Chatting About GasLand With Director Josh Fox
- Written by Matthew Toomey
Documentaries are one of my favourite genres and so I jumped at the chance to speak with Josh Fox about his excellent new doco called GasLand. It looks at the gas companies in the United States and some of the dirty secrets they’re trying to keep hidden from the general public.
If you'd prefer the audio version, you can download an abbreviated version of the interview in a special 8-minute podcast. Just click here to go to my separate podcast page.
Here’s what Josh had to say. A shame they cut the scene with the talking dog. :)
Matt: How did you get started with this subject matter? Was there a moment in particular where you thought I’ve got to do something about this and tell the story?
Josh: This came into my life in a very strange way but it’s the same it came into a lot of people’s lives. The gas industry asked to lease my family’s land for drilling. I live in the Upper Delaware River Basin around the border of New York and Pennsylvania. It’s a pristine area – a very beautiful part of the Delaware River and you see a lot of that in the film.
We got a letter in the mail that said we’d like to lease your land for natural gas drilling. I thought this is crazy, what is this? I then discovered that we were on top of a formation called the Marcellus Shale that stretched over 65% of Pennsylvania, 50% of New York State and 50% of Ohio – a massive, massive area. Looking at it further, we were in the middle of the largest on-shore natural gas drilling campaign in the history of the United States.
The gas industry came in and they said this is going to be good for you. You’re going to make a lot of money. There are no environmental effects. When we’re done, you’ll just have a fire hydrant in the middle of a field and you won’t even know we’re here.
Neighbours of mine had looked into it and they were freaking out. They were saying there were 600 different toxic chemicals that they inject into the ground. They use millions of gallons of water which becomes infused with these chemicals and it’s been getting into people’s water wells. So I went out to try to figure out what was the truth.
I thought initially I was going to make a 5 to 10 minute thing for Youtube to bring people up to speed about the process because the gas industry story and the environmental story were so conflicted but I found I couldn’t do that. The things that I found were really astounding so I decided that was worthy of making a movie.
Matt: Did you have any background as a filmmaker before this?
Josh: Yes. I’ve made one previous feature film. But I’m mostly a theatre director. I make huge international collaborate theatre pieces that have premiered in New York, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Germany. I’m used to making stuff on big topics and involving the interview process. This was my first full length feature documentary but it’s a technique that I’ve used before.
Matt: So did you have any kind of crew at all? Or was it just you out there doing it on your own?
Josh: In the beginning it was just me. At lot of the film was shot by me just driving and travelling across America. Then I met Matthew Sanchez at the CineVegas Film Festival – another director and his strength was in editing and cinematography. He became the editor of the project and we worked on the film together. He really brought the visual style to the film and also the pacing. One or two friends early on helped as producers and researchers. We then met Trish Adlesic who was our producer who has been amazing.
Matt: The key scene for me is the scene where you turn the faucet on and the water catches on fire. It’s an amazing scene. It’s the part of the documentary people go “wow, that really is serious”. Did you realise the power of that footage when you had it?
Josh: Yeah. What had happened was that there were reports of people who could set their water on fire in Pennsylvania in this one town that I went to. The gas companies came in though and disconnected everyone’s water supply and started replacing their water. Even though they were no accepting any responsibility, they were coming in as “good neighbours” and replacing people’s water.
So we initially couldn’t get the footage. But then there were reports of it in Colorado, in Wyoming, in Texas, in Louisiana, in Canada. Finally, we caught up with it in Colorado and a whole neighbourhood of people who could light their water on fire. One of those cases was on television. A family had recently moved into the neighbourhood and they were in total shock. Now, those people can’t speak because they were forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement as a settlement.
They had 100 pages of water tests. They had confirmed that this gas had come from the lower shale area. There was no other way it could get in there. They were actually showering in the dark because they were afraid that the light switch would create a spark that would blow their house up. This is the kind of terror that they were living in. Those are the words they used – they felt terrorised.
Matt: The documentary itself is only a couple of hours long. Was there a lot of footage and were there a lot of other stories that you didn’t get to show?
Josh: Oh yeah. We could have made a six hour movie but thankfully we didn’t. There was a lot of stuff that was really compelling that we had to leave out because we wanted it to have a mainstream timeframe so it’s about 100 minutes.
We’re still filming and documenting this crisis. We don’t know what we’ll end up doing with it but it goes on and on. I’ve now criss-crossed America three different times and as we show the film in these affected areas, we’ve had thousands of people come out for individual screenings. They even bring the water samples to the screenings. That gives us more leads and we shoot those stories.
Matt: When you started out, you would have been trying to get a lot of this information yourself. When people realised you were making this film, were a lot more people approaching you with their stories?
