Melbourne once again becomes the centre of the cinematic universe (in a manner of speaking) with the 63rd annual Melbourne International Film Festival – or, if you want to sound like a cinematic insider, MIFF. With close to 350 films from dozens of countries screening over eighteen days and nights, this year’s festival promises a wide-ranging and robust snapshot of world cinema today.
The Festival kicks off July 31st with an Opening Night screening of Predestination, a stylish time-travel thriller from Australian filmmaking duo the Spierig brothers. Continuing the recent tradition of marking the festival’s midpoint with a world premiere Centrepiece Gala screening, this year’s film is Australian drama Cut Snake, a crime-thriller from director Tony Ayres starring Sullivan Stapleton, while the closing night film is police drama Felony, directed by Melbourne filmmaker Matthew Saville and written by and starring Australian acting icon Joel Edgerton.
That’s hardly the end of MIFF’s support of Australian film, with three more Premiere Fund films receiving a world premiere at MIFF this year: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, a feature documentary from Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood); The Legend Maker, a dramatic thriller from Ian Pringle, in which an ageing criminal needs all his cunning to survive; and My Mistress, a love story starring Emmanuelle Béart and Harrison Gilbertson from director Stephen Lance.
The list of international films worthy of your attention would take up the rest of this page, so let’s just skim the highlights, which include: Richard Linklater’s 12 years in the making look at a boy’s life between the ages of 6 and 18, Boyhood; Tom Hardy spends 80 minutes behind the wheel of a car in the thriller Locke; the Swedish what-would-you-do story of a man who panics when he thinks an avalanche is going to kill his family, Force Majeure; Nicolas Cage’s return to serious acting in David Gordon Green’s Joe; the grim UK prison drama Starred Up; Zach Braff’s Kickstarter-funded follow-up to Garden State, Wish I Was Here; Joe Swanberg’s look at parenthood and refusing to grow up, Happy Christmas; retro ’80’s salute to “the summer when everything changed” genre, Ping Pong Summer; and Ken Loach’s supposed final film, Jimmy’s Hall.
Night Shift, the festival’s annual cinematic showdown, is a must for those looking for something a bit more bloody and out there. There are a dozen films to choose from, including Housebound, the debut feature from Gerard Johnstone about a petty thief under house arrest who can’t escape the paranormal activity of her childhood home; cult auteur and MIFF regular Sion Sono’s fun-lovingly bloodthirsty Why Don’t You Play in Hell?; and filmmaker Andrew Leavold’s The Search for Weng Weng, a unique documentary about a short-statured Filipino film star, taking in everything from Golden Age Filipino filmmaking and culture to a rare encounter with Imelda Marcos.
A Perfect Midnight: Haunted Hong Kong takes a sampling of the supernatural to present spooky cinema from our regional neighbour. Screenings include Rigor Mortis, from pop star-turned-actor-turned-filmmaker Juno Mak, who’s created one of the first jiangshi films (Chinese hopping vampire genre) in over 20 years and Mr Vampire, the 1985 film from Ricky Lau, which reigns as a cult cinema must-see for fans of Hong Kong cinema, horror and comedy.
Always one of MIFF’s most popular programs, Backbeat puts sonic visions on the big screen to capture the immense power of music. New Zealand director Florian Habicht returns with a cinematic love letter to Sheffield and its best-known ’90s export in Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets and John Pirozzi attempts to reclaim the unheard musical history of Cambodia from the grips of the genocide inflicted by the Khmer Rouge with Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll. Edward Lovelace and James Hall co-direct The Possibilities are Endless, a powerfully moving film about singer-songwriter Edwyn Collins’ road to recovery after being close to death; Heaven Adores You traces the late Elliott Smith’s creative life in the cities where he explored his songwriting – Portland, New York City and Los Angeles; and Time is Illmatic tells the story behind the most pivotal album in the history of hip hop, Nas’ Illmatic.
With the Greater Union cinema no longer available, MIFF has had to spread itself a little further around this year, and so screenings are now being held in the following locations: Hamer Hall at the Arts Centre, Melbourne; The Forum Theatre; Kino Cinemas; the Australian Centre for the Moving Image; Hoyts Cinemas, Melbourne Central; and two (relatively) new venues for MIFF, Treasury Cinema and RMIT Capitol Theatre.
The MIFF program is online at miff.com.au. Sessions can be booked, and e-Mini Passes, Passports and Opening Night tickets are also on sale now at miff.com.au. The Melbourne International Film Festival runs 31 July – 17 August 2014.
Written by Anthony Morris