The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) returns for its 69th year, presenting a curated and innovative program of bold and adventurous screen experiences.
As one of Australia's leading film festivals—and also one of the world’s oldest, alongside Cannes and Berlin—MIFF has played a pivotal role in putting Melbourne on the national and international cultural map, building Victoria's significant international film profile and sense of community since 1952.
Anticipating the 2021 program which will be delivered both online and in-cinemas this August, we've created a handy guide of must-see films to add to your list, with each pick supported by Film Victoria.
“Entrepreneur, impresario, entertainer, activist. Tiriki Onus thought he knew his grandfather Bill, until an unearthed film reel suggests he might have been the first ever Aboriginal filmmaker.”
Ablaze is a compelling MIFF Premiere Fund-supported documentary that explores activism, resistance, and politically-driven art making with a slick detective beat. Narrated by opera singer and academic-turned-debutant co-director Tiriki Onus, the film dives into the history of Yorta Yorta and Wiradjuri man, Bill Onus. Both grandfather to Tiriki and revered figure in Australia’s civil-rights history, Ablaze recounts key events in Bill’s life and Australia’s sociocultural past: from workers’ strikes and early titles in a nascent national cinema, to trailblazing Aboriginal-led stage-plays and the first ever Moomba.
“Revisit selected Australian titles from the MIFF 68½ Shorts program, featuring work by filmmakers participating in the MIFF Accelerator Lab 2021.”
If you love supporting emerging creatives and experimental conversation starters, MIFF 68½ is for you. Taking selected works from MIFF’s beloved Accelerator Lab (a four-day intensive of workshops, screenings, seminars, and networking events for small independent Victorian directors), this curated screening of short films will explore themes of coming of age, gender, sexuality, mental health, disability, and much more. Screening in this program are short films: Call History, Don’t Forget to Go Home, The Echo, Laura, and Not a Wallflower.
“Courtney Barnett pulls back the curtain in this intimate first-person exposition on creativity, vulnerability and artistic life on the road.”
Shot over a three-year period and supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, Anonymous Club is an intimate documentary that follows notoriously shy but vastly talented Melbourne musician and Milk! Records co-founder, Courtney Barnett. Documenting her 2018 world tour for album Tell Me How You Really Feel, director Danny Cohen provides vivid insight into Courtney’s creative process, together with her inner conflicts set in motion by fame. Narrated by Courtney herself—having kept an audio diary on tour, at Cohen’s request—Anonymous Club is a frank and formidable portrait of an artist on the road.
“This uplifting feast of a film goes behind the scenes of an Italian hotel-restaurant staffed by youngsters living with Down syndrome.”
Offering generous servings of joy, hope and slice-of-life storytelling, Chef Antonio’s Recipes for Revolution follows Antonio de Benedetto: a chef-on-a-mission who transforms the lives of young people living with Down syndrome by providing not just practical skills and employment, but also a second home and family in which to belong. Set against the backdrop of Italy’s Piedmont region and supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, the documentary spotlights protégés Mirko Piras, Jessica Berta, and others as they toil in food. It’s also the final instalment in writer and director Trevor Graham’s culinary trilogy, where food is a vehicle for larger issues.
“This true story of an acid attack survivor’s fight to alter her daughter’s destiny is an inspiring and heartwarming call-to-action.”
Almost 30 years ago, Geeta Mahor was asleep with her young daughters in their Agra home when her husband, Inderjeet, maliciously attacked them with acid. Geeta was critically injured, three-year-old Neetu ended up severely scarred and almost completely blind, and baby Krishna tragically passed away. Finding strength in the fight for justice, Geeta documents the story of the mother-daughter duo as they advocate for the end of violence against women and look for a way for Neetu to have life-changing eye operations. Captured by award-winning director Emma Macey-Storch who spent four-and-a-half years in India, Geeta’s story is wildly courageous and a stunning reminder of the power of love to create real and lasting change.
“Award-winning filmmaker Eddie Martin (Have You Seen the Listers?, MIFF 2018) revisits the cultural landscape of Larry Clark’s iconic 90s film, which paved a bumpy path for its young stars’ future success.”
In his Tribeca-premiering fifth documentary feature, director Eddie Martin brings together archival footage and interviews to ask a solemn question: what became of the unsuspecting teens in Larry Clark’s 1995 coming of age drama, Kids? Spotlighting New York City’s skateboarding scene and shocking audiences and critics alike, the film launched the acting careers of then-unknowns Chloë Sevigny, Rosario Dawson and Leo Fitzpatrick. However, it also snared several ill-equipped kids into throes of fame—like Justin Pierce and Harold Hunter, who died young and in tragic circumstances. Probing the fine line between celebration and exploitation, publicity and pressure, The Kids examines a vanished cultural moment and the cost of being thrust into the spotlight with no safety net.
