Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) celebrated it’s 21st anniversary this year with yet another great line-up of amazing international films.
I attended BIFF on behalf of The Westender and had the great opportunity to see a few films this year too.
Coniston is a documentary about the last massacre of Aborigines in Australia, told by those who survived it and their descendants. Uncensored and honest, it lets the truth come out unfiltered with strong feelings which will move you, make you sad, make you angry, and then make you glad for have been given the opportunity to hear the real, true story.
The documentary takes the viewers on a journey with the help of great story-telling and re-enactment of what became known as the last massacre. Told by those who either survived the massacre or descendants of those who were massacred. Director of Coniston Francis Jupurrurla Kelly told the BIFF audience that the documentary was under production for about 30 years, gathering information, conducting interviews and going over old footage.
The murder of Frederick Brooks by Bullfrog, Padirrka and Marungali in 1928 unleashed what was later known as the Coniston Massacre. Bullfrog found Brooks having his way with his wife and sought revenge by killing him. The hunt for Bullfrog lead by Constable William Murray and is posse turned into a killing spree on the land of the Warlpiri people and their neighbours. While it is stated in official records that 31 were killed, it is believed that the number is much greater than that.
Coniston is more than just a documentary that shows re-enactments of what happened and showing descendants and survivors tell their story of what really happened by Coniston cattle station. It takes the viewers on a journey of how the documentary were produced, making it even more personal and emerging. Leaving the viewers feeling as if they are right there with them. Not just sitting there being told what happened, but also experiencing what happened, as if they were there too, witnessing the atrocities.
The story of the Coniston Massacre is not the only massacre which has happened in Australia. It is only the last massacre that happened. A part of Australia’s history that needs to be told and taught. Australian history before European settlement is now finally getting greater focus in schools, to teach young Australians about all of the history of Australia, not just its white history. If you missed out on this great documentary, do not worry, producer Jeni McMahon told the audience that it will be shown on ABC early next year.
For more info about Coniston you can visit: http://tix.biff.com.au/session2_biff.asp?sn=Coniston & http://coniston.pawmedia.com.au/
Sons of Norway
Sons of Norway takes you back to Norway during the late 1970s. Depicting the clash between hippies and punk rockers, the young rebelling against the old, and what is known in Norway as satellite-city-hell. Set in Rykkinn, a satellite city in Bærum municipality, where Nikolaj lives with his parents Magnus and Lone, and his younger brother Peter.
13-year-old Nikolaj is seen throwing a bottle at the schools Vice-Chancellor during his Constitution Day speech, as a taste of what the viewer might expect later. Then the frame changes to a longhaired and innocent looking Nikolaj Christmas shopping with his dad. After Nikolaj and his friends have a confrontation with the local bullies the long hair is cut short and his sweetness turns a bit sour. Setting them on a rebellious path after learning about punk rockers’ no-bullshit attitude towards everything.
The film starts of as you would expect from the trailer, as a crazy Norwegian comedy with no shame or inhibitions. That however changes quicker than expected. The death of Lone has a huge impact on Magnus, sending him into a very deep depression. Which leaves Nikolaj with a lot of responsibility, making him take care of his father and younger brother for a bit. While using his new found love with punk rock to cope with the death of his mother.
Magnus is your typical hippie and free-spirit, trying to look at everything in a positive light. Which might be the reason for him reacting so badly to the death of his wife. One of his attempts to find joy in life again is to go on summer holiday with Nikolaj at a nudist beach in Sweden. Like any kid trying to rebel against a parent, Nikolaj is not so successful. Instead of being upset with his son, Magnus decides instead to embrace these new ideas and energy Nikolaj is bringing into their lives through his experience with punk rock.
It is a unique film that manages to mix comedy, dark comedy and strong, emotional drama very well. You will be sent on an emotional roller coaster ride. You will laugh, you will feel uncomfortable and you will cry. Sons of Norway is a beautiful film about that special bond sons and fathers often share together. No matter what is thrown at them, after falling down, they brush of the dirt from their clothes and stand up together again.
For more info about Sons of Norway you can visit: http://tix.biff.com.au/session2_biff.asp?sn=Sons+of+Norway
Pushwagner is a fast-paced documentary about the man himself. An eccentric Norwegian artist with a huge personality– with a hint of Gonzo –that should be considered a living national treasure because of his amazing artwork. It tells the uncensored story about Hariton Pushwagner– Terje Brofos’ nom de plume –his life, his art, what inspired him as an artist, his drug abuse and the court case against his previous assistant Morten Dreyer.
The documentary blends some re-enactment with interviews and how it was produced. It starts with Pushwagner himself telling the film crew how to shoot the first scene, how the camera angel should be, what should be in the shot and what himself should be doing and saying. Something he does throughout the documentary without any hesitation. Showing an artist unable to stop being in control of his art, and to ensure to project himself in a certain way to the public. Which sets the theme of the documentary and his artwork, who is controlling the controller?
Pushwagner [the documentary] switches back and forth between colour and black/white, which creates a really interesting visual effect. Especially when showing Pushwagner’s art in colour while most of the interviews with Pushwagner are in grainy black/white. Layered with hard-hitting beats mostly by Ugress, a Norwegian electronica project by Gisle Martens Meyer. Towards the end of the documentary, Soft City, the most famous and considered most important work, by Pushwagner is shown in a sequence, blended with music in the background.
