The considerable expansion Tasmania's Breath of Fresh Air (BOFA) Film Festival has undergone in a single year would be the envy of any event organiser. After its humble launch last year by the Launceston Film Society, the festival was recognised by the state government as having significant cultural and commercial value. The 2011 BOFA team has enjoyed broad support from all levels of industry, government and film sectors.
For festival founder and director Owen Tilbury, a New South Welshman who now calls Tasmania home, the rise of BOFA is both startling and comforting. “Trying to do anything on an island is challenging,” he jokes, “and the state is going through a difficult time, economically. So we have been gratified that, even in difficult times like this, Events Tasmania, Screen Tasmania and the Launceston Council have given the support they have.”
One key hurdle that Tilbury and artistic director Bradley Patrick had to overcome was their isolated location. Their strategy to woo mainlanders to their event is two-fold. Firstly, Tilbury was adamant that BOFA's scope be part of a state-wide marketing focus. “There are a whole bunch of people out there who are interested in film and the ideas [we have] and we are targeting them nationally. We have very deliberately positioned ourselves in a national context to try and get those people to say 'I've always wanted to go to Tassie, so I might go down, see a few films, then visit some wineries, spend a few days,'” says Tilbury.
As a result, BOFA devised a strand called 'Food for Thought' to celebrate food and food technologies onscreen and issues surrounding human consumption (the ethical treatment of animals, sustainable planet initiatives, etc). This allowed for strategic alliances with Tasmania' s renowned food and wine industries as well as the programming of films like Karen Soeters' and Gertjan Zwanikken's Dutch livestock farming doco, Meat the Truth, Gereon Wetzel's gourmet odyssey, El Bulli, and Anna Lee's Korean comedy-thriller, The Recipe.
With top-tier business experience on his resume, Tilbury understood that the presence of name actors, producers and directors would help the festival earn industry points and provide marketing and promotional clout. “People come to a film festival to see film industry people,” he acknowledges. “From that perspective, we put aside quite a reasonable amount of money to get [film sector] people to come down and we have been very happy with the response.”
Tilbury sees it as crucial to his role that the state and national film industry embraces the event. “If we fail as a film festival to support, nurture, provide a forum for the local industry, I think we'll whither on the vine in due course,” he says bluntly.
Industry types descending on BOFA include producer Vincent Sheehan (his latest, The Hunter, is programmed on day two), directors Rowan Woods, Gregor Jordan and Jonathan auf der Heide (whose Tassie-set Van Diemen's Land will screen), SPAA President Brian Rosen, and AFTRS lecturer Glenn Fraser. All will be contributing to the extensive panel discussions and masterclass programs, carrying such audience-baiting titles as 'The Director's Art', 'The Importance of Story', 'Acting the Part' and 'Tasmania, the Perfect Location?' The centrepiece of the schedule is the live debate entitled 'The Screen is Mightier than the Sword', in which esteemed panellists Marcia Langton (Chair of Melbourne University's Indigenous Studies faculty) and Major General (retired) Jim Nolan (the Coalition's Chief of Staff during the 2004 Iraq war) discuss the influence media can have in societal change.
Tilbury is perhaps most conscious of the responsibility he has to the spiritual aims behind the event's creation. “The idea of the 'breath of fresh air' is to actually see things from a fresh perspective. What I take away from living in Tasmania is that they do things a bit differently here and that's partly because [we] are away from the mainstream.” It's a view that very much infused the second festival strand, 'New Horizons', a collection of films with a humanistic take on new technologies, social change and third world issues. On offer are such idiosyncratic films as: Cambria Matlow and Morgan Robinson's African-set enviro-doc, Burning in the Sun; Yann Arthus-Bertrand's photo-essay of the planet, Home (narrated by Glenn Close); Tom Zubrycki's The Hungry Tide, about the threat of global warming to the existence of the island nation, Kiribati; and The War You Don't See, Alan Lowery's and John Pilger's examination of the role of the news media in warzones.
The festival committee's choice for opening night film also reflects Tilbury's genuinely hopeful worldview: Anne Sewitzky's appropriately-titled but darkly complex Norwegian hit, Happy Happy (pictured). Tilbury feels an affinity for its skewed, occasionally immoral but optimistic take on modern life. “It is a film of 'new horizons', of how people live their lives differently, do things politically, environmentally. Happy Happy is very much a movie of our times.”
Tasmania's Breath of Fresh Air (BOFA) Film Festival runs from November 23-27. For more information visit the festival website.