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Entries in Melbourne (16)



There is a heightened sense of expectation surrounding the line-up of the 2019 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival (MDFF). Having been one of the underdog capital city festivals for much of its existence, the event came of age in 2018 – it was named Best Documentary Film Festival by the respected Film Daily site; the Best Documentary Festival in the Southern hemisphere by Guide Doc; and, for the third year running, a Top 100 film festival as voted by the industry’s leading submission portal, Film Freeway.

Drawing upon a year during which documentarians were energised by global socio-political upheaval, the 2019 MDFF will be screening works sourced from 44 local and international festivals, including Sundance, Venice, Tribeca, Hot Docs and SXSW. The programme statistics are impressive, indicating founder and festival director Lyndon Stone takes his newfound global status seriously; on offer are 112 works, comprising 50 features and 62 short-form films, amongst them 6 World premieres and 59 Australian premieres.      

As in 2018, when the festival launched with Tony Zierra’s Kubrick-themed Filmworker, this year’s two-pronged Opening Night sessions will also examine mad geniuses and their impact on cinema. Veteran filmmaker Peter Medak recounts the summer of 1973 and the insanity-inducing experience of filming with Britain’s most eccentric and volatile comic in The Ghost of Peter Sellers (pictured, above). And the fiery, complex reputation of one of Europe’s most reviled directors is addressed in the first-person when Uwe Boll (pictured, right) fronts up for F*ck You All: The Uwe Boll Story.

Four Australian docs will have their global debut at MDFF - Fiona Cochrane’s Strange Tenants: Ska’d For Life, a profile of Australia’s most influential ska band; Aidan Prewitt’s Woodstock at 50: A Venue for the End of the World, a special anniversary screening of the award winning film with new and improved footage from the iconic music festival; Art of Incarceration, director Alex Siddons’ profile of The Torch, a not-for-profit arts initiative that supports creative endeavours for indigenous prisoners; and, Helen Gaynor’s The Candidate, a fly-on-the-wall insight into Green’s senate hopeful Alex Bhathal’s run for parliament.

The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival will draw on some legitimate star power in 2019. Amongst the celebrities in front of and behind the lens are Werner Herzog (subject of Herbert Golder’s Ballad of a Righteous Merchant); Alicia Vikander (pictured, right; narrating Jennifer Baichwal’s and Edward Burtynsky’s Anthropocene The Human Epoch); Oscar winning director Barbara Kopple (director of New Homeland); Bill-&-Ted star-turned-filmmaking agitant Alex Winter (director of Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain); and, legendary musos Tommy Emmanuel (star of Jeremy Dylan’s The Endless Road) and Rolling Stones’ guitarist Ronnie Wood (in conversation with director Stuart Douglas for his short There’s a Hell of a Racket Coming From Your House, Mrs Wood).

Certain to be an emotion-charged highlight of the festival will be a screening of Forged from Fire, a chronicle of the building of The Blacksmith’s Tree. A monument to the victims of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires that swept through rural Victoria, director Andrew Garton’s camera follows a local movement launched by traditional blacksmiths to build a tree of steel, a declaration of remembrance that garnered an international following. Proceeds from the screening, timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the disaster, will go to the Victorian Volunteer Firefighters.

The MDFF’s reputation as one of the premiere outlets for the documentary short format strengthens further in 2019. The always-popular Music strand will feature Felix Bechtolsheimer’s Somewhere in Their Heads (pictured, right), a study of the creative process behind the recording of Curse Of Lono’s second album ‘As I Fell,’ and J.P. Olsen’s Big Paradise, a profile of cult combo, The Numbers Band; the LGTBIQ sidebar will play The Gender Line, T.J. Parsell’s biography of transgender rock star Cidny Bullens, and Nicky Larkin’s Becoming Cherrie, a peek inside the life of Belfast’s most famous drag queen; and, Indigenous narratives will be examined in films such as Running 62, Torres Strait Islander Zibeon Fielding self-directed account of his long-distance marathon charity efforts, and Goh Iromoto’s African odyssey, The Wonder. 

2018 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL runs July 19-30 at the Cinema Nova and Backlot Studios venues. For ticket sales and session details, visit the official website.

SCREEN-SPACE is a media partner of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Editor Simon Foster will be hosting Q&A events throughout the festival as a guest of the organisers.