Josh: Yeah. I’d show up in a town where there’s a lot of drilling going on. I’d have one interview lined up at 9am and by the end of the day, I’d have done eight interviews and finished at 2am in the morning. My phone would then start ringing. I don’t know where they got my number from. There was this desperation of people to get their story on tape. They had no recourse, their water had been contaminated and they were hauling water from 10 miles away. They didn’t know what to do. Their properties were valueless. No one was listening to them.
Matt: Was there a lot of stuff that was off the record? People telling you stuff that you couldn’t use in the film?
Josh: We tried really hard for months to get the gas industry to come and do interviews. We asked the heads of all the major gas companies and none of them would come forward. We had a few off the record phone conversations with their PR people that we couldn’t include.
Some of it is outrageous. I did have one sit down with the CFO of a major gas company. He stated that he had no knowledge of the environmental regulation laws that they had been exempted from. In the United States, the gas industry is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clear Air Act, the Superfund law – all the basic public health and safety and environmental laws.
The cameras were not on. We were trying to do a pre-interview to get him to sit down with us but after a while we could tell he wasn’t going for it. So I asked the question – if gas is so safe to drill, why did the industry spend $100m lobbying to get these exemptions? And he said “what are you talking about? I don’t know what you mean.” Just amazing.
Matt: It’s so tough to get the message out there. When people go to the movies, they want to see their rom-coms and their big action blockbusters. Trying to sell war films and documentaries that are telling a serious message can be very difficult. How have you found that?
Josh: Hey, we’ve got explosions! It’s really funny too – the people in it are amazing. They know how to crack a joke when they can light their water on fire. There are sequences in the film where people in the audience will be laughing and that’s a big asset to the movie. We’ve tried to make sure there’s a sense of humour that wasn’t going to be condescending.
We did cut the car chase. I still regret it. We also cut the talking dog and some of those other things that we really wanted to keep – like the sequences where the monkeys take over the car. (laughs)
Although the subject matter is serious and upsetting, the absurdity of the situation - where people can light their water on fire – is both enraging and humorous. I think its one of the reasons why people like to watch it.
Matt: The film has grown in stature and the bigger it gets, the more vocal the critics become. Is that tough having to listen to a lot of stuff said about yourself and the film which may be misleading? Do you have be pretty thick-skinned in this business?
Josh: The gas industry has come out to attack the film. They don’t want people to see it. They don’t want people to see it in the right light. The one thing that’s most frustrating is that it’s very hard to debate an opponent who’s willing to lie. They’ll come out a lie straight up.
They’ll say “we’re not exempt from those laws” even though you can look the laws up. They’re counting on a media that maybe doesn’t have time to look it up. If someone comes out and says “the sky is green” and if no one else is in the room to say “the sky is blue”, then the media will report it as “the sky is green”. They’re counting on that. They’ll come out and say outrageous things and this is their PR campaign. It’s crazy to me. Extremely unfortunate.
It’s one thing to attack the film but it’s another thing to attack the credibility of families who have been told to move by their doctors because their kids have woken up in the middle of the night with nosebleeds and respiratory problems. Their doctors are telling them they’ve got to leave. They come out in the media and say “We’ve got no place to go. What do we do?” The gas industry then issues attack documents against the families. This is how vicious and despicable this kind of thing has become.
In China, when they were building the Three Gorges Dam, they employed whole villages to knock their entire towns down. They said “we’re going to flood your town but how would you like a job knocking down your house?” Now that’s a little bit more honest than letting the gas industry come in a put a well pad 100 feet from somebody’s front porch and then wait for them to get so frustrated that they move away.
Matt: Have you noticed any change to the attitudes of the gas companies since the film came out? Has there been public pressure?
Josh: They’re digging their heels in. It’s really sad because I think they’re going to do themselves in. What’s sad is that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) came in and said they’re going to have to provide a municipal water source to this town of Dimock. They acknowledged that the aquifer was contaminated and that the wells were poisoned. A water line has to be run from the nearest town which is 7 miles away.
The gas company ran full page ads attacking the DEP in the local paper. It stirred up the AstroTurf movement against the water pipeline. It turned the town against itself. This amazed me. The people in those towns are feeling incredibly isolated. The gas industry is basically saying that they’re more powerful that the states.
Matt: How long have you been working on the film? When did it all begin?
Josh: We got those letters in April 2008 so it’s been two and a half years. When we first started working it, I was still directing plays. I made four different plays while shooting the film. Since its premiere, I’ve only done one play in New York and it’s pretty much taken over since then.
Matt: Looking forward, are you able to let this go? Can you move on to other projects or move back to theatre or will this going to dominate your life for the next few years?
Josh: What it’s done is that it’s shifted the focus of the work that I was doing about globalisation and international culture to sustainability. That is the chief topic moving forward. There are a million projects I could make about that.
We’re making a theatre project called Reconstruction which is about building sustainable theatres. We’d like to do it in Australia and we’re going to do it in New York. We’re gong to build a sustainable theatre with the audience. We start with an empty space and over the course of three months, we’ve built the sustainability theatre by the end of it. That’s the dream.
