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A Look At This Year's Brisbane International Film Festival


The Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) will be held over an 11 day period between July 30 and August 9.  I first attended BIFF in 1995 and have had a lot of great memories over the years.  One of these days, I’ll have to do a tribute piece.

 

So what’s so great about BIFF?  Well, it’s a chance to see over 100 different films.  Each week, we have an average of 4 films released in major cinemas.  Here’s an opportunity to see a bunch of films that will never get an Australian release.

 

Here’s a look at some of the key features from this year’s BIFF:

·  A spotlight on actor Amitabh Bachcahn – 2 of his films will be screened.

·  A spotlight on actress Jeanne Moreau – 4 of her films will be screened, introduced by David Stratton.

·  A huge focus on world cinema.

·  A group of films from Queensland filmmakers in honour of our state’s 150th anniversary.

·  A separate “Asterisks” program which highlights the world of abstract, artistic and challenging films.

 

Many stars and filmmakers will be attending BIFF including Carey Mulligan (the star of An Education who is tipped to earn an Oscar nomination next year) and veteran Aussie actors Anthony LaPaglia and Gary Sweet.  It’s great to hear the question and answer sessions which follow many of the screenings – it can provide an insight into how the films were made.

 

At each screening, audience members can rate the film on a scale from 1-5.  These votes are then tabulated with the most popular films announced at the close of the festival.  There are also special juries which select winners in specific categories (e.g.  Asian Cinema).

 

I like to spend my time seeing some of the more high profile releases.  I know some will get a nationwide cinema release down the track but it’s still cool to see them in advance, particularly when stars are in attendance.  The cost for most sessions is around $15 (or $13.50 for concessions).  Showcase films (there are a handful of those) are $20.  The gala opening night, which includes an after party, is $55.

 

You can find out more and book tickets through the BIFF website - http://www.stgeorgebiff.com.au/.  It can be wise to book early – especially for the bigger films.  I’ve been burnt before by waiting too long.

 

If you’re looking for a sampling of what’s on offer, here are some of 10 films that I intend to see.  Hopefully I’ll see you at the festival!

 

An Education – Thu, 30 Jul at 7:30pm

Romance, drama, intrigue—An Education is an entertaining portrayal of the growing pains that accompany early adulthood. Set in the London suburb of Twickenham in 1961, the story centres around Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a witty overachiever in her last year at a strict girls’ school. Enter David (Peter Sarsgaard), a charismatic older man whose seemingly innocent intrusion into Jenny’s life catalyses her dreams of becoming a cultured socialite. A romance quickly develops between the pair, and Jenny’s previously steadfast educational commitments all but evaporate with the promise of marriage—that is, until an untimely truth surfaces about David, teaching Jenny that her real education has only just begun.

 

Balibo – Sun, 9 Aug at 8pm

When Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, five young newsmen working for Australian television were caught in the crossfire. Well, that’s the official line.  This powerful and suspenseful political thriller re-creates the events surrounding their shooting by Indonesian soldiers on 16 October, intercutting them with the story of an older journalist, Roger East, subsequently invited to East Timor by José Ramos-Horta to uncover the truth behind their deaths. But the important questions asked of East by Ramos-Horta in the film, questions never satisfactorily answered in several subsequent investigations, concern not the Indonesian but the Australian government.  East was one of three journalists in East Timor at the time; Jill Jolliffe was working as a freelancer for Reuters, and it is on her book that Balibo is based. This is an important story for Australians, and the film’s co-writer and director, Robert Connolly, shows here both the same moral concerns and the ability to weave them into a compelling piece of film that he exhibited in his directorial début, The Bank, which he also co-wrote.

 

Eden Is West – Fri, 7 Aug at 7:30pm

Gentle-natured Elias, an illegal alien from an unidentified country, survives a swim to shore from a human-cargo carrier to wake on a nudist beach of a Mediterranean resort catering to the privileged. With limited language skills, he scrambles to hide his identity and with arresting good looks is soon negotiating sexual advances.  This is a more lighthearted look at the problem of illegal immigrants than the usual dire portraits. It raises questions about identity, racism, relationships, and how we survive and coexist in fractured societies where the many have far less than the lucky few. It is about survival instincts and the unjust barriers that exist for those forgotten people who desire to live a better life at all costs. In Eden Is West, Paris offers the lure of magic and the realisation of dreams.

