FESTIVAL FAVOURITE: Small Apartments, a black comedy, starring Matt Lucas.
FESTIVAL FAVOURITE: Small Apartments, a black comedy, starring Matt Lucas.

Multi-cultural movie marathon

THE 7th Byron Bay International Film Festival (BBFF), which opened on Friday night and runs until March 10, is presenting its biggest official selection of more than 220 cutting edge independent films (including 13 world premieres and a record 122 Australian premieres).

This year's program represents 42 countries, making this year's festival a multi-cultural movie marathon.

The line up of thought-provoking, inspiring and entertaining films ranges in topics from culture, human evolution, social issues and environmental sustainability, through to music, dance, surf, sexuality and even outer space.

Among the world premieres, highlights include Pharaoh vs the Egyptians, the debut documentary feature film from Australian-Egyptian comedian Akmal Saleh about the Arab Spring.

As the Dust Settles shares the Burning Man experience through five filmmakers who document their first time in the Black Rock Desert.

McDonald Masada follows one strange and fascinating man and his ukulele on a musical journey through Israel "to wake the world from its consumerist slumber".

And American environmental documentary, Sanctity of Sanctuary: Paul Strauss and the Equinox Farm, is an account of one man's passion for nature and a call to living a sustainable life. Filmmakers from each of these films are attending the screenings.

There are too many fantastic happenings to mention here, but some of the special screening events include 11 animations and a collection of 10 short films by Young Australian filmmakers at the Family Friendly Shorts; an Experimental Showcase; the Going Underground selection with its edgier, more challenging films such as Compliance which has been described as the most controversial film of 2012; and Adults Only Shorts which includes Best Film nominee, A Twist in the Fabric of Space, from The Netherlands.

The list of must-see films includes the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival Documentary Winner, The World Before Her, by Nisha Pahuja, described by the filmamker as "an expose of the changing identity of women in India". It follows two opposing groups with one common dream: the Miss India Beauty Pageant's 2011 finalists and trainees at a Hindu fundamentalist camp.Also on the line-up is the most talked about film out of South Africa in recent years, Otelo Burning.

Directed by Sara Blecher (Surfing Soweto) and set in 1989, it shows South Africa as a society on the brink of radical social change with the ending of apartheid. Based on a true story, this is a film about a young man's inner search for freedom amid the chaos of racial prejudice.

There are also two must-see star-studded comedies in the line up: US festival favourite, The Story of Luke, with Lou Taylor Pucci, Seth Green, Cary Elwes and Kirstin Bauer is about a young man with autism on a mission to find his first job and girlfriend.

And Small Apartments, a wicked black comedy about a man who dreams to play the alphorn, starring Billy Crystal, Matt Lucas, Rebel Wilson and Johnny Knoxville, looks like it will be one of the runaway hits of the festival.

And what would a festival be without some visiting celebs and film industry names? Actor David Wenham (Lord of the Rings, Van Helsing, Australia) will be attending, as will Aussie legend Jack Thompson (The Man From Snowy River, Breaker Morant), comedian, actor and filmmaker Akmal Saleh (Pharaoh vs the Egyptians), pro surfer Josh Fuller, cinematographer Don McAlpine (Breaker Morant, Moulin Rouge, Romeo & Juliet, Predator), and producer/director Ted Emery, D (Kath&Kimbarella, The Craic, Acropolis Now) to name a few.

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