U.S. co-production which sports one of the best Jim Carrey performances and some of Ewan McGregor’s more admirable work of recent years. Carrey plays a gay conman and McGregor his true love whom he met in prison. Even these handful of years earlier it was seen as unusual for two mainstream stars to be playing gay men whereas now we might complain if the roles weren’t cast with gay actors. I found their love scenes authentic and moving, the relationship is sweet and non-explicit anyway. Carrey delivers a great performance nonchalantly narrating throughout some classic lines but also evoking a real sense of hurt and longing near the end. Based on the life of Steven Jay Russell it is an affecting character study but there is not much else to it. We’re sad the two men are apart, we marvel at some of Carrey’s antics but in the end a criminal is in jail for ripping people off. What drives someone to do that? The film offers no answers.

 

JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK: It’s hard to pick a favourite from the films I saw at BIFF 2010 but it may just be this film which we saw at Tribal Theatre 2 on Sunday 14NOV2010 at 4pm. I didn’t know a lot about Joan Rivers before watching this except for some plastic surgery jokes. What I found was a comedian whose humour I admired. An example is how clearly the pain her husband’s suicide caused her and the jokes  she relentlessly she brought to bear about it at her own expense to win you you over by sheer willpower. Whether you like her comedy or not this is a stirring examination of a late in life comedian’s unwavering work ethic and a fantastic pondering of what makes somebody like that tick. One of my favourite later Roger Ebert reviews is about this film and David Letterman I feel spoke so eloquently about the appeal of Rivers upon her passing in the clip below.

 

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MELANCHOLIA: I got married in 2011 and would not be surprised if we didn’t attend BIFF that year but its possible we saw Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia at Palace Centro as part of BIFF. This was BIFF’s 20th Anniversary so it’s nice to think I was there. Maybe it was later when the film received national release. New to Lars Von Trier’s style I found the story of a woman (Kirsten Dunst in an exceptional and difficult performance) seeing the impending doom of the Earth haunting and thought provoking. I saw it with Karen and our friends Rosie and Sandro who I wrote about a hike we took together here Sandro was a man’s man but also very kind and respectful at all times. I miss him. BIFF increased it’s slate of films and partnerships in 2011 and saw an increase in attendance and box office. Then there was a change of government.

 

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THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY: In 2012 funds were tight but when I saw The Good, The Bad and The Ugly would be screening on a big screen at BIFF, we found a way and saw it at Palace Centro cinemas. There’s not a lot more I can add about that classic except if you haven’t you really should. At the time Sergio Leone’s westerns with their sweaty faced protagonists seemed like a like a new type of realism in the 1960s. Now with the anti-hero firmly established in popular culture, the mythic qualities of the storyteller get more recognition. It’s hard to argue he made a better film than this one but Once Upon A Time In The West makes a good case. The later film about the West giving way to modern society and with it the men who populated it. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly capping off a trilogy of bandits and mercenaries is meditative about violence and death with the American Civil War serving as a backdrop. A transformative score from Ennio Morricone and great performances from Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach.

I didn’t go to BIFF In 2013 even though money may have been less of an issue but the part time job did take up a lot of my time and energy. As it turned out this was the last Brisbane International Film Festival for some time. The Qld State Government cut funding through their organisation the Pacific Film & Television Commission (now Screen Queensland) which was mainly responsible for BIFF and in corralling several corporate sponsors. The Brisbane City Council stepped in and created the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival and a group of academics got together and created the Queensland Film Festival which is still going. This is very admirable but I’m afraid I attended neither, in the case of the former I was livid that BIFF had been stopped and effectively replaced by BAPFF. As late as mid-2017 I drew plans to write these series of posts to start an underground movement (not really?) to call for BIFF to be brought back and then a strange thing happened. They brought back BIFF. To be continued.

