Friday 7 April 2017

The Brisbane Line - Some early thoughts about the demise of BIFF and BAPFF

Long time cinephile and observer of exhibition patterns Bruce Hodsdon has just (Friday 7 April)  posted this note on my Facebook page in response to my link to a piece on the Film Alert blog advising that the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival has been finished up and will be no more.  Bruce wrote: As I understand it The Brisbane international Film festival from its beginnings in the early nineties had a brief from the Goss Government to give special emphasis to Asian cinema something which Anne Demy-Geroe also had a personal commitment right through the nearly two decades she was artistic director. In my observation and with some awareness of the comparative attendance statistics festival audiences were not very responsive, a situation that seems to have continued with the BAPFF although it was awkwardly locked into the November dates far from an ideal time for a FF in Brisbane.

So there we are, a succinct summary of where we came from with BIFF and ended this week with BAPFF. BIFF and BAPFF had more than one problem but their biggest was that they simply didn’t attract people to their programs. Most especially they didn’t attract crowds to their specialty of films from Asia. There were few successes in that group.

So, to put the argument in context let me give you what I understand are some relevant if approximate statistics. I think Bruce keeps better numbers than these but try them for size. The annual film festival in Wellington New Zealand sells well over 70,000 tickets to a loyal and curious audience built up over decades of efficient management and quality marketing. The annual film festival in Vancouver Canada sells approximately 150,000 tickets to a loyal supporter base that has been nurtured over several decades. Brisbane has a population of just over two million, The Greater Vancouver area (Metropolitan Vancouver) had a population of about 2.5 million. Wellington has a population of just over 200,00.

The best attendance ever achieved by BIFF was approximately 25,000 admissions.

I have a lot of difficulty finding any significant demographic difference between the three cities that would explain why Wellington and Vancouver can run events that attract much greater attendance than Brisbane.

That shortfall in bums on seats was always the major problem with events, however named, that cost a lot to present and represented a massive per person ticket subsidy especially when compared with the other major city film festivals in Australia. No doubt over a long time this caused the funding bodies to look askance at just how much the event was costing and what the ‘return’ was.

Bean counters are not wildly interested in cultural values. Unfortunately those interested in pursuing cultural values have to be interested in bean counting.

So what are Brisbane-ites and Queenslanders left with. Variety reports a statement by the Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards as follows: Michael Hawkins executive chairman of APSA, says that the current moves reflect confusion between the brands. “At first, (holding the two simultaneously) seemed such a great idea – APSA having an international face and BAPFF being the local engagement. But as time progressed, the two became confused and somewhat melded. APSA started as, and was intended to be, a stand-alone awards ceremony, quite unique in the region,” Hawkins told Variety.

“We have now taken the screenings of the APSA films out of a once-a-year event, and will make them more accessible by having curated programs crafted for other established events and festivals that are consistent with the geographic region we seek to represent. Added to food, fashion, music and other forms of entertainment, I am confident we will deliver a superior product for the enjoyment of all. A great example is a screening we did of a Japanese film in conjunction with the BrisAsia Festival – 2,500 people attended an outdoor screening.

“We will maintain the four day APSA program, during which we will curate a special program around visiting film makers, be they nominees or APSA jurors, and whether new features or documentaries, or retrospective streams. So far from being for the cultural elite, the APSA Screenings will be more accessible for all, and in conjunction with a great many varied and related activities.”

More to come. Check back


  1. There was a quite lively Brisbane Film Festival in the sixties which the current cycle never acknowledges.

  2. What was the reason that anyone thought that Brisbane would support either kind of film festival? What commitment to those ideals did Brisbane ever show, before? Seriously, can anyone say? Government money will buy you an event, but not a supporter base.


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