Bede’s 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival Preview


You know I think that it’s pretty much an understatement about how excited I am at the moment. Why am I excited about you ask? It’s because one of my favourite times of the year as a film geek is finally here. Yes, that’s right people: it’s MIFF time! It’s that time of year once again when my adoptive home town of Melbourne celebrates one of the most prestigious film festivals in Australia: the Melbourne International Film Festival (hence MIFF for short). Over the course of 18 days the festival will be showcasing over 344 films ranging from many different countries all over the world. This will be my 5th year covering the festival for and I really pumped for it. The last four years I’ve attending MIFF have been a lot of fun and I have a feeling this is going to be another great one as well (a lot of films that have made top 10 end of year lists between 2012-2015, have included many films that have screened at MIFF. Some even making my number 1 spot too. Will that happen again this year? We shall see.

There are a lot of great films playing at MIFF this year, some of which are highly anticipated by myself and many other Aussie film buffs. This year in particular will feature many brand new films from the world’s most acclaimed and highly respect filmmakers (Paul Verhoeven, Pedro Almodóvar, Jim Jarmusch, Park Chan-wook, Werner Herzog, Kelly Reichardt, Nicolas Winding Refn, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Asghar Farhadi, Tom Tykwer and Alex Gibney just to name a few). There are some films that are playing at the festival that I’m highly anticipating (ELLE, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS), but I won’t be able to see due to very busy festival schedule. Like in previous years, I’ll be focusing on films that either don’t have a release date yet or they won’t be released until much later this year or sometime next year. So which films will I be checking out instead? Out of all the films that will be playing at MIFF this year, I’ve picked 38 films. I was hoping to see less films this year but there was just too many good films that I wanted to see (I watched 17 films in 2012, 22 films in 2013, 30 films in 2014 and 34 in 2015. Yep, my list gets bigger and bigger every year). 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, action, foreign and documentary. Plus there are even some selections that I never heard of before until I read about them in the program guide. So which 38 films are they? Well, here’s my complete rundown of what I’ll be seeing at MIFF 2016…



DIRECTOR: Hirokazu Kore-eda


PLOT: A once-successful novelist is trapped in a mire of gambling addiction and long-overdue child support payments. Working as a private detective to make ends meet, he begins to spy on his ex-wife and son in a bid to re-enter their lives. A typhoon brings them together at last; but there is no way of knowing which way a storm will blow. One of Japan’s most acclaimed modern filmmakers, Hirokazu Kore-eda (Like Father Like Son, MIFF 2013) here adds another chapter to his career-long exploration of the emotional intricacies that make up family relationships. Built on wonderfully subtle performances, After the Storm is a deeply humanistic work that is as sweet as it is melancholy.



DIRECTOR: Irene Taylor Brodsky


PLOT: The true-crime obsession sparked by Making a Murderer and The Jinx continues in knuckle-biting fashion with Beware the Slenderman, a story that is still unfolding in real-time. The film, though, is best viewed with nothing more than a cursory knowledge of the events behind it: in 2014, 12-year-old friends Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser stabbed another 12-year-old, Payton ‘Bella’ Leutner, 19 times to appease a fictional internet meme: an elongated, faceless bogeyman called Slenderman. Remarkably, Bella lived, and her young attackers now wait for their judgment in court. When asked why they did it, Morgan replied, “Because it was necessary.” Using snippets from the police interrogations of the two girls, interviews with their parents, sessions with online and psychological experts, and a brilliantly assembled montage of online ephemera, Beware the Slenderman poses the bigger questions of accountability at a time when technology is ubiquitous and readily accessible by impressionable minds.



DIRECTOR: Robert Budreau


PLOT: In what critics are hailing a career-best performance, Ethan Hawke plays legendary jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker in Robert Budreau’s free-form sophomore feature. Resisting traditional biopic tropes, Born to Be Blue weaves together a blend of factual and fictional events from Baker’s life in the late 1960s, creatively improvising in a way that befits its subject matter. It begins with a film-within-a-film – Baker playing himself in the movie version of his already tumultuous life. Addicted to heroin, Baker must struggle to learn his trumpet technique again after a brutal bashing at the hands of a drug dealer leaves him near paralysed. Hawke portrays the immortal musician with both intensity and vulnerable sensitivity, also lending his wistful vocals to the soundtrack. He’s ably accompanied by Carmen Ejogo playing Jane, who is both an amalgamation of Baker’s various lovers in the film-within-a-film, and his real-life devoted partner, who spurs her man to get off the junk and back up on stage.





