MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Wrap Up

9 August 2011
The Accordion

The Accordion

Spending yesterday catching up on the recently released Hollywood blockbusters Captain America: The First Avenger and Rise of the Planet of the Apes for the Plato’s Cave podcast, really rammed home just how much I appreciate and value the Melbourne International Film Festival. While the films I saw yesterday were OK, the stream of vacuous trailers that screened beforehand demonstrated how bland and dull so much wide-release cinema currently is. (The latest episode of Plato’s Cave with those reviews plus a rant about bad behaviour in the cinema is now online.)

We are truly blessed to have been exposed to so much diverse and challenging cinema at MIFF during the 17 days of the festival, making me come to the conclusion that one of the main purposes of attending such festivals is to experience stuff outside of your comfort zone and frame of reference. The challenging nature of so many of the films screened is essential to the vibrancy of such a festival and if I loved everything that I saw then I’d frankly be concerned. I hope to be mostly beyond the point of being offended or bored by cinema, but I do relish being troubled, perplexed, confused and annoyed as well as being delighted, moved and provoked. So MIFF this year certainly delivered what I think was a rich festival experience.

MIFF 2011 blog-a-thon team

MIFF 2011 blog-a-thon team: Simon Miraudo, Luke Buckmaster, Glenn Dunks, Thomas Caldwell and Jess Lomas. (Not pictured: Brad Nguyen)

I also love the social aspect of MIFF and while I wasn’t as socially active online or in the real world due to committing to the 60 film blog-a-thon challenge, I did love hearing from people who commented here, on Twitter, on Facebook and most especially in person. It was great having strangers, old friends and people I’d only previously encountered online come over to chat about what they’d seen and respond to what I had written. This year there was a real sense of mutual respect and interest in the different ways that people respond to cinema, not to mention a sense of camaraderie that we were taking part in the festival experience together regardless of whether we were seeing 60 films or 10. An extra big shout-out to everybody who allowed me to profile them in my Show us your MIFF spot and to all those who inadvertently provided me with material for my MIFFhaps spots, especially Joel.

So, what about the films themselves? I’ve worked out that I attended 61 sessions, which doesn’t including the two session that I fell asleep during but does include two short film packages. I saw a total of 59 feature films (63 if I include the four I saw in media screenings before the festival) and 16 short films.

My top ten MIFF 2011 feature films:
(not including the retrospective screenings)

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard (Lynn-Maree Milburn and Richard Lowenstein, 2011)
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)
How to Die in Oregon(Peter Richardson, 2011)
The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)
Michael (Markus Schleinzer, 2011)
Polisse 
(Maïwenn Le Besco, 2011)
Surviving Life (Přežít svůj život, Jan Švankmajer, 2010)

Tomboy
 (Céline Sciamma, 2011)
The Turin Horse (A torinói ló, Béla Tarr, 2011)

My top five MIFF 2011 short films:

The Accordion (Jafar Panahi, 2010)
All Flowers in Time (Jonathan Caouette, 2010)
Las Palmas (Johannes Nyholm, 2011)
Sophie Lavoie (Anne Émond, 2010)
Stardust (Nicolas Provost, 2010)

And finally, here is the list of all the feature films that I saw. To give you a very general guide of what I thought about them all I have added star ratings, but please don’t take them too seriously! Each title clicks through to my thoughts of those films that I wrote during the festival.

