Whether it’s the scourge of cultural landmarks being eradicated in the name of progress in New York’s rapidly gentrifying borough of Brooklyn, the personal battle to achieve caffeine perfection of one globe-hopping Australian barista or the potted history of computer game music, there’s a wealth of fascinating stories collected in the inaugural Melbourne Documentary Film Festival (MDFF).
MDFF director Lyndon Stone and his co-curators will present 56 documentaries, both features and shorts, across three idea-rich days at Brunswick’s multi-disciplinary arts space and bar Howler from July 9–11, sourced from across Australia, with a particular focus on Melbourne-made movies, and international highlights landing from the US to the UK, the Czech Republic to Brazil and Indonesia.
A Kiwi expat, Stone cut his teeth working behind the scenes at Doc Edge before a stint at the Made in Melbourne Film Festival. Though there’s certainly a crowded cinematic calendar in the Victorian capital, Stone felt there was room for a dedicated documentary showcase. “When you look at the southern hemisphere, there aren’t many documentary film festivals, you can count them all on one hand basically. Melbourne is a very educated and diverse place that kind of deserves its own.”
As he sees it, the opportunity to expand minds and hearts is at the very core of what documentary film does, particularly for young people. “They teach empathy, resilience and emotional intelligence,” Stone says.
Saturday’s opening slate focuses on Australian stories. Sunday begins with an environmental focus before broadening out to international perspectives. Monday’s haul has several music-themed yarns while Docs After Doc takes a look at the out-there, bizarre and occasionally scary stuff each evening.
With 18 prizes up for grabs, Stone hopes MDFF will encourage more filmmakers to tackle real-life stories and he’s particularly happy that female directors account for roughly 40% of all screenings.
“We’re aiming towards a more equal playing field for all,” he says. “We want to give more opportunities for young Australian filmmakers to showcase their work, international filmmakers to screen in Australia and also help our volunteers on their way in the film industry, taking on roles like curation and marketing.”
Festival Director Lyndon Stone’s top picks:
Goodnight Brooklyn - The Story of Death by Audio
Straight from SXSW, Mathew Conboy’s rousing doco is about more than just the music lost when Williamsburg’s iconic underground club Death By Audio was shut down, leaving a very real hole in Brooklyn’s cultural landscape, a phenomenon many Melburnians will have a lot of empathy for. “We have all these historic buildings like The Astor or The Espy that are continually under pressure from developers,” Stone says.
The Coffee Man
Melburnians sure love their coffee, so they should be keen to get their fix of Jeff Hann’s perky doco following Bosnian-Australian, Canberra-based barista Sasa Sestic’s tilt at the 2015 World Barista Championships. “It’s a fun documentary that follows Sasa’s struggles and really marks out Jeff as a young Australian talent to watch,” Stone says.
André Villers - A Lifetime in Images
Marketa Tomanova’s eye-opening doco presents the incredible work of French-born Czech-based photographer André Villers who has photographed some of the greatest artists of the 20th century but flies under the radar, by choice. “He’s a very humble, shy person and one of a kind,” Stone says. “I hope people will embrace his life.”
Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound
Canadian director Karen Collins’ beautifully made doco steps behind the brain-melting beeps and bops of the earliest computer games right up to the symphony scores of contemporary blockbusters to reveal the people behind the music. “Karen’s is a really good idea, because no one’s ever really explored the history of game music before,” Stone says. “A lot of hard work goes into them, and sometimes the soundtrack is actually better than the game.”
A tribute to family, Sheffield-based director Ross Bolidai’s powerful doco follows ex-con Stevie Gold as he battles against the odds for bareknuckle boxing glory despite having broken one hand and facing a superior opponent while juggling the emotions of losing the love of his life. “Ross just won the Channel 4 First Cut Pitch at Sheffield Doc Fest which is amazing. He’s flying out to support his film and we’re very proud to have him here and showcase another rising star in documentary.”
Melbourne Documentary Film Festival runs July 9-11.