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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Ten Must-See Films at the 2018 Brisbane International Film Festival

Including a behind-the-scenes look at David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet', a moving doco about M.I.A. and the most controversial film from this year's Cannes.
By Sarah Ward
October 12, 2018
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Ten Must-See Films at the 2018 Brisbane International Film Festival

Including a behind-the-scenes look at David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet', a moving doco about M.I.A. and the most controversial film from this year's Cannes.
By Sarah Ward
October 12, 2018
  shares

For the second time in as many years, the BIFF is back — the Brisbane International Film Festival, that is. Now hosted by the Gallery of Modern Art, until 2020, the fest has taken quite the rollercoaster ride in recent times. If you haven't kept up to date, BIFF has been cancelled, replaced, revived and then moved to a different organising body, all in the past decade. Thankfully, this Brissie event keeps coming back — the city needs its major annual cinema showcase, clearly.

Marking 26 years since it first launched, 2018's BIFF is bringing Brisbanites more than 100 films over 11 days — and bringing them to a number of spots around town between Thursday, October 11 and Sunday, October 21. Cinephiles can expect to get cosy at GOMA's Australian Cinematheque, Event Cinemas Myer Centre, New Farm Cinemas, the Elizabeth Picture Theatre, Reading Cinemas Newmarket, the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane Powerhouse and the State Library of Queensland, and soak in everything that the big screen has to offer.

And if that sounds like quite the feast of cinema, here are our ten top picks for the next week-and-a-half.

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BLUE VELVET REVISITED

David Lynch's films often feel like dreams, but it was Peter Braatz who was living one in the mid-1980s. The aspiring German filmmaker simply wrote the acclaimed director a letter and then found himself hanging out in North Carolina while Blue Velvet was being made — and recording the experience on his Super-8 camera. Compiling his footage three decades later, the end result isn't a traditional making-of documentary in any shape of form. Instead, it's a poetic wander behind the scenes, filled with impressionistic sights and interview insights (including with Blue Velvet stars Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini) to form a meditative collage. Blue Velvet Revisited also boasts discussions with Lynch himself, with the usually famously cryptic auteur as open and chatty about his work as you're ever likely to see in public.

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RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: CODA

Films about filmmaking always find a home at film festivals; however Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is a stellar film, period. And, like many movies about aspects of the movie business — in this case, the Japanese composer that gives the documentary its title — it's far from a straight-forward effort. Framed around Sakamoto's cancer diagnosis, this intimate effort spends time with the legendary musician as he contemplates both his place in the world and his contribution to his chosen art forms. In a revealing, lyrical and resonant manner, he doesn't just step through a career that has spanned scores for  The Revenant, The Last Emperor, Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence and more (and acting opposite David Bowie in the latter), but also ponders his own inspirations, his emotional response to the world's environmental crises and the very nature of creativity.

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ASH IS THE PUREST WHITE

Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke makes films both for and about today's fractured world, piecing together disparate parts of sweeping narratives into astute ruminations on his homeland. That said, he's also fond of a pop song — and on both fronts, Ash is the Purest White delivers. Charting the fated romance between Qiao (Zhao Tao) and her local mobster boyfriend Bin (Liao Fan) after she's jailed for saving his life, Jia's latest is thrilling and moving; however it's Zhao's commanding performance that is the feature's true masterstroke. Intriguingly, since enjoying its Australian premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival back in August, Ash is the Purest White has been re-edited, with BIFF screening the new director's cut.

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UNDER THE COVER OF CLOUD

Cricket may monopolise Australian televisions every summer, but local films about the sport are still few and far between. And while, on paper, Under the Cover of Cloud sounds like it's redressing that state of affairs, this Aussie flick about a writer researching a book about cricket isn't a sports movie. Rather, as written, directed and produced by filmmaker Ted Wilson — and starring him, too — it's a quietly revelatory and lingering tale of assessing and reassessing one's life and priorities. Acting opposite members of his immediate family, Wilson plays a journalist also called Ted Wilson, who moves back to Hobart from Melbourne with his wife and kids and contemplates penning a non-fiction tome about David Boon.

