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18 years young: Canberra International Film Festival is almost here

Jessica Schumann

The Canberra International Film Festival (CIFF) has finally come of legal age (woo hoo!) having turned 18 at its 2014 launch at the end of last month and revealing its biggest program (ever). Like any young adult, CIFF is blossoming with its own unique identity—smart, different from its peers and with an interest in global and local concerns.

Yet its fun, quirky, irreverent and unconventional acceptance of others sees it bigger and better than ever with 64 films and 120 screenings over 18 days and all in one venue – Dendy Canberra. And all for the effort to make it easy for Canberra’s filmgoers to take in more of the world’s best films and documentaries.

Having grown spectacularly in the last five years, the not-for-profit organisation has seen its audience diversify and its selection of films expand significantly, but not one to forget its humble start in life, CIFF will always remember where it all began.

On the grounds of its initiator and founding partner, the University of Canberra.

From 1996 until 2001, the University provided artistic direction, managed and promoted the Festival. But in 2002, the ownership was transferred to an Incorporate Association as part of a comprehensive plan to restructure the CIFF and secure its future. Yet the support of the University continues.

For artistic director, Lex Lindsay, CIFF is inquisitive with a love for sharing ideas and opinions with others. But it is CIFF’s ability to draw inspiration from national conversation, he says, that both captures and entertains the audience.

“The film that we are really excited about and so glad we got is the Australian premiere of Merchants of Doubt,” says Lex.

“It is in many ways the inspiration for the Denial program (one of CIFF’s many themes this year) because it is about the spin doctors, who for a profession, create scepticism around climate change. And I think it is going to be a really incredible conversation.”

Of course, Merchants of Doubt will be one the 10 films to feature in this year’s CIFF Conversations which will each receive a thorough discussion by experts and Canberra identities from relevant fields. Not to be missed, the series will cover everything from women owning the dialogue about their sexuality (Vulva 3.0), the culture of violence in which we raise young men (Starred Up) and the value of higher education (Ivory Tower).

It is this very topical film that Lex says is sure to stir up quite a heated debate.

Ivory Tower is a hard hitting documentary that explores Australia’s higher education costs and the ever increasing student loans in the US,” he says.

“But it is extremely relevant and topical to current conversations between students and government today.”

Like any event or festival, a stellar opening night is crucial and this year’s is no different with Maps to the Stars promising everything and more when it screens on Thursday 23 October. Starring Julianne Moore, it is the work of David Cronenberg and a spooky, satirical indictment of the fame game; a Kardashian’s worst nightmare if you will — outrageous, witty, smart and seriously unsettling.

Says Lex, “It is one half biting satire and one half suspenseful thriller, but far from conventional cinema. It’s a film that tears Hollywood to shreds and then literally sets fire to it.”

And it’s at CIFF for its Australian premiere.

As was introduced last year, the core of the Canberra International Film Festival is a program of cinema curated under nine thematic strands. They are conceptual categories or rather ‘talking points’ that the CIFF film program prods, pokes and interrogates.

“Under each [talking point] we present six films that all explore that idea in different ways, different mediums and from different perspectives,” says Lex emphasising that the Festival is a not a catalogue of films nor designed to be a greatest hits album.

“CIFF is a carefully considered anthology of works that I hope will get people thinking about a much wider set of issues and ideas facing Australia today.”

This year, in the centenary anniversary of World War One, CIFF explores conflict both external and internal, both global and personal through the themes War, Hope and Denial. But it is in the second collection of themes ManWoman and Child where the festival explores the controversial issues of personal identity, belonging and connecting with the world.

“It examines gender politics, the way we are raised in this world and the moment when we start to become so defined yet restricted by the expectations put on our gender,” says Lex.

Man explores the pressures of masculinity and cultures of violence in the British drama Starred-Up, while we have a twisted, inverted Cinderella story in which men are the controlled underclass in Jacky in the Kingdom of Women.”

Woman captures the journey of a strong unconventional women fighting for their place in the world with a young Iranian Astronomer in Sepideh, an Indigenous Australian resistance fighter in Black Panther Woman and a Persian bisexual hipster in New York in Appropriate Behaviour.

Child includes the breathtaking and inspiring documentary on the great distances children will travel for an education in On the Way to School and The Fort — a parable on popularity that won the Crystal Bear for a teen film at the Berlinale this year, all the way from India,” says Lex.