PLOT: Devout father Ben Cash (an excellent Viggo Mortensen) and his six children live in self-imposed isolation deep within the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Calling an assemblage of yurts and treehouses home, he teaches them Marxism and hunting skills while substituting the celebration of Christmas for Noam Chomsky’s birthday instead. It isn’t until tragedy strikes that Ben is forced to pack his VW (named Steve) and leave his counterculture paradise to embark on a five-day sojourn to New Mexico, exposing his children to Western capitalist culture for the first time. Under the emotive directorial microscope of actor-turned-director Matt Ross (who scored the Un Certain Regard directing award at Cannes), and with glittering performances from the six youths, and gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Stéphane Fontaine, Captain Fantastic is a heartfelt exposition of the mystifying challenges of fatherhood, fundamental familial values and finding one’s sense of place in a world so often defined by societal constructs



DIRECTOR: Kelly Reichardt


PLOT: Kelly Reichardt (Night Moves, MIFF 2014) continues her love affair with the American landscape and those who linger within its midst in her sixth feature. Across a triptych of vignettes, the writer/director examines small-town traditions and troubles, following three women finding their way forward through trying circumstances. In the sleepy foothills of Montana, a lawyer (Laura Dern) juggles personal turmoil, a tense hostage situation and a difficult worker’s compensation case. Nearby, a couple (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros) build the foundation for a new home while shattering the basis of their marriage, and a rancher (Lily Gladstone) bonds with a law-school graduate (Kristen Stewart). Observed with Reichardt’s usual empathy and incisiveness, their tales capture everyday moments, choices and encounters that seem insignificant but slowly prove otherwise. Boasting cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt’s distinctive documentary-meets-arthouse aesthetic, as well as subtle yet powerful performances from the all-star cast, Certain Women doesn’t just offer a slice of Midwest life; it presents a simmering insight into the physical isolation and male domination of rural existence.



DIRECTOR: Antonio Campos


PLOT: Antonio Campos’ gripping take on the real-life story of Christine Chubbuck, a television journalist who committed suicide live on air, Christine features Rebecca Hall (The Gift, MIFF 2015) in a bravura performance, supported by a stellar cast that includes Tracy Letts (Indignation, MIFF 2016) and Michael C Hall. While Campos continues his fascination with damaged mental and emotional states – including as a producer of James White (MIFF 2015) and Martha Marcy May Marlene (MIFF 2011) – it is his leading lady’s career-best portrayal that truly pulls the trigger in this tragic tale. Where Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine (also screening in this year’s program) contemplates the event from a documentary perspective as much about the nature of performance as it is about its subject, Christine presents a dramatic, stylistically daring account of this most shocking chapter in US news history.



DIRECTOR: Thomas Vinterberg


PLOT: Collaborating again with co-writer Tobias Lindholm (A War, MIFF 2016), Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt, MIFF 2012) returns to his homeland with his new film, inspired partly by his own childhood experiences of living on a commune. When architecture lecturer Erik inherits his father’s vast country estate in a small town north of Copenhagen, his wife Anna suggests they live there and invite their friends to join them. It’s the mid-1970s and she’s embracing the collective spirit of the time, as well as hoping to inject new life into their marriage. At first it’s all nude swims, bonfires and friendly shared meals. But fractures form when Erik starts seeing a student and Anna’s jealousy gets in the way of her idealism. Anchored by a wrenching performance from Trine Dyrholm as Anna (which won her the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2016 Berlinale), The Commune is an affectionate and perceptive investigation into human relationships and family dynamics, proving yet again that Vinterberg is a master of ensemble dramas.



DIRECTOR: Cris Jones


PLOT: Otto Bloom is experiencing his life in reverse, passing through time backwards while remembering the future. Is he a psychic, a time traveller, a madman or living proof of Einstein’s theory of relativity? When neuropsychologist Dr Ada Fitzgerald was called in to examine Otto Bloom, a young man with amnesia and an uncanny ability to predict upcoming events, little did she know the experience would change her life – and upend humanity’s understanding of time itself. Bloom claimed he experienced time in reverse, with our future his past. He also seemed to know more about Ada than she knew herself. We all know the truth now, of course, and in this MIFF Premiere Fund-supported feature debut, Melbourne director Cris Jones (short films The Funk, MIFF 2008; Excursion, MIFF 2003) assembles a who’s who of Bloom’s nearest and dearest to try to unravel the incredible mystery of the man: artistic genius, messianic visionary, madman … he may have been all these things, but more than anything, he was just a man searching for love and meaning in a bewildering world.



