Even though the weather was uncharacteristically cloudy and windy, with the sun peaking out for a few hours here and there to offer a quick tease, there was nothing that could dampen the spirit and enthusiasm at the 3rd annual Bahamas International Film Festival. Screening sixty two features, documentaries and shorts, including five films from local Bahamian filmmakers, the four-day festival kicked off this past Thursday with a colorful pre-party at the swanky Ocean Club (which was featured in the new James Bond film “Casino Royale.”) Due to the spectacular fireworks show that ended the event, the festival scheduled their kickoff party before the opening night film so as not to disturb the neighbors. Afterwards, attendees made their way back to the Atlantis theater, located at the sprawling Disneylandish Atlantis resort, where BIFF Executive Director Leslie Vanderpool spoke excitedly about this year’s festival.
The Rt. Honorable Perry G. Christie, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, also made an appearance, talking eloquently about the festival and its positive impact on the Bahamas, and ended his speech with a playful, typically Bahamian flirtiness, by asking Vanderpool back to the podium with a “C’mere baby.” Christie continued to glow over Vanderpool’s contribution to the Bahamas cultural community by creating a festival which he hoped one day would be a ten-day event that would bring in filmgoers and filmmakers worldwide.
“After The Wedding” by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, whose previous films include “Open Hearts” and “Brothers,” opened the festival. Starring Mads Mikkelsen (the menacing villain in “Casino Royale”) “After The Wedding” is about a once troubled man, Jacob Petersen, who is unflinchingly dedicated to running an orphanage in India. When he comes back home to Denmark to collect a donation from a Danish businessman (played by Rolf Lassgard), he finds himself embroiled in a revealing dilemma that stems from a past incident in his life. At times a bit histrionic, the film none-the-less offers an intense, complex performance by Mikkelsen as he is torn between his life in India and a sudden new responsibility that is being thrust upon him.
Probably the most anticipated event at the festival was the presentation of a Career Achievement Award to actor and filmmaker Nicolas Cage by Sir Sean Connery, which provided BIFF with some Hollywood star power. After receiving the award from Connery, Nicolas Cage, who resides in the Bahamas, participated in a moderated discussion about his career. When asked about how much has changed since he made his screen debut at the age of seventeen in the film in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” he noted that Hollywood now is more about “sequels and selling hamburgers,” and also frankly admitted he was just as guilty in contributing to this demise in artistic storytelling in American movies today. This was even more evident when scenes were shown from the actor’s wildly varied work. Cage’s most daring performances seem to be, aside from the recent “Adaptation,” in earlier films such as “Moonstruck,” “Wild at Heart,” and “Raising Arizona.”
Cage also offered words of advice to the filmmakers in the audience and how they should surround themselves with their fellow artists for support. He expressed a commitment to the Bahamas film community, where he noted that he had met some of the Bahamian filmmakers earlier that week and was inspired by their passion. “It was stimulating to have that energy around me,” noted Cage, who pledged to bring some of the seasoned Hollywood voices heard and seen around the world to the Bahamas. “I don’t know how to play golf, I don’t gamble, I just love the color of the water and the Bahamas spirit.”
One impressive film that showed some Canadian spirit was Matt Bissonnette‘s “Who Loves the Sun,” which is screening in the Spirit of Freedom Narrative competition, and stars Adam Scott, Lukas Haas, and Molly Parker. Bissonnette’s beautifully shot, intimate film is about how a relationship between two previous best friends is torn apart when one of them sleeps with the other’s wife. What starts out as a seemingly awkward opening when Will Morrison (played by Haas) returns after a five year absence to visit his former best friend’s parents in their home nestled on a lake in the woods, begins to make more sense as the storyline evolves to capture the unexpected connections and parallels between the love tangled trio and the parents.
Along with American festival favorites such as “Half Nelson,” “Jesus Camp,” “Ten Canoes,” “Loverboy,” and numerous international films, the Bahamas also offered a special Carribbean spotlight, which includes “Show Me Your Motion: The Ringplay Games of the Bahamas,” a straightforward documentary that explores a popular Caribbean schoolyard game that pulsates with a bawdy sexuality as children dance, clap, and gyrate. A very different type of “documentary” from the Caribbean, director Miguel Antonio Drayton‘s “From Barbados with Love,” playfully follows the hunt for a monkey that is terrorizing the country and also reveals the beautiful landscape and culture of Barbados.
The festival wrapped Sunday with closing night film “Hollywoodland,” directed by Allen Coulter and featured a heralded performance by Ben Affleck, and an awards ceremony to honor films chosen by the narrative and documentary juries, along with audience awards.
Bahamas International Film Festival Winners:
Spirit of Freedom’ Narrative Feature Film Award: “Chronicle of an Escape” [Cronica de una fuga] (2006, Argentina), Directed by Israel Adrian Caetano, and starring Rodrigo De la Serna, Pablo Echarri, Nazareno Casero.
The 2006 BIFF ‘Spirit of Freedom’ Documentary Competition Award: “Encounter Point” (2006, Israel/Palestine), Directed by Ronit Avni & Julia Bacha, and starring Ali Abu Awwad, Sami Al Jundi, Robii Damelin, Shlomo Zagman.
The 2006 BIFF New Visions Competition Award was presented to: “Half Nelson” (2006, US), Directed and co-written by Ryan Fleck, Starring Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Stephanie Bast.
The Jury Has also selected a Special Jury Prize film for Honorary Mention: “Premium” (2006, US), Directed by Pete Chatmon and starring Zoe Saldana, Dorian Missick, Hill Harper.
The 2006 BIFF Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature went to: “Johnn Slade’s Greatest Hits” (2006, USA), Directed by Larry Blamire, and starring John Fiore, Vincent Curatola, Robert Giardina.
The 2006 BIFF Audience Award for Best Documentary went to: “Eleutheran Adventure” (2006, Bahamas), Directed by Kareem Mortimer.