Cannes In Review – The Heart Of Film

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Cannes In Review – The Heart Of Film

As Meryl Streep said quoting Carrie Fisher ‘take your broken heart, make it into art’ and in the weekend at the Cannes Film Festival which I recently attended to celebrate the premiere of the documentary Beyond The Canvas about my good friend Sir Charles Billich and his colourful life accompanied by wife Christa Billich directed by Steve Ravic of Majestic Films, never has the meaning of that sentence come home in a such deep and profound way.
Sapphira, Tonestepa, Christa Billich (L to R) Steve Ravic Majestic Films Director and Sir Charles Billich

As the film industry gathered to celebrate the 72nd year of this international celebration of the silver screen I felt at times like a deer in the headlights, in awe of all the grandeur, hustle, bustle and show business around me. It was a dream to be within arm’s length of the tapis rouge (red carpet) and seeing two storey paintings of icons like Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo whom I had idolised as a little girl and who had piqued my interest in burlesque, made the significance of the moment more poignant.

Sapphira - Cannes Film Festival 2019 pass

In the main building, the Palais des Festivals the who’s who of the industry gathered, layered over floors of the exhibition building were stands where distribution rights, destination marketing, agents, lawyers and film festivals were touting for business and displaying their wares.

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It is right there on the floor of those stalls that some of the biggest movie distribution deals get done, careers are launched and history is made.

I had to stop and remind myself I was not in a dream but this was real, it felt like a heady dream sequence from Hollywood blockbuster but it was, in fact, my real life experience.

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In soft focus my gaze was soon drawn to the one whom I had come to see, Sir Charles Billich. He is dear friend and collaborator and this meeting would make yet another glorious rendezvous notching up the international element of our friendship to meeting now in a fourth country. Each time we have met has been more exciting and heart-warming than the last but nothing could prepare me for the emotions I was about to experience I sat through a documentary to watch 98 minutes about this incredible man, his marriage and his turbulent journey to become the success he is today.

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Unlike the first time we met, this time I had all my clothes on! As a brief image of that very first encounter flashed into my mind in Melbourne in 2012 at the Graham Geddes Art Gallery where I had performed burlesque and later posed nude for Sir Charles, I could not hold back the grin or the joy this man has brought to my life ever since. For me, the recognition and realisation of myself as a sensual woman has been paramount to my healing after a traumatic breakdown triggered by the oppression of the strict Brethren sect in which I was raised which contradicted my flamboyant and sexually curious nature.

To witness the magic in that first encounter as Sir Charles fingers deftly sketched away my flaws, my scars and my self-doubt into lines of glorious figurative works fit to adorn the walls of any palace, I felt a part of myself slot back into place.

From that moment our artistic kindredship was formed, we both have a penchant for Australiana and for erotica but above all our artistic souls connected.

Sapphira and Charles Billich 2013 (photo Alexander Martin Photography)

I was in Cannes now with a two fold purpose, the colourful craze of my own life had recently been published as the memoir Burlesque or Bust and I hoped to network with the film industry as Sir Charles featured in a chapter of the book, particularly the significance of that moment being sketched by him and Billich Gallery’s support of my tour to the UK donating several sketches to my fundraiser. The primary focus was to learn more about the film industry and develop closer connection with Sir Charles and his lovely wife Christa Billich. I was accompanied by my husband, Antony Silcock and music producer, Tonestepa.

Burlesque Or Bust - Tonestepa and Sapphira - Cannes Film Festival 2019

We entered the cinema and the next profound moment for me began, the lights had not yet dimmed, the screen was not yet playing the documentary, but before us stood the film’s producer and director, Steve Ravic. Steve’s speech about the film and his motivation to create it moved me. To me, his announcement was the summary of why the Cannes Film Festival and why artistic collaborations are so significant because he had the tools and skills to articulate something he saw in Sir Charles that needed to be explained to the world. I understood the synergy from my own stance, for me, music had always been my dream and goal but I had only one piece of the equation as a singer/songwriter and it was meeting my writing partner, Tonestepa where the rest of the creation came into being. So, too, Sir Charles, with all the depth of his work and richness of his life history needed this visionary and support from a practiced filmmaker. And thus, the walls and events, meetings and hustle and bustle around me came into view in a sharper realisation. These films I have idolised as a youngster were not the sum of an individual’s efforts but the co-creation, shared birthing and vision of a greater pool of the creative family into which we are all born. Steve’s explanation after the movie, his hours of labour, sleeping two hours a night to complete the documentary in time for the screening won me over completely. And as we now sat to watch the film, I realised why he was so passionate and why he wanted to bring this story to light.

Christa Billich, Steve Ravic, Sir Charles Billich - Cannes Film Festival

With tears in my eyes, Beyond The Canvas played, we saw Sir Charles as a child, the devastation of war torn Croatia, the loss and murder of his family, his imprisonment in a Maribor jail fed ‘coloured water’ for breakfast and ‘different coloured water with a piece of bread for dinner’, sleeping on the floor of a prison where prison guards woke up inmates to turn them over in the night as there was not enough room to sleep on their backs was heart wrenching. All of us in the cinema were moved emotionally. The impact of this grief settled with realisation into the group. To see then how despite all this tragedy with determination and courage Sir Charles turned his life around was incredible. Witnessing how he settled in Australia rang another bell of truth for me. It echoed with my lineage, the story of how of my own grandparents also refugees but from the second world war made their way to Australia as their new home, my Grandfather Hungarian and my Grandmother, German. My emotions raged with anguish thinking of the scars war bore on the lives of all of us. Beyond The Canvas then brought us to the love story. After several broken marriages Sir Charles meets his princess and lasting companion of 30 years marriage, Christa. Their beautiful and unconventional marriage has been the backbone of the Billich empire. Another momentous element in the piece was the resounding triumph and victory of Croatia’s independence in a way this mirrored Sir Charles own life sequence, independence and triumph, too. If a picture paints a thousand words, a movie paints a million. It is fitting that this individual now the world’s most famous living painter has his own life illustrated as he has illustrated our lives, landscapes and his own heartbreak for us all to peruse over a career spanning three decades.

Cinema has the power to move us, and the power to create something immortal.

I know I will never forget my first Cannes Film Festival and I have gone away a changed person, I understand the passion that lies behind this crazy, colourful world with a newfound respect.

Thank you to Thierry Fremaux, Cannes Film Festival director for the organisation of this momentous event and to Sir Charles and Christa Billich for your incredible lives and for inspiring me. Thank you Steve Ravic for the power of the story you have created. This is leaving a lasting legacy for the world and it is above all the proof that despite the greatest adversity, art is a lifeline for us all.

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