The journey of MIFF ’13

by stronged

MIFF

Mystery Road (dir. Ivan Sen)

One of the best “welcome to country” introductions I have come across. The Indidge elder placed a branch of gum leaves on the stage and invited the audience members to pluck one to put in their pocket. A symbolic gesture to represent we were using the resources of the Wurundjeri people. Nice prop work.

I am still a little uncertain about Sen’s latest feature. I have been a fan of his since seeing Beneath Clouds (2002) one time on SBS. Great film. Transferring his talent for meditative silences and stunning prolonged cinematography into a genre film like Mystery Road did not particularly work. The dialogue was stilted due to trying to edit around lengthened interactions. Probably would’ve excelled if he stuck with a more Jarmuschian approach and include both characters within the one frame as opposed to cutting back and forth from singles. I only saw glimpses of two-shots that seemed to present a much more dynamic and energised interplay between cast members.

Great to see such a star-studded line-up of cast members. Jack Thompson and Jack Charles shone out in particular, adding a much needed quirky ingredient to a sombre country town and protagonist.

The cinematography was fantastic, as per usual. I was captivated by how he shot the opening sequence at dusk, as well as the aerial cinematography of the town, presenting the myriad desire paths sprouting off into different directions.

Although incredibly slow and stilted throughout the main body of the film, the ending brought me around to giving it the thumbs up. A great finale that capitalised on the narrative set-up and setting. Definitely a stride ahead of the rest of Aussie films I have recently seen. Keep ’em coming Sen.

Twenty Feet from Stardom (dir. Morgan Neville)

Just what the doctor ordered. An inspirational delight for any singer or music enthusiast. However, I felt it’s feminist slant breezed over the history of male back-up singers. I selected this documentary at MIFF specifically to learn about back-up singing and how it has evolved over time. What I received was a much broader commentary on what it is like to be a back-up singer – from Darlene Love to Merry Clayton to Lisa Fischer to Judith Hill. I was horrified to hear about the mistreatment of some back-up singers (namely of Love by Phil Spector) whilst also grateful to hear that some singers prefer to create the “blend” over being a soloist.

Je Joli Mai 

What an epic doco. Close to three hours long. Would work perfectly as an interactive doco as structurally it is set-up episodically. A long cry away from Sans Soleil. Interesting to see where such a prolific documentarian came from technically and thematically.

I certainly found a few gems buried within particular interviews. I questioned the translation though, as particular phrases and terms stuck out. For example, the interview with two engineers discussed the “prestige” that is lacking in contemporary consciousness as the effect of the industrial age has disconnected people from physically creating products. Instead, many are situated in offices that are far removed from the “prestige” one would find when creating something from scratch. I wonder whether this is the correct term. Whether the translators were after a term more akin to “dignity” or “self-worth”?

I enjoyed the occasional moments of comic relief where the documentarians drew focus to the simple (at times apt) absurdities within the scene (i.e. a spider climbing over an interviewees jacket mid-interview or random cutaways to different cats to break up an interview).

The female voice over summed up a fact that keeps re-emerging for me at the moment: That truth is in the means and not the end. A Heraclitian perspective drawing on notions of everything being in a constant state of flux. The real achievement is experienced in the process of creation, not necessarily what has been created.

Animation Shorts

The Wolf, The Demon and the Moon

My faviourite of the Animation shorts. A beautiful little allegory/creation fable about a Wolf protecting her cubs. Great to see this come out of RMIT. I hope Lee continues on sculpting these little gems.

Possessions

Pretty clunky animation but a solid heroes journey.

Requiem for Romance

Such a great concept. A break-up over the phone depicted as a martial arts-style battle across rooftops and through bamboo forests. A beautiful animation style as well, where a variety of coloured inks were captured reacting with water as a moody backdrop.

ECHO

I love these little surreal animations that depict a strange and yet familiar universe to explore relationships between things and the habitual behaviours we enact everyday.

Like Rabbits

A very dark comedy set in and around a carnival/fair. A good choice to include this one in the program to mix things up. Enjoyable, even though it was a bit left of centre.

Darling

An incredible claymation about mental illness (i suspect Alzheimers disease) that places the audience in the perspective of the sufferer.

US

An entertaining exploration of the human condition. A range of personality types (riffing off the seven dwarves) react and interact with a foreign object (a rock).

Irish Folk Furniture

A quaint little stop-motion documentary animation about restoring Irish farmhouse furniture. Reminded me of the Object-Orientated Ontologists in the way that it re-established the importance and individuality of non-sentient objects.

Palmipedarium

An eery rehashing of the ugly duckling.