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UNITED SKATES

If there's one cinema sub-genre that deserves to thrive, it's this one: documentaries about America's roller-skating scene from the 1970s onwards. It's a field that might seem quite niche, but delivers a wealth of riches — not just for fans of strapping on skates themselves, but in examining the importance of skating to African-Americans and other minorities in the USA. United Skates is the second doco in the past two years to explore the subject, and the second directed by an Australian as well. Here, Brisbane-born filmmaker Tina Brown teams up with co-director Dyana Winkler to engagingly chart the rise and fall as roller-skating as a dance form, its importance to marginalised communities, and the societal reactions and implications.

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MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.

Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. may draw upon home videos and footage that M.I.A. captured herself, and it might be directed by the musician's art school friend Steve Loveridge; however it's never the film that description seems to signify. This personal warts-and-all effort doesn't aim to celebrate the rapper born as Mathangi Arulpragasam, but to understand her — and as it does a considerable job of explaining, that's hardly a simple process. Known as Maya when she's not belting out hit singles and attracting controversy for her 2012 Super Bowl performance, she's a figure that defies easy categorisation, which is the kind of compliment that everyone should strive for. Taking its stylistic cues from the artist's energy both when she's singing and when she's trying to be herself, Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. explores the how and why, the successes and roadblocks, and the ambitions and intentions.

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WANDA

With this retrospective screening, BIFF gives Brisbanites a rare chance to see a rare film. The first and only feature by Barbara Loden, Wanda follows its eponymous Pennsylvanian protagonist as she farewells her husband and kids, tries to carve out a new life, and increasingly finds herself at the mercy of troubling developments and the men behind them. Produced on the smallest of budgets, shot on 16mm film and made with purposeful naturalism and intimacy, it's an honest and unglamorous character study that didn't get its due when it was released in the 1970s, but has been gloriously restored now. And while it might be the sole movie that Loden made, Wanda was not only written and directed by the American filmmaker, but stars her as well.

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HOTEL BY THE RIVER

The ever-prolific Hong Sang-soo returns with his second film for 2018, after the Berlinale-debuting Grass — and with the Korean director's fifth since February 2017. It's also Hong's fifth film in a row with actress Kim Min-hee, but if there's one thing that the filmmaker always perfects, it's using the same elements to vastly different effect. Once again, he gives a simple situation his own inimitable treatment, with the black-and-white feature focusing on a poet in a hotel, the adult sons he's asked to visit him and the young woman also staying at the same establishment. As well as watching soju flow freely, the joy of Hong's movies comes from his quiet understanding of ordinary interactions, which Hotel by the River promises to continue.

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CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Earlier this year, Melissa McCarthy shared the screen with foul-mouthed puppets. Now, thanks to Can You Ever Forgive Me?, she's being talked about as an Oscar hopeful. Already nominated once for Bridesmaids, the actress might be known for her comedic roles, but her versatility has always remained one of her strongest traits — as this drama-comedy aims to illustrate. Astonishingly based on a true story, McCarthy plays Lee Israel, who jumps from writing celebrity biographies and profiles to forging and selling letters from dead literary stars. Unsurprisingly, trouble ensues; however the fact that this feature has been garnering significant buzz is far less unexpected, given that it's the latest directorial effort from The Diary of a Teenage Girl's Marielle Heller.

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THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

The most controversial film at Cannes this year finally arrives in Australia. Whether that's cause for excitement or concern is completely up to you, although it prompted mass walkouts in France, and earned both fierce pans and committed raves from critics. Of course, Lars von Trier's work is often polarising, as everything from Dancer in the Dark to Melancholia to Nymphomaniac has demonstrated. With The House that Jack Built, the director might just be at his most provocative — but making a violent thriller about a serial killer tends to do that. Set in the US in the late 1970s, the Danish director's latest follows  Matt Dillon's murderous figure as crosses paths with a number of women, including Uma Thurman and Riley Keough.

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This year's BIFF includes other films that are worth your attention — and that we've either seen and loved or just been excited about before.

We loved Leave No Trace when it hit cinemas down south, and warmed to Ladies in Black as well. We were also fond of The Green Fog and Transit at Berlinale, Shoplifters and Terror Nullius at the Sydney Film Festival, and Acute Misfortune and Knife + Heart at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

And, in the lead up to SFF, we were excited about [CENSORED]Jirga and Rafiki too.

Published on October 12, 2018 by Sarah Ward

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