A FILMIC FEAST
The Canberra International Film Festival may well be the most exciting time of year in Canberra for film buffs and cultural connoisseurs more generally. It’s better than Christmas. It’s CIFF-mas.
CIFF’s Artistic Director Simon Weaving, the man committed to bringing Canberra the best international films from around the world, is once again at the helm of the festival in its 15th year. “It’s still our job to bring the best films from around the world, to people who wouldn’t otherwise get to see them.”
It’s a job that Weaving takes seriously. He travels to the Cannes Film Festival each year in May, to shop around the film ‘marketplace’ for his produce. “Most people know Cannes from the red carpet, but the other part of Cannes is that there are literally 1,000 plus movies being shown in small rooms all over the village, and you run from one screening room to another, seeing as many films as you can in ten days.”
On top of that, he spends a lot of time working with the other film institutions in Canberra. “We spent a lot of energy revamping the relationship with the National Film and Sound Archive.” He laughs, “And I feel like I live at Dendy Cinemas.”
Considering the number of films that show at Cannes each year, one wonders what it is that helps him decide which films are worthy of CIFF. “Obviously there has to be a baseline production value, but I really look for story. I’m a great believer in it. I really think humans are hardwired for story, and that’s how we make sense of the world.” Weaving laughs, “I’ll never forget this trick my Dad used to play on us when we were kids, when we’d get sent down to the grocers with a shopping list. But instead of giving us a list, which we would forget, he’d make it into a story. ‘Once upon a time there was a loaf of bread, and the loaf of bread went walking down the road and he bumped into a bag of sugar.’
“You also want to make sure that you have plenty of different nations represented, and genres. It’s funny how these things go. My first year we had no French films – it wasn’t a good year for French film – and I thought, ‘My god, how can you possibly have a foreign film festival without French film?!’”
One of the things that makes CIFF stand out, and makes it easier for audiences to pick which films they might be interested in, are the themes – the ‘strands’ – the festival is segmented into. This year the themes are Driven (featuring characters who are obsessively driven), A Touch of Desire (romance), Out of Africa (self explanatory), Can’t Stop The Music (musicals and music biopics), Lost and Found (featuring characters searching and longing), Madness and Mayhem (wacky comedies), Hold On Tight (edge-of-your-seat thrillers and action films), Real-to-Reel (documentaries), and Face-to-Face (biopics).
There are added extras at the film festival this year too, which Weaving wants to talk about. The ‘On The Couch’ sessions in the Dendy Premium Lounge are where audiences can go to hear the people involved in the films talk. “On the Couch is a way to get up close and personal with the filmmakers, or the people behind the movies. So Bryan Brown for example, is going to be here.” Another special feature are the screenings of films that feature a Q and A with the director afterwards, this year including films such as Limbo, Toomelah, Armadillo, I’m Not Dead Yet, Lapland Odyssey, and Memoirs Of A Plague. “It’s great for people who just want to get a bit of context around a film, or a filmmaker. For me, it’s the difference between going to a museum, and getting a private tour with the artist.”
This year there are also two outdoor screenings at the National Film and Sound Archive of ‘80s cult classics, the so-bad-they’re-good Xanadu and Can’t Stop The Music. Simon says, “They were popular in Australia at the time, though. Disco had peaked in the US, but it wasn’t yet dead in Australia. We were still really into it.” Weaving laughs, and says he wants to encourage everyone to “dress up in your best disco gear and come and watch The Village People in Can’t Stop The Music.”
The opening and closing nights of the festival are also well worth getting along to – Restless from director Gus Van Sant, and Score: An Ice-Hockey Musical. When talking about why he picked these films to bookend the festival, Weaving says, “Well, with Restless, obviously Mia Wasikowska is in it, and she’s from Canberra. Then I was looking for a film that would help celebrate the end of the festival, and what’s better than a musical? Plus, Olivia Newton-John is in it. We’re bookending with Australian actresses.”
I ask what films Weaving thinks BMA readers might be most interested in, and he takes the selection seriously, ‘umming’ and ‘aahing’ over the pages of the program. Eventually he settles on Trollhunters, Yellow Sea, Attack The Block, and Lapland Odyssey. Lapland Odyssey is a film that Weaving has mentioned a few times throughout our interview: “It’s just an absolutely crazy road movie!”
And what’s in store for future years of CIFF? “2013 is the centenary of Canberra, and I can’t tell you what we’ll be doing, but we’ll be doing something incredibly special that year. It’s a big secret, but it’s going to be amazing.” Looks like we’ll just have to wait and see.
The Canberra International Film Festival is screening at the National Film and Sound Archive’s Arc cinema, as well as Dendy Cinemas from Wednesday October 26 to Sunday November 6. Ticket information and the full program are available from canberrafilmfestival.com.au .