The Byron Bay Film Festival is Australia’s largest regional film festival. Now in its ninth year, Festival director J’aimee Skippon-Volke speaks with The Echo about what’s in store when the event hits our screens over 6–15 March.
What do you think are going to be some of the lesser known or less obvious highlights for this year’s festival?
It’s hard to decide what you want to see any large festival and the experience for each attendee is unique according to their choices. It’s all subjective. With 51 sessions to choose from we challenge our audience to whip out their highlighter and spend a bit of time delving into the program to find and make their own personal highlights – if a synopsis has appeal for you, the film is unlikely to disappoint.
The Flight Fantastic, a doco about one of the greatest circus trapeze acts, the Flying Gaonas, really made my heart soar, as did the short doco Showfolk, about the aged residents of the Motion Picture & Television Fund care home – both directors have come over from the states to join us. Aspie Seeks Love is another charmer, as is Divide in Concorde. The festival’s more than just film, though, and our panels are designed to be of interest to a broader audience and to tackle all kinds of interesting subject matter in a no-holds-barred fashion.
How has programming the festival changed from the first few events?
There’s a worldwide circuit of film festivals for filmmakers to enter their work into and attend. Although we were filmmakers our team had never worked in the film festival world and it took us a couple of years to get the lay of the landscape. We’ve worked really hard to create a good reputation with filmmakers who then spread ‘the word of Byron’ to other filmmakers they meet. As a result the festival now attracts a really high number of world-class films that have screened, or will also screen, at prestigious festivals such as SXSW, Berlinale, Tribeca, Sundance. And because so many filmmakers are travelling with their work we’ve a lot more Q&A sessions and opportunities to delve deeper into the stories behind the vision.
Tell me about the presentations with David Wenham and Paul Cox? How important is it to get big names like this on board?
The 7 March special presentation will be a real highlight. David and Paul both have amazing talent and are widely respected. Paul has been our patron since the very early days, and just as we’ve built a reputation with filmmakers we’ve been working hard to gain the respect of renowned film talent. The fact that we have them both here together will make it easier to continue to attract big names in years to come. Every year we have famous actors, musicians and surf legends pop in to a session or an event to support a film and the festival; it adds an extra layer of buzz and excitement to our event.
Who are some of the industry professionals that you are expecting at this year’s BBFF?
Jack Thompson will return again for our Opening Weekend and respected director Tony Ayres (The Slap) will be with us for our Closing. Last year 87 per cent of Australian Films had a filmmaker (or five) come along to the festival – and as well as the Aussies we’ve got filmmakers flying in from Poland, the UK, Italy, China, and scores of accomplished filmmakers from the USA. After the success of our Skype Q&A with Josh Fox (Gasland) there are plans a foot to Skype in Jane Seymour.
What are the local offerings this year?
Last year we initiated our Spotlight of Byron Talent, which focuses attention on the back catalogue of a local filmmaker. This year the spotlight’s on Dustin Clare (Spartacus, Goddess) an actor/writer whose star is rising and who was born, raised and still lives around Ballina. Throughout the program are a number of locally made films and films from filmmakers who were raised here. Two short films that are packed with familiar faces include Minka Bleakley’s Melt and Dylan Kai Harris’s Ignition.
What is in store for Opening Night?
A star-studded red-carpet affair, a pre-film mingle, live music from Rebecca Ireland, all kinds of special appearances and – after the film – a fabulous catered party with a diverse, interesting and social crowd. We encourage everyone to dress to the nines because it’s not just the stars that shine at BBFF.
What about Closing Night?
We have our Closing Party on the Saturday night before our final day Sunday 15th. Zen & the Art of Dying is a production about local resident and Deathwalker Zenith Virago that came about after its LA director met Zen at BBFF2012.
Why are festivals like BBFF important for industry development – can they happen in a place like Byron Bay and still have relevance?
BBFF highlights the area as a filmmakers’ hub worldwide and we get Byron into the Australian and international film industries’ psyche and connect local talent with Australian and international professionals – resulting in creative collaborations such as Zen. Byron is the perfect spot for an international film festival. We have a healthy film community and because we’re a destination it allows the visiting attendees to immerse themselves in the event without too much everyday distraction.
What should people expect from this year’s BBFF?
BBFF2015’s tagline is ‘Magic Happens in the Dark’. We’re promising to deliver a unique cinema experience that can’t be reproduced at home or any other time. You’ve got to be there to experience it.
How would you recommend people buy tickets – to one off events, or can you buy a season pass?
Because there’re such large guest lists and limited seating, public tickets to Opening and Closing Gala are EXTREMELY limited so lock yours in early. We’re working with six different venues, some of which offer passes to their BBFF season, and the Byron Community Centre has multi-pack discounts available to all screenings there. Check out our website more the full details. www.bbff.com.au.