MIFF 2013 recommendations part 2

15 July 2013

Melbourne International Film Festival 2013

Here are some more of my recommendations for the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival based on what I’ve seen so far. Check out part 1 if you haven’t done so already and here are eight more feature films and two more short film packages that I recommend:

The Weight of Elephants

The Weight of Elephants

A heartbreaking and beautiful film about a sensitive 11-year-old going through some pretty intense abandonment issues against the backdrop of news reports about missing children. As good an insight into the anguishes of childhood as I’ve seen and featuring a stunning lead performance from newcomer Demos Murphy as Adrian.

The Crash Reel

A fascinating documentary about the world of extreme sports, and the causalities it produces, through the experiences of snowboarder Kevin Pearce who acquired brain injuries from an accident in 2009. The film also exposes the almost addictive nature of extreme sports and the problem where the demand for thrills from the viewing public is compelling competitors to push themselves further than what is safe to do so.

Starlet

An understated yet surprisingly affecting story about an unlikely friendship between a young woman and an elderly lady. The film successfully holds back important character information so that all the reveals feel natural and startling at the same time.

Blackfish

An emotional expose on the history off orca attacks on their human trainers in sea parks. This is much more than a Save the Whales documentary as it reveals how the conditions in which orcas are captured and then kept at water-themed amusements parks is not only inhumane towards the animals, but puts the lives of the people who work with them at risk.

Stranger by the Lake

Stranger by the Lake

The single location – a beautiful lake and the surround forest used as a cruising spot in southern France – is used to its full potential to deliver a thriller, a love story and a story of platonic friendship. A mysterious film about ritualised behaviour and human connection.

The Spectacular Now

The generic conventions of the teen film are extremely well manipulated to make this into a sophisticated tragedy about a teenage boy throwing his life away and threatening to take down others with him. A surprising and extremely rewarding film.

Approved for Adoption

A beautifully animated memoir about the filmmaker’s experiences as a Korean boy growing up in Belgium as an adopted child. Avoids cliches and sentimentality to explore issues such as cultural identity, belonging and mental illness.

Capturing Dad

A droll and unstated film about two sisters attending their father’s funeral, despite never knowing him and feeling nothing towards him. Unexpectedly moving at times in the way it looks at family dynamics, while at other times containing wickedly dark humour.

International Shorts 1

Day Trip

The first package of international short films includes two films that screened at the Cannes International Film Festival: More Than Two Hours, a tense Iranian drama where a woman requiring medical attention is denied due to the ultra conservative laws, and Butter Lamp, a Tibetian-language film with a stunning final shot. Day Trip is the latest short film by Park Chan-wook and his brother Park Chan-kyong, and it is an odd yet sweet and compelling tribute to traditional Korean music.

International Shorts 2

Two films from Cannes are also in this package including Safe, which won the Short Film Palme d’Or. It is a claustrophobic thriller that gets increasing tense as the film builds to it alarming conclusion. Also nerve-wracking is that French film Just Before Losing Everything, which uses an everyday setting to construct a thriller out of an upsettingly commonplace situation. This collection of films also includes the experimental narrative film Beat starring Ben Whishaw as a man who dances through the streets of London to music only he can hear. It’s simultaneously amusing, confronting and melancholic.

Final recommendations next week…

Thomas Caldwell
Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator
Melbourne International Film Festival

MIFF 2013: Next Gen

13 May 2013
Next Gen 2013

Image from Day of the Crows

When not reviewing films I work for the Melbourne International Film Festival on the programming team. The first part of  the 2013 MIFF program was announced today and I’m very excited, as it is one of the sections that I worked on. The following is a presentation I gave last Friday to launch the Next Gen program for this year:

Next Gen is a program of entertaining and challenging cinema selected for a youth audience.

The program was established in 2007 to enrich the cinema experience for younger viewers, as well as stimulate discussion and social awareness. Encouraging students to become active viewers, who question and challenge the moving image, is essential in a media-saturated era. The films this year were selected for their diversity, innovation and high quality, as well as being relevant and accessible to audiences of all ages. Through drama, documentary and animation, issues such as family, prejudice, injustice, violence, rebellion, identity and overcoming hardship are explored with integrity and depth.

With a handful of exceptions, these are not films many people would traditionally classify as ‘kids’ or ‘family’ films. Instead, they are a diverse, innovative and high quality collection of films that will appeal to people of all ages.

Valentine Road

Valentine Road

The documentary Valentine Road is something that will resonate with very wide audiences. It is about the 2008 murder of 15-year-old Lawrence ‘Larry’ King by one of his classmates. It becomes apparent that the murder was a hate crime, committed in response to King’s sexuality and gender identification. Director Marta Cunningham, who will be a festival guest, allows the teachers, friends and legal experts involved in the subsequent trial to speak for themselves without overt judgment. By doing so Cunningham delivers an insight into how young people are affected by the environments they grow up in, especially ones that cultivate and even excuse violent crime, as a response to somebody deemed different.

