The cultural horizons are less narrowly diminished than when I covered the first Brisbane International Film Festival (as a then-time local, for Filmnews) 12 years back, but Brisbane remains a thriving Petri dish of Anglo-hoon monoculture. From fall of night, alpha-baboon carloads patrol the inner city and welcome interstate visitors with predictable invective. When one rush-hour commuter expounds to another on “the dregs” occupying her neighbouring flats – “a gay and an Indian” – what is most remarkable is the undisturbed insouciance of so many proximal commuters. Such ideas are hardly unknown elsewhere, but only in Perth (and, possibly, Darwin, tho’ I suspect not even there) among our capitals do they find the widespread legitimacy they enjoy in Brisbane.
One madness is opposed by another. Creative culture in Queensland is typically the fruit of catalytic personalities; frequently in collaboration but often also in obstinate isolation. And the monoculture is myopic: it fails to distinguish degrees of extremity. This is perhaps one reason why Brisbane (of all places), with a wont of extravagant resources or a critical mass of population, enjoys an institutional and quasi-institutional screen culture as creative and outlandish as at any point on the globe. Brisbane screen culture’s two most prominent (tho’ not exclusive) champions: Trash video proprietor and erstwhile impresario, Andrew “Stumpy” Leavold (subject of the SBS-TV doco, Escape from the Planet of the Tapes) and Artistic Director of the Brisbane International Film Festival, Anne Démy-Geroe.
Démy-Geroe pioneered the Queensland State Library’s free Sunday screenings (helmed now by Bruce Hodsdon, curator of the James Benning retrospective at this year’s BIFF). That experience affords her a keen sensitivity to the tastes of BIFF audiences. Her Festival curatorship has alerted Australian audiences to everything from Seijun Suzuki to Bruce La Bruce – many times visionary, if not always strictly populist. This curatorial rigour, and imagination, has been all too lacking from comparable recent festivals to Brisbane’s South. I hardly lament the trip Northwards – Brisbane in Winter is tropically languid comfort, even if I did forgo a new documentary on Bruce Haack and a choice selection of shorts at contemporaneous MIFF screenings – but whatever shortcomings might exist in the programs of conflicting Melbourne and Brisbane schedules could be easily solved by a better negotiated share of resources. Perhaps the AFC can gently admonish both parties to collaborate a little better?
Queensland is home to two of the finest cinemas in the nation: Pomona’s Majestic, to Brisbane’s North (the longest continuously operating cinema in the nation) and the Greater Union-Hoyts Regent, exemplary final picture palace in the Brisbane CBD. Located almost in the heart of the Queen Street Mall’s bright-and-gleaming future, the Regent is a jewel of gracefully postmodern renovation – and baroquely sympathetic venue to BIFF across its four screens. Beyond its immediate environmental charms, the Regent also generously provides for access to the mobility impaired, and allows for otherwise outdated dual projector transitions (the Czech Film Archives famously proscribe their prints being screened from platters): two issues I’m unconvinced the Australian Centre for the Moving Image has adequately addressed.
The anachronistic art nouveau opulence of Regent Cinema 1 makes a perfect forum for the flamboyant mannerism of Raul Ruiz’s That Day (Ce Jour-là) (2003). This congenial insanity explicates Rúiz’s debt to Buñuel and Franju in its casting of Michel Piccoli and Edith Scob as the Pa and step-Ma duo, partners in post-menopausal crime (there is something of a rarefied Tashlin, also, to Ruiz’s tongue in cheek drolleries; viz the “revolving door” chase sequence). With a perfect pitch of guileless dissociation, Elsa Zylberstein portrays their target, the innocently maddened heiress to the Salsox (ubiquitous table sauce) empire. The unreliable agent of assassination is a homicidal diabetic, endlessly obsessing over an elusive blood-sugar consensus. But death’s finger is freelance… and only nominally at the command of the chimerical conspiracy directed (possibly) from the pinnacles of Swiss finance and/or government. Ruiz has talked up the possibility of the film as an allegory for the casual complicity of Pinochet-era Chile, but I dunno; apparently Zylberstein has reported that Ruiz came up with this explanation almost arbitrarily, and halfway thru’ production. I reckon the Swiss stand in better as a metaphor for centralised global economy (i.e. right now –like), a reading which is maybe supported by the film’s many references to Catholic ritual (hardly unknown in Ruiz’s cinema) and the Swiss Guard’s long service in Vatican ranks; but up-dating the allegory makes it that much more sinister, also.