I’m also working on a follow up to GasLand about renewable energy. As an artist, you always want a new wrinkle to open up. It’ll be a nice addition to what I’m doing with the theatre company and I’m excited to have found the documentary format. It seems that people like it.
A Minute To Reflect: The First Few Days Of BIFF 2010
- Written by Matthew Toomey
The 2010 Brisbane International Film Festival is underway.
The fact that I’m sitting at a desk writing this blog is somewhat of a relief. Since leaving work on Friday afternoon, I’ve seen 9 feature films and 7 short films. I believe that’s a record for me in terms of films seen over a single weekend.
Some may think I’m crazy for watching so many movies but when you’ve got such a good program being offered, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the Festival. This may be my one and only chance to see some of these movies and I don’t want to pass up the opportunity.
But yes, I am burned out. I found myself distracted while sitting through the war drama Lebanon (my 9th and final film of the weekend). The plan is to recharge the batteries over the next few days (where I’m only seeing one film each night) and gear myself up for the big closing weekend.
Those who’ve been following me on Twitter (@icestorm77) will have seen my random thoughts on the films I’ve seen. Now that I have a spare half-hour, I thought I’d go into a little more detail...
I really enjoyed Jucy. It’s the tale of two twenty-something women living in Brisbane who are at a crossroads in their life. They both want to be actresses but how long can they keep this up before its time to get a “real job”?
I was surprised by the film’s sense of humour – there are some really good jokes which even had me laughing out loud. More importantly though, the film does a great job at exploring a number of issues which Gen Y folk will be able to relate (e.g. relying on our parents, growing up, independence).
This film is released in cinemas this week and is about a hitman (George Clooney) now laying low in Italy following a job that didn't quite go to plan. The film has been stylishly shot by director Anton Corbjin but I found the story hard to believe. I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending.
I spoke to two other people on leaving the cinema who both liked the film so take my opinion for what it’s worth. It’s not what people might expect from Clooney (like his role in Solaris) and it’s likely to divide audiences.
Short Film Competition
Early Saturday afternoon, I checked out a collection of 7 short films from Queensland filmmakers as part of a competition. I had a small vested interest as well – someone I follow on Twitter (@barnes_alex) was one of the entries.
I don’t see enough short films but this special event once again proved that it’s often better to tell a story in 10 minutes as opposed to 90 minutes. They were excellent.
If you saw someone walking briskly down Roma Street on Saturday afternoon, then perhaps that was me en route to Megamind. It is a little frustrating this year not having all the screenings at one central location (the Regent). I had to shoot from the short film festival at the Tribal and only made it to the Barracks with a minute to spare.
Sadly, the exercise wasn’t worth it. Megamind was all over the place – a superhero spoof that seems to be just a vehicle for Will Ferrell to yell a lot. This won’t be fondly remembered in this great year of animation.
It was back to the Tribal on Saturday night for Kaboom. It’s the latest film from Gregg Araki (director of Mysterious Skin). It’s a bizarre tale centring on a college student experiencing some weird hallucinations. But are they hallucinations?
The film gets stranger and stranger as it goes on. A friend told me “not to take it too seriously” and if you had that attitude, you’d get a kick out of it. I don’t really know to encapsulate my thoughts but suffice to say – I’m glad I saw it but I don’t think I’ll see it again.
Wasted On The Young
This film is an Australian drama about a teenage girl who is drugged and raped at a school party. Some of her fellow students know the truth but will they come forward?
What’s interesting about this film is there isn’t a single adult. All we see are these kids and their world. I admire the director’s attempt to distinguish his film in this way but the lack of adults is a distraction. We don’t see the headmaster and what he has to say. We don’t see the parents and their reactions. We don’t see the police and their investigations.
The movie still has style and I grew to really hate some characters (which is a good thing). I hope this gets a chance at a cinema release.
A few months ago at work, I remember reading about a horror film that is wholly about a killer tyre that goes on a murderous rampage. It sounded like such a nutty idea.
I saw it at 11:30pm at the Tribal on Saturday night and sadly, it’s a joke that runs very thin, very quickly. Maybe I was tired from a long day but there wasn’t much of a reaction from the audience and no applause at the end. A let down.
After a night’s rest, I was back at it on Sunday afternoon with an excellent documentary called Freakonomics. It’s basically a bunch of short stories which challenge conventional thinking. Does what you name a child really affect their future? Do real estate agents really hold out for the best price when selling your home? Can you bribe a 9th grader to study by offering cash incentives?
This is probably the best film I’ve seen so far at the Festival. I am biased with my love of documentaries but this movie has a lot to offer and I have many friends who would feel the same way.
