MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 7

Project Nim
Project Nim

Human rights abuse doco the day before, and now a sad film about the abuse of animal rights. The impression I got from the documentary Project Nim was that there wasn’t anybody who was directly involved in the plight of Nim Chimpsky who actively wanted to harm the chimp. However, differing attitudes towards the purpose and methodology of the animal/human communication experiments, and a degree of human carelessness and thoughtlessness, led to poor old Nim being treated less than ideally. While the film does lean more towards focusing on the sadness and folly of treating a chimp like a human and then expecting it to revert back, I was most interested in the ethical debates surrounding using animals for human needs. I was very moved by this film.

I was in the mood for something light after Project Nim so fortunately I then saw The Guard, a sort of black-comedy Irish In the Heat of the Night. Using the familiar but always welcome mismatched buddy cop film formula, The Guard sees Don Cheadle as an FBI agent having to work with a charmingly obnoxious rural Irish policeman played by Brendan Gleeson. It’s written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, whose brother Martin McDonagh made the sensational In Bruges. While not on par with In Bruges, The Guard contains a similar sense of humour. It also has a couple of moments similar to Hot Fuzz where the local cops seem to have formed a lot of their understanding about policework and the FBI from what they’ve seen in film and television. Lot’s of fun.

I also had a good laugh during Errol Morris’s latest documentary Tabloid and then felt guilty afterwards for doing so. There is something almost cruel in the way the use of editing, graphics and archival footage is used to encourage the audience to giggle at the film’s subject Joyce McKinney, who may or may not have kidnapped and then raped a Mormon man she was obsessed with. Then again, the story is outrageous and McKinney is a willing participant in the film who doesn’t exactly need to be coaxed into sharing her perspective. Towards the end of Tabloid I was half expecting Morris to do an Orson Welles and slyly tell us that what we’ve seen was a fabrication. But, McKinney is the real deal and I still laughed at her expense despite not feeling very good about myself for doing so.


I hadn’t even read the MIFF program notes on Tomboy so went in with only a vague sense of what it was about. Turns out it is one of my highlights from the festival so far. This naturalistic French film explores adolescent romantic love, gender identity and sibling love. Most of the cast are children, with the lead character being 10-years-old, and they are all terrific. There’s something remarkably refreshing about a film where the central family are functional and caring towards each other. Tomboy has a restrained style that results in something very touching and beautiful.

I think the MIFF fatigue really got to me yesterday when I caught a tram and tried to stick my festival passport into the validating machine. After a few attempts I realised that I wasn’t going into a cinema, which was fortunate as I may have then sat down on the tram and hissed at passengers who were talking or looking at their phones.

Show us your MIFF
Despite seeing Cerise Howard around at various film events for years, and even once interviewing her in relation to her work for Senses of Cinema when I used to do a show on JOY 94.9, it’s only in the last 18 months that I’ve really got to know her. Cerise is a musician, composer, aspiring novelist and all-round cinema expert. She’s programmed film events, travelled around the world to various film festivals, writes the blog A Little Lie Down and is the film critic on Triple R’s Smart Arts. I’ve certainly benefited from her extraordinary knowledge and passion for the moving image. In fact, she is the one who pointed out Surviving Life to me in this year’s festival guide, the film that along with Fruit of Paradise has been her highlight of the festival so far. She’s seeing around 30 films this year and is most looking forward to The Turin Horse and the rest of the Peter Tscherkassky program. Cerise has been coming to MIFF since the days Opening Night were at the Astor Theatre and Shinya Tsukamoto’s films were routinely programmed. Seeing Jan Švankmajer’s Conspirators of Pleasure in 1997 and the Seijun Suzuki retrospective in 2000 are just two of her fondest MIFF memories. Her survival tip to getting through MIFF is to drink too much and to ‘try not to commit to seeing as many as 60 films in the course of the festival, nor, additionally, to writing the whole experience up (but if you do, be sure to prevail upon your friends and cronies to contribute!)’ Sounds like good advice to me.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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