All of which is as maybe: That Day is perfectly functional as the kind of B-movie entertainment Ruiz is such a professed fan of. There are smarts in abundance to this parlour comedy of murderous manners, but essayed with Ruiz’ typically mischievous rigour. Restrained civility among the village conspirators is punctuated by an incessance of mobile phone tones, and thrown into violent relief by the bloodstained slapstick back at Salsox manor. Thankfully, this later hysteria is rendered vivaciously playful by the dark and absurdly ironic humour.
The “Ruiz shot” this time out is a stunning restaurant sequence: shot and counter-shot foregrounding macro close-up glasses of wine, or morsels of food hanging from the end of steely forks. Special note is due John Fewell’s accomplished 5.1 sound design, which describes a further precedent in Buñuel when the homicidal presage, an airliner roaring overhead, recalls Buñuel’s own SFX for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1977). Jorge Arriagada’s score alternates between romantic lyricism and an angular discord of jagged note clusters, to unnerving effect. This bravura and frequently hilarious fabulism enlarges our conception both of cinema and the world.
Onna other hand, Chantal Akerman’s most recent fiction features exemplify the “bourgeois naturalism” genre of contemporary cinema (this taste for blandly supercilious reassurance appears also in Maxine Williamson’s catalogue entry for The Stroll (Alexei Uchitel, 2003): “… Contemporary Russia is full of spirit, freedom, disposable incomes, and all the luxuries Russians can buy.” Well, I dunno… Russia, contemporary or historical, has or had these things, but arguably only if you’re part of the social elite. Contemporary Iraq (or anyplace) could also be said to be full of these same things, but only if you live in a US-sanctioned fortification. There’s a pivotal question here: does cinema actually engage the culture(s) which gives rise to its production and consumption, or are we all just playing travel agent for international outposts of First World indulgence? Both La Captive (2000) and Tomorrow We Move (Demain on déménage) (2003) are marked by the classical elegance of their production, which is probably gauchely appropriate.
La Captive adapts the faltering centre (a concentrated study of mawkish male insecurity) of Proust’s epic In Search of Lost Time. This film almost pre-empts its own Hollywood remake – obvious and overdetermined, the flourishing Wagnerian bombast of the soundtrack like some out-loud Pavlovian cue to “emote now”. Yes, the male protagonist comes off as a tiresome prat – so in that sense it is at least faithful to the original text – but the film lacks much of the traumatised ambiguity of the source (Marcel goes spare trying to nut out Albertine’s exact gender preference: her eventual death reads like the fantasy projection of thwarted male ego)… Proust wrote plenty profound and insightful stuff, but desperately needed an editor (and, yeah, I realise this is prezackly the point, but y’know, that whole self-fascination bit starts to wear a little thin, I reckon): too much of his infatuation with Albertine reads like the anguished navel-gazing of a snotty Mum’s boy.
Adrian Martin has noted this film’s bold echo of Kitschschlock’s Vertigo; for me, the penultimate sequence of Simon and Ariane’s careening drive to the coast in an open convertible also portentously recalls Godard’s Contempt (Le Mépris) (1963). To Akerman’s credit, several scenes are invested with a genuine eroticism: a considerable achievement for any filmmaker.
Tomorrow We Move is animated by occasional musical idylls but these are a miserly compensation for endless blah-blah ruminations over real estate. Like La Captive, the film conspicuously breaks with generic convention by avoiding the satisfactions of happily resolved romantic intrigue, but its vision of spontaneous childbirth and cheerfully “accommodating” landlords amounts to a sterile middle-class fantasy. In a minor role, Elsa Zylberstein provides a wonderfully enigmatic walk-on, which confirms the talents evidenced by her work for Ruiz. Akerman is a favourite of “ya-ya” dilettantes for whom anything French (Italian, Spanish, etc) is almost necessarily artful. She’s made fantastic work in even the recent past, but these soporific stinkers are not among them.
