AFI staff go to MIFF – Part 5: Chloe Boulton

In this short blog series, get to know some of your friendly AFI staff members through their eclectic picks from this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. In Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4, Lia McCrae-Moore, Simon Elchlepp, Tany Tribuzio and Jane Carracher shared their MIFF 2011 highlights so far. Here’s the fourth installment.

Chloe BoultonChloe Boulton recently stepped into the role of Awards Manager at the AFI after nearly four years as Festival Director of the Little Big Shots International Film Festival for Kids. Knowing how much hard work goes into putting on a film festival, she regularly tries to attend and support many of Melbourne’s different film fests, and looks forward to MIFF each year

“My approach to MIFF is to focus on the documentaries, as most of the features I’m keen to see end up getting a cinema release after the festival.

My favourite film from this year’s festival was Being Elmo – a relentlessly positive look at Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind the red furry phenomenon that is Elmo. Kevin grew up in a down-and-out neighbourhood in Baltimore and started making his own puppets at the age of 8. In the screening I attended, the audience emitted a collective gasp of disbelief when Kevin turned down the first job offered to him by Jim Henson – a gig on The Dark Crystal – but it wasn’t long before he landed a regular spot on Sesame Street. This film was a pure celebration of a kid who followed his dreams and a piece of red fur that brings joy to millions, the world over. Though it kind of glossed over the fact that Kevin spent so long on the road with Elmo that his marriage broke down and he missed a lot of his daughter’s early years, by the end it won me over with its sheer joy and charming puppets.

Being Elmo

Kevin Clash, the man behind the puppet in 'Being Elmo'

Also winners in my book were The Hollywood Complex, a fascinating though often cringe-worthy look at the kids and families that head to Hollywood for ‘pilot season’ in the hope of landing their big break, and Client 9 – The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, a smart and sassy film about the undoing New York’s hard-hitting Attorney General, then Governor, known as the ‘Sheriff of Wall Street’. Client 9 is directed by the Oscar® winning Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room).

Client 9

Smart and sassy - 'Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer'

Of the features I did see, The Guard stood out as a wildly politically incorrect, laugh-out-loud cop flick that hit all the right genre notes. I fell in love with Paw Paw, the cat who narrated Miranda July’s The Future, though thought the film was patchy overall. Norwegian Wood, while beautiful to look at, crawled along at an agonisingly slow pace for most of its 2+ hour running time. Perhaps most disappointingly, the extremely gruesome Outrage, by Japanese director Takeshi Kitano, lacked the beautiful light-and-shade of his much earlier film Hana-Bi, which I still clearly remember falling in love with at MIFF in 1998.”

Outrage

Disappointing and extremely gruesome - Takeshi Kitano's 'Outrage'

Stay tuned for more AFI staff picks from MIFF 2011.

AFI staff go to MIFF – Part 4: Jane Carracher

In this short blog series, get to know some of your friendly AFI staff members through their eclectic picks from this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. In Parts 1, 2 & 3, Lia McCrae-Moore, Simon Elchlepp and Tany Tribuzio shared their MIFF 2011 highlights so far. Here’s the fourth installment.

Jane Carracher is the AFI’s Finance Manager/IT Director/Social Co-Ordinator/Cake Buyer/Longest Serving Staff Member. While she has never officially studied film, she has been an avid fan from the day she first threw Jaffas at her noisy annoying brother, who was interrupting her quiet enjoyment of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

“For my MIFF experience this year, I decided to make the most of my membership and purchased two eMini Passes. Adding a ticket to opening and closing nights, MIFF can become quite an expensive exercise, but it only comes around once a year, creating a wonderful filmy buzz around the city, so it’s well worth the investment. To date, I’ve only seen 12 of my scheduled 25 films, so an intense final weekend is ahead (whilst no doubt nursing a potential sore head on the final day!).

The Guard

Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson in Irish comedy 'The Guard'

Kicking things off was the Irish comedy The Guard, starring Brendan Gleeson as a drinking, womanising, slightly racist and disinterested small town cop, who reluctantly assists straight laced FBI agent Don Cheadle hunt down a group of drug runners. This was an engaging and accessible film with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and Brendan Gleeson turns in a hilarious performance.