 

Away We Go – Sat, 1 Aug at 7:15pm

Thirtysomethings Burt and Verona discover they are going to have a child. Expecting support from Burt’s parents, who instead leave for a two-year overseas holiday, they turn their initial dismay into an opportunity to embark on their own literal journey of discovery. Taking to the road, they visit old friends in places from Miami to Canada; from new-age intellectuals to slightly desperate crazies, from the negligent to the overly protective, each welcoming parent proffers well-meaning advice to the fleeing couple.  From Sam Mendes (who won an Academy Award for best director for his début, American Beauty), the subject matter of this offbeat indie film, liberally laced with irony, humour, and tenderness, made ‘with a little speed, and a little lightness of touch’ (Mendes in interview), is perhaps a surprise after last year’s Revolutionary Road. But the precision of the craft is exactly what we would expect from this master director.

 

Prime Mover – Sat, 8 Aug at 7:15pm

Set in the trucking recesses of Dubbo, Prime Mover is a masterful blend of action and drama. The story follows Thomas (Michael Dorman, Suburban Mayhem), a talented pinstriper whose dream is to trade in his paintbrush for his own eighteen wheeler. Every bit a cowboy, Thomas is both charming and reckless, a lethal combination with which he courts Melissa (Emily Barclay, Suburban Mayhem), a local petrol-station attendant. But ambition can be unforgiving, and a seemingly innocent dealing with a loan-shark causes some unforgiving bumps in the road that threaten to jackknife everything Thomas has accomplished.  Directed by David Caesar (Dirty Deeds, Mullet) and featuring the acting talents of William McInnes and Ben Mendelsohn, the film hurls the audience down an emotional and philosophical highway. Central themes include family, trust, and the challenges of chasing the dream of a lifetime.

 

The September Issue – Tue, 4 Aug at 7:15pm

Legendary Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour is often called the devil or the fashion pope, and the magazine’s September issue is the veritable glam bible of the fashion world, created in the buzzy, consumerist heart of Manhattan, with brilliant shoots in Paris and Rome. In this engaging fly-on-the-wall documentary, we observe the extraordinary style guru editing the magazine, obsessing over tiny details, brooking no opposition, and, with moments to spare, triumphantly delivering the ‘biggest one in our history’: 840 pages of the headspinning fall-preview issue. As the mega-issue somehow takes shape amid the turmoil, Wintour’s fascinating sidekicks are witnessed toiling, arguing, and bitching—especially the spectacular André Leon Talley, editor-at-large, and Grace Coddington, genius creative director, who pulls off an inspired eleventh-hour masterstroke. We are also given more intimate glimpses of Anna’s softer side as a daughter, sister, and proud mother.

 

Unmade Beds – Wed, 5 Aug at 7:30pm

Unmade Beds is a gritty yet playful film about youth squatter culture in London. Directed by Alexis Dos Santos, this story follows Axl (Fernando Tielve) and Vera (Déborah François), two foreign nationals who take refuge in the warehouse-dwelling bohemian underground. Axl and Vera never officially meet, although they share the same space and often cross paths.  The motivation of each character is revealed incrementally throughout the film, and back stories remain preciously guarded. Axl is in London to find the father who abandoned him as a child, and Vera seeks to escape the memory of a failed romance. From these two starting points, the audience gains an endearing perspective on the youthful experiences of having sex, drinking alcohol, and sleeping in the occasional unmade bed.

 

Bathory – Fri, 7 Aug at 9:40pm

Veteran Slovak director Juraj Jakubisko uses his iconic visual style to bring to life the legend of Erzsébet Báthory. Considered one of the most prolific murderesses in history, Báthory has been dubbed the ‘Blood Countess’ for her alleged preoccupation of bathing in virgins’ blood. Jakubisko endeavours to show the Hungarian noblewoman in a different light—the victim of political sabotage rather than the crazed, paganistic hedonist of her legend.  The film stars Anna Friel as Báthory and Karel Roden as her political opponent Juraj Thurzo, and a well-known cast of Czech and Slovak actors, including Deana Horváthová-Jakubisková and Bolek Polívka, play supporting roles. Jakubisko’s first English production is the most expensive movie made in Central Europe to date. Hailed as a commercial success in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, this gothic tale is a rare treat for those interested in medieval costume dramas.