BIFF has always amply accommodated “fantastic” cinema, and this year’s program included a considered survey of Czech Gothic cinema, curated by North American writer and theorist Steven Jay Schneider. The opportunity to see any of these works – in archival 35mm prints, most of them in outlandishly expansive Iron Curtain ultra-scope – promotes a happy expectation of unsuspected derangements, and we weren’t to be disappointed. The unexpected gem in Schneider’s program was also its magical anomaly: Václav Vorlícek’s Who Killed Jessie? (Kdo chce zabít Jessii?) (1966), neither a literary adaptation or even, despite some evocatively expressionist moments, particularly gothic. If Vorlícek’s film isn’t privileged by an explicit debt to those indigenous Czech surrealists, the inter-war Devetsil movement, it manifests the aesthetic and philosophic concerns of that group even better than a more celebrated work such as Jaromil Jires’ Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a tyden divu) (1970), adapted from the novel by leading Devetsil theorist Vitezslav Nezval. Vorlícek’s work is unaccountably disappeared from English language criticism of Czech cinema – the single reference can be found in Phil Hardy’s Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Film – and only his 1975 Three Wishes for Cinderella! has distribution in the west on DVD (thru Facets).
Who Killed Jessie? might be figured within a diaspora of one-time Iron Curtain psychotronic cinema; in company the likes of Wojciech Has’ The Hourglass Sanatorium (Sanatorium pod klepsydra) (1973) and Dusan Vukotic’s The Seventh Continent (Sedmi kontinent) (1966). Presumably, there are very many more – and they are among the most extraordinary films ever made, even if never properly distributed to Western audiences (their resort to strategies of dissimulative fantasy, formal experimentation, and even the simple generic conventions of popular cinema, can all be presumed to have troubled the “fellow travellers” who controlled the release of East bloc cinema in the West – but their fraught and sometimes disquieting treatment of ideological verities may not have helped, either).
Unspooling in a superwide scope format (somewhere in the ratio of 2.4:1, is my guess), Who Killed Jessie? outlines the story of a put-upon engineer who takes diversional recourse of a comic book serial. Convulsive plot catalyst is the experimental vaccine of his neuropsychologist wife: intended to relieve the subject of traumatic dreams, it does so by manifesting the sources of that trauma in consensus reality – with wonderful chaotic consequence. “Liberty to Dreams!” is the speech-bubble slogan of the unloosed nightmare hooligans, from whom our hero seeks to protect the eponymous Jessie, while simultaneously endeavouring to construct the anti-gravity gloves that will speed the latest 5-year plan and placate the cheerless factory cadres… The slapstick capers of Vera Chytilová’s Daisies (Sedmikrasky) (1966) are linked here to their indigenous roots in the inter-war avant-garde, and the Positivist pop-Freudianisms are a delightful relief from reductivist convention of this or any era. Best of all, key sequences of the film are beautifully visioned as live action cartoons, on stunning expressionist sets in flat high-contrast black-and-white tones (and sounded with discordant cartoon japery: boings aplenty!). This is a triumph of the pulp imagination to overshadow Western contemporaries like Barbarella (Roger Vadim, 1968) or Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1967). Even more than Chytilová’s The Fruit of Paradise (Ovoce stromu rajskych jime) (1969), this film demands a wider restoration to Western attentions. In his Fantastic Cinema (Ebury Press, London, 1984 – increasingly out-dated, but still one of the best English language surveys of the field) Australian expat Peter Nicholls lends further plaudits to a later Czech sci-fi work from an adaptation by Milos Macourek, who scripted Jessie: Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself With Tea (Zitra ráno vstanu a oparím se cajem) (1977), directed by Jindrich Polák. There are, presumably, quite plenty more still eliding our audition.
