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If you have left decision-making about your yearly documentary indulgence until the eve of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, the 12-day program may seem daunting, even insurmountable. You might be drawn to the star power (look closely and you’ll find the likes of Alicia Vikander, Willem Dafoe, Francis Ford Coppola.…Jim Belushi); or, the stunning locations (on July 20 alone, you can bound from South Australia to Chile to West Africa to The Bahamas to N.Y.C.); or, the cool music (seat-groove to Tommy Emmanuel, The Sonics, Teddy Pendergrass or KISS, amongst many others).

SCREEN-SPACE Editor Simon Foster, who will be fronting a full first-weekend of panels and QAs, has deep-dived into the 2019 line-up and surfaced with five films that ought not fly under anyone’s radar, just due to the sheer number of great factual films on offer. (All films screen at Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St., Carlton)  

RIGHT TO HARM (Dirs: Annie Speicher, Matt Wechsler; 88 mins, U.S.A.)
FROM THE PROGRAM: Exposes the devastating public health impact that factory farming has on many of America’s most disadvantaged citizens. Known formally as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations - or CAFOs - these facilities produce millions of gallons of untreated waste that destroys the quality of life for nearby neighbors. Fed up with the lack of regulation, these citizens turned activists band together from across the country to demand justice.
SCREEN-SPACE says: The ‘Capitalism Killing The Heart of America’ doco is now its own sub-genre/artform, so vast and heartless is the insidious grip of Big Business. Gasland Parts 1 (2010) & 2 (2013); If a Tree Falls (2011); Food Inc (2008) – just a few of the thoroughly researched, acutely executed investigative works that expose the corporate bloody-mindedness and political profiteering choking The American Dream. This year, that film is Right to Harm, which reveals the horrendous industrial farming practices of ‘Big Ag’ and the elected bureaucrats who back industry over voters. 
WHEN: July 28 at 4.15pm.

ADOPTION PENDING (Dir: Liam Fouracre; 10 mins, Australia)
FROM THE PROGRAM: Adoption Pending is the story of George, a 2 year old staffy cross husky, who is surrendered to an adoption home. George struggles to adapt to the new environment, showing signs of stress and separation anxiety. and must pass a behavioural test with other dogs to determine whether he needs training and treatment. What follows is an emotionally compelling experience into a dog's journey toward a new start to life.
SCREEN-SPACE says: A ‘flea on the wall’ glimpse at the anxiety experienced by a fit, fun young fella just desperate to be loved (Ed: this sounds very relatable). Fouracre captures the heartbreak, daily disappointment and – spoiler alert! – pure exhilaration of life as a dog on the fringe. Impossible to not be affected by this simple, sweet dog’s tale; might even crack a tear of joy from cat-lovers.
WHEN: July 21 from 11.00am.

UNCAGED: A STAND-IN STORY (Dirs: Blake Johnston, Kelso Steinhof; 11 mins, U.S.A.)
FROM THE PROGRAM: Marco Kyris worked as Nic Cage’s stand-in for a decade on 20 films on everything from Cage’s break out role in Leaving Las Vegas to the blockbuster franchise National Treasure. In Uncaged: A Stand-in Story, Marco talks about his early life as an actor, his journey into the entourage of Nic Cage, and what it was like working in the shadow for one of Hollywood’s Legends of Cinema.
SCREEN-SPACE says: Affords the serious film buff some all-too-rare insight into a Hollywood fringe player’s journey on the inside. An engaging and likably self-effacing presence, Kyris puts on a brave face recounting the career he never quite had and positively beams when recounting his two decades as Cage’s stand-in. One hopes Blake Johnston’s and Kelso Steinhof’s respectful portrait of ambition unresolved finally makes a star out the man; he’s earned it.    
WHEN: July 19 from 11.00pm.

SILENT FORESTS (Dir: Mariah Wilson; 108 ins, U.S.A./Cameroon/D.R.C.)
FROM THE PROGRAM: An intimate, character-driven portrait of conservationists and activists who are struggling to stop forest elephant poaching in Africa's Congo Basin region. As passionate and tenacious as these conservationists are, they are up against huge institutional challenges like corruption and lack of funding that threaten to derail all their attempts to fight for the future of the forest elephant.
SCREEN-SPACE says: Casts an understated yet heroic glow over the people fighting elephant poaching at the forefront - one of Cameroon’s first female eco-guards, a grassroots wildlife law enforcement group, a Congolese biologist studying elephant behavior, a reformed elephant poacher, and a team of anti-poaching sniffer dogs led by a Czech conservationist. Tempers one’s feelings of anger and injustice with a sense of hope that the people of the region are up for the fight.
WHEN: July 21 at 4.15pm.

ACCIDENTAL CLIMBER (Dir: Steven Oritt; 67 mins, U.S.A)
FROM THE PROGRAM: Jim Geiger, a retired forest ranger and amateur mountaineer, attempts to become the oldest American and first great grandfather to summit Mt. Everest, aged 68. His transformation from a weekend hiker to attempting one of the most extreme and physically demanding feats known to man is driven by a desire to prove that age is just a number. What ensued, however, forever changed Jim's life.
SCREEN-SPACE says: In telling Geiger’s remarkable story, Oritt affords Chomolungma the awe and respect that has been missing from recent developments regarding the mountain’s exploitation. Geiger’s focussed and driven everyman has his priorities sharply refocussed when challenged by Everest, which is exactly how the story of one man’s story set against such magnificent nature should play out. Once in Nepal, covers similar ground to Jennifer Peedom’s 2015 film Sherpa (the Australian director can be glimpsed in one scene).
WHEN: July 27 from 11.00am.

THE 2019 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL runs July 19-30. Full session and ticketing information can be found at the event's official website.

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