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.

Special Anniversary Screenings: PROOF and LANTANA

As we celebrate the current line-up of wonderful Australian films competing in the Samsung AACTA Awards, this year, in conjunction with the NFSA, we also look back at two modern classics – Lantana and Proof.  At the time of their release, both films reminded us that Australian cinema could tackle intimate stories of the city, with style, beauty and subtlety.

LANTANA – 10th Anniversary Screening


Winner of 7 AFI Awards, Lantana (2001) was the long awaited return to filmmaking of director Ray Lawrence. An award winning script by Andrew Bovell traced interweaving stories of men and women grappling with grief, infidelity and thwarted desires for intimacy. An ensemble cast includes Anthony LaPaglia, Vince Colosimo, Kerry Armstrong and Rachael Blake – all of whom won AFI Awards for their performances. Taking more than $12 million at the Australian box office, Lantana revealed an audience hungry for intelligent, grown-up stories told with a local accent.

You can watch clips and read curator’s notes for Lantana over here the NFSA’s Australian Screen Online (ASO) website.

SCREENING DETAILS:

Screening as part of the Samsung AFI | AACTA Festival of Film

Sydney: Sunday 30 October, Hoyts EQ, 3.30pm.
Special guest attending for a Q&A after the screening: Director Ray Lawrence, Producer Jan Chapman.

Melbourne: Sunday 16 October, ACMI, 3.30. [This Melbourne event has now taken place and we will be uploading video content shortly.] Special guests attending for a Q&A after the screening: Actors Kerry Armstrong, Vince Colosimo, and Producer Jan Chapman.

AFI | AACTA Members RVSP Links: Members can simply click on the links below for two complimentary tickets.
Sydney: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Sydney_Anniversary_RSVP

Non members are most welcome to these special screenings and can buy tickets from the venue, subject to availability.

PROOF – 20th Anniversary Screening


Winner of 6 AFI Awards and a special mention at Cannes, Proof (1991)was the delicious and blackly comic drama from first time Writer/Director Jocelyn Moorehouse and Producer Linda House. A story about trust, lust and mateship, Proof depicts a triangle of love, hate and betrayal. Hugo Weaving plays a blind photographer, taunted by his spiteful but adoring housekeeper (Geneviève Picot). Both of them are drawn to a friendly kitchen-hand (played by a fresh-faced Russell Crowe). Twenty years later, Proof is as smart, funny and elegant as when it was first released.

You can watch clips and read curator’s notes for Proof over here on the NFSA’s Australian Screen Online (ASO) website.

SCREENING DETAILS


Sydney: Sunday 23 October, Hoyts EQ, 3.30pm. Guests: Writer/Director Jocelyn Moorhouse, Script Editor P.J.Hogan.

Melbourne: Saturday 15 October, ACMI, 3.30. Guests: Writer/Director Jocelyn Moorhouse, Producer Lynda House, Editor Ken Sallows, Exhibitor Natalie Miller. [This Melbourne event has now taken place and we will be uploading video content shortly]

AFI | AACTA Members RVSP Links: Members can simply click on the links below for two complimentary tickets.

Sydney: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Sydney_Anniversary_RSVP

Non members are most welcome to these special screenings and can buy tickets from the venue, subject to availability.

Both screenings are proudly sponsored by the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA).

 


Why I Adore: Muriel’s Wedding

By Annie Stevens

“You’re terrible Muriel.” I’m quite certain that my family is not the only Australian family to appropriate this line from PJ Hogan’s 1994 film, Muriel’s Wedding when one of us did something remotely scandalous. It’s up there with “Tell him he’s dreamin” (The Castle) in the Highly Quotable Lines from Australian Films stakes. Muriel’s Wedding is an overwhelmingly Australian film. Not just because it is set here and people say “G’day” on a regular basis. But that the characters, stereotypes, vocabulary, scenery and mannerisms are distinctly, true bluely, Australian. It could be embarrassing, but it isn’t in Muriel’s Wedding. Without the stereotypes, the dagginess, the Australian Ugliness as scathing architect Robin Boyd said of Australian design, the film wouldn’t be the same, and frankly, I don’t think I would like it nearly as much.

Muriel Heslop (the incomparable Toni Collette) lives in the small (fictional) hometown of Porpoise Spit. This isn’t just a place that I recognise; it’s a way of thinking too. There are plenty of cultural studies references and themes of identity that you can hang off it. But it’s more than that. Muriel’s Wedding is an ugly duckling story that most of us can relate to. I know I do. Like Muriel Heslop I have been shy and awkward. I’ve punched myself in the guts with self-loathing and left a bruise. I’ve wanted, desperately, to be liked. And like Muriel I wanted to escape, she from Porpoise Spit and me from my small town in Tasmania. We both wanted to be a success and to prove everybody, well, something. In the film Muriel wants to get married. Marriage is winning in a small town. I get that. As Muriel says in big hacking snotty sobs in the bridal shop, where Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths) catches her trying on wedding dresses, if someone wants to marry her she won’t be Muriel Heslop any more. “Because who’d want to marry me?” she asks, sneering angrily at herself; the recognition of that feeling is like being thumped in the chest.

