The Tilbury touch

The red carpet has been rolled out. Members of the Wilson family, here to support Hobart-born Ted Wilson’s film Under the Cover of Cloud, are walking the red carpet and having their photos taken. Milling around them is a sell-out crowd waiting animatedly for the film’s Tasmanian premiere screening to start. 

It’s opening night in Hobart for the Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival. BOFA is Tasmania’s major film festival, screening now for nine years in Launceston, and in Hobart for the first time in 2019. 

The festival was conceived by Owen Tilbury (festival director) and his wife Helen (program director), and supported by Trish Lake, producer and principal of Freshwater Pictures, as the artistic director. Others involved have included Sue and Tony Walker, Andrew Pitt, Ashley Bird and Grace Walsh, as well as a legion of loyal volunteers.

Owen and Helen love stories: listening to others’ stories, watching stories on the screen, reading books, listening to them on radio, telling entertaining ones themselves (they have many). 

Owen also spent Saturday afternoons in his early life at the local cinema, inspiring his love of film. There is a direct line from there to the decision, on retiring from full-time work, that Tasmania needed an international film festival. 

Director Gillian Armstrong and actor Sam Neil. 

Based in Launceston, BOFA started in 2010, funded by the Launceston Film Society. About 1,000 people attended that first year. In 2019, now supported by Events Tasmania, Screen Tasmania and numerous corporate partners, more than 7,000 people attended. 

“I’ve always loved film festivals because they’re so immersive and fun,” Owen says with a laugh. That is why “there are red-carpet events every night which gives the community a chance to dress up, have fun and meet celebrities and stars”. This year, director Gillian Armstrong and actor Sam Neill attended, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their ground-breaking My Brilliant Career at BOFA. 

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But the festival isn’t just about stars. BOFA gives independent film makers an opportunity to showcase their films, such as five Tasmanian short films curated as From Little Things by Rummin Productions, and Launceston’s opening night film Book Week by Heath Davis. 

Neither is BOFA a film festival designed simply for those who love film.

BOFA’s mantra is to inspire positive change both personally and in the wider world, a thought inspired by Owen’s father who told him, “Work hard, play hard and leave the world a better place.” 

Owen spent 10 years from the late 1960s travelling the world, teaching history in Canada, hitch-hiking through the US, driving tour buses around Europe, and hitch-hiking again through Africa, including in Libya, Ethiopia and Kenya. Helen, meanwhile, was at university in her native South Africa, confronting the police in demonstrations against apartheid. 

“It was a very optimistic time when we thought we could change the world,” they say.

Creating change is not easy, however. “In the early days of the festival we showed films on change and people would cry and laugh and punch the air, but it was hard to see what tangibly was being done. We decided to learn from the experience we had with a film we screened early on called Mugabe and the White African, which was about how Mugabe destroyed Zimbabwe’s prosperous economy.” Helen Tilbury knew Tom Benyon, founder of the charity Zane (Zimbabwe – a National Emergency), so she invited him to a fund-raiser screening of Mugabe and the White African in Launceston. After the movie, Benyon addressed the audience in his very British accent, “Now ladies and gentlemen, you can indulge in recreational grief at how terrible these things are, or you can raise your right hand take out some money and do something about it!” BOFA raised $20,000 from that event alone.

Activism is an important component of BOFA. At the 2019 event, six “action sessions” were held related to the topics covered in various documentaries, including  food, community activism, the status of women 40 years after My Brilliant Career, whaling in the southern oceans, and migration/asylum issues. 

BOFA is not just about inspiring positive change and activism but is of course, also about creativity. For many years BOFA has supported film-making in Tasmania with short film competitions and masterclasses on film making, acting, production and marketing. BOFA also encourages creative thinking and idea generation. The Kettering Incident, filmed in Tasmania, was a highly successful series, which emerged from a conversation started at BOFA.

Volunteers provide much of the background work for BOFA. Many are baby boomers with spare time, such as Ron and Sue Hastie. Ron, a retired midwife, is a bit of a movie fan, while Sue still works part time in alternate education programs for students at risk. BOFA as a local, community minded festival, with a progressive theme, is a natural fit for them both, reflecting the values they espouse. Typical of many volunteers, Ron and Sue also like being able to give something back to the community they’ve enjoyed so much. 

BOFA is a valuable addition to Tasmania’s film culture, encouraging creativity, providing us with a diverse range of movies to enjoy, while inspiring us to make positive changes in the world around us. It gives us all the opportunity to find ways to leave the world a better place. A breath of fresh air, indeed!

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BOFA 2020 will be held in May in both Launceston and Hobart. For more information see breath-of-fresh-air.com.au.

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