Boles

A very Eastern European animation about an author’s imagination running wild as a result of suffering writer’s block.

Documentary Shorts

The Observer

A brief portrait of acclaimed documentarian Bob Connolly (Mrs Carey’s Concert). About his career, what it’s like being a documentary filmmaker, meeting his wife and what it has been like losing her to cancer. He explained that the thing about documentary filmmaking that most grabs him is creating that suspension of disbelief for his audience. Taking them on a journey of highs and lows. This is what i originally wanted to explore in my research project this year. How nonlinear interactive documentaries can still create this dramatic flow to fulfil it’s audience, opposed to the formulaic structuring of three or five acts ala Aristotle.

Recollections

A poignant little documentary about the benevolent band of volunteer photograph restorers who continue to return family photographs to the victims of the latest tsunami. It was humbling to discover how significant these simple family albums are for the survivors. That what makes a good photograph is not necessarily how pretty the subject looks but for it to hold a commemorative appeal – a moment captured in time that reflects an aspect of the subjects personality. One of the survivors compared a recent photograph of his deceased wife to the one taken on their wedding day, remarking how faces change so dramatically over time. This intrigues me for I am currently investigating placemaking in my Honours research. So I now look at faces differently, that they act as places in a way. They tell stories. Where are the desire lines? What does each aspect of the faces terrain tell us about how that person lived their life?    

Home

The only dialogue-free documentary exhibited this year. Documents a house being transported from the suburbs out into the countryside and how it changes once it becomes inhabited. In the words of Yi-Fi Tuan: “Home obviously means more than a natural or physical setting…home is a unit of space organised mentally and materially to satisfy a people’s real and perceived basic biosocial needs and, beyond that, their higher aesthetic-political aspirations” (pp. 102).

Not Anymore: A Story of a Revolution

The civil war in Syria told from the perspective of two young Syrians: A female ex-english teacher turned photographer, and a resistance fighter who had previously been tortured for believing in freedom of speech. This doco gave me a sincere insight into what is actually occurring over there, on a human level.

Keep a Modest Head

A brief stroll through the intimate and often bizarre memories of French-Canadian surrealist Jean Benoit. Similar to Je Joli Mai, I can see this doco comfortably existing online offering the viewer options to explore the memories of this prolific artist spatially. Affiliated with the outstanding NFB. The opening image was a rare delight to uphold, I’d imagine signifying how branding oneself can excite the senses to the point of orgasm (?)

Ebb and Flow

A beautiful, intimate portrait of Rodrigo, a deaf single-father living in the slums of Recife, Brazil. Connects with Bachelard’s point that intimacy has magnifying properties (The Poetics of Space, pp. 202). There’s something incredibly nourishing about watching documentaries on people with disabilities. Life-affirming, and strengthening as it triggers thoughts to re-evaluate your life – look at your life in perspective. Keen to check out the next http://otherfilmfestival.com. 

Stories We Tell

One key moment sticks out for me in this autoethnographic documentary about Canadian actress and writer/director Sarah Polley’s unconventional family. The moment where her older brother Johnny is describing the perpetual dynamics of a romantic relationship where both participants can never exist on the same level of devotion (or lack of) for one another. Unrequited love. A cruel fact of relationships that disallows individuals to fully become the one unit. Our independence is our downfall in such scenarios, for even though our love for our partner may be complete, we know that their love for us will not be at the same level of affection/devotion. For a relationship to truly work both participants must let go of this notion of comparison, of control, and accept that the only element they can alter is their own actions.

Rant complete.

I enjoyed this documentary on many levels. It’s self-examination, informal banter among family members, humour, re-enactments, mixing of super 8mm and HD footage, the reflexive nature of the voice over narration performed by Polley’s father Michael, etc. It took a little while for the doco to really kick off though, perhaps too much of a preamble? I found it relevant to the nonfiction lab we have here at RMIT, and their research around shaping fact with fiction.

Wrong Time Wrong Place 

The most mediocre of the films I have experienced at MIFF ’13 thus far. I appreciated the sensitivity of the filmmakers but felt underwhelmed when I left the cinema. Don’t get me wrong, it was a very well crafted documentary, but did not scratch below the surface as much as I would have hoped. The title refers to the victims of the terrorist attacks that occurred in Norway on the 22nd of July, 2011. Some of the survivors and parents of one of the victims speak candidly about the event and the ramifications it has caused in their lives. It was refreshing to experience a documentary that does not sensationalise a crime or solely focus upon the perpetrator. Instead, trying to make sense of what occurs after the event and the context that surrounds it.

