Man, has it been a year already? Time has flown by quickly. Yep, it’s that time of year where my adoptive home town of Melbourne celebrates one of the most prestigious film festivals in Australia: the Melbourne International Film Festival (or MIFF for short). Over the course of 19 days MIFF will be showcasing over 300 films from many countries all over world, some of which have been highly anticipated by many Aussie film buffs (UPSTREAM COLOR, FRANCES HA, THE EAST, BLANCANIEVES, STOKER, GINGER & ROSA, PASSION, MOOD INDIGO, WHAT MAISIE KNEW etc.). However I’ve decided that I won’t be seeing any of these films. The reason being, just like I did last year, I’ve decided that I’ll be checking out and focus on films that’ll either don’t have a release date yet or they won’t be released until late this year or sometime next year (although I will admit that I did make the exception with a few films only because these are ones that I want to see right away). So what will I be watching then? Out of all the other films that will be playing at MIFF this year, I’ve picked 23 films (which is big step up from the 17 that I saw from last year’s festival). These are ones that I’m also really excited about and I can’t wait to see them at the festival. What I like my picks is that they cover all different genres of film. There’s a bit of everything: drama, horror, comedy, thriller, animated and documentary. So which films are they? Here’s my complete rundown of what I’ll be seeing at MIFF 2013…
THE ACT OF KILLING
DIRECTOR: Joshua Oppenheimer
PLOT: In this bizarre and unsettling film, Joshua Oppenheimer presents a chilling picture of a land where mass murderers are celebrated on TV talk shows as heroes. It sounds like a fiction but it’s not: the film’s subjects – small-time gangsters (themselves ardent fans of film and pop culture) who became death-squad leaders during the anti-Communist purges following the 1965 Indonesian military coup – were never punished; instead they took power and have become role models applauded for their actions, allowing Oppenheimer the remarkable opportunity to film them gleefully re-enacting their kills in an increasingly elaborate and high-budget film of their own. Playing themselves and their victims, they are forced to confront their actions for the first time. Produced over nearly a decade, with late help from Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, The Act of Killing is a richly compelling look at the fictions inherent in truth and the truth found within fiction.
AIM HIGH IN CREATION!
DIRECTOR: Anna Broinowski
PLOT: Fearing that a gas mine is about to be built right near her home, Anna Broinowski (Forbidden Lie$, MIFF 2007), in a world first, goes to Pyongyang in North Korea to meet the masters of propaganda filmmaking: directors, cinematographers, composers and movie stars. Over three weeks they instruct her on how to make a drama in which “heroic workers” overthrow the evil gas miners – executed in the Dear Leader’s proudly melodramatic style. As part of her research, Anna even acts in a North Korean movie, playing an “evil American secretary” in a military thriller being shot on a real, captured US spy ship, the USS Pueblo. Back in Sydney, Anna’s fearless Western cast follow North Korean instructions in a bizarre Kim Jong-il boot camp – with socialist ideology training sessions, the repetitive use of song, workshops on how to act with a “love for the common people” and “hatred of the class enemy” – culminating in an uplifting, anti-capitalist plot guaranteed to inspire workers and farmers everywhere to throw off their capitalist shackles and unite! Whether the actors deliver a film so powerful it stops the mine, and is hailed from Pyongyang to Cannes as the greatest thing since Dogme, or whether it’s a glorious turkey of which only Kim’s son (and perhaps Lars Von Trier) can be proud, one thing’s for sure: the MIFF Premiere Fund-supported Aim High in Creation! (which world premieres at MIFF) is a film that forges an astonishingly human bond between North Korea’s filmmakers and their Western counterparts, proving that no matter what type of enemy you’re fighting, we are a family.
AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS
DIRECTOR: David Lowery
PLOT: Outlaw couple Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) find their crime spree at an abrupt end when they surrender after wounding a cop (Ben Foster) in a shootout. Four years later Bob escapes from prison in search of Ruth and their daughter, Sylvie, born after their arrest. Along the way, his past starts to catch up with him. Set in Texas in the early 1970s and opening at the place where most outlaw films end, Ain’t Them Bodies Saint is a lyrical and moody film about longing and absence, written and directed by Upstream Color (MIFF 2013) editor David Lowery.
