Australian films at the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival

The Sapphires

The Melbourne International Film Festival has a long history of supporting Australian film, and in 2012 the festival again screens a wide variety of local fare in its Australian Showcase stream, from internationally-lauded blockbusters to low budget indies.

And in addition to offering local filmmakers a chance to have their film screened to supportive Australian audiences, MIFF supports the Australian film industry further through its MIFF Premiere Fund, which has financed a diverse range of feature films and documentaries since its inception in 2007.

Australian films will both open and close the festival in 2012, with Wayne Blair’s 1960s-era musical drama/comedy The Sapphires adding a touch of glitz, glamour and soul to the opening night gala last week. A joyous crowd-pleaser all but guaranteed success (after being picked up for international distribution by the Weinstein Company at Cannes), The Sapphires celebrates Aboriginal culture, family bonds and the irrepressible power of soul music with a delightfully sassy script and extravagant production and costume design.

There are dozens of Australian feature films playing at MIFF this year, from introspective dramas to psychotic horror-comedies to Bollywood musicals. Some of these titles are sure to appear in upcoming AACTA Awards seasons. Join us as we profile the Australian features on offer to thousands of eager cinephiles during the Melbourne International Film Festival.

The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from August 2 to 17 at various locations throughout the Melbourne city centre.

Features

100 Bloody Acres

100 Bloody Acres

Reg and Lindsay are having trouble sourcing the “secret ingredient” for their organic fertiliser – human remains sourced from car crash victims. When a trio of young music festival-goers find themselves stranded at their front door, the two businessmen have a devious idea – but struggle to bring themselves to go through with it.

One for the schlock fans, 100 Bloody Acres is produced by Julie Ryan (RED DOG) and Kate Croser, with Damon Herriman, Anna McGahan, John Jarratt and Angus Sampson adding a touch of crackle to the cast of this grisly, comedic horror flick. They’re not psycho killers… they’re just small business owners.

Being Venice

Being Venice

The first feature-length film by New Zealand-born filmmaker Miro Bilbrough follows the eponymous Venice (Alice McConnell) as one man leaves her life and another re-enters it. The former – her boyfriend – announces that he needs some space and promptly leaves the house they share, while the latter – her estranged ex-hippie father Arthur (veteran comic actor Garry McDonald) – worms his way into staying on Alice’s couch while visiting from New Zealand.

Being Venice was warmly received at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year, described by Frank Hatherly of Screen Daily as “thoughtful” and possessing “something of a European sensibility” in presenting Venice’s struggle to make sense of the male relationships in her life.

Dead Europe

Dead Europe

The first announced of MIFF’s “surprise screenings” on the last day of the festival, Dead Europe is the latest in a string of adaptations of Christos Tsiolkas novels, directed by director Tony Krawitz (The Tall Man), adapted for the screen by veteran television writer Louise Fox, and starring acclaimed young actor Ewen Leslie in the lead.

Described by Gary Maddox in the Sydney Morning Herald as “a bruising blast of intense drama”, the film is a deep, densely wrought examination of Europe, “the continent of lost souls”, and the burden that children of “cursed” peoples must bear.

Errors of the Human Body

Errors of the Human Body

Described as a “psycho-scientific thriller” developed while director Eron Sheean was artist-in-resident at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, early reviews of Errors of the Human Body have noted the scientific authenticity with which the film’s plot is realised.

A German-Australian co-production directed by an Australian based in Europe, with a cast including Karoline Herfurth (Germany), Tomas Lemarquis (Iceland), Rik Mayall (United Kingdom) and Michael Eklund (Canada), it’s a horror film set on the cutting edge of science and technology, dealing with the ethics of biological and genetic science.

Hail

Hail

Melbourne local Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s work straddles both art cinema and mainstream filmmaking, with over a dozen short fiction films to his credit as well as three highly-acclaimed documentary features.

Hail shapes the extraordinary life experience of artist and ex-convict Daniel P. Jones into an experimental, autobiographical dramatic tapestry. Jones’s own words – transcribed and edited from interviews with the director – form the basis for the film’s dialogue, which is spoken by “characters” being played by their real-life counterparts. The resulting film is not strictly a drama and not strictly a documentary, but an exploration of hope in the face of oppressive adversity.

Jack Irish – Bad Debts

Jack Irish – Bad Debts

MIFFsters will be treated to the first of two Jack Irish tele-features scheduled to air on ABC TV in late 2012, boasting a stellar cast including Guy Pearce, Aaron Pedersen, Colin Friels, Shane Jacobson, Marta Dusseldorp, Steve Bisley and Roy Billing.