DIRECTOR: Sean Byrne


PLOT: Audiences worldwide have waited with bated breath to see how debut Australian filmmaker Sean Byrne would follow up his delightfully demented teen dating horror, The Loved Ones (MIFF Premiere Fund, 2009). Six years on, and he delivers the US-produced The Devil’s Candy, securing his mantle as a horror genre director who knows how to toy with viewers. The set-up will be familiar: a happy family moves into their dream home only to find it marred with a terrible secret. Although the headbanging painter (Ethan Embry) is under pressure to support his wife (Shiri Appleby) and pre-teen daughter (Kiara Glasco) on artist’s wages, they are a tight-knit unit – that is, until the bounds of their relationship are tested with the mentally disturbed former resident (Pruitt Taylor Vince) turning up to reclaim his home. Part possession thriller, part haunted house and serial killer story, The Devil’s Candy evocatively offers heavy metal music and visual art as an expression of satanic insanity. Metal mavens will be thrilled.



DIRECTOR: Neil Triffett


PLOT: What happens when a brooding, moody high-school emo falls for a happy, God-loving Christian believer? Having been kicked out of his old school, Ethan just wants to start afresh. And after being accepted to join his new school’s grungy emo band, Worst Day Ever, he thinks he’s finally found his place. But when the school’s sunshine-and-rainbows Hope Group decides to compete alongside Worst Day Ever in the local band comp, it pits the ideologically and musically opposed bands against each other. There couldn’t be a worse time for Emo Ethan and the Hope Group’s kind-hearted, faithful singer Trinity to fall in love. Expanded from his Berlinale 2013 award-winning short film, Neil Triffett’s debut feature is a cheerfully irreverent take on Romeo and Juliet-style star-crossed love, via High School Musical and Glee. Supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, and featuring Rahart Adams (Nowhere Boys, MIFF 2013), Benson Jack Anthony (800 Words) and newcomer Jordan Hare alongside Adam Zwar, Bridie Carter and Dylan Lewis, it’s a sweetly satirical (and, given this year’s Safe Schools controversies, timely) story about tolerance, individuality and harmonising.



DIRECTOR: Lucile Hadžihalilović


PLOT: Nicolas lives with his mother on a remote island inhabited only by women and young boys. Here, in a hospital overlooking the ocean, the women administer mysterious medical treatments to their sons. But when Nicolas spies the rotting corpse of another young boy, he begins to question his situation and surroundings. Similar to her husband and collaborator, Gaspar Noé – she contributed to the screenplay for Enter the Void (MIFF 2015) – Lucile Hadžihalilović (Innocence, MIFF 2005) demonstrates an uncanny ability for conceptualising new worlds and evoking an eerily surreal grotesquerie that will come back to haunt you. Her ultra slow-burn take on body-horror contrasted against magnificent underwater imagery is at once disgusting and sensual, sinister and sublime.



DIRECTOR: Rosie Jones


PLOT: An incendiary, heartbreaking investigation into one of Australia’s most notorious cults, and the scars its victims still bear today. Anne Hamilton-Byrne was beautiful, charismatic, delusional and damaged. She was also incredibly dangerous. Convinced she was a living god, Hamilton-Byrne headed an apocalyptic sect dubbed The Family, which was prominent in Melbourne through the 60s and 70s. With her husband Bill, she acquired numerous children – some through adoption scams, some born to cult members – and raised them as her own. Isolated from the outside world, the children were dressed in matching outfits, had identically dyed blonde hair, and were allegedly beaten, starved and injected with LSD. Taught that Hamilton-Byrne was both their mother and the messiah, the children were eventually rescued during a police raid in the mid 80s, but their trauma had only just begun. Melbourne director Rosie Jones (The Triangle Wars, MIFF 2011) has spent years digging into disturbing mysteries of The Family. With survivors and cult members telling their stories on camera (the now adult children’s resilience is inspiring), alongside the Australian and international police who worked the case, this confronting MIFF Premiere Fund-supported documentary exposes not just what happened within the still-operating sect but also within the conservative Melbourne community that allowed The Family to flourish.



