Additional reporting by Conor Bateman and Jessica Ellicott.
While the Australian premiere of Eduardo Williams’ The Human Surge (pictured above) might not seem to be the headline-grabber among the films screening at this year’s Queensland Film Festival, it neatly embodies the nature of their 2017 program, which frames itself with a sharp, experimental edge; in its third year QLDFF seeks to continue a legacy of audacious programming carved out by the now-defunct Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, which was curated by Kiki Fung.
Williams’ debut feature is the culmination of a decade of ingenious short films, through which the director proved himself to be amongst the most visually and structurally distinct filmmakers working today. It might sound clichéd, but Williams’ film is difficult to describe.1 He navigates between three continents, directing the film in a series of flashes; with the three vignettes forming the film’s core.
At one point, the camera hovers around a character taking a piss, before focusing on the urine splattering into the dirt. The camera continues its trajectory: zooming into an ant farm in the ground, before continuing to dig. When it finally surfaces, without fanfare or any acknowledgement of the quasi-cosmic journey, the film has shifted from Mozambique to the Bohol jungle in the Philippines. In the movements between celluloid and digital (at times, both at once) throughout, there’s a detail in the work that that demands to be seen in a theatre and the opportunity to catch it in one in Australia, let alone Brisbane, is a precious one.
There’s been a recent trend of Hong Sang-Soo’s films having their Australian premieres in Brisbane. Right Now, Wrong Then and Yourself and Yours both screened at the now-defunct BAPFF, and, not to be outdone, QLDFF has two new films from the South Korean auteur in their new program. At the heart of QLDFF’s opening night gala is Claire’s Camera. The film reunites Hong with Isabelle Huppert – his lead in 2012’s In Another Country – in a lighter effort, taking place at Cannes Film Festival. Also screening is the much lauded On the Beach at Night Alone, for which Kim Min-Hee picked up the Silver Bear for Best Actress at this year’s Berlinale.
Another Australian premiere is Niles Atallah’s Rey, a film that is in line with the experimental bent of this year’s program. Both Atallah and Williams are obsessed with the nature of film as a format. Williams shoots the opening third of The Human Surge in Super 16mm, the second section uses footage shot by a Black Magic camera filmed off a monitor in Super 16mm, and the final section employs RED digital video. Not one to be outdone, Atallah buried his footage – shot on 35mm, 16mm and Super-8 film – in an effort to emphasise the fragility of history and memory, which plays out through the degradation of the image on screen.
One of the more unusual festival trends this year has been the programming of a series of pink eiga films commissioned by Japanese production company Nikkatsu. Filmmakers were challenged to modernise and reinvent the sexually-charged cinematic stylings of the 1970s. Akihiko Shiota’s Wet Woman in the Wind (which screened at this year’s SFF) quickly became the most lauded film in the project and cult favourite Sion Sono (Love Exposure, Tokyo Tribe) has had his film, Antiporno, overlooked by many a festival. Not so with Queensland, who have opted with Sono over Shiota. If the title doesn’t give away his feelings already, Sono has said that there “are no logical reasons to make porn movies now” and that instead, he made this film “thinking about how female nudity was consumed.”
One of the biggest gets of the QLDFF program is undoubtedly Bruno Dumont’s Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, hot off the heels of its world premiere at Cannes Director’s Fortnight. It looks to be another wild contribution to Dumont’s increasingly radical filmography. At Cinema Scope, Jordan Cronk describes it as “pitched somewhere between Straub-Huillet and Headbangers Ball, Monty Python and Messiaen, Jeannette, l’enfance de Jeanne d’Arc marks an unexpected and near-perfect synthesis of the French iconoclast’s many disparate interests and obsessions.” Even if Slack Bay outstayed its welcome, we’re more than excited for another comedic stab from Dumont.
The Safdies’ latest was a near-unanimous 4:3 contributor favourite at SFF, and it was with great excitement that we saw it appear in the QLDFF lineup. The directing duo’s first Cannes-selected film does not disappoint, it’s an expertly crafted crime thriller that takes the frenetic energy of 2013’s Heaven Knows What to new heights. Good Time hurtles along at a thrilling, urgent pace that is made all the more potent by Oneohtrix Point Never’s superb score, and Robert Pattinson’s committed performance.
Another stylish thriller worth seeking out this festival is Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama, which has been overlooked locally since its berth at Toronto last year. A group of teenagers plot and commit acts of terror in Paris then hole up in a shopping center like the zombie hunters in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. It’s been on our radar since garnering some raves from The Film Comment Podcast team last October. The final pulse-pounder to keep an eye on: The Endless, from Spring directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, in which the pair play men escaping from a doomsday cult, only to be drawn back in.
João Pedro Rodrigues’ The Ornithologist began its life, like Williams’ film, at Locarno Film Festival. It was one of the strongest films in the competition then and one of the best things to screen at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. We heartily advocated it both times and we’ll spare you in again now. Just go and see it.On top of this, two films from the SFF Official Competition are coming to QLDFF: Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, and Amat Escalante’s The Untamed – both films have our measured recommendation (though only the latter has our written recommendation).
