Brisbane International Film Festival: Dark, Confronting, Entertaining and Life-Affirming

October 20, 2019
Our blogger caught the opening and closing night film events at BIFF, and a few other cool things inbetween.

The Brisbane International Film Festival wrapped up last week. It was a fantastic 11-day celebration of contemporary Australian and international cinema. The BIFF program was curated by the Artistic Director and Curator of the QLD Gallery of Modern Art’s Australian Cinémathèque, Amanda Slack-Smith. The screenings, which took place at 8 locations throughout Brisbane, included features, shorts, documentaries and retrospectives. The program also featured panel discussions and Q&As with filmmakers and industry experts.

Opening Night + Judy and Punch + Q&A

BIFF kicked off with a schmoozy red carpet reception. We enjoyed drinks and canapes, heard speeches from industry guests, mingled and bopped along to tunes from a live DJ. After a couple of hours, we all migrated to one of GOMA’s cinemas to watch a screening of Mirrah Foulkes’ debut film Judy and Punch.

This film is a unique, feminist take on the traditional ‘Punch and Judy show’, which is a puppet show that has been performed since the 1600s. The film stars Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman, as married puppeteers who hope to make it big and escape their small town of ‘Seaside’ (which is notable as it’s nowhere near the sea). Punch is an aggressive drunkard, and when he does something unspeakable to Judy and their child, Judy embarks on some good old ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ revenge. Although the film appears to have been shot in Europe, it was actually filmed in a small arts community in rural Victoria.

The screening was followed by a Q&A with producer Michele Bennett and actor Tom Budge, who plays the town puritan and advocate for the ‘old ways’ of capital punishment (stoning and hanging). The pair discussed the story of the film, the exciting emergence of Australian films with strong female characters, what it was like to shoot in rural Victoria, how great it was to work with a cast of mainly local talent and how they made the film appear European (let’s just say lots of their budget went towards removing cockatoos from shot).

We found the film interesting, brutal, darkly funny and unique – it was reminiscent of The Nightingale. Audience reviews were overwhelmingly positive – we even heard one gentleman refer to it as the best Australian film he’d seen in years. If you enjoy a revenge flick, love dark comedy and want to support Australian filmmaking, we definitely recommend checking it out. You can read our full review of the film here.

Measure for Measure + Q&A

Measure for Measure is an urban Australian reimagining of Shakespeare’s play. The film was directed by Paul Ireland, who co-wrote the film with the late Damian Hill (West of Sunshine, which premiered at MIFF 2018).

Measure for Measure is set in Melbourne’s notorious commission flats, and tells the story of a young Muslim woman, Jaiwara, who falls for a non-Muslim musician, Claudio. Jaiwara’s mobster brother Farouk objects to their relationship, and has Claudio sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. To save Claudio, Jaiwara seeks out the help of a local crime boss, Duke (Hugo Weaving), who has links to Claudio’s past. Duke is ‘on leave’, so Jaiwara is redirected to his drug-abusing, mentally unstable second in command, Angelo. You can read more about Measure for Measure on our site here and here.

The screening was followed by a Q&A with director Paul Ireland and producer Thea McLeod. Paul discussed the death of his best friend and collaborator Damian Hill, who co-wrote the film and was also supposed to play the role of Angelo. Damian passed away the night before production was meant to start, and the remaining cast and crew had to come together and continue production in Damian’s honour.

Paul and Thea also discussed their love for Hugo Weaving, the challenges that came with making the film (especially in the midst of grief) and working with the fresh-out-of-drama school actor Megan Smart (Jaiwara). Paul also spoke of his love for gritty Australian films that are set in the city, and of his desire to explore the small, seemingly insignificant micro-stories that make up our lives.

We found the Q&A fascinating, and really liked the gritty yet hopeful tone of this film. We thought the classic themes of morality, love, mercy and justice work very well in the contemporary Melbourne setting.

You can read our tribute to Damian Hill here.

Dark Place + Q&A

Dark Place is a unique Indigenous Australian horror anthology that features five dark and confronting short films from emerging directors. The anthology explores post-colonialism through a horror lens, the stolen generation, exoticism, the invasion of the first British settlers and more. The Q&A was with producers Majhid Heath and Hayley B Johnson (of newly established Noble Savage Pictures), and directors Kodie Bedford, Liam Phillips and Rob Braslin.

In Kodie’s film Scout, Indigenous women who are kept as sex slaves finally seek their (rather brutal) revenge. In Liam’s Foe, a young woman’s sleepwalking gets out of control. In Rob’s Vale Light, a single mum and her daughter have neighbour issues when they move into a new home.

In the Q&A, the producers discussed their production company Noble Savage Pictures, which has been created to support Indigenous stories, voices and creators, and the exciting emergence of the Indigenous horror genre. The directors spoke about the themes of their films, their experiences as first-time directors and their futures in the Australian film industry.

We really enjoyed this creepy, thematically-significant anthology, and are excited for the future of Indigenous horror cinema!

Wild Beats Shorts + Q&A

Another short film anthology, Wild Beats, included three BIFF/Screen Queensland Short Film Award nominees Desperate Pleasures, Marion and Roughnut as well as four additional shorts, Hard-ish Bodies, POV, Wild Will and A Jar of Nuts.

The writers, directors and producers of three of the films (Desperate Pleasures, Marion and Roughnut) were at the post-screening Q&A.

In Desperate Pleasures, which was directed by Angus Kirby and produced by Jennifer Embelton, a dissatisfied cocaine-dealing real estate agent connects with a lonely office worker. In Marion, which was directed by Daniel Flynn Anderson and produced by Rachel Liviero, a lonely webcam girl decides to go on a date with her teenage neighbour. In Roughnut, which was written and directed by Adam Webb and Kyle Thompson, the friendship between two teenage boys becomes strained after a brutal bullying incident.

During the Q&A, these filmmakers discussed their films, the different approaches they had for shooting in Brisbane, the challenges that came with production and what it was like to work with their actors (Adam and Kyle were mildly scared of the teenager who co-starred in their film).

Wild Beats was a diverse, dark and gritty anthology of films, and we loved the chance to witness the talent and unique perspectives of these emerging Australian filmmakers.

Closing Night + Sibel

BIFF opened and closed with a bang. Closing night included a screening of Turkish film Sibel, followed by an after-party and the BIFF 2019 Short Film Awards announcements – you can read about the winning short films here (Roughnut took out the Screen Queensland Short Film Award!).

The eponymous Sibel tells the story of a fierce and rebellious young woman who lives with her father and sister in a secluded village in the mountains of Turkey’s Black Sea region. Sibel (Damla Sönmez) is mute, and can only communicate in the unique whistling language of her Turkish village. Ostracised for her muteness and her independence, Sibel wants to prove her merit and gain acceptance by hunting down a wolf that has been terrorising the village. During a hunt, Sibel crosses paths with a fugitive. Injured, threatening and vulnerable, the fugitive is the first person to see her for who she truly is.

This film was screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, and it was a great finish for BIFF, a festival that celebrates diversity, courage, hope, independence and strength.

We had a fantastic time attending opening and closing night, and loved learning more about the films at the Q&A screenings. The films were dark, confronting, entertaining and life-affirming, and we can’t wait to attend BIFF 2020!


  1. Julian Wood

    A really nice round up of a major Australian film festival that often doesn’t get enough in-depth coverage. Thanks.

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