DIRECTOR: Charlie Lyne


PLOT: Do horror movies know us better than we know ourselves? Filmmaker and critic Charlie Lyne ruminates on this question in this “collage feature” – a film form he perfected in Beyond Clueless, his debut about the mores of teen movies – constructed entirely from the visuals of horror films. In taking us on a journey through cinematic fear, Lyne not only scrutinises sensation but also effectively conjures it. He uses the ‘character’ of the narrator (Amy E Watson) to function as a guiding hand leading us through a feature-length roll call of frightening moments that goes beyond the usual suspects: from Frankenstein (1931), Night of the Demon (1957) and The Tenderness of Wolves(1973) to Suspiria (1977), Raat (1992) and It Follows (MIFF 2014) to name just a handful. Our narrator even has her own story that gets fleshed out aurally amid the visceral visual onslaught. Unassumingly impressive, Fear Itself has the primordial power to make us succumb to fear even when we are attempting to analyse the horror genre in a scholarly context.



DIRECTOR: Matthew Ross


PLOT: Do horror movies know us better than we know ourselves? Filmmaker and critic Charlie Lyne ruminates on this question in this “collage feature” – a film form he perfected in Beyond Clueless, his debut about the mores of teen movies – constructed entirely from the visuals of horror films. In taking us on a journey through cinematic fear, Lyne not only scrutinises sensation but also effectively conjures it. He uses the ‘character’ of the narrator (Amy E Watson) to function as a guiding hand leading us through a feature-length roll call of frightening moments that goes beyond the usual suspects: from Frankenstein (1931), Night of the Demon (1957) and The Tenderness of Wolves(1973) to Suspiria (1977), Raat (1992) and It Follows (MIFF 2014) to name just a handful. Our narrator even has her own story that gets fleshed out aurally amid the visceral visual onslaught. Unassumingly impressive, Fear Itself has the primordial power to make us succumb to fear even when we are attempting to analyse the horror genre in a scholarly context.



DIRECTORS: Andrew Neel


PLOT: College freshman Brad is determined to pledge the Phi Sigma Mu fraternity: they throw the best parties, they get the best girls, and your brothers have your back. To get in, he must submit to a punishing hazing ritual, filled with humiliating degradations and life-threatening endurance tests. It’s a week of hell and Brad – the recent victim of a brutal and unprovoked attack – must decide if the life that awaits him on the other side is worth fighting for. Based on Brad Land’s memoir, Goat is a powerful and profound look at the state of American masculinity from director Andrew Neel (Darkon, MIFF 2006). Produced by Christine Vachon and featuring a script co-written by David Gordon Green (Joe, MIFF 2014; Prince Avalanche, MIFF 2013), the film boasts stand-out performances from Ben Schnetzer (Pride), former pop star Nick Jonas, and James Franco (who also co-produces). An insight into the American psyche, Goat submits us to the extraordinary and toxic rituals that forge the world’s future politicians and business leaders.



DIRECTOR: Park Chan-wook


PLOT: Double-crosses fly and identities morph in The Handmaiden, MIFF favourite Park Chan-wook’s (Stoker, MIFF 2013) erotically charged adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Booker Prize-nominated sapphic opus, Fingersmith. Transposing the Victorian setting of the original into a vividly realised and sumptuously shot 1930s Korea, Park delivers a work of razor-sharp humour and unexpected pleasures that will have you guessing until the final piece of clothing drops to the floor. Sooki, a beautiful young pickpocket, has been dispatched by a master conman known as The Count to become handmaiden to naive Japanese heiress Hideko (Kim Min-hee, also seen in Right Now, Wrong Then in this year’s program). The plan: lure Hideko into falling in love with The Count and as soon as they’re married lock her in a mental asylum and claim her vast fortune. However, Hideko is far from what she seems and when handmaiden and mistress fall in love, the stage is set for a dangerous and sexually explicit power play that could leave all three of them unmoored.




DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodóvar


PLOT: Years have passed since Julieta’s teenage daughter walked out on her. With no word on her child’s whereabouts, she prepares to leave Spain behind for good but a chance encounter triggers an onslaught of memories and leads Julieta to turn her life upside down. Adapted from three short stories by Nobel Prize-winner Alice Munro, Julieta is the 20th feature from Spain’s iconic filmmaker, Pedro Almodóvar (I’m So Excited, MIFF 2013; Pepi, Luci, Bom and the Other Girls, MIFF 91). With its sumptuous colour schemes and twisting, suspenseful narrative, Julieta is a moving evocation of a woman’s journey through grief and acceptance that easily sits among the director’s finest melodramas.



