Brisbane International Film Festival: First Report
Posted on Monday November 19, 2012, 17:30 by Sam Toy in Under The Radar
The 21st Brisbane International Film Festival is well and truly underway, and after the damp-squib opening night film (The Sweeney? WTF?! Evidently Skyfall was too much to ask), everything is up, up, up, headlong into a strong, eclectic program, blending festival titans (Haneke’s Amour, Kim ki-duk’s Pieta among others), with buzzing curios and must-see rarities.
In the ‘grievous miscarriage of justice documentary’ category this year, it’s pretty hard to go past the Peter Jackson-produced West Of Memphis (which is by all accounts astonishing). I’m pretty certain it will get a general release quite soon, so I opted instead to see The Central Park Five, also running as part of BIFF’s really strong documentary program. Like pretty much anyone who watches them, I’m a big fan of Ken Burns’ PBS ‘American history’ documentaries – Jazz; The Civil War; and most recently Prohibition, among many others. This time, Burns shares writing and directing credits with daughter Sarah, and David McMahon (Sarah’s husband, Ken’s producing partner, and lookalike for a bearded Ed Helms).
With some eerie similarities to the story of the West Memphis Three, The Central Five’s tale is as sad as it is disturbing – in 1989, five boys (four African American and one Hispanic) from Harlem aged between fourteen and sixteen, were convicted of brutally assaulting and raping a white female jogger in New York’s famous park. The conviction was based solely on videotaped confessions. Horrible enough, but worse, literally none of the evidence - not even their individual confessions – made much sense, let alone added up. The police had deceived the boys (who were nowhere nearby when the crime occurred) into giving false, damning statements for which they each ended up spending between seven and thirteen years in prison.
As it carefully and methodically explains the case, The Central Park Five simultaneously presents a morbidly fascinating, largely forgotten portrait of New York City – divided massively by wealth and class, and by extension, race – assembled from some gut-punching footage: watch aghast as Ed Koch, then Mayor of the city, says in a TV interview prior to their sentencing ”Well we have to use the word ‘allegedly’, but…”
From one end of the movie spectrum to the other: I ran the mile between venues to catch The Man With The Iron Fists (full disclosure: I missed the opening credits, but don’t think I was deprived of anything essential). Thankfully, this session screened as part of the Open Air Cinema season, on Brisbane’s breezy South Bank – which allowed me not only to quickly cool down, but also appreciate the movie’s terrific drive-in/grindhouse vibe.
As many would know, The Man With The Iron Fists is rapper and kung-fu movie nut RZA’s baby. Developed by himself and Eli Roth for years before finding financing under the “Quentin Tarantino presents” banner, it tells the story of… well, that’s a big part of The Man With The Iron Fist’s problems – it’s not sure who its story is about. I’ll not go into the haywire plot, beyond that it concerns a lot of people chasing a lot of gold and/or seeking a lot of revenge. And that’s fine, until the film, which has been moving quite happily in one direction, suddenly decides to switch streams, making RZA’s blacksmith – up until that point a supporting player – into the central protagonist. When that occurs, you can ask questions, or you can just sit back and enjoy the silliness, some decent action, plus Lucy Liu and Russell Crowe having a whale of a time.