With just four weeks to go until the Byron Bay Film Festival’s Red Carpet Gala Opening, excitement is mounting over the stunning selection of dramas, documentaries, short films, workshops and virtual reality experiences on offer.
Actors, directors, and film producers from all around the world are finalising travel arrangements to attend, to support their films, and participate in the 10-day fiesta of ideas, networking, and creative fireworks.
The festival this year promises an electrifying range of cinematic spectacles: from Australia, stimulating shorter films made by multi-talented members of the local community alongside some of the country’s strongest films on the circuit, often making their Byron appearance months before a mainstream screening.
Among them are two compelling dramas featuring Hugo Weaving – Measure for Measure, Shakespeare’s ‘problem play’ re-imagined in Melbourne’s gritty underworld, and Hearts and Bones, in which he plays a war photographer returning home from South Sudan. The moral and professional dilemma Weaving’s character faces, sparked by his encounter with a Sudanese refugee, make for a dramatic, intelligent, and complex film with great relevance to contemporary Australia.
Alice, made by Australian Josephine Mackerras and set in Paris, with more than a soupçon of French style, dissects moral challenges of a different sort, as a betrayed wife and mother forges her own path through the hypocrisy surrounding women and their sexuality. The film was the winner of the SXSW Grand Jury Narrative Feature Award – and Mackerras is coming out to Byron to present it.
Showcasing inclusive, varied, and memorable films
Always inclusive, BBFF showcases varied and memorable works by trailblazing filmmakers from all over the world, touching upon some of the most topical issues of the day – the conflict in Syria (For Sama), the role of psychedelics in treating mental health (Dosed), the history of Tibetan resistance to Chinese occupation (Rituals of Resistance), species extinction (Kifaru), teen suicide (Yonlu) and youth finding their feet (Around the World, Out Deh). The shamanistic ceremonies of a tribe in the Amazon are the subject of a powerful VR documentary (Awavena), just as the fires that threaten their future compel our appalled attention.
Similarly topical is Australian documentary In My Blood It Runs, a close-up portrait of Dujuan Hoosan, a 10-year-old Arrernte and Garrwa boy who can’t reconcile his gift as a traditional healer and the history of his people with the whitefella system he is compelled to be part of.
A self-described ‘bush kid’, Dujuan is disturbed by Captain Cook lessons in the classroom and news about Don Dale detention centre on TV, and he rebels. Fun-loving, bright, and serious at once, his spirit and self-esteem look like being crushed, and he seems headed for prison.
Just last week Dujuan, now 12, became one of the youngest people to speak in front of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva. He delivered a half-hour speech to the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised from 10 to 14.
It is feasible that, In My Blood It Runs, a three-year collaboration between the filmmakers, the family, and tribal elders, helped bring about that event, helped to divert him from the ‘system’.
The role that film can play in fomenting social change is demonstrated by the fact that one very special work to be screened this year cannot be named. The maker of X (the festival’s codename), set in a theocratic state, must remain anonymous, for fear they will be arrested and imprisoned.
X is a fine creative work, and contains only oblique social criticism, but to the authorities it packs a provocative punch – the mere making of it is deemed subversive. BBFF believes it is important to screen such films to support the cause of artistic freedom: Art is not a crime.
Artists in Australia may have more freedom to express themselves, and may use that freedom to criticise official folly and the vanities of the age, but that doesn’t mean they have a happier time of it.
Take Michael Leunig, the subject of a documentary, The Leunig Fragments. It’s the perfect title, describing the disrupted process of making the film, the myriad elements within it – interviews, photos, re-enactments and hundreds of cartoons and artworks – and the man himself.
Leunig fulfils multiple roles: cartoonist and dark humourist, national treasure, philosopher, provocateur. He also appears, in this candid and moving film, to be weighed down by life and the challenges of relationships, a profoundly sorrowful human being, estranged from family – fragmented.
An artist of similar pedigree but of a very different temperament is Eliades Ochoa, familiar to many fans of the Buena Vista Social Club.
Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro describes Eliades in the opening scene of Eliades Ochoa: From Cuba to the World as ‘the Cuban Johnny Cash’, presumably for his unfailing dedication to his music and his working-class roots. But the eight-string guitar player’s music is more exuberant, colourful, and a whole lot sexier, and the documentary showcases it in all its glory.
There’s more music – country blues – in the drama This World Won’t Break, and the man who makes it, Greg Schroeder, and the filmmaker Josh David Jordan are both coming to Byron, so audiences may get to hear some superlative tunes.
Also visiting the Shire is Tom Waller, who made The Cave, a dramatised story of the rescue of 12 boys trapped underground in Thailand last year. The Cave will have its Australian premiere at the festival – one of a number of screening firsts.
Other firsts this year include the addition of gift vouchers, so people can give friends the gift of a film. Or, for a special friend, five films.
The Byron Bay Film Festival runs over October 18–27, with screenings at Palace Cinemas, Byron Community Centre, Pighouse Flicks, Brunswick Picture House, and the Murwillumbah Regent. For details and tickets, visit www.bbff.com.au.
More on Byron Bay Film Festival 2019
This year, four compelling documentaries deal with eco-concerns in corners of the world that aren’t seen much in the news, where Mother Nature is on the run: Macedonia, Kenya, British Columbia and Baja California.
As much as possible, Northern Rivers filmmakers are included in the BBFF programme, invited to talk about their work, share screenings with their friends and family, and welcomed to the rich and fertile networking events that occur over the 10 days.