Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard was the film I was most looking forward to this year and the screening I went to was its world premiere, where director Richard Lowenstein revealed that it had only been completed at 5pm the previous day! I am aware that there is a danger with heaping praise on a documentary simply because you like its subject matter, but in the past I have enjoyed docos about subjects I’m not interested in and I have been critical of docos that have poorly presented things I am passionate about. So with as much objectivity as possible, I really do think that Lowenstein and his team have done a wonderful job conveying the life and times of Rowland S Howard. The interviews, music clips and archival footage are woven together beautifully to capture the type of person Howard was during key parts of his life and to also convey the power of his music. Both his song writing and guitar playing are celebrated to express the intensity of The Birthday Party in concert, the legacy of the song ‘Shivers’ and the power that Howard’s later work had on whole new generation of music fans. Autoluminescent is a highlight of the festival and a rare doco that I’d happily watch again, and hopefully soon.
[EDIT 7/11/2011: Read a full review of Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard]
Before the Howard doco I caught another Australian film: Ivan Sen’s Toomelah about a troubled 10-year-old boy who befriends the local drug dealers. Toomelah has a lot in common with Mad Bastards since it not only features actor Dean Daley-Jones in a supporting role, but it’s about absent fathers and disconnection from culture in an Indigenous Australian community. Sen captures the dynamics of the community by filming on location and predominantly using non-professional actors living in the former Mission in rural New South Wales. While overall not as compelling as Mad Bastards, Toomelah features a very strong performance by Daniel Conners as the boy searching for adult guidance in a situation where there doesn’t seem to be a lot on offer.
Similarly to Daniel in Toomelah, 11-year-old Cyril in The Kid with a Bike is full of rage and looking for a father figure after being abandoned by his own dad. Despite finding a woman who seems willing to care for him, Cyril is drawn to a local drug dealer. A few days ago when discussing Win Win, I mentioned the trend in films where a troubled youth is taken in by a kindly family. The Kid with a Bike is a pleasing antidote to the simplicity of some of these films as it presents Cyril as a really difficult boy, to the extent that you question why a virtual stranger puts up with him. The reason is because she’s a good person who can see past the horrible behaviour. A main theme in the film is the consequences of choosing whether or not to forgive and give a second chance to somebody who has done wrong. Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike typically contains their brilliant faux cinéma vérité look, where the cinematography is expertly crafted and controlled despite the film looking like it was shot on the run. There is also an incredible sensation of movement throughout the film with Cyril constantly running and cycling towards a promise of something that he’s always too late for.
[EDIT 12/3/2012: Read a full review of The Kid with a Bike]
MIFF fatigue conquered me yesterday as I slept through my alarm and missed the International Shorts – O Canada! program, which I was really looking forward to. I had previously seen the excellent Sophie Lavoie and the Spike Jonze/Arcade Fire film Scenes from the Suburbs won’t exactly be difficult to track down, but I had wanted to get the big screen experience. On the other hand, I got my first proper nights sleep since the festival began and ate a meal that was hot and home-cooked. Just when I thought my MIFF fatigue had lifted my wife asked me why I was sitting at my computer miaowing like a cat. Trying to communicate with cats is a thing I do sometimes, except I’m usually aware that I’m doing it.
One fun thing to note in screenings now is who still loudly laughs at the advertisements that play before every film. It’s a good way of spotting who in the cinema is seeing their first film at the festival, as the regular attendees are pretty familiar with the gags in the ads by now. Having said that, the MIFF ads this year are so good that I’m still enjoying them and I’m enjoying hearing other people respond to them for the first time. I still find the VicRoads ad quite cute too, but I’m hearing voices of dissent about that from elsewhere. Somebody even described it as this year’s Yalumba Wine ad, which I thought was harsh.
Show us your MIFF
Those of you on Twitter probably already know Paul Anthony Nelson, who has a remarkable ability to ever so concisely sum up his responses to films in 140 characters or less on his account @mrpaulnelson. An ill-timed work assignment prohibits him from seeing the 60-odd films he’d hoped to see this year, but he’s still aiming for the low 50s. He’s been coming to MIFF since 1998, where he saw four films from a Blaxploitation retrospective and fell in love. This year his highlights have been Melancholia, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Super. Attending the Australian premiere of Inglourious Basterds in 2009 and sitting within ten feet of director Quentin Tarantino, one of his heroes, has been his biggest MIFF highlight to date. Paul jokes that Tarantino has since taken a restraining order out against him. I’m not sure if that really is a joke. To get through the festival Paul recommends plenty of Vitamin C wherever possible, always having muesli bars on hand and taking a break between films every so often, if only to check out the wonderous Festival Lounge at the Forum. Paul’s all-time favourite film is The Godfather, which he describes as ‘cinematic perfection if that is possible’. Outside of MIFF you can hear Paul talking about films on the Hell is for Hyphenates podcast, encouraging others to write about films at Why I Adore and making his own films through his production company Cinema Viscera.