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

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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

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2007 PART III

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RESCUE DAWN: Thursday night and I went to see Rescue Dawn at Regent Cinema 3 at 7pm. I was not too familiar with the great director Werner Herzog but the idea of a German who became a pilot for the United States Navy and was shot down over Vietnam intrigued me and it starred Christian Bale coming off Batman Begins. It was a fantastic a film, a little low on budget for its flying scenes but right on the money in terms of portraying how harrowing POW camps and the jungle can be. It has a real lived in quality to what is ultimately a remarkable story. What these POWs endured was horrible and Bale is ably supported by Steve Zahn (honestly people need to give him a bigger career) and Jeremy Davies. It was noted that Herzog who made the documentary about the same subject matter Little Dieter Needs To Fly ten years earlier now had a narrative retelling that was more grounded than the documentary such was his nature. Whatever Dieter Dengler was a truly fascinating man and I was glad to watch this film.

 

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Bamako: Friday and I had to hustle from work to see Bamako at Palace Cinemas at 5:30pm. My first movie from Africa I had seen at BIFF (a co-production between Mali/France/United States) I am sorry to report I was not blown away by it. Telling the story of a court in a small village that puts on trial in a over the top manner the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I’m sure there were interesting ideas here about modern corporate colonialism and the continued exploitation of the third world but all I can remember is a fun scene involving Danny Glover of Lethal Weapon fame. Obviously people told this story with noble intent and great passion about things that matter but my only memory is it was not a very good film. Still terrific song.

 

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Squatterpunk: I had some time to travel across to GoMA Cinema B for Squatterpunk at 9pm the same night. Whatever I thought of Squatterpunk it was an experience which we need more in art and film festivals in general. Director Khavn filmed in one day on Mini DV in black and white around the slums of Manilla a group of children. The film was silent and live in Brisbane, Khavn and his band The Brockas performed music alongside the images. There was no dialogue that I could remember and the music was loud and not always easy listening. Truly unique, raw and real. It may not have always held my interest or pleased my senses but it communicated effectively the poverty of some areas of the world and the resilience of some humans to survive in it.

The next day I volunteered my last shift for BIFF from 3pm to 1am at Regent Cinema 1. Regent Cinemas are gone now and so are my days as a BIFF Volly. They don’t even have them anymore. I know Day Watch was a film to see that night but I don’t recall taking it in or any other freebies. Maybe I wanted to just take in the moment. 2007 felt very far away from my experiences in 2004 only a short 3 years earlier. I can’t imagine the melancholy for others when BIFF went away later. I remember a gentleman who looked homeless once coming in and discussing films with someone. I saw David Stratton again and at one point William McInnes the week earlier. He was there for The Night and Unfinished Sky. I caught a glimpse of The Night‘s ending which was moving and Unfinished Sky was made by New Holland Productions who I went to once for a job interview. I did not get the job but I enjoyed the interview and was happy to see those producers enjoying success.  There was also a VIP guest from America there who I can’t remember the finer details about but I think worked on film festivals there.

The next day I came in for the break-up party for the Vollys which was to be held in the Regent bar as in 2004. Pizzas were ordered in and set up around the bar as Vollys worked the last screenings. Promptly VIPs attending the last screening in Regent 1 walked out into the bar and started tucking into the pizza. This is no fault of their own, such things could be expected from a Closing Film but the organisation of it would have been different in the past to avoid it. The scraps of pizza handed to the unpaid Vollys and tireless front of house staff for their thank you party was just one more indication that it was time to leave volunteering behind. I had seen one film Australia (from Brisbane no less!), Canada, China, France, Mali , The Philippines, Romania, Sri Lanka,  3 films from the U.S. and an Australian documentary. I had truly covered a wide spread of films from around the globe. For me the highlights were 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Away From Her but Rescue Dawn, Bella, Waitress and The Search for Weng Weng all made an impression at the time. I hung out with the staff and my fellow Vollys. Being a small part of BIFF’s history is something I’m very grateful for and I have many fond memories. I think the staff who worked BIFF in those days really created something special I am particularly grateful to have met and worked with the fantastic front box office staff. We drank but if we went to Jimmys on the Mall this time we didn’t stay long.

