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.

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.