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Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival Cancelled, Leaving Brisbane Without a Major Film Festival

Terrible and downright unacceptable news.
By Sarah Ward
April 06, 2017
By Sarah Ward
April 06, 2017

Imagine living in a capital city without its own major film festival. Or, welcome to Brisbane. After three years, the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival has been cancelled, to be replaced by screenings throughout the year that will be tied to the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. Whether you're an avid cinephile and festival-goer with a stack of old film fest programs on their shelves (yep, hi!), or a casual Brissie movie fan eager to see more than superheroes and transforming robots monopolise the city's screens, it's terrible and downright unacceptable news.

"After careful consideration and engagement with industry and partners, a decision has been taken to discontinue the standalone film festival format of BAPFF," reads a statement from the festival, which then goes on to mention a "focus on a more accessible, year-round APSA screening program". The organisation behind the industry-focused awards will instead put together a range of screenings with other like-minded events, as well as others when the APSAs roll around in November. Just what the latter will look like is yet to be revealed.

If you're wondering what the APSAs are, that's completely understandable. The awards ceremony celebrated its 10th year in 2016, but they're hardly well-known by general cinema attendees. And if you're wondering why the Brisbane City Council and Screen Queensland, the two government bodies that provided the bulk of the funding for BAPFF in its three-year run from 2014 to 2016, would favour giving out shiny trophies (or hand-crafted "award vessels", as they're called) to actors, directors and other filmmaking folks over actually showing Brisbane viewers an array of international cinema, that's understandable too.

It's worth remembering that this is the second major government-funded Brisbane film festival that has been scrapped in three years. When BAPFF came into existence, it was because the powers-that-be decided to cancel the successful, 22-year-old Brisbane International Film Festival. BIFF was popular and well-attended, providing Brisbane with its own equivalent of the Sydney Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Massive lines, initially down the Queen Street Mall when the festival was based in the former Regent Cinema, current hole in the ground, then around Palace Barracks, Centro and now-neglected Tribal Theatre, were common. Hey, there was even a sold-out and lively midnight session for The Human Centipede 2.

Upon announcing BAPFF back in June 2014, Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk mentioned that it would be a "a high-calibre film event showcasing the filmmakers, films and documentaries of the APSAs". Does that sound familiar? It's certainly a comment that's all the more telling now, although it always was indicative of the preference for the industry event over an audience-centric fest. In shining a spotlight on cinema from the Asia Pacific, BAPFF scaled down the number of flicks on offer, from BIFF's 130-plus features to around 80. And, while it screened plenty of great titles over its brief existence — here's our list of picks from 2014, 2015 and 2016 — it didn't receive quite the same audience response as BIFF did. That's not a shock. There's a reason that BAPFF's now final fest included a healthy contingent of films from outside of the Asia Pacific, after all.

Basically, first the city's major film festival was replaced with a smaller festival that was tied to the APSAs, with fewer films, a narrower scope and smaller audiences as a result. Now, because it wasn't successful — again, to the surprise of absolutely no one — that second festival is being dumped too. Saying that "this step is being undertaken to strengthen APSA as the Asia Pacific region's leading film competition, academy, ceremony and screening program that recognises and promotes the cinematic excellence and cultural diversity of the vast region," as today's announcement does, is both further proof that the awards have been deemed more important than the film festival, as well as a slap in the face to everyone that has supported both BIFF and BAPFF over the past 24 years. And, you know, to people who like going to the movies.

Yes, more movies more often is a good thing. But, are we really going to get the equivalent of 80 new films that wouldn't be screened in Brisbane otherwise spread out over the year? You can bet that that won't happen. And, there's nothing like being immersed in a city-wide film festival that truly celebrates cinema from all around the world for a concentrated block of time. Brisbane will continue to host an array of other country-focused festivals, of course, as well as the Queensland Film Festival — which was actually started to help screen the kinds of movies that BAPFF was overlooking.

If we sound angry, that's because we are. As everyone who loves film in Brisbane should be. What kind of place has a major international film festival for 22 years, replaces it with a smaller, Asia-Pacific focused cinema showcase for three years, and then decides to opt for neither after "engagement with industry and partners"? Note, audiences weren't mentioned there. "Give me Brisbane any day" might be the city's current slogan, but it's now a mocking taunt to cinephiles.

Image: Lion, screened for VIP closing night at BAPFF 2016.

Published on April 06, 2017 by Sarah Ward
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