The VIP from Hawaii whom I had spoken to earlier in the Festival was going to Byron Bay the next day. She was easy to talk to and a wonderful person. As everything wound down her and me ended up at the nearby Pancake Manor (an old Church me and my best friends frequented) and we talked some more. She was a little bit older than me and I don’t know if either of us did any obvious flirting but we were there talking at 2am alone. She had curly dark hair and this beautiful purple red dress kind of Grecian in design and what looked like very soft skin. I had been a skinny man who had put on some weight and she cut a very attractive figure. I carry a lot of guilt about the times I did pursue fleeting moments and maybe that is why this time I did not say anything. We had a really nice chat for hours and then I stood dutifully on the side of the road waiting for a cab with her. It could be my own warped imagination but the conversation seemed less easy at this point. There was an air of awkwardness now as if something was being left unsaid. I think when her cab came we hugged and lingered but she got in that cab and I went home. Perhaps it was for the best, very probable she was not interested…or maybe we were just two shy lonely people who had a nice night that could’ve been capped off in a pleasing way. Fortunately this was just the beginning of romance for me at BIFF. At the Brisbane International Film Festival 2008 I met my wife.

-Lloyd Marken

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2007 PART II

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From GOMA I went and volunteered at the Regent on Sunday evening late and then went to work the next day. The week ahead would see no let up as he had bought tickets to see at least one movie every weeknight. I was working at QUT and so found it quite easy to walk uptown to the Regent Cinemas located in the Queen St Mall. A grand cinema and for me the heart of the BIFF I remember. All lost in time but here we go with some more memories.

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Walking On The Wildside:  Monday I went to Regent 1 at 6:50pm to see from China Walking on the Wildside. There was also a short from Thailand called Graceland directed by Anocha Suwichakompong about a man meeting a mysterious woman one night in Bangkok and setting off a new journey. I can’t quite dredge up memories of it I’m afraid. Walking on the Wildside a Chinese/French co-production and shot on 35mm was made in the Shanxi province by Han Jie. It follows a gang of youths in an industrial province. Not much happens and I kind of felt the film’s lack of structure hurt it in the end because it kind of became boring. However I was seeing a part of the world I’d never seen before and watching individuals who had been raised in a different culture while reflecting some of the West’s influence as well. That is what I really enjoy about going to film festivals and so while not a particularly strong film it offered something different with its low budget verisimilitude style.

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Bella: Bella started an hour later upstairs in Regent the same night. I’ve read some bad reviews of Bella but I really was moved by it at the time and it also won People’s Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival. I also don’t want to give away too much of the plot except to say that it follows a day in the life of two people. Jose (Eduardo Verastegui) is a beautiful man unkempt in the way that usually suggests something has hurt his spirit and now he’s just happy to work at his brother’s restaurant where there is a waitress named Nina (Tammy Blanchard)  who is dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Written and directed by Alejandro Monteverde whose wife Ali Landry makes a small but pivotal performance too I was surprised to find that it is labelled a Christian film. Faith is certainly present and but I found it far from a religious film. These are people dealing with real struggles and yes they’re looking for answers but they find them in themselves and their choices. There is a very crucial flashback that I think says a lot. When you’re a moral person you go back when you want to leave. We find a person broken and wracked with guilt but in how he responded to his mistake reveals his future. Certainly a labour of love from all involved and a beautifully shot film and well told story.

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Away From Her: The next night I went to see Away From Her at 7pm in Regent 3 after work. My grandfather had dementia before he passed and I guess that may have informed this choice or maybe it the fact that Alison Polley who starred in Go and Dawn of the Dead was directing. Maybe I was just keen to see another Canadian film. I don’t know but it may have been the best film I saw that year. A Canadian film starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent as Fiona and Gordon. The kind of active good looking well off older couple we probably all aspire to be. Then Fiona gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and eventually the symptoms proliferate until she goes into a home. Then the film gets really interesting because not only is Fiona starting to treat Gordon like a stranger and crush on a male resident in the home but she also seems to be hinting at the fact that many years ago Gordon, an academic had an affair with a student. I think at this point we should commend Julie Christie on such a lengthy and stellar career. Christie bravely portrays someone with that condition but the emotional crux of the story is watching Pinsent as Gordon. It’s a slow burn of a film in the same way that the disease slowly takes everything away from a loved one. Under 30 and making her feature film debut Polley doesn’t put a foot wrong in terms of pacing and style effectively moving us to a knock out emotional finale.

