The second year of the Queensland Film Festival continues the style set in 2015, as a purposefully small yet eclectic effort to keep the Brisbane film festival culture alive and well. Directors John Edmond and Huw Walmsley-Evans have created another program characteristic of their scholar backgrounds, championing under-seen perspectives in contemporary cinema, including those of micro-budget shorts and several female directors. We caught up with Edmond this week to discuss their programming choices and intentions for the festival.
Your fourth national feature premiere is on tonight with Despite the Night, and you had The Son of Joseph, The Sky Trembles [and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers] and Mimosas before that…
And Sector IXB, though that’s a bit of a different encapsulation.1
Do you feel like you’re earning more legitimacy by having more international-film premieres, or do you pursue that some other way?
I’m less fussed by national premieres—it’s more about wanting them. I’m totally appreciative that we have the premieres, and it’s great but we have no chance of being able to complete with Melbourne or Sydney Film Festival for that kind of kudos, so it’s more about “is this a great movie that we feel we want to represent?”, rather than “is this a national premiere?”. We’re more concerned about whether we’re just losing audiences to a Brisbane premiere than anything else. I mean, that’s nice, for us it’s more the ability to raise distributors and get a hold of them and talk them through what we want, so it’s been helpful this year.
On the subject of changes from last year, Huw remarked to the Brisbane Times last year that there was a kind of backlog of great festival films that Brisbane simply hadn’t seen, and this festival was a way of catching people up. It would appear like you’re doing that this year still, but do you still feel that responsibility as much as you did last year?
Yes, certainly. When we program, we try and do each of the days as an individual unit, and that allows us to do some slightly older movies. You can’t get everything, and everybody misses one thing, no matter how big you are, unless you’re screening every single film. Films take time to develop a reputation. You need word of mouth and nobody has the resources to watch every single movie and confirm whether it’s good or not. I kind of wish that festivals would have a two-year delay—they just have a little sub-section and it’d just be like “yeah, we screwed up and here’s this great thing that’s picked up a reputation”… maybe in a slightly more discreet phrasing than that! But I think we can be honest about that, because it’s not an insult to miss these films—that’s just the reality of how many films are coming out and how word of mouth works.
In regards to the wider city-based culture of Brisbane, what unique or special aspects about it do you try to tease out through the festival?
For us, I think when responding to Brisbane film culture, it’s about responding to our place within the system: we’re a small new film festival, and unlike Melbourne or Sydney in which the film festivals are the main core landmark of their film culture, the Australian Cinémathèque is the main core landmark in Brisbane film culture. And they’re great— you look at their retrospectives, they do amazing stuff. We’re coinciding with the Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival [BAPFF], which again is a great film festival and is far larger than ours, and has an entirely Asia Pacific kind of remit. So it’s about responding to what they can do really well and then trying to fit within that and support them, basically. [The Gallery of Modern Art]’s strength is its unbelievable ability to host really great retrospectives, BAPFF’s strength is its unbelievable ability to delve deeply into recent contemporary and retrospective Asia-Pacific cinema, and for us it’s, well, we can’t go for overwhelming-ness so we might as well go very precise. If we have to be small, we might as well have the advantage of being small, and think about it more in terms of very attentive programming; slotting things together and focusing on more recent and diverse films.
In terms of what we can offer the Brisbane film culture, I think that’s partly our background, particularly for me. My kind of programming was for shorts at gallery screens, so it makes sense to me to put movies together that way, and I’m definitely more interested in the rise of the gallery and its role within distribution, within funding and creating films. That’s important to me, and I think that’s reflected certainly in this year’s festival, in terms of how it’s designed; just in the old way of having the days flow into one another, and then a certain emphasis on different types of films. It’s an area that we want to continue trying to figure out, how we bring these together, and hopefully we can do something more explicit in later years.
It seems like there’s an equal challenge in choosing shorts for festivals as there is in choosing how to package them for an audience. Usually it ends up preceding another feature, and it’s just a matter of pairing the right short with the right feature. I notice that there’s a couple of instances in your festival where you pair a medium-length feature like Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton with a few other shorts. How do you think those films with less conventional runtimes are treated in the festival circuit?
With great difficulty. The medium-length film of that thirty-to-fifty mark is a death zone. It makes sense within the gallery film circumstance, because it’s long enough to hold some kind of narrative but short enough so it can function as kind of a loop, but then when you get to festivals, it makes it very difficult to work with them. But when it came to Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton, I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not but it’s one of those movies that I watched and said “I have to screen this,” basically immediately, and then it just became a question of building up from there, thinking through how it would work. And yeah, it’s just very difficult to screen movies of that kind of length, out within a festival system rather than with a gallery screening.
You have retrospectives like Naked Lunch and Cleo from 5 to 7. Why was this year’s festival a good time to work them into the program?
Well, Naked Lunch came about because I wanted it near The Sky Trembles to tease out certain aspects of The Sky Trembles. It’s a great movie obviously, it hadn’t been screened in Brisbane for a long time, but also because I felt that The Sky Trembles is one way of grappling with the American emigrant Paul Bowles and his writing and his life, and it’s done through displacement. You have this adaptation of A Distant Episode, which is the second half of the movie, but then the first half of the movie uses other reference points of his life, so that’s one way of doing it. And then you have Naked Lunch, which in a far more different style integrates Burroughs’ life and writing into one piece. And so you have two people who were living in Tangiers at the same time, and then you have two movies which are basically grappling with the way of representing biography and adaptation. And you have the natural linking between Sky Trembles and Mimosas, and then here’s a way of kind of filling that, and also creating a kind of tonal shift you went from Naked Lunch which is very intense and to basically a kind of a smoothing out with a great interest in spiritual focus to close with Mimosas. It’s one of those ones where I don’t expect everybody to watch all three movies, but if people wanted to they could come along and join that full-day experience.
