September 1, 2013

MIFF 2013 (Or, holy fuck, how many movies did I just see?!?)

It's not exactly breaking news for me to admit that I love movies. I love watching them, I love talking about them ... hell, on the good days I even love making them. So, with that in mind, and remembering how exhausted and sick I get trying to fit the Melbourne International Film Festival around work, I took a few weeks off from the bookshop this year to do it right. And by 'do it right' I mean ...

During MIFF I saw sixty films in seventeen days.

It was awesome.
(Not pictured: John)

If you're an obsessive completist (like me), you'll be able to find my itty-bitty reviews of every single one of them in the archive right here.

Here's what I learned:
  • Either MIFF is the best festival in the world, or I'm starting to get seriously good at picking movies based on a three-sentence write-up in the guide. I saw a ton of great films, and even the stuff that didn't quite work was interesting. There were hardly any films I regretted seeing. At a Festival there will always be some duds, that's just the way of the world, but this year I kept those to an absolute minimum. Yay me!
  • Once you get into a groove, it really is possible to do nothing but watch movies. My schedule: Wake/shower/head into the city/watch movies/grab food when I could in between films, eating standing up/go home/sleep/repeat. I had one day in which I went from session to session from 11am until 1am in the morning. I did six movies that day ... and didn't even nap in any of them!
  • I might be the only person in Melbourne who finds both the ancient, falling apart seats at the Forum and the loud leather monstrosities at Greater Union to be much more comfortable than the modern, spacious, ergonomically designed seats at ACMI. I had a couple of really long films at ACMI, and those seats murdered my back ... but pulling three movies in a row at Greater Union was fine. My spine wants to be a rebel, an iconoclast, dangerous ... in truth it's probably just a hipster or something.
  • Coming of age stories are the flavour of the month in indie circles. Fully twenty-five of the films I saw had protagonists that were teenage or younger (and the standard of performance from the young actors I saw was remarkable pretty much across the board). Want to make a festival darling? Consider mining your teenage years for inspiration.
  • This might seem contradictory, but from a writing stand-point specificity equals universality. If you write a unique character, and have them inhabit a really specific milieu, your story will burrow deeper into your audience's brain than it would if you showed us a more 'normal' situation. Some of my favourite movies at the festival featured: a Belgian banjo player falling in love with a tattooist; a murder at a gay cruising ground in rural France; the most obstinate student at a Saudi Arabian girl's school; and a farm full of psychic pigs (yes, you read that right).
  • I grew up with a bit of country music (particularly in our van on long car-trips), and there's a definite love of the genre lying dormant deep in my genes. The amazing bluegrass that peppered The Broken Circle Breakdown's soundtrack lifted it from very very good to absolutely brilliant. Devoid of context you won't be able to see it, but this song absolutely destroyed me (it's the moment he reaches out for her hand and she doesn't take it ... just trust me, it's fucking heartbreaking):

  • The other film I saw that I thought was a masterpiece was Stranger by the Lake, and what really blew me away was the way it managed to be incredibly romantic and erotic, yet also edge-of-the-seat tense, all at the same time. After a murder takes place at a gay cruising ground, the anonymous trysts in the woods don't stop, but they take on a menacing, stomach-churning air: every time Franck, the lead, goes into the woods we are terrified it could be for the last time. As he falls head over heels for a new regular, the sexual tension and the 'is-he-about-get-stabbed-in-the-throat' tension are happening simultaneously. It makes for a really queasy, unsettling experience, and one I won't forget in a while.

As well as those two, there were a whole bunch of fantastic films, including WadjdaThe Selfish Giant, The Past, A Hijacking, Foxfire, Ginger and Rosa, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, the documentaries Blackfish, Stories We Tell, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer and The Act of Killing, and the now-out-in-cinemas-go-see-them Stoker, Upstream Color and Frances Ha.

Even if we get some exceptional commercial releases in the back end of this year, my best-of list for 2013 will be filled with MIFF movies (and there were plenty more flicks that were very very good). It was seventeen days well spent, and taking the time off to 'do it right' could well become a new tradition of mine.

Cheers, JC.

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