The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) returns this August with a packed program toplined by MIFF’s first-ever Opening Night film from a female Indigenous director, the debuts of a record 11 Premiere Fund films, the first Australian film in Cannes Competition in a decade, and much-anticipated titles from Berlin, Venice and Sundance film festivals.
Building on the success of MIFF’s 2020 online-only festival – which reached the largest audience in the festival’s history – the innovations of MIFF 2021 will give films their biggest ever platform at MIFF, presenting for the first time ever as a hybrid festival across cinema and digital.
Once again meeting audiences where they are, MIFF returns to familiar theatres across Melbourne CBD, while expanding into five suburban sites, screening in eight regional centres and streaming online nationally via the festival’s new digital platform, MIFF Play.
In a coup for Melbourne audiences, MIFF’s Opening Night Gala features the Australian premiere of Leah Purcell’s highly-anticipated The Drover’s Wife The Legend Of Molly Johnson.
A vivid reckoning with Australia’s colonial history, the revisionist outback western speaks emphatically to the realities, both past and present, of racial injustice – told through the lens of an Indigenous woman.
The film completes a multi-format trilogy based on Henry Lawson’s 1892 short story, which began with Purcell’s award-winning play and subsequent novel The Drover’s Wife.
“I am excited to bring the Dreaming storytelling structure of The Drover’s Wife The Legend Of Molly Johnson to the big screen and as part of such a prestigious festival” said Leah Purcell.
“It is an honour to be the first female Indigenous director to have an opening night film at MIFF and I am thrilled to act as an ambassador for their stellar showcase of filmmaking.”
Both director and actor, Purcell’s amazing central performance as the impassioned matriarch Molly Johnson, which heralds a new Indigenous feminist heroine, is supported by stunning performances from Rob Collins (Cleverman, The Wrong Girl) as Yadaka, the fugitive turned friend, British sergeant Sam Reid (The Riot Club) and his activist wife Jessica de Gouw (Arrow, The Secrets She Keeps).
“Leah Purcell’s monumental The Drover’s Wife The Legend Of Molly Johnson will not just open MIFF this year – it will kick the doors in,” said Al Cossar, the festival’s artistic director.
“This is a film made for MIFF’s return to cinema – an outback western of grand vision; a resonant, revisionist force of filmmaking that has much to say about our country then, and who we are now.”
“The film will lead a slate of extraordinary Australian storytellers – emerging, established, revered – who give momentum and meaning to the core of MIFF this year,” said Cossar.
While The Drover’s Wife will lead the charge, the 69th festival will be hallmarked by a formidable collection of world premiere Australian films, international award winners and special events, including the first Australian film in a decade to premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
Ahead of the full program announcement on 13 July, a selection of the most anticipated films and events from the program includes:
PREMIERE FUND FILMS
The MIFF Premiere Fund’s 2021 slate is the largest collection of films in the Fund’s 14-year history of co-financing and supporting ‘stories that need telling’ with a record 11 films premiering – five of those directed by alumni of emerging director initiative MIFF Accelerator Lab.
Timely themes around identity, activism, mental health, artistic endeavour and expression, and intercultural respect run through the star-studded slate which features such names as Courtney Barnett, Essie Davis, Judy Davis, Stephen Fry, Elton John, Caleb Landry Jones, Sir Ian McKellan, and Hugo Weaving.
Direct from its world premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival is Nitram, the first Australian film in Cannes Competition in a decade and the first Victorian film to earn that accolade in more than 30 years, from MIFF Accelerator Lab alumnus director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown).
Touching on themes of mental health and identity are two astonishingly tender films exploring the highs and lows of artistic endeavour in the music industry. The notoriously shy and vastly talented Courtney Barnett pulls back the curtain in Anonymous Club, an intimate first-person exposition on creativity, vulnerability and artistic life on the road, directed by Danny Cohen; while storied Australian rock band The Triffids, and the triumph and ultimate tragedy of their brilliant frontman David McComb, are the focus for Love in Bright Landscapes from director Jonathan Alley.
Mark Leonard Winter (Measure for Measure, MIFF 2019) depicts another form of vulnerability, as a man bereft by his wife’s desertion until the sister of an Italian colleague breathes new life into his home and heart in Little Tornadoes. Accelerator Lab alumnus Aaron Wilson (Canopy, MIFF 2013) and co-writer Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap) create a portrait of the human desire for connection, set against a backdrop of a rapidly-changing Australia in the 1970s.
Featuring another star-studded Australian cast including Tilda Cobham-Hervey (I Am Woman), Chris Bunton (Kairos, MIFF 2019), Stephen Curry (Hounds of Love) and Hugo Weaving (Hearts and Bones, MIFF 2019), Lone Wolf is an inventive political thriller co-produced by Accelerator Lab Alumnus Mat Govoni (The Misfortune of Others, MIFF 2013) and directed by Jonathan Ogilvie.
