Brisbane International Film Festival 2017 – preview

From little things, big things (re)grow. After a three-year hiatus, the Brisbane International Film Festival is back. And while this new BIFF is very much a slimmed down version of what it once was, the very fact of its return is a cause for celebration.

Where once BIFF screened close to 200 films, the “new” festival (although it’s officially the 23rd iteration) has around 60, plus shorts. Another innovation is the fact that BIFF is now run in conjunction with Palace Cinemas. While Palace has a solid track record with events like the French and Scandinavian film festivals, this is the first time they’ve partnered with a major publicly funded fest.

The made-over BIFF opens on Thursday August 17 with the Palme d’Or winning Swedish satire The Square. It wraps 16 days later with The Go-Betweens: Right Now, a documentary about the legendary Brisbane band.  

The Square

The Square by Ruben Östlund is loosely based on some of Östlund’s own experiences with art installations. The film takes aim at the self-obsessed and decadent art world. Kriv Stenders’ The Go-Betweens: Right Now explores the melodramatic saga behind the rise and fall of one of the most influential Australian bands of the last 40 years.

And speaking of Stenders, his new feature film Australia Day, set in Brisbane and produced by Brisbane’s Hoodlum Entertainment, will also screen at the Festival.

The festival’s Centrepiece Gala (Saturday August 26) is the Russian film Lovelessdirected by acclaimed Golden Globe Winner and Academy Award® nominated Andrey Zvyagintsev. The film picked up the Jury Prize at Cannes this year. Zvyagintsev uses a bitterly estranged couple’s desperate hunt for their missing son to frame a damning examination of modern Russian politics.

To complement the Centrepiece, BIFF’s Retrospective this year showcases Zvyagintsev’s body of work. The director made an explosive entry onto the international film scene in 2003 by taking home two Golden Lions at the Venice Film Festival with his first film Return. BIFF will screen Return as well as The Banishment (2007), Elena (2011) and Leviathan (2014).


BIFF has always prided itself on a strong Australian line-up, and it looks like that tradition continues.  Australian films include Ali’s Wedding directed by Brisbane-based Jeffrey Walker; indie comedy That’s Not Me written by Melbourne-filmmaking couple Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher, directed by Erdstein and starring Foulcher; and the World Premiere of the documentary life is a very strange thing, produced and directed by Les McLaren and Annie Stiven. Adjacent to the Aussie component is the World Premiere of the latest indie film to showcase Australians on the world stage, both in front of and behind the camera. Broken Ghost is a US film by Australian director Richard Gray and penned by Melbourne-based husband-and-wife screenwriting team Abe Pogos and Catherine Hill.

As well as Australian films, some of Australia’s most celebrated actors will appear in the program. Geoffrey Rush stars in Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait; Cate Blanchett turns in an astonishing performance in Manifesto, in which she plays 12 utterly different characters; Toni Collette stars in Alethea Jones’ feel-good comedy Fun Mom Dinner; and up-and-coming Australian Danielle Macdonald stars in Patti Cake$, one of the buzz films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Broken Ghost

The festival’s Masters sidebar showcases new films from revered international directors. The section includes Polish director Andrzej Wajda’s final film Afterimage, Japanese director Takashi Miike’s 100th film, Blade of the Immortal, Michael Haneke’s Happy End, Sally Potter’s The Party, and Song to Song by Terrence Malick.

On the documentary front, BIFF’s selection includes Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner Last Men In Aleppo, directed by Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad; and the international premiere of a short film series from emerging Turkish directors, produced by Turkey’s Sabanci Foundation’s ‘short film, long impact’ project Refugee Women – History’s Silent Heroes. An engaging discussion will follow the screening with a panel of extraordinary women from refugee backgrounds sharing their experiences and journeys. Brisbane-based Tibetan composer and musician Tenzin Choegyal will perform music he composed, alongside the legendary Philip Glass, for the The Last Dalai Lama? ahead of the Australian premiere screening of the film. 

Final Portrait

Also screening will be one of the most compelling recent Australian documentaries, Blue. Directed by Karina Holden, Blue is a call to arms to save the world’s oceans.

As you’ll appreciate, that’s just a small sampling. You can check out the full program at the official BIFF website.

My personal top five picks are:

The Square (opening night)
Loving Vincent (doco about the artist Vincent van Gogh)
Dave Made a Maze (mind-bending American indie)
Happy End (Michael Haneke’s latest)
Wonderstruck (how can you go wrong with Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes?)

David Edwards

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