The Ten Best Films To See at the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival

Arab Idol, Iranian road movies and the Chinese martial arts films you need in your life.
Sarah Ward
Published on November 03, 2015

It’s film festival time in Brisbane, and yes, a busy calendar of cultural-orientated movie offerings means that could be true on any given weekend; however the period spanning November 19 to 29 stands out. It belongs to the city’s major cinema celebration — and while the Brisbane International Film Festival is no more, the replacement that is the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival has been trying to pick up some of the slack since 2014, at least when it comes to movies from its area of interest.

In its second year, the 11-day event presents an 83-feature program from a lineup of 102 films in total, complete with 33 Australian premieres and 23 Queensland premieres. Highlighting the movie-making prowess of the Asia Pacific region is its focus, covering 42 countries and showcasing 34 movies that have earned nominations at the forthcoming Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

Indeed, from festival circuit hits to retrospective screenings of restored classics feature — and including a program of virtual reality shorts, too — BAPFF's 2015 selection serves up a bustling bunch of screen fare for cinema fans. As always, the most difficult part isn't rushing between the event's five venues (Palace Barracks, GOMA, New Farm Cinemas, Griffith Film School and The Courier-Mail Piazza), or fighting film festival fatigue when you're in the thick of BAPFF craziness, but trying to pick which flicks to see. To assist, here's our rundown of the ten that make our must-see list.




When it comes to reality TV, almost every corner of the globe has become addicted to live singing contests and other televised talent quests. In the Middle East, Arab Idol has captured the hearts and minds of the viewing audience, and turned ordinary folks into stars and winners in the process. When the 2013 season of the show aired its final stages, Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (Omar) watched as Gazan wedding singer Mohammad Assaf emerged victorious. His rags-to-riches true tale fascinated the director so much that he turned it into his next film — and BAPFF have taken his lead, selecting The Idol as its feel-good opening night movie.



Forget EverestSherpa is the mountainous movie that will get everyone talking. In 2014, Australian director and mountaineer Jennifer Peedom embarked on a quest to film Phurba Tashi Sherpa’s potentially world record-breaking trek to the summit of the world's highest peak, but Mother Nature had other plans. Tragedy struck on April 18, which remains the blackest day in Everest’s history. The documentary Peedom crafted —— not so much benefiting from being in the right place at the right time, but reacting thoughtfully to such a catastrophic situation — is stunning in its high-altitude visuals, moving in its emotions, and eye-opening in exposing the reality of its titular subjects. It's also the kind of gripping effort that must be seen on the largest screen possible.



In just two festivals, BAPFF has started a pleasing precedent. Each year, the latest film by South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo clearly features at the top of their wish list — and the festival has delivered yet again, this time bringing Locarno Golden Leopard winner Right Now, Wrong Then to Brisbane for its Australian premiere. As is often the case in the filmmaker's efforts, matters of the heart inspire a narrative of chance meetings, what-if type questioning, clever character studies and circular comedy. Given that Hill of Freedom was a highlight of BAPFF 2014, hopes are high for the feature Indiewire has likened to Groundhog Day. Our tip, and a good rule for watching all Hong Sang-soo offerings: make soju part of your movie-going plans for this session.



When France selected Mustang as its entry into the foreign-language film category at the 2015 Oscars, the film world took note. The first feature by Deniz Gamze Erguven pipped Cannes Palme d'Or winner Dheepan for the spot; however there's no doubt that the contemplative coming-of-age effort deserves being thrust into prominence. Five sisters monopolise the movie's attention, each aged from pre-teen upwards, and all required to adhere to the strict regime forced upon them by their male relatives. As Mustang unravels their efforts to subvert such control, it recalls the haunting look and feel of The Virgin Suicides and the distress of Miss Violence, yet makes its look at sisterhood, self-preservation and its specific cultural situation very much its own.




An Australian dance movie that uses its fancy footwork to step through the plight of the indigenous populace, Spear is a striking cinematic achievement. First-time feature helmer, Bran Nue Dae and The Sapphires choreographer, and Bangarra Dance Theatre artistic director Stephen Page turns the company's performance work of the same name into a big-screen spectacle unlike anything crafted locally, or anywhere else for that matter. Mood, music and movement are pivotal, as a teenage boy wanders from the outback to the city to try to reconcile his ancient culture in a modern world. His journey is just as transporting for those watching as it is for those within the movie, as well as anchoring one of the most powerful pieces of Australian film perhaps ever made.



After wowing audiences at the Sydney Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival, it is Brisbane's turn to become immersed in the wonder of Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Assassin. The wuxia — or martial arts — effort ushers its genre into glacially paced, stylistically controlled territory as it tells the tale of a girl taken from her family at the age of ten, trained to kill, and then tasked with slaying the cousin she was once marked to marry. Every frame of the feature looks like a painting, which could be one of the reasons the filmmaker took out the best director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Swordplay has rarely looked as graceful and hypnotic, nor been littered throughout such a serene movie. A typical action flick, this isn't.



BAPFF ventures from one Cannes Film Festival best director winner to another, courtesy of Brilliante Mendoza's latest feature. The Filipino filmmaker won the coveted prize for 2009's Kinatay, and then returned to the Croisette with this year's Taklub, which follows three survivors of 2013's devastating Typhoon Haiyan. Though his movie provides a fictional account, shooting against the real-life backdrop of the destroyed city of Tacloban promises a mesmerising documentary-like sheen to his tragic drama. If you haven't yet discovered why Mendoza is one of the region's most exciting film talents, then this is the movie to help you fix that gap in your cinematic appreciation.



Iranian road movies seem to be having their moment, as Tehran Taxi (another 2015 BAPFF feature) and Tales have already demonstrated. Atomic Heart takes the concept, drives away into the night with it and refuses to stick to a standard streetscape. Here, two 20-something girls interact with a mysterious stranger on the way home from a party — and get more than they bargained for, of course. In the hands of director Ali Ahmadzadeh, their voyage promises to take a turn into the surreal, absurd and satirical; however given its country of origin, the film isn't without its lashings of cultural commentary as well.



In Among the Believers, the cry "won't somebody think of the children" threatens to become a haunting plea. The lauded documentary steps behind the veil of Islamic fundamentalism to expose perhaps its most concerning attack: on the hearts and minds of the youths poised to become its next generation of followers. Filmmakers Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi are given unprecedented access to the Red Mosque, aka the most prominent educational institution in Islamabad, or ground zero for indoctrinating kids into extremist beliefs. While it seems like every movie these days is likened to a horror film, this might just live up to the frightening comparison.


A Touch of Zen


Before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon brought all things wuxia to the world, A Touch of Zen defined the genre. That director King Hu's three-hour epic received the Technical Grand Prize at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival is significant, and warranted by the artistically imaginative sights it serves up. Charting the intersection of a scholar, a fugitive and a corrupt eunuch, the feature flirts with Buddhism, as its title makes clear, while taking a meditative approach to its choreographed fights. It's the martial arts film all cinephiles must see — and if you're going to pick one film from BAPFF's modest retrospective lineup, this should be it.

The 2015 Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival runs from November 19 – 29. For more information, visit the festival website.

Published on November 03, 2015 by Sarah Ward
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