The BIFF is back!
As the Brisbane International Film Festival continues to go from strength to strength as an industry must-do, newly appointed CEO Luke Wheatley and Screen Queensland CEO Jacqui Feeney made sure the festival’s 29th year was worthy of an Uproar-ious reception.
A celebration of films for audiences seeking new perspectives and memorable experiences, this year promises to be the most exciting yet, with the festival premiering such anticipated titles as Poor Things, Saltburn, and Next Goal Wins, in addition to industry panels, filmmaker Q&As, and networking opportunities across an exciting 10 days.
Attending the festival’s opening night preview of Uproar (read our review here) ahead of his intended screening schedule, Peter Gray spoke to both Jacqui and Luke about their plans for the future of BIFF, as well as the film’s director, Paul Middleditch, about showcasing a personal New Zealand story to an Australian audience.
What’s been really exciting is that BIFF has gone from strength to strength, especially over these last few years. Where do you see the festival going, not just this year, but in the next 5-to-10 years? And how it can become one of Australia’s biggest and best film festivals…
Jacqui Feeney: I’m ambitious for Queensland, as an industry. I think there’s wonderful opportunities for ways to continue with what we’re doing (which is) attracting international productions, but also to grow the local industry alongside that. I think with wonderful opportunities, like the Olympics – which isn’t just a sporting event – but with what you’ve challenged me with, (which is) having a very long term and ambitious view.
I’m willing to get behind and rally people who have ambitious ideas, but also have the capacity to execute (those ideas). I always want to bring film festivals back to the audience. I think the most important thing a film festival does is having a great brand and encouraging people to come in and try new things. Be bold and brave. We want the festival and we want Queensland to be brave and bold.
Luke Wheatley: I mean, it’s all about momentum. (And) my job (as the newly appointed CEO of BIFF) is to keep that momentum going. That was already done by Josh Martin (previous CEO), so it was important to me to not change anything too radically. That wouldn’t be a smart thing. I came in with a vision, and the vision is really strong. We want to have a film festival that (gives) people (something to) look forward to every year. That’s number one. And how do you do that? By having amazing films. At the end of the day it’s the films that count.
Every film is a Queensland premiere. But we have Australian premieres (and) we have world premieres. We have local filmmakers rubbing shoulders with Phillip Noyce, you know? It’s about raising Brisbane’s profile. Because you have the Sydney Film Festival, then Melbourne Film Festival, then the next is Toronto. Then there’s Brisbane. Why can’t Brisbane be (thought of) like that? We’re straight after Toronto. Why aren’t we the next big one people look forward to?
To answer your question, it’s about momentum. And it’s about having really big films that people want to come and see.
It’s exciting to not only have a film from our friends over in New Zealand opening the festival, but it’s a further celebration of films from all over the world here at BIFF. How important is it to you to showcase a story that’s so near and dear to the heart of New Zealand to an Australian audience?
Paul Middleditch: It’s very important. I’ve lived half my life in Australia and half in New Zealand. I joke that I’m an Anzac biscuit (laughs). (I’m) very dry. As filmmakers we wanted to make a universal film. It relates to a lot of issues in New Zealand, but the same issues we have in this country as well. I think there’s a universal quality about a misfit – the story’s about a kid who doesn’t fit in – and, you know, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, we have found that, internationally, people are affected by this film.
To make the film true to the world that it came from, it was based on my story as a young boy growing up in New Zealand and Wellington, not really fitting in or finding my place. It was a world that was rugby dominated, and I was about the arts. I lacked the confidence, but I eventually found a way to have a voice. That’s what this film is about. And it’s interesting (because) Julian Dennison, it’s exactly his story as well. He could immerse himself into this world and make it his own. It’s such a brave performance from him. And that’s what made me, I think, so humbled as a director, to see this boy turn into a real actor. But your question? Yes, I’m thrilled about this. Because I think (Uproar) will work brilliantly for Australian audiences, because there’s so many connections between New Zealand and Australia.
And as the film is a reflection of your upbringing, was there a point when you knew you wanted to start pursuing filmmaking as a career? Or was there a film that proved inspiring enough?
Paul Middleditch: Yeah, when I was a young kid, I had an art teacher at school. I was interested in painting, and so on, and there was a competition in New Zealand which had a spot for a film competition. My grandmother said I should enter. I was making little films on a Super 8 Camera, and I eventually won this competition for 4 years in a row! The camera that I filmed those (movies) on is what (Julian Dennison’s character) uses in Uproar. I just know there are film nerds that are loving this movie (laughs). The influence was being young at school, making movies and being bullied.
And I was lucky enough to see some really amazing films. I was quite a serious young man, but one of the first films I saw as a kid, and I was that generation who sat and saw that big spaceship go across the screen in Star Wars. I was in the cinema in 1977 and I was just a little kid. Excuse the word, but “Fuck” (laughs). From there on I saw Alien and Taxi Driver. I loved The Godfather…
You were watching all the things you shouldn’t have been…
Paul Middleditch: Because at that time you could see them on TV. There was huge censorship, so with The Godfather, you’d see him drive up to the booth and then the sequence would be cut. I was shocked to see all those things (laughs). I went into doing music videos, and I’ve made short films and television commercials – I did the “Not Happy Jan” – but I’ve always made films. That’s what I want to bring into the world. (Something) with that universal quality to it.
The Brisbane International Film Festival is currently screening across theatres in Brisbane, from October 26th and November 5th, 2023.