13 Assassins (Jūsannin no Shikaku, Takashi Miike, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
3
(Tom Tyker, 2010) ✭✭✩
Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011) ✭✭✩
Armadillo (Janus Metz Pedersen, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard (Lynn-Maree Milburn and Richard Lowenstein, 2011)  ✭✭✭✭
Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (Michael Rapaport, 2011)  ✭✭✭✩
Beauty and the Beast (La belle et la bête, Jean Cocteau, 1946) ✭✭✭✭✩
Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010) ✭✭✭
Being Elmo (Constance Marks, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Ben Lee: Catch my Disease (Amiel Courtin-Wilson, 2011)  ✭✭✭
Black Venus (Vénus noire, Abdellatif Kechiche, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Bobby Fischer Against the World (Liz Garbus, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Boxing Gym (Frederick Wiseman, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (Alex Gibney, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Cold Fish (Tsumetai nettaigyo, Sion Sono, 2010) ✭✭✭
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
End of Animal (Jo Sung-hee, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Eye of the Storm (Fred Schepisi, 2011) reviews embargoed
Fire in Babylon (Stevan Riley, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Give Up Tomorrow (Michael Collins, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Good Bye (Bé omid é didar, Mohammad Rasoulof, 2011) ✭✭✭
The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Guilty of Romance (Koi no tsumi, Sion Sono, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Hobo with a Shotgun (Jason Eisener, 2011) ✭✭
How to Die in Oregon (Peter Richardson, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
I Am Eleven (Genevieve Bailey, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Jess + Moss (Clay Jeter, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982) ✭✭✭✭
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki, 2011) ✭✭✭
Life in a Day (Kevin Macdonald, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Magic Trip (Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney, 2011) ✭✭✭
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)  ✭✭✭✭
Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Michael (Markus Schleinzer, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
The Mill and the Cross (Lech Majewski, 2011) ✭✭✭
Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori, Tran Anh Hung, 2010) ✭✭✭
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Outside Satan (Hors Satan, Bruno Dumont, 2011) ✭✭✭
Polisse (Maïwenn Le Besco, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Project Nim (James Marsh, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Route Irish (Ken Loach, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Silence of Joan (Jeanne captive, Philippe Ramos, 2011) ✭✭
Sing Your Song (Susanne Rostock, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
A Stoker (Kochegar, Alexei Balabanov, 2010) ✭✭
Submarine (Richard Ayoade, 2010) ✭✭✩
Super (James Gunn, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Surviving Life (Přežít svůj život, Jan Švankmajer, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Swell Season (Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2011)  ✭✭✭✩
Tabloid (Errol Morris, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Tatsumi (Eric Khoo, 2011) ✭✭✭
Tomboy (Céline Sciamma, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Toomelah (Ivan Sen, 2011) ✭✭✭
Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren, André Øvredal, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Troubadours (Morgan Neville, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
The Turin Horse (A torinói ló, Béla Tarr, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Under the Hawthorn Tree (Shan zha shu zhi lian, Zhang Yimou, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Unjust (Bu-dang-geo-rae, Ryoo Seung-wan, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Win Win (Thomas McCarthy, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
The Yellow Sea (Hwanghae, Na Hong-jin, 2010) ✭✭✭✭

Thanks again for reading my MIFF 2011 blog-a-thon entries and I hope you continue to check out the reviews and articles that I post here at least twice a week, once things go back to normal. In the meantime, I think I’ll take a few days off from seeing films and look for some paid work!

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 10

1 August 2011
The Turin Horse

The Turin Horse

One of the films I was most intrigued about this year was The Turin Horse and as I expected, during the screening there was a steady flow of walk-outs, but there were also many people in the audience who like me were transfixed.  No doubt many will comment on how closely The Turin Horse resembles the very funny spoof Polish film with Geoffrey Rush that is used as one of the MIFF trailers this year. There is certainly a monotony to The Turin Horse as it depicts the repetitive and stark day-to-day existence of two peasants in 1889. You get to know every crack on the wall of their small house and become very familiar with their daily routine. Yet, this film invites the eye to continually explore the cinema screen and your patience is constantly rewarded with moments of visual brilliance. The framing, lighting and composition are masterful, and the use of long takes from the omnipresent roving camera generates an extraordinary energy. If it weren’t for the debacle in the actual cinema during the final twenty minutes (more about that below) this would have been close to my favourite MIFF experience this year.

