About two years ago, I was gearing up for what would be the last year of the Brisbane International Film Festival. Freshly graduated from high school, I spent my week after I took off my school uniform for the final time in a cinema, seeing everything from Jason Reitman’s now mostly forgotten Labor Day (a film that still puzzles me about how it was made by the same guy that made Up in the Air and Juno) , to the lovely Singaporean drama Ilo Ilo, to Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour and underdog hit Short Term 12 (those latter two are particularly memorable experiences), and everything in between. I loved every minute.
Tonight is my first night of the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, which took place of BIFF after it’s sad dismantling after the 2013 edition and first started last year. I only went to one film last year – Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme winner Winter Sleep, an alright film that I’ve mostly forgotten now. Most people I talk to don’t even know of the existence of BAPFF, something that’s indicative of its standing in the community. The festival no longer harbours the diverse programming that BIFF did, which would pull in arthouse audiences for screenings like that of Alejandro Jordorowsky’s The Dance of Reality; mainstream ones like the packed, vocal house I saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s crowdpleaser Don Jon in; and a lovely cross-section for both for the two sold-out, concurrent screenings of Blue is the Warmest Colour. BIFF opened eyes, expanded tastes, and brought the best of international cinema to Brisbane, with an advantage over Sydney and Melbourne, as it was able to get the Cannes films that they missed out on, or the TIFF films that wouldn’t be released until next year. It was a festival that was accessible to all, and those who attended definitely felt a part of the communal, passionate nerve centre of a festival.
BAPFF doesn’t look like BIFF, not even close. As a replacement for BIFF, it’s poor. Programming means that one can only see one film a day, and miss out on many as a result. It’s not like the traditional festival experience where you see so many films a day your eyes are closing and you get fabulous at making packed dinners. What’s a festival unless all the films start becoming one in a fog from being onto your third for the day? The film selection is pretty much what one would have seen at the screenings for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, which occurred for free just a few weeks after BIFF for a few years. It lacks the diverse offerings, the crowdpleasers and the arthouse films in equal measure that sell out theatres and draw passionate, involved audiences that make a festival such a joyous experience. But I’m willing to give BAPFF the benefit of the doubt this year. Boasting a much stronger program than last year, my program is still sparse in comparison to BIFF, but includes sure-fire Oscar contender Mustang, Cannes plays Mountains May Depart and The Assassin, and Jafar Panahi’s Taxi. The experience will be different. The atmosphere of BIFF, a festival as diverse as the people who attend it, is irreplaceable. But things are rarely perfect in their first iteration, and for that, I’m going to sit back, watch my films, and the next 11 days unfold.
BAPFF runs for the next 11 days, check out the programme and book tickets here.