In many ways Muriel’s Wedding is about winning, losing and the real price, and worth, of both. Muriel did get what she wanted. She got married (to the bodacious swimming champion who needed a visa). She’d made it. But then marriage turned out to not be the ultimate prize after all. Getting what you want isn’t guaranteed to make you happy. Happiness isn’t something that you can buy. Love comes with consequences.

There’s also something in the film about salvation, and starting a new life. Not in a happy-clappy kind of way, but in a way that feels real and recognisable. Muriel lies and she steals, and while I have not stolen anything of consequence (though I am chronically guilty of borrowing colleagues’ pens and never returning them) I’ve certainly fibbed – to make myself sound better, to get out of trouble, harmless “white lies” that just about always end up catching you out. Muriel decides that she has to stop lying in order to be happy. Proof really, that you can better yourself and it’s almost never too late to make a new start.

Muriel's Wedding

Rachel Griffiths, Daniel Lapaine, Toni Collette and Bill Hunter at the altar in Muriel's Wedding

At the beginning of the film Muriel Heslop is incredibly far from being happy “in her own skin.” She listens to Abba music as an alternative to her dull existence and an antidote to her self-loathing. The entrance of the blunt, confident and sexy Rhonda Epinstalk (the similarly incomparable Rachel Griffiths) into her life, Muriel’s name change to “Mariel” and Mariel and Rhonda’s subsequent adventure to Sydney makes her life, as she tells Rhonda, “as good as an Abba song.”

I really love the female friendship that is at the focus of the film. Whether or not you are a loner, or have noisily slurped the last of your orgasm cocktail while you wait for the it girls to tell you if you’ve made it in or not, the friendship between misfits Muriel and Rhonda is a really great example of friendship on screen. Finding a friend who knows everything about you, one that you can go through bad stuff with, and who loves you even when you’ve let them down, is something that can’t be over valued Plus, as the film attests, you can choose your friends but you certainly can’t choose your family. So it’s worth picking good ones.

“I’m not alone. I’m with Muriel,” says Rhonda after telling mean girl Tanya (incidentally, Sophie Lee as Tanya screeching, “I’m a bride!” on the Hibiscus Island trip is another of my favourite moments in the film) all about her husband – Chook – and his lipstick ringed indiscretions. From then on we’re all with Muriel.

Muriel’s Wedding is a sad film, spiked with moments of unfettered joy. Betty (Jeanie Drynan), Muriel’s mother, is treated terribly by her husband, taken advantage of by her children and is slipping away quietly without anybody bothering to take notice until it’s too late. Muriel and her siblings are told constantly by their self-aggrandising father (Bill Hunter) that they’re useless. Small, but deadly, humiliations – many of them inflicted by that ghastly horn- rimmed glasses wearing shop assistant/spy – are common. But then there’s Muriel, her thighs straining against her white sateen pantsuit singing Waterloo with Rhonda in the talent competition on Hibiscus Island. There’s Rhonda and Muriel drinking their prize-winning magnum of champagne, and talking about being famous and seeing the world. There’s Muriel screaming with laughter when the two naked but gentlemanly American sailors appear in her lounge room the night that she brings home a boy that likes her, a raucous moment shattered when Rhonda can no longer feel her legs. For all its sadness and its disappointments and its missed moments and punctured dreams, I don’t find it a depressing film. It never fails to make me cry. But I’m not sure whether I’m crying because I’m happy or because I’m sad or because I’m both. Mostly, I think, because I can relate. In the scene where Rhonda and Muriel are hanging out of their taxi yelling goodbye to the streets, shopping centres and tourists of their hometown I can just about taste their freedom and their feckless exuberance for life.

AFI Awards note: Muriel’s Wedding won four AFI Awards in 1994: Best Achievement in Sound (David Lee, Glenn Newnham, Livia Ruzic, Roger Savage); Best Actress in a Lead Role (Toni Collette); Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Rachel Griffiths); and Best Film (producers Lynda House and Jocelyn Moorhouse).

Annie Stevens is a journalist. She has written for The Age, The Vine, The Guardian Comment is Free, Kill Your Darlings literary magazine and OK! magazine among others. Until recently she wrote the arts and events listings for The Age. She just moved to Sydney, “City of Brides” from Melbourne. She doesn’t think the coffee in Sydney is nearly as bad as Melbourne people say.

Much of Annie’s freelance work can be found here.

Read Previous ‘Why I Adore’ Posts:

Paul Anthony Nelson (the ‘Why I Adore’ godfather and founder) introduces the concept, and rhapsodises about Mad Max. AFI Membership Administrator Lia McCrae-Moore revisits the lyrical beauty of One Night the Moon, Clem Bastow reminisces about a childhood watching the television show Round the Twist, and Anthony Morris flirts with disaster in his adoration of Romper Stomper.