If Schneider’s program is to be celebrated for its inclusion of Vorlícek’s masterpiece, it otherwise suffered from a flawed and inconsistent curatorial logic. His central premise, the gothic, finds little to recommend itself in a non-partisan survey of Czech cinema. What best unifies his selection are the literary origins of many of these films; but this might suggest a problematic conception of how the cinema actually functions. Jan Nemec was represented by his misguided burlesque In the Flames of Royal Love (V zaru kralovske lasky) (1990), but the wide-eyed mugging of its disco/metal pin-up star suggests the wrong “new wave”. With his final feature as Director, Nemec shunned any pretence of verisimilitude for gratuitous temporal displacement and unapologetic artifice. The axiomatic image is of the anti-heroine gobbing into the camera lens; not once, but three times; not just in slow-motion, but in reverse slow-motion as well… This is a misshapen film that will likely find its cult following in decades to come. Curiously, given Nemec’s blacklisting by the communist regime, this film’s two-headed heir apparent might embody a bitter metaphor for communism’s concessions to the free market – but I’ll confess that I’m groping at a meaningful metre to apply to this bilious, gratuitous adaptation of Ladislav Klima’s novel (The Torment of Prince Sternenhoch). Anyways, it’s a curious choice from the Director of celebrated works of “embellished reality” like Diamonds of the Night (Démanty noci) (1964), under the lens of Chytilová’s husband, Jaroslav Kucera, and Martyrs of Love (Mucedníci lásky) (1966), with the collaboration of Esther Krumbachová.
Missing fantastic cinema adaptations from literary sources included the 1969 omnibus, Prague Nights (Prazske noci), from fairy stories by the animator Jirí Brdecka: his own contribution, an animated version of the Golem legend, suggests a precedent for the current passion of Jirí Barta, who was represented by his 1985 feature, The Pied Piper (Krysar). Barta’s most ambitious work to date models its production design on Flemish woodblock prints. Ivo Spalj’s sound design is unaccountably his worst ever; he seems to be trying for the stylised voice effects of Geoff Dunbar’s Ubu (1978), but pitched so high as to be inappropriately comical. Regardless, the ending is genuinely chilling, and I await Barta’s new feature in keen anticipation.
Esther Krumbachová’s prominence in the Czech new wave was reconfirmed, both by a gorgeous print of Valerie and her week of wonders, and by the visible evidence (she doesn’t appear among the screen credits for other than costume design, but recent scholarship provides her recognition both for co-scripting and art direction) of her collaboration on Zbynek Brynych’s …And the Fifth Horseman is Fear (…a páty jezdec je Strach) (1964). Krumbachová had a thing for headwear, and her creative hat design is occasionally conspicuous in this film. Her other contribution (I’m presuming – in any case, it appears again in Daisies) might be the realisation of an “Aristotlean unity” design principle; the philosophical device of the “triumph of separation” realised through baroque collections of objects of the same kind (i.e. the opening scenes, with the room populated by clocks, and another by pianos, yet another housing crockery… all of it seized from Prague’s disenfranchised Jews). Roger Cardinal (in Keith Griffiths and the Quays’ The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer ) has linked this design trope to Svankmajer, but there’s a clear formal precedent in these films on which Krumbachová worked. Two stunning sequences are the nightclub scene – with its full 360 degree pan uninterrupted across a 10 minute duration, and the grim absurdity of the culmination to the Doctor’s mission in a ludicrously misplaced asylum (in WW2? When the best, “rational”, minds of their generation were engaged in wholesale atrocity?). The soundtrack here is jarring and dissonant, instruments played at the limits of their registers, reconciling angular modern classical composition to the keening wail of West Coast “crime jazz”: apt accompaniment to this doom-haunted, existentialist nightmare.
BIFF has, over the years, manytimes explored the rich oeuvre of Czech animator, Jan Svankmajer, and the Czech Gothic program provided opportunity to see two of his least-shown shorts. The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope (Kyvadlo, jáma a nadeje) (1983) owes its dual attribution to Poe and Villiers De Isle-Adam, Svankmajer parlaying his minatory chills through an unrelenting mort ex machina. This is a genuinely frightening film, and Ivo Spalj’s audio is heard to much better effect in this work. The Castle of Otranto (Otrantsky zámek) (1977) is Svankmajer’s “secret” work, created across a seven year period when state sanctions forbid him to work in film. It’s a wry apocryphal tale, with animated sequences modelled after watercolour-tinted lithographs. The prolific Zdenek Liska provides a charming musical accompaniment, in mock-martial and stately waltz varieties.