Pushwagner tells about his passion for expressing himself through art. How he was encouraged to do so, yet felt a bit ashamed of it as a kid. A personal conflict which is visible throughout the documentary. His art reveals his emotions, yet his way of being shows a very strong and no-bullshit person, someone you don’t want to mess around with. A Norwegian artist that has finally been given the recognition he deserves while still alive. Living on the streets of Oslo for a short period of time hardened him up a bit, which lead to drug abuse to handle the hard life as a homeless person. Not using drugs anymore, he is however still not shy about his alcohol consumption.
Throughout the documentary it is difficult not to think about Ralph Steadman, Hunter S. Thompson’s alter ego Raoul Duke and Gonzo Journalism. The way Pushwagner draws and expresses himself through art, that as a person he is very unique and that he has a history of drug use and still enjoys a few drops of alcohol in the morning, is what many might associate with a Gonzo lifestyle. Any fan of Hunter S. Thompson and Gonzo Journalism would enjoy Pushwagner [the documentary] and find it very interesting.
Pushwagner is one of those documentaries that doesn’t just scratch the surface of the story it wants to tell. This documentary delves deep under the surface of who Pushwagner is. It doesn’t hide anything, because that would not just be a disservice towards the viewer, but also an insult towards Pushwagner himself and what he has created and keeps creating. This honesty also helps the viewer to better understand where the art comes from, being able to not just put a name and a face to the artwork, but a personality and emotions.
For more info about Pushwagner you can visit: http://tix.biff.com.au/session2_biff.asp?sn=Pushwagner & http://www.indiefilm.no/english/
The Substance: Albert Hofmann’s LSD
The Substance: Albert Hofmann’s LSD starts out with a visual trip of colours and random imagery. In a subtle way, suggesting that this might be how you might experience a good LSD trip. The very visual intro also makes the viewer a bit curious to what might be said about LSD in the documentary. Is it bad, is it good or something in between?
A mix of different interviews with Albert Hofmann, piecing together a 90 minute history trip about LSD, what impact it had on science, pharmacology, psychology and drug culture. He explains how it was discovered and how he experienced his first trip. It also has a few very interesting interviews with Timothy Leary and his academic colleagues. One of the members of The Merry Pranksters Carolyn Garcia tells how LSD affected the hippie culture and how [LSD] prohibition had more a negative effect than a positive one.
The Substance: Albert Hofmann’s LSD manages to stay objective about the use of LSD and other psychotropics such as psilocybin. Informing the viewer about the positive sides of a LSD trip, but also discussing how psychotropic drugs, with their profound effect on the mind, can also send the user on a very unpleasant trip. Furthermore it highlights how the prohibition of LSD had a huge negative effect on those who used it casually, and that it more importantly had a very negative effect on scientists that wanted to conduct research on LSD.
There is still a lot to learn about LSD and its effects on the mind. Studies has shown that it can have a positive effect on those suffering from depression, which is discussed towards at the end of the documentary. However, due to the prohibition, psychiatrists now rely on psilocybin, as it is not as restricted as LSD.
Because the documentary is using archived footage for some of the interviews and to provide context, it at times feels as if it is missing something. Leaving you with a feeling of wanting to hear more from certain people in the documentary. Moreover, this feeling that something is lacking makes the documentary a bit slow moving, leaving the viewer asking, what are you really trying to tell me? All in all, it is still a very informative and thought-provoking documentary.
For more info about The Substance: Albert Hofmann’s LSD you can visit: http://tix.biff.com.au/session2_biff.asp?sn=The+Substance%3A+Albert+Hofmann%27s+LSD & http://www.thesubstance-themovie.com/
The 25th Reich
The 25th Reich will tell a story that no historian has ever told, or will ever want to tell, because it never happened. As a homage to the b-movie genre, it makes a good attempt, but ends up being as tacky as the one-liners in the film.
It is set during World War 2, a group of American troops has been dispatched in the Australian outback to find two missing pumas, so they are told. Instead they end up 50,000 years into the future. Based on the novella 50,000 Years Until Tomorrow, The 25th Reich gives you the most inaccurate, yet silliest, history lesson ever. Mixing time travel, Nazis and UFOs.
It is a true homage to the good old b-movie genre. Weird camera angels, awkward close-ups and ridiculous plot lines. Then topped off with over-the-top gore and violence, and the most tackiest dialogues, riddled with terrible puns and one-liners.
The 25th Reich starts as most b-movie sci-fi comedies should, with a lot absurdity and bad humour. You want to hear more of those horrible, yet insanely funny, catchphrases the American troops fire off at each other as they can’t really get along. But after thirty minutes or so of that, it begins to become rather stale and tedious. For the middle part of the film, towards the end, you end up sitting there, wanting a bit more than just bad puns.
Close to the end it kind of wraps-up, but not in a satisfying way. It feels very rushed, as if they had to piece together the end in the last minute or something. There are some scenes towards the end that had the audience in the cinema roaring with laughter, but it didn’t really make up for the rather sleepy middle of the film.
What saves the film is its amazing cinematography. It stays true to the b-movie genre to the dot, which is very important when making such a film. Gritty style, odd camera angels, ridiculous acting and such. But with any film, it needs more than beauty, it needs substance. Even with b-movies you want to be sucked into the story, instead of wondering if you should have a power-nap and wake up just before it ends, just in case it has an interesting ending – or not.
However, if asked if it is worth seeing, I would definitely say yes!
For more info about The 25th Reich you can visit: http://tix.biff.com.au/session2_biff.asp?sn=The+25th+Reich