DIRECTOR: Robert Greene


PLOT: In 1974, television reporter Christine Chubbuck took her own life during a live news broadcast in Sarasota, Florida, becoming the first person in history to commit suicide on air. Now, more than four decades later, actor Kate Lyn Sheil prepares to play the part of the troubled journalist in a version of her story. As Kate trawls through Christine’s past to get ready for the role, tries to do justice to her memory, and finds her sense of self changed by the experience, Kate Plays Christine tells the tale of both women. Picking up the thematic threads of his MIFF 2015 film Actress, director Robert Greene – along with cinematographer Sean Price Williams (Queen of Earth and Heaven Knows What, both MIFF 2015;Listen Up Philip, MIFF 2014) – pieces together a portrait of an infamous tragedy as well as an examination both of the performance process and of cinema’s capacity to reveal the truth about anyone. Combining research, retellings and re-enactments in an effort reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s best, Greene’s blurring of fact and fiction represents an extraordinary experiment in documentary filmmaking – for which he won the US Documentary Special Jury Award for Writing at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.



DIRECTOR: Roger Ross Williams


PLOT: When he was three years old, Owen Suskind stopped speaking. Diagnosed with autism, he was interested in nothing save for the animated films of the Disney company. Immersing himself in these movies, Owen began communicating using only lines spoken by his favourite characters. Using quotes from the likes of Simba, Ariel and Jafar, Owen was finally able to open up, and his family discovered a porthole into their son’s mind. Inspired by and based on Ron Suskind’s book about his son’s journey from nearly mute toddler to young man seeking independence, Roger Ross Williams’ documentary expertly combines classic Disney sequences and strikingly original hand-drawn animations alongside the Suskind family story. Scoring Williams the award for best directing (US Documentary) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it’s a powerful emotional experience and a knockout insight into how art can shine a light in the darkest of places.





PLOT: When shy but creative 13-year-olds Jake and Tony are thrown together by circumstance – Jake’s parents inherited the building that Tony’s mother has a small dress shop in – they quickly form a friendship that transcends their vastly different cultural and economic backgrounds. The inseparable duo can’t wait to head to a local arts high school together, but when Jake’s parents threaten to evict Tony’s mum if she doesn’t pay a massively increased rent, the two boys will find their bond challenged by forces beyond their control or understanding. An acutely observed, compassionate parable of a New York increasingly defined by gentrification and financial precariousness, Little Men is the latest cinematic chamber piece from Ira Sachs (Love is Strange, MIFF 2014; Keep the Lights On, MIFF 2012). Driven by knockout performances from newcomers Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri as the idealistic Jake and Tony, with fine support from the adults including MIFF 2013 guest Paulina García, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle and Alfred Molina, it’s a heartbreaking yet gently optimistic vision of youthful friendship and the many-faced burdens of maturity.



DIRECTOR: Werner Herzog


PLOT: Celebrated filmmaker Werner Herzog (Into the Abyss, MIFF 2012; Cave of Forgotten Dreams, MIFF 2011) returns with an entertaining, characteristically idiosyncratic look at the connected world in ten chapters. Once a concept that not even the most ambitious science fiction writers predicted, the internet is now a phenomenon that we can barely live without. But what is this system that we so increasingly take for granted, and where is it leading us? Interviewing subjects as diverse as internet pioneers, compulsive gamers in adult nappies and members of a technophobic community living around a space telescope, Herzog explores the hope that this technology inspires – and the deepest fears it provokes.





PLOT:When Sarah (Riley Keough) and Mindy (Jena Malone, also seen in The Neon Demon, screening in the 2016 program) reunite after years of irregular contact, the two instantly pick up where they last left off. As the outgoing Mindy helps Sarah cope with the struggles of raising her young daughter alone while her husband travels for work, something more than friendship flickers between the childhood pals – until circumstances tear the duo apart, before forcing them to confront their feelings three years later. Low-key tales of love, longing and loneliness have long proven writer/director So Yong Kim’s forte in previous efforts Treeless Mountain (MIFF 2009) and In Between Days (MIFF 2006); however Lovesong offers her most raw and resonant feature to date. Anchored by delicate performances by Keough and Malone, the filmmaker crafts a tender account of evolving affections and unspoken emotions that disarms and bewilders audiences as much as it does its characters



DIRECTORS: Gael García Bernal, Anurag Kashyap, Natasha Khan, Sebastian Silva, Sion Sono, Mia Wasikowska.


