As the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival (better known as BAPFF) enters its third year, it has its audience front and centre. The 2016 festival’s program and trailer are each emblazoned with images of enraptured cinema-goers, entranced by the silver screen. And why wouldn’t they be? With an impressive program announced this week – running the gamut from avant-garde arthouse to films starring the likes of Kristen Stewart and Adam Driver – BAPFF is maturing into the kind of festival that deserves to attract sizable crowds.
Since its inception in 2014, the festival has attracted its fair share of criticism – not least from Richard Moore, former director of the now-defunct Brisbane International Film Festival, who described it as “a new marketing exercise” and “a mortal blow to Brisbane’s film community.” Moore’s complaints weren’t entirely unfounded; while the first two years of the festival included plenty of impressive films, it was hard to shake the impression that audiences were overshadowed by international stakeholders and, particularly, the Asia Pacific Screen Awards – whose nominations, to a large degree, determine the composition of the festival program.
Thankfully, BAPFF’s third iteration plays nice with both the APSAs and audiences. While Councillor Krista Adams made sure to highlight “business opportunities” at the festival’s media launch, those opportunities are paired with an increase in opportunities for a diverse audience to find films that speak to them, whether they’re already aficionados of Asia Pacific cinema or just looking to enjoy a good movie or two with a glass of wine.
So with 12 days (from November 23rd to December 4th) to fill, where to start? I’ve whittled down the roster to a shortlist of 10 films worth your time.
The most exciting addition to the BAPFF roster this year is the “No Boundaries: International Perspectives” strand, which expands the scope of the festival beyond the Asia Pacific. “No Boundaries” includes films from all across the globe (well, mostly Europe, with a couple American indies in the mix as well). Many of these movies, like Olivier Assayas’ (excellent) Personal Shopper and Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, premiered at Cannes before attracting plenty of buzz at Melbourne and Sydney’s film festivals.
But the jewel in the international crown is undeniably Toni Erdmann,an unconventional comedy from German director Maren Ade. A near-three-hour movie about a father trying to cheer up his adult daughter might not sound like essential cinema, but the critical plaudits the film’s earned since its Cannes premiere – where it won the FIPRESCI Award for Best Film in Competition – have reinforced the film’s reputation as a modern masterpiece. Not to be missed.
Manchester by the Sea
But it’s not all just hand-me-downs from SFF and MIFF. The flexibility offered by this new strand allows BAPFF to, as BIFF once did, operate as a catchment for late-year festival favourites – like Manchester by the Sea – that won’t land an Australian release until next year. The third film for American director Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea has firmed as an Oscar frontrunner (both for Best Picture and actors Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams) since premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. If the buzz is anything to go by, its tale of grief and redemption looks to be something truly exceptional – and one of the must-have tickets of this year’s festival.
A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery
Purists will likely be turning up their nose at such films; the kind receiving Oscar recognition and wide(ish) releases early next year. But if you’re looking for the festival’s ‘hard mode’, Lav Diaz has got you covered. The Filipino auteur is (in)famous for the length of his films, and at precisely 8 hours, A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery doesn’t buck the trend. This epic exploration of the Philippine Revolution of 1896 is smartly scheduled before the festival proper – with an interval and refreshments – and is well-suited to those wanting the full film festival experience. (And if that’s not enough for the truly masochistic cinephiles, there’s another 4 hours of Diaz nestled in the program.)
Hounds of Love
All this classy cinema calls for a bit of grit under the nails, which is exactly what Perth director Ben Young’s debut feature, Hounds of Love, brings to BAPFF. This low-budget Aussie serial killer flick, starring Stephen Curry and Emma Booth as a couple with a predilection for abducting and murdering teenage girls, blew off the doors at the Venice film festival and has its Australian premiere in Brisbane. The festival PR materials describe Hounds of Love as “the next Wolf Creek” – here’s hoping that it lives up to the hype.
Asghar Farhadi, the acclaimed director of the Oscar-winning A Separation, lent credibility to BAPFF’s inaugural year with his presence; two years later, and it’s no surprise to see his latest film in the line-up. Farhadi has steadily built a filmography defined by precise insights into the human condition: morality, religion, equality and hypocrisy. The Salesman, his seventh feature film, returns to his native Iran (after The Past stopped over in France) to interrogate those same themes in the midst of a revival of Death of a Salesman, and if it’s anything like his previous films it’ll be one of the festival highlights.
Yourself and Yours
The first year of BAPFF also established a perennial tradition: playing host to the Australian premiere of Hong Sang-soo’s latest. This year the trend continues with Yourself and Yours, another subtly-complex look at modern relationships over a few too many soju (a Korean distilled alcohol; though I’ve read that Yourself and Yours will bring beer to the table instead!). Sang-soo’s films are perfect festival fare, pairing wry comedy with intricate intellectual underpinning, and Yourself and Yours looks to continue the tradition. Best enjoyed with a drink or three.
The Asia Pacific, of course, includes a little island called Australia, and while Aussie films – like the aforementioned Hounds of Love – have consistently featured in the festival line-up, local filmmakers – ie Brisbane filmmakers – have generally been underrepresented. Ella, a documentary from a pair of Brisbane-based filmmakers (director Douglas Watkin and producer Veronica Fury), is prominently featured in the festival’s marketing material and, along with a small selection of locally-produced features and shorts, is hopefully indicative of a renewed focus on Brisbane cinema. The film tells the inspirational story of Ella Havelka, the first Indigenous dancer to join the Australian Ballet, and seems well-suited for audiences looking for something uplifting.
Queen of Katwe
While we’re on the subject of uplifting, it’s hard to go past guaranteed crowd-pleaser Queen of Katwe: an underdog sports movie (except the sport is chess).The Disney film is a truly international production; it tells the story of a Ugandan chess prodigy (Madina Nalwanga) and boasts an Indian-American director (Mira Nair) and Mexican/Kenyan and British/Nigerian stars (Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo). The film’s inclusion in the program exemplifies this year’s emphasis on showcasing the works of female directors and featuring the stories of young women, as in opening night film Parched, a brightly-coloured Indian film giving the middle finger to the patriarchy.
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
That emphasis carries through to this year’s retrospective, “Japanese Screen Legends”, an expansive selection of classic Japanese cinema. Rather than construct this retro around the masters who directed them – Akira Kurosawa, Yasujirō Ozu, Mikio Naruse – BAPFF has framed it around the Japanese actresses who defined the era: Setsuko Hara, Kinuyo Tanaka and Hideko Takamine. The latter is the star of my pick from this strand, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. This moving, proto-feminist portrait of the romantic and professional challenges facing Takamine’s bar hostess is a legitimate masterpiece, and well worth scheduling in alongside the festival’s broad range of contemporary cinema.