*
*

2009 Brisbane Int. Film Festival – Day 7

Breakfast with interesting people this morning; in this case, my fellow jurors. But we were soon joined by the charming Father Joseph Pulinthanath, or simply “Joseph”, as he insisted being called.

Over coffee and croissants, we talked about his training as a Salesian priest in a hill station near the India-Bangladesh border; his first film about the persecution of women branded as witches; and “Roots”, a film whose ownership he lays confidently at the feet of the Tripura people who starred in and contributed their stories to, and proudly spoke in their own language, Kokborok. Like Canadian-Chinese director Yung Chang’s sublime observational documentary “Up the Yangtze”, Joseph is offering a chance for a displaced people to tell their stories; in this case, what happened when the construction of the Dumbar Dam inundated the Raima Valley, and the homes of an entire community. “Roots” is a fictionalised version of true events, but the results are all too upsetting—in fact, in Sunday’s screening, one man broke down in tears. I asked if he was involved with the Tripura, and the very shy director informed me that the patron was, like me, a big boofy Aussie bloke. Surprising, but not uncommon—I must admit I’ve teared up more than once over the last week… Joseph has since revealed that the key reason for him travelling the world promoting “Roots” has been to spread the word about how people might be able to help the Tripura. We agreed the next step will be to open a website to inform a wider audience.

Further to the ‘displaced people’ theme, when Joseph told his story about the Indian government relocating Bangladeshi Hindus into the Tripura region, I was struck by the parallels this situation has with Israel and the Gaza Strip and Palestinian Territories. In “Laila’s Birthday”, writer-director Rashid Masharawi tells a classic fish-out-of-water story, with his dignified but unemployed judge, Abu Laila forced to drive his brother-in-law’s taxi to support his family. As he drives the streets of Palestinian Territories avoiding any fares to border checkpoints, Abu encounters the region’s diverse population, all the while struggling to maintain  his dignity, and remember to be home in time for his daughter’s birthday. Mashawari very skilfully uses a simple premise to tell a complex and entertaining story.

And for something different, BIFF photographer Jimmy Malecki and I cajoled one of the Regent Cinema staff into giving us access to areas not normally open to the public. If you’re headed into Cinema 1 or 2 and you’re not familiar with the exotic history of the Regent Cinema complex, check out the photos of what this beautiful building once looked like. More than eighty years ago, the Regent was a huge, single-stage theatre that seated two thousand; she was demolished in the seventies thanks to Dear Leader, Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his flunkies. What we can now see in the Festival Bar and Cinema 1 are refurbished replicas of what once was. The grand marble staircase and foyer are the only remaining elements of this grand old theatre. This morning, I sat with film industry veteran, Ron West—this man has been working in cinema for sixty-five years, and knows where all the skeletons are buried—and he told me stories about bank robbers and bullet-holes, a time when there seemed to be a cinema on every corner in Brisbane, and mysterious ghosts that are determined never to be laid to rest.

Lap it up ladies and gentlemen—in the next year or so, thanks to some imaginative lobbying, most of what we see now will be gone—replaced by a 40-storey tower—and Brisbane will never be the same. It’s not enough that we’ve already lost the original theatre that stood for half-a-century; now, even Cinema 1 is under threat. Jimmy and I snuck around behind curtains, screens, and doors that are normally off-limits, and tried to imagine what it must have been like before money took precedence over culture and heritage. Sadly, we’re soon to be headed down a similar road, and the Regent in its current form will be sorely missed. By the end of our little exploration, I was sneezing uncontrollably, but I had some experiences that’ll soon be just memories.

Tomorrow? More jury duties; meeting the punters; the world premiere of Sue Brooks’s locally made film “Subdivision”; and a spiral into morphine-tainted insanity with the Russian film “Morphia”.



The Regent photos by Jimmy Malecki