PLOT: Love bewitches, bewilders, baffles and binds in these six short films united by the power of passion. Hopping between continents, subjects, styles and moods, Madly takes a whirlwind tour of affection, romance and sexual experimentation, aka human connection in all its forms. From the problems of parenthood to the struggles of coming out, no amorous stone is left unturned, including underground sex clubs, ghosts of boyfriends past and the intricacies of pubic grooming. Combining the filmmaking talents of Mia Wasikowska (Tim Winton’s The Turning, MIFF 2013), Anurag Kashyap (Ugly, MIFF 2013), Sion Sono (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, MIFF 2014), Gael García Bernal and MIFF 2015 guest Sebastian Silva, as well as Bat for Lashes’ singer/songwriter Natasha Khan, debuting as a director, the eclectic anthology effort proves as intricate and multifaceted – and as dark, deep, crazy and kinky – as the emotion at its core.



DIRECTOR: Lee Tamahori


PLOT: It’s the 1960s and on the rural East Coast of New Zealand, two sheep-shearing families – the Mahanas and the Poatas – have been enemies for generations. Tamihana (Once Were Warriors‘ Temuera Morrison) is the Mahana clan’s proud and taciturn patriarch, who rules with an iron fist. His teenaged grandson, Simeon, starts challenging his authority after being introduced to George Bernard Shaw at school, and encouraged to speak his mind. Simeon’s newfound confidence to stand up to his tyrannical grandfather leads him to investigate the true cause of the Mahana–Poata rivalry. Mahana offers a welcome and heartfelt homecoming for Tamahori who said “I wanted it to be a loving postcard to a period that I know very well.” Combining aspects of a western with a coming-of-age tale, the film features majestic locations, a stirring soundtrack and a standout performance by newcomer Akuhata Keefe as Simeon.



DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn


PLOT: Co-scripted by playwrights Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, the latest provocation from Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, MIFF 2011) is his first film told from a female point of view. It centres on ravishing young Jesse, a waif-like aspiring model fresh to the meat factory of the LA fashion world – which she immediately sets ablaze, leaving breathless desire and snarling jealousy in her wake. Elle Fanning is luminous as Jesse, with Australians Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote, as well as Jena Malone (Lovesong, MIFF 2016), Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves all compelling in support. An intoxicating eyegasm to behold, the film draws inspiration from sources as varied as the legends of Narcissus and the Countess Báthory, Italian giallo and Alejandro Jodorowsky, Black Swan andSuspiria, and it absolutely revels in its psychedelic, psychotic excess. Darkly comic at times but always surreally scathing, this is sure to be one of the festival’s most spectacular conversation starters.



DIRECTOR: Matt Johnson


PLOT: 1967. Two CIA agents posing as documentary filmmakers infiltrate NASA to weed out a Russian spy, but what they uncover is a conspiracy that could shake the space program to its very core. Following up his Slamdance-winning cult hit The Dirties (MIFF 2014), filmmaker Matt Johnson takes his pastiche docudrama style to the conspiracy-riddled space race at the height of the Cold War. Johnson and his crew actually snuck into NASA themselves under the pretence that they were making a documentary about the moon landing, and tweaked the footage they shot to fit seamlessly within their grainy period piece. The result is an immensely entertaining thriller that plays into all the alternate-history paranoia you could hope for, complete with a visit to the set of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.



DIRECTOR: Jim Jarmusch


PLOT: In the New Jersey town of Paterson, a man by the name of Paterson (Adam Driver, MIFF 2015’sHungry Hearts) drives a bus. He keeps a copy of William Carlos Williams’ epic poem of the same name on his desk . And he’s also a poet. Symmetry and order seem to dictate Paterson’s existence as he follows the same daily routine: writing lines of prose inspired by his passengers, walking his English bulldog to the local bar each night, and coming home to his big-dreaming wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani, MIFF 2013’s The Patience Stone). And yet, in Jim Jarmusch’s (Gimme Danger, MIFF 2016) hands – as aided by Driver at his contemplative best, and gracefully shot by cinematographer Frederick Elmes (Coffee and Cigarettes, MIFF 2004) – a series of amusing coincidences becomes a thoughtful, playful and insightful meditation on the ebbs and flows of life.



DIRECTOR: Olivier Assayas


PLOT: Co-winner of the Cannes Best Director gong, French auteur extraordinaire Olivier Assayas’ (Demonlover MIFF 2002; Irma Vep, MIFF 1997) brand new film is an unconventional ghost story. Maureen works by day as a personal assistant for a celebrity, picking up – and, against instructions, trying on – extravagant dresses for her boss. She is also grieving her twin brother, who she recently lost. When she tries to make contact with him in his deserted mansion, something far more menacing and ungovernable is unleashed. Featuring an idiosyncratic, virtuoso star turn by Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper juxtaposes high fashion with a foreboding atmosphere – a sly exercise in genre subversion by Assayas that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.