DIRECTOR: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
PLOT: In 2010, the orca Tilikum killed one of his Sea World trainers. It was the third death the killer whale had been involved in over two decades in captivity. This eye-opening film focuses on the collision between a five-ton star attraction and a multi-billion dollar theme-park franchise, exploring the relationship between the captured animal and its trainers as it descends into tragedy. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles sensational footage, compelling research and moving interviews to present a gut-wrenching, gritty story that challenges viewers to consider humanity’s relationship with nature and how little we understand our fellow mammals.
DIRECTOR: Ari Folman
PLOT: Ari Folman’s follow-up to the heartrending rotoscoped war meditation Waltz with Bashir (MIFF 2008) is an audacious metaphysical sci-fi satire: a live action set-up that goes down the rabbit hole of looney animation part-way through. Based on a novel by Solaris author Stanislaw Lem, The Congress sees Robin Wright playing Robin Wright, an actress with diminishing options in a savage and surreal movie business. When her agent (Harvey Keitel) delivers an ultimatum, Wright’s only choice is to sell her very identity. Plunged into a lurid Orwellian future, she must rediscover herself, with the help of her personal animator (voiced by Jon Hamm) and human doctor (Paul Giamatti). The Congress erupts with ideas, proving Folman a formidable creative force in our real-world film industry.
DIRECTOR: Joe Swanberg
PLOT: On the back of a SXSW premiere, Joe Swanberg presents his 14th feature: the relationship comedy, Drinking Buddies. Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) are colleagues at a microbrewery whose flirtation-riddled friendship oozes chemistry. With both in relationships – Luke with Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Kate with Chris (Ron Livingstone) – an overnight beach trip for the foursome becomes a tipping point. Cast members Wilde and Kendrick are given the refreshing freedom to play against type, and combined with Swanberg’s trademark improv-heavy dialogue and cinematographer Ben Richardson’s (Beasts of the Southern Wild, MIFF 2012) intimate photography, Drinking Buddies is a revitalising departure from the syrupy, focus-group tested packages that permeate the rom-com genre.
DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler
PLOT: Inspired by a senseless police shooting in Oakland in the first hours of 2009, and produced by Forest Whitaker, Fruitvale Station was the toast of Sundance – winning both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award. Prodigious first-time writer and director Ryan Coogler starkly observes pivotal moments in the too-short life of a conflicted youth, while Michael B Jordan (The Wire) delivers a star-making turn as the ex-con and father, with The Help‘s Octavia Spencer as his mother and Melonie Diaz his feisty girlfriend. Grant’s death was caught on cell phone video, the tragedy sparking nationwide commentary over race and violent protests about police brutality. Fruitvale Station reminds us that every martyr is also just a man. Winner of the Un Certain Regard Best First Film award at Cannes 2013.
DIRECTOR: Tobias Lindholm
PLOT: Tobias Lindholm (co-writer of The Hunt, MIFF 2012) settles into his second stint behind the camera in typically taut style, crafting an intelligent, intricate thriller ripped from the headlines. Forgoing sensationalist action in favour of an almost unbearably tense realism, he chronicles the capture of a Danish freighter by Somali pirates. The Killing‘s Søren Malling takes charge as the shipping company’s CEO, handling the ransom demands in-house. Cross-cutting between the plight of the hostages and the extended negotiations to secure their safety, the film is claustrophobic in its confined dual focus and volatile in its suspense as growing tensions onboard and offshore threaten catastrophe. Applauded on the international festival circuit with screenings at Venice, Toronto and London films festivals, A Hijacking is “a detailed, gripping and powerful high-seas hostage tale”, according to Indiewire. Malling scored the Danish Film Academy’s 2013 Best Leading Actor award ahead of A Royal Affair‘s Mads Mikkelsen, while A Hijacking took Best Feature Film and Best Screenplay.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
DIRECTOR: Hirokazu Kore-eda
PLOT: Ryota is a successful Tokyo architect who works long hours to provide for his wife, Midori, and six-year-old son, Keita. But when a blood test reveals Keita and another baby were switched at birth, two very different families are thrown together and forced to make a difficult decision while Ryota confronts his own issues of responsibility and what it means to be a father. Like Father, Like Son extends the Japanese cinema tradition of familial exploration to deliver a gentle and moving story of personal redemption that playfully navigates its way through the drama, as directed by the always-sensitive Hirokazu Kore-eda (I Wish, MIFF 2012). Winner of the Cannes 2013 Jury Prize.
