Brisbane International Film Festival - something tropical this way comes

David Tiley

BIFF's slice through the year's films finds some favourites but begins an aesthetic which may become more and more a spirit of a distinctive place.
Brisbane International Film Festival - something tropical this way comes

Image: Celeste

The Brisbane International Film Festival has been thrashing around for some years, changing owners and festival directors, but always determined to relate to its local audience. But there are different visions of that project, as Screen Queensland tries to ensure that practicing filmmakers have a chance to learn. 

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Whatever the approach, it has been necessary to build audiences while the big four of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Revelation already have a core community to evangelise the brand. 

Now the festival has landed at QAGOMA, the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art which has consistently offered fascinating and provocative programs through the year which make outsiders jealous. It is a great base to finally house a festival which has wandered the culture like some giant steam engine on legs, a hybrid of Star Wars and Studio Ghibli. QAGOMA has built fest-nests across the city in willing cinemas. 

The opening night this year is Celeste, shot in Queensland with the nature-loving decadence of a truly Westernised tropical world. It is something to watch a film where almost everyone has muscly legs and shorts, as if high art has been taken over by giant munchkins. The high art being a desperate opera singer played by Radha Mitchell who is trying to recover her voice and plunges into a lake of memory with her estranged stepson, both of them in search of redemption. 

We have come to expect these sensual morality tales and stately structures from Queensland filmmakers as Ben Hackworth's feature fits in with My Mistress from Stephen Lance and The Butterfly Tree conjured by Priscilla Cameron. 

The closing night is Leave No Trace, already in release across Australia. That is unusual but it underlines the fact that local releases don't necessarily matter as patrons may want to see the flick in a crowded cinema. This outing comes with a party and the film is by the fiercely wonderful Debra Granik who made Winter's Bone, one of the key indy films in recent US history.

Ladies in Black slipped away from the Australian festival circuit, but will appear here as director Bruce Beresford and producer Sue Millikan are in the spotlight. The screening will trigger a discussion between the two of them about their long collaboration which could be pungent and anecdotal, while Beresford will present his five favourite films. They are patrons of the festival. 

Producer Rosemary Blight and performer Miranda Tapsell will host a screening of The Sapphires. The discussion will flow to Top End Wedding which has been shooting in the Northern Territory, run by the Goalpost team, written by Miranda Tapsell and Joshua Tyler and directed by Wayne Blair. 

The standouts in this program also include the Afghani morality journey in Jirga, which is quiet but taut and thoughtful; Acute Misfortune about the Sydney painter Adam Cullen has left audiences floored at other festivals; Can You Ever Forgive Me will be embraced by arthouse audiences; Our House is a Japanese ghost story (yes!); and Shoplifters is a festival favourite by Japanese genius Hirokazu Koreeda.

Documentary Island of the Hungry Ghosts strikes people emotionally and adds more to the refugee discussion. Ghosthunter, also Australian, starts as a portrait of an eccentric and gets much darker and more poignant. Finke: there and back was the hoot of MIFF, simply a joyous account of an insane motorcycle race in Central Australia by Dylan River, Warwick Thornton's son. 

Under Cover of Cloud is the ultimate low budget film in which the director is the producer is the writer is the star while the other actors are his family. It works, as a whimsical search for something vaguely strange and a portrait of Tasmanian life. You will wish you had been born in that family unless your parents are pretty terrific.

The Wild Pear Tree is a Turkish film by Nuri Bilge Ceylan who made Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and then Winter's Sleep, which was pretty wonderful. 

Chinese crime film Ash is Purest White and Icelandic eco-fable Woman at War were both at MIFF. I felt as though I had seen something new and wonderful in both of them. 

The bravura special event is a homage to Teiji Ito, a Japanese screen composer who died in 1982. 

For this unique event, researcher and musician Michiko Ogawa has transcribed Ito’s original recordings in detail, and assembled a group of musicians to realise a worldfirst live performance of six of Ito’s most well-known film scores with screenings of 16mm films. Screenings will include Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon 1943 and The Very Eye of Night 1958, alongside Menken’s Dwightiana 1959.

Continuing the now traditional motif of silent films with new soundtracks, a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc by Dane Carl Dreyer made in 1928 collides with a post-rock band from rural Queensland called 'hazards of swimming naked'. I have no idea how those two will fit together - but that is the point of a film festival.

Don't forget the filmmaker workshop strand. Funding the gap, finding the audience and cinematic storytelling: colour and light should offer some insights. 

About the author

David Tiley is the editor of Screen Hub.