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Brisbane International Film Festival 2005 - Daily Diaries - Part 1
by Trevor Gensch

Come with me over the next 12 days as I take you through the wonders and excitement of the Brisbane International Film Festival 2005.

Tuesday 2nd August 2005

Had the opportunity to look over the BIFF Top 10 listing as it stands so far. For those familiar with the festival, the black-shirted attendants will thrust a rectangular bit of paper in your hand as you enter. At each film, the presenter (Hi Anne! Hi Gary!) will urge you to tear it up, corresponding with what you thought of the film and/or accompany short.

Then the results are tabulated, several complex and and highly classified formulas are applied, and presto, a Top 10 appears.

So here is the Top 10 so far:

1. I Know I’m Not Alone
2. Machuca
3. Mysterious Skin
4. Murderball
5. The Mighty Celt
6. Paradise Now
7. The Taste of Tea (screens again 5/8 8.45pm)
8. Me and You and Everyone We Know
9. Phil the Alien (screens again 5/8 10.45pm)
10. Dumplings

Certainly some worthy entries in that list in a festival that has exceeded my expectations with regards to the quality of films on offer.

After my break from the festival on Monday, it was back into it today with a look at the works of Owen Land.

Owen Land (or George Landow as he was known whilst making his short films) is an experimental filmmaker from New York. His work has been pigeonholed by the phrase "Structural Filmmaking", a category that Landow vehemently rebels against.

His work can best be described as peeling back the layers of film itself, both metaphorically and in reality. For example, his film Bardo Follies is little more than 20 minutes of film melting. But Landow makes you look beyond the surface, even make the seemingly mundane exciting.

The program today featured a selection of his earlier works such as What is Wrong with This Picture and On the Marriage Broker Joke as cited by Sigmund Freud..., the latter of which draws bizarre parallels between the marriage broker and japanese salted plums.

Not an easy session to sit through but interesting nonetheless. 7 out of 10.

Bombon El Perno is an Argentenian offering that was a wonderful way to finish off my evening. If there was ever a film that the word "feelgood" was invented for, then this one would be it. Everything in this film lifts the spirit, and gives one hope.

That isn't to say that its a saccharine serving of schmaltz, far from it. It's presented in a very real way that makes you empathise with the central characters on an extraordinarily believable level.

This film does not put a foot wrong from start to finish.

It's a tragedy that Bombon El Perno isn't getting another BIFF screening, but it is on general release later in the year, and I strongly urge you all to check it out, it's that good.

I guarantee it's the only film in which two dugs humping makes your heart pump perceptibly faster in sheer joy. 10 out of 10.

Films I am seeing on Wednesday 3rd August - My Beautiful Washing Machine and Manners of Dying.

Sunday 31st July 2005

"It reminds me of something, I just don't know what".

I bet Director Kieran Galvin gets that a lot, and I am sure he is going to hear it a lot more now that his debut feature Puppy has had its Australian premiere today.

Galvin's film is a bizarre tale of obsession and love in its most twisted form. Rescued during a suicide attempt, Lizzie is taken back to the home of Aiden, a confused young man who thinks that she is his wife, who left him.

So overjoyed that his wife is now back with him, wants to make sure she never leaves him again. So he ties her up.

And so begins the main story of Puppy, part thriller, part escape drama, but mostly a story about love, but just not in a form you may have seen it before.

It's a confident first feature, with beautiful Victorian wine country visuals set against the harsh bleak cityscapes of inner-city Melbourne. Galvin makes the viewer work for the meaning in his films, and even when you think you have figured it out he gives you something else to challenge your perceptions.

The performances from all involved are subtle and engaging, particularly Bernard Curry as the disturbed Aiden.

Bold, beautiful and always entertaining, Puppy is a film that is crying out for a local release to let the rest of Australia see this man's vision. 9 out of 10.

A short break tomorrow from the festival. Be sure to check out though the Chauvel Awards Presentation in town on Monday night - presented by David Stratton. Always an entertaining event, this year the award is being given to Australian director David Bradbury.

Films coming up on Tuesday 2nd August - I take a look at the works of Owen Land in the Reverence retrospective, and the charming film Bombon El Perro.

Saturday 30th July 2005

A very mixed bag of films today at BIFF. It's always very hard to pick consistent winners from the descriptions in the catalogue - part of the fun of the festival I suppose. I don't begrudge it for a minute though!

