2018 marks the fourth year of Queensland Film Festival. While this festival – co-founded by John Edmond and Huw Walmsley-Evans – may have sprung up in the brief absence of the now-resurrected Brisbane International Film Festival, it’s since become a major feature in Brisbane’s cultural calendar. More importantly, it’s achieved a rare feat for any film festival, let alone one so young, it’s established a distinctive identity.
Granted, Australia’s big film festivals have their own identities, but I’d argue that’s largely determined by scheduling rather than programming. Sydney Film Festival’s prominence stems from its proximity to Cannes; invariably, its defined by the films it does (and doesn’t) snatch from the French Riviera. MIFF, meanwhile, takes its identity from the kitchen sink as it crams every possible film from the preceding 12 months into its program.
With a smaller city, schedule and – it must be said – budget to work with, QLDFF instead boasts a discerning eye. Invariably, Edmond’s programming showcases the kind of films neglected by their southern compatriots: think last year’s Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, the ponderous yet profound Dead Slow Ahead in 2016 or – in their début program – the likes of Timbuktu, The Strange Little Cat and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears. Year after year, QLDFF manages to focus its program through an artistic, intellectual lens (reinforced by its IMA collaborations throughout the year) without ever sacrificing accessibility.
Of course, 2018 would be no different, and the newly announced program is perhaps the most exciting yet. Running from the 19th to the 29th July at New Farm Cinemas, the Elizabeth Picture Theatre and both GOMA and IMA, this year’s program showcases – by my count – thirty features. The most exciting trio would have to be the Hélène Cattet/Bruno Forzani retrospective, featuring Amer, the aforementioned The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, and new release Let the Corpses Tan. As someone who’s yet to see any of their films – I was very sick in 2015, okay! – I’m especially excited about the opportunity to see their filmography on the big screen. (If you’re not equally excited, check out the essay dossier from Edmond and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, an excellent writer who was a guest of the festival back in its first year.)
The program also features a carefully-curated selection of films fresh from Sydney, including The Rider – a rodeo-themed film that seemed to be the consensus pick of SFF from those I spoke to – Lynne Ramsay’s ultra-violent You Were Never Really Here and Lucrecia Martel’s acclaimed Zama. As someone who had to be super-selective with what to see on a quick weekend trip to Sydney, I’m enthused about the opportunity to catch all of these films. But the real highlight of any given QLDFF lineup are the films I never would have heard of otherwise: intriguing-sounding features like Valérie Massadian’s Milla or a restoration of Ann Turner’s neglected 1989 Aussie film Celia.
You may have noticed by now that most of the directors mentioned thus far are women; I don’t expect this is any accident. QLDFF has always made a concerted effort to highlight the exemplary work done by oft-neglected female directors (take 2016, which featured the likes of The Silences, The Love Witch, Heart of a Dog, Chevalier and Cleo from 5 to 7). That’s extended to the retrospective screenings again; in addition to the aforementioned works from Cattet/Forzani and Turner, there’s also a pair of GOMA collaborations. One featuring the works of Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Véréna Paravel; another centring on Czech New Wave pioneer Vera Chytilová.
It’s the inclusion of films like these that really speaks to the uniqueness of QLDFF to my mind; an absence of obligation. Most festival directors talk the talk when it comes to celebrating female directors, and presumably have good intentions. But with deep pockets and presumably convoluted politics, their programs tend to be dominated by the kind of familiar (male) faces that draw arthouse audiences. This year’s QLDFF program – and indeed, its preceding programs – instead feels like the platonic ideal of an arty film festival program, one that at once inviting and challenging. By virtue of a smaller program and a tighter focus, QLDFF draws my attention to films that I wouldn’t have even noticed nestled in the depths of SFF or MIFF’s intimidating cinematic catalogue.
No doubt, in this quick rundown, I’ve missed some jewels sparkling in the program. But that’s the fun of a festival like QLDFF – the opportunity to discover those films for yourself. Go digging.