My first weekend ended with Martha Marcy May Marlene, followed by 13 Assassins. MMMM was an engrossing slow burn, with many shocking moments and a very ambiguous, though satisfying ending. Elizabeth Olsen (who has an uncanny resemblance to Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary) as the titular character(s), is a damaged cult escapee trying to return to normalcy by reconnecting with her sister. Olsen’s performance was phenomenal. As was John Hawkes, who through dreamlike flashbacks, played the seemingly charming though ultimately menacing Charles Manson-esque cult leader.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

An engrossing slow burn - John Hawkes and Elizabeth Olsen in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

The subtitles at the beginning of 13 Assassins were only shown for a fleeting moment, making the story a tad hard to follow, initially. But the final 40 minute battle between the sadistic Shaolin lord and his 200 strong army, against the mere 13 samurai assassins clarified any doubts. Blood was in abundance, and the fight choreography was a thrill to watch. A surprisingly witty film, 13 Assassins was extremely satisfying and a lot of fun.

13 Assassins

Surprisingly witty and satisfying - '13 Assassins'

I’ve only scheduled one of the retrospective screenings, which was the De Niro/Scorsese collaboration The King of Comedy. Going into it, I had no idea what this film was about, despite it being almost 30 years old. After a small hiccup with the projector, I discovered that De Niro plays aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin (one of the best character names in history!) who ambushes and tries to convince his idol, played by a surprisingly straight Jerry Lewis, to let him on his late night TV show. Jerry politely tries to fob Rupert off by getting him to “Call his office”, which only fuels Rupert’s delusions that he’s about to hit the big time. Things spiral out of control from there, with the film foreshadowing the “Celebrity for the wrong reasons” phenomenon which is so prominent today. De Niro was fantastic, as was Sandra Bernhard, who played an equally obsessed fan. I was in awe of how cringe-worthy their antics were and couldn’t take my eyes of the screen. One of my new/old favourites!

King of Comedy

A celebrity for all the wrong reasons - Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin in 'King of Comedy'

Black Power Mix TapeThe first documentary I attended was The Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975 which was a fascinating look at the Black Power movement through the eyes of Swedish journalists. The footage was remarkable, and in amazing condition, whilst the commentary from contemporary artists and people involved in the movement itself, provided a powerful insight and alternative perspective into an important era in America.

Tiny Furniture has been the biggest surprise for me so far. Going into this I was expecting a pretentious hipster indie bore (who knows why I scheduled it in?). However, writer/director/star Lena Dunham, who plays Aura, perfectly captures the aimlessness of post-university graduation life, in a charming and witty way. Adding to her misery is the breakup with her college boyfriend, and going back to live with and fit into the lives of her mother and sister (who are actually that in real life) is another adjustment she struggles with. She discovers her mother’s diary from the same period of her life, which seems to provide Aura with some comfort in the knowledge that she is not alone in her uncertainty. Throughout the film, she reconnects with a similarly aimless, though not as concerned, childhood friend, and  invites a potential love interest (an arrogant “YouTube star”) to stay with her. She also drifts away from a close college friend.  We leave the film not knowing what is in store for Aura, but have faith that she will find her way. I related to this film immensely, which is why it is perhaps my favourites of the festival so far.

The final 10 minutes (especially the ending) of Our Idiot Brother, was a major let down, though I suspect this was due to a studio cut. The characters seem to do a major 180 without any rhyme or reason, and the final scene reminded me of the ending to 500 Days of Summer, which was a frustrating and unnecessary “meet-cute”. Despite this, I can’t help but love any film Paul Rudd is in (especially any in which he breaks out his mad dancing skills). Here he stars with Rashida Jones, Adam Scott and T.J. Miller in adorable supporting roles.

Our Idiot Brother

Can't help but love Paul Rudd in 'Our Idiot Brother'

Of the films I am still to see, I’m most looking forward to the offbeat superhero flick Super, Beats Rhymes and Life which follows the conflict laden comeback tour of the pioneers of hip-hop, ‘A Tribe Called Quest’, the closing night film Drive starring Ryan “Hey Girl/Baby Goose” Gosling, and Sundance indie darling Another Earth.