First up today was a French film, Changing Times. Gerard Depardieu stars as Antoine, a forlorn and lonely man, who on a business trip to Tangiers decides to look up his first true love Cecile and see if there is any spark still there. Of course, as is always the case, she has moved on, married, children and seemingly happy life. Does Antoine interfere with her new life and win her back, or does he accept that his time has past and move on?

Changing Times presents us with two sides of Tangiers; the bustling, forward-looking city that welcomes the new development that Antoine and his company can bring to it, and the traditional side with its strong hold on its ancient beliefs. A side-story looks at the clash between old and new very effectively with a sister, long since moved away from her homeland, returns after six years to seek out her twin sister. She is scared by what her new experiences could do to her - she wants little to do with her, despite the strong family bond that simmers between them.

Engaging and intelligent performances from all the cast make this film a great ensemble piece and a real pleasure to watch. It's playing again on the 5th August, and I would strong recommend those who enjoy French film should check this one out. 9 out of 10.

Every festival has to have a few duds, and unfortunately I struck one today. Banffy Castle offered so much as presented in the guide - a bleak look at a Romanian hospital, a bleak, neglected institution which houses the invalid, insane and the forgotten. The residents live in conditions that would be barely fit for a dog - lice and cockroach infested beds, clothes that are only washed 4 times a year, and food that seems barely able to support life. This may all be slightly bearable if the hospital had a staff that actually was effective - but so many times we are shown medical personnel who are totally unaware of the condition of their charges - in fact they rely on fellow patients to inform them of their current aliments.

The visuals are engaging, but the maudlin voice-over from the filmmaker goes from being merely annoying to downright intrusive. I am not watching this documentary to hear about how much he hates the place; I want to hear that from the patients. I don't want to hear bad poetry from him about the bleakness of the castle, I want to hear more about the conditions. More research, less florid prose please. 6 out of 10.

Mighty Celt offers the viewer a wonderful look at a slice of Ireland, with young Donal training a young greyhound, the titular Mighty Celt, against the better wishes of his friend and boss, Good Joe (played with brooding grumpiness by Ken Stott). If Donal can get him to win three races, the dog is his to keep.

At the same time "O" returns to town, trying to pick up the pieces of his shattered life. He hasn't been back to Belfast since his time in the IRA, where he was present when Donal's Uncle was killed in the ongoing battles. O tries to rekindle the relationship with Donal's mother, but can anything happen with the spectre of what happened to her brother between them?

A special mention must go to Gillian Anderson, who is virtually unrecognisable in this film - her thick Irish accent and wafer thin looks are far removed from what most people are used to seeing her as.

Never an easy film, Mighty Celt is a film brimming with passion; passion for the love of a greyhound, passion for a cause worth dying for, and passion unrequited. It's playing again on the 2nd August. 9 out of 10.

Last film for the day, another French offering - Pale Eyes. Young Fanny is a woman with some mental problems - suicidal, aggressive and totally unpredictable. She keeps the symptoms relatively under control with the help of medication. Living with her over-protective brother and his distrustful wife, Fanny earns a small amount of money doing cleaning for a local pensioner. When walking in town one day she spies her sister-in-law playing around with another man, which begins to tip her over the edge again.

So she does what any mentally unbalanced person does, attack the wife, steal her car and drive to Germany to find the grave of her father, who barely knew her.

Offering assistance with a flat tire, she meets a local man, Oskar who befriends her. And so begins an unlikely friendship, perhaps love.

What is unique about this film is that due to the language barrier between Fanny and Oskar the entire last half of the film barely a word is spoken. We watch a relationship grow between the two with body language, nuance and stolen glances - nothing but their purest feelings for each other are allowed to intrude.

A difficult film at times to connect with, it is however one that offers an interesting glimpse into a very different kind of relationship. Give it a look if you haven't already again on the 1st August. 7 out of 10.

Two films to see tomorrow - the Australian premiere of BIFF darling Kieran Galvin's first feature film, Puppy, and Japanese offering The Taste of Tea.

Friday 29th July 2005

Second day at BIFF and I make my first (and hopefully only!) gaffe. Decided to take a leisurely stroll across the river from my work to Southbank Cinemas to see my first film, and arrived only to find the film was playing at the Regent back in town! My fault entirely... I felt a real tool.... nice walk though...

But anyway, a couple of good films today, a real cross-section of what the festival has to offer.

First up was the latest film from director Wim Wenders Land of Plenty. Lana, a courageous and intelligent young woman has returned to the country of her birth to track down Paul, her uncle. Paul is a Vietnam vet, who in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, spends his day "defending" Los Angeles from his mobile HQ, conducting surveillance on possible terror targets.