The other Liska score in this program was for Juraj Herz’s The Cremator (Spalovaè mrtvol) (1968), an elegiac tone poem with a funereal chorus, recalling Liska’s earlier soundtrack for Elmar Klos and Ján Kádar’s The Shop on Main Street (Obchod na korze) (1964). Herz’s film is a cheerfully morbid exposition of the most brutally misapplied forms of “waste management” and ergonomic efficiency, the narrative proceeding on increasingly precipitous inversions of rational logic as the eponymous cremator extemporises his murderous reveries. There’s a formally inventive nightmare texture here which is still striking almost four decades later; the way the gestures of the lead carry the action across edits from one shot to the next, the use of flash frames (something Svankmajer has used since, to fine effect), and the abundance of distorting lenses (an effect which becomes distracting in Herz’s later Morgiana ). The Cremator is the most accomplished of Herz’s many literary adaptations of the time; I’ve been fortunate enough to view the ACMI Access Collection’s 35mm print of his Sweet Games of Last Summer (Sladké hry minulého léta) (1969) (after Maupassant’s The Fly), a static, stagey work much closer to Morgiana than this, his finest work.
Since its inception, the programming of BIFF has contested the historical context for contemporary cinema. In this respect, BIFF has benefited from sophisticated curatorial appreciations of European and Asian art-cinema traditions; often privileging key but neglected works. Schneider’s Czech Gothic was only one instance of this at BIFF in 2004; while I have some qualms about his curatorial method, I hope I’ve indicated how much I treasured and appreciate the opportunity to view these films.
Further retrospective programs afforded rare opportunities to see works by Ozu compeer, Shimizu Hiroshi (I found his 1938 The Masseurs and a Woman [Anma to onna] a charming diversion, tho’ somewhat light), and Jean Cocteau. The stunning revelation of the Cocteau program was a new 35mm print of Thomas The Imposter (Thomas l’imposteur) (1964), adapted by Georges Franju from Cocteau’s first novel, on exclusive authority of Cocteau himself. This final, faultless apogee of poetic realism revolves around the delinquent mythomaniac of the title – or so he’s described in English language criticism; in fact, he’s an innocent cast into a role not of his choosing, and playing that role in pursuit of the admiration of his new friends. Thomas (played by Fabrice Rouleau) is very far from being the duplicitous agent of his own destiny; rather, he merely adapts himself to prevailing adult whims. As Franju remarked himself, “Thomas isn’t Thomas; he’s a ghost. The real male star of the film is the war.” Franju’s unflinching eye is as cruel as it is innocently enchanting, but his vision is always lucid in its depiction of the absurdity and waste of modern warfare. Thomas is a child lost in a fairytale, war as theme park, a “theatre of war”. There are moments of horrible beauty: the horse that charges wildly through the centre of a ruined town, eyes wide and nostrils flaring, its tail and mane ablaze like a comet; or the flares that sparkle like stars over the ruined lunar landscape while Thomas ducks barbed wire to relay a message to the trenches. The score – haunting ondes martenot and pianostring glissandi – is as memorable as the dialogue: “A bullet. I don’t have a chance unless I play dead.” (at which the narrator coolly observes, without judgment, “Fact and fantasy now merged within him” – a terrible and shocking moment). My esteem for Franju grows with each film of his I see – Thomas the Imposter is a tremendous achievement, and I only hope that the Melbourne Cinémathèque will include it in their schedule for next year.
If BIFF is the nation’s premier forum for the embellished reality of fantastic cinema, consensus reality is also well covered, albeit in often unsuspected forms. Among new documentaries screening this year, my personal favourite was Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story (Jamie Meltzer, 2003). Off the Charts is a fascinating exploration of the furthest margins of American popular song culture: “song-sharking” through classified magazine ads. Aspirant songwriters are invited to submit lyrics; those that do will be then invited to send a cheque to defray the recording costs. Apparently some 200,000 song-poems were recorded in the second half of the twentieth century in the USA alone – most of them in miniscule pressings, making them among the very rarest artifacts of recorded music’s material culture. The absence of conventional music industry editorial discretion over lyric content means song-poems are often replete with an outlandishly involuntary surrealism; one (among many) earnestly memorable lyric: “Thank Jehovah for kung fu bicycles/and Priscilla Presley”, in ex-Caglar Juan Singletary’s “Non-Violent Taekwondo Troopers”.
