Screen Queens reviews the QFF

Screen Queens reviews the QFF

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At a time when mainstream cinema is increasingly bland and repetitive, a film festival is more important than ever.

David Stratton commended the inaugural Queensland Film Festival (2015) to Brisbane with those words. Two years later, they still apply: sadly, in the case of mainstream film, but upliftingly, in the delights, challenges, and variety the Queensland Film Festival had on offer. The festival—a weekend romp in 2015, now a ten-day orgy running 13th-23rd of July—gifted Brisbane with local and international, short and feature-length, bleak and comedic, queer and feminist film.

In keeping with the internet’s obsession with lists, here are The Screen Queens top five films (in no particular order) from the festival:

I am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck) is a masterful lesson in collage. Samuel L. Jackson narrates James Baldwin’s (a black, gay, twentieth-century writer’s) unfinished work Remember this House – a chronicling of the Civil Rights Movement, the stories of Malcom X, Medgar Evans, and Martin Luther King Jr. In Remember this House Baldwin dismantles the racial assumptions and racist foundations of the American Republic.

The film flits between scenes from old Hollywood film, archival footage from the civil-rights era of Southerners holding up swastikas, to photos of the young African-American men and women killed by the police in our time. There were even moments when I (Damian) struggled to differentiate footage of police violence against African Americans during the 1960s from that of today, and it’s not an editing trick—just a searing comment on America’s ongoing racial problems. I am Not your Negro broadcasts Baldwin’s words so we may heed them.

Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (dir. Bruno Dumont) is a nativity play gone rogue. It’s rough around the edges, as though it has been liberated from the church basement. Whoever would’ve thought we needed a spoken-word rock musical about Joan of Arc so badly? Here, Joan is still Jeanette at age eight, and she watches over her flock dutifully in dusty fields before leaving to battle the English. She stomps, she cartwheels into the splits, and saints appear before her to join in her song. “Whom must we save and how?” she asks, barely taller than the grass.

Shot entirely outdoors during the day in a handful of locations, its shabbyness is what makes it so charming. Actors stumble hesitantly over lines taken nearly verbatim from two plays by nineteenth-century writer Charles Peguy–too much of a mouthful to negotiate. The result is satisfying and playful. It makes this story fresh despite the legend having been reinterpreted again and again. How else could a rock musical set in 1425 feel so perfect?

Grace, Who Waits Alone (dir. Georgia Temple) and Leisure (dir. Mia Forrest) are a Brisbane-based and Brisbane-created feature and short film respectively. Both tell of stories of women isolated in the world: Grace yearns for an absent lover. Her work, leisure, and home-life are equally devoid of joy or other people. The protagonist of Leisure cannot build a relationship with the female cleaner of her building, and seems most alone when swirling in a teacup on a ride at Dream World, despite the wash of ecstatic people around her. They’re films that grab you, stick a needle in your arm, and slowly drain your joy. They’re remarkable, but we advise against seeing them alone.

We all know that ache in Certain Women (dir. Kelly Reichardt)–it’s that cold loneliness that seeps in all too easily, settling in your bones. Lily Gladstone, playing Jamie, The Rancher, walks down a high street of a town by herself at night, passing the windows of restaurants with warm, candlelit dinners. Michelle Williams’ Gina is building her family a home from the ground up, returning from a solitary walk to find her husband (James Le Gros) and daughter (Sara Rodier) laughing at an in-joke she’ll never understand. Laura Dern’s weary lawyer, who shares her name, sits in a food court by herself, watching the world go by. The three women have no strong connection: they don’t work with, live with or even know one another. They are strangers, at most passing one other on the street. Each walks through their life largely alone. Yet the film connects their stories, balances introversion and empathy, and builds a commonality between three women doing nothing more or less than imperfectly living.

Art frequently imitates life and vice-versa, but never quite like On the Beach at Night Alone (dir. Hong Sang-soo). Lead actor Kim Min-hee relives her past with Hong himself: she plays an actor named Young-hee who had

an affair with her married director, a relationship that Kim and Hong had in real life. Wistful and abstract in the way Hong’s work commonly does, with three disjointed sections, it’s a dazing odyssey of Young-hee’s explorations of love in a place far away from the one she knows, but can’t escape reminders of. Eventually she finds peace next to the sea, the tide washing away to leave smooth sand. It’s here that her slate is wiped clean, and the power of Hong’s filmmaking is revealed.

Its sparseness is deceptive, and the silences speak volumes. The potential for vainness disappears despite its personal nature, becoming something essentially human. We all know that beach.

Don’t worry if you missed these, many are either out or coming out on DVD!

– Ella Donald and Damian Maher

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