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Makeover, directed by Don Percy
Tony Benn: Will and Testament, directed by Skip Kite

The Byron Bay International Film Festival (BBFF) kicks off on Friday with a celluloid celebration of a politician revered for his principle and vision. Tony Benn: Will and Testament is a feature-length documentary about the late British political firebrand, socialist and maverick who tirelessly fought against privilege and injustice until he passed away in 2014.

“Screening three weeks out from a State election and providing a trenchant comment on the antics at Federal level, Will and Testament is a heartening reminder of what integrity politics looks like,” festival director J’aimee Skippon-Volke said. “It’s a moving and intimate portrait of Benn, who died last year aged 88. There’s a poignant scene where he talks about the death of his adored wife, who he said ‘taught me how to live and how to die’. His intelligence, enthusiasm and charisma radiate from the screen.”

Since launching in 2005, BBFF has cemented its reputation for selecting movies that seek to raise social, cultural and environmental awareness. This year’s program, which continues to showcase emerging talent alongside celebrated storytellers, will see 225 eclectic and engaging films screened across 10 days in five venues located in Byron Bay, Ballina, Lismore and Murwillumbah.

Don Percy’s short romantic comedy Makeover, which took out second prize at Tropfest 2013 before winning a slew of Best Film awards, is a wild and visually imaginative depiction of an old man seeking to relive his youth. The story is hilariously absurdist and what the director describes as “fantasy” with an intention of bringing out a smile. The meshing of silent film with comedy genre was influenced by the masters Keyton, Chaplin, Loyd, Laurel and Hardy, and latter-day filmmakers such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet and The Cohen Brothers, who Don believes continue the tradition to inspire through visuals. “The basis of the story is really just ‘having a go’ at our preoccupation with looking young,’ a phenomenon which is shockingly unmistakable in today’s society,” Don explained.

Melt, directed by Minka Bleakley

Another film that addresses the concept of youth is Melt, which was shot locally by US-based director Minka Bleakley. Starring Nonny Kimball, Ilona Harker and Tommy Brogden, the film follows the story of Lena (Kimball), a disenchanted teenager trying to make sense of her unconventional upbringing. “Like many youth, my friends and I shared a similar experience growing up in Byron Shire,” Minka said. “We couldn’t wait to escape from the small, coastal town and trade sandy beaches for skyscrapers and bright lights. It didn’t take me long to realise that there is something innately special about Byron Shire and the people that reside in the area. Growing up there has instilled in me an appreciation for the eccentric and those standing proudly outside the box. It is a place that thrives on expression in its myriad of forms.”

More than merely capturing the feeling of Byron, Melt is a coming of age told through a vignette of Lena’s life. The soft nature of the film invites the viewers to look at Byron and its surrounds through the lens of Lena and essentially partake in the experience alongside her.

The closing gala film night is Zen and the Art of Dying by Broderick Fox, a compelling documentary that blows apart many of the fears, myths and taboos about the only certainty in life apart from taxes. The film follows self-described ‘Deathwalker” Zenith Virago, a well-known identity on the North Coast who has spent the past two decades quietly challenging our core assumptions about life and helped dissolve our taboos around death. Whether marrying or burying, Zenith’s mission remains clear: to help people reclaim their most personal, profound, and vulnerable life moments from commercial forces, government bureaucracy and cultural taboos.

“Now Australia’s largest regional film festival, AACTA Awards accredited BBFF is a platform for outstanding independent film talent, showcasing a uniquely rich and diverse program of entertaining, inspiring and thought provoking films,” J’aimee said.

Learning to Float, directed by Brendan Calder

View the full Byron Bay International Film Festival program here.

Writer: Jahlia Solomon
Editor: Veda Dante