Guy Pearce is Jack, an old-school former criminal lawyer turned part-time private detective and debt collector, whose line of work has won him some rather colourful friends and acquaintences over the years. When one former client turns up dead, Jack burrows deep into Melbourne’s seedy underside to get to the bottom of it all.

Based on the eponymous series of crime novels by Miles Franklin Award winner Peter Temple, Jack Irish: Bad Debts will be followed by Jack Irish: Black Tide.

Last Dance

Last Dance

David Pulbrook (a veteran, AFI Award-winning editor) makes his directorial debut in this tightly-wound drama, set in the immediate aftermath of a synogogue bombing perpetrated by the Muslim Sadiq Mohammed (Underbelly‘s Firass Dirani). Seeking shelter, he forces his way into a flat occupied by a Holocaust survivor Ulah (Julia Blake), and thus begins a hostage drama which forces both Sadiq and Ulah to confront their own pasts.

Mental

Closing out the festival is Mental, a so-called suburban dramedy which reunites director P.J. Hogan with Toni Collette for the first time since Muriel’s Wedding was released in 1994.

Anthony LaPaglia is a philandering small-town politician shocked to discover that his wife has been institutionalised and has left him to take care of five children – none of which he has any particular interest in getting to know. By serendipity, a “charismatic, crazy hothead” (Collette) finds herself thrust into the household as the girls’ nanny, and slowly but surely transforms their home into something resembling normality.

Save Your Legs!

Save Your Legs!

A new addition to the MIFF calendar this year is the mid-festival gala event, turning the middle weekend of the festival into yet another party – if the opening and closing nights weren’t enough. A decidedly more relaxed affair than the glitzy opening night, the mid-festival gala will see the upbeat Bollywood-influenced musical comedy Save Your Legs! screened.

The Abbotsford Anglers, a D-grade local cricket team more interested in the shots on offer at the bar than those being made on the cricket field, make one last thrust for glory by going on an ill-conceived cricketing tour of India which ends in disastrous on-field results but more than a few laughs.

Starring Stephen Curry, Brendan Cowell, Damon Gameau and many more (plus a cameo by cricket legend Sir Richard Hadlee), Save Your Legs! is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Documentaries

Coniston

Coniston

In late 1928 upwards of 100 innocent indigenous men, women and children were brutally murdered to avenge the death of a white dingo trapper named Fred Brooks, who was killed by Aborigines after “taking liberties” with the wife of a Warlpiri tribesman.

One of many films presented in partnership with Blackfella Films, Coniston is a combination documentary-dramatisation of the Contiston massacre as told by Warlpiri, Waramunga, Anmatyerr and Kaytetje people. Based on a shameful episode of Australian history – the last large-scale massacre of Aborigines by whites – is an important exercise in educating modern audiences.

Croker Island Exodus

Croker Island Exodus

Also blending the documentary and dramatic forms is Croker Island Exodus, based on the true story of a Methodist mission on Croker Island off the coast of Arnhem Land.

After the bombing of Darwin in 1942, the Australian government evacuated all white women and children from the far north of the Northern Territory, including Croker Island. The (white) missionaries refused evacuation, not wanting to abandon the 95 aboriginal children in their care, and instead embarked on an epic 44-day, 5,000-kilometre journey to Sydney by boat, truck, canoe and even by foot.

First-time feature director Steven McGregor combines dramatic reconstructions with interviews of three of the children who made the journey, now in their 80s, who reflect on their childhood as part of the Stolen Generation and their remarkable journey to sanctuary.

The First Fagin

The First Fagin

Is Fagin – the grotesque thief/landlord in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and one of literature’s most enduring characters – based on Ikey Solomon, a real-life 19th century English criminal and escape artist? That’s what The First Fagin, directed by the trans-continental team of Alan Rosenthal and Helen Gaynor and narrated by the great Miriam Margolyes, sets out to discover.

Exploring the expulsion-happy criminal justice system of the 19th century as well as the life and reputation of Solomon, who was sentenced to be deported to Australia but for reasons unknown never made it to his down under prison, The First Fagin is one of many docu-drama features playing at MIFF this year. Tracing Solomon’s movements from England, through continental Europe, the United States and finally to Australia – where his wife had been deported – the film is a fantastical portrait of a man whose influence on culture is still being felt.

Lasseter’s Bones

Lasseter’s Bones

Beyond Our Ken, Luke Walker’s exploration into Kenja Communications – the “self-empowerment” group and alleged cult run by Ken Dyers and his wife Jan Hamilton – stirred up significant controversy when it screened at MIFF in 2007, and was nominated for an AFI Award in 2008.