-Lloyd Marken

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BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2008 PART V

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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 IV

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KATYN: I’m led to believe that following Chop Shop at Palace Cinemas on Tuesday the 5th of August I went across town to Regent 1 to see Katyn from Poland at 9pm. For a late session there seemed to be quite a few people there and it was enthusiastically introduced by the BIFF presenter. Why had I been drawn to it. I think like it was with S21 in 2004 there is a morbid curiosity for me in the acts of great terror and the powerful resilience that survives it. The need to remember horrors and to hopefully learn from them. Katyn was directed by Andrzej Wajda who served in the Polish Resistance during the war and whose father was killed in the Katyn massacre. Polish officers who became POWs following the German invasion were rounded up the Soviets when they took control of the country in1941. 20,000 were murdered by the Russians who later claimed it was the Germans. For 50 years under communist rule no one could speak openly about the truth of the massacre but the Polish people knew and eventually the truth came out when the Warsaw Pact fell. The Polish Reserve Officers murdered were the best and brightest of their generation, the future captains of industry and leaders of the nation. Wiped out. Wajda made an excellent film which I found seriously riveting having never known of the subject matter. Another great film that sadly I fail to recall many details of but I remember clearly being moved and saddened. Deeply saddened.

 

 

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RAJA 1918: Another education into a piece of history I knew little about followed with the next film I saw Raja 1918 back at Regent 1 the next day August 6 at 7:10pm. This film from Finland told the story of a young military officer being sent to man run a border post near Russia following the Finnish civil war. With the creation of the Soviet Union some are fleeing Russia but Finland itself in a delicate new nationhood does not want to offer refuge.  These larger realities are framed in a story about a young man trying to do the right thing and pulled in different directions. Another excellent movie with something to say. The film’s producer Jorn Donner father, Kai Donner’s experiences was the basis for the main character.

 

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STONE: The same night I went to the next session at 9:30pm in Regent 1 to watch another film in the Ozploitation program – Stone. Growing up every now and again you’d see a VHS of a very old movie with a cool looking cover that made it look like it was cut from the same cloth as Mad Max. The film was Stone and now I was seeing it. Sandy Harbutt wrote, directed and starred in the 1974 classic about a cop going undercover with a biker gang to capture a serial killer amongst them. A celebration of the outlaw spirit, the cop goes native learning to respect the biker’s ways. B-grade, cheap, nasty I found it dated and in parts average but still shot through with some intent and craft. Tellingly I mentioned the screening to a stand offish IT guy at QUT. He talked about being a motorcyclist and seeing Stone back in the day upon release. He spoke with such fondness maybe even reverence that I doubt he would find for many other films. Stone like films of its ilk may not impress a lot of us but for some it speaks to them in the way that most culture doesn’t. Counter-culture indeed.

20171022_004038SIDE NOTE: I didn’t know it at the time but this was the last time I went to see a film at BIFF at the Regent. I saw a lot of movies at Regent with Karen over the next couple of years. The Duchess just a few short weeks later, Milk, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, preview screenings of Kick-Ass and Zombieland which were nights to remember. Amongst others. The last films screened there were in June 2010 and the cinemas have since been demolished. The foyer is heritage listed and remains. I also remember years earlier going to see Catwoman with my friend Rach. Catwoman  of course sucked but there was Catwoman from the theme park Movie World and she cracked her whip just above us in the first few front rows. But when I think about the Regent I first and foremost think about BIFF, the BIFF offices upstairs gotten to via the older elevator, the ghost stories about the storage room beneath the stairs, the old paintings on the old walls, the secret staircases I dragged 35mm reels up, the bar where we hung out after volleying. The Regent and BIFF are forever linked together in my memories, moments in time that I am forever grateful for.

 

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THE VISITOR: Thursday August 7 and I checked in to see The Visitor after work at 6:50pm at Palace 1. No doubt feeling a little fatigued at this point but I was excited to see the next film from the director of The Station Agent who you may recall my dear friend Mike introduced me to. It was also starring character actor Richard Jenkins. It told the story of a middle aged professor and widow who discovers people are living illegally in his New York apartment when he visits there for a conference. Its true that this film has something to say about immigration and so forth. The couple he finds in his apartment are supercharged charismatic (one of them Danai Gurira pre The Walking Dead and Black Panther fame) and endearing but director Thomas McCarthy has in three films shown a great gift for subtlety and letting scenes stand by themselves to let you the viewer take away what you want. That kind of understatement can be frustrating for those of us who want an emotional catharsis of which I include myself but his films remain some of my favourites. The Station Agent, Best Picture Winner Spotlight and this The Visitor. All about those who are forgotten by society and all about the need for humans to look after each other.

