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As tickets go on sale for this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival, Andrew L. Urban previews the program, which is the biggest yet, with some 300 films on offer, and featuring a sidebar on women in Islamic cinema that is festival director’s Anne Demy-Geroe’s favourite section.

Avoiding the predictable, Anne Demy-Geroe has programmed the 2006 Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) to open with Robert Altman’s upbeat and lively music-with-comedy (and festival favoured), The Prairie Home Companion – and to close with the Palme d’Or winning Irish civil conflict drama from Ken Loach, The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Most festivals would avoid the latter in the closing slot, not because it isn’t worthy but because it’s such a serious and sombre item to end on.

The decision signals how personal vision can drive festival programming and just goes to show that even with three major city festivals in Australia, all between June and August, there is room for such individual vision.

BIFF, the biggest edition so far with some 300 films in the program, also boasts the world premiere of the Australian film 48 Shades. Based on the award winning novel 48 Shades of Brown, the film 48 Shades tells the story of 16 year old Daniel Bancroft who moves in with his 22 year old aunt, Jacq, and her flatmate, Naomi, after his parents transfer to Geneva for a year. The film, set entirely in Brisbane and shot over four weeks in August/September 2005, charts his transition into the adult world with all its complications and confusions.

"amazing diversity"

But for all the amazing diversity between opening and closing nights (more on that later), the sidebar of the Festival that Demy-Geroe is most excited about is Islam Unveiled: Women, Cinema and Islam in Turkey and Iran. She’s been developing this regional palate for a while. “I’ve been going to the Fajr Film Festival in Tehran for a number of years and following both their cinema and the political climate, which has been extremely interesting,” she says.

“Although Turkey and Iran share a border and an Islamic heritage there’s both similarity and marked differences culturally. The contrast between representations of women and the climate in which female filmmakers work would be relevant at any time, but of course takes on particular topicality now. It’s a unique opportunity to see some very rare films. We also have quite a few guests and I look forward to thought-provoking discussions in seminars and films, and over coffee both for the guests and the audience,” says Demy-Geroe.

The credit for establishing the foundations of Iranian ‘new wave’ goes to a woman: Forugh Farrokhzad, whose 22 minute documentary about a leper colony The House is Black (1962) is acknowledged as the most important film to affect contemporary Iranian cinema, and is part of the program, along with The Hidden Half. In 2001 Tahmineh Milani was originally charged with defaming the Islamic Revolution with The Hidden Half (2001) but was eventually allowed to release the film. More recently, Bani-Etemad has directly challenged the male-dominated value-system. In Gilaneh (2005), her portrait of a war veteran’s mother is completely unlike the cardboard mothers of previous war films.

Notably included is Yol, winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1982, an elegant and haunting critique of Turkey’s outdated socio-political attitudes.

In all, there are a dozen or so features in this important sidebar, plus a selection of shorts that will screen in a single session (on Saturday, August 12, starting at 10am).

In the main program, Like Minds, Thank You for Smoking and 48 Shades have been selected as Showcase films, while Heading South, United 93, No. 2 and A Simple Curve will screen as Galas, a new category of films for the festival. Demy-Geroe, said while Showcase screenings had been a feature of previous festivals, Galas had been introduced this year to give prominence to films of particular note. “Each and every film in this year’s festival is very special,” she said. “However, there were a number of films that really stood out during the selection process and I wanted to make sure festival patrons could easily identify them.”

In the Showcase, Thank You for Smoking stands out as a highly entertaining satire on how spin doctors make a living, in this case a spin doctor for the tobacco lobby, played with great verve by Aaron Eckhart. By complete contrast, United 93 in the Gala section brings all the drama of the hijacked flight that crashed on September 11, 2001. A meticulously researched film, it uses some of the actual air traffic staff who re-enact their roles, combined with actors who physically match the passengers and crew who all perished in that act of terrorism. It is harrowing viewing, but absolutely essential; as its English director, Paul Greengrass says, it displays the utter pointlessness of all politically driven violence.

These are random examples from the program, but they illustrate how a Festival can provoke, challenge – and let’s hope satisfy its audiences.

The innovative Cine Sparks, the Australian film festival for young people, will again run as part of the Festival for the second year. The three week programme will feature more than 30 films suitable for 3 to 18 year olds. Screenings will be held at South Bank Cinemas from Monday to Friday during school hours, with no charge for school groups. Cine Sparks’ Education Officer, Derek Weeks, said the programme offered more than just the chance for students to see a movie for free. “Through Cine Sparks we aim to transform the cinema experience into something interactive and engaging,” he said.

"great opportunities to develop literacy skills and challenge the thinking of young people"

“The programme presents great opportunities to develop literacy skills and challenge the thinking of young people. To this end, we provide educational materials to assist teachers maximise the learning opportunities. Last year’s event was an outstanding success with more than 7,000 young people participating and lots of positive feedback from educators.”

This year’s programme includes Opal Dream, an Australian film starring Vince Colosimo and Jacqueline McKenzie, which had its international premiere when it opened the children’s programme of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival; it tells how a little girl’s relationship with her imaginary friends resonates throughout her opal mining town in the Australian outback. Enticing, consistently engaging and natural performances from 10 year old children making their on camera debut deserves an award in itself, and Peter Cattaneo does even more than that with this lively and surprisingly dramatic adaptation of Ben Rice’s novel.

In all, BIFF 2006 offers a significant movie menu that would distinguish any international festival.

Published July 13, 2006

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The Hidden Half

48 Shades



Anne Demy Geroe

Brisbane International Film Festival 2006:
July 21 – August 13

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