Culture

Beginner’s Guide to the Melbourne International Film Festival

9 August 2017

With the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) we’re lucky enough to have one of the oldest film festivals in the world, with a great line-up of local and international content. But even for the most seasoned filmgoer the excitement of attending can quickly morph into hyperventilated dread. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when there is so much going on, but there are a few easy things you can do that will make your first MIFF experience a little easier.

1. Download the app

Downloading the free MIFF app (available on Google Play and the App Store), will let you browse films, see what’s selling out and book tickets. On top of that, the app holds all your tickets for you, so you don’t need to print anything off!

2. Save money and time: buy a Mini Pass

Unless you’re only aiming to see one or two films (or are one of the few psychopaths who purchases a festival passport to see everything), a Mini Pass is the most cost-effective way to experience a good slice of the festival. For students, a Mini Pass costs $145 and lets you book tickets to see up to ten films or Talking Pictures – plus another three tickets for screenings before 5pm on weekdays.

3. Book early, arrive early

Screenings sell out fast, so there’s no time to waste if you’ve got your heart set on a particular film. At the same time, seating isn’t allocated, so get to your cinema at least 20-30 minutes before the film’s due to start to make sure you get a good seat.

4. Know what you like…

With so many incredible films on offer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by choice, especially if you’re going with other people. Ultimately, no matter how many friends you lose or people you leave dead and bloodied along the way, you won’t be able to catch everything. Make a short list of films based on the filmmakers or genres that interest you most and build your MIFF experience up from there.

5…but go outside your comfort zone

Last year, I tried to make it to every Kristen Stewart film in the festival. I’d never seen a film of hers before (Twilight included), but I thought she deserved to be heard out. It was a catastrophic mistake. On the flipside, I took a gamble and went to see Cemetery of Splendour – a Thai art film about sleeping sickness and ceiling fans – at MIFF 2015, which is now the subject of my PhD. MIFF is a great opportunity to broaden your horizons and see something that you usually wouldn’t, and frequently those risks pay off.

6. Catch a “blockbuster”

…but don’t expect Transformers. In 2015, tickets to Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster sold out within days of release. In 2016, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden went just as quickly. There will always be a few ‘blockbuster’ films that crash into MIFF riding the buzz from Cannes or Sundance, and it’s worth catching a screening a month or two before they get released worldwide. Festival audiences at these sorts of films are incredible – they elevate the experience of watching a film above what you’d normally feel in a cinema or watching it on Netflix at home.

7. Support Australian film

Although MIFF works on a smaller scale than similar festivals in Berlin or Venice, it’s still one of the best places to catch new Australian content. A few Australian features premier or have early releases at MIFF every year, but catching a short film screening or two is an absolute necessity as well. Most of these films are produced by small groups of dedicated Australian filmmakers that really believe in their projects, and your presence or social media support can have a huge impact on their success. Bonus points for attending a Q&A Screening and personally high fiving the entire crew.

8. And think internationally, too 

International film festivals like MIFF are the best places to catch a broad and exciting range of international content. Sadly, even in the most progressive arthouse cinemas the majority of films shown come from Western Europe and the US, with occasional standouts from cultural powerhouses like Iran, Japan and South Korea. Thankfully, terrific films from countries with less-established film industries can find viewers on the festival circuit, and in many cases, you won’t be able to catch these movies anywhere else (or might have to wait up to a year for domestic release)

9. My picks:

This wouldn’t be a festival guide if I didn’t shamelessly plug a few of the films I feel stand out in the program.

24 Frames (dir. Abbas Kiarostami, Iran)

Known for his poetic minimalism and experimental style, Abbas Kiarostami was one of the great artists of contemporary film, and his death in 2016 rocked the arthouse world. 24 Frames, his last film, curates a tableau of 24 visuals and strips his austere style down to the bare essentials of cinema – image and time. Well worth a watch if you’d like to challenge your expectations of what you can see or feel in a movie theatre.

Accelerator shorts

Accelerator 1 & 2 showcase short films by emerging filmmakers from Australia and abroad as part of MIFF’s Accelerator Lab program, which aims to help early-career filmmakers develop connections within the industry. Entry is extremely competitive and the shorts are of a very high standard. I always catch at least one Accelerator screening, and you should too.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, USA/UK)

The crowned prince of Greece’s post-crisis ‘Weird Wave’, Lanthimos has an impressive catalogue of absurd, disturbing and hilarious films that are surprisingly fun to watch. After the enormous success of his last film The Lobster (MIFF 2015), The Killing of a Sacred Deer promises to be one of the most popular films of the festival, so keep your eyes out for a ‘surprise screening’ if you didn’t nab a ticket in time!


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