DIRECTOR: Jeffery Friedman & Rob Epstein
PLOT: Raised in a strict religious family, Linda Boreman thought she’d found freedom and the good life when she married the charismatic but controlling Chuck Traynor. He led her into porn, and Deep Throat made her an instant celebrity as Linda Lovelace. Cavorting with Hugh Hefner, she became an enthusiastic mouthpiece for hedonism, but allegations of depraved abuse soon emerged, documented in her gruelling anti-porn memoir Ordeal. Porn icon or abuse victim? Lovelace tackles the question, following the Deep Throat star’s scandalous career and uncovering her tragic secrets. Amanda Seyfried excels depicting the unwitting naïf and the damaged but defiant woman she became. With a strong supporting cast (including Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria and James Franco, as well as Robert Patrick and a fearless Sharon Stone as Linda’s parents) and assured directing from Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Howl), the film reveals the conflicted nature of sexual liberation in the 70s.
DIRECTOR: Sebastian Silva
PLOT: When Alicia (Juno Temple, from Killer Joe, MIFF 2012) flies from California to Chile in order to spend time with her cousin Sarah, she finds herself taken on an island holiday with Sarah’s friends. Unable to speak the language, Alicia grows anxious at her unfamiliar surroundings and when Sarah has to leave, Alicia’s social isolation and insomnia take hold, leading to increasingly erratic behaviour. Writer/director Sebastián Silva (Old Cats, MIFF 2011) scored a Golden Globe nomination and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for his breakout film The Maid (MIFF 2009), and returns with this horror film unlike any other: an unsettling, claustrophobic tale of schizophrenia and sexuality. Temple leads an impressive cast that includes an against-type Michael Cera, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Australia’s Emily Browning, while Christopher Doyle’s hypnotic widescreen cinematography lends the piece a suitably creepy, otherworldly tone.
DIRECTOR: Ivan Sen
PLOT: Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) returns to the remote outback town in which he grew up to solve the murder of an Indigenous teen, found in a drain under a highway. After years away in the city, Swan feels alienated from the police force, his community and his own daughter, but when he discovers there’s a serial killer at large they’ll all have to work together. Award-winning director Ivan Sen (Dreamland, MIFF 2010; Toomelah, MIFF 2011) crafts a subtle commentary on the socio-political context surrounding the case, effortlessly switching tonal gears from high tension to self-deprecating comedy with ease. As scriptwriter, editor, cinematographer and director, Sen has created a stunningly distinctive film, supported by a cast that includes Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten, Jack Thompson, Jack Charles, Tasma Walton and Damian Walshe-Howling.
DIRECTOR: Asghar Farhadi
PLOT: Iranian director Asghar Farhadi follows up the breakout success of the Oscar-winning A Separation (MIFF 2011) with another intimate drama that delves unflinchingly into familial turmoil. Returning to Paris from Tehran in order to finalise his divorce with Marie (Bérénice Bejo in her Cannes 2013 Best Actress Award-winning role), Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) finds the situation has not become any less complicated in his lengthy absence: Marie’s new partner (Tahar Rahim, Our Children, MIFF 2012) is now living in the house with his own child and Marie’s teen daughter from an earlier marriage disapproves; but her simmering anger has deeper roots in unresolved issues from the past. Unmasking their motivations and sentiments at a measured pace, Farhadi’s sympathy for each of his characters manifests exquisitely in this powerful piece of filmmaking.
