Steven Oliver in ‘Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky’.
Local films from directors Jo-Anne Brechin and Steven McGregor are among the 12 world premieres to feature on the line-up for MIFF 68½ – Melbourne International Film Festival’s upcoming digital-only iteration.
To run August 6-23, the event will encompass some 69 features and 44 shorts from 56 countries – an impressive number given the rights complications inherent in putting together an online showcase. Forty-nine per cent of films are from a female director, and all films are available to stream across Australia.
MIFF artistic director Al Cossar said: “I’m delighted to say that, despite the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, MIFF’s ‘radical act’ is to keep going and continue on our mission to bring you the world through unforgettable screen experiences. At MIFF, we are driven by a deep understanding that film has the ability to entertain, inspire, illuminate and empower audiences in a way that few other mediums can – qualities we welcome now more than ever.”
Written by and starring Luke Saliba, Brechin’s Geelong-shot rom-com Paper Champions follows a mannered photocopier salesman who finds his life is as blank and meaningless as the A4 paper that logjams his days, and steps out to find love and reclaim his sense of self. Joining Saliba in the cast are Tessa de Josselin, Gary Sweet and John Tui.
A Raw Film production for NITV, McGregor’s Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky sees host Steven Oliver invite audiences to experience the arrival of the HMS Endeavour through First Nations eyes, and includes performances from Indigenous artists such as Trials, Birdz, Kev Carmody, Mau Power, Fred Leone, Alice Skye and Mo’Ju.
Also to premiere is Alex Roberts and Daniel Leclair’s documentary The Meddler, which follows German Cabrera, a man based in Guatemala City – where 98 percent of homicides go unprosecuted – who has devoted his life to capturing crime footage for news outlets and police.
The festival will also present Karrabing Film Collective’s latest work, Day in the Life. Described as “hip-hop-infused visual kaleidoscope”, the film brings together archival audio, music and clips, as it charts a day in a remote Aboriginal community and the unrelenting experience of marginalisation.
Other local films on the line-up are include Monica Zanetti’s queer rom-com Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt), starring Sophie Hawkshaw, Zoe Terakes, and Marta Dusseldorp, which premiered at the Mardi Gras Film Festival earlier this year; and documentaries The Leadership, from Ili Baré and The Plastic House, from Alison Chhorn, both of which recently premiered at Sydney Film Festival.
MIFF will screen a restoration of Rolf de Heer’s 1991 feature Dingo, which follows a small-town West Australian trumpet player (Colin Friels) on a quest to reunite with his jazz hero, and features the first and last feature-film role for jazz great Miles Davis. It will also host a 30th anniversary virtual table read of John Ruane’s Death in Brunswick, to be directed by John Sheedy.
While most of the films presented will be able to be streamed on-demand, there are several special events and certain strands, such as Program Spotlights, will be held at specific session times.
The festival will open with the Australian premiere of auteur Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, which follows a taciturn loner and skilled cook (John Magaro) who has travelled west and joined a group of fur trappers in Oregon Territory. He only finds true connection with a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) also seeking his fortune; soon the two collaborate on a successful business, although its longevity is reliant upon the clandestine participation of a nearby wealthy landowner’s prized milking cow.
Benh Zeitlin’s Wendy screens as the festival’s Centrepiece. A contemporary reimagining of Peter Pan set in the American south, the film sees Zeitlin focus his lens on Wendy (Devine France), as she follows Peter to a mysterious island to escape the monotony of her daily existence.
To close, the festival will screen Pablo Larraín’s Gael García Bernal-starrer Ema. Set in the dance world of the port city of Valparaíso, Chile, the film follows a couple falling apart after a failed adoption.
This year, MIFF has also appointed a series of festival ambassadors who will provide their picks of the program and drop-in along the way to host special events with filmmakers throughout the festival. They include: Gillian Armstrong; Fayssal Bazzi; Jack Charles; Mirrah Foulkes; Hannah Gadsby; Rachel Griffiths; Justin Kurzel; Steven Oliver; Chris Pang; Aaron Pedersen; Stanislava Pinchuk; Remi Kolawole; John Sheedy; and Ben Shewry.
Among the other international films is the winner of the 2020 Sundance US Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’s Boys State; Audrey Plaza-starrer Black Bear, from Lawrence Michael Levine; the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s docu-fiction adaptation of Olaf Stapledon’s novel Last and First Men, narrated by Tilda Swinton; Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi and Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s On The Record.
There’s also this year’s Berlinale Crystal Bear winner, Alexandre Rockwell’s coming-of-age drama Sweet Thing; Locarno 2019’s Golden Leopard, Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela; Bassam Tariq’s Mogul Mowgli; Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby; Maya Da-Rin’s The Fever; Ivan Ostrochovský’s Servants and Faraz Shariat’s No Hard Feelings.
Tickets on sale July 17. Full program here.