Enter The Void
If you’re seeing any film from director Gaspar Noe (Irreversible), you should know to expect anything. It was pretty much a sold out crowd (mostly young people) and we were taken on a pretty wild ride. It’s about a drug dealer who is killed and returns as some kind of ghost – reflecting on his life and seeing what happens after.
This will be the strangest film I’ll see at the Festival. When I walked out of the cinema, I called it beautiful, hypnotic, bizarre and incomprehensible. It clocks in at almost two and a half hours and I left the theatre completely mind-f***ed. I have no idea what the point of the movie was but I won’t forget it in a hurry.
Looking somewhat confused and distressed after Enter The Void, I backed up for Lebanon on Sunday night – the Golden Lion winner at the recent Venice Film Festival. It’s about a group of four soldiers who become stuck in a tank in enemy territory. It’s shot entirely within the tank – to help build the intensity and create a sense of claustrophobia.
My mind wasn’t fully on the job and I don’t think I appreciated this film as much as I should have. I’ll make sure I see it again if it gets a cinema release. On the whole, I liked it but I wasn’t emotionally affected.
I saw this film a few months ago but it screened at BIFF tonight so I’ll throw in a quick mention. It’s another quality documentary which looks at energy companies who have been extracting natural gas in America… and the dirty secrets they have left behind.
Director Josh Fox is in Brisbane at the moment and I look forward to speaking to him tomorrow about his great film.
That’s it from me. Don’t forget, you can get your BIFF tickets at http://www.stgeorgebiff.com.au. With 6 days left to go, there are still plenty of great films to see!
The Fun Of Being First: My Review Of Paranormal Activity 2
- Written by Matthew Toomey
Every Thursday morning on 612ABC Brisbane radio, I review two new release movies in detail. It’s one of the fun parts of my week (despite having to get up at 5:50am).
The trick is making sure that I get to at least two previews prior to doing my show. Often it’s not a problem but if a few other parts of my life overlap, it can be tough.
That situation presented itself for my show on Thursday, 21 October 2010. I had planned ahead and realised there were just three new releases – Summer Coda, Life As We Know It and Paranormal Activity 2.
I’d seen Summer Coda but I wasn’t able to make the preview for Life As We Know It. This just left Paranormal Activity 2. I shot an email to Paramount in Australia to find out about preview screenings. Alas, there were none.
The friendly folk at Paramount advised that “the film makers have been super sneaky on all aspects of this film, and they have decided not to hold any media screenings prior to release to avoid any possible plot leaks.”
I’d usually be suspicious. When a film isn’t previewed for the media/critics, it’s often because it stinks and they don’t want bad press getting out. I didn’t think that was the case here. Given the success of the original film (which I loved), I understood why they might want to keep the plot under wraps.
Lucky for me, the film was opening on Wednesday night here in Brisbane. I could go along with the regular paying crowd, quickly write up a review and then be ready for my 612ABC show on Thursday morning. So I booked my tickets to a 7pm screening at Event Cinemas Chermside on 20 October 2010.
The day before the screening, I logged into the Rotten Tomatoes website to see if any early reviews had appeared. There were none. For those that don’t know, Rotten Tomatoes is a website which collates the reviews of the world’s leading film critics. Each one has to provide a quote from their review and label the movie as “fresh” or “rotten”.
On seeing no reviews, a thought went through my mind. Perhaps I could be the first person to post a review for Paranormal Activity 2. Given that (1) the film wasn’t going to be released in the U.S. until the Friday, and (2) the preview ban appeared to be worldwide, it looked like I’d have that chance.
It’s usually the popular critics like Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) who get to see films first and help spread the word. When Travers called The Social Network “the movie of the year” back in August, it nabbed our attention very, very quickly. Travers was also first out of the blocks with his big thumbs up for Inception.
I figured this would be my one-and-only chance to emulate Travers and post the first review of a movie. I’d have a monopoly on the market. :)
That’s pretty much it panned out. I posted my review at 10:20pm on Wednesday, 20 October 2010 and uploaded a quote on the Rotten Tomatoes website. I was the first. I was on the fence regarding whether the movie should be classed as “fresh” or “rotten” given there were parts I liked and parts I didn’t like. I ended up going with “rotten” as I did feel disappointed on leaving the cinema. My grading was a B- and you can read my full review by clicking here.
When I awoke the next morning just before 6am, I switched on my computer to quickly check my emails. I turns out my review had made quite an impact. It had received over 1,000 hits inside of 8 hours. It had inspired a flood of comments on the Rotten Tomatoes website. What I couldn’t believe was an email that I’d received from the site moderators at Rotten Tomatoes.
They told me that my review had “attracted an inordinate amount of scrutiny -- particularly from the people at Paramount here in the US”. They were looking to clarify my “rotten” grading. Having read the review, Paramount felt that the tone was more “fresh”. I explained my rationale above to Rotten Tomatoes (who were very polite) and they passed my feedback on to Paramount.
