Thursday, August 06, 2009

Melbourne International Film Festival

I spent last weekend in Melbourne for MIFF; the Melbourne International Film Festival. The festival features three weeks of films including a plethora of controversial films, some that were shown and others that were pulled in a flurry of publicity.

Lars Von Triers Antichrist and Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs are almost guaranteed mass walk outs but more chaos was caused when Chinese hackers crashed the website escalating tensions over a visit here by Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled leader of the Uighur minority, who was featured in the documentary Ten Conditions of Love. Online bookings for the Melbourne International Film Festival had to be shut down after the site was bombarded with phony purchases which resulted in the entire program being sold out. This was after Looking For Eric was pulled by director Ken Loach protesting over the festival support of Israeli cinema.

Luckily I was there for a jam packed few days that kicked off with an enthralling interview with Nicolas Winding Refn; the director of the Pusher series and the film that won the prize at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, Bronson.

Duncan Jones’ Moon provided the first viewing pleasure of the trip and what a trip it was. Starring Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey, this is a beautifully judged piece of modern science fiction taking in elements of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running. The story of lunar loneliness and the fragility of mankind is an amazing debut feature. The performances, the script, the subtle use of FX, Clint Mansell’s excellent score; Moon is bound for top ten lists at the end of the year.

Then it was off to see the newly restored print of Richard Lowenstein's Dogs in Space starring the late Michael Hutchence. From the opening queue for Bowie tickets, the singer's 1978 Stage tour, to the final slow motion walk to the heaven bound limo, this was an entertaining blast from the past that vividly captured a moment in Australian post punk culture. The script was developed from Lowenstein's own experiences and the central character Sam is based on Sam Sejavka from the band The Ears, with whom Lowenstein lived in the 1970's. This was the only time that many of the band’s shown performing were ever captured on film and Hutchence stole every scene he was in, despite barely saying a word. After the screening Lowenstein joined star Saskia Post plus some of his original house mates including Sejavka.

The next day was Inglourious Basterds day starting with an interview with this year’s winner of best actor at the Cannes Film Festival, Christoph Waltz. After that I talked Bowie, pipes and Basterds with Tarantino himself and had a few words with Diane Kruger on the red carpet. The World War II epic, branded as Jewish revenge porn by one of the stars Eli Roth, is fantastic. Gun toting film critics, German propaganda cinema and double agent actresses don’t normally feature in your average war film but Tarantino works his script writing magic, in German and French, with his usual prowess. The opening scene and the now legendary bar meeting are perfectly judged examples of restraint as they ratchet up the tension. Waltz earned his best actor nod stealing the show as The Jew Hunter Col. Hans Landa and Brad Pitt has fun with Lt Aldo Raine, the head of the 'Basterds' on a mission to blow up a cinema frequented by the F├╝hrer and his Nazi cronies. How truthful it is to history you’ll have to see but as the director says, "My characters changed the outcome of the war, that didn't happen, because my characters didn't exist, but if they had existed, everything in the film is fairly plausible." Tarantino was interviewed on stage by comedian John Safran prior to the screening.

Finally we ended with the British ‘hoody’ horror Eden Lake starring Michael Fassbinder and Kelly Reilly. This was a fabulous little Brit horror film showing how grim it can get North of the River when the British youth push things too far.

My last day in Melbourne gave me a chance to have a chat with Jonathan Auf Der Heide, the director of Van Dieman’s Land, which I caught last month at the Sydney Film Festival. Keep posted for news of where my interviews will appear.