 

Subdivision – Thu, 6 Aug at 7:15pm

When southern developers move in on local Hervey Bay builder Digger Kelly, who does everything the old-fashioned way, he finds that quality is apparently irrelevant to them and that he cannot compete. After his son goes out on his own, quoting against him, things go from bad to worse, not only for Digger but also for the whole community, as the division between family and friends parallels that of the farming land.  Directed by Sue Brooks (Japanese Story [BIFF 2003]), Subdivision oozes authenticity in its portrayal of semirural Queensland, aided by the presence in the ensemble cast of veteran Aussie actors Gary Sweet as Digger, Bruce Spence as his mate Singlet, and Kris McQuade as his wife. Local personality Ashley Bradnam, who co-wrote the film, plays the lead. A comedy with a big heart, a lot of humour, a few ‘gross’ moments, and broad appeal.

 

About Elly – Wed, 5 Aug at 5pm

When Ahmad, recently divorced from his German wife, returns for a few days to Tehran from Germany, his university friends organise a weekend excursion to the Caspian Sea and indulge in a bit of matchmaking by bringing with them Elly, a young kindergarten teacher. But it all goes terribly wrong when the reluctant Elly goes missing, and suddenly nothing is as it seemed. When a fiancé appears on the scene, the men all run for cover while the woman who invited Elly dissembles erratically to protect Elly’s reputation. In the ensuing suspense and entanglement of well-meaning lies, the veneer of modernity in Iranian gender politics is savagely stripped away.

 

Toomey Award Nominees Unveiled & A New Radio Show!

 
A New Radio Show!

I kick started a brand new radio spot last Friday morning on ABC Southern Queensland with host David Iliffe.

It’s a special DVD spot which looks at the films being released in that week. The most exciting part is that each week, I’ll review one older release – one that people might have missed but will be a good find on the weekly shelves of the video store. I started out last week with my all time favourite film – Billy Elliot (I couldn’t resist).

You can check out a podcast of my first show at http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2009/07/matthew-toomey.html?program=southern_queensland_breakfast.

Other podcasts will be available on the ABC site and of course if you’re living in the south part of Queensland, you can listen live – the show airs at 6:45am every Thursday morning.

You can always catch my other shows too – Thursday mornings at 6:50am on 612 ABC here in Brisbane and Thursday afternoons at 5:30pm on Logan 101.1FM. I am a busy man.

Toomey Awards

Every year, I have my own set of awards which I like to dish out. It’s modelled on the Academy Awards and has very similar categories. Don’t worry about voting – my awards are a dictatorship where I pick and nominate all the winners. I like it that way…

You can view this year’s list of nominees at http://www.thefilmpie.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=639&Itemid=57.

My top 5 films for the past 12 months are – Burning After Reading, Milk, Persepolis, Revolutionary Road and The Wrestler. Not the best list but not a bad list at the same time. 5 great films if you haven’t had a chance to see them yet.

New Website Update

My new website has been up and running for about a month and thanks to everyone for their feedback.

It’s taken a lot of man hours but I’ve finally converted and uploaded all of my old reviews – there are 1,037 in total. Over the next week or so, I’ll put proper links in my review lists to help people find them.

Further, I’m going to bring back an abbreviated version of the video section from my old website. It seems that there’s still a lot of demand for it and given that I’m now doing a special DVD review show, it’s certainly worth having. Stay tuned.

Brisbane International Film Festival

The Brisbane International Film Festival will be held from July 30 to August 9, predominantly at the Hoyts Regent Cinema in the heart of the city. The official launch is later this week but you can already see details of the films that will be screening at the BIFF website – http://www.stgeorgebiff.com.au/default.aspx.

