Everyone’s Critique of The Melbourne International Film Festival

July 26, 2008

Copy of text being distributed at MIFF 2008. Enjoy!

Welcome to the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) critique of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). This year MIFF is a massive cinematic behemoth filled with some films you don’t want to see, some you do and indeed should see, and a pile of other so-so material to look politically correct and culturally diverse. We at MUFF have been somewhat quiet about MIFF and its new director Richard Moore, allowing him 18 months to settle in (…to be fair). And with the theme at MIFF being “Everyone’s a critic”, we couldn’t resist actually taking MIFF’s theme seriously and providing our wee critique of their 2008 festival. Tally Ho!

Everyone’s a Hypocrite

Richard Moore, the new MIFF director has been changing his festival, as you can see from this year’s catalogue and last year’s. He has been moving it more in the direction of MUFF and transgressive cinema, and good on him for that we say.

But, due to the choice of the Opening Night film, Not Quite Hollywood, and some issues it raises Vis a Vis genre filmmaking in this country, we can’t help but point out a huge hypocrisy at MIFF in 2008.

Not Quite Hollywood is made by local filmmaker Mark Hartley, who has a video clip and film background. He also put together many of the DVD extras for Jeff Harrison’s Umbrella Entertainment. Mark Hartley and I go way back, as he was a Production Manager on my first feature, Bloodlust. Hartley, like myself, and many other Australian filmmakers under 50, has been a big fan of the golden years of Australian genre filmmaking.

A little back-story… At MUFF we can take a little credit for fostering an interest in Ozploitation cinema, I believe. At MUFF in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2005, we have curated retrospectives (Turkey Shoot, Alvin Purple, Patrick, Thirst, Pure Shit etc.) which focussed on playing many of these classic Australian genre films featured in Not Quite Hollywood and the Ozploitation retrospective at the MIFF in 2008. I have been a huge fan of this Australian genre cinema, and as soon as I started MUFF in 2000, I made it a yearly agenda for us to focus on it. At MUFF 2000, Jeff Harrison and I had lunch to talk about good films that could come out through Umbrella Entertainment. I suggested a few different areas of interest, particularly the need to get the aforementioned classic OZ films out on DVD. This happened after the MUFF in 2001 as well.

Jeff Harrison went on to successful release these classic Oz genre films on DVD (and many others we never played at MUFF) in Australia, and Mark Hartley started amassing interviews from the classic filmmakers, crew and their stars creating the DVD extras for Umbrella. From this resource, the project Not Quite Hollywood was born. We fully applaud and support the documentary Not Quite Hollywood for turning this fascinating era into what sounds like a fascinating feature film.

But I digress… The hypocrisy I speak of comes from MIFF suddenly implying that they are fans of Australian genre films. They lauder Not Quite Hollywood (deservedly) and programme some of the classic films it documents BUT, and it’s a big BUTT, they still reject new Australian genre films, year after year… and continue to do so this to this very day!

I mean, is Not Quite Hollywood, as MIFF understands it, a ‘wake’ for the good old days of Australian films, or a springboard for a new onslaught of exciting, new Australian genre films?

In the new Australian feature films section, there is ONE genre film. ONE, which is my friend Jon Hewitt’s excellent Acolytes, and we fully applaud its inclusion and recommend you all see just  how excellent it is! But in the past eight years, many, many Ozploitation films of today have been rejected from MIFF – a figure close to 50 features at least! To name but a very few of the great OZ genre films rejected from MIFF: Razoreaters by Shannon Young, Stygian by James Wan and Shannon Young, The Magician by Scott Ryan (accepted in its redux government funded form a few years later), A Nocturne by Bill Mousoulis, Demonsamongus by Stuart Simpson, Narcosys by Mark Bakaitis, Black Water by Andrew Trauckl and David Nerlich, Reign in Darkness by Kel Dolen, Gabriel by Shane Abess, Defenceless by Mark Savage, The Money Shot by Anna Brownfield, The Garth Method by Gregory Pakis, Four Jacks by Mathew George… I can go on and on.

