It’s 12:00 at night, and I am so tired. I have just seen my 5th movie of the day, speeding backwards and forwards between the major cinemas of the festival: Kino, Forum, Comedy Theatre, Hoyts in Melbourne Central etc., interspersed with meet-ups with mates, drinking cheap Japanese beer, and discussing the festival with feverish excitement. It is the 65th Melbourne International Film Festival, and from 28th July – 14th August, I and many other die-hard cinephiles will be in movie heaven. I sit where I normally sit; the 14th seat of the 3rd row of the ACMI cinema, one of my favourite cinemas of the festival. It is dark, moody, dramatic and refreshingly modern with exceedingly comfortable seats. The screen is displayed in front of me and my mate, here to see the 40th anniversary restoration of the American independent horror movie PHANTASM. We cannot wait as the background music plays in smooth jazz and beat-bop saxophone solos. On the screen we see, in giant, colourful fonts: MIFF Melbourne International Film Festival. Then the screen dims, the title screen shows, the foreboding music booms through the cinema. And the few of us dedicated or stupid enough to see the movie when most cinema goers had long gone home? We would not rather be anywhere else. This is MIFF in a nutshell.
This is the third year in a row I have attended MIFF. It costs around $300 to get a members passport to see as many movies as you are humanly able to. Pricey? Yes, but sweet Jesus it is worth every penny spent. You see movies from all over the world: Iran, France, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Venezuela, China, Japan, Brazil, Spain, Thailand, Indonesia, Russia, Nigeria, Ethiopia etc., and they come from almost every era of film history, from the recently produced, to undiscovered classics. To enter, all you need is one of the amazing volunteers to scan your tickets—and you’re in. On top of these amazing films, from the usual digital projections right up to the exceedingly rare 35mm film prints, you will also have the opportunity to see the opening premieres of some of the most exciting names in cinema at the moment as they come for the film’s opening, or for a Q&A session with the directors themselves! You also have access to bars, little member’s lounges to indulge in a bit of free food and drink for relaxation, while chatting away to your fellow film nerds. It’s a wonderful life.
The fun of the movie-going experience really is the most exciting and nerve-racking part of the festival. For me, this year has being a rollercoaster of emotions and it still isn’t even finished! I have been blown away by films such as Ceila Rowlson-Hall’s Ma, a road trip film about the Virgin Mary told entirely through dance. Despite some walkouts and curses muttered under people’s breath, I was staggered at its extraordinary beauty, and when the director herself turned up for Q&A? I lost my mind. I walked up to her, nervous by her raw talent, and shook her hand and said ‘Thank you for such an amazing experience’ before I quickly ran away, along with my giddiness.
I have also shed tears over Studio Ghibli’s new film: The Red Turtle. This was an ecstatic experience of beautiful animation and the first film made under Studio Ghibli that was not created in Japan, instead, having animators from all over the world create a work of sheer beauty. Experimental films such as Khalil Blues, Evolution, My Life as a Courgette etc. I have also seen works that completely mystify me in their strangeness, such as the new Polish musical, The Lure, about two mermaids who become cabaret singers and how their sex lives and eating habits (closely intertwined) are obscuring their dreams of musical glory…
Where else but MIFF?
The biggest highlights for me were four films: Starless Dreams, Cosmos, Death in Sarajevo, and The Family. These films represented what was brilliant about MIFF and the quality of the stories that are shared at the event. Cosmos is a nonsensical, yet witty and wholly original magical journey into cinematic creation, which is sadly the last film of wondrous (and personal favourite) Polish filmmaker Andrzej Żuławski (who created the wonderfully demented Possession in 1981). We also had a fantastic exposé documentary on a female detention centre in Tehran with Starless Dreams, with some of the most heartbreaking scenes I have ever seen in recent cinema (one of the girls calls herself 651 after how many grams of crystal meth she had being caught carrying). Death in Sarajevo is a loose adaptation of Hotel Europa, which was a provoking and contagiously arresting piece on Blakan region politics and the resulting violence. The Family, however is one of Australia’s biggest and most disturbing contribution to the festival, discussing the bizarre family cult that emerged in Melbourne during the 60s and 70s, featuring LSD injections, indoctrination, and child abuse. It is one of the most disturbing documentaries about one of the darkest times of recent Melbourne history.
I am always of the strong opinion that if anyone believes or thinks that cinema itself is dead, mutilated or slowly becoming extinct, they are very, very mislead. Thanks to MIFF (which is, as of now, the SECOND largest film festival in the world, next to Cannes Film Festival in France), everyone in Victoria is but a stone’s throw away from some of the most enlightening, funny, dark, tragic and beautiful stories that world cinema has to offer.
And now as the festival is wrapping up, I can say that I have had no sleep, watched dozens and dozens of films, interacted with the lovely volunteers of MIFF, and run across the entirety of Melbourne for some of the most magical and luminous stories modern cinema has to offer. I cannot wait to do this all over again next year.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for us cinema nerds.
Vivre la Cinéma!
Words by W.D Farnsworth.