If you’re curious in seeing the films I have lined up, I have been using this extremely handy scheduler which you can view here.  Hope your MIFF-ing has been enjoyable as mine!”

Stay tuned for more AFI staff picks from MIFF 2011.

AFI staff go to MIFF – Part 3: Tanya Tribuzio

In this short blog series, get to know some of your friendly AFI staff members through their eclectic picks from this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. In Parts 1 and 2, Lia McCrae-Moore and Simon Elchlepp shared their MIFF 2011 highlights so far. Here’s the third installment.

Tanya TribuzioTanya Tribuzio is the AFI’s Marketing and Events Manager. In this role she organises member screenings, special events and sponsor management. Tanya has worked in the entertainment industry for over ten years, both in Melbourne and London. She’s wined and dined with the stars working in marketing and publicity roles at Universal Pictures in London, then Paramount Pictures in Melbourne, and now she’s enjoying the more personal aspects of working with local Australian filmmakers and talent at the AFI.

“I eagerly await the launch of the MIFF program every year, though when I first look over it, I’m instantly overwhelmed and panicked …. ahh, what will I see? When can I fit it all in? Too many fabulous films!  This year, as in most years, I have focused my time on the wonderful line-up of documentaries.    I love watching a good doco in a packed out cinema, eavesdropping on all the debate and discussion that start as the credits roll.

I began with The Triangle Wars, which tells the story of the St Kilda ‘Triangle Development’ project and the uproar that it caused amongst the residents.  It is a great local Melbourne story, exposing the questionable antics of local council governments and demonstrating how the power of the people can prevail.  Candid and informative interviews make for amusing viewing, and much humour is added by charismatic Frenchman, Serge Thomann, who led the group, Unchain St Kilda. Directed by Rosie Jones and produced by Lizzette Atkins and Peter George, The Triangle Wars is a great watch.

People power in The Triangle Wars

Next up was Page One: Inside the New York Times. This great documentary takes you behind the scenes at the New York Times as it struggles with the decline in newspaper sales and advertising revenue, and addresses the question – are newspapers really dead?  Whilst many people now consume their news online for free, the documentary very rightly points out that the source for this ‘free’ content is nearly always a newspaper journalist…and in the US, often a journalist from the New York Times.   There is no doubt that there will always be a need for good, investigative journalists, those who put their lives on the line in combat zones, to bring us the stories, but in the currrent world of new technology, a newspaper such as the New York Times, with such rich history and prestige, is needing to reevaluate its business model in order to survive.

Page One Inside the New York Times

The changing role of newspapers and journalists in Page One: Inside the New York Times

Finally, I went on a tour of the infamous Spanish restaurant,  El Bulli, via the delicious documentary, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress.  When the opening scene has a chef standing in the dark, sucking on a lollipop made from ‘glow in the dark’ fish, you know you’re in for a fascinating ride …. much like the food served at El Bulli.  As with the recent observational documentary, La Danse, El Bulli does not have any overlaying  narrative, relying solely on very intimate camera work and the colourful dialogue from the chefs themselves, which encourages a very intense, fly on the wall viewer experience.

Chefs from El Bulli

A mouthwatering look at a very special restaurant - El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

This is definitely a film that will thrill food lovers.  The film follows the chefs as they close down the restaurant for their annual six month research break, where they experiment with new techniques and textures to wow their guests in the summer, when the restaurant reopens.  We left the cinema satisfied but feeling very hungry, and pondering how we could get a reservation!”

Stay tuned for more AFI staff picks from MIFF 2011.

AFI staff go to MIFF – Part 2: Simon Elchlepp

Here at the AFI we love going to the movies of course, and not just Australian ones. The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is always a busy time as we try to fit in as many films as possible around our office hours and other commitments. In this short blog series you can get to know some of your friendly AFI staff members through their eclectic MIFF picks. In Part 1, Lia McCrae-Moore shared her MIFF 2011 highlights so far. Here’s the second installment.