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Waitress: Following in the same cinema Regent 3 at 9:20pm (yeah I got out after 11pm and went to work the next day a lot during this week) was Waitress. There was a lot of poignancy attached to the film when it screened at BIFF following Sundance. The director of the film Adrienne Shelly was murdered before it screened at Sundance, she was only 40 year old and had become a mother two years previous. Her husband has since set up the Adrienne Shelly Foundation which provides stipends, funds and scholarships to artists. Waitress is about a waitress Jenna (Keri Russell) in a diner who makes pies that are the stuff of legends. She is married to an abusive husband who is beyond pathetic when she falls pregnant. The examining Doctor is a new guy in town played by the strapping Nathan Fillion as somebody who is not very strapping. They go at it like bunnies accordingly. Maybe the film won’t hold up today but as a young man it was refreshing to see two films in one night worlds apart in tone and focus but directed by two incredibly talented women telling stories with a female eye. Shelly herself appears as a wallflower co-worker/friend as does the ever dependable Cheryl Hines on hand to get some laughs. The film made me laugh but it also made me think and it made me angry. Angry for how women can get chewed up in this world by some pretty pathetic men. I don’t think its an accident that there’s no major negative female characters in this film but then again Jenna (Keri Russell) can be pretty hard on herself enough.

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Sankara: I would have had to have left early on Wednesday to get to Regent 3 at 5pm for Sankara from Sri Lanka. Directed by Prasanna Jayakody the film is about a Buddhist monk doing some restoration work on a monastery where he is entranced by the beauty of a local woman. A lot of work went into the sounds and look of the film reflecting natural beauty and spiritual turmoil but I found it slow and too ponderous. Maybe worth a reappraisal. After watching the central female lead Sanchini Ayendra walk around in film with a natural look and simple clothes I was shocked when she stepped forward for a Q&A after the film. Decked out in a green top and white jeans with make-up she immediately looked a stunning beauty. Image result for sachini ayendraI would had no idea watching her performance in the film that she had been Miss Sri Lanka. The juxtaposition has always made me wonder about the presentation and perception of what is beauty and how we can be fooled or just be plain foolish. But then again she looks quite pretty naturally in this promotion still. Either way it was a privilege to meet a star and have her as a guest at BIFF.Image result for sachini ayendra

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4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days: Starting at 9pm I had to make my way from Regent 3 to Palace Cinemas 1 for this winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes from Romania. I’ve seen some pretty hard going films at BIFF and this was up there. Directed by Cristian Munglu and starring Anamaria Marinca in a performance for the ages. It is set in the late 1980s at the end of Communist rule when abortions are illegal. Marinca is Otilla helping a friend get one in a state that does not allow it so of course what is to be a harrowing ordeal becomes even more so. There’s not a lot more I can say by that but Otilla’s need to maintain secrecy comes at cost in a variety of fashions and shows just what strong women will endure when they are left little choice but to get on with it. One of the best but also most harrowing films I have ever seen.

-Lloyd Marken

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2007 PART I

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2006 was a rough year I’d rather not talk about but in 2007 I was working full time and was eager to return as a volunteer to the Brisbane International Film Festival. I like the idea of trilogies so for some reason I wanted to be a Volly 3 times rather than 2 but I also had the sense that this would be the last time I would do it. Given how much fun I had in 2004 and 2005 this feels odd but I guess I just had a sense of things passing and not being able to hold them in place. The 16th Brisbane International Film Festival was launched with Opening Night film Fay Grim and closed with Angelina Jolie’s A Mighty Heart running from 2nd August 2007 to 12th August 2007. Again I didn’t attend Opening Night. I did buy a Take 10 Pass and I did Volunteer on weekends now that I was working regular hours during the week and I did see most of the old gang of front box office staff who I had missed since 2005. There were two films I was keen to see that I didn’t get which include The Walker by Paul Schrader and the Oscar winning Once. I also note with interest a favourite film of Karen’s, The Jammed a harrowing tale about sex trafficking was also screened here. I did aim to see films from every continent again and I think I did alright.

 

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FLANDERS: Friday night after work I raced across to town to see Flanders at 7:10pm in Palace Centro Cinema 2 back when the only Palace cinemas in town were Centro. Flanders was a fascinating film to start off my BIFF viewing that way. Made in France by Bruno Dumont, the Iraq War was in full flight at the time. Flanders shows young French men from the farming community of Flanders conscripted and sent to fight in a Middle East or North African landscape, (These scenes were shot in Tunisia). An unconventional film, the characters don’t follow normal behaviour (I heard one sex scene described as two hedgehogs mating) certain plot developments are kept abstract and in the end nobody seems to have the answers but Dumont’s invitation to fill in the gaps and stand for multiple generations and wars speaks volumes. Some of his framing also recounts plays but other times he closes in on shots that still haunt me over a decade later. A perfect festival film that makes you think and is not the usual fare.