The other challenging feature film I saw yesterday was Good Bye. The tight cinematography and dominance of blacks, blues and deep greens convey the bleak and oppressive situation facing a woman in Iran who is pregnant, forbidden to work and trying to leave the country now that her husband has fled. The film consists of several long static shots where little happens and what does happen occurs off-screen. This will frustrate some viewers, but it effectively conveys the idea of her life being constantly restricted by external forces beyond her control. I found this a difficult film to sit through at times but it’s stayed with me. Before Good Bye began, we were treated to Jafar Panahi’s short film The Accordion, a simple and touching film about forgiveness and kindness.

Fire in Babylon

Fire in Babylon

I started yesterday by taking myself right out of my comfort zone to see Fire in Babylon, despite having little interest in sport, especially not cricket. It was a good move as this entertaining documentary engagingly conveys the political implications behind the rise of the West Indies cricket team in the 1970s, as well as bringing the game alive to the extent that I actually got excited about it. The session I attended contained a much different audience to what I was used to at MIFF as the people sitting around me were clearly cricket fans as opposed to cinephiles. This greatly enhanced the experience as I got an insight into the collective pleasure involved in following sport. I was impressed with how well the crowd responded to a film where the Australian cricket team, along with the English, were effectively the antagonists of the film. Clearly a love for seeing the game played so brilliantly by the West Indies transcends national loyalties. I think cricket may be something I could get into after all.

[EDIT 15/9/2011: Read a full review of Fire in Babylon]

I saw Beginners after hearing from some people that it was too twee and from others that it was funny and moving. I kind of agree with both points of view to be honest. On the one hand, the father/son relationship told in flashback is very impressive and effectively develops the film’s theme of letting go of baggage to stop denying your true nature in order to finally start living life. Unfortunately, the other component of the film is a romance where the female object-of-desire character is the clichéd slightly quirky it-girl whose main presence in the film is to facilitate the male lead’s self-discovery. There are plenty of sweet moments where I overlooked the blatant use of such a well worn trope, but at other times it was, well, a bit twee.

Stardust

Stardust

Finally, I saw the films in the Experimental Shorts 2 program yesterday. The session began with Slave Ship, which while more like video art certainly benefited from being seen from beginning until end to watch it’s gradual impressionist transformations. Ken Jacobs’s Another Occupation was next and while a critique of military colonialism, I was taken by how techniques such as video loops, freeze frames and negative exposure conveyed the impression of things being burnt into your mind despite seeing them only fleetingly. The sound design and very ultra-rapid editing in Carpet Burn made carpet fibres almost appear like a stop-motion organic wave, while the grainy landscapes and lone figure in Disquiet recalled Ivan Sen’s feature Dreamland from last year’s festival. The rhythmic sound and image editing in Endeavour pleasingly delivered a visceral sensation of a space shuttle in flight, while the fragmented composite images of train platforms in Tokyo – Ebisu created a collective experience of waiting for a train. The eternal mysteriousness and fearful fascination of outer-space is conveyed in … These Blazeing Starrs! through contrasting medieval illustrations of comets with eerie footage from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. However, the best was saved until last with Stardust by Nicolas Provost, whose Long Live The New Flesh won the Best Experimental Short Film at MIFF last year. Provost has taken footage filmed in Las Vegas of staff, visitors and a handful of celebrities, including some of the last footage of Dennis Hopper, and assembled that footage to create a crime thriller. Dialogue from films such as Heat and Die Hard is laid over the top along with music excerpts from films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, to transform Vegas into an alien landscape filled with mystery and intrigue. A wonderful pastiche and parody of crime films where Provost draws attention to how film style manipulates audience expectations, while still being completely engaging.

MIFFhaps
By now it should be clear that I’ve been using this part of my blog posts to relay silly anecdotes about myself or random members of the public during the festival. For today’s post I was planning on getting a bit philosophical to discuss the nature of boredom and if anybody (including myself) really ever has the right to declare a film boring simply because they don’t personally connect with it. Instead, after what happened during last night’s screening of The Turin Horse, I am going to have to get my rant on and ask, ‘What the hell is going on with the projection at the Forum?’

