BIFF 2002 Nitpicking

In which Skev gets the irrits at the Brisbane International Film Festival.

This week, thanks to the generosity of a friend with a spare gold pass, I attended about eight screenings at the 2002 Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF). I’ve attended a few festivals in my time — from small to medium sized — as an audience member, a filmmaker, and even a judge. Maybe it’s just my bad luck, but film festivals I attend seem to have more than their fair share of issues. BIFF was no exception.

I had a great time at BIFF and I enjoyed all the films (some more than others of course), but the issues I had with the screenings I attended at this year’s BIFF were:

Wrong Subtitles

A screening of the gripping and rather dark Austrian film Lovely Rita (IMDb) was a bit spoiled because the print (which had arrived only that morning according to the organisers) only had French subtitles instead of English ones. So there we all were, listening to German dialogue and watching French subtitles. Fortunately, there was not a huge amount of dialogue in this sometimes funny but ultimately chilling little film (shot on DigiBeta and printed to 35mm, and very nicely too), so I was able to piece together most of the plot. Unfortunately, I could tell that most of the audience were unimpressed by this goof (I would be too if I had paid to be there!). Worse still, the director/writer Jessica Hausner and one of the producers, Antonin Svoboda, had come all the way from Austria to introduce the film and to chat afterwards, and they were apologetic about the subtitle mixup (though I doubt it was their fault). The second screening had a narrator I believe.

Sound Glitches

Before Lovely Rita was shown we saw the Australian short film Blow, which I enjoyed. Alas, it was marred by the sound switching from stereo/surround to mono during the screening. I’ve had this happen during films at the Regent before, so I doubt it was the film’s fault. I wasn’t the only one who noticed — Antonin Svoboda (the attending producer of Lovely Rita), commented on the Blow sound glitch during his introduction to Lovely Rita, and expressed the hope that it wouldn’t happen during his film (he didn’t know about the subtitle mixup at that point).


There were three main screening venues for the festival (Regent, Myers, and the State Library), but there seemed to be a little bit of confusion as to which venue could sell tickets to which screenings. The Regent venue said that they couldn’t sell tickets to films screened on the next day at the Myer venue, but the Myer venue they insisted that only the Regent could sell tickets for Myer venue screenings for the following day. Back and forth…

Dodgy DVD Screening

Eva (IMDb), one of the films shown as part of the Joseph Losey retrospective, was shown through a video projector from an NTSC DVD. Not surprisingly, it didn’t look very good compared to the film prints. In particular, the frame rate conversion from NTSC to PAL must have been pretty basic — the film’s pans looked awfully juddery. But hey, if the best print available of one film in a retrospective happens to be on DVD then fair enough, show the DVD. But the entire film was screened with the wrong aspect ratio. I suspect the projector was 16×9 and the DVD was 4×3, but the DVD player wasn’t told that the projector was 16×9, so the entire film looked horizontally stretched out (vertically squeezed down). The entire film was screened this way. But I couldn’t be bothered complaining, as I figured that if they could screen it that way, then no-one would know how to fix the problem, or even acknowledge it. I don’t know which is sadder – that a major film festival would screen an entire film from DVD at the wrong aspect ratio, or that no-one complained (or noticed?). Yeesh. Fortunately, the film was good enough, most of the time, to take my mind off how short and squat the characters all looked.

Nothing is Perfect

There were a few other minor niggles, but those are the main ones that made me scratch my head. I realise no one is perfect, and film festivals are faced with enormous challenges to get all those obscure films screened on time and correctly. But still, it got me thinking about film festivals in general, all the ones I’ve been to, and the ones I’ve yet to attend.