 

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ALL MY FRIENDS ARE LEAVING BRISBANE: The next day I volunteered at Regent 1 Saturday evening. This film screened there at 9:30pm according to the program but I was positive it took place in one of the upstairs cinemas because they had stairs to them and I remember sitting on the steps for the film. It was the directorial debut of Louise Alston to a hometown premiere and she was given a bouquet of flowers at the beginning. I was handed them at the back of the cinema and told to hold onto them and hand them back at the end where there was going to be a Q&A. We’re talking a massive bouquet with a bag of water inside them and so forth. I watched the film on the steps by myself which I enjoyed. The film stars Charlotte Gregg and Matt Zeremes as friends who are in a rut post uni. At that point two of my best friends had moved away to Sydney and the other to Canberra. My career wasn’t going anywhere and I yearned to go overseas. My love life was on the operating table losing a lot of blood too. So you could say the film tapped into the zeitgeist as far as I was concerned  and it was mostly this insight I enjoyed rather than laugh out laughs. It was nice to see Brisbane up on the big screen too and there was a relaxed confidence from the filmmakers plus I really enjoyed Charlotte Gregg’s performance (she later went onto some success with Underbelly but is now mostly a food and health writer) and Ryan Johnson (who is really entertaining).

As instructed after the film ended I raced down to the front to give the bouquet back to Ms Alston who was about to do a Q&A with the audience. So naturally she didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing and neither did I really beyond that it was what I was supposed to do. I can’t be sure all these years later but I think thankfully they ended up lying on the ground or a seat with met off to the side wondering why I just didn’t hold them longer. I’m sorry Ms Alston. The Q&A was a great success, actors often seem less at ease in them than directors and writers who find it easy to discuss themes and intents whereas some actors are actually really shy. Ryan Johnson was charming and funny and completely at ease and I thought this guy has got something.

I’m not sure what happened next, probably we handed out voting cards as the audience left the cinema but whatever it is it ended up the whole place had become quiet and deserted and I saw Louise Alston walk back into the empty cinema. I followed her inside and saw that she was surveying the scene, having a moment of realising her first feature film had played to an audience on a big cinema screen. I quickly left, having feel blessed to have witnessed her moment but not wanting to spoil it. There are a handful of people really who can ever do this and she is one of them. Such scenes are one of  the joys of BIFF like seeing the local producers of Australia Day having dinner after their Qld premiere last year at BIFF.

 

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THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG: Many years ago as a uni student at QUT I was asked if I wanted to come along to the Valley to go to a Trash Video Film Club night. This was in a bar upstairs that looked like it was from another time. Kids sat around on bean bags everywhere and ordered drinks and we watched B-Grade genre films from around the world. It was curated by Andrew Leovold who ran Trash Video store in the West End which stored old VHS tapes of films you couldn’t get anywhere else. The Film Club nights were a great advertisement for his store as they showed highlights of different films you could get out from there. I went a few times throughout over 2 or 3 years, getting an appreciation for Horror films from around the world, seeing Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) and also running into the Spierig Brothers. They came one night to show all the short films they had made before their first film Undead. They also gave away tickets for some new film called Shaun of the Dead with a quiz about Undead. I was a big fan of Undead but people were struggling to come up with answers. After one question I exclaimed in frustration having known the answer but not remembering it. One of them asked me if I had known the answer and I said yes and so they gave me the tickets and poster.

I asked Andrew a couple of times what he thought of BIFF and the Australian film industry in general. As a purveyor of schlock his answer surprised me, back then he had a pretty tough view of the industry and audiences saying we needed to be more discerning. I think something he loved about the films he celebrated were that many were true originals whatever their other limitations. The Trash Video Film Club was a very special place for a young person to hang out in and I am forever grateful for Andrew and his team for what they created there. It should be noted that even with the advent of illegal downloading and streaming we don’t always seem to have easier access to some of the titles that could be easily rented out at Trash Video. Of the few nights I went to the Film Club the highlight perhaps remains my first where I went and saw a program of James Bond spoofs which was followed by For Your Height Only. For Your Height Only was released in 1981 starring Weng Weng and was made in the Philippines post US productions. At one point the Filipino film industry was the 3rd largest in the world.