All throughout the festival this year films screened at the Forum have had various problems such as sound loss, being out of focus or not being framed correctly. Last night’s screening of The Turin Horse was the last straw for me. It was either the last or second last reel that began with the top half of the screen missing and once that was fixed some of the house lights then came on. For the remainder of the film, various lights came on and off – often with a strobe effect – as whoever was in charge tried to figure out what switch did what. Often the screen was lit up so we couldn’t see the actual film. I’m not sure who is to blame – certainly not the volunteers who are the unpaid lifeblood of the festival and often unfairly in the firing line – but surely there must be somebody at the venue qualified to fix issues like this.

I am upset over having the end of the Turin Horse ruined for me as I was really looking forward to it and had been completely invested in it until all this stuff happened. It really isn’t the sort of film where you can re-watch just the last twenty minutes to find out what happened since the film is a mood piece that you need to commit to in its entirety. Very disappointing.

Show us your MIFF
I met  Daniel Newfield after the second screening of Tomboy, where we both wanted to gush to somebody about how much we loved it. It was his highlight from the festival so far, but he was still very much looking forward to Beginners and the Mary Stephen Editing Masterclass. Daniel’s advice on how to best enjoy MIFF is to get as much rest as possible prior to each screening since there is nothing worse than falling asleep during a film, especially when it’s one you are really enjoying. In fact, he did have the unfortunate MIFFhap of nodding off during The Guard despite really loving it. Daniel has just started out working as film editor and will soon begin working as an assistant editor at a post-production firm. A sample of his work can be found at http://vimeo.com/newfield. When pressed, he lists Requiem for a Dream as his favourite film and also loves anything that David Fincher touches.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Feature and short film picks

8 July 2011

Melbourne International Film FestivalIt’s almost Melbourne International Film Festival time, so I’m starting up the MIFF diary yet again. This year I’ll be seeing and reporting on a lot more films than in previous years as I’m taking part in the 60th anniversary MIFF blog-a-thon. The deal is that I need to see and report back on 60 films during the seventeen days of the festival. That’s on average 3½ films per day. It’s a bit daunting to be honest and I’m apprehensive about how much I’ll be able to appreciate all those films let alone write anything intelligible about them! However, I’ve willingly signed on so will give it my best shot.

The good news is that as well as covering the festival here I’ll also be covering it on the Plato’s Cave podcast with my fellow hosts Josh Nelson and Tara Judah. We won’t be doing our usual Monday night/Tuesday morning show during the week beginning 25 July because on Thursday 28 July from 7pm-8pm we’ll be broadcasting a live Max Headroom MIFF special on Triple R. We’ll then upload that show Friday morning, in case you can’t tune on Thursday night, and record a new podcast-only MIFF show the following week at the usual time. We’ll also be discussing our picks of the festival in the next episode (week starting 11 July) so subscribe now if you haven’t done so already.

Speaking of festival picks, I thought I’d share the ten films and three short film packages that have most caught my attention. I’ve tried to pick films that to the best of my knowledge aren’t getting released in the near future, although some do have Australian distributors already. (Cerise Howard has put together a very useful list on her blog along side her intriguing recommendations for what to see.) I’ve actually seen a number of the films already scheduled for a theatrical release this year including Senna and Jane Eyre, which are both excellent films and would certainly be rewarding to see in the festival environment.

Feature films

Autoluminesscent: Rowland S. Howard

Autoluminesscent: Rowland S. Howard

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard
I can’t think of any filmmaker more qualified to make a documentary about the great Rowland S. Howard than Dogs in Space director Richard Lowenstein. It’s a perfect combination of director and subject matter. Also, my wife introduced me to Howard’s solo work so this is a bit of a personal pick for me!

