The MIFF program has just been announced and Australian cinema looks to be a winner, with Predestination and Felony to bookend the event.
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8 Jul 2014 - 5:53 PM  UPDATED 8 Jul 2014 - 7:50 PM

Once again Christmas has come in July for Australian cineastes, with the announcement of the full program for the 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival. Australia’s largest film festival, MIFF begins on Thursday 31 July and closes on Sunday 17 August, a two and a half week period boasting multiple screenings of approximately 250 works including features, shirts, restorations and special presentations by guests of the storied event.

In logistical terms it is a year of transition for MIFF, which continues under the successful partnership of Artistic Director Michelle Carey and CEO Maria Amato, with the festival’s main screen hub in recent years, the otherwise ignored Great Union multiplex on Russell Street in Melbourne’s CBD, having finally closed, going the way of many Melbourne buildings and disappearing under scaffolding so more apartments can be built.

MIFF’s centrality has been a key to its growth: everything screens within a few blocks of each other, giving rise to those wonderful glances exchanged between attendees rushing to get from one venue to another to make their next session. A newer commercial venue, the Hoyts multiplex several floors up at the Queen Victoria building at the top end of Bourke Street in the city, will now be used, and there’s also a possibility of former MIFF sites, including the Capitol Theatre, rejoining familiar screens at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the Forum Theatre.

MIFF is bookended by Australian features: opening night is Predestination (pictured top), a sci-fi police procedural twisted around the notion of time-travel and culpability from Queensland siblings the Spierig Brothers (Undead, Daybreakers) which stars Ethan Hawke, Noah Taylor and Sarah Snook. Closing night is a more traditional tale of law enforcement and corruption, with Felony (read our review), the contemporary story of a police cover-up directed by Matthew Saville (Noise) and written by and starring Joel Edgerton, alongside Tom Wilkinson and Melissa George.

On first pass the MIFF program has new works from prominent names, many sourced from the recent European festival circuit. There is Two Days, One Night (read our review), where Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne direct Marion Cotillard in the story of a woman trying to save her job; a pair of features from Canadian enfant terrible Xavier Dolan, Mommy (read our review) and Tom at the Farm; Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson returning to the adolescent energy of his early work with We Are the Best! (read our review); and Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, the story of three budding environmental terrorists, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard.

Other top-line titles include Welcome to New York, a revitalised Abel Ferrara’s fictionalised take on the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn starring Gerard Depardieu; both parts – Her and Him – of Ned Benson’s ambitious attempt to describe a relationship’s trajectory with Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (read our interview), while proving that there were no hard feelings, Ken Loach, who in 2009 pulled Looking For Eric from MIFF over a dispute over inviting movies that had funding from the Israeli government, returns with the Irish historic drama Jimmy’s Hall (watch scene clips).

But MIFF gains from its breadth, the individual strands and curated sections that diverge from the usual festival fare. Accent on Asia includes the Chinese thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice (read our review/watch interview) from Diao Yinan; Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz’s Norte, the End of History; there’s a belated appearance for the longer cut of Wong Kar-Wai’s martial arts epic The Grandmaster (read our review);and two films from revered Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang: his new feature Stray Dogs and the truncated, contemplative Journey to the West, which extends just 14 shots over 56 minutes.

The Backbeat music stream has documentaries on Nick Cave, with Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days on Earth (read our review/read our interview), and the reformed Pulp, with Florian Habricht’s Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets (watch our interview), while underemployed comic Mike Myers gets behind the camera with Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, which documents one of the leading band managers of the 1970s. A notable dramatic inclusion is the Hendrix in London biopic Jimi: All is By My Side (read our review), from 12 Years a Slave writer John Ridley.

The Night Shift section caters to genre fans with a taste for the extreme, with a debut for the remake from Jon Hewitt (Acolytes, X) of the 1982 Australian exploitation classic Turkey Shoot and the New Zealand vampire comedy, What We Do in the Shadows (read our interview), which is another collaboration between Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and Boy director Taika Waititi. The valuable Next Gen stream, for younger viewers, has the new Jean-Pierre Jeunet film, The Young and Prodigious TS Spivet.

Other strands include a tribute to ionic French actor Jean-Pierre Leaud, the contemporary documentaries of India in Flux: Living Resistance and A Perfect Midnight: Haunted Hong Kong, whose horror titles span from the 1960s to present day. There are still other corners of the program to be discovered because, as ever, MIFF rewards the deep dive.

For further MIFF details see www.miff.com.au. Tickets go on sale Friday 11 July, with MIFF running from Thursday 31 July to Sunday 17 August.