My first reaction was one of shock. My review had raised the attention of Paramount in the United States? Wow. It makes a compelling argument against those who think film criticism is dead. Paramount seemed worried that my “rotten” grade would affect business.
Later that day, I received an email from the Writers Guild of America. They asked that I change the names of the screenwriters in my review. I’d pulled the information from the IMDB (as I do for all my reviews) but it turns out the IMDB wasn’t up to date. There were two additional writers and I altered my review accordingly.
Once again, I couldn’t believe it. My review really was attracting an “inordinate amount of scrutiny”. I wasn’t perturbed in anyway. This was fun. I couldn’t wait to tell people at work.
The real delight came in seeing some of the comments that were posted about my review by the public on Rotten Tomatoes. When you’re the only review out there, the sharks will feed. I had over 3,000 hits (a lot for me) inside of 24 hours. A few people were critical early about why I’d given the film a B- and yet a “rotten” rating. They felt that a B- was a positive result. I thought it important to set the record straight and so I posted…
“As the reviewer, I'm happy to comment on the grade. I use a scale from A+ (equivalent to 5 stars) to C- (equivalent to 1 star). Anything from A+ to B is fresh. Anything from B- to C- is rotten. This was a marginal call (parts of the film I liked, parts I didn't like) but I went with a B- (aka rotten). Haven't gone into too much detail why in the review so as not to spoil certain plot twists.”
That only added fuel to the fire. You can read all the comments by clicking here but below is a sample of what was posted…
“Seriously, how is a "B-" considered a Negative review? Come again?”
“What the hell? This isn't a negative review. F*** you rotten tomatoes”
“How in the world can a freaking "B-" not exactly be considered at least a "good" review Jeremy? Infact it should be a great review! Wow, you're so naive! You can't deny the fact that the reviewers rating scale is completely screwed up (not to use the F word).”
“The fact that this guy uses an A-C grading scale? well, i don't think i need to explain the fact that he's 8 kinds of retarded.”
“That grading system makes no sense. Just saying. Seems like an attempt to differentiate yourself from other reviews rather than using logic. Sure - A+ = 5 stars, but a C- = 1 star?? What the heck would an F be? Negative stars”
“At no stage will it ever be OK to have a B- play the equivalent of a C grading. It is illogical, and, as someone indicated before, possibly an attempt to obtain differentiation/a niche from other reviewers.”
“That is just completely absurd as a system, like what purpose does it serve but to confuse people (not due to a lack of intellect, but a pointless deviation from accepted norms relative to grading)? Just use A - E and you won't have all the confusion and backlash. This is the first and probably only system whereby a B- is around middle-ground, and there is a very good reason for that. It's ridiculous.”
“So it looks to me that Matthew Toomey seems to be the only so called "critic" to dislike the film. Every other critic thinks differently. Hmmmm... there are only 5 reviews posted right now. FAIL! troll”
“The fact of the matter is that every other critic is hailing the film while this douche with the f*cked up rating scale thinks differently. And funny thing is that he didn't dislike it, as he pointed out above.”
It was nice to see a few coming to my defence though…
“Are we all going to sit here and argue about a score that ONE person made? seriously guys, learn to care about only your opinion but respect others.”
“You are a brave man to post on here and expose yourself to the hateful venom sure to come your way from people who haven't seen the movie yet know you are "wrong".”
“Okay this argument is really stupid. The important thing really isn't the grade, it's the review. If Matthew thought this film is "rotten" then so be it. It really doesn't matter how he grades it, whether it's a B- or a 6/10 or a 425/800, his review should speak for itself.”
“No, it's doesn't destroy the integrity of his review. His review is full of things called "words" which firmly establish his stance on the movie. The grading system is irrelevant, and only nit-picking trolls like yourself (who probably ran catering for the film, am I right) could possibly see an advantage in getting upset over it. Get a life.”
“You guys always find something to complain about. Are you happy that this is how you spend your time?”
“I just read all the comments. Sometimes I come onto Rotten Tomatoes just for this. :P”
“I wasn't surprised, not at all, to see the glut of immature posts here by a number of individuals complaining about the nuts and bolts of how this specific critic rates movies. Then they take it a step further in trying to tell this critic that he needs to change his rating system to what they want to be.
Next argument: what's the best ice cream flavor and why everyone else is wrong.”
“Rotten Tomatoes: The place where every negative review that's goes against your opinion is wrong, and every movie you like should have 100% positive approval.”
I’m not at all offended by the comments. As I hinted at above, it’s great just to see the debate. Two opinions are seldom the same and that’s why I enjoy talking about movies. The only thing better than agreeing about a movie… is disagreeing.