The third annual Melbourne Design Week will this year examine how cinema and design co-exist as art forms with a screening program of films celebrating vision, invention and ambition. The unique festival-within-a-festival has been constructed by Richard Sowada, a programmer whose status as one of our best curatorial minds was honed overseeing Perth’s Revelation and Sydney’s American Essentials seasons. “There's some real spirituality in many of the titles and they're filled with beautiful clean lines and wonderful philosophy,” he told SCREEN-SPACE, ahead of the 10-day schedule set to unfurl in Australia’s first UNESCO City of Design…

“The brief for this program was ‘experimentation’ and that's precisely what these films are about,” says Sowada (pictured, below), who has chosen films from such fields as architecture, photography, industrial and product innovation, futurism, urban planning and the history of design, as well as the aesthetics of the natural world. “They're about experimentation with space, philosophy, mechanics, texture, people, psychology and colour. With those parameters, cinema and design exist in the same space and place.”

Among the 11 films that will screen as part of the Melbourne Design Week Film Festival are Adrian McCarthy’s Portrait of a Gallery, an all-access insight into The National Gallery of Ireland’s enormous refurbishment project; Rob Lindsay’s Relics of the Future, photographer Toni Hafkenscheid’s study of iconic 1960s architectural structures once considered ‘futuristic’; Mies on Scene. Barcelona in Two Acts, a stirring account of the history of the iconic Barcelona Pavillon from directors Xavi Camprecios and Pep Martin; and, Chad Friedrich’s The Experimental City, which explores the plans to construct a full-size eco-friendly city from scratch in the isolated woods of northern Minnesota.

“The films have a different kind of character to other documentaries and they by and large marry style and content very well,” says Sowada. “They are works of art/design in their own right, filled with light, space and texture.” He points to two examples in particular as most synonymous with his programming objectives – Mark Lewis’ Inventions, a whirling tour of cityscapes that pays homage to the City Symphony films of the 1920s; and, Homo Sapiens (pictured, top), a breathtaking, heartbreaking testament to forgotten structures from Austrian visualist Nikolaus Geyrhalter. “No dialogue, true symphonic pieces that demand to be seen on the big screen in the highest fidelity,” he say, noting, “This is one of the things I think films in this genre embrace - scale.”

Further emphasizing the theme of scale and mankind’s relationship to both the natural world and landscapes of our own creation are Jennifer Baichwal’s Watermark, a visual essay on our often tenuous co-existence with water, as shot by the great photographer Edward Burtynsky; Mark Noonan’s biographical feature on arguably America’s greatest living structuralist, Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect; and, In Between the Mountains and The Oceans (trailer, below), a chronicle of the building of the great Japanese temple Ise Jingu as captured by acclaimed photographer Masa-aki Miyazawa. (Pictured, above; a still from Rob Lindsay's Relics of the Future)

Richard Sowada hopes that his line-up of films will strengthen and more clearly define the common bond between cinema and design construction. “Ultimately, they're about emotion and connection with the viewer/user,” he says. “If they're to have a lasting effect they need to come from an authentic place and have a reason to be. These deeper connections cut across time and borders - they are understandable in a universal way. They’re so clean and pure but also are filled with drama and challenge.”

The MELBOURNE DESIGN WEEK FILM FESTIVAL will run from March 14-24 at the Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn, and Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick. Full session and ticketing details can be fount at the official website.



Wrapping its nine-day celebration of factual film last night, the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival announced works that run the gamut from tragic loss to inspirational triumph amongst the winners of its 2018 award roster.

Director Stefan Bugryn’s short film War Mothers (Матері Війні), a harrowing account of how three women have dealt with the deaths of their sons in the Ukrainian warzone, was afforded the prestigious Special Jury Prize. Burgryn (pictured, above; with war mothers Svetlana and Galina) embedded himself with the grieving mothers in high-conflict combat zones along the Eastern Front, crafting a deeply empathetic account of loss and sorrow; that dedication to truth and his craft also earned the young Melbourne-based filmmaker the Best Director (Short Film) trophy.

The Best International Short Award was bestowed upon Ex Nihilo (pictured, right), director Timo Wright’s multi-national co-production that examines via a non-linear, three-tiered narrative scientific advancements in the fields of cryonics, robotics and our own mortality. The Best Australian Short Award went to Wolfe, director Claire Randall’s examination into the psychology of a young man whose imaginary friend revealed deep secrets about his existence. A graduate of Queensland’s Griffith University, Randall has found universal acclaim for her remarkably assured debut, having already secured a Crystal Bear trophy at the Berlinale earlier this year.

