At first glance, the 60th edition of the Melbourne International Film Festival concluded another successful year on Sunday. For more than two weeks Melbourne's central business district hummed with patrons going back and forth between often sold out sessions at the half dozen or so screens in use. But beneath the surface, some of the chatter related to growing displeasure over technical shortcomings at screenings. It was if this year everyone had experienced a failing, and if not they had an account from someone who did.
While the exact count isn't quantifiable, newspaper and social media reports suggest a worryingly large list. A sample: A Separation lost five minutes of subtitles at a crucial point; the last 10 minutes of the retrospective screening of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast was out of focus; Win Win lost three minutes because of a splicing error; house lights flashed on and off for 10 minutes during The Turin Horse; and poorly soundproofed projection booths at several venues meant that audiences sitting in the back row could not only hear the projectors, but also the projectionist's conversations.
MIFF's problem is that two of the key sites they hire, the Forum on Flinders St and the four screens at Greater Union Russell St two blocks away, have ageing, poorly maintained set-ups. The Forum doesn't screen movies apart from during MIFF, while the bunker-like Greater Union is close to deserted 50 weeks of the year. It's getting to the point where Melbourne audiences, who happily support MIFF with approximately 160,000 admissions over 420 sessions, assume they'll encounter a problem at either venue.
Media queries during the festival were acknowledged, but not validated by MIFF. The organisations' general manager, Jenny Sabine, told The Age that there were no more problems this year than during prior festivals. But one remark also alluded to the third party bind MIFF is in: “If someone wanted to put an injection of money into equipment in a number of our venues,” noted Sabine, “I'm sure it would improve our situation incredibly.”
MIFF has one first-rate, dedicated venue that it uses, at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image opposite the Forum, but if it wants to maintain an integral strength, the geographic cohesion that keeps every screen within the span of a few minutes' walk, then it's short of options. There's a large new Hoyts multiplex in the Melbourne Central building at the CBD's northern end, but it's several floors up and has entry bottlenecks that would be chaotic given the length of MIFF queues. Otherwise, there needs to be action taken to remedy the existing cinemas' problems. 2011 was a warning, but if it happens again 12 months from now audiences will not be so forgiving.