So the notion that it hadn’t been screened in Brisbane for a while held some appeal as well?
Yeah, it would have been if it had been screened at GOMA at the Cinémathèque six months or a year ago, but as far as I can tell it hadn’t been screened in Brisbane since ’99. It made sense to me on a curatorial level, and in terms of audience fulfilling some kind of Brisbane need. It was also the 25th anniversary of the film—it came out in ’91, and that was also the first year that the Brisbane International Film Festival first appeared. Cleo from 5 to 7 was a response to the 50th anniversary of its first screening in Brisbane. It was on the original programme for the original Brisbane Film Festival, as well as some of the shorts that we’re screening at the Brisbane Film Festival history talk.
On a slightly personal note, I notice you’ve got Fort Buchanan and I really, really like that movie! I just wanted to know why you decided to include it?
What I found striking was that synthesis of a gallery logic. You on one level appreciate as a micro-indie about these personal dramas, but then the premise behind it, where the dialogue is mostly drawn from, the precise choosing of the actual locations, and even these kind of weird interruptions of the CGI helicopter, it felt like underneath this micro-indie shot on 16mm was in some ways something closer to a video piece that would occasionally pop out and flash out. When I also did the short that went with it, Baden Pailthorpe’s MQ-9 Reaper I, I wanted something that was a gallery piece, that would draw out that aspect, rather than an indie short that would have more codified it towards micro-indie film-making. I just wanted to draw out this slightly hidden aspect and then in some ways act as a connector to the drone-themed short piece that follows after the screening [The Freestone Drone].
To discuss the other events, you also have this panel on the work of Eugène Green and specifically the craft of editing within La Sapienza and The Son of Joseph. It doesn’t seem often that a group of local film practitioners like The Screen Editors’ Guild would get the chance to hold court on a panel discussion, as opposed to the director or actors or star talent. Who have you worked with that has allowed that relationship with the Editor’s Guild to come together, and why was that something you wanted to pursue this year?
It started off because Axel Grigor, the Queensland representative of the Screen Editors Guild, got in contact with us very early, and he was very supportive before we had any reputation. He’s been incredibly supportive. Last year we had an editing panel with Alex Heller-Nicolas, to add in some kind of genre context on Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy and [Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s] The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, and so it flowed on from that. We were really happy with that, and Eugène Green is clearly a distinctive voice, but we already have this relationship [with the Guild] and his editing choices are very distinctive and very revealing about how the normal shot-reverse-shot editing happens. We thought it would be illuminative to talk about that; to think about how that was basically working.
You mentioned how you eventually want to take the festival on tour around the state. We’ve talked about how there’s a unique Brisbane audience that you want to catch up and one would assume that you want to catch up rural audiences in the same way, but do you imagine, or do you have the understanding, that there’s some unique aspect to rural audiences that you want to access and better the festival with?
I think this is something that we have to explore. For us, we are just taking this step by step and for us, touring the film festival, its initial steps would also be places that are logistically easy for us but ones that have been neglected by previous touring film festivals, so like Ipswich, and Sunshine Coast. These are places that are within half an hour to a couple of hours’ drive of Brisbane, and it’s a place that we can visit easily and have some sense of the audience. They fall within that gap; they’re not rural as in this kind of iconic outback ruralness—it seems wrong to call Ipswich rural—but they’re also neglected in terms of access to film festival work. It would be great to at some point, in the next couple of years, to start doing screenings there as well; to give people there some kind of chance to see some of the movies we’re screening.
Is it a case where you feel like they should practically be included in that city culture, but they’re not just because of some proximity issue?
Yeah, I think that’s part of it. Just in the way of Australian city sprawl, you have these kind of areas that fall through the gaps, that you have this clear mental understanding of “this is a regional kind of town that needs to be supported through regional grants” and that kind of stuff, and then you have the inner-city culture which is its own thing, and then you have these kinds of areas just on the outskirts that can be ignored. I don’t know what it’s like in Sydney, so I can’t talk to that, but it’d be interesting to see how that’s worked out.2
You obviously take it to heart, given the 50th anniversary celebrations and the remembrance event on the 23rd, that you are continuing the Brisbane Film Festival’s legacy, but you are, in name at the very least, a different festival. How easy or difficult is it to honour what came before while being your own entity?
I think the only way you can honour it is by being your own entity. I think it’d be a mistake to try and exactly emulate the Brisbane Film Festival—that was the produce of film society culture which no longer exists. It’d be a mistake to imitate the Brisbane International Film Festival because the situation that we live in and also because all the current distribution systems are changing, as it goes and so if you’re going to restart one, restart afresh and think it through.
We don’t see ourselves as expanding our actual line-up in the future. We’re happy with the kind of format we’ve established roughly this year—we’ll tweak it, but we do want to basically hold to around 20 screenings and work on that for the foreseeable future, so it’s not about “next year it’s going to be 40 films, and then the year after that 80 films, and then we’ll be this again”, I don’t see that in our immediate future.
The Queensland Film Festival runs until Sunday July 24 at New Farm Cinemas. You can find out more at the festival website here.