 

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BLACK ICE: Friday night 08AUG2008 at 7:20pm in Palace Centro 1 screened the Finnish German co-production Black Ice. My goodness this was a sexy film and a well made one. To call it a thriller is perhaps misleading, to say it is about adultery seems unfair too. It’s actually about a female friendship that comes out of an unlikely set of circumstances which raises questions about how it will ultimately resolve itself. Starring Outi Maenpaa (she’s really terrific and beautiful) as a doctor and wife of an architect who finds out her husband (Martti Suosalo) is having an affair with one of his students played by Ria Kataja. The wife adopts a persona to get to know the mistress better and understand why her husband has been unfaithful. Instead she and the mistress become quite close. Black Ice also stunningly captures the wintry landscape Northern Europe and the clear black and white palette of the film stands in direct contrast to the murky morality of the characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it and urge anybody to check it out but I wouldn’t say it is ultimately a happy film.

 

Dead Time: Kala: From Black Ice I believe I had tickets to Dead Time: Kala in Palace Centro 1 as well at 9:40pm. At this point I’d been staying up late 8 nights in a row to see various films and it eventually all caught up with me. Dead Time: Kala was from Indonesia directed by young Joko Anwar, it was trumpeted as a mix of comic book style and neo noir trappings with subtext about Indonesian society and early Sam Raimi energy. I can neither confirm nor deny any of this since I slept through most of it but I can tell you what I saw looked fantastic in terms of visuals. I apologise Mr Anwar but you known I’m tired when I fall asleep in a movie theatre. I should really make amends and track it down for a viewing now.

I have dim memories of grabbing a few bites to eat in the restaurant outside Palace Centro throughout the week and catching cabs home but in the end this extravagance would have to end. I was about to start the final weekend of BIFF 2008 and following it my life would centre on someone other than myself.

-Lloyd Marken

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2008 PART III

BIFF 2008

 

A few weeks before BIFF 2008 one of my work colleagues at QUT came into the front office. We asked her about her weekend as you do on a Monday morning and she mentioned she had been to the High Tea in town. She showed us a couple of photos which included one where and she and one her companions went to a make-up stand and got done up. There was also a group photo from before that. I sat there thinking that she and her companion looked beautiful in both photos but that the companion looked better in the first photo before the make-up stand. Her companion was really beautiful to me. After a few minutes my colleague thought out loud “Actually I think Karen might look better in the before photo.” to which I blurted out “Yeah!”.

It’s funny how one sentence can change the trajectory of your life but my work colleague picked up on this reaction and mused. “Actually you worked in hospitals and Karen works as a speech pathologist and you both like movies.” I had been single for 8 years. Don’t get me wrong there had been women in my life, some of them truly wonderful and some that I wish I had been better with, as I often would say “I”ve had dates and mistakes but no girlfriends.” Little did I know I had just seen a picture of my next girlfriend. I also look back on my 20s as being part of two social groups. One group of perpetually single men and one group of long term couples. As a result I’ve always tried to introduce my single friends to each other but in the end I think people just have to connect on their own. I did not, I was helped by this work colleague enormously. She was the same person who remarked I was not going to be able to get to Alvin Purple before it started. Knowing that I was going to a lot of films she must have known there was a good chance of running into me at BIFF. How well she planned I do not know but it came to be she was going to Palace Cinemas the same night I was the 4th of August. She mentioned we might run into each other and that this Karen would be there. The stage was set.