“Co-written by The Slap author Christos Tsiolkas, this affecting period drama depicts a newly-single father’s efforts to weather the turbulence of change – in his life and in the world around him.”
Set in 1971 rural Australia, Little Tornadoes is a moody, textural look into complicated family dynamics and the human desire for connection. Following introverted steelworker Leo who is struggling to cope with change after his wife abandons him without explanation, he is left to take care of their two young children—reluctantly accepting the help of surrogate homemaker, Maria. The accomplished second narrative feature from MIFF Accelerator Lab alumnus Aaron Wilson (Canopy), Little Tornadoes explores the many upheavals of 1970s Australia—from immigration and post-war resettlement, to urbanisation, anti–Vietnam War protests and the women’s liberation movement—into a narrative about one man’s struggle to adapt.
“An engrossing portrait of the rise and untimely demise of David McComb, the virtuosic frontman of Australian rock band The Triffids.”
Love In Bright Landscapes is the stirring, tragic, and intimate life story of David McComb: cult Australian singer-songwriter and driving force behind one of the greatest Australian bands, The Triffids. Chronicling the triumphs and ultimate tragedy of a visionary artist and an adored ensemble, this expansive feature documentary—supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund—brings together interviews with the likes of music luminary Paul Kelly, Triple J’s Richard Kingsmill, and the late scholar Niall Lucy, as well as never-before-seen family footage and snippets of newly-discovered writing by McComb (voiced by Man Booker Prize–winning novelist DBC Pierre) to explore of creativity, friendship, and the weight of artistic greatness.
“Indigenous teenagers navigate exams, social dramas and maintaining meaningful connections to home while at boarding school.”
Off Country is an eye-opening documentary that follows the lives of six young Aboriginal students from all over Australia, as they leave their communities to spend a year at one of the most elite boarding schools in the country. Supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, this empathetic film by Rhian Skirving (Rock n Roll Nerd, MIFF Premiere Fund 2008) and MIFF Accelerator Lab alumnus John Harvey (Out of Range, MIFF 2019) captures the tremendous pressures these students face—from academics and extracurriculars to sustaining ties with kin and culture, all of which are further complicated by the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. Off Country tackles tough questions around identity, belonging, coming of age away from home, and how best to ‘close the gap’ without creating a new one.
“Melbourne’s iconic baroque homewares mogul, Franco Cozzo, is the subject of this delightful portrait that offers insights into furniture, family and the migrant experience.”
If you have never heard of Franco Cozzo, then it’s time to become acquainted in the heartfelt and aspirational documentary, Palazzo Di Cozzo. A universally beloved cultural icon, Sicilian-born Cozzo first arrivied in Melbourne in 1956, where he began his career as a door-to-door salesman before building a furniture empire in Brunswick and Footscray. Encapsulating the experiences of those who’ve uprooted to seek a better life in a new land, Palazzo Di Cozzo is part biography, part cultural celebration—Madeleine Martiniello’s film tracing Cozzo’s personal fortunes alongside those of the generations of migrants who have been drawn to his ornate, ostentatious wares, viewing ownership of them as a sign of success. Overflowing with charm and heart, this insider look of local history is sure to be megalo, megalo, megalo!
“A Sydney magician devises a stunt to disappear Uluru, but is his dream of making it big as illusory as his planned vanishing act?”
Filmed around the cessation of the Uluru climb, Uluru & The Magician follows the experiences of professional magician, Dave Welsman. Juggling everything from romantic disappointment to reoccurring health issues, Welsman charts a new path as he hatches the plan to beat a 1983 world-record-holding magic trick by David Copperfield by making Uluru disappear. Working towards his goal, he learns some sobering truths about Indigenous Australians and the Anangu people for whom the monolith is sacred—as well as about himself. Supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund and directed by MIFF Accelerator Lab alumna A.M. Broinowski, Uluru & The Magician takes an over-the-top premise to launch an incisive exploration; here, she offers insights into fragile masculinity, the conflict between commodification and cultural respect, and the unfinished business of reconciliation.
The Melbourne International Film Festival is happening from 5—22 August. For tickets and more information, head to miff.com.au.
Images supplied by MIFF and captured from film trailers. Cover image from Anonymous Club, supplied by Film Camp.