Which is a long way of getting to the next film I saw at BIFF 2007. Andrew Leovold went to the Philippines to look for the 2foot9inches Weng Weng whose fate was shrouded in mystery. The resulting documentary screened at BIFF at Gallery of Modern Art Cinema B at 3pm on a Sunday when I was doing a volley shift although I was covering Cinema A ten paces away. Once again I was lucky enough to get to go in and watch The Search for Weng Weng which celebrated everything great about his films and the film industry in his country at the time. Leovold introduced the film and was true to form. This was the first year BIFF had sessions running at GOMA, that I know of, and as people left the cinemas that day they were told by staff they couldn’t go to the public toilets as the Museum was closing. GOMA is on stretch of land with the Queensland Art Gallery, State Library of Queensland and the Queensland Museum. At the time the nearest public toilets were at least several hundred metres away if not more. I was furious and one of the front of house staff just told the security guard that he needed to go so he was going to go…and he did. BIFF 2018 has just been announced with its base being at GOMA and I’ve had many positive experiences since then including at the cinemas but it was really a piss poor way to treat patrons. Hopefully they’ve learnt their lessons.

Leovold is a larger than life showman who dresses like the uni students he appeals to but as time has gone on he has been able to reveal more and more a keen intellect. I noticed him leave the venue with a crowd (mostly friends I suspect and what appeared to be a younger girlfriend) and decided that a new part of his career was beginning at this BIFF with his first film and he has gone from strength to strength since. Danny one of the front of house staff who had been so kind to me over the years was also significantly involved in work of this film so people were starting to move onto new and better things.

-Lloyd Marken

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2005 PART III

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Here we are back again to look at the history of the Brisbane International Film Festival. By the way just look at that poster above, one of my favourite BIFF posters although as some of my fellow BIFF vollys pointed out what was happening in the picture? Was the poor girl drowning, was that the symbol of our film festival?! Never the less I think it’s gorgeous and a print of it appeared on all our Volly T-shirts of which I still have mine. The 17th BIFF, the third I attended and second I volunteered at had a strong line-up of road movies of which I took full advantage of and shifted a lot of screenings to South Bank Cinemas. At it I saw 18 films apparently, from India, Israel Austria, the U.S.A., Australia, and kicked off a deep affection for Canadian cinema with The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess and Phil The Alien.

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BACKROADS: Saturday the 6th of August I was back in Regent Cinema 1 to see the Australian classic Backroads in Regent Cinema 1 at 5:50pm. There was short film called Yella Fella which I saw at least bits of beforehand. It was about the life of mixed race actor Tommy Lewis (star of The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith) who grew up not feeling part of either community at times. Backroads itself only runs 60minutes and was shot in 16mm back in 1977 featuring the debut of director Phillip Noyce who had some great movies during his career effortlessly gliding between Hollywood blockbusters and films of substance. A first rate storyteller. Backroads starred the great Bill Hunter and Gary Foley who drive around NSW on a bit of a crime spree. These men are not friends, they’re brought together by circumstances, by today’s standards Bill Hunter’s Jack is racist and even by the standards is openly confrontational with Gary Foley’s Gary. Yet through these lack of political correctness and open disrespect comes direct dialogue where opinions are put forward and explained why by the character’s own experiences. Both men begin to view the other in a different light and Jack’s confused feelings about race and beliefs begin to be challenged. I found the film excellent and revealed Noyce’s talent at making exciting action but thoughtful ideas existed right from the beginning of his career.

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HOTEL: I can’t tell if I saw Backroads as Volly or a paying customer but I assure you I saw Hotel a horror film from Austria/Germany in Regent Cinema 1 at 9:40pm with the privileges of being a Volly. A slow burn of horror film, there’s no gore and no threat really every sighted. We’re left to wonder what happens, directed by Jessica Hausner, this is all about mood and atmosphere. I really enjoyed it but barely remember much all this time later including whether I snoozed a little near the end.

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UP AND DOWN: There was a screening of this film (a co-production of the Czech Republic and Australia), at 03AUG2005 at 7:25pm in Regent Cinema 3 but I believe I saw it Sunday the 7th of August, 2005 at 2pm in South Bank Cinema 4. Wow time really does fade the memory, I barely remember much about Up and Down except that it was a really good movie. Reading through my BIFF booklet somethings come back, a couple who adopt a child sold to them by people traffickers, a son returning to Europe from his utopian Australia. The last bit was particularly ironic. You see the child is ‘brown’ and the husband does not want to keep it as a result but his wife who can’t have children feels very differently. There’s various races represented by the characters and the racial tensions that were already smouldering in Europe at the time. Of course while the film doesn’t present this, these are similar issues facing Australia as well. The film caps off a trilogy started with Divided We Fall and Pupendo from writer/director Jan Hrebejk and co-writer Petr Jarchovsky. Of course I don’t have answers for these complex questions. Up and Down doesn’t really either but its a timely reminder that we’re all human, we’re all looking for a better life for our families and there will be predators exploiting that need. Since Up and Down the growing threat of domestic terrorism has only expanded. If we close our borders and our hearts the monsters who drive cars into people, behead British soldiers and set off bombs in Paris will win. On the other hand we can’t idly by and not react. Up and Down is a reminder that most immigrants only make a nation richer, to recognise our common humanity, to remain hopeful for the future and to never let racism thrive no matter the circumstances. In that way Up and Down only gets more timely.