The Supreme Jury Prize for Feature Documentary went to Jack Yabsley’s Kings of Baxter, a rousing account of two Shakespearean-trained actors who set out to create a version of Macbeth using teenage detainees being held at the Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre near Gosford on the New South Wales central coast. The director also secured the Best Director gong for his work, made in conjunction with the revered Bell Shakespeare Company and his production company shingle, Grumpy Sailor.

The Best International Documentary prize was awarded to Susanna Styron’s Out of My Head, an in-depth study of the truths, lies and latest revelations about migraine headaches. Afforded a personal perspective via the struggle faced by her daughter and featuring interviews with high-profile migraine sufferers such as writer Joan Didion, Styron’s documentary presents a modern medical emergency that science is only now beginning to comprehend.

The recent Australian theatrical release Kangaroo, from husband-&-wife co-directors Michael Mcintyre and Kate McIntyre-Clere, earned the Best Australian Documentary nod. The controversial examination of the nation’s love/hate/abusive relationship with the beloved marsupial has itself experienced polar opposite responses from for-and-against advocates for its often shocking exposé approach. The hometown award for Best Melbourne Documentary went to Fish Out of Water (pictured, right), filmmaker Israel Cannan’s profile of two upwardly mobile types who forego their career paths to row a wooden boat the length of the North Atlantic Ocean. 



The best film festival programs should prove daunting at first glance, be that in terms of the sheer number of films or the challenging themes and narratives they offer. The subset of Australian documentary short films on offer at the 2018 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival is itself breathtaking in scale, so we thought it best to drill down on a relatively random five that you should try to see out of the many great local efforts on offer…

Strand: Sports Docs / Aussie Shorts
Screening: Tuesday, July 10 from 7.00pm at LOOP
Synopsis: A young filmmaker documents her closest friend Gabby's struggle with bulimia, from the earliest signs of the disease through to its life-threatening nadir, using footage they recorded together over the course of their friendship (pictured, above; Gabby Bennett).
From the filmmaker: “Unfortunately, this story is more common than it is rare. And it turns out the forces against us had been at work since before we even realised it. So we figured, in order to get better, we need to unpack what’s going on inside already, and figure out where it all came from. Was it innate within us or thrust upon us?” – Jennifer Leonforte, Director (official website)

Strand: Short Sessions 1
Screening: Sunday July 8 from 12.00 at Howler
Synopsis: Renee Kelly is a prodigious rock drummer, who's also completely blind. Moving between past reflections and future dreams, Renee's story reveals a passionate and determined artist, set to a bold musical score.
From the filmmaker: “We first came across Renee a few years ago, and we knew instantly we wanted to tell her story in a short-film format. An exceptionally gifted, humble and determined musician who’s been playing the drums since age three, Renee is also profoundly blind, with no access to image or light. We wanted the audience to feel a real intimacy with Renee and for her music to be heard. We wanted her story to be told and to convey a feeling of her experience of the world and her place within it.” – Poppy Walker, Producer (read the full interview at Screen NSW)


Strand: Short Sessions 2
Screening: Tuesday, July 8 from 3.00pm at Howler
Synopsis: Unlike most kids, Nick had an imaginary friend he could really hear. His voice sounded gruff and old, and no one else could hear him. Mister Wolfe became Nick's constant companion, but before long a darker side emerged. Featuring animated scenes and a candid interview with the now 24-year-old Nick, the film portrays a collage of his psyche. Winner of the Berlinale Crystal Bear award for Best Short Film in the Generation14plus category
From the filmmakers: “My goal was to present a film about mental illness from the perception of the person experiencing it. I used a very personal story, so for it to resonate with audiences around the world is amazing.” – Claire Randall, Director (courtesy, Griffith University)

Strand: Sports Docs / Aussie Shorts
Screening: Tuesday, July 10 from 7.00pm at LOOP
Synopsis: "Which story do you want to hear? The one I tell my parents…or the one I tell my friends?” Twenty international students are propelled out of their comfort zones through theatre workshops and performances. By learning to tell their real stories they challenge and transform the narrative about Melbourne’s international student community (pictured, right; students featured in Act of Translation)
From the filmmaker: “We were unsure what the outcome would be, or if students would even show up. I knew I was in for a shooting ratio that would be a killer in the edit, filming conditions that would be in less-than-desirable neon-lit humming air conditioned spaces...but also some golden and transformative moments.” – Irene Metter, Director (read the full interview at We Are Moving Stories)