When a homeless man Middle Eastern man is gunned down in cold blood Lana convinces Paul to take the body back to his only living relative, in Trona, 200 miles outside Los Angeles. Lana is merely seeking some dignity for this forgotten man, while Paul sees the trip as a perfect opportunity to track down some terrorist sleeper cells.

But Paul doesn't bargain on the trip being a life changing one, a journey that puts the world out of his control, beyond his ability to shape the events around him to his own warped world-view.

Land of Plenty is a film with plenty to say, but not one that overwhelms you with its message. It can be enjoyed as a solid piece of entertainment, while at the same time delving into the paranoia that grips some people in the USA after 9/11. 9 out of 10.

Now for a completely different look at terrorism - Promised Land. We follow the final hours of two young men who have been recruited to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel. It is certainly a gritty, realistic film, and it challenges your own perceptions about the "innocent" participants in this very different kind of war.

Never an easy film to watch, especially when the young mens loyalty is put to its ultimate test late in the film, Promised Land is an engaging journey. 7 out of 10.

To end my evening, I had a look at Me, You and Everyone You Know, a strange but poetic film from former performance artist and first-time director Miranda July.

The narrative is only secondary to this series of insights into loneliness, obsession and the quest for love. Typical of the quirkiness of this piece is its opening scenes of a desperate father trying to capture the attention of his children by setting himself alight, or a goldfish forgotten on the roof of a moving car.

A fascinating film, one which allows the viewer to coax their own feelings from it. 8 out of 10.

The weekend beckons, and with it a full day of BIFF fun. Changing Times, Banffy Castle, Mighty Celt and Pale Eyes reviewed tomorrow.

Thursday 28 July 2005

Every year I go to BIFF I always seem to end up catching one of the films at the beginning of the first proper day of screening - and this year is no exception. So I find myself settling into one of the comfy seats at Southbank Cinemas to watch the documentary Based on a True Story

You have all seen Dog Day Afternoon right? Well, see the real story behind the true story as filmmaker Walter Stockman talks with the people behind the characters from that film, including the garrulous and wily John Wojtowicz, the man behind the robbery.

The film paints an interesting picutre of Wojtowicz, who in 1972, driven to desperation over his cross-dressing boyfriend's wish to have a sex change operation, attempted to rob the Chase Manhattan bank to finance the deed. Rather than being a simple snatch and grab, it turned into a 14 hour stand off which left his accomplice dead and Wojtowicz imprisoned, ignored and bitter.

Stockman tries not to judge Wojtowicz either way, presenting the events in a reasonably even-handed manner. This is even after various demands for substantial amounts of money to change hands forces Stockman to forgo his initial ideas for an interview with the robbery mastermind.

Well worth checking out if you want more on the bizarre true story that inspired the film. It's playing again on the 6th August. 8 out of 10.

Now, the moment you have all been waiting for - I promised that I would reveal the winners of the Fast Film comp from the other night.

The reason I didn't reveal them yesterday was because I am still in shock - the two winners were the most unoriginal and derivative offerings of the evening.

The film that won the big prize was Doleumentary, which I didn't have many kind things to say about yesterday. I knew it would appeal to the audience watching, but not for one moment did I think the aging judging panel would go ga ga over it.

The prize for the Under-25 Category went to Freddie's Story. While it wasn't a bad film, it again wasn't particularly original. I also hate those sucker-punch type of shorts.

On my schedule for Friday are three films - Land of Plenty, Paradise Now and Me, You and Everyone We Know.

BIFF got off to a cracking start today with not one, but two major events lighting up South Bank Parklands. For the toffs and invited guests, the Opening Night film U-Carmen eKhayelitsha played over at South Bank Cinemas, and for the rest of us we enjoyed the BIFF Fast Film Competition at the Southbank Piazza.

I opted for the latter, partly because I wasn't keen on seeing a bunch of South African's attempt at opera, but mostly because BIFF doesn't think the media worthy of an invite unless they pay up. But that's cool. I know which of us will be drunker at the after party, but I know which of us will have more fun than the suits.

But back to Fast Film - it's a simple concept - create a sub-five minute short film in fifty days, using a secret ingredient. This year the ingredient was "dive", so each film had to incorporate it somewhere in its running time.

The evening got off to a subdued start with some entertainment by local act Aphrodisiac, who during their hour long set managed to cram in a staggering 6 songs. And I am sure they repeated three of them. Well at least they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The night was hosted by a coiffured Channel 10 celebrity whose name totally escapes me, who earned his fee by plugging who provided his suit, and introducing the 3 sets of five films comprising the finalists.