Real-life activism is the focus of Hating Peter Tatchell – a deeply personal portrait of the revered and notorious Melbourne-born human rights activist and agitator extraordinaire, who took on the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Robert Mugabe in his fight for equality. The feature directorial debut of Christopher Amos is executive-produced by Elton John and features Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry alongside Tatchell’s candid and often indicting commentary throughout.
In a different story of activism, the feature directorial debut of Accelerator Lab alumnus Adrian Francis (Lessons from the Night, MIFF 2009), Paper City presents a poignant exploration of trauma and remembrance as it follows three elderly survivors of the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo in their fight against bureaucracy and indifference to demand recognition and reparation for those who have suffered.
The life and times of entrepreneur, impresario, entertainer and activist Bill Onus are explored in Ablaze – a compelling historical story of resistance and politically-driven art co-directed and narrated by his grandson, distinguished opera singer and academic Tiriki Onus, who also seeks to discover if his grandfather was Australia’s first ever Aboriginal filmmaker.
An eye-opening and empathetic feature documentary, from co-directors Rhian Skirving (Rock n Roll Nerd, MIFF 2008) and MIFF Accelerator Lab alumnus John Harvey (Out of Range, MIFF 2019), Off Country follows several Indigenous students as they navigate life far away from Country, boarding at the prestigious Geelong Grammar School on scholarships.
Jaded magician Dave Welzman also confronts questions of identity in Uluru and the Magician, as his plan to disappear Uluru takes him on a journey of discovery, teaching him about the sacred monolith, the Anangu people and reconciliation. Directed by Accelerator Lab alumna Anna Broinowski (Aim High in Creation! MIFF Premiere Fund 2013), this candid and comedic documentary explores the conflict between commodification and cultural respect and captures one man’s single-minded devotion to his craft being tempered by the magic at the heart of Australia.
In the final instalment of writer/director Trevor Graham’s culinary trilogy (Make Hummus Not War, MIFF 2012; Monsieur Mayonnaise, MIFF 2016), Chef Antonio’s Recipes for Revolution follows a hotel-restaurant in Italy staffed by young people with Down syndrome.
National Rugby League star Dean Widders’ spirited call-to-arms to celebrate First Nations culture with a ceremonial ‘unity dance’ worthy of going up against the haka is at the core of NITV commission Araatika: Rise Up! Celebrated writer and director Larissa Behrendt foregrounds the bonds between sport and community in this powerful documentary featuring prominent Indigenous voices such as Stan Grant and Adam Goodes.
Based on the experiences of another sporting great, Streamline features a teenager fighting to stay afloat in the world of competitive swimming echoing Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe’s early career. Shining a piercing light on teenage masculinity, abandonment and the pressures of competitive sport, the feature debut of Tyson Wade Johnstone includes a cameo from Thorpe himself, who also Executive Produced, and a cast including Jake Ryan (Underbelly, Savage) and the inimitable Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter).
Two years in the making, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter’s performance with Paul Grabowsky’s Australian Art Orchestra was legendary, winning the hearts of audiences across Australia – and a Helpmann Award. From long-time producer, first-time director Philippa Bateman (Jindabyne), Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow goes behind the scenes of the concert – and the story behind it – to produce a vital document on the transformative power of love, song and connection to country.
Another Australian icon Franco Cozzo takes centre stage in Palazzo Di Cozzo – a touching exploration of the Melbourne furniture mogul’s inspirational and aspirational story, directed by Madeleine Martiniello in a charming tale of multiculturalism and community.
Tragic and inspiring, Geeta is the story of an Indian acid attack survivor’s campaign for change in her community. Award-winning social justice filmmaker Emma Macey-Storch deftly depicts Geeta Mahour’s transformative love for her daughters, in a heartwarming call to action that’s both confronting and hopeful.
Restored in all their glory are two world-premiere restorations as part of the First Glance selection: Rachel Perkins’ affecting Aussie classic Radiance and Margot Nash’s acclaimed feature debut Vacant Possession.
Rounding out the 2021 First Glance announcement is MIFF’s much-loved night of sound and cinema, Hear My Eyes: Two Hands x The Murlocs. Helmed by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s Ambrose Kenny-Smith, The Murlocs combine a psychedelic garage rock sensibility with ambling blues, which meld to deliver a blistering live show. Performing their own, reimagined live score to Gregor Jordan’s Aussie classic – featuring Heath Ledger’s breakout performance — the band will bring their distinctive sound to the Astor Theatre for this powerful homage to a cult Australian classic.
The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) runs 5 – 22 August. Full program will be announced on 13 July 2021. For more information, visit: www.miff.com.au for details.
Images: The Drover’s Wife The Legend Of Molly Johnson | Nitram | Hating Peter Tatchell | Araatika: Rise Up! | Two Hands (supplied)