After the tumult of the last couple of years, you’d forgive the team behind this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) if they kept things intimate. But given it’s the 70th anniversary of Australia’s largest and longest-running film festival, that was never going to happen.
“Somehow MIFF is actually bigger than ever this year,” chuckles artistic director Al Cossar, as if he doesn’t quite believe it himself. “It’s really exciting, exhausting and exhilarating.” He wanted to embrace the new normal of meeting audiences where they are after two years of streaming online-only. So MIFF will once again take over cinemas across the city from August 4-21, including bringing Carlton’s giant-sized IMAX back into the fold.
It will also spread out to the suburbs, catering for cinemagoers who prefer to stay local, with Yarraville’s Sun Theatre, Coburg’s Pentridge Cinema and Hawthorn’s Lido Cinema joining the illustrious Astor Theatre in St Kilda. Then there will be nine regional hubs, including the Peninsula Cinemas in Sorrento, Star Cinema in Bendigo, The Pivotonian in Geelong, and Paramount Cinemas in Echuca. You can also choose to MIFF and chill at home, sticking to your sofa and streaming 18 days of festival highlights from August 11-28.
The in-cinema offering is evolving too, with special relaxed screenings, and sessions that welcome folks with babies. “A festival is more than the sum of its films,” Cossar says. “It’s the sum of its moments.”
MIFF will screen Of An Age as the opening night gala. A soon-to-be Australian classic, it’s a '90s Melbourne-set queer whirlwind romance from fast-rising filmmaker Goran Stolevski. His remarkable folkloric horror debut You Won’t Be Alone is also in the program. The cinema run will close out with Lachlan McLeod’s Clean, a documentary tribute to the remarkable life of ‘trauma cleaner’ Sandra Pankhurst.
It's a year of breaking records. MIFF presents its biggest-ever haul from the Cannes Film Festival (61), and 11 films backed by MIFF’s premiere fund, supporting new Australian titles. But above all else, Cossar wants to celebrate the festival’s connection to the city. To mark the anniversary, there’s also a program strand celebrating Melbourne on screen.
Ushering in a new era, this year introduces the MIFF Bright Horizons Competition. Backed by VicScreen, the astounding $140,000 prize will be awarded to one of 11 competing first and second features from up-and-coming Australian and international directors. Alena Lodkina and Thomas M Wright – who made a splash with their MIFF debuts Strange Colours and Acute Misfortune – are both in the mix with their follow-ups Petrol and The Stranger.
“With anniversaries, you get into this thing of looking backwards, but this is an initiative that’s all about looking forwards,” Cossar says. “We wanted to create a space for the breakthrough, the new, the next and the unexpected. Some of the most exciting films that we see are those that come from nowhere and seem to take over the world.”
Read on below for Cossar’s top ten films to see at this year’s MIFF.