So, what I am trying to say is: “What is going on here?”  MIFF wants to be a champion of Ozploitation (in the ‘safe’ past) but foil every attempt at its revival, by its non-inclusive and non-supportive programming?

MIFF can programme what it likes, but it is the opinion of many in the Australian film industry that we need to make more genre films in this country – which is what people want to see! And… with the industry in such a disastrous state, how can we ignore the need for innovation and change heralded in Robert Connolly’s excellent paper Embracing Innovation?

This year at MIFF, you have Richard Moore praising the classic days of genre filmmaking, but yet still not accepting the very filmmakers who would bring back these golden days of genre in a heartbeat! i.e. If anyone ever gave them the support they need, like festival screenings, decent budgets etc., If this occurred, who knows what could happen?

MIFF is Australia’s largest and most attended festival. Therefore I feel that it has a duty of care to Australian filmmakers, to support and promote their work, etc. (Hence our critique here!)

The classic selection of genre films from the likes of Brian Trenchard Smith and Richard Franklin is great. We have promoted Ozploitation at MUFF many times over the years, as previously mentioned. However, we have followed it up by playing every genre film from this country that we could get our hands on! Part of MUFF’s vision is to foster a return to genre filmmaking in this country, and we do everything we can on our non-Government funded budget to help support and promote this ethos. MIFF, on the other hand, fully flushed with funding, presents this safe historical look at the ‘good old days’, all the while stifling any attempt to bring back this vital and dynamic style of filmmaking to Australian screens.

I have contacted Richard Moore about some form of open dialogue on this issue, and so far we have not heard anything back. I challenge Mr. Moore to a debate, see end of this rant for details.

The point is that MIFF should not be allowed to get away with looking like they support genre in OZ cinema, when in practice they do not. This could change in the future, and we hope it does.  Many of Moore’s improvements in programming like the George Romero retro / forum, transgressive sections like Forbidden Pleasures and Night Shift, have had journalists   question me on how much MIFF is like MUFF this year. In response I say, “That’s cool – its only MIFF catching up with the zeitgeist”.

What we at MUFF are concerned with is, why does MIFF not support the burgeoning ‘horn o plenty’ of local low budget genre films and filmmakers? All these filmmakers need is a larger festival like MIFF to get behind them, and to help push this movement from the underground and onto the world festival stage and … ‘Voila’! Imagine a second Oz genre film renaissance. We should all remember a little New Zealand filmmaker from the late 80s and early 90s named Peter Jackson who made crazy little genre movies like Bad Taste. If MIFF could support and champion genre, thereby helping stem the disastrous tide of rubbish in the local film industry, it would really be serving its mandate. As opposed to merely presenting us with a safe historical retrospective of a time when we once had an exciting and vital film industry.

We could have that industry now if people like Moore and others at various state and federal levels just got behind genre films and filmmakers in this country. You would soon have enough material for Not Quite Hollywood 2 and a burgeoning 2nd Renaissance in Australian cinema after the 70s.  A comeback that we have long pined for at MUFF since the publication of our manifesto in 2005 (see: http://www.muff.com.au/manifesto.htm).

Everyone’s a Copycat

So we mentioned MUFF’s retrospective of Australian Cult Cinema from MUFF 1, 2, 3 and 5. We also did a section called Free Radicals at MUFF 4. So, in 2008, MIFF proudly presents: Free Radicals! MUFF has always played transgressive cinema, erotica (even porn films) and midnight movies. Hey presto… Forbidden Pleasures at MIFF 2007/8, Romero as a guest and Night Shift midnight movies. There’s even a nod to right wing shenanigans that MUFF is known for, with the dicing of the PC Iranian and Middle East sections of MIFF in favour of our military and political ally Israel’s cinema.