The final set of themes plays with the past, present and future with Then, Now and Next, in an exploration of the critical current socio-political issues such as higher education Ivory Tower and the plight of refugees in Leave to Remain. Return to the past with gorgeous biopics including Jimi: All is by my side before soaring to the future with incredible sci-fi such as Ari Folman’s The Congress.

Laugh it up with the best of the Festival’s comedies including Listen Up Phillip featuring Jason Schwartzman, take a seniors-gone-wild road trip in Land Ho! or catch two ripper quirky, offbeat comedies that you want to miss — the Australian premieres of Afterlife from Hungary and Kebab & Horoscope from Poland.

The adrenaline fuelled Australian Premiere action epic Centrepiece film The Dead Lands, promises to be a program highlight. It is the first film to showcase the ancient Maori martial art Mau rakau and comes to Canberra direct from its Toronto International Film Festival Premiere together with Producer Matthew Metcalfe who will participate in a CIFF Conversation about the film after its screening on Thursday 6 November.

But with so many incredible, insightful, intriguing and inspiring films, it’s hard to know which one to see first.

“Personally, I’m a big science fiction fan,” says Lex. “And so my favourite film and must see is The Congress; it’s one half live action, one half animation.”

“It’s mindbending future predicting stuff but definitely has the entertainment factor in terms of fun and comedy. But for something different then it would be Afterlife; it’s really quirky and odd, and worth checking out.

White God is incredible. It won at Cannes and is about a pack or army of dogs that rise against humans after being mistreated but it is hard-hitting.”

With over 60 films at this year’s Festival, Lex’s list of must sees appears to be almost just as long, but he adds one film to the mix.

Love Marriage is a beautiful documentary that follows Mahboba Rawi, a Sydney-based Afghani woman who runs 21 charities including orphanages throughout Afghanistan,” says Lex.

“She returns to Kabul with Canberra’s Virginia Haussegger to document the difficult decision to close a few of her charities but while there Mahboba discovers one of her foster children, Abdul (who is poor) has fallen in love with Fatemeh the daughter of a rich man.”

“And so the documentary shows how the community rally together to help Mahboba barter a deal with the girl’s father and see Fatemeh marry Abdul for love rather than money.”

Lex reveals that there are also three films in the Festival that cannot be repeated or rescreened and urges people to snap up tickets fast.

Two Days on Night, Winter Sleep and Hector & the Search for Happiness each have limited screenings and available tickets up for grabs but are three incredible, epic and funny films you won’t to miss.”

But it the closing night film Love is Strange that Lex believes will resonate most with Canberrans.

“Canberra was the first territory to grant same sex couples the right to marry, although very disappointingly it was has been revoked, but from that breakthrough it has set a standard and precedent that the rest of the country can now use to work toward gender equality,” says Lex.

“It was a positive outcome from a bad situation, and in light of all that happening it was last year’s screening of Any Day Now that won the Audience Award. Because of how well the audience responded we knew that Love is Strange is going to appeal to the audience in much the same way.”

An uplifting film, Love is Strange has a slight sting in the laughter but is a poignant romantic comedy about the fall out after a same sex marriage reveals society’s continued prejudices. Its fantastic ensemble cast offers charming insights to all sides of this scenario. You won’t want to miss this one on closing night.

With an amazing selection of films this year and located all in one place you’ve every reason to see them all.

CIFF memberships are now on sale both online and at the Dendy Box Office with significant ticket discounts on offer including five free film screenings throughout the year.

The essentials

What: Canberra International Film Festival

When: Thursday 23 October to Sunday 9 November 2014

Where: Dendy Cinemas, Canberra Centre

How much: Non-member single session tickets start from $14 (matinees) or $19 (evening); CIFF members single session tickets start from $14. For more information on ticket prices and the program head to the CIFF website.




Jessica Schumann

A 'rambling ranga' at heart, Jessica Schumann is a bubbly, creative social thinker who thrives on words, social media and an innate knack for sharing stories. When she finds the time to write, Jessica seeks out the beauty in change and the essence of human condition. Varied and diverse in nature, her writing delves into the enviable world of people, travel, food and culture. When you can't find her in a nook writing, just follow your nose and you’ll soon find Jessica indulging in her other passion – cooking – or curled up on the couch with a good book in hand. You can find her over at More about the Author