I realise some may find my grading scale foolish but I’ve been using it since 1996 and have no plans to change. It’s just my style. I think some of those who posted on Rotten Tomatoes are just jealous that they didn’t have me as their English teacher (with my soft grading scale). :)
For the record, Paranormal Activity 2 currently has 61% approval from the 103 critics who have posted so far on Rotten Tomatoes. Considering the original film scored 82%, it seems a few more people felt down this time around.
And that’s my two cents.
An Excitingly Broad Program On Offer At BIFF 2010
- Written by Matthew Toomey
I can’t help myself. I always get overexcited when the program is released each year for the St George Brisbane International Film Festival. As a look through the list of the film, there are always so many that I want to see. The tricky part is narrowing the list down to something that is manageable.
For those that haven’t been to a BIFF before, now’s your chance. This is how I usually sell it to people…
Roughly 4 new releases come out in Brisbane cinemas every Thursday. During BIFF, you have the chance to see more than 100 different films over an 11 day period. As they say, variety is the spice of life.
I reflected back on some of my favourite BIFF memories in a piece I wrote on the Regent Cinema not too long ago. You can check it out here.
The easiest way to book tickets is through the BIFF website – http://www.stgeorgebiff.com.au/ - or through the brand new iPhone application. I’ve locked in most of my tickets already this year and it was incredibly easy. I really like the iPhone app too – you can see the whole catalogue as well as just the films you’ve booked tickets for.
Ticket prices for most films are $15. It’s a little more expensive for some of the bigger screenings (e.g. opening night, closing night). Concession rates are available and there are also discounts if you buy multiple tickets.
Everyone will be looking for something different but I’ve gone with a similar strategy to previous years when picking my films. I’ve chosen a few of the bigger films which will get a nationwide cinema release down the track (so I can get a heads up on my review). I’ve also gone with a few smaller films based solely on the blurb in the program. Sometimes the best way to see a movie is to know as little about it as possible.
I’ve tried to spread the screenings around the three venues (Palace Centro, Palace Barracks and Tribal) as well as juggling my time. I’ve stacked the weekends with many films (looks like I won’t be playing golf for a few weeks) while squeezing in a few during the week after work.
I think it’s one of the best programs assembled in a long time. BIFF has a new Festival Director this year (Richard Moore) who has gone with a broad program. If you can’t find something worth seeing, then you’re too hard to please!
I’m trying to line up a few interviews with directors / actors this year and if I do, you’ll be sure to read about them on my website.
As a quick head’s up - without the big Regent Cinema this year, I’m expecting tickets for many films to sell out. Once you’ve got a list together, I’d strongly recommend you book.
Ultimately, BIFF is a lot of fun. You’ll often find yourself sitting in a packed theatre with some knowledgeable filmgoers watching something that you’ll never have the chance to see again. It’s provided me many memories over the past 15 years and I’ll have a lot more in a few weeks’ time.
Hopefully I’ll get to catch up with many friends, Facebook followers and Twitter followers during the festival. Below is a list of the films I’m booked in to see (with a quick plot overview from the BIFF website). Any of them sound good? If so, I’ll see you there!
Friday, 5 November at 7:00pm (Palace Barracks)
A 'womantic' Brisbane-based comedy about the bond between best friends.
Jackie (Francesca Gasteen) and Lucy (Cindy Nelson) together are 'Jucy', two 20-something Brisbane slackers who spend their days together working in a dead-end job, smoking pot and playing video games. Things aren't too bad – except that everyone keeps telling them it's time to get serious about their lives.
An empathetic, funny chick-buddy flick about the perils of 'growing up', Jucy proves that writer–director team Stephen Vagg and Louise Alston (All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane) are no flash in the pan.
Friday, 5 November at 9:15pm (Palace Centro)
A hitman falls in love while working one last job.
But will he live to see his life transformed? The sensationally likeable George Clooney plays against type as the Ugly American in this slow-burn thriller set in the hill towns of Italy. On the run from vengeful Swedish mercenaries, 'Mr Butterfly' – as he is known professionally – is a master assassin whose life has gone horribly wrong.
A twist on the hitman-thriller genre from photographer-turned-filmmaker Anton Corbijn (Control), The American is a simmering portrait of a man struggling to put down his gun and walk away for good.
Saturday, 6 November at 2:00pm (Palace Barracks)
Evil: It's just cooler.
Being a super-villain isn't easy. It's tough coming up with new plans for world domination, especially when that pesky arch-nemesis always seems to turn up to foil them. But when one of Megamind's evil schemes to defeat superhero Metroman actually works, he finds himself pondering bigger questions, such as "what now?"
From a distant planet destroyed by a black hole comes two superbeings locked in a life-long battle for supremacy – so what happens when the bad guy wins?
Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt lend their hilarious voicing talents to Megamind. He's big, he's blue and he's about to take over the world.
Saturday, 6 November at 7:00pm (Tribal)
A mega-mix of Twin Peaks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Donnie Darko, fuelled by hallucinogenic cookies.