Simon Elchepp

Simon Elchlepp

Simon Elchlepp is the AFI’s Office Administrator and has just discovered that Love My Way is indeed as awesome as everybody says it is. Otherwise, there’s a pile of new Blu-rays and DVDs in front of his TV that refuses to grow smaller. With a bachelor thesis on Moulin Rouge! and a Masters degree in Cinema Management, this German expatriate finds Melbourne, with its dozens of film festivals, to be a great place to live.

“For me, the biggest fun about film festivals is the chance they offer to go and watch films that probably won’t make it to Australian shores via a theatrical  or DVD release. Ergo, my MIFF program usually ends looking pretty eclectic and… well, let’s say curious. I’m shockingly easy prey for those blurbs in the MIFF program that tease me with the promise of something bold and original.

Fruit of Paradise

Fruit of Paradise - ART in capital letters.

An ‘utterly unexplainable, totally intoxicating rush of surrealist imagery’? Yes please, I’ll have one of those. And while Fruit of Paradise isn’t quite as impenetrable as its description suggests, it’s definitely a head-spinning, stunning-looking trip back to the 70s, when films dared to be unapologetically ART (indeed all in capitals). And it’s also the perfect companion piece for legendary animator Jan Swankmajer’s Surving Life, a combination of live-action sequences and animated photo cut-outs. The film is a light-hearted, surreal comedy about an aging man’s dreams and repressed childhood wishes that’s both fun and touching. And for this former film student, every movie where the portraits of Freud and Jung get into a fistfight gets two thumbs up from me!

Another obsession of mine is films with slightly excessive running times, so four-and-a-half hours filled with actors walking around in gorgeous period costumes and plotting intrigues and counter-intrigues happens to be right up my alley (Mysteries of Lisbon). And thankfully, my patience is rewarded with an engaging story that unravels over several decades and features a dizzying number of characters whose lives intertwine in ever new ways. Also, the cinematographer deserves a bunch of awards – every scene looks like a 18th/19th century oil painting. Now, let’s see if the Portuguese distributor of the film’s Blu-ray delivers to Australia…

Mysteries of Lisbon

Mysteries of Lisbon - every scene looks like an oil painting.

After a slice of low-budget, post-apocalyptic Korean arthouse cinema with End of Animal (how’s that for a niche genre?) and the gutsy Danish war documentary Armadillo, something a bit more escapist is required to cleanse the palate. And Elite Force: The Enemy Within delivers all the way through. It’s not quite City of God with even more guns, but it’s easy to see why this film became the biggest box-office hit of all time in its homeland Brazil. Supremely sleek and racing along at breakneak speed, this is one of those rare all-guns-blazing action thrillers that also manages to tell a pretty complex story where few of the protagonists are clear-cut villains or heroes. Now, when can I take these films home to watch them again?”

Elite Squad

Elite Force: The Enemy Within - palate cleansing.

“Stay tuned for more AFI staff picks from MIFF 2011.”

AFI staff go to MIFF – Part 1: Lia McCrae-Moore

Here at the AFI we love going to the movies of course, and not just Australian ones! The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is always a busy time as we try to fit in as many films as possible around our office hours and other commitments. In this short blog series you can get to know some of your friendly AFI staff members through their eclectic MIFF picks.

Lia McCrae-Moore

Lia McCrae-Moore

First up it’s Lia McCrae-Moore, our wonderful Membership Coordinator. You may have spoken to her on the phone, or seen her in the office wrangling databases, and organising juicy giveaways for our members. But Lia has another not-so-secret life as a cinephile, with an Honours degree in Cinema Studies, and a special interest in Australian film. Here are her MIFF musings so far.

“It’s MIFF time again in Melbourne and this year, the festival’s comprehensive program, guest speakers and open mic forums have proved a welcome distraction from my busy working week. Despite finding the initial film selection process a little stressful, I’ve been remarkably satisfied with my choices so far. My list, as it stands today, contains Norwegian Wood, Tiny Furniture, Toomelah, The Future, Being Elmo, Melbourne on Film: Shorts 2 and Page One: Inside the New York Times. Of these seven, I have only seen the first four but they’ve been a lovely combination of beautifully shot, quaintly written or devastatingly powerful films.