Strand: Closing Night Rock Docs
Screening: Saturday July 14 from 7.00pm at Backlot Cinemas
Synopsis: The live music scene in Sydney has seen some amazing artists get their break and establish successful careers. Sadly, venues have been closing across the city, and the culture has been irrevocably altered. So what does the live music scene in Sydney look like today, where do artists go to perform, or is the Sydney scene dead?
From the filmmaker: “We want to break the narrative that Sydney is a dead town. The more noise we can make about it, and the more people we can get supporting live music and going to gigs, the better.” Samantha Holder, Co-director (read the full interview at We Are Moving Stories)

The 2018 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL runs July 6-14 at various venues around Melbourne. Check the official website for ticketing and session information.




Taking its title from the mythical swamp beasts that stalk the heroes of Rob Reiner’s beloved fairy-tale The Princess Bride, the documentary Rodents of Unusual Size is the latest in the ‘eco-statement factual filmmaking’ genre. It is the story of the ‘nutria’, an introduced species of South American swamp rat that has decimated the Louisiana wetlands and must be controlled via humane methods. But for co-directors Quinn Costello, Jeff Springer and Chris Metzler, what presented itself was a grander story; one of resilience, determination to overcome adversity and learning to co-exist in harmony with non-indigenous settlers, albeit the four-legged, buck-toothed variety.

“We kept kicking around ideas about how best to approach the story and at one point we just decided that we needed to jump on an airplane and head to Louisiana,” says Metzler, talking to SCREEN-SPACE ahead of the films screening at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July. The documentary playfully establishes how the nutria came to the U.S. mainland, crafting animation sequences that depict their importation for pelt and meat marketing. Once unconfined, however, the animals bred rampantly as feral vermin with no natural predator to keep numbers in check. Australian audiences will be able to draw clear parallels, a connection not lost on Metzler. “Of course, we have always been a big fan of Mark Lewis' Cane Toads: An Unnatural History,” says the filmmaker.

Once in ‘The Bayou State’, the production was inspired by the uniqueness of the setting. Recalls Metzler, “You get taken in by the beauty of the area, the sheer number of nutria that were destroying it and the dedication and joy of the people who were tackling the issue.” The young directors recognized that to tell the story of the nutria is to also tell the story of the locals with whom it shares the swamp lands and increasingly, the population centres. “Despite [us] being outsiders, we were trusted right off the bat,” says Metzler. “It is unique to that part of the country, their inherent hospitality, pride in their culture and good humor.” (Pictured, right; directors Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer)

Central to the narrative was local identity Thomas Gonzales (pictured, left), a hardened fisherman who has turned his skills towards hunting nutria for the bounty offered by local government. “When we met him for the first time, we were on his boat checking out the area within the first 10 minutes,” says Metzler. Having survived hurricanes and oil spills, Gonzales knows a threat when he sees one. “Nutria like to breed and have lots of babies. As Thomas says, ‘As long as there are two left, there's going to be millions more,’” cites Metzler, whose camera captures how Gonzales and his family maximizes each kill as a source of income and sustenance.

Rodents of Unusual Size is frank in its depiction of the culling and re-use of the nutria, an experience that challenged the three lads, each born-and–bred city folk. “Looking through the lens creates a barrier, so you feel a bit detached. But any given hunt can yield as many as 300 nutrias, so you look up from the camera [and] you are quickly brought back to reality,” admits Metzler. Over time, however, the clear necessity of the eradication program outweighed personal reactions. “Witnessing the destruction they cause and considering the animals [that] are going to suffer, we started to understand and accept the hunting. Over time, nutria numbers have dropped from 20 million down to about 5 million,” says Metzler, who points out that plague proportions mean animal welfare groups have accepted that culling is unavoidable. “P.E.T.A. has been silent on the issue as many see it as the lesser or two evils,” he says.

After the journey undertaken to tell the story of the nutria and the land and people who share their existence, the three filmmakers remain divided into ‘for-and-against’ nutria camps. “I think they are fuzzy and cute and want one as a pet,” beams Metzler, “[but] Jeff and Quinn want to barbecue them up.”

RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE will screen Wednesday July 11 as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Ticket and session details can be found at the official website.