Barely eight weeks ago there wasn’t a Brisbane International Film Festival.
Controversially wound down in 2014 in favour of the now defunct Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, it was only in mid-June that a press release was sent out announcing BIFF’s surprise return.
The festival kicks off this week, and for co-directors Maxine Williamson and Richard Sowada to have pulled together a full program of films in such a short amount of time is impressive, to say the least. The final line-up has six Australian premieres, one international premiere and numerous award-winning titles.
Williamson likes to describe BIFF 2017’s 60 titles as her and Sowada’s “personal cupboard of films”. “We want a younger generation to get a taste of what foreign language is and independent cinema … to give a broader understanding of the world,” she says. “Not just what they see on Netflix or television.”
The films tell stories from different cultures around the world, including marginalised groups using forms of cinema that aren't as accessible as others. The selection is intended to engage, educate, provide entertainment and showcase local and international talent as well as emerging filmmakers.
We asked Williamson to pick six must-sees at this year’s festival.
“I want to mention our opening-night gala, The Square. It won the Palme d’Or [highest award prize] at the Cannes Film Festival this year. It’s a biting, humorous, Swedish satire. Brisbane audiences will really enjoy it because Australian tradition is to make fun of ourselves and our mates in a lighthearted way and The Square does that. It’s a great opportunity for locals to see the top film of the year.”
“I would recommend everyone see Cate Blanchett perform 12 distinctively different characters in the German film, Manifesto. It is in many ways a true art film where she embodies different manifestos such as Dadaism, minimalism, conceptual art. She’s incredible. It’s an opportunity to see Cate in her fine brilliance.”
On Body and Soul
“On Body and Soul won the Sydney film prize at the Sydney Film Festival and the Golden Bear award at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. This is a beautiful, tender film that looks at how love can be found in the strangest of places and among the most unlikely of people.”
Last Men in Aleppo
“I think it’s really important for people in countries like Australia to understand exactly what's going on in Syria. Last Men in Aleppo won the top prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year and it explores what's happening in the city and the White Helmets who have so bravely rushed in to save lives. It is directed by a Syrian filmmaker [Feras Fayyad] and is a heartbreaking documentary.”
Life Is a Very Strange Thing
“We have a very beautiful world premiere of an Australian film, Life Is a Very Strange Thing, directed by Les McLaren and Annie Stiven. This was shot over two years in France, Cambodia and Australia. It’s an observational piece full of warmth and tenderness and follows this gentleman named Frédéric as he returns to Paris. The film captures his concerns, worries and anxieties about the Paris he used to know compared to what it is now. It looks at the political situation with the rise of the far right, the terrorism attacks – but there's also wine and cheese and convivial conversation. It’s a delightful piece of cinema and a lovely way to spend the afternoon.”
“The final film in the program, Broken Ghost, will have its world premiere at BIFF and is a great example of what some Australians are doing overseas creatively. Director Richard Gray is an Australian director and producer living and working in LA. Shot in Montana, this is a beautiful coming of age tale wrapped around a ghost story. It’s an exceptional example of what you can do creatively for not the greatest amount of money.”
The Brisbane International Film Festival runs from August 17 to September 3 at Palace Barracks and Palace Centro cinemas.