Well, the time draws nigh when, if I were in Brisbane, I would be getting all excited about another BIFF: Brisbane International Film Festival. Seeing that I won't have the opportunity to see any BIFF movies this year, I shall mark the occassion and dampen my nostalgia with this extremely belated post.
Let me start with our selection process. You see, BIFF runs for 10 days and shows “more than 200 films” (from BIFF's promotional). I have been doing this ever since I turned 18 (some of the movies have not been classified by the Office of Film and Literature Classification – Australia's resident censorial board – and so one must not be of tender years and disposition to watch). My first ever BIFF, I saw five films. Each year, it increased as I got more money. Then, for my 21st, my delightful family got me a you-can-go-to-every-single-session Gold Pass. Plus they gave me some spending money so that I would remember to eat, too. Most years, I fall sick following BIFF – too many late nights, too little food = immune system kaput.
The very first thing to do is ascertain what you can afford money-wise and time-wise. These days, money is less of an issue and time much more so. Back in the good ol' university days, it was the other way around. I keep telling myself that I will take my annual leave during BIFF – but it seems like such a waste. I'm just hanging around the city, after all.
Next, you purchase the BIFF programme. Sure, there's a free one – but it doesn't tell you anywhere near enough information to ensure a well informed and suitably discriminating choice. I nevertheless pick up a few of these free ones and drop them off to friends and acquaintainces; to encourage them.
Then, you make a list as you read the programme cover to cover. The list should have three symbols (you may chose what symbols you wish, but I prefer the following):-
* - must see
@ - really want to see
~ - want to see
The way I ascertain my must sees / really want to sees and want to sees is a combination of factors: director (very important), whether I predict wider distribution, country of origin, synopsis, reviewer. No one factor takes precedence over another. Although predicted wider distribution will usually rule out a film pretty quickly.
Last, you try to convert your list of movies into a workable timetable. This is the tricky part as you juggle clashes and (sigh) working the 0830 to 1800 grind. In 2006, we had the aid of a spiffy Excel spreadsheet – colour co-ordinated and all.
I have a few film buddies, and they sometimes derail my choices. This is okay – it's part of the fun. One of the joys of BIFF is being told by a fellow film buff, or even a complete stranger, how great a film was, and when it's next on. Then the balancing act of whether to remain with the well thought out timetable or throw caution to the wind and exchange tickets. I've seen some real gems in the 'throwing caution to the winds' fashion.
And then, for about two weeks, you rarely eat at home, you rush from work into the cinema, from one cinema into another and then stagger home, exhausted from the visual and emotional stimulation. Then you wake up and start it all over again. Oh, and you have to drink plenty of coffee and eat lots of chocolate. Sadly, halfway through this year's BIFF I had to give up coffee. I was a tetchy zombie for a good part of BIFF.
But I suppose you are more interested in the films?
This is a list of my highlights.
I'll let you google the synopses and give only my impressions. If you saw / will see any of these, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
The expected delights:-
- Jan Svankmeyer's Lunacy
I have loved Jan Svankmeyer ever since I first saw Conspirators of Pleasure. He has such a tactile appreciation of how humans interact. This one showed lots of slabs of steak and sausages rolling about and working their way to empty skulls to flesh them out, as a thematic structure for the madhouse goings-on of the plot.
- The Cave of the Yellow Dog
By the same director who made The Story of the Weeping Camel, this is another vehicle for a nomadic Mongolian family to show off just how incredibly cute their children are. My favourite part is where the young girl – who is effectively the lead – keeps trying to bite the middle of her palm (part of a lesson her mother teaches her). “It seems so close, yet you cannot have it,” Mother says. And Mother is right.
- Everlasting Regret
By Stanley Kwan, he of 'Lan Yu' and 'Red Rose, White Rose' fame. Mesmerisingly shot, stylish and quiet – one gets a keen sense of the main character's desperation and sheer determination. You could compare it to In the Mood for Love if you were being lazy.
The quirky joys:-
- Executive Koala
A koala in a business suit, who works for a rabbit (also in a business suit), goes on a killing rampage in Tokyo. The finale battle scene where everyone revives, hugs each other and then fireworks go off is inanely delightful or delightfully inane. I'm not sure which.
- Princess Racoon
By Seijo Suzuki, who also did Pistol Opera, this stylised mythic opera with hip hop, blues 'n' roots and a fabulous ultra-pop duet is sheer aural and visual over-stimulation. And the golden frog that says “kerop, kerop” like all Japanese frogs do is hilariously weird.
- Men at Work
A Turkish film about four men who go on a drive somewhere (we never do know where), see a big phallic rock and decide it must be toppled. Their heroic attempts come to naught but they recruit passers-by in their obsessive quest, in the meantime revealing much about themselves. Wonderful dialogue.
The sublime films:-
- Into Great Silence
In 1982, the film-maker approached a monastery in Switzerland - Le Grand Chartreuse-, reputed to be the most ascetic in the world, for permission to film on location. The monastery said they were not ready and that they would call. More than a decade later, they do call the film-maker to say: We are ready now. With very little dialogue and intermingled with three repeating quotes, the audience enters the contemplative life. We watch monks pray, chop wood, have lunch and garden. And we watch them play on the side of the mountain. I used to want to become a hermit. This film only flamed that fire.
Women in a village in Turkey decide to put on a play about their lives, and in the meantime explore facets of themselves and gain a heart-warming self confidence. Feminist consciousness raising in a very grass-roots fashion indeed.
By a Japanese animator, this film could not be described as coherent, but was certainly beautifully crafted.
This film opened my eyes to a phenomenon I was unaware of: the approbation received by Japanese who had volunteered in Iran, were kidnapped and then released unharmed. Returning home from this ordeal, a young woman finds herself discriminated against: in her work, on the street, at a convenience store. She is spat upon and alternately lectured and ignored. An interesting exploration of ideas about selfishness and patriotism / parochialism.
- Death of Mr Lazarescu
A Croatian film about a man who is dying and trying to seek help. We are privy to the incomprehensible hospital bureaucracy, and its callousness. Being somewhat familiar with hospitals, it is sad to say that there is little difference between a former Communist country and Australia.
- Terry Gilliam's Tideland (don't bother): some fabulously fantastic images. Otherwise a story lacking in something – I think it was heart, but it could also have been convincing plot (even within the surreal realm it established) or characters you cared about.
- Mongolian Ping Pong: could have been charming and just wasn't.Oh, and it took too long.
And the interminable:-
- The Neighbour no. 13: overwrought and meaningless horror, with an attempt to stuff meaning in.
- Longing: A German movie I can't for the life of me work out why I chose (director perhaps?); my partner insists that it was my choice and, unfortunately, I am honest enough to admit that it probably was. I have this to say in my notes, made during BIFF: Waste of energy. Should have slept.
- Corpse – in which I did fall asleep. You probably won't get the opportunity to (it is an Australian surreal film, made in the mid-70s), but if you do, avoid.