DIRECTOR: Michael Dudok de Wit


PLOT: Sixteen years on from his Academy Award-winning short Father and Daughter, Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit makes his feature-length directorial debut with the first ever international co-production from the famed Studio Ghibli. In a majestic world of intricate hand-drawn textures, a shipwrecked man is found marooned on a desert island. With his attempted escapes thwarted by the strange and larger-than-life titular red reptile, the man’s existence is forever altered when something extraordinary occurs. Having recently taken home the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at Cannes, The Red Turtle is a wordless fable of luminous imagery and swirling animation.



DIRECTOR: Asghar Farhadi


PLOT: The latest film from virtuoso Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (The Past, MIFF 2013; A Separation, MIFF 2011) opens in the thick of catastrophe. A couple, Emad and Rana, are forced to evacuate their collapsing apartment building in Tehran. One day in the couple’s new home, Rana is violently injured by an intruder. After the attack, a wall forms between the two as Rana attempts to navigate her conflicting emotions of fear and defensiveness and Emad longs to be Rana’s white knight and wreak revenge on her assailant. Farhadi keeps audiences guessing right until the finale of this neo-realist suspense drama, using Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman as a reference point. In the film, Emad and Rana are playing Willy and Linda Loman in a local production of the play, and as The Salesman progresses, the parallels between the couple’s real life and their theatre roles become more and more apparent. Winner of the Cannes Best Actor (for Shahab Hosseini as Emad) and Best Screenplay awards, The Salesman is a characteristically assured work of observational minutiae and emotional complexity.



DIRECTOR: Yeon Sang-ho


PLOT: Adolescent Hae-sun has run away to Seoul, to live with her boyfriend. But when he tries to force Hae-sun into prostitution, she breaks up with him and takes off into the night. Waiting for a train home, she feels relived to have escaped but when one of the homeless men who sleep in the station begins displaying strange symptoms, Hae-sun finds herself caught in the middle of a terrifying viral outbreak that soon spreads throughout the city. Award-winning director Yeon Sang-ho (The King of Pigs, MIFF 2012) returns to MIFF this year with two, thematically linked, films: the live-action Train to Busan, and its animated prequel, Seoul Station, a visceral and astute blend of horror and social realism. A tale of class struggle and inequity told through the lens of a zombie thriller, the film’s expressive animation and voice cast bring to life its grisly details and poignant emotion equally. Compelling and genuinely scary, Seoul Station is a unique look at modern Korean society.



DIRECTOR: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami


PLOT: Winner of the Grand Jury Prize (World Cinema – Documentary) at Sundance and audience awards at both Sundance and the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, among other prizes, Sonita tells the remarkable, inspiring story of its namesake: a gutsy, defiant 14-year-old Afghan refugee living in Iran whose dream in life is to become the next Rihanna. However rather than money and fame, Sonita raps about what she knows: the misogyny, oppression and forced marriage rampant in her homeland. But when Sonita’s estranged mother turns up on her doorstep to take her back to Afghanistan so Sonita herself can be sold off, the subjects of her art suddenly become very real and dangerous. Acclaimed documentarian Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami turns in her most compassionate, provocative and uplifting work yet in Sonita. An unashamedly personal film that actively blurs the line between observation and involvement, Sonita is the feel-good tale of the year – but one that challenges the very nature of what documentary is or should be.





PLOT: Indisputably the critical smash at this year’s Cannes, the third film from German writer/director Maren Ade (Everyone Else, MIFF 2009) is a dysfunctional father/daughter portrait quite unlike any other: equal parts screwball and sublime, it’s the kind of breathless filmmaking that galvanises even the hardest of cynics. Divorced, middle-aged music teacher Winfried decides to visit his stuffy, corporate daughter Ines, hoping to reconnect with her via his arsenal of eccentric practical jokes. To do so he turns himself into “Toni Erdmann” – his first name inspired by Ade’s love for Andy Kaufman’s alter ego, Tony Clifton – a self-styled “consultant and coach” complete with fright wig and fake teeth. What follows almost defies simple description, as father/daughter animosity reaches absurd heights and Ade’s brilliantly executed masterpiece effortlessly builds to an emotional catharsis that left Cannes critics in rapturous delight – it’s little wonder the film won the festival’s FIPRESCI Prize.