His follow-up, Lasseter’s Bones, trades quasi-religious fanatics for an outback legend stretching back over 100 years, based around the existence (or non-existence) of Lasseter’s Reef, an enourmous gold deposit reportedly discovered and subsequently lost by Harold Lasseter in 1897.

With the help of Lasseter’s eccentric elderly son Bob, who continues to search for the fabled river of gold to vindicate his father, Walker attempts to get to the bottom of a legend which has taken on a life of its own – and taken one over, too.

Make Hummus Not War

Make Hummus Not War

A documentary about a different kind of war in the Middle East, Make Hummus Not War is about, well, hummus. Specifically, which culture can lay claim to ownership of the chickpea dish, which is steeped in thousands of years of contentious history and is one of the oldest prepared foods in human history.

Veteran filmmaker Trevor Graham, who won an AFI Award in 1997 for his documentary about the life of Eddie Mabo (Mabo: Life of an Island Man), traces the history of this unlikely dish and its symbolic importance to the Arab people of the Middle East. A lawsuit brought against Israel by Lebanon in 2008 about the heritage of hummus inspired Graham to delve a little deeper into what place hummus holds in Middle Eastern culture, and maybe, its role in Middle East reconciliation.

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me

Australia’s unofficial troubador laureate Paul Kelly has been capturing the Australian condition through his folk/rock/country music for decades, and has been called “one of the greatest songwriters I have ever heard, Australian or otherwise” by Rolling Stone editor David Fricke.

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me charts Kelly’s life, loves and losses, painting an intimate picture of a private man living in the public eye. The film, directed by Ian Darling, offers an exclusive insight into the man behind the fame, his creative processes and his remarkable catalogue of music.

Stay tuned to the AFI | AACTA blog as we post further updates throughout the festival.

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Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Cinematic Oasis: The Homebake Cinema Pavilion

Actor, writer and director Kieran Darcy-Smith is the curator of the short film program held at the Homebake Cinema Pavilion each year.

You’ll recognise Kieran Darcy-Smith from the numerous and varied roles he’s played in Australian film and television – including key performances in features like September, Animal Kingdom and the multi-award winning short film Miracle Fish. On television, he’s appeared in everything from Water Rats to Going Home to Stupid Stupid Man and My Place. Yet Darcy-Smith has always been an actor with a keen interest in working behind the camera as well as in front of it. He’s one of the co-founders of the prolific Blue-Tongue Films collective (together with Nash and Joel Edgerton, David Michôd, Luke Doolan and Spencer Susser). He’s been steadily honing his craft by writing and directing short films and several of these have been remarkably successful – Bloodlock won the Most Popular Film award at the 1999 Flickerfest International Film Festival as well as the St Kilda Film Festival prize, while The Island won the 2000 Tropfest Tropicana Award. In a few months time, we’ll see Darcy-Smith’s feature film directorial debut – Wish You Were Here, starring Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer and Felicity Price.

Right now, however, Darcy-Smith is busy preparing for the 2011 Homebake Music Film and Arts Festival, held in The Domain, in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens on Saturday, 3 December. Darcy-Smith is the curator of the short film program – an involvement stretching back ten years to 2000, when the film component was introduced.

Roy Billing in Aden Young's 'The Rose of Ba Ziz'.

The Homebake Cinema Pavilion is a showcase of Australian and New Zealand short filmmaking talent – and unlike competitive festivals, the films need not be premieres. This year’s line-up includes classic and well-known shorts like Nash Edgerton’s Spider, Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Cicada and Warwick Thornton’s Nana, as well as lesser-known titles – Russell Kilbey’s Rainman goes to RocKwiz; Aden Young’s The Rose of Ba Ziz; and Christopher Stollery’s Dik.

Here we chat to Darcy-Smith about the intricacies of curating the program, and the kinds of  short films that he loves – and hates. He also he paints a picture of what festival-goers can expect when they enter the quiet and darkened space of the Homebake Cinema Pavilion. And for those of you wondering what shooting his feature film on location in Cambodia was like, he makes it sound like it was both heaven and hell! Read on to find out more.

AFI: For those who’ve never been to Homebake before, can you describe how the cinema pavilion will fit in with the rest of the festival? Will it be hard to hear the films with the noise factor? What is the viewing venue actually like? How many screens, how much seating? Paint us a picture.