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WALL: Screening on Sunday 07AUG2005 in Regent Cinema 3 at 7:30pm was Wall from Israel and France directed by Simone Bitton. Pretty sure I came over from South Bank to the Regent to catch this. May have snoozed but this followed on from the previous film in terms of how we shut ourselves out to be safe but that doesn’t necessarily make it so. An interesting film I may have been guilty of snoozing a tad through this, it seems to happen more in the sessions I get into as a Volly rather than a paying customer, coincidence? Images of Israel and Palestine have haunted me from this film ever since. The question of how we can hate ourselves so much and how can we come to peace with each other is at the heart of similar war torn territories from the Sudan to Northern Ireland to the former Yugoslav to the Middle East. I hope we find the answers one day.

ROADGAMES: Was the last film I saw at BIFF 2005 and the last film I saw from the Blacktop Dreams program. An Australian film made in 1981 it screened Sunday 07AUG2005 at South Bank Cinema 4 at 9:20pm. The landscape of the time was fascinating, Road Games was the most expensive Australian film ever made at the time and the Australian film industry was at the height of its powers. A mish mash of tributes to the style of Alfred Hitchcock and 1970s Australian road movies and starring the Scream Queen herself Jaimie Lee Curtis it had dated very badly by 2005. Stacy Keach’s humour didn’t stand up and while he was a likeable enough lead I can’t help but wonder what could have been if original choice Sean Connery hadn’t been so expensive. Still the visuals are great and there’s some neat stuff. Quentin Tarantino says its one of his favourite movies, that’s great Quentin…I’m happy for you. I remember leaving late after the screening with one of the front house staff. I never really saw myself as very useful so I always tried to make up for it with an enthusiasm to help where I could. I hope I did.

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THELMA AND LOUISE: There is one more film to cover that I saw at BIFF 2005. I can’t tell you when I saw it, it was part of the free screenings at the Suncorp Piazza but obviously not CineSparks. These included the Max Max trilogy and many others so as you can see there were many road movies at BIFF 2005 that weren’t part of the Blacktop Dreams program which makes sense. Most of the films in that program were rare hard to find titles whereas the free screenings at the Suncorp Piazzi mostly included titles people had seen several times and possibly owned in their home collection. I chose to see Thelma and Louise for two simple reasons. It is my favourite film and I wanted to see it with a live audience and see how they reacted. So on a cold evening I think during the week I sat on the aluminium seats and watched up on a relatively big screen Thelma and Louise. I can’t say enough things about this film, once somebody seemed surprised that it was my favourite film as a man. I don’t identify as a feminist and but I think it is certainly a great feminist film. It rails against all the hypocrisies of our society and the way it treats women. It takes a classic male story of rebellion and freedom and gives it to these women. If you ever had the special edition of the DVDs I highly recommend for the commentaries from stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, write Callie Khouri and director Ridley Scott. Scott who hails from Great Britain and is a master visualist captured what was so beguiling about the idea of the American open road. Most of the film was shot outside LA in regional California with some in Utah. When a helicopter flies through smoke swirling everything in its rotor wash everybody understands how Scott makes things look better. Yet  take for example a diner scene with Sarandon and Michael Madsen. The next scene is the same diner table with Davis walking in as Madsen leaves. One is shot closer with more intimate lighting. You won’t notice the difference until its pointed out to you and yet it evokes different moods. Its these subtleties that I don’t think Scott gets recognised enough for. Sarandon and Davis start out as two women wearing make-up and sunglasses. As the film goes on they get wilder, more boyish in their clothing, more natural and yes more beautiful. We’ve talked about car chases a bit with BIFF 2005, Thelma and Louise has one of the best car chases of all time that I don’t think gets celebrated enough.

That’s Davis sitting next to the stunt driver as they plough through the fence. But to get back to why it appeals to me? Because its about hitting the open road, its about not taking shit from anybody anymore, its about empowerment. I spoke to author and BIFF 2005 guest Jack Sargeant who had written quite a lot about road movies at the break-up party. I asked him what he thought of Thelma and Louise and he said he liked it but he didn’t think it was fair that Thelma and Louise paid for it in the end. I knew Ridley Scott’s intention was to make them mythic legends but I think Sargeant has a point. I’d be interested to know what Callie Khouri’s intention was with the ending. Hopefully one day soon I’ll write more about my favourite movie.