DIRECTOR: Yeon Sang-ho


PLOT: A high-speed train powers towards Busan, carrying a single father trying to connect with his daughter; a pregnant couple; two elderly sisters; a high-school basketball team; and a shady CEO. But a fast-acting virus soon leads to a zombie outbreak, and the passengers must try to survive the onslaught of walking dead closing in on them within the speeding vehicle. Director Yeon Sang-ho (The King of Pigs, MIFF 2012) makes the leap from animation to live action cinema with Train to Busan, his companion to Seoul Station (also playing at MIFF this year), which depicts the lead-up to the events of this film. In the best tradition of zombie movies, Yeon employs a strong social commentary, critiquing his country’s class system as well as its controversial reaction to the 2012 MERS virus, all within this propulsive, adrenaline-fuelled action horror.



DIRECTOR: Babak Anvari


PLOT: Following in the acclaim of Farsi-language hit A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – and drawing from the DNA of The Babadook – this standout debut feature from Babak Anvari offers a novel take on time-honoured horror scares, wrapped in a subversively feminist critique of Iranian sexism. It is post-revolution Tehran in the late 1980s. Shideh is blacklisted from medical school due to her past political activities. As the calamities of war close in around her, she finds herself isolated with her daughter, Dorsa, whose behaviour becomes increasingly strange after an unexploded missile hits their apartment block. Shideh believes the bomb has brought djinn – Middle Eastern spirits that travel on the wind – into their home, and now she must fight these supernatural forces to save herself and her daughter.



DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne


PLOT: Two-time Cannes award winners the Dardennes brothers (Two Days, One Night, MIFF 2014; The Kid with a Bike, MIFF 2011) turn in another pitch-perfect, exquisitely observed character study in the morally complex murder mystery of The Unknown Girl. Working late one night, Jenny, a talented and driven young physician, ignores a buzzing at the front door of her clinic. When the police discover the body of an unidentified African woman the next day, Jenny realises that it was the murdered woman trying to get in. Unable to bear her own complicity in the crime, Jenny becomes obsessed with discovering who the woman was, where she came from and why she died. But as her quest for redemption becomes all-consuming, Jenny herself will come to teeter on the edge of oblivion. Fuelled by a star-making performance from Adèle Haenel as the troubled Jenny and drawing stark beauty from the Dardennes’ trademark naturalist cinematography, The Unknown Girl is yet another sterling entry in one of arthouse cinema’s most remarkable oeuvre



DIRECTOR:  Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg


PLOT:  In 2011, US Democrat Congressman Anthony Weiner was caught in a sexting scandal, sending explicit pictures of himself to multiple women. His wife – Huma Abedin, top aide to Hillary Clinton – stood by her husband during the controversy, and when Weiner resigned from Congress it appeared to all be over. But it was just beginning. Weiner launched a comeback in 2013, running for mayor of New York, and it was during this race that the second scandal broke, one that was even more extraordinary than the first. Filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg received unprecedented access to Anthony Weiner during his mayoral campaign, capturing the furore as it threatens to undo his bid for office. Their film doesn’t just examine Weiner, but also the corrosive culture of American politics and the endless echo chamber of media commentary. Winning the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, Weiner is a funny, fascinating pièce de résistance.



DIRECTOR: Alex Gibney


PLOT: Academy Award winning (for 2007’s Taxi to the Dark Side) documentarian Alex Gibney (Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, MIFF 2015; Finding Fela!, MIFF 2014) turns his fine-tuned investigative eye to the frightening world of state-sponsored cyber warfare. In 2010, IT experts discovered the Stuxnet virus, which had purposely disabled enrichment centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant. Too complex to be the work of a single hacker, the program was traced to a joint US–Israeli intelligence operation codenamed Olympic Games. State-backed Iranian hackers retaliated by infecting the Bank of America with an equally devastating piece of malware, which corrupted systems all over the world. In a few keystrokes, a Pandora’s box of cyber warfare was opened, and there’s no treaty in sight. Containing the depth of research that distinguishes Gibney’s work, Zero Days is a chilling and eye-opening exposé of the new frontier of international surveillance and espionage, and its catastrophic implications for civilian infrastructure and personal freedom.

Well, there you have it. These are the 38 films I’ll be seeing at MIFF 2016. Keep a look for my video reviews for all these films over the course of the festival and also follow me at for my daily random thoughts/first reactions to them as well.

– Bede Jermyn


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