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SMALL GODS: I left work early to get to a 4:30pm showing of Small Gods from Belgium at 4:30pm. Directed by Dimitri Karakatsanis it was essentially a road trip movie with a dream like quality to it, a low budget film with beautiful shots of the surrounding landscapes. I struggle to remember a lot except that it was good.

When I came out of the cinema I looked over at the waiting area and there was this Karen off in the distance. I darted off down the stairs into the men’s room where I sprayed copious amounts of Lynx Accelerate and wet my hair to slick it back and up. I was wearing a vest and overweight. Maybe I had a suit jacket too, who knows. I went back up to find them and ran into my work colleague also named Karen on the stairs who called out to me. We stood and spoke on the stairs when Karen came up to us with a bunch of doughnuts. When asked how they were, she said not very good. She was beautiful in person as she was in her photos. I tried to play it cool and maybe this worked to my advantage. Weeks later she saw me waiting with flowers on our first date and just thought I looked so adorable. They were there for a gala screening of Caramel from Lebanon in Palace 1. This was quite fortunate as it didn’t mean they were going into the same cinema as I exited and meant there was more time maybe. I had never gone to a gala screening preferring to save my money for more movie tickets although often during BIFF 2008 I would go and eat at the restaurants near Palace Centro. We talked for a while and then they went off to their movie.

Apparently Karen told Karen B “That she thought I was cute and had she considered dating me.” to which Karen B burst out in laughter. Karen decided I was probably gay. I went downstairs and called my best friend Mike and talked for several minutes. The whole experience had been kind of nerve wracking but having gone through it I now revelled in the excitement. I decided I needed to get out there more and meet people. I went to a restaurant nearby and ate dinner, writing reviews and stories in my notebook trying to look interesting and artistic in case the Karens came back down before I went in to see Wendy and Lucy at 9:30pm in Palace Centro 2. According to the program the next film in Palace 1 was at 9:10pm but I did not see come across them again before going in to Wendy and Lucy. Maybe I missed them in the crowd, maybe they were long gone, I have no memory except of delicious food on a table from the gala.

So the stairwell holds a lot of sentimentality for my wife and I. I even got to mention where I met my wife to Palace CEO Benjamin Zeccola last year who as a bit of a romantic was pleased to hear that a couple had met in one of his cinemas. I have a lot of wonderful memories of BIFF too, for me I mostly think of my Volly days first and foremost but it is true that I met my wife at BIFF 2008.

 

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WENDY AND LUCY: From America this showed a game Michelle Williams of Dawson Creek fame (she’s gone on to other things since then) playing Wendy who ends up homeless in Oregon. Lucy is her dog, a prized companion and where she can spill  all her emotions on to. Shot on location with minimum fuss but classic framing from director Kelly Reichardt this is a film that captures the fragility and vulnerability of those who slip through the cracks in our society and how a little kindness or cruel indifference can change fortunes. It’s a need for the mundanity of real life pacing gave it an authentic feel but also made it a meandering depressing experience for the most part. One of those films where you respect the message and the craft on display but don’t necessarily recommend it as a stirring piece of entertainment either.

 

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CHOP SHOP: Tuesday 05AUG2008 at 6:30pm in Palace 1 again I went and saw Chop Shop which I thought was going to be in some third world but was actually set in poor areas outside of New York city. The Iron Triangle in Queens with a large sports stadium looming in the background sometimes. Unlike Wendy and Lucy, Chop Shop was a far more engaging affair investing in conventional narrative while also capturing real life people from the area on film. Director Ramin Bahrani who co-write it as well did an excellent job telling the story of a young boy named Ale who is trying to etch out a living with his sister Izzy in the area with little education or prospects. These are survivors, fighters who never feel sorry for themselves and have pride. All the more heartbreaking then to live in the reality of their situation or seem them come undone by circumstances. A neorealistic take, I don’t know the life stories of the central performers but their real life names Alejandro Polanco and Isamar Gonzales are the same as their characters. It’s been ten years, I wonder where they are. Somehow I am hopeful, these people have more intelligence and self-reliance then I could ever hope to develop. One of the best films of the year.

-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