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Responding to the current world focus on Islam and the Middle East, this year’s Brisbane film festival is offering a collection of features and documentaries from the region, in a move that highlights the nexus between cinema and real life, reports Andrew L. Urban. It started in a taxi . . . 

It was during a post September 11 taxi ride in Sydney, that Brisbane International Film Festival director Anne Demy-Geroe had one of those defining moments that seem like fate talking to us. The radio was playing the news of a Muslim school being attacked in Sydney. In the subsequent casual conversation, the driver, a Muslim, voiced his concern for his family, revealing how scared his wife was for their children going to school.

As the driver talked, Demy-Geroe had the stirrings of the idea to showcase films from the Muslim world as an insight into Islam that most of us never get. Here was a perfectly ordinary taxi driver directly affected by world events far away. And here was a film festival director attuned to the moment. “I thought it would be good to provide an insight into that world … a view we don’t usually see.” 

"open our eyes"

Then, coincidentally, the invitation arrived to attend the Iranian Film Festival (in February 2003), where she saw films from the region “in context”.

Excited “because the crises around the world have been so divisive in Australia and I hope these 24 features and documentaries will open our eyes to what really goes on there [the Middle East]. By grouping them together, we get a more accurate view and a greater impact,” she says. 

But, she recalls, she was nervous about her idea at first. In particular, those with whom she would have to deal – like embassies, bureaucracies, distributors and the filmmakers themselves? “But people have been very interested to be a part of it,” she says now, on the eve of the festival. 

Indicative of the nature of politics and society in the region, one film in the festival, a short called The Cherries Which Were Canned, has had to be smuggled out on Beta tape, after bureaucrats in Iran banned it. “The amazing thing is,” she says, “the film is really quite innocuous . . .” 

With the umbrella title, 1001 Voices, cinema from the Middle East & Islamic World is a collation of feature films and documentaries from Iran, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Krygyzstan, Tunisia and Morocco – “and it is hoped that they will reflect the diversity of these regions and their cultures, says Demy-Geroe.

“Film offers a more in-depth exposure to life in these countries than perhaps is achieved through images on television. We hope to promote tolerance and understanding of the different Middle-Eastern & Islamic cultures by these cinema screenings, and while some of the films have a serious context, many of them are joyful and good-humoured celebrations of life.”

"Opening Film...a different cattle of film"

But Opening Film is a very different cattle of film, with US director Henry Jaglom’s largely improvised romantic comedy, Festival in Cannes, shot against the back drop of the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. The film stars Greta Scacchi, Maximillian Schell and veteran beauty, Anouk Amiee (La Dolce Vita). This is director Henry Jaglom’s 13th film, in which he looks behind-the-scenes of the most internationally famous film festival of them all.

Successful actress Alice Palmer (Greta Scacchi) has written a script for an earnest and politically correct indie feature, and is at Cannes to try to put together the finance. Within hours, she is befriended, rejected, and befriended again by a sharp producer hustling for a deal. Irony abounds in Festival in Cannes and it’s both a sharp and funny analysis of the film industry.

“In contrast to the Cannes Film Festival, BIFF continues to retain its reputation as the ‘friendly festival’ while it expands in popularity.” stated Queensland Minister for the Arts, Matt Foley.

"Closing Film... intruiging, potentially mainstream work"

For the Closing Film, Demy-Geroe has chosen an equally intriguing and potentially mainstream work in UK director Christopher Nolan’s solid drama, Insomnia, starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams, which asks, what are the moral implications of enforcing the law by justifying the means? 

Sandwiched between the two films is a Joseph Losey retrospective (which includes the unforgettable The Servant); a vibrant world cinema showcase which includes the first ever film made in the Inuit language (Ataranjuat The Fast Runner) and another Robin Williams film, One Hour Photo, in which Williams again plays a dark character. Also, films from Russia and Argentina, and the Mexican film that closes the Sydney film festival, Y tu Mamá También (And Your Mother Too!)

One of the most high profile films of the festival will be Birthday Girl, starring Nicole Kidman. This British production, proudly presented by The British Council and supported by 4KQ and the Komodo Club, will launch the new BIFF Showcase Screenings on Thursday 11 July 2002 at the Greater Union Hoyts Regent Theatre. The second glamourous Showcase Screening will take place on Tuesday 16 July with the screening of the romantic comedy, Kissing Jessica Stein.

Birthday Girl , which premiered at Venice in 2001, is director Jez Butterworth’s second feature. The deceptively clever romantic comedy is also part caper, part thriller and a perfect vehicle for the phenomenal talents of lead actors Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin.

The film stars Nicole Kidman as Nadia, a Russian mail-order bride who has been ordered over the internet by English bank manager, John Birmingham (Ben Chaplin).

For serious film lovers, BIFF offers its film on film series: Martin Scorsese’s massive tribute to Italian cinema, My Voyage to Italy, is an exhilarating and heartfelt loveletter. Film buffs will find this four-hour epic a splendid aide-mémoire to thirty Italian classics, also furnishing priceless insights into Scorsese’s own life and work. What makes this film particularly fascinating, above and beyond its subject matter, is the way Scorsese notes the effect each film has had on his own artistic vision.

"a strong year for films on film history"

In a strong year for films on film history, the discovery of behind-the-scenes footage of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, shot in colour by his brother Sydney, was the origin of this new documentary The Tramp and the Dictator by film historian Kevin Brownlow. Brownlow parallels the lives of Chaplin and Hitler, who were born in the same week of April 1889, and finds a surprising number of similarities and ironies. The Tramp and the Dictator is generously interspersed with film clips of pristine quality from the film that, in the eyes of many, is Chaplin’s most important and engaging work.

Shorts, docos and a program of silent films completes the screening schedule, and the Fast Film shootout competition brings in the young guns of Queensland filmmaking. 

Tickets are on sale from June 18; $350 will get you into everything, including the parties.
For more details: ring the BIFF hotline 07 3007 3007 or visit www.biff.com.au

Published June 20, 2002

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BIFF 2002
July 9 - 21

Festival in Cannes - opening night film
Low or High

Insomnia - closing night film
Low or High

One Hour Photo
Low or High

Kissing Jessica Stein
Low or High

Birthday Girl
Low or High

Late Marriage

Made In Israel

Red Satin

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