It is frankly thrilling to see outsider culture documented in such dedicated and expert fashion: among the interviewees are all the principal champions and craftspeople of this curious cultural form. Only Phil Milstein – probably the single-most partisan for this music, through his online American Song-Poem Music Archives, and the several commercial anthologies he’s compiled – does not appear on camera, tho’ he’s prominently credited as “Song-Poem Consultant”. I was helpless with laughter for much of the film, my cheeks stained with tears throughout. That hilarity is due largely to the deadpan seriousness with which much of this material has been recorded; by any conventional metre, many of these lyrics are misguided and plenty are outright ridiculous – and all of it set to competent and stylised popular music settings, by professional arrangers, vocalists and musicians. But, far from a sniggering cheap shot at the naivety of regular folks, Meltzer’s documentary testifies to the neglected creative capacities of the human animal. Song-Poems are enjoying something of a revival this now; the compilation disc, “Do You Know the Difference Between Bigwood and Brush?”, has been licensed for Australian release by the Revelation label, and Sundance Festival finalist Kelly Anderson is currently at work on her Great Unknowns, a fictional biopic based on the life of song-poem avatar, Rodd Keith. Sadly, Off the Charts will apparently not be licensed for broadcast by either ABC or SBS television, both of whom have baulked at its 63 minute running time (eight minutes over their preferred “TV hour” length) – a travesty of their broadcasting charter, I would think, tho’ interested viewers can purchase the doco on DVD through the links here.
BIFF’s Argentinean spotlight included two avowedly political documentary works: Raymundo (2002), Virna Molina and Ernesto Ardito’s biographical portrait of Director and Cine de la Base founder, Raymundo Gleyzer, and the latest from Fernando Solanas, A Social Genocide (Memoria del saqueo) (2003). Solanas’ documentary raises some troubling questions about the economic function of representative democracy in the third world – is it just a convenient means of delivering legitimacy to the familiar pattern of imperial rapine? That “blonde monster” to the north throws its long shadow over Argentine history, and the shift from rule by military junta to elected government has failed to deliver material improvement to the lives of most Argentineans; rather, state enterprises were sold to alien interests, and the foreign capital seemingly embezzled to launder huge fortunes in narco-profits.
Unfortunately, the combination of old-school Marxist agit-prop and contemporary crypto-television banalities – soundbites, violent street scene actuality, imposing intertitles and endless children-playing-on-rubbish-heaps – doesn’t necessarily lend to a considered investigation of the problems, or their possible solutions. Solanas’ indignation is not unreasonable, but at times the rhetorical bombast achieves a dutiful banality that reminds me of nothing so much as commercial TV current affairs.
Molina and Ardito’s documentary is distinguished by a more creative documentary approach; perhaps it’s their background as animators and editors that lends to their sophisticated appreciation of aesthetic invention. Raymundo benefits both from abrasive hand-scratched animated segues, and an edit that lends coherence and a clear narrative trajectory to their portrait. Gleyzer was a committed leftist filmmaker with the misfortune to be working at a time of brutal government repression (the second Peronist regime encouraged leftist militancy as a foil for the right, then suppressed it through the instrument of its more conservative supporters, divide-and-conquer style). Gleyzer’s films implicate their audience in the contest for economic and industrial justice, and deliver an uncompromised indictment of management and state abuses. His ultimate experiment in feature fiction, The Traitors (Los Traidores) (1972) (screening in tandem with Raymundo at BIFF) makes clear just how ruthlessly uncompromising the intentions of his work were. Despite his international profile – including a tour of Australia in 1974, introducing screenings of The Traitors – Gleyzer was disappeared by the neo-nazi death squads of the 1976 military junta, and tortured to death. If Gleyzer’s works were designed to inflame, Molina and Ardito adopt a more complex, measured tone – much of this work is concerned with the elemental human tragedy of the period. This new documentary makes clear how considerable was Gleyzer’s achievement until his premature death, and provides a fitting tribute to one of Argentina’s disappeared generation.
BIFF’s Regional programming remains strong, but is less visionary since the departure of consultant Tony Rayns (who essentially pioneered a whole new appreciation for Asian cinema in this country). BIFF’s deficiency, which it shares with Sydney, lies in its coverage of new media. This may ultimately work to its advantage; allowing for a more measured curatorial approach than the “gee whiz!” celebration of everything bright-and-shining which seems to characterise MIFF. There is a predictable surfeit of works which will shortly find commercial release, but those are balanced against the giddy pinnacles and tenebrous depths of unapologetic art and exploitation. For this writer, BIFF is both adventure and epiphany: generously encompassing those extremities of cinematic art and politic, as well as works of a more genteel modesty.