First glance at 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival

MIFF Down Under Abe ForsytheCelebrating its 65th edition, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) has announced its First Glance line-up of titles and new initiatives ahead of the 18-day festival, which opens on 28 July with the World Premiere of The Death and Life of Otto Bloom.

“There is much that is new at MIFF this year – including our exciting new section, Headliners, and a deep exploration of what’s new and what’s next in virtual reality,” says Michelle Carey, Artistic Director MIFF. “But then there are the films! 2016 is proving to be a massively strong year in features, docs, shorts and local productions that impress in their breadth. Come explore with us!”

Marking the halfway point in the festival, MIFF is thrilled to feature Abe Forsythe’s Down Under (Australia) as this year’s red carpet Centrepiece Gala. A black comedy set during the aftermath of the Cronulla riots, Down Under is the story of two carloads of hotheads from both sides of the fight destined to collide.

Sincere, though misguided, intent gives way to farcical ineptitude as this hilarious yet poignant story of ignorance, fear and kebab-cravings unfolds, and what was meant to be a retaliation mission turns into something neither side could have imagined. Featuring a strong ensemble cast spearheaded by Lincoln Younes (Love Child, The Wedding Party, MIFF 2010), Rahel Romahn (Underbelly, The Principal, MIFF 2015), Alexander England (Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story), Damon Herriman (100 Bloody Acres, MIFF 2012) and David Field (These Final Hours, MIFF 2013; Mystery Road, MIFF 2013).

Along with the Opening Night feature The Death and Life of Otto Bloom and Down Under, local films are in focus with the world premieres of the MIFF Premiere Fund-supported titles, including Ella, the heartwarming portrait of Ella Havelka, who made history in 2013 by becoming the first Indigenous dancer at the Australian Ballet; and The Family, an incendiary, heartbreaking investigation into one of Australia’s most notorious cults and the scars its victims still bear today.

Monsieur Mayonnaise, the incredible true tale of Melbourne’s beloved Mora family, mayonnaise sandwiches, Nazis and a hand-painted comic book; Emo (The Musical), a sweetly satirical story about tolerance, individuality and harmonising, that is a cheerfully irreverent take on Romeo and Juliet-style star-crossed love, via High School Musical and Glee; and Bad Girl, starring Samara Weaving (Mystery Road, MIFF 13) and Sara West (The Daughter, MIFF 15), a pulse-pounding psychological thriller that offers a boldly dramatic twist on the femme fatale.

Celebrating the consummate cinema experience with Headliners, where MIFF will present a selection of striking works from gifted filmmakers with star studded casts and standout performances at the beautiful Comedy Theatre. Here are five titles to whet your appetite…

High-Rise (UK), an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s subversive 1975 classic from MIFF favourite Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, MIFF 12), starring Tom Hiddleston as physiologist Dr Robert Laing in a gloriously unhinged work of darkly comic dystopian surrealism. Kelly Reichardt (Night Moves, MIFF 14) continues her loves affair with the American landscape with Certain Women (USA), a simmering insight into three women battling in small ways to sustain love and find connection, starring Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart.

Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Director, Mia Hansen-Løve’s life-affirming Things to Come (France/Germany), a magisterial, emotionally potent study of middle-age’s transitions, gifts, cruelties and loneliness starring Isabelle Huppert. Sunset Song (UK), the long-awaited passion project from director Terence Davies (Of Time and the City, MIFF 08; The House of Mirth) featuring a career-making performance from model Agyness Deyn. And Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (USA), from celebrated filmmaker Werner Herzog (Into the Abyss, MIFF 12), who returns with an entertaining, characteristically idiosyncratic look at the connected world.

Other early highlights include: Chevalier (Greece), from Greek new wave star Athina Rachel Tsangari (The Capsule, MIFF 12; Attenberg, MIFF 10), who returns to the festival with a bizarre and formally adventurous study of male antagonism set aboard a luxury yacht, co-written by Efthymis Flippou (The Lobster, MIFF 15); Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie (UK/USA), a revealing, hilarious and absurd film, his first made for the cinema, in which Louis Theroux retains goes straight to the source to know what life is like inside the Church of Scientology; and Men & Chicken (Denmark) – a wildly unhinged black comedy about two half-brothers who, upon learning they were adopted, go in search of their real father.

Also from Denmark, the Academy Award-nominated Best Foreign Language Film A War – from writer/director Tobias Lindholm (director of A Hijacking, MIFF 13; co-writer of The Hunt, MIFF 12) and starring Pilou Askbaek (soon to be seen in Game of Thrones) – vibrates with haunting, documentary-like realism and refuses to settle for easy answers as it digs into the moral implications of combat in a way few films manage.

Films that blur the lines between documentary and fiction include Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine (USA), the Special Jury Award winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which follows Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to play journalist Christine Chubbuck, who in 1974 infamously committed suicide live on air; and Sonita (Germany/Switzerland/Iran), winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award (World Cinema – Documentary), which tells the inspiring story of a gutsy, defiant 14-year-old Afghan refugee whose dream is to become the next Rihanna – a feel good tale that challenges the very nature of what documentary should be.

This year, book-to-film adaptations provide a strong slate, including: Indignation (USA), on which legendary film industry veteran James Schamus makes his directorial debut by bringing Philip Roth’s deeply personal novel to the screen in a sharply delivered, physiologically focused exploration of the human condition; and Cosmos (Portugal/France), the first film in 15 years and the bittersweet swansong for singular auteur Andrzej Zulawski, and his adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s surreal mystery novel.

From the offbeat to the plain bizarre comes Tickled (New Zealand), where journalist David Farrier investigates the world of “competitive endurance tickling”, which soon takes a darker turn; Zero Days (USA), in which Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Finding Fela!, MIFF 2014) turns his finely honed investigative eye to the frightening world of state-sponsored cyber warfare; and the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Weiner (USA) – a fascinating pièce de résistance where the filmmakers are given unprecedented access to US Democrat Congressman Anthony Weiner during his now-infamous mayoral campaign.

Combining fantasy, imagination and artistry, Kaili Blues (China) is the striking debut from 26-year-old Chinese poet turned filmmaker Bi Gan that transforms from road movie into waking dream, at once vivid and fascinatingly enigmatic; Girl Asleep (Australia), the sparkling filmmaking debut of Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre Artistic Director Rosemary Myers, is a wonderfully eccentric modern fairytale of female adolescence; while Life, Animated (USA) is a powerful emotional experience about a young boy with autism who is able to open up through animated Disney films, which scored director Roger Ross Williams the award for best directing (US Documentary) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Heartfelt gems about love and loss include artist Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog (USA), a love letter to a pooch that could be the wisest, most moving rumination on life and death you’ll see this year; and No Home Movie (Belgium/France), an intimate and personal work about love that is the last work of one of cinema’s most innovative figures, Chantal Akerman (Almayer’s Folly, MIFF 12).

From Japan comes Happy Hour, a joyfully discursive cinematic journey about four 30-something friends, that over the course of five hours builds a remarkably warm and textured emotional portrait of contemporary womanhood; and Madly (USA/Argentina/Australia/UK/India/Japan), in which love bewitches, bewilders, baffles and binds across six short films from six filmmaking talents including MIFF 2015 guest Sebastián Silva (Nasty Baby, MIFF 15) and Australian actor/director Mia Wasikowska (Tim Winton’s The Turning, MIFF 13).

The 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival runs 28 July – 14 August. The full program of over 300 titles will be announced on Tuesday 5 July with public tickets on sale Friday 8 July 2016. For more information, visit: www.miff.com.au for details.

Image: Abe Forsythe’s Down Under

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