This year’s festival will open with the world premiere of the much-anticipated documentary The Australian Dream – written by Walkley award-winning Australian journalist Stan Grant. This moving work is a powerful exploration of race, identity and belonging as told from the perspective of champion AFL footballer and Indigenous rights activist, Adam Goodes.
In 2013, Goodes – a dual Brownlow Medalist and two-time premiership champion – demanded that a 13-year-old Collingwood supporter who’d called him an “ape” be removed from the ground, unwittingly prompting a ferocious national conversation about racism from which neither the AFL, nor Goodes, ever fully recovered.
“We’re thrilled that The Australian Dream will have its World Premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival and to share this first look with Australians,” said Grant. “This is the story of Adam Goodes and a moment when Australia faced the worst in itself. But it is more than that – it is the story of a country and its history. A story of pain but, above all, hope.”
Directed by BAFTA-winning documentarian Daniel Gordon and written by Grant (a Wiradjiri man whose 2015 viral speech in the wake of the Goodes affair has been dubbed “Australia’s Martin Luther King moment”), The Australian Dream is Goodes’ story.
The film charts the former footballer’s life from his pre-draft days through to his post-AFL career as an outspoken Indigenous rights activist, but its triumph lies in its potency as a searing document that exposes the nation’s uneasy relationship with First Nations people while celebrating the greatness of a true Australian champion.
A co-production between Academy Award-winning Passion Pictures (Searching for Sugar Man) and Melbourne-based Good Thing Productions, the film examines the best and worst of Australia by thoughtfully positioning archival footage alongside illuminating interviews with the likes of Grant; politicians Nova Peris and Linda Burney; Indigenous AFL players Michael O’Loughlin, Nicky Winmar and Gilbert McAdam; commentators Eddie McGuire and Andrew Bolt; and of course, Goodes himself.
“The Australian Dream is a compelling kick start to our festival this year, and to a national conversation,” said Al Cossar, the festival’s new artistic director. “It’s an accomplished piece of documentary filmmaking that tackles broader questions of who we are as a nation, together, in deeply affecting terms. It’s a film for all Australians, and a film for now. We can’t wait to share it with MIFF audiences.”
This year, MIFF will make a triumphant return to the newly refurbished Capitol Theatre, with Sydney-based director Abe Forsythe’s (Down Under, MIFF ‘16) sweetly hilarious “zom-com” Little Monsters making its Australian debut as the festival’s Centerpiece Gala.
Featuring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o as a ukulele-playing, zombie-slaying kindergarten teacher, alongside Josh Gad (Frozen), Kat Stewart (Offspring), Alexander England (Alien: Covenant) and Nadia Townsend (Mad Max: Fury Road), Little Monsters is a funny, gory, crowd-pleasing love letter to all the kindergarten teachers who help children to bloom while protecting them from being eaten by zombies.
Displaying Forsythe’s signature blend of black comedy and poignant heart, Little Monsters wowed midnight audiences and critics alike at its Sundance world premiere, with Collider describing it as, “a delightfully crude, wild ride with a standout performance that continues to prove Nyong’o can do no wrong.”
Completing the gala announcements is the world premiere of H is for Happiness – the festival’s 2019 Family Gala film, which will screen on 11 August at the iconic Astor Theatre. Featuring Miriam Margolyes, Emma Booth, Richard Roxburgh, Deborah Mailman and Joel Jackson alongside show-stealing performances from newcomers Daisy Axon and Wesley Patten, H is for Happiness is a delightful adaptation of Australian author Barry Jonsberg’s acclaimed young adult novel, My Life as an Alphabet.
Making his feature debut, John Sheedy (director of MIFF ‘17 Best Australian Short, Mrs McCutcheon) delivers a warm-hearted hug of a film, unafraid to tackle serious themes while remaining laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly uplifting. Supported through the MIFF Premiere Fund, H is for Happiness is a charming film for the whole family.
The 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival runs 1 – 18 August. Full program revealed Tuesday 9 July. For more information, visit: www.miff.com.au for details.
Image: Adam Goodes stars in The Australian Dream (supplied)