DIRECTOR: Mark Hartley
PLOT: Patrick, a young coma patient, has been lying in a hospital bed for years, unable to communicate with anyone. When a beautiful nurse catches his eye, Patrick’s latent psychic powers begin to emerge, and soon threaten the lives of everyone in the hospital. Supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, Mark Hartley moves into the realm of fiction, remaking the 1978 Ozploitation classic he so famously celebrated in his 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood (MIFF 2008). With a cast including Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under), Sharni Vinson (You’re Next, MIFF 2013), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) and Damon Gameau (Balibo, MIFF 2009), Patrick is a confronting horror that pays tribute to its predecessor as it reinvents it for the 21st century.
DIRECTOR: David Gordon Green
PLOT: In the summer of 1988 two mismatched tent-mates – uptight, introspective Alvin (Paul Rudd) and his girlfriend’s younger brother, antsy partygoer Lance (Emile Hirsch) – get a dead-end job repainting lane markers down the middle of a long, fire-ravaged stretch of country highway. Alone in this enchanting, isolated landscape where time appears to hold little meaning, this odd couple develop an unlikely but ultimately warm friendship. Shot over 16 days to capture the aftermath of a wildfire at Bastrop State Park in Texas, Prince Avalanche signals a return to indie form for director and MIFF favourite David Gordon Green, more in keeping with his early films All the Real Girls (MIFF 2003) and George Washington (MIFF 2000). A loose remake of the Icelandic film Either Way by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, Prince Avalanche is a comic and melancholic study of loneliness, fraternity and masculinity. Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlinale.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW
DIRECTOR: James Ponsoldt
PLOT: For Sutter, a charming high-school senior and budding alcoholic, the now is all that matters. It is where he can live in the moment and be the life of the party. But after a post-breakup bender, he meets shy Aimee and the pair forms an unlikely bond, as Sutter pines for his ex and searches for an estranged father. With strong performances from the young cast, which won a special jury award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now dodges cliché to deliver an accessible, powerful and honest coming-of-age story.
THESE FINAL HOURS
DIRECTOR: Zak Hilditch
PLOT: What would you do on the last day on Earth? With the end of the world only hours away, the self-absorbed James heads to the ultimate party-to-end-all-parties. On his way there, he saves the life of a young girl named Rose who is searching desperately for her missing father. This simple act sets James on a path to redemption. The feature film debut of writer/director Zak Hilditch, These Final Hours will have its World Premiere at MIFF. Featuring a fresh, local take on the apocalypse subgenre with a cast that includes Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek), Sarah Snook (Not Suitable for Children), Daniel Henshall (Snowtown), Jessica De Gouw (Arrow) and Lynette Curran (The Boys), it was supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund and inspired by Hilditch’s ACTAA award-winning short film Transmission.
TIM WINTON’S THE TURNING
DIRECTOR: Anthony Lucas, Ashlee Page, Claire McCarthy, David Wenham, Ian Meadows, Jonathan auf der Heide, Jub Clerc, Justin Kurzel, Marieka Walsh, Mia Wasikowska, Rhys Graham, Robert Connolly, Shaun Gladwell, Simon Stone, Stephen Page, Tony Ayres, Warwick Thornton, Yaron Lifschitz
PLOT: Seventeen of our finest creative talents take on the bestselling short story collection in Australian history: Tim Winton’s The Turning. In The Turning, Tim Winton turned his peerless eye for the quiet struggles of everyday life upon the seaside town of Angelus, Western Australia. Across three decades and 17 interconnected stories, his story weaves a singular portrait of a remarkable community – one defined by small triumphs, fading dreams and the inimitable Australian coast, by turns both beautiful and dangerous. The MIFF Premiere Fund-supported film Tim Winton’s The Turning is produced by Robert Connolly (Balibo, MIFF 2009) and Maggie Miles and sees some of Australia’s most acclaimed directors, actors, visual artists and screenwriters vividly bringing to life Winton’s vision. Featuring contributions from David Wenham, Mia Wasikowska, Justin Kurzel (Blue Tongue, MIFF 2005), Tony Ayres (The Home Song Stories, MIFF 2007), Warwick Thornton and more, plus appearances from Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Robyn Nevin, Miranda Otto, Susie Porter, Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving among others, Tim Winton’s The Turning is sure to stand as a watershed moment in modern Australian filmmaking.