There was a brief, powerful moment when the mother of one of the victims began to speak of a higher purpose for what occurred and her husband cuts her off declaring it is nonsense. Two views collide in a raw display of emotions, right in front of the camera. The mother taking comfort in her superstitious beliefs; the father condensing his hatred focused purely on the perpetrator. Instead of pursuing either of these fascinating ways that people deal with grief, the documentarians left it there. I understand the sensitivity of the subject matter but I personally find that this was what this documentary was truly about. The documentarians only lightly touched upon it. Hence my feelings of not being completely satisfied with this doco.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

I well and truly felt overwhelmed midway through this quaint doco on the philosophical theory of ideology. Žižek covers a lot of ground very quickly, using particular themes from an array of popular films to highlight his points; Marxist theories on capitalism; how we process the commodities we obtain not purely on a material level but also metaphysical; how “the big other” (whether it be the government, social etiquette, God, etc.) influences our decision making and therefore our individuality; finishing off with how we can shape our dreams to fulfil our desires.

Documentarian Fiennes crafts what can be seen as an essay-like-documentary that teeters on the edge of mainstream and academic appeal. Žižek strolls through popular film culture (both conceptually and literally!) with ease, revealing the underlying philosophical premises each narrative has been built upon.

Arraianos 

An apt ethnographic documentary for me to experience at this years festival, as my current research project is pursuing a similar goal – reconstructing the atmosphere and poetic nature of a place. The essence of this small Galician village is articulated by a quiet, steady assemblage of abstract interactions between locals and the seasonal changes to the environment. These interactions echo a Beckett-esque quality that draws on the implicit poetics of traditional life in the setting as well as commenting on the overall human condition. Beginning with two middle-aged women discussing what the best way is to find their way out of the forest they are lost in, each preferring to approach the predicament in their own way (i.e. the proactive modernist approach juxtaposes with the contemplative post-modernist), the documentary takes the audience on a fragmented journey of the forests, farms, bars, etc. to portray a traditional way of being.

Persons of Interest Part 2

The last two episodes of this SBS funded doco miniseries focusing upon notable Australian personalities who were monitored by ASIO from the 1940’s to the 1970’s at the height of the Australian Governments communist paranoia. Quite a formulaic documentary series, but interesting to learn more about indigenous activist/academic/actor Gary Foley and author/communist sympathiser Frank Hardy. Power and Glory has been on my reading list for a few years. I must get around to reading it.

Best MIFF Shorts Screening

Pandas

A hilarious animation centred upon the emotional roller coaster ride of a particular panda, mirroring what seems to be the contemporary human condition. Quite a cynical take on how futile our existence is and how our environment constantly manipulates us into being something else.

Tau Seru

A simple tale of a young Himalayan shepherd whose path dramatically alters when he must deal with a sick member of his flock. I found this short a little open-ended. However, I enjoyed it’s simplicity.

You Like It, I Love It

I started to enjoy this beguiling reflection of middle class Australia for it’s meditative stillness and simplicity. Then I was thrown out of the rhythm when the narrative takes a detour into a different genre. I found this short had a lack of focus that I could not grasp. It would’ve worked much more effectively if they stuck to the structure of the present context and not jump into the tele movie the two brothers were watching.

Just Before Losing Everything

It is rare to see a short film tackle suspense, even more so attain it so masterfully. French director Legrand expertly weaves together a tapestry of questions in the opening of this short provincial dramatic narrative, portraying a family desperately seeking an escape route from a horrible position.

Irish Folk Furniture

It was nice to see this short film once again. Such an incredible feat to create a full stop-motion piece with real people, places and furniture.

Recollections

I was pleased to see this short doco pick up the prize for BBC best doco. I was worried that Keep A Modest Head would prevail. Either Recollections or Ebb and Flow would have made me happy. The former clearly exhibits a richer narrative, layering a diverse range of themes and concepts related to commemoration and dealing with loss.

Crystal World

The Night of the Hunter is definitely one of my favourite films. So I am biased to any film that recreates it in a montage of stop-motion video art. I do not normally find video art that engaging, but this short managed to create a macabre foreboding juxtaposing scenes from The Night of The Hunter with a crystallising corpse.

Leviathan

What an incredible experience. A true ethnographic piece of cinema that takes you onboard a fishing vessel off the coast of New England. Barely any dialogue is spoken in this sensory explosion of worlds colliding – ship and sea. Aesthetically, it is a marvel purely for it’s audiovisual raw capture of ocean stimuli; A feast for the senses. Technically, it is an incredible undertaking that I am still scratching my head as to how they managed to achieve such coverage. Definitely an experience for the cinema, albeit overwhelming (a friend felt it necessary to put earbuds in for he was experiencing a virtual case of seasickness).

 

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