Following a dazzling start to the festival at the weekend, the second half begins today, providing countless reasons to be cheerful. Not least is the re-appearance in Byron of multi-talented Joel Jackson to introduce one of this year’s most uplifting films.
Joel is among a stellar line-up of Australian talent alongside Emma Booth, Deborah Mailman and Richard Roxburgh in H Is For Happiness, which also features Miriam Margolyes and Daisy Axon as an irrepressible girl devising schemes to lift her family out of the emotional doldrums.
Co-produced by Julie Ryan (Red Dog), H Is For Happiness is just what the feelgood doctor ordered in these unsettling times. It’s so good that BBFF is screening it twice, and the ever-upbeat Joel is just the person to present it.
He is one of many filmmakers, actors, writers and musicians attending the festival to present their films and socialise with film fans and industry peeps.
Australian-born and Paris-based Josephine Mackerras is in town for a week for the Byron premiere of her sexual emancipation drama Alice, which picked up the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW this year.
Mackerras will be at the Byron Community centre this afternoon (Wednesday, 23 October) to talk about Alice following its screening.
To reveal the storyline of Alice would be to spoil it: suffice to say that it’s a stylish, suspenseful portrait of a marriage that’s not all it seems. More specifically, it skewers gender double-standards through a story of a woman’s reclamation of her power when she is placed in a desperate situation. It’s handled deftly, with oh-so-French flair and some funny, empathetic glances at male insecurity.
Later tonight (still Wednesday), Jack Bailey will present his mesmerising cinematic meditation on the wonders of wild nature in Continuum 01 – South in Self Exile, which precedes Pacifico, the philosophical-surf pilgrimage from Byron Bay’s Christian Gibson and Chris Gooley.
Both films celebrate the South American landscape: in South in Self Exile the camera watches clouds as they pass or wrap around South America’s rugged mountains. Watching it, you’ll find yourself slowing down – the perfect appetiser for the Byron lads’ laidback adventures in the water and pampas villages.
The Latin theme continues with a second screening of Eliades Ochoa From Cuba to the World at the Brunswick Picture House tomorrow, Thursday. Director Cynthia Biestek will be on hand to answer questions – though audience members will have to refrain from their abandoned Latin dancing and resume their seats before she can begin.
In My Blood It Runs screens at the Byron Community Centre for a second time on Friday, with a discussion panel afterwards featuring director Maya Newell and others.
Newell’s film focuses on a 10-year-old Aboriginal boy, Dujuan Hoosan, a gifted traditional healer. High-spirited, intelligent, questioning, he finds the lessons about Captain Cook’s ‘discovery’ of Australia confusing. He feels demeaned and starts to act out, which gets him into trouble. Like so many black kids before him, he seems destined for the revolving door of the prison system. Last month, two years after the film, he spoke about the age of criminal responsibility at the United Nations.
Other films to be followed by discussions include Dosed at Brunswick Picture House tonight (Wednesday October 23) and Manus, a short doco on the men standing their ground in the refugee camp on the island in 2016. It’s the work of Lennox Head artist Angus McDonald, who will front the panel, which will also talk about the accompanying film, For Sama (Byron Community Centre, Sunday at 7pm).
In For Sama, we are brought face-to-face with some of the conditions such men are fleeing, in Aleppo, northern Syria, a region once again in the news as a crucible of human suffering. If you are not ‘woke’ already, you will be after these two films.
Julia Blue is also set near a war-zone – the hidden conflict in Eastern Ukraine, but it’s a love story, and another intriguing look at a woman forging her own path.
That theme carries into one of the most wild and offbeat films screening, Mirrah Foulkes’ unique and brilliant Judy and Punch, which takes the traditional misogynistic puppeteer story, sets it in a barbaric 17th Century otherworld, and gives it good shake.
Women are also doing it for themselves in the gorgeous Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a more traditional period drama, with a storyline that pushes against the conventions of its day.
Queer politics also form the basis of Harrod Blank’s Why Can’t I Be Me? Around You, in which drag-racing Burning Man enthusiast and trans woman Rusty Tidenberg challenges the blokey milieu she lives in. Rusty is an entertaining subject, but her story is a poignant one.
There’s plenty of that in From Music Into Silence. Peter Roberts – who plays music to people as they are dying – finds some of his assignments almost too much to bear. He’s a comforting hero, but there’s a personal toll.
Leunig is another national hero … pricking and comforting the conscience of the country with his witty, provocative cartoons. But he too pays a price, as we see in the fascinating documentary, The Leunig Fragments.
There’s an abundance of other beautiful, moving portraits – of a land mass (An Island In the Continent); threatened species, the Northern white rhino in Kifaru, salmon in Guardian; and individuals (the troubled muso in This World Won’t Break); and a generation (the witty We Will Remember Them).
The Festival’s Closing Night film, The Cave is garnering attention from the world’s media and tickets are selling fast for the red carpet gala event on Saturday. It’s at the Community Centre, where a couple of hundred people will don their gladdest rags, watch the film, then party like it’s 2020. The closing night gala is always a memorable event, a highlight on the Byron calendar. Everyone is welcome.
For tickets, visit www.bbff.com.au
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