Ai Weiwei’s Ping’an Yueqing and Show Me The Magic [pictured], Cathy Henkel’s homegrown film about cinematographer Don McAlpine, are the two world premiere’s among the 15 films in the running to win BIFFDOCS, Australia’s richest documentary prize.

Richard Moore, sirector of the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF), has made public the list of contenders for the A$25,000 prize, one week before he unveils his full programme line-up for the November 14-25 event.

The films are set in China, Lithuania, Israel, Australia, the US, Russia, Norway and the Netherlands.

Ping’an Yueqing tells of the brutal and mysterious death of a popular leader and dissident in a small Chinese village on Christmas Day in 2010. Ai is an artist and filmmaker, and was artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. He is also a political activist and spent two months in jail last year without charges being laid.

During the selection he took careful note of what political documentaries might be available: few documentaries are made in Australia that are not made for television and, in part, he wanted to make a point to the very influential public broadcasters that strong political themes and documentary belong together.

But generally, three words guided Moore in his selection process – provocative, disturbing and entertaining – and each documentary had to meet at least two of these criteria.

“Besides BIFFDOCS being a point of difference for our festival, I strongly believe in the power of long form documentary.”

There are two titles - West of Memphis, which was produced by New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson, and The Central Park Five - about cases where people have been incarcerated in the US for years and then had their convictions overturned.

There’s also a rank account of the courage and dignity of the Yemeni people standing up against a savage regime during the Arab Spring, being The Reluctant Revolutionary.

Show Me The Magic isn’t the only exploration of filmmakers: Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir is a study of a director who seems to have had as much drama in his life as he’s put on screen, and Me And Me Dad is Katrine Boorman’s intimate portrait of her father, Britain’s John Boorman.

The prize winners among the 15 include The Queen Of Versailles, which earned Lauren Greenfield the documentary directing award at the Sundance Film Festival, and Three Sisters, which won the Horizons Award at Venice. Soldier Citizen got a special mention at Berlin.

And no film list is complete without sex of course: Meet The Fokkens is about two 69-year-old twin sisters who have worked as prostitutes in the red light district of Amsterdam for more than 40 years.


The Central Park Five(US) dirs Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon

China Heavyweight(Canada/China) Yung Chang

The Field Of Magic(Lithuania) Mindaugas Survila

Me And Me Dad(UK/Ireland) Katrine Boorman

Meet The Fokkens(Netherlands) Gabrielle Provaas, Rob Schröder

Ping’an Yueqing(China) Ai Weiwei

Pushwagner (Norway) Even Benestad, August B Hanssen

The Queen Of Versailles(US) Lauren Greenfield

The Reluctant Revolutionary(UK/Ireland) Sean McAllister

Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir(UK) Laurent Bouzereau

Show Me The Magic(Australia) Cathy Henkel

Soldier/Citizen (Israel) Silvina Landsmann

The Tundra Book: A Tale Of Vukvukai, The Little Rock (Russia) Aleksei Vakhrushev

Three Sisters (France/Hong Kong) Wang Bing

West Of Memphis(US) Amy Berg