A TOUCH OF SIN
DIRECTOR: Jia Zhang-ke
PLOT: The blood hits the floor in this confronting look at modern China and the domestic conflict its newfound wealth has wrought. Following four characters from different provinces, A Touch of Sin tells the story of a miner as he revolts against corruption, a migrant worker who finds possibility in a firearm, a receptionist assaulted by a rich client and a young factory worker desperate to improve his situation. With input from Takeshi Kitano’s production office, brutal flourishes and stories drawn from real-life Chinese headlines, acclaimed director Jia Zhang-ke (I Wish I Knew, MIFF 2011) has built an angry, gritty, beautifully shot drama that traverses the lurching superpower from Shanxi coalmines to the gaudy brothels in Dongguan.
TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM
DIRECTOR: Morgan Neville
PLOT: The back-up singers who made great songs greater and enhanced the voices of music icons from Mick Jagger to Stevie Wonder step into the limelight in Morgan Neville’s (Troubadours, MIFF 2011) Twenty Feet From Stardom. Set against an unforgettable soundtrack and shining the spotlight on these larger-than-life men and women – the unsung heroes behind the biggest hits of the past few decades – Neville’s thoroughly enjoyable Sundance opening night selection builds a contextual collage punctuated with archival footage and interviews with music industry luminaries including Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon. The result is a genuinely fresh perspective into an often-overlooked part of modern music history.
DIRECTOR: Marta Cunningham
PLOT: “He was solving a problem.” That’s how one juror describes the actions of Brandon McInerney, a 14-year-old from Oxnard, California, who shot and killed his cross-dressing classmate Lawrence King. Serving a 21-year sentence for second-degree murder, Brandon has been cast as both monster and victim, but the truth of the matter is far more complex – and uncomfortable. In the timely Valentine Road, first-time filmmaker Marta Cunningham unpicks the story of a modern-day tragedy. Winning the trust of a town in mourning, Cunningham weaves a clear-eyed, challenging and impassioned portrait of middle American collapse and the often tragic consequences of everyday intolerance.
DIRECTOR: Haifaa Al-Mansour
PLOT: The first feature ever shot entirely inside Saudi Arabia, by the country’s first female director, Wadjda is a boundary-pushing gem. Centred on the simple premise of a young girl who desperately wants a bike so she can race against her best friend, this charming coming-of-age story with a winning central character – the spunky, smart and resourceful Wadjda – offers a fascinating and rare insight into daily life in the Saudi capital Riyadh, a city never before seen on film, in a country with no cinemas. Light-hearted in tone, it looks at life as a young female in this ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom through a series of beautifully judged vignettes. Newcomer Waad Mohammed as the title character is a natural, while director Haifaa Al-Mansour (who studied film at Sydney University) crafts a vital, feminist film full of hope.
DIRECTOR: Adam Wingard
PLOT: Aubrey and Paul are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary, and their four grown-up children have returned home with their partners to help them do so. During the party, a group of violent assailants wearing animal masks burst into the room, clearly intending to kill everyone there. The family must find a means of escape, all the while continuing their petty arguments. Playing to huge acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival, Fantastic Fest and SXSW, You’re Next is a horror that doesn’t skimp on the violence, or the laughs. Featuring a breakout performance from Australia’s Sharni Vinson (Patrick, MIFF 2013), and strong support from Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz and Ti West (The Innkeepers, MIFF 2011), this is the full-on gore-fest that horror fans have been waiting for.
Well, there you have it. These are the 22 films I’ll be seeing at MIFF 2013. Keep a look for my video reviews for all these films over the next few weeks. Also follow me at www.twitter.com/BedeJermyn for my daily random thoughts and first reactions to all the films at the festival.
– Bede Jermyn