Another film to confront the impact of violence is the Irish film What Richard Did, by director Lenny Abrahamson. This extremely sophisticated drama is about the kind of guy Australians would consider ‘a good bloke.’ Richard is charismatic, friendly, attractive and a high achiever. He’s a good friend, a respectful son and looks after others. He then does something in the heat of the moment that has an unexpectedly devastating effect. This film about culpability, masculinity and the dangers of alcohol is particularly relevant to Australian audiences, many of who will no doubt recognise how closely the events in this film reflect various stories in the news from the past twelve months.

An interesting contrast to Valentine Road and What Richard Did is the Canadian film Blackbird, about a teenage boy falsely accused of planning a school massacre. Evoking recent films such as The Hunt and West of Memphis, this is a film about persecution as a result of mob hysteria. Many will identify with the young protagonist who identifies as a goth resulting in an outsider status that sees him bullied at school and then falsely accused after he vents his frustration by writing a revenge fantasy short story that he then unwisely shares online. Director Jason Buxton shared the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film with Brandon Cronenberg for Antiviral.

I Declare War

I Declare War

On a lighter note, the Canadian film I Declare War is a sort of updated Lord of the Flies with a touch of Where the Wild Things Are. The film is set in a forest on one summer’s day, where two groups of kids play an elaborate war game. The kids carry sticks and water bombs, but the film depicts their ‘weapons’ the way the kids see them – as machine guns and grenades. Constantly alternating between fantasy and reality, I Declare War is a parody of war film clichés, a kid-centric adventure film and at times a disturbing look at learned behaviour. However, it’s mostly a lot of fun.

Also fun is the South Korean supernatural romantic comedy/drama A Werewolf Boy, which is thankfully far closer in spirit to Edward Scissorhands than it is to the Twilight films. MIFF regulars may recognise the name of filmmaker Jo Sung-hee as the director of End of Animal from MIFF 2011. However, it is unlikely that audiences will detect any similarities between the two films, which are completely different from each other in terms of style, tone and pace.

Another regional film in Next Gen is Touch of the Light, a Taiwan/Hong Kong co-production featuring the young vision-impair pianist Huang Yu-siang playing himself in a fictionalised story of his experiences entering music school. This crowd-pleasure was a huge hit in Taiwan and has been supported by the acclaimed Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai.

Capturing Dad

Capturing Dad

Also close to home is the odd yet endearing Japanese comedy/drama Capturing Dad, about two sisters awkwardly attending the funeral of a father they never knew. It’s refreshing to see a film with such a strong and sophisticated focus on the relationship between sisters (and between mothers and daughters), and Capturing Dad manages to be extremely charming without ever resorting to sentimentality. In fact, a lot of the humour is surprising dark.

Other films that edge more into crowd-pleasuring/family film territory are the Kurdish-language film Bekas and the German film Patty’s Catchup. Based on the experiences of the films writer/director Karzan Kader, Bekas is a spirited adventure film about two orphaned brothers trying to flee Iraq during Sadaam Hussein’s rule. Tina von Traben’s Patty’s Catchup is a fun family drama about three sisters attempting to run a sausage stand, despite one of the sisters preferring to follow her dreams of being a renowned chef.

The film most suitable for very young audiences is the lovely animated film Moon Man by Stephan Schesch, based on Tomi Ungerer’s classic picture book of the same name. However, there are enough Monty Pythonesque and surreal visual gags to keep audiences of all ages entertained.  It is also nice to see a film that aligns scientific curiosity with childlike wonder while satirising governments that are obsessed with jingoism and aggression.

Another animation in the program is the stunning beautiful and moving Day of the Crows by Jean-Christophe Dessaint. Although it is a French-language film, it contains more than a hint of influence from Studio Ghibli, not just visually, but with its blend of fantasy, humour and whimsy, with some very grounded themes concerning persecution and parental neglect. It also features voice acting by Jean Reno and the late Claude Chabrol.

Approved for Adoption

Approved for Adoption

The other impressive French-language animation in the program is Approved for Adoption, the Audience Award winner at last year’s Annecy International Animation Film Festival. A sort of animated memoir in the vein of Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis, it is about the childhood experiences of Jung, the film’s writer and co-director (with Laurent Boileau). After the Korean War Jung was abandoned as a baby and adopted by a Belgium family resulting in a childhood where he struggled with his cultural identity and sense of belonging.

The final film in the Next Gen program is English language, but by French director Laurent Cantet, who won the Palme d’Or in 2008 for his film The Class. The film is Foxfire, based on a 1993 novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Featuring nearly all young female cast, the film is set in 1950s upstate New York and follows the misadventures of a group of teenage girls who begin to fight back against the patriarchy. The mixture of protofeminism, socialism and teen rebellion results in an exhilarating film that explores how criminality and organised resistance are regarded.

More information: miff.com.au/nextgen

School bookings and study guides: metromagazine.com.au/nextgen

Thomas Caldwell
Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator
Melbourne International Film Festival

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