The next day was the last day at BIFF and true to tradition I did not work as a Volly but did attend the Volly party. The closing night film was The Jacket starring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley.  We had the break-up at some pub at South Bank reflecting our move away from the Regent. I had spent some hours up in the foyer outside South Bank Cinema 3 and 4. I got out a mop and bucket and wiped the floor in between sessions because I could feel the stickiness of dried soft drink on the bottom of my shoes. I had gotten to hand with more of the front of house staff. One of the twins went to a café with me and got me to drink chinoto for the first time with coffee. Having a sweet tooth I was not a convert but I was surprised to find he didn’t care for Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and was fascinated by his reasons. I hung out with Andre again and met his wife. There was a Volly from Norway who’s name I can’t remember but who was just the nicest guy who everybody fell in love with. Maybe I did work, I remember carrying an amplifier up to the top of that pub in preparation for the party. I asked the Executive Manager again if he felt BIFF had been successful and why. I had applied for a job with BIFF that year and so now knew the likelihood of that happening was minimal. I started to think of going back to uni to become a teacher rather that save up and travel to Canada. Looking back I really wish I had gone to Canada you make choices and these our the paths we take. BIFF 2005 was the best year I had at BIFF, BIFF 2004 will always hold a special place in my heart but this was it and I’m very grateful for these memories.

Today is Remembrance Day here in Australia, I would like to acknowledge all those who have sacrificed so much in war including those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Lest We Forget.

-Lloyd Marken

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2005 PART II

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And we’re back talking about the Brisbane International Film Festival, the first post about BIFF clocked in 2,988 words, the first about BIFF 2005 at 2,305 words so it may relieve some viewers to know this is razor thing at 1631 words. Recaps on BIFF 2007 and BIFF 2008 will most likely be split into parts too. We’ll see about BIFF 2017.

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P.S.: My first showcase screening was for the movie P.S. starring Laura Linney on Tuesday, the 2nd of August 2005. It was screened in the old IMAX screen South Bank Cinema 5 which was massive. I don’t know if any change was made to the projection of the 35mm film but it was big cinema with a big crowd for such a character based movie, another benefit of early screening at festivals. I was a big fan of the leads Linney and Topher Grace and liked the idea of the story, a university administrator who finds herself falling for a younger man who reminds her of a long lost love from when she was about that age. I’ll admit how cool she looked in the above picture rocking that shawl got me interested in seeing it too. How you perceive films changes over time, I of course saw things from the perspective of the young male who would be perfectly happy to bone someone as beautiful as Laura Linney. As I get older I understand the trepidation of doing such a thing with a much younger person. Yet perhaps I’ve always been an old soul, Linney’s character is full of regrets and anger about how life can turn out and that was something I was only too keenly in touch with at only 24 going on 25. I had already accumulated skeletons in my closet, disappointment at my prospects and shame at my changing body. Yet I remained a romantic and enjoyed love stories that recognised that life isn’t always perfect but there can be solace and respect and affection if you meet someone good for you and that you have to be prepared to not hide away due to fear and bitterness. I’ve read reviews that weren’t so kind to P.S. but I enjoyed it and whatever your misgivings about the film you can’t deny that there is one particularly powerful scene which I will attach below. This scene says so much about life and ageing and has always stayed with me.

 

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VANISHING POINT: Take a look at the picture above which was in the BIFF pamphlet. Now who doesn’t want to see that movie! In the age of internet, dvds, streaming, etc more and more films get remembered but in Australia 2005 you would’ve been hard pressed to get a copy of Vanishing Point much less see it on the big screen. Another film from the Blacktop Dreams program I was seriously excited to see Vanishing Point on Wednesday 03AUG2005 in South Bank Cinema 3 at 9:20pm. On the surface it has a fairly minimalist plot, the power of it was in it being part of the long forgotten past and an indulgent B-grade action film. Naked girls riding motor bikes and stunts galore. As previously mentioned there was something in car chases from this era where you feel the speed of the vehicles, there is always a sense that tyres won’t hold, the car could veer out of control and it makes you feel more connected to the action. This film was made in 1971, before The French Connection, barely after Bullitt and The Italian Job. The kind of car chases I grew up regularly seeing in film and tv were in their infancy and it is remarkable how much this film has never been bettered for what it captured. Every shot is beautiful and creates such kinetic energy, a wonderful collaboration of cinematography and editing. As time has gone on though the central conceit of the lead character Kowalski broken down by life and effectively committing one long act of suicide has only increased in value. The film does reflect the disillusionment of the time, raging against the man, (Kowalski is a man formerly of respectful institutions who has completely turned his back on them) but a sense that the flower power is over too and offered no solace to Kowalski either. With minimalist dialogue too the of vagueness of why Kowalski is doing what he is doing only makes it more powerful. I find it a lot deeper now but at the time it was immediately a BIFF highlight.

