Film festival adds some BIFF to wowsers

Russell Crowe appears in The Man with the Iron Fists.
Russell Crowe appears in The Man with the Iron Fists.

If you thought the controversy surrounding last year's BIFF would have prompted festival director Richard Moore to shy away from the taboo when choosing this year's program you'd be sorely mistaken.

Moore describes this year's event – BIFF's 21st – as a combination of "Politics, Sex, Drugs and Pasta" – topics guaranteed to generate heated interest and debate (as long as you're a foodie), maybe even a bit of controversy.

Among the 137 films to be shown over 12 days this November are films featuring everything from Nazi orgies (Salon Kitty), middle-aged female sex tourists (Paradise: Love) and teenage masturbation (Turn Me On, Goddammit!) to cinema shoot-ups (God Bless America). It's enough for your average wowser to have a heart attack.

This year's BIFF program was revealed last night at a special program preview at the State Library.

The program boasts 43 Australian premieres (and three world premieres) including the 2012 version of Great Expectations, RZA's The Man with the Iron Fists (featuring Russell Crowe), the previously announced opening and closing night films The Sweeney and Anna Karenina, as well as the big screen debut of Michael Cimino's notorious box office disaster Heaven's Gate.

Just as exciting as these announcements is the inventive way many will be presented.

The Man with the Iron Fists will debut at the open-air cinema at South Bank on November 15, one of two films to be shown in the outdoors.

But more significantly, a selection of films will be shown at the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium.

"You're basically on your seat, lying back and you are seeing the film on the dome," Moore said.

"It's completely immersive."

Among the mini-programs featured in this year's festival is a collection of films by Ai Weiwei, a chinese artist and dissident, including the world premiere of his latest film Ping'an Yueqing.

A documentary on Weiwei by Beijing-based journalist Alison Klayman (Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry) will also be aired as part of the festival.

"Weiwei is a terrific artist, but he also has his camera at his side all the time, using it as a weapon to uncover stories about the justice system and all the problems going on in China," he said.

"He's constantly in and out of jail, he's constantly getting beaten up, the amount of things he does in terms of challenging the authorities – shoving his camera right in their faces really quite aggressively – I'm surprised he's not in chains."

Timothy Leary and LSD are the focus of four films, while a selection of seven films from Melbourne's Monster Fest will also be featured including The Nullarbor Nymph, a mockumentary about a blonde nymph who tempts men to their deaths in the outer reaches of South Australia.

Most interestingly the festival also features a tribute to spaghetti westerns, taking in films from a program curated by Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan as part of NYC's Film Forum earlier this year.

According to Moore the showcase is unprecedented in Australia.

It features two Django films in anticipation of the release of Quentin Tarintino's forthcoming Django Unchained, (Django and Django Kill... If you Live You Shoot), Sergio Corbucci's acclaimed The Great Silence, Navajo Joe (featuring Burt Reynolds as a native American), as well as all three films in Sergio Leone's Man With No Name trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) aired back to back on Sunday November 18.

Forbidden Pleasures features films that deal with "some of the seamier aspects of human sexual behaviour" including the Australian premiere of the disturbing US indie flick Compliance, and the Norwegian feature Turn Me On, Goddammit!, which explores the desires and sexual frustration of a teenage girl.

The process of putting a festival program together can be experimental itself, case in point being Salon Kitty, the "artful trash" produced by Caligula director Tinto Brass which only came across Moore's radar by accident.

Needless to say, the film's description promising a combination of spies, amputees, dwarves and Nazis committing depraved acts in a Gestapo brothel peaked Moore's interest.

"We were dealing with an overseas sales agent and we were talking about a couple of titles in the spaghetti western section and they sent us the wrong contract, the contract for Salon Kitten, which we'd never heard of," he said.

"The program manager Kiki and I (read the description) and thought 'what the hell is that' and got a copy of it."

Conscious about giving back to the community, Moore has expanded the festival's industry program this year. Industry figures such as Filipino independent director Brilliante Mendoza and film editors Jil Bilcok and Walter Murch will take part in conversations, while other programs such as Film Financing 101 will focus on the business side of film making.

The Asia Pacific Screen Awards will be held as part of BIFF for the first time this year, while the finalists of Australia's richest prize for documentary filmmakers, BIFFDocs, will also be on show, including films on controversial director Roman Polanski, Australian cinematographer Don McAlpine as well as the West Memphis Three.

While there isn't a film of Human Centipede 2's notoriety to get wowsers up in arms this year, Moore would be more than happy for another such controversy, given the insatiable interest in the film's screening last year.

"In the final wash up last year, with all the hoo hah over Human Centipede, we were proven right by the review board of the Office for Film and Literature Classification," he said. "They passed it for screening in Australia.

"Sometimes people should think before they protest, but hey if anyone feels like stirring up a storm this year – you are more than welcome .

"BIFF turns 21 years old this year – we are mature enough to handle it."

The 21st Brisbane International Film Festival runs from November 14 to 25 at a range of venues.

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This story Film festival adds some BIFF to wowsers first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.