There are a few films that have tweaked my attention but I’m sure there’ll be a lot more following the launch and my reading of the full program. In next week’s issue, I’ll include a breakdown of what films I plan on seeing.

In other exciting news, this will be the last BIFF to be held at this time of the year. In 2010, it has been revealed that the Festival will be moved to November. I think it’s a great move. November is usually a quiet, lacklustre time of the year in terms of movies and this will certainly give it some spark. Hopefully, it will also allow a wider range of films to be screened – particularly since its closer to Oscar season and near the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. I’m used to getting rugged up for long queues outside of the Regent in winter – it looks like this will be final time.

A Very Late Merchant

Released this Thursday at the Palace Centro Cinema is The Merchant Of Venice. The film looks interesting (I’ll be checking it out for sure) but what surprises me is the year in which it was made – 2004. It was released in the UK and the United States almost five years ago. Wow. Why wasn’t it released in Australia back then? Why the wait? The film stars Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes and Charlie Cox – I guess they’ll all be looking a little younger than I expect.

ABC Top Of The Pops & Shock Oscars Change


A Public Transformed

I wasn’t a huge fan of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen and have had some fun arguments with friends about it.  There seems to be a 50/50 like/dislike ratio.

It hasn’t stopped the film becoming a stunning hit at the box-office.  It has opened with $16.3m in its first 5 days in Australia which is bigger than any other film this year (including Star Trek, Terminator 4, Wolverine).  In fact, that’s the biggest four-day weekend since Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King back in 2003.  That’s stunning.  I know the first film was popular but I didn’t this one would generate such intense interest.

The numbers in the United States were just as big.  Transformers took in $201m in its first 5 days over there.  That’s just nuts.  To put that into perspective, Stark Trek (which was loved by most), has only made $246m in its first 8 weeks.  Transformers is on track to beat that within a single week.  If it can maintain its momentum and crack the $400m mark (I’ve got a few doubts), it’ll be in the top 10 of all time chart.

What does all of this mean?  One word – sequels.

Top Of The Pops

Exciting news filtered through with the release of the latest radio ratings in Brisbane.  612 ABC is back in the number 1 spot.  You can view all the ratings on page 3 of the following PDF file - http://www.au.nielsen.com/site/documents/Metro409.pdf.

ABC scored 12.7% in the breakfast timeslot (5:30am to 9am).  Not far behind were Nova (11.8%), B105 (11.4%) and 4MMM (10.8%).  It’s excellent news for Spencer and I’m very proud to be a small part of the show.  In case you’ve forgotten (wink wink, nudge nudge), you can hear my show on Thursday mornings at 6:50am.

I’ll be talking about plenty of big films in the coming weeks including Ice Age 2, Bruno and Harry Potter.  Make sure you tune in… if you’re up at that hour of the morning.

Oscars Newsflash – 10 Best Picture Nominees!

Last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced their biggest news in the 15 years that I’ve been covering the Oscars.  From 2010, there will be 10 nominees for best picture instead of just 5.

Why?  Well, up until 1943, there were always 10 nominees for the best picture.  That was the year Casablanca took the honour.  Since then, it has always been just 5 nominees – in line with most of the other categories.  Academy President Sid Ganis said at the press conference that “"Having 10 best picture nominees is going to allow academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize.”

News of the change has spread like wildfire across the internet and everyone seems to have an opinion.  Those against the idea proclaim that it will dilute the best picture category.  We have trouble enough finding 5 decent films to include – does such as change mean that mediocre films will creep into the list?

I disagree and am supportive of the idea.  In recent years, the top 5 films have become so predictable.  It’s the same films over and over again at each award show.  The best picture nominees usually receive nominations in the acting and craft categories also – leaving very little room for other movies.  By having 10 films, it creates an opportunity for more films to get a little recognition.  It may be their only nomination but it’s a big one to get.

Also, the best picture list is usually dominated by dramas.  By having 10 nominees, it could allow a few comedies or action films to sneak onto the list.  They’re no chance of winning but when you look at all 10 nominees, it will give you a better reflection of the range of films from that particular year.  For example, a film such as Star Trek or I Love You Man, which would usually be zero chance at a nomination, now have a shot.