 

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PADAM ONNU: ORU VILAPAM: Another Showcase screening at BIFF 2005 was the French actioner 36 Quai des Orfevres which I was very tempted to see but I was committed to seeing films from all around the world and so instead I saw on Thursday the 4th of August 2005 in South Bank Cinema 4 at 6:30pm Padam Onnu: Oru Vilapam from the Fifty Years of Malayalam Cinema program. Directed by T.V. Chandram who started out as an actor and an assistant in the film industry. The title translated into English means Lesson One: A Wail. The film follows a talented young girl growing up in rural India who is good at her studies but the culture around her wants her to get married off and some of these marriages don’t last. I was caught up in the narrative of this film and the plight of the young girl played by Meera Jasmine (who won Best Actress at the Indian National Film Awards for her performance) which was so affecting. I still haven’t seen the French film.

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GATTACA: As part of the CineSparks program for young people there were free screenings in the Suncorp Piazza just a stone’s throw away from the South Bank Cinemas. I went over during one of my volunteering stints and watched Gattaca (which I had seen on VHS a few years earlier) at the Piazza 10am on Friday the 5th of August. I was moved more this time, the ending is quite sublime. Additionally for those who are fans or not fans of the actor Jude Law I urge you to check out his performance in this film which is very impressive. I won’t spoil it for you here but the plot is about a young man played by Ethan Hawke who is growing up in a world where most people have their children genetically conceived. This is not cloning but your offspring are essentially a combination of the best of your genes. Hawke’s parents conceived him the old fashioned way at the advent of all of all of this. With birth  defects rare a class divide has sprouted up, people pick partners based on the best combination of genes and those with weak hearts, bad eyesight are doomed to less fruitful employment, etc, etc. In some ways these are truths that have long existed but this kicks it into another gear. Yet there have always been people that fight the status quo, that dream big and pursue their goals no matter the obstacle. There is no gene for the human spirit.

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PIN BOY: Pin Boy screened Saturday 30JUL2005 in South Bank Cinema 4 at 2:10pm. I may have seen it then but I believe more likely I saw it at another session on Friday the 5th of August in South Bank Cinema 4 too at 1:50pm. I probably just got to go in during my Volly Shift, not planning on seeing the film or buying a ticket but it seemed interesting. It was from Argentina and told the story of a young man from the country working in  manually operated ten pin bowling alley. I knew that once upon a time bowling alleys had been like this in my country and I was keen to see another place in the world that I may not see without the power of film. I’m afraid the festival was catching up with me and I fell asleep during the film at a couple of points and its so long ago I can’t tell you much more except that it was interesting and I wish I had not snoozed a bit.

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NEAR DARK: We’re heading towards the final weekend of BIFF 2005 where on Friday the 5th of August 2005 I went to Regent Cinema 1 to watch another Blacktop Dreams film  Near Dark at 5pm. Kathryn Bigelow’s career was not in hyper drive at that time but Near Dark was a cult classic and everybody loved Point Break. This has a lot going for it, made in the wake of Aliens sharing certain cast members, nostalgia for the 80s, a vampire movie. On the point of Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen they are brilliant. If you only know Goldstein as Vasquez in Aliens then check her out here and Bill Paxton was always such a character. It’s very sad he is no longer with us. I thought I would love this film and was a little underwhelmed by my reaction. Its true it was gorgeous looking film, my heart was warmed just to see Pepsi signs the way they used to be and the vampire characters were an interesting idea for how to see vampires. Essentially a family unit and white trash Image result for near darkrather than European aristocracy. Image result for interview with a vampireThey didn’t look sexy, they looked miserable but also loyal to each other. Think about the last words Lance Henriksen’s character says in the film and you kind of have a really strong theme there. Maybe it is due a re-watch.

Well that’s it for Part II, hopefully we’ll conclude 2005 with Part III. I hope you’re enjoying this look back at not just film but the history of the festival itself and the inspiration it can provide to young minds far from the streets of Hollywood and open up the whole world’s cultures, regions and histories to those who can’t afford to travel far.

-Lloyd Marken