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

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TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018… SO FAR… LIST AVAILABLE AT X-PRESS MAGAZINE

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X-Press Magazine have released a list of the best films given an Australian 2018 release so far as voted by critics of the mag. It is with particular pride and humble gratitude that I have been asked to contribute and that some of my words have been used for three films mentioned. Some of those listed will be films that were released in 2017 elsewhere most prominently Stateside.

You can read the entire list here http://xpressmag.com.au/top-10-films-of-2018-so-far/ which includes great stuff from my fellow writers. Having already written about some of these films with my own Top 10 for 2017 it was a lot of fun to find a new way to discuss these films yet again with original words.

X-Press Magazine was established in 1985 and at one point was Australia’s highest circulating free weekly entertainment publication with over 40,000 copies reaching 1,0000 outlets every week.  On the 24th May, 2016 Issue 1527 hit stands. Like many publications of its ilk X-Press Magazine is now foremost an online magazine engaged globally and making the most of the possibilities that new digital technology offers. It’s roots though are tied to its home city, love of local artists and productions and music which it supports wholeheartedly. Perth a capital city most isolated from all the other capitals is continuing to grow and develop culturally and artistically with its own identity and talent. X-Press has always been there to capture this growth and will continue to do so.

-Lloyd Marken

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2008 PART IV

BIFF 2008

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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

AVENGERS : INFINITY WAR REVIEW AVAILABLE AT BUZZ MAGAZINE

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I am very lucky to have had my review for Avengers: Infinity War published at Buzz Magazine. I am fortunate enough to have a lot of reviews of big blockbusters published over at Buzz and they don’t come bigger than this. Please feel free to click here http://buzzmagazine.com.au/avengers-infinity-war/ to read my thoughts and offer any of your own. I hope you enjoy.

Based out of Victoria, Buzz Magazine was one the longest running street press magazines in Australia being published in print from 1993 to 2010. Some fine writers have worked for Buzz over the years and gone onto successful careers in media since and there is simply no way to measure the contribution the mag made to local music over its print run. With such words and minimal advertising on the website the impression could be taken that Buzz is now semi-retired. Yet the site is quite prolific with new write-ups on a daily basis, the ongoing interest of fans old and new and contributions from some very talented people indeed.

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I’m very excited to say that I’ve reached a new milestone with this review at Buzz. This is my tenth review published with them following on from Black Panther, Star Wars: The Last JediBlade Runner 2049, Five Came Back, Atomic Blonde, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Let me know if you had particular favourite.

-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

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2008 PART I

BIFF 2008

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

-Lloyd Marken