The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is usually a grand affair, but its 2021 edition is something else entirely. Comprising a record 40 world premieres as part of its lineup of 283 international and Australian films and screen experiences, the festival will kick off this August. The small matter of the pandemic has seen a flip of its original schedule, as it leads with the titles on its online screening platform, MIFF Play, from August 5-22, with in-cinema experiences following from August 12-22. Ahead of its kick-off, we navigated the huge program to share our top picks for the 69th iteration of the world-renowned event.
Director: Justin Kurzel
Synopsis: Despite its controversial subject matter, Nitram comes to MIFF on the heels of critical acclaim at Cannes, with lead Caleb Landry Jones picking up the best actor award at the annual film festival for his performance in the role of Martin Bryant. Based on the events leading up to the infamous Port Arthur massacre that rocked Australia and led to national gun reform, Nitram is the first Australian film to screen as part of the Cannes festival’s official competition in a decade.
Director: Danny Cohen
Synopsis: Speaking to Blunt Magazine only recently, director Danny Cohen described Anonymous Club as a film about Courtney Barnett’s role as “an ordinary person in an extraordinary position.” Centered on capturing the artist’s life over a three-year period, the documentary quickly morphs into a representation of what it means for your passions to collide with your anxiety, transcending the traditional format of a music project to become resonant with any and all viewers regardless of their sonic preferences.
Director: Hogir Hirori
Synopsis: ‘Sabaya’ is the term used to describe the approximately 6,000 women and girls who were abducted by ISIS from Iraq in 2014 and forced into slavery. The film itself follows a group in their journey to rescue these women from one of the most dangerous camps in the Middle East – Syria’s Al-Hol.
Director: Leos Carax
Synopsis: Described as bizarre, Annette is nonetheless one of the most anticipated films of the year. Starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as a stand-up comedian and opera star respectively, Annette has predominantly been praised for its brazen experimentation as a rock opera that sees the couple’s relationship descend from dreamy into darkness with the arrival of their daughter, the titular Annette.
Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
Synopsis: The “Black Woodstock” of 1969, also known as the Harlem Cultural Festival, was filmed but never seen. Finally receiving the acknowledgment that the momentous event has deserved all this time, Sundance US Documentary Grand Jury Prize winner Summer of Soul is a feature documentary about the festival that uses original footage that’s been held onto since it took place now over half a century ago.
Araatika, Rise Up!
Director: Larissa Behrendt
Synopsis: We’re not necessarily all sport fans here at Blunt Magazine, but we’ll get on board with celebrating culture and combating racism any day of the week. That’s exactly former National Rugby League (NRL) star Dean Widders’ mission, as he pursues his journey to bring a ‘unity dance’ to the game that so many know and love to represent Indigenous Australian rugby league players and First Nations pride. Araatika: Rise Up! navigates culture, history, and identity as Widders turns his vision into reality.
Quo Vadis, Aida?
Director: Jasmila Žbanić
Synopsis: From Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić comes a film that follows the story of a translator forced to find shelter in a United Nations camp after the Serbian army takes over the town of Srebrenica in 1995. The journey is a reminder of the human cost of war that, while harrowing, makes this mandatory viewing for all of us as we recognise the impact of historical – and present – conflict.
Director: Janicza Bravo
Synopsis: You may or may not have heard about the viral thread that inspired Zola, but you’re certainly hearing about it now. After a Hooters waitress bonds with her new companion over their mutual interests, the pair, played by Taylour Paige and Riley Keough, embark on a weekend trip of “hoeism” that ends exactly the way the original tweet story started: “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out?”
We Are The Thousand
Director: Anita Rivaroli
Synopsis: It’s not a longshot to imagine wanting to see the Foo Fighters play in your hