Melbourne International Film Festival unveils 2019 program

MIFF19 Once Upon A TimeCelebrating its 68th year, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) has unveiled its 2019 program – the largest in its history, showcasing 259 feature films, 123 shorts and 16 virtual reality experiences, MIFF 2019 will include 31 world premieres and 160 Australian premieres over 18 electrifying days of cinema.

“I am absolutely thrilled to share my first festival with Melbourne in 2019,” said Artistic Director, Al Cossar. “Rich in its diversity, this program is a true celebration of cinema: promising countless adventures into the kinds of places and people, ideas and experiences that you won’t find at your local multiplex.”

“With titles from 78 countries, MIFF 2019 gives you the world on film; and as one of the world’s largest showcases of Australian filmmaking, it’s a chance for audiences to celebrate our own stories, too,” he added.

In a coup for the festival, MIFF will be the first place that Melburnians can watch the year’s most anticipated film – Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood as it premieres on the festival’s opening weekend.

A love letter to, and elegy for, the Golden Age of American movie-making, as well as a long overdue feature double bill for Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood sees the pair co-starring as ageing TV actor and wannabe movie star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double/driver/best friend Cliff Booth (Pitt).

Featuring a brilliant supporting cast that includes Australia’s Margot Robbie and Damon Herriman, alongside Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Damien Lewis, and Luke Perry (in his final big-screen role), Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood will screen on 35mm at the iconic Astor Theatre to make the most of its stunning celluloid texture.

Having already announced three of its four Gala event films – including the opening night screening of the extraordinary Adam Goodes documentary, The Australian Dream the festival will conclude with the Closing Night Gala screening of director Lulu Wang’s acclaimed The Farewell

Recipient of the Sundance Institute’s Vanguard Award in honour of its innovation, originality and independent spirit, The Farewell expands upon a true story Wang previously revealed on NPR’s This American Life. Based on an actual lie, the film follows Chinese-born, US-raised Billi (Awkwafina), who returns to Changchun to find that although the whole family knows its beloved matriarch, Nai Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, they’ve decided to keep Nai Nai in the dark about it. Funny, heart-warming and achingly honest, The Farewell is both deeply heartfelt and delightfully wry.

MIFF 2019 offers audiences the chance to see, hear and experience cinema like never before thanks to a diverse program that goes beyond the big screen to include captivating cross pollinations with iconic names from the music world and a dedicated virtual reality program along with an investigation into the impact of the online sphere on humans; a timely focus on films that explore the environmental concerns of our age; a movie marathon dedicated to Jeff Goldblum; and much, much more.

A dual award winner at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale pulls no punches in its brutal depiction of life in colonial Tasmania – in particular, the lives of women and Indigenous Australians. With extraordinary performances from Irish actor Aisling Franciosi (Game of Thrones) and Elcho Island’s Baykali Ganambarr (who won Venice’s Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor), The Nightingale is an essential, if unsettling, cinematic experience.

Winner of the Best Director prize at Cannes, Young Ahmed comes from two-time Palme d’Or-winning filmmakers JeanPierre and Luc Dardenne and tells the provocative but ultimately tender tale of an Islamic teenager who falls under the influence of an extremist.

In Matthias & Maxime, French-Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan returns with a funny, tense and heartfelt love story about two childhood best friends coming to terms with their secret feelings for each other; while tensions between violent cops and neighbourhood youth explode in director Ladj Ly’s Cannes Jury Prize-winning Les Misérableswhich brings the spirit of Victor Hugo to the cultural skirmishes of the Parisian suburbs.

Filtering today’s bleak political reality through a scathingly satirical lens, provocateur Chris Morris (Four Lions, MIFF 2010) takes inspiration from a hundred true stories in the Anna Kendrick-starring counter-terrorism farce, The Day Shall Come.

Acclaimed and adored director Pedro Almodóvar reunites with actors Antonio Banderas (who won the Cannes Best Actor prize for the role) and Penelope Cruz for Pain and Glory, Almodóvar’s vibrant, provocative and nostalgic homage to an endlessly fascinating topic: himself.

Winner of Best Screenplay and the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes, Girlhood director Ce?line Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire depicts a beautifully calibrated, incandescent romance between a painter and her subject. Working from a deceptively simple narrative, Sciamma tightens the emotional screws with devastating precision as she explores her characters’ emotionally overwhelming relationship with heartbreaking clarity.

The Dead Don’t Die sees Jim Jarmusch reunite with Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and an all-star cast for his Cannes-opening, deadpan take on zombie comedy that simmers with the terror of the present, while in Sorry We Missed You – director Ken Loach’s wrenching tale of the way we live now – is a family drama about how the gig economy undermines the very people it promises to save.

In White Light, fearless Australian artist, activist and documentary maker George Gittoes reports from the epicentre of America’s gun violence catastrophe: South Side Chicago. A first-hand account of the people and politics animating America’s bloodiest battlefield, White Light sees Gittoes bring his trademark humanity and cinematographic verve to the streets of Chicago, once again staking his claim as our most clear-eyed and compassionate documentary filmmaker.

Trailblazing drama Kairos will have its world premiere at the festival. Kairos sees one of the breakout stars of Down Under (MIFF 2016), Chris Bunton – who also appears in MIFF’s 2019 Centrepiece Gala film, Little Monsters – pack a formidable punch in a rare local film that places both a performer and a character with Down syndrome at its centre; while high school and hook-up apps go hand-in-hand in Sequin in a Blue Room – an adventurous exploration of technology and young sexuality from recent AFTRS graduate Samuel Van Grinsven .

Starring Tiriel Mora (The Castle) and Elly Chatfield (Australia), Smoke Between Trees is the sensitive and emotionally rich story of a broken man whose life is forever changed when he’s reunited with his grandson. Tracing an intimate and sensitive arc of interpersonal relationships, Smoke Between Trees from director Michael Joy (Men’s Group) sketches a broader picture of family, race, cultural resilience and love, offering a sympathetic and captivating portrait of a devastated man putting himself back together again

An intimate and uplifting drama, Emu Runner is the result of a 15-year collaboration between first-time Australian director Imogen Thomas and the people of Brewarrina in New South Wales. From its eye-catching landscape, to its tender narrative, to the charismatic performance from newcomer Rhae-Kye Waites as Gem, Emu Runner is a standout local drama for all ages.

Morgana is the story of Morgana Muses – a woman who in her late forties was an unhappy housewife in Albury, but by 50 had established herself as a feminist pornography icon. In a documentary as lively as its subject, co-directors Isabel Peppard and Josie Hess celebrate Morgana’s late-in-life calling, journeying from regional Victoria to Berlin’s BDSM scene to tell her unique and empowering story.

In another absorbing female-focused documentary, Martha: A Picture Story sees filmmaker Selina Miles illuminate the life of intrepid American photojournalist Martha Cooper – a remarkable figure known for her trailblazing documentation of street art and graffiti culture. Rocketing through Berlin, New York and Baltimore, the film sees Cooper’s adventures come to life with rich archival footage, tales from subjects and peers, and through her own electrifying photos.

Outback zombies, supernatural housing projects, female revenge, sleep deprivation and Gothic spookiness electrify in Dark Place – a twisted horror anthology from five up-and-coming Indigenous filmmakers. Produced by Majhid Heath (Warwick Thornton’s The Darkside), Dark Place explores contemporary Indigenous ideas via the expressive medium of fantasy/horror – with deliciously entertaining results.

Topping-off MIFF’s Australian line-up are seven previously-announced premieres from the MIFF Premiere Fund, with four of them being directorial debuts from alumni of the MIFF Accelerator Lab: Jayden Stevens’ A Family; Maziar Lahooti’s Below; Rodd Rathjen’s Buoyancy (the first Premiere Fund film to screen as part of the MIFF Headliners strand); and MIFF 2019 Family Gala H is for Happiness from John Sheedy.

The other three premieres are: Paul Ireland’s Measure for Measure; Hylton Shaw and Samantha Dinning’s No Time For Quiet; and Serge Ou’s Iron Fists & Kung Fu Kicks, which ties-in with a Shaw Brothers’ double feature in the program.

Showcasing MIFF’s commitment to unearthing the best of global cinema – and presenting a record slate of 44 films direct from Cannes – this year’s international highlights include:

Alice – French-Australian filmmaker Josephine Mackerras’s SXSW Grand Jury Prize-winning story of one woman’s empowerment. Sensitively destigmatising common ideas about sex work, Mackerras’ understated and unadorned feature debut is striking for its un-sensationalised representation of the industry and welcome lack of melodrama.

Seven years after Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine heads back to the beach with The Beach Bum. Reuniting with cinematographer Benoît Debie (Climax, MIFF 2018), Korine serves up another slice of neon-hued debauchery: trading gun-toting college co-eds for a bongo-playing, bong-smoking free spirit by the name of Moondog – a role Matthew McConaughey was born to play.

The astonishing Vai sees eight different female directors from eight separate Pacific Island nations celebrate Indigenous resilience and creativity through the life of one extraordinary woman. This ambitious film makes breathtaking use of the natural environment of the Pacific region, but most importantly, Vai gives Pasifika filmmakers control of their own stories. The result is a bold, beautiful showcase of often hidden and misunderstood communities and the complex lives that exist within them.

Winner of UNESCO’s Cultural Diversity Award at the 2018 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Indonesian auteur Garin Nugroho’s Memories of My Body dances through gender stereotypes, societal oppression and his homeland’s recent political history. Inspired by the life of dancer Rianto, who narrates the film as himself, Memories of My Body is both a sensitive rite-of-passage drama and a tribute to the cathartic power of artistic expression.

With a star-studded cast that includes Olivia Colman and Walton Goggins, Them That Follow examines an overtly religious Pentecostal society that has cut itself off from the rest of the world. The feature debut from writer/director duo Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, Them That Follow is a slow-burning, deeply empathetic thriller driven by outstanding performances.

The 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival runs 1 – 18 August. For more information and complete program, visit: for details.

Image: Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (supplied)