This wild, sex-drenched, indie horror-comedy from director Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation, Mysterious Skin) debuted at Cannes earlier this year, garnering the festival's first ever 'Queer Palm' award.
Replete with Araki's staple pithy one-liners and white-hot sex scenes, Kaboom follows the adventures of a bisexual college freshman who goes tripping on hallucinogenic cookies and imagines (or does he?) that he's witnessed a gruesome murder.
Beautiful people, stylish sex and a mind-blowing murderous cult make this film a striking addition to Araki's artistic and philosophical manifesto.
Wasted On The Young
Saturday, 6 November at 9:30pm (Palace Centro)
When a high school party goes dangerously off the rails, revenge is just a computer click away.
Ben C. Lucas's look at the dark side of high school will have most parents worried, but anyone under 30 will respond well to this sex-obsessed, drink-and-drugs-fuelled story of school and internet bullying told with pace and panache.
Adults don't register here – it's just the kids and their laws. A strict social hierarchy is enforced, and the consequences of bucking its authority can be very, very high.
When two half-brothers set their sights on the same girl, the repercussions will implode the carefully maintained power structures and bring dire consequences for everyone involved.
Saturday, 6 November at 11:00pm (Tribal)
A film about a tyre. With psychic powers. On a murderous rampage.
Would we lie to you? This movie is every bit as weird as you'd expect, but it won independent filmmaker Quentin Dupieux (aka electronic music producer Mr Oizo) a 2010 Critics' Week screening at Cannes this year, and achieved instant cult status.
After having his affections for a beautiful woman rebuffed, the all-weather protagonist takes out his anger management issues on everyone he encounters using his deadly telekinetic powers.
An absurdist road movie, Rubber goes where others fear to tread.
Sunday, 7 November at 12:00pm (Tribal)
Five documentary filmmakers take an unconventional look at the hidden side of everything.
Proving that truth is often freakier than fiction, Freakonomics is an adaptation of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's best-selling book that applied statistical and economic theory to various phenomena, finding disturbing explanations and insights.
A who's-who of documentary directors – including Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) – offer their individual and often startling takes on topics as diverse as baby-naming, corruption in sumo wrestling, Roe v. Wade and successfully bribing students to improve their grades.
Enter The Void
Sunday, 7 November at 4:30pm (Palace Barracks)
A hallucinatory roller coaster ride from the master of transgressive cinema, Gasper Noé (Irreversible).
When an American drug dealer is killed plying his trade in neon-lit Tokyo, his spirit refuses to leave this world, instead remaining to watch over his sister from the void.
Gasper Noé dazzling visual opus Enter the Void has been hailed as a ambitious landmark of cinematography, a delirious and kinetic assault on the senses. Scenes of graphic violence and explicit sex will keep sensitive viewers away, but more adventurous cinema-goers are in for a mind-bending thrill ride.
Sunday, 7 November at 7:00pm (Palace Barracks)
War from the inside.
Trapped inside a tank behind enemy lines during the first Israeli-Lebanon war of 1982, a naïve young Israeli crew grapple with confusion, heat and equipment failure, to ultimately question the idea of the war itself. Lebanon provides a unique perspective on the horror of war; one experienced solely from within the belly of a tank.
A fictionalised account of director Samuel Maoz's own war experiences, this claustrophobic (anti-)war film won the Golden Lion Award at last year's Venice film festival.
I Killed My Mother
Tuesday, 9 November at 6:30pm (Palace Centro)
At the age of just 20, Xavier Dolan wrote, directed and starred in this masterful film about the fraught relationship between a mother and son.
Dripping with equal measures of fury and affection, this coming of age comedy from rising star Xavier Dolan received a nine minute standing ovation when it premiered at Cannes.
The mother–son relationship is placed on a skewer and roasted as Hubert, a disaffected gay teen, and his mother Chantale take up the proverbial hammer and tongs. It's verbal warfare at close quarters as Dolan probes deeper and deeper into the complexities of the mother and son dynamic.
Dolan's second feature, Heartbeats, is also screening at this year's festival.
Tuesday, 9 November at 9:00pm (Palace Barracks)
Fighting back is the only way out.
When three young delinquents – Butch, David and Angel – find themselves thrown into juvenile detention in Enola Vale, Montana, they're told to keep their heads down.
The three quickly find themselves immersed in a culture of violence and torment. If you thought the TV series Oz was tough, think again.
Director Kim Chapiron (Sheitan) has populated his prison cast with actual ex-cons, lending a chilling authenticity to this depiction of a juvenile detention system that serves as a brutal training ground for aggression and violence.
Thursday, 11 November at 6:00pm (Palace Barracks)
Two years ago, a global financial crisis erupted – and apparently no one saw it coming. Just how could this happen?
