Brisbane International Film Festival: Wrap Up

Sarah Ward November 19, 2010 0

Five restful days after the close of the festival, as the dust settles, cinemas are cleaned, popcorn is digested, and Queensland cinephiles attempt to recapture some semblance of normality (whilst catching up on much needed doses of sleep, sunlight, nutritious meals and exercise), let’s take a look at the fun, the films, and the frenzy that comprised the 19th annual Brisbane International Film Festival. With close to a week’s worth of perspective to guide us, and having seen almost a third of the feature films on offer (32 out of 101, to be exact), we ponder the audience favourites (voted on a scale of 1 to 5), as well as our own highlights, disappointments, and everything in between.

The results of the Showtime Top 10 as voted by BIFF attendees are now known, and it will come as no surprise that the ten films listed comprise an eclectic bunch. In previous years, documentaries and features were ranked separately, however 2010 represents the first time in memory that a combined list has been presented. As a result of the merging of categories, no less than seven documentaries made the grade, including one quite unique piece that secured the prized number one spot. Alas, only three narratives earned a mention, although among them is a highly praised Brisbane effort, and two films that rank among my personal favourites of the festival. So which ten films follow in the footsteps of 2009 winners Balibo and Yes Madam, Sir (feature and documentary categories, respectively)? Without any further ado, the top ten audience favourites from BIFF 2010 are:

  1. Orchids: My Intersex Adventure – director Phoebe Hart
  2. Howl – director Rob Epstein
  3. Blue Valentine – director Derek Cianfrance
  4. Strange Birds In Paradise – director Charlie Hill-Smith
  5. Jucy – director Louise Alston
  6. Gasland – director Josh Fox
  7. Sound Of Mumbai – director Sarah McCarthy
  8. Cameraman: The Life And Work Of Jack Cardiff – director Craig McCall
  9. Mugabe And The White African – director Lucy Bailey
  10. Bill Cunningham: New York – director Richard Press

Now, on to our own highlights! Part of the joy of attending a film festival is the exploration of the unknown, with big name features sharing screen space with small films from far-flung corners of the globe. Efforts from both categories have made my own “best of BIFF” list, which includes notable names soon to be seen in local cinemas, and others sadly destined for release as direct-to-DVD offerings. Indeed, out of 32 films it was quite difficult to single out just five standouts, with ten instead making the list. Not included are features seen before the festival – the morose and mysterious Winter’s Bone and delightful comedy I Love You Phillip Morris the obvious standouts, with Welcome To The Rileys also surprisingly effective. Accordingly, after much deliberation, my top BIFF films are:

  1. Blue Valentine
  2. Somewhere
  3. Monsters
  4. We Are What We Are
  5. Howl
  6. Bill Cunningham: New York
  7. Enter The Void
  8. I Killed My Mother
  9. Dog Pound
  10. The American

It was a close call, however the more I reflect upon Blue Valentine, the more I am moved by it, and I find myself eagerly anticipating another opportunity to watch. Although Sofia Coppola’s seemingly polarising 2010 Venice Golden Lion winner Somewhere came a close second, Derek Cianfrance’s tender yet tragic, vibrant yet vehement, heartfelt yet heart-wrenching love story is raw and resonant, in a perfectly-pitched Revolutionary Road for a modern generation. Similarly, the excellent creature feature Monsters surpassed expectations, whilst Mexican cannibal thriller We Are What We Are deserves all the comparisons to Swedish vampire flick Let The Right One In that it has garnered. Rounding out the top five is the immersive, intellectual and imaginative Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl.

The next five films presented similarly fantastic festival experiences, with none as uplifting as the inspiring and amazing Bill Cunningham: New York. As for Enter The Void, I must admit to being surprised at how strong my feelings are for it almost two weeks after viewing, and I am convinced that I will quite likely never see another of its ilk. Despite the praise that surrounds Xavier Dolan’s second feature Heartbeats, his debut work I Killed My Mother proved the more accomplished and audacious work. Still on the topic of adolescence, Dog Pound offered a powerful portrait of juvenile prison, whilst Anton Corbijn’s divisive The American perfected its European attempt at the assassin genre.

Rest assured, there were more than ten great films on offer at BIFF 2010, with many more exceptional efforts unable to be squeezed into the above list. The terrific and telling Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is one such feature, as is Cannes Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and charming French animation The Illusionist. Further, stirring documentary Gasland, and war dramas The Wedding Song and Lebanon hit the right buttons, whilst Aussie shark thriller The Reef impressed despite its low budget.

Of course, plenty of other entries on the BIFF roster warrant viewing, including the insightful women’s rights documentary  Pink Saris, and Michael Rowe’s challenging and uncomfortable Leap Year. Home grown western Red Hill has the hallmarks of greatness but doesn’t quite live up to its potential, Mother Teresa Of Cats offers a chilling examination of murder, and Adrian Grenier’s Teenage Paparazzo is fun and fascinating but lacks depth. In addition, North balances the calm and the absurd, Kaboom mixes cool and crazy, Heartbeats waxes lyrical on the appearance of love, Freakonomics informs and entertains, and closing night effort Reign Of Assassins proves yet again that John Woo knows kung fu.

Alas, in every line-up there must be a few disappointments, with many watchable but just missing the mark. Big budget Dreamworks animation Megamind proved too superficial, political drama Fair Game too familiar, Australian rom-com The Wedding Party too broad, and Danish culture clash comedy The Red Chapel too piecemeal. However, the only feature that presented a genuine struggle to sit through was Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, with the laborious, contrived discussion of art and artifice a little too meandering indeed.

So… that’s all folks. Another BIFF over for another year, with another long wait until the next event. As a parting note to our extensive coverage, an enormous thank you is directed at the one and only Brisbane International Film Festival for compiling such a first-rate program. For the first, but by no means the last time in the next twelve months, I’m forced to ask – is it time for BIFF 2011 yet?

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