When I look back, it’s a shame that this wasn’t introduced many years ago.  Films I have loved such as Billy Elliot, Almost Famous, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Leaving Las Vegas, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, The Ice Storm, Mulholland Drive, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, The Lives Of Others… I could go on forever… could have scored a best picture nomination.

How this is going to play out at next year’s Oscars will be a fun guessing game.  Will the extra 5 nominees be small, independent films with a strong, die-hard supporter base?  Or will they be from big blockbusters?  Since most lead-up award shows only have 5 nominees, it’s going to be much harder from my end to predict.  It’ll be fun though.

25 Down: Matt's Trip To The Theatre


Last Tuesday (June 16), I had a chance to see a play here at the Bille Brown Studio at West End called 25 Down.  It was produced by the Queensland Theatre Company and written by 26-year-old Richard Jordan.  His script won the Premier’s Drama Award last year.

Now let me just say that I don’t get to the theatre very often.  I wish I did though.  Given that I see 220 odd movies a year, it’s often hard to find the time.  It’s also difficult to find people to go with.  There’s a “stigma” attached to theatre which makes people think that it’s only for upper class society.  Not every thinks like that but I know plenty of people who do.

Over the past twelve months, there have been a few performances I wanted to catch.  There was Attack Of The Attacking Attackers, a sci-fi horror spoof performed at the La Boite Theatre.  There was Chicago (the musical) which showed a the Lyric Theatre and starred Catherine O’Connor.  I missed both sadly.

That was not to be the case with 25 Down.  Having read some great reviews on the internet and seeing that it boasted a young cast, I figured it was worth the effort.  I signed up a couple of friends (Jonno and Ange) and went along.  It’s actually a really nice theatre.  We got there about an hour beforehand and had a drink and a few nibbles in the foyer.  The show was a sell out with roughly 200 in the audience.  There were definitely more older people but it was good to see quite a few young faces in the crowd.

Before commenting on the play itself, I have to comment on the wonders of live theatre.  Call me naive but I have the utmost respect for what the cast and crew put themselves through.  I sent Richard Jordan a congratulatory email after the show and he said that it took two and a half years to get from the first draft to today’s production.  That’s a lot of effort and I’m sure there would have been plenty of ups and downs along the way.  So many budding writers never make it this far and yet they keep plugging away.

As for the cast, they spent months in rehearsals going through every word, every gesture, every movement.  Now I know we all have our own jobs and probably work just as hard as these actors do but I still find it impressive.  They come back night after night and perform the same show.  It’s not like a movie where you can always cut and try another take.  They put themselves out there and can’t afford to make a mistake.  Given I’m usually in a darkened theatre looking up at a big white screen, it was refreshing to see something “live”.

The play itself was really good.  It’s about a group of young people who are drifting aimlessly through life, in search of a future and in search of love.  There are some great one-on-one conversations which are both intelligent and insightful.  It gave us plenty to reflect upon when leaving the theatre and dissecting it over dinner.

I’m having difficulty summing up all of the film’s messages and emotions without oversimplifying it.  What I took away from the story is that whilst we may think we’re alone and that we have our own unique problems, this is rarely the case.  You’ll learn that pretty quickly when you meet these characters.  Having spent years doing what is necessary to fit in and “keep up appearances”, they let down their guard and reveal their insecurities.

The one sad part about seeing a play is that all that remains afterwards is a memory.  For my favourite TV shows and movies, I can always buy the DVD and watch it whenever I like.  That’s not the case with a live show.  When it all wraps up, the director, the writer and the cast all go their separate ways and move on to new projects.  This reminds me of one of all time favourite quotes – “I’m not going to tell this story the way it happened.  I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.”

As I mentioned earlier, 25 Down is currently showing at West End up until July 4.  You can find out more and buy tickets at https://www.qtix.com.au/show/25_down_09.aspx.  The cost is between $30 and $56.  Many of the sessions have been sold out in its first two weeks so you’re best to book ahead.

Now that my eyes have been opened to what wonders are on offer in the Brisbane theatre world, I’ll be making more of an effort to see a lot more in the near future.  25 Down has left a lasting impression.