The massive financial meltdown, which cost over $20 trillion, resulted in millions of people losing their homes and jobs. Narrated by Matt Damon, this film pulls no punches as it talks to key financial insiders, politicians and journalists to help dissect the corrupted rogue system that gave rise to the crisis.
Director Charles Ferguson makes sense of the obscure financial processes set up to throw off even the most nimble-minded financiers and criminal investigators. Piece by piece he builds a compelling case against the financial services industry, declaring them to be one enormous criminal enterprise.
The Red Chapel
Friday, 12 November at 2:00pm (Tribal)
Michael Moore meets Bruno, as an elaborate prank takes three Danes into the heart of North Korea.
Director Mads Brügger and a Danish-Korean comedy duo (one of whom is a self-proclaimed "spastic") spend two weeks in North Korea, ostensibly preparing a performance for the residents of Pyongyang. But Brügger's real aim is to make a guerrilla-style expose of the ruthless police state.
Always under the careful eye of their state-assigned hostess Ms Pak, each night they must submit their footage to 'video specialists' who will edit out any material that might impugn the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il.
Winner of the World Cinema Documentary grand jury prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
The Dark Crystal
Friday, 12 November at 6:30pm (Tribal)
Another world, another time, in the Age of Wonder.
With rumours of a studio remake in the offing, we bring you this much-loved 1982 classic. Jim Henson's first feature film outside of the Muppet franchise, it was a dark departure from the bright comic fun of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Gonzo, and paved the way for Labyrinth and the TV show The Jim Henson Hour.
An age-old story of good versus evil gets the Henson treatment in this shadowy world of benevolent Mystics and the wicked Skeksis. With the Dark Crystal damaged, it is up to a young Gelfling to travel to the lair of the Skeksis and take back the missing shard, to save the world from being engulfed by evil.
Friday, 12 November at 6:30pm (Tribal)
Revenge just rode into town.
It's in the form of escaped Aboriginal convict Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis, The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith), but this neo-western isn't just about black-white race relations in the Australian bush. It centres on the blooding of a young policeman (Ryan Kwanten of HBO's True Blood), new to this small country town, who has to deal with Conway's bloody campaign of revenge against the local cops.
Director Patrick Hughes brings us a contemporary take on the western genre, creating a film that is often violent and blood-soaked, but never predictable.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Saturday, 13 November at 4:00pm (Tribal)
Hit me with your rhythm stick…
Andy Serkis plays British punk legend Ian Dury in a film that distils the surly musician's style – vaudevillian, camp and hilarious. This energetic biopic from director Mat Whitecross (Road to Guantanamo) charts the rise and fall of Dury and his band of music hall misfits, capturing the essence of a charismatic rocker who possessed charm and venom in equal quantities.
Serkis is the real hero here, giving a searing performance as the bulgy-eyed, self-obsessed, punk-rock poet with a chip on his shoulder the size of Essex. Like him or hate him, you gotta love him.
Saturday, 13 November at 6:30pm (Centro)
"Poetry makes nothing happen," said W.H. Auden. But he didn't live to see the impact that Alan Ginsberg's 1956 masterpiece 'Howl' had on conservative America post-WWII.
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have created an experimental format to show the shockwaves produced by one single piece of writing. Their unorthodox approach includes a simulated interview with Ginsberg (played by James Franco), dramatisations of his life and the landmark obscenity trial his poem incited, and finally, the poem itself: imagined in surreal animation.
A deeply satisfying intellectual deconstruction and analysis of the poet as well as the poem, Howl brings Ginsberg's seminal work to yet another generation of young radicals.
Machete Maidens Unleashed
Sunday, 14 November at 2:00pm (Barracks)
No budget, no scruples, no boundaries and usually no clothes.
This Brisbane-based production lays bare the sordid world of genre film made in the Philippines during the 70s and 80s. These schlock-laden movies - think monsters, jungle prisons, blaxploitation and kung fu hybrids - were made by enterprising B-movie producers when Ferdinand Marcos's oppressive regime was at its most severe.
Featuring funny behind-the-scenes anecdotes from filmmakers, actors and producers - including the likes of Roger Corman, Joe Dante and John Landis - along with plenty of hilarious clips from the low-budget pics, Machete Maidens Unleashed! charts the wild frontier of an almost completely unregulated off-shore film industry.
Sunday, 14 November at 7:00pm (Barracks)
Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling star in a heartbreaking tale of love gone wrong.
Cindy, subtly played by Michelle Williams, is not your average suburban mum. She has – in old-fashioned parlance – married beneath her, and husband Dean (Ryan Gosling) can't get the tone of the marriage right.
Director Derek Cianfrance wields his cinematic scalpel with agonising precision as he cuts into the core of a diseased marriage, packing an emotional punch worthy of the late John Cassavetes.
Brooklyn indie-rock band Grizzly Bear provide a soulful score.