I'll preface my reviews of the films by saying that many of the offerings were marred by poor sound and generally atrocious presentation. The screen at the Piazza was almost like watching a postage stamped sized picture blown up to full screen - plenty of pixellation, washed out colour and terrible contrast. So my apologise to those who feel my opinions below are too harsh - you can feel consoled that some of that harshness is due to the substandard conditions.

So, what were they like? In no particular order (with scores out of 10).:

Umbrella - Amongst the early morning droves of business people, a misplaced man discovers a forgotten umbrella. Through it he is able to escape the monotony of the great city, finding himself free for the first time.

A great opener to the evening - a simple concept given form in some deceptively simple drawings. The ending almost brought a tear to my eye. 9

The Job - Stuck in a dark, run-down hide-away, two robbers need to pull off the ultimate job to get their lives back on track and set up their futures.

Nice punchline ruined by poor execution - the dive element was badly shoehorned in also. Even a five minute film has got to have more than one idea in it. 6

A Doleumentary - A Doleumentary sets out to put the books straight about unemployment.

A film that could only be made by whinging dole bludgers to begin with. Tedious government-bashing and "I wanna work but I don't wanna work for the dole" no-hopers in a wall to wall whinge-fest. 4

Freddie's Story - Freddie was born to surf. He lives for it and the perfect wave. This is his story.

These guys have taken a leaf from the Spierig Brothers School of Filmmaking - make a deadly serious piece until the last 10 seconds and obtain a cheap, easy and pointless laugh. Nicely put together though. 7

Flipside - Sean has started to go out with Karen. He hangs around a lot.

Probably the most affected by the poor sound and video; I had a hard time following this one which probably ruined the enjoyment a bit - a shame. 6

Swim - a distressed mother takes her daughter to the local swimming pool to play what appears to be a simple game, but her mother doesn't want to let her go...

Ridiculous story about a mother apparently trying to teach her daughter to swim but for some reason doing it at an empty pool. The empty pool was obvious some time before its reveal due to poorly chosen camera angles - making it obvious there was no water. 3

The Trolley Man - Gary is a trolley boy who dreams of becoming a trolley man.

Wryly funny piece wearing its homages proudly and loudly. Better location filming and tighter editing would have made this a highlight of the night. 7

Still in Contention - Sonny gets roped into taking a dive to replay his trainer's gambling debt that extends deeper than he thinks

Film-noir on a non-existent budget. Well done, but ultimately unmemorable and a bit overblown and self-important.5

Tools - Seven work friends become rivals in the factory fighting to become the winner. It's a survival of the fittest. But who is really the dominant, and who are the 'tools'?

If there was an audience vote this one would have got it - like Trolley Man its a film with obvious influences, and it carries them out even better. Good stuff.8

The Discrete Art of Daydreaming - Edwin is a telemarketer who is bored with his soul-destroying job. A soul agent hands him a book to take his mind off his work.

A film that I was screaming out to make some sort of point but it never did. Nicely shot and acted with good audience hooks. 7

Splash - Two fun-loving outcasts join together when they are shunned by their peers for being different.

Why is it animation so often delivers us the best short films? Whimsical tale of non-conformity and acceptance, Splash is simply but intelligently drawn with plenty of humour. 9

The Dive - A skydiver has a terrible miscalculation upon diving in the middle of the desert.

Why is it that animation can get it so wrong? Total waste of time. How did this one get to be a finalist? If it was made by a first-time animator or a very young person I apologise for my comments, but otherwise... 3

The Little Creek - Bill remembers his childhood and the games he played with his first love, Mary at the little creek.

Lovely tale of reminiscing about ones childhood. An interesting visual style for a film that doesn't try to preach, just tells it like it is. 7

Poodle Girl - For an eleven year old girl, the most important thing is to get a white, fluffy poodle. But getting the dog of your dreams doesn't guarantee happiness.

The highlight of the evening for me - lovely tale of a young girl who just wants a poodle. It has charm, humour and pathos all in abundant helpings. 10

Undercommunicationg - The breakdown of a relationship seen through the reflections and memories of a woman.

Talky offering about the lack of communication between a feuding couple. Plenty of nattering, but little real meaning. 5

And the winner is... well, you will have to come back and read the next instalment of my diaries to find out... isn't suspense a killer?

Tomorrow - the first day of the festival proper, and I take a look at the absorbing documentary Based on a True Story

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originally posted: 07/28/05 12:43:41
last updated: 08/03/05 11:04:36
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