Beauty and the Beast
I’ve wanted to see Jean Cocteau’s 1946 avant-garde fairytale film for a long time so having the opportunity to see it on the big screen is an incredible opportunity.

Armadillo
It was a shame that I, like most Australians, didn’t get to see the war documentary Restrepo in the cinema so I’m making sure I see this one, which has been a sensation in Denmark and from all accounts is extraordinary documentary filmmaking.

The Unjust
I really enjoy contemporary South Korean cinema and the promised mix of social critique, complex narrative (I’m expecting not to be able to follow it), dark comedy, tragedy and action sounds so much like my sort of thing.

Melancholia
It’s the latest film by Lars von Trier and that’s enough for me. I haven’t always liked his work, but he is so unpredictable that I always make a point of seeing what he’s done next. Plus, his previous film Antichrist was one of my highlights during MIFF 2009.

Cold Fish

Cold Fish

Cold Fish
Sion Sono is another director that I now always seek out. Love Exposure was another film I saw during MIFF in 2009 and I’ll never forget seeing Suicide Club at MIFF many, many years ago. Sono’s Guilty of Romance is also screening this year and I’ll be at that too.

The Turin Horse
I’ve never seen a film by Béla Tarr, not even his widely acclaimed Werckmeister Harmonies. The Turin Horse is supposedly his final film so I guess better late than never to get on board. It’s reportedly a very meditatively and observational film about peasant life – in other words, the kind of film some people find absorbing while others find dull. I usually fall into the former camp when it comes to such films so I’m really keen to see this.

A Stoker
I like to see a handful of disturbing, bleak and soul destroying films each year and this Russian parable about the collapse of the Soviet Union sounds suitably gruesome, brutal and darkly humorous.

I Am Eleven
This is another very personal choice as I’ve been aware of Genevieve Bailey’s work since the days when I used to be involved in the 15/15 Film Festival. Her films have always possessed a sincerely humanist quality and this documentary (her first feature) sounds no different.

Surviving Life
My paranoia with MIFF is that I’ll miss a gem that I can’t see elsewhere and that paranoia was exemplified when I almost didn’t notice this film in the program (thank you again Cerise Howard for pointing it out!) This is the latest by filmmaker/animator Jan Švankmajer who is one of the few contemporary filmmakers that can be accurately described as a surrealist. One of my first ever MIFF experiences was seeing his version of Faust and I’ve loved everything he’s done since.

Short films

Stardust

Stardust

I’m also going to explore the short film packages this year. Until I was asked to be a judge for last year’s MIFF Shorts Awards, I didn’t really give short films the attention they deserved. I’ve since seen the error of my ways, plus I’ve had a sneak peak on what’s on offer this year, as a result of writing for the program, and there’s some great stuff. All the packages contain films that are worth seeing, but I’ve narrowed it down to the following three:

International Shorts – O Canada!
I’m mainly going to this because it includes Scenes from the Suburbs, the Spike Jonze/Arcade Fire collaboration. From this program I have already seen the very simple single-shot film Sophie Lavoie and was extremely impressed.

International Shorts – Misfits
I’ve seen most of the films in this program but am more than happy to see them again, especially Jonathan Caouette’s All Flowers in TimeHowever, the two films I haven’t seen are the ones that do sound the most interesting: the South Korean psychological thriller Ghost and the Swedish zombie film The Unliving, which sounds like it may deliver a fun, refreshing spin on the genre.

Experimental Shorts 2
Slave Ship
and Another Occupation sound fascinating plus I really want to see Endeavour and Stardust again, but this time on the big screen. Stardust is directed by Nicholas Provost who won the Best Experimental Short Film award last year for Long Live The New Flesh. I think Stardust is even more impressive.

OK, that’s it for now. I can’t make opening night due to a prior engagement and I’m seeing films back-to-back over the first few days, but hopefully diary entries will start appearing soon after the first weekend.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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