A refreshing element of the QLDFF programming that breaks with local festival convention is that they don’t seem particularly concerned with only programming works from 2017. Patric Chiha’s Brothers of the Night premiered at Berlinale last year — February 2016. The feature centres around a group of Bulgarian Roma men who have relocated to Vienna, looking for a more exciting life. They end up working in the sex industry, with the film centring on the realities of making a living. Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women edges out Chiha’s film in longevity, having first screened in Sundance in January 2016. Topping them all, though, is Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s erotic mermaid vampire film The Lure, which premiered in December 2015 and screened last year at Sydney Film Festival.
What is unusual in this program is how few documentary works are present. There are only two new nonfiction films, and both eschew convention. Viktor Jakovleski’s Brimstone & Glory explores the production of incendiaries and the annual National Pyrotechnics Festival with a pointed impressionism and Sam Hamilton’s celestial inquiry Apple Pie finally screens in Australia after premiering to raves in New Zealand last year,
The sole Australian feature film in this year’s program is Grace, Who Waits Alone, from writer/director/star Georgia Temple. Citing Akerman and Polanski as forebears is enough to pique our curiosity, and the quality of the last Brisbane set and produced film we saw at QLDFF, Peter Blackburn’s Eight in 2015, will push us over the line.
The other feature film screening in the program is French-Algerian artist Neïl Beloufa’s Occidental, which we have no read on at all. Yet.2 Coming from the art world, Beloufa has a wealth of installation and moving image artworks. Occidental finds a nexus point in both: a comic political thriller shot on an openly artificial set of a hotel which would eventually become a gallery piece.
The retrospective selection is centred around four works from Czech Horror icon, Juraj Herz: Beauty and the Beast, The Cremator, Morgiana, and Oil Lamps. 1968’s The Cremator – arguably, Herz’ masterpiece – is a dark comedy that draws inspiration from events taking place during the Holocaust, while taking stylistic cues from German expressionism. The opus screens alongside the director’s contribution to the 1965 Pearls of the Deep omnibus, The Junk Shop. Herz marked the end of the era and movement known as Czech New Wave with 1972’s Morgiana, while Oil Lamps, produced a year earlier, offers a glimpse at his penultimate film from the era. With the inclusion of director’s 1978 retelling of Beauty and the Beast, the retrospective takes the form of a broader snapshot: both of Herz, and cinema in Czechoslovakia – during, and after, the country’s ‘New Wave’.
While this retrospective shines a light on one of many under-appreciated directors out of 1960s Czechoslovakia, the selection is part of a broader partnership with Melbourne Cinémathèque, and the National Film and Sound Archive. When Sydney Film Festival announced a Kurosawa retrospective this year, we saw it as a reflection of “the current financial pressures of major Australian film festivals”, yet argued it simultaneously rendered “the SFF retro merely a travelling screening series, rather than an exclusive, event-specific program”. In fairness, this Herz selection doesn’t appear as a cynical co-presentation with David Stratton and Queensland Film Festival is far less commercially-centred than Sydney. It might seem unnecessarily harsh to still focus in on such a point, to maintain a sense of consistency in how we write about programming in Australia, it’s a criticism we have to make.
While there hasn’t been any shortage of festivals screening Chantal Akerman’s most critically acclaimed and admired works since her death in 2015, the focus on the director’s various masterpieces eschew more faithful portraits of her broader career. From the late ‘80s through to 2015, Akerman’s body of work grew to include an adaptation of Marcel Proust’s La Prisonniére, comedic features like Tomorrow We Move and A Couch in New York. From the director’s groundbreaking works in the 1970s to her crushing, intimate swansong in No Home Movie; Akerman’s career fell a few years short of five decades. While Golden Eighties isn’t widely held up as the director’s best work, it’s an inventive choice from the QLDFF programming team that goes some way in demonstrating the extent of the Akerman’s versatility. Another musical comedy rounds out the retros, Gillian Armstrong’s Starstruck which turns 15 this year.
Last year we looked at the short film program of QLDFF, which again looks to be the most thoughtfully programmed of any local festival. We will be providing another detailed feature piece on this section of the program towards the end of the festival.
Antiporno (dir. Sion Sono)
Apple Pie (dir. Sam Hamilton)
Brimstone & Glory (dir. Viktor Jakovleski)
Brothers of the Night (dir. Patric Chiha)
Certain Women (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
Claire’s Camera (dir. Hong Sang-soo)
The Endless (dir. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead)
Good Time (dir. Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie)
Grace, Who Waits Alone (dir. Georgia Temple)
The Human Surge (dir. Eduardo Williams)
I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck)
Jeannette: the Childhood of Joan of Arc (dir. Bruno Dumont)
The Lure (dir. Agnieszka Smoczyńska)
Nocturama (dir. Bertrand Bonello)
Occidental (dir. Neïl Beloufa)
On the Beach at Night Alone (dir. Hong Sang-soo)
The Ornithologist (dir. João Pedro Rodrigues)
Rey (dir. Niles Atallah)
The Untamed (dir. Amat Escalante)
RESTORED / RETROSPECTIVE
Beauty and the Beast (dir. Juraj Herz)
The Cremator (dir. Juraj Herz)
Golden Eighties (dir. Chantal Akerman)
Morgiana (dir. Juraj Herz)
Oil Lamps (dir. Juraj Herz)
Starstruck (dir. Gillian Armstrong)