Far from criticising this, we say excellent!  A move in the right direction. We don’t claim credit for all this, of course, but hopefully we might have inspired some of it…
I met Richard Moore at the 2006 AFI’s. A nice guy, I thought. We were chatting amiably before we knew who the other was. Then some tit came up and said, “Hey MIFF and MUFF conversing, ha, ha” and we both went “Ohhh” realizing whom the other was. We laughed and I said, “Let’s be friends”, and Moore said, “Yes, lets”. As a good will gesture, I moved MUFF away from MIFF to September last year and October this year. This minimised the competition between the festivals and allowed us to co-exist more peacefully. Moore and I have exchanged friendly emails and had coffee together before his first MIFF in 2007.

At the AFI’s that night, I said to Richard Moore, “What are you going to do with MIFF?”,  to which he quipped: “I’m going to make it more like MUFF”.

This whole critique comes from a love of MIFF and our local industry for which I’m happy to claim a certain patriotic fervour. It comes from the desire for debate, open exchange of ideas and a little good old-fashioned trouble making. This industry is in need of a shake up and at MUFF we have been trying to do our bit to make people question a failing system.

Everyone’s a critique

This year’s theme, Everyone’s a Critic, we like. But its not really true, is it? But it should be. People should be more independently critical. Too often, cinema lovers are spoon fed by publicists who manipulate big articles in the mainstream press. I couldn’t help but laugh at the Saturday Age’s three page story on Ozploitation. Where was that article the four years in a row MUFF championed Ozploitation? Its all publicists and media ‘focus generation’. We need to think cinema culture beyond this.

Criticism is needed in the local Australian Film Industry too, with everyone from Jim Schembri, Leigh Paatsch and many others bemoaning the problem. Film Victoria is holding forums like Mindshift on industry change, but we need to see more action taken, not just words. We all need to stand up and let our voices be heard, our opinions voiced about remedies and solutions for the local film industry doldrums. This critique and MUFF’s own agenda over the years has been to promote just such free speech and critique, by example.

Everyone’s Debate

We challenge Richard Moore to a debate about why his MIFF doesn’t support more low budget genre films at the Melbourne International Film Festival (and other related topics).  This debate will be held at Glitch bar on Sunday he 24th of August at 7.00pm. It will be a FREE MUFF event and open to the public. Come along and share your opinions about MIFF. See if Mr. Moore turns up. If he doesn’t, I’ll play a film bound to please all comers!

Enjoy MIFF, come to MUFF, and don’t be afraid to be a critic at MIFF 2008.

Best Regards,

Richard Wolstencroft
Filmmaker, MUFF director and MIFF gadfly

8 Responses to “Everyone’s Critique of The Melbourne International Film Festival”

  1. […] have some new views. First, Melbourne Underground Film Festival director Richard Wolstencroft gives a lengthy and stinging critique of his town’s International Film Fest (MIFF). MIFF may be currently celebrating […]

  2. Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.GeorgeBernardShawGeorge Bernard Shaw

  3. Ron Paul said

    I run to see who has the most guts.SteveRolandPrefontaineSteve Roland Prefontaine

  4. syms said

    Will you be more surprised if he shows, or more surpried if he doesn’t show?

  5. gala said

    I read this on the MUFF mailout.
    Agreed – it would be so simple (and is completely necessary)for MIFF

  6. gala said

    MIFF to support more local filmmaking in a direction that doesn’t just champion (predominantly) documentaries and the ever snore worthy onslaught of biopics.
    While the ozploitation retro and nightshift should be cheered, there is little that they are going to contribute to reinvigoration their often lacking australian cinema program.

    Looking foward to seeing what you have on offer this year.

  7. richard777 said

    Hi Syms,

    I’ll be surprised if he shows. Not only from the fact that he’s gutless. But also from the desire to not be a part of any open debate. This has been a problem at MIFF for some time. They think they are beyond reproach.

    But I beg to differ. I think their bourgeois society of the spectacle needs a little interrupting every now and then…hence our critique.



  8. […] As MUFF so succinctly described Moore’s directorship: There’s even a nod to right wing shenanigans that MUFF is known for, with the dicing of the PC Iranian and Middle East sections of MIFF in favour of our military and political ally Israel’s cinema. […]

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