Kieran Darcy-Smith: Well, what began as a very modest, 50 seat, single screen, Beta tape arrangement in a canvas tent has now expanded somewhat. The last few years we’ve been based in the Pavilion Restaurant in the Domain – which we take over and re-dress/re-fit-out specifically for the event. It’s a great space and we’ve managed to design a screen and seating arrangement that makes full use of it. There are two large digital rear-projection screens (with a small live stage in between), two smaller plasma screens at either end of the room, state-of-the-art projection and audio to cater for both the films and the music acts – and the entire space is blacked out, with seating for around 150, plus loads of standing room. We’ve also configured things so as to pretty much eliminate the peripheral noise from the bands outside and it just all works really nicely. It’s comfortable and just a nice space to disappear to if you need to escape the music, the crowds or the weather for a while.

The set-up for the Homebake Cinema Pavilion. A space to escape the noise, the weather, the crowds..

AFI: How did the selection process work in terms of curating the program? Is there a call for entries? Do you have a team assisting you, or is it very much a personal project? Was it always a dead cert that a Blue Tongue film would be in there?

Kieran Darcy-Smith: The idea in the very beginning was just to provide a space for folks to relax away from the music and to enjoy some cool, locally-made short films. And of course there was always the bonus opportunity of our being able to promote any of our own work – which was something the promoters – as supporters of what we were doing and, I guess, of what we represented in terms of a local, pro-active arts collective – really encouraged us to do. So there’s always been something in the mix that’s come from Blue-Tongue, or that Blue-Tongue has some association with. It might be one or more of our short films, or the trailer and/or posters for an upcoming film. The selection process has become a little more tailored and specific over the years in terms of an overall charter I guess – but always, ultimately, it’s a clear-cut, two-way thing of keeping audiences entertained and happy throughout the day and promoting our local culture and filmmakers.

In terms of our own promotion this year we’ll be playing the trailer for my own upcoming feature, Wish You Were Here, (opening in March/April through Hopscotch) as well as repeating Nash’s Spider – which I’m repeating purely as it’s so often requested. That film is just so unbelievably popular and entertaining and people continue to want to see it, again and again. It’s kind of a bomb-proof audience pleaser.  In terms of the selection process in general – I essentially keep my ear to the ground over the 12 months between each Homebake, as well as email friends and colleagues who are attending a lot of short film festivals and try to gauge what’s been working for audiences and impressing folks. Often there are great new films out there but which have premiere restrictions and so we can’t screen them until the following year. Generally though there’ll be a strong handful of recent films from local filmmakers that I feel should be given as much exposure and awareness as possible, because I think they illuminate the incredible diversity of talent we have in this country. And Homebake provides a huge audience for their work. The films play in a repeat loop, so there’s a lot of people get a chance to see them throughout the day.

Daniel P. Jones in Amiel Courtin-Wilson's astonishing short film 'Cicada'.

Daniel P. Jones in Amiel Courtin-Wilson's astonishing short film 'Cicada'.

As well as the more recent films and the guaranteed crowd pleasers though (and on this crowd pleaser note, I always include a couple of the most popular Tropfest crowd pleasers from over the years; people simply love seeing them again), I do like to include early short films from filmmakers who have since gone on to work successfully as feature film or TV series directors and/or producers. I think these films provide a great source of inspiration as well as show how these filmmakers got their start. Over the years I’ve had films from Gregor Jordan, Greg Mclean, Rowan Woods, Sarah Watt, David Michod, Kriv Srenders, Glendyn Ivin and others. This year I’m repeating Cicada from Amiel Courtin-Wilson (Bastardy, Hail) and for a number of reasons: I think this Melbourne filmmaker is very special and original and brave – and I want people to be aware of his work. And Cicada is just such a great film in its own right; it’s strongly representative of the filmmaker’s individual approach and aesthetic and it’s extremely powerful, effective short-form story-telling. If enough people see Cicada and respond to it then they might look up some of this guy’s feature work. But he’s just one. Nana by Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah) is another great example. As is Carmichael and Shane’, by Rob Carlton and Alex Weinress (Chandon Pictures).

James Lee and Hania Lee's striking animation, 'Tarboy'.

On the flip-side, each year there’s one or more great films by newcomers that I have just stumbled upon and simply want to get in front of people. Tarboy (James Lee) is one this year – a beautifully realised short animation. And a very special 30-min documentary from Russell Kilby – Rainman Goes To Rockwiz.


AFI: As an accomplished and very experienced short filmmaker yourself, what is it that you love about the format of short films? And what is it that you hate?

