Ten Must-See Films at the 2017 Brisbane International Film Festival

Pick your favourite and lock in tickets — there are 60 shorts and features on the bill.
Sarah Ward
Published on August 15, 2017

Brisbane cinephiles, prepare for six words you never imagined you'd hear again: it's Brisbane International Film Festival time. The city's major cinema showcase was killed off following its 2013 festival, then replaced by the short-lived model that was the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, and now rises from the dead like a ravenous film-loving zombie. Instead of eating brains, however, the now Palace-run festival wants to fill movie buffs' heads with plenty of ace new international cinema.

Indeed, with 60 shorts and features on the agenda between August 17 and September 3, BIFF's returning lineup aims to do just that. Austere Russian dramas, endearing first-time Aussie efforts, national icons taking on more roles than seems humanly possible, slice-and-dice samurai dramas and docos about Brisbane legends are all on the bill, and that's just the beginning. Here are our ten top picks (plus a few other recommendations) to help you fill nearly three weeks worth of movie-going.


Dissecting a society infected by oppressive politics, Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev captures modern life in his homeland in bleak slices, whether exploring brothers reunited with their absent father in The Return, a woman forced to do whatever it takes for family in Elena, or a family taking on a corrupt mayor in Leviathan. Stark and stunning from start to finish, Loveless is no different. Here, a squabbling couple on the brink of divorce discover that their largely neglected 12-year-old son has gone missing — and there's no one like Zvyagintsev at taking an already tense and heartbreaking situation into formally composed, emotionally brutal, absolutely astonishing territory.


Some of the best comedies find their laughs from relatable drama. And, while we all haven't watched our twin sister live out our wildest dreams of becoming a successful actor (and date Jared Leto), we have seen hopes and wishes fall by the wayside, taken leaps of faith that haven't paid out, and had to redefine our idea of a happy ending. That's the tale of low-budget Aussie comedy That's Not Me, the first feature from writer/director Gregory Erdstein and writer/star Alice Foulcher, and an earnest, astute, insightful and thoroughly amusing exploration of making it, faking it and the fact that life usually exists somewhere in between.


Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu has proven a Cannes Film Festival favourite — if he's not winning the Palme d'Or for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, he's nabbing best screenplay for Beyond the Hills, and best director for Graduation. One of the key talents in the Romanian new wave, his acclaim is justified, as the latter demonstrates. Delving into the consequences of a fateful act and the decisions that follow, he chronicles a hardworking doctor's attempts to ensure that his daughter gets into university, exposing the horrors of real life — the unfairness, the corruption, the compromises and the sacrifices — in the process.


Award-winning Vietnamese actress Pham Thi Hong Anh turns director with The Way Station, making her helming debut with a passion project about an isolated restaurant. Lives intertwine, problems coincide and a love triangle springs as the handy-with-a-knife Phuoc wanders into the eatery, then finds himself both employed and living in the same space as his boss's family. The film won best feature, actor and cinematography at this year's ASEAN International Film Festival and Awards, and is also in the running at the Brisbane-based Asia Pacific Screen Awards.


Cate Blanchett was already won two Oscars and a whole host of other acting awards, however she's deserving of many, many more for her work in Manifesto. The formidable Aussie talent plays no fewer than 12 roles for German artist and filmmaker Julian Rosefeldt, with each of her characters spouting a political, social or artistic creed within their ordinary lives. If the fact that this was originally designed as a gallery installation doesn't give it away, then the precise framing and composition will — this is an art film through and through. It might test some viewers' patience, but it's also a unique piece of cinema determinedly endeavouring to provoke and challenge.


Long after we're all gone, Takashi Miike will probably still be alive — and still be making movies. The prolific and provocative Japanese director has done everything from unnerving horror to superhero comedy to ultraviolent crime to a film about ninja kids on his resume (and much, much, much more), and he's simply not stopping. With swords flying, samurais fighting and carnage swelling, Blade of the Immortal is his 100th directorial effort, telling of a blade-wielding mercenary who cannot be killed. A word of warning for those new to Miike's inimitable antics: expect a bloodbath and then some.


They're the Brisbane band so iconic, we've named a bridge after them — and whether you're a lifelong fan going round and round through the streets of your town, or have always wondered what the South Brisbane-to-Milton structure was all about, The Go-Betweens: Right Here has the answers (about the group, not the toll roadway.) Making his third film in less than a year, Red Dog: True Blue and Australia Day director Kriv Stenders weaves the tale of the band that leapt from the University of Queensland to the top of the international music scene, with plenty of archival footage, an ace soundtrack (obviously), and candid interviews from The Go-Betweens' current members.


Fun Mom Dinner takes an ace cast (including Toni Collette, Molly Shannon, Adam Scott and Paul Rudd), an Aussie director (first-timer, Jungleboys signing and former Tropfest winner Alethea Jones, who is next set to helm the live-action Barbie flick), a carload of inappropriate gags, a heap of heart and a '99 Luftballoons' karaoke singalong, and turns it into a frank and funny girls-night-out comedy. And if you feel like you've seen this before, and recently, don't worry: the terrible Rough Night, this definitely isn't. Ignore the not-so-ace title and settle in for a spirited, sometimes silly effort filled with great performances, moments and banter.


Australia has long been filled with talented folks. And, at the moment, we're increasingly filled with documentaries celebrating that fact. Hot on the heels of docos about Brett Whitely, Anthony ListerDr G Yunupingu and more, Namatjira Project sets its sights on Indigenous art pioneer Albert Namatjira, however this isn't just a life-and-times type run through of his career and impact. Filmmaker Sera Davies directs her focus towards his family's long and ongoing battle to reclaim the copyright behind his pieces, which was sold by the Australian government in the '80s, and therefore get back an important part of their culture and heritage.


It's not every day that you get to see a Kazakh film on a big screen. And no, the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy you're thinking about definitely doesn't count. Far, far removed from Borat's outlandish antics,  Returnee takes its title from the term used to describe Kazakhstan residents who have moved back to the country since its 1991 independence. In a measured drama filled with striking imagery, director Sabit Kurmanbekov examines the events that follow when an Afghanistan-raised family is finally able to head home.

Eager for a few more picks? We have you covered. As well as being keen for Patti Cakes when it played Sundance, Song to Song at SXSW, Wonderstruck at Cannes and Happy End in general, we saw and loved The Party and On Body and Soul at Berlinale. Plus, we enjoyed Ali's Wedding and The Square at the Sydney Film Festival, and My Life as a Zucchini at the Gold Coast Film Festival as well. And then there's Faces Places and In This Corner of the World, two of our must-see selections from the Melbourne International Film Festival.


The 2017 Brisbane International Film Festival runs from August 17 to September 3. To view the complete program and grab tickets, visit the BIFF website.

Published on August 15, 2017 by Sarah Ward
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