Fiona’s Top Picks from MIFF 2013

Tickets for the Melbourne International Film Festival are on sale from today. Fiona Hardy shares her top picks.

Earlier this week I attended the program launch of the Melbourne International Film Festival, or MIFF which is one of the best cultural acronyms around, and below is my list of films I’m going to call in babysitter favours for - or just take my baby daughter along and try to hide her in a bucket of popcorn.

MIFF’s opening night film this year is Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited!, a camp comedy that couldn’t be more different than his recent and devastating The Skin I Live In. A flight crew resplendent in tiny pants must calm the passengers after their plane is put in a holding pattern. They do so with some out-of-the-box ideas and glorious amounts of drugs and alcohol.

In contrast, closing night sees Robert Redford in All Is Lost, a film almost entirely devoid of dialogue as he plays a sailor on a broken boat who is about to face a storm alone in the middle of the sea. Just a three-minute shot of Redford up a mast attempting repairs made me so flushed with tension that I had to hold my plus-one’s hand and make an anxious sound effect.

MIFF’s Centrepiece Gala this year is the film adaptation of Tim Winton’s short story-collection The Turning, a film centred on a single community and filled with so many famous actors and directors that you would get a bit faint from hearing them all, but I’ll mention my personal favourites in directors David Wenham, Warwick Thornton and Mia Wasikowska along with actors Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh and Rose Byrne.

I couldn’t help but text my partner in frantic excitement about Mistaken for Strangers, the music documentary that’s part of MIFF’s music-based Backbeat program and follows one of my favourite bands, The National, on a world tour. Said band is made up of two sets of brothers and lead singer Matt Berninger, whose own brother Tom - a man of differing tastes from Matt - became a roadie on tour and then started filming, creating something funny, personal and utterly appealing.

Also in the Backbeat program, is Artifact, the story of Thirty Seconds To Mars’ fight with big business for their royalties. The band’s frontman Jared Leto and his latest hairstyle are guests of the festival.

After the presentation my pals and I immediately flicked to the Night Shift program to check out the trash/thriller/horror films on display, and from a new Takashi Miike to a doco on John Waters’ muse Divine there’s much to circle heavily in pen. A friend in the know tells me John Dies at the End (based on a book by a writer and directed by the man behind Bubba Ho-Tep) is fantastic.

I also folded the program corner to remind me about Patrick, the remake of Australian 1978 Ozploitation classic, set in a hospital and starring Rachel Griffiths; and V/H/S 2, a collection of shorts based around a private investigator finding a pile of videotapes full of horror and directed by the likes of Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project), Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun) and Gareth Evans (The Raid).

The Australian Showcase program elicited a squeal and a point as I saw there was a documentary by Shannon Swan on Readings’ own first home in Lygon St – Si Parla Italiano, a story as full of people and food and drama as every day on the street.

Also in the showcase is In Bob We Trust, the tale of Father Bob Maguire’s eviction from his church; Australian/Laos production The Rocket which stars a James Brown impersonator and some excellent new talent; and Fallout, on the history behind Nevil Shute’s anti-war novel On the Beach.

(The film adaptation, On the Beach, happily, will be showing during the festival as well.)

The Accent on Asia program highlight was A Touch of Sin, following four different people and their struggles within China’s new consumer-driven society: a miner, a receptionist, a migrant and a factory worker. It looks fierce and real, taken as it is from true stories within the country, and won Best Screenplay at Cannes this year.

A League of Their Own: New Arabic Cinema is another international program with an amazing list, including The Attack: a seemingly happy and upper-class woman named Shihem becomes a suicide bomber, killing 17 people and herself in Tel Aviv. Her husband, a surgeon, is completely horrified, and goes on a quest to find what turned his wife from someone he knew into an extremist capable of such terror.

There is so much more including a packed Animation program (check out The Congress—it looks bizarre enough to be wonderful); Shining Violence: Italian Giallo, a showcase of Italy’s wildest horror films and screened entirely in 35mm; and This Sporting Life is back, with docos ranging from surfing to the Williams sisters and tennis.

I could go on, and I’d love to go on—but instead it’s time to crack out the calendar and decide what worlds I want to dive into. Because it’s time for MIFF, and like every year, I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Fiona Hardy puts together Dead Write for the Readings Monthly.