Norwegian Wood

Sensuous and evocative - Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood is based on Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same name and is directed by Anh Hung Tran (The Scent of the Green Papaya). The film’s carefully curated shots and stunning sets envelop you in a bittersweet, melancholic mood as you observe Toru Watanabe (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) negotiate the dilemmas of love, life and death. Torn between the deep love he feels for his dead best friend’s soulmate, Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) and Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), a vivacious and confident college classmate, Watanabe must first accept the complexity of his situation before he can embrace change and move forward. It is a stunning coming of age film, sensuous and evocative, though perhaps a little long for my liking.

Tiny Furniture was a total mid week treat, a delightfully funny surprise. At once honest and pretentious, 22-year-old Aura (Lena Dunham) navigates her directionless post-university life with both trepidation and ease. She returns home to her artist mother’s New York apartment to start afresh. Along the way, Aura invites an egotistical stranger and potential lover to stay, rekindles her childhood friendship with a lonely socialite, bickers with her younger sister, gets work momentarily as a hostess and has disappointing sex in a deserted back street with a cute chef. From the get go, I was hooked by this film’s warmth and wit. Aura is a charming lead protagonist, simultaneously open and engaging but also immature and naïve. Director and actor Lena Dunham perfectly captures that mix of anxiety and excitement, boredom and confusion that is associated with life after Uni and your early twenties. Despite it being all a little too familiar, I was completely engrossed and couldn’t help laughing out loud.

Tiny Furniture

Tiny Furniture - familiar and funny depiction of life after University

Australians are renowned for making slow, long and languishing or contemplative films with atmospheric music and sparse dialogue.  But unlike many people, this doesn’t bother me greatly. When these films are done well, they hold a remarkable power. They hit home in all the right places. They are films that really make you feel. Toomelah, the new feature film from Indigenous Australian writer/director Ivan Sen (Beneath Clouds) is one such film. Made on location at Toomelah Mission, north of Moree, the film follows life on the old Aboriginal Mission through the eyes of a tenacious ten-year-old, Daniel (Daniel Connors).  Daniel wants to be a successful boxer like his alcoholic father once was. He is bored with school, perplexed by the sudden arrival of his Aunt Cindy and her strange behaviour, saddened by his Nan’s lethargy, resigned to his mum’s drug taking and intrigued by Linden, the local dealer, and his set-up.  Ultimately, Daniel is looking for something to do and someone to show him how to do it. Linden’s interest, bravado and dynamic energy prove to be the most appealing to Daniel, and although misguided, Linden teaches Daniel skills and entrusts him with responsibility.
Toomelah

A disturbing but beautiful portrait of threatened childhood in Ivan Sen's Toomelah

Ivan Sen is an expert at observing and demonstrating for an adult audience, how uniquely children encounter and interpret the world. Daniel is surrounded by substance abuse, generational poverty and a loss of language and culture. While his community desperately tries to hold on to its lingo and history, the devastating aftermath of the Stolen Generations still permeates the present. The complexities of these issues are not lost on Sen’s young protagonist but rather heightened by his reckless attempts to make sense of them.

Toomelah is beautifully filmed. Sen will transform the seemingly insignificant into the exceptionally poignant. He will cut from a close-up of Daniel’s furrowed brow to a long shot of him loping hopelessly down a quiet street with his hood pulled up and his laces undone.  In the end, this close attention to detail and the film’s heart-rending music had me bawling my eyes out. (Toomelah will receive a general release later this year.)

All in all, it has been a great beginning to MIFF 2011. I have largely avoided the mayhem and stuck close to my schedule but like any moderate cinephile, I’ve left room for some spontaneous pics. After eagerly awaiting Miranda July’s The Future, I was somewhat underwhelmed by it. Perhaps I had too many expectations, but it just didn’t have the same whimsy or freshness as her first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know.  That said, it was still entertaining, filled with plenty of awkward and endearing moments that made it well worth the watch. I am now exceptionally excited about getting a glimpse behind the scenes of the New York Times (Page One: Inside the New York Times)  and can’t wait to revisit Melbourne through the ages in Melbourne on Film: Shorts 2.

Stay tuned for more AFI staff picks from MIFF 2011.