With a bulging Australian contingent, the third annual Melbourne Documentary Film Festival has its sights set on building bigger.
Stephen A. Russell

6 Jul 2018 - 1:50 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2018 - 1:50 PM

The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival (MDFF) kicks off its third annual outing with a trio of riveting behind-the-scenes insights into the movie world. Kieron J. Walsh’s Anjelica Huston on James Joyce: A Shout in the Street is a musing on the howling poetry of Dublin’s most famous author James Joyce, as told from the perspective of the star of The Witches, who took the lead role in her father John Huston’s adaptation of Joyce’s short The Dead. It plays alongside Tony Ziera’s Filmworker, which traces the remarkable story of Leon Vitali who, after appearing in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon gave up his promising acting career to devote himself as a devoted assistant to game-changing auteur. They’re joined by Ismael’s Lotz’ short I Am Famous, which catches up with Tom Wilson almost two decades after he played Biff in the Back to the Future trilogy. With focuses on pop gods including George Michael Freedom and Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, sports in The Road to Sparta and New Island Home, and true crime in Abducted in Plain Sight, MDFF artistic director Lyndon Stone says the biggest theme is the rude health of Australian documentary filmmaking.

“We’re still just a little start-up festival but we have big ambitions to promote and support independent documentary filmmakers,” Stone says. “And it’s been really exciting to see the wealth of the Melbourne-made content.” Which includes Big in Japan by David Elliot Jones, Louis Dai and Lachlan McLeod. “It’s kind of an anti-fame documentary where David, an ordinary Melbourne guy, sets out on this outrageous mission to Tokyo to examine the whole concept of fame. He’s a great local talent, a real John Safran-type.”

Lyndon Stone’s top five tips

Bam Bam

Jemma van Loenen’s first feature follows the hopes and dreams of Bianca 'Bam Bam' Elmir, a Lebanese Muslim woman from the suburbs aiming to be the first Australian to win a World Amateur Boxing Championship, all while smashing stereotypes along the way.

“She’s a really interesting character and it’s an exceptionally well-made film by local talent Jemma that will really resonate with Australians,” Stone says. “It has that classic theme of overcoming adversity through battler spirit, and it’s good to see a more positive depiction of Muslim people that outweighs a lot of the kneejerk stuff our there. It’s very upbeat.”


Kate McIntyre Clere and Michael McIntyre’s fascinating doco examines Australia’s love-hate relationship with our national icon.

“It’s a really topical look at the issue of conservation and how we perceive this animal, which is largely seen as a pest,” Stone says. “It does a great job building a case for the kangaroo, instead of seeing it as a threat.”

Risking Light

Straddling three continents, Dawn Mikkelson’s compelling doco tells the story of three people who have faced unimaginable horror and found a way to survive. Debra Hocking lived through the great shame of Australia’s Stolen Generations; Kilong Ung overcame the terror of the Khmer Rouge; and Mary Johnson in Minneapolis grieves for her murdered son.

“It looks at the power of compassion,” Stone says. “These are incredible character studies of people who have faces terrible circumstances and been able to reach within themselves and find a way out of darkness, turning their experiences into something positive.”

Disaster Capitalism

Sydney-based journalist and author Antony Lowenstein teams up with Thor Neureiter, the director of video at Columbia Journalism School, on this searing insight into the dark forces who profit from international aid donated to Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea.

“It takes a look at the underbelly of the global aid and investment industry, this complex of multinational corporations and how these multi-billion dollar global aid organisations are run,” Stone says. “It questions just how quick they are getting money to the people who actually need it, and Thor’s coming out from New York for it, which is a great pull.”

French Waves

Eden star Julian Starke’s pulse-pounding doco – part of a multimedia platform including a web series, an immersive website, and an international tour – navigates almost thirty years of French electro music as guided by its biggest names, including Jean-Michel Jarre, Laurent Garnier, Bob Sinclair and Rone.

“It’s a very fascinating documentary that shows just how influential the French have been in steering the dance music scene globally and we’re very lucky to screen its Melbourne premiere,” Stone says.

The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival runs from July 6-14.

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