This is the shape of Brisbane’s film culture in the post-BIFF landscape: the largest festival has shed blood, but a constellation of smaller ones is picking up the slack. No fewer than four nationally oriented film festivals opened in Brisbane last week, while the newborn Queensland Film Festival (disclosure: I worked on this festival) exists to catch the more significant titles these smaller ones are wont to miss. Meanwhile, BAPFF’s training wheels are off, and the outfit finds itself in much greater devotion to Asia-Pacific cinema than in its maiden year. BIFF’s closure in 2014 appeared to sound the death knell of Brisbane’s film culture; a year on, these smaller festivals are in a comfortable state of symbiosis.
It’s a sound model, too. Compacting BAPFF to 10 days, down from last year’s 16, is a neater fit. It makes the second week less of a gauntlet, the risk of session clashes ostensibly lower, and a more refined programme more confidently able to declare what the venture is and intends to be. And at first glance the festival, a litmus test of the health of Brisbane’s film culture, finds it in reasonable knick.
The good: the programme sub-sections are diverse as they are plump. Most promising is the umbrella category ‘A Matter of Form’, encompassing the standouts of an already strong year for Asian cinema internationally. Mountains May Depart, Our Little Sister and The Assassin will all grace Brisbane following screenings at SFF and MIFF; the latter is, to my eye, one of the most disciplined and gorgeous films ever produced.
The festival will also lay claim to the Australian premiere of the new Hong Sang-Soo film – the lauded Right Now, Wrong Then – for the second year running, while eminent Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle returns with his third effort in the director’s chair, Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous. I’m also excited about revisiting Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s phosphorescent Cemetery of Splendour, though I can’t imagine how the chairs at GOMA cinema B (each one of which should come with their own orthodedic voucher) or Palace Barracks Cinema 6 (which has the ambience of a living room) might gel with its oneiric tenor.
Populating the family-oriented ‘The Ties That Bind’ and travel-centric ‘The Journey is the Thing’ streams are a bunch of lesser-known wildcards. These check boxes such as local (Spear), far-flung (take Kyrgyzstan’s Heavenly Nomadic) and endurance testing (The Family, which clocks in at 282 minutes), that all festivals of this magnitude should have. On that note, BAPFF has finally enlisted Ferve as its ticket vendor, with an app to follow. Adieu, paper!
The not so good: the deep cuts-style retrospective that brought us the entire oeuvre of Asghar Farhadi last year has disappeared, replaced instead by three 35mm restorations from three Asian masters. Last year I wrote that the festival’s definition of the Asia-Pacific was, for better or worse, relaxed, but this year the opposite is true: Turkey, Oceania, and Hong Kong are all paid tribute with individualised sub-sections. Of these, one is conspicuously presented by the nation’s economics and trade office, while all documentaries in the ‘Carte Blanche for Films from the Pacific’ strand are co-opted, bizarrely, from an existing festival in Tahiti.
Likewise, the day-long ‘Hybrid Story Worlds’ subsection is co-presented by QUT, doesn’t screen movies but ‘virtual reality films’, and doesn’t appear to define what that means. There’s been barely a whisper about submissions from local filmmakers, which are presumably still locked out; instead the program is dominated by significant program overlap with APSA nominees. These factors don’t exactly do dispel the impression that the festival is checking industrial boxes first and programming with an audience in mind second – and I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that the venture is partly motivated by keeping diplomatic relationships in good health.
This can come at the expense of a vibrant festival atmosphere, and the programme on the whole is uneven, one part prestige and two parts humanist drama and documentary. What’s missing is the fun and drossy populism that something like Yakuza Apocalypse or, say, any of the six films turned out by Sion Sono this year can lend a festival.
Yet the number of films has only increased despite the time frame going down, and the scheduling accordingly resembles a sardine tin. There are rarely sessions before 6pm on weekdays then as many as five at a time thereafter, and speedy transit between the New Farm Cinemas and GoMA is a near-impossibility. This means that, for example, Cemetery of Splendour screens at the same time as the free screening of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness, a strange choice seeing as both are likely to draw the cinephile crowd. And that’s the market these days: absent the crowd-pulling titles that used to sell out BIFF’s galas, you have to actively encourage your audience to see these films. It’s only natural that the scheduling should follow suit.
The 2015 Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival runs from 19-29 November. See the full program at the Festival’s website, and stay tuned to 4:3 for more BAPFF updates.