Kieran Darcy-Smith: I love short films that successfully move me (could be laughter, despair, shame, fury, warmth, inspiration… whatever) but which also illuminate something very particular about the filmmakers involved; could be their visual style, writing style, sense of rhythm/musicality, subject-matter, approach to sound design or performance… whatever. I love the personal/idiosyncratic. But I also need to be entertained on a fairly base level and not bullshitted. There are basic principles inherent in any/all good story-telling and in order for me to keep watching a story on screen, long or short, then I have a (personal this is) need for those principles to be at play; for them to have been considered and successfully integrated – even if on a purely intuitive, sub-conscious level – by the creators. I don’t like indulgence – and I have a very short attention span. A short film might be just one shot, 15 mins long, of a brick wall. But if the filmmaker has somehow managed to keep me looking at the screen and, as a result, I’ve walked away at the end of it feeling satisfied and moved in some way – then good. It’s worked. (Kinda hard to imagine that happening though.) Basically, if you want it to work well, and by that I mean that you manage to hook an audience from the get-go, suspend them and carry them along for a bit before spitting them out the other end feeling satisfied and (ideally) moved, then a short film is a very difficult thing to write and to execute. So hats off to anyone who can do that. And I guess the ones that don’t do that, for me (and we are taking about art here, so it’s all subjective anyway…), then those are the ones I don’t like.

AFI: As you mentioned before, the beauty of this program is that these films don’t have to be premieres – in fact a lot of them have done the rounds and will be seen by Homebake audiences  for the second or third time. Is this a positive way of building a kind of Australasian short film canon?

An old audience favourite, 2006 Tropfest winner 'Carmichael & Shane', written, produced and directed by Alex Wienress and Rob Carlton (pictured).

Kieran Darcy-Smith: …the short answer is yes. The idea of including a handful of older, previously successful  films means that those works don’t disappear. When I think of the Australian feature film canon, I think of a broad cross-section of movies from across several decades. The same obviously applies to music, literature and to most of the arts in general. I don’t think shorts should just be a one-off experience for either the filmmakers or the audience. They can be (and should be) considered to be unique, independent and personal pieces of work; snapshots representative not only of their time, both culturally and actually, but, moreover, of the filmmakers at that stage in their career.

AFI: If you could pick one film from the lineup that readers should seek out for its challenging, surprising or ground-breaking material, what would it be?

Kieran Darcy-Smith: Aden Young’s The Rose of Ba Ziz is very special and very unique; a wonderfully realised, highly stylised/idiosyncratic, ultra-resourceful and clearly personal piece of short cinematic art. One to look out for. And if you haven’t already seen it then Cicada certainly meets all of your (above) criteria. Definitely unique and effective.

AFI: We’re really looking forward to seeing your feature film Wish You Were Here. What has been the most challenging thing for you as a director in the move from shorts to features? And what can tell us about where the film is at right now?

Kieran Darcy-Smith: Thanks. Can’t wait for you to see it. I can tell you that the film will be released by Hopscotch locally, and Level K internationally, early next year (March/April at this stage) and that I’m incredibly proud of it. It’s everything I ever wanted it to be, and more, and I absolutely, honestly, don’t have a single regret. Wouldn’t change a frame. I also have to say I just relished the entire process of making it. Every bit and piece: pre-production (one of the happiest times of my life), shooting, cutting, sound, music, grading, titles, trailer, poster, the lot. Loved it. Didn’t want it to end. Of course there were challenges right throughout (fell into a sewer up to my neck on my first day in Cambodia; my Two-year-old fell out of bed onto his face on the concrete floor of our hotel room and smashed his teeth out; my wife and I both had dysentery and the flu concurrently, for a long time, umm….) but in a mad kind of way I really enjoyed them (the challenges) as well. Not sure what it was, but I really did get off on the pressure and the stakes. I’ve never felt more alive, put it that way.

Wish You Were Here

Still from 'Wish You Were Here', starring L-R: Felicity Collins, Antony Starr, Teresa Palmer & Joel Edgerton.

But….to answer your question: the most challenging thing for me, or for any director moving from shorts to a feature film is script. You have to have one. And if you’re not being given one then you have to find a story (not easy) and write it yourself. And it takes a long time to learn how to do that well. So, you kind of have to do your laps. But if you hang in there and you’re patient and dogged and passionate about why you’re doing it (and you’ve made sure to check with objective/outside opinion re whether or not you’re deluding yourself; i.e. not everyone can write a screenplay) – then it’ll all come together eventually. Certainly it  took me a long while. But yeah, script. 100%. Fundamentally the greatest challenge for anyone who wants to get a feature film off the ground.

AFI: Thanks for your time and good luck with the Homebake program!

The Homebake Classic Edition 2011 takes place Saturday, 3 December in Sydney’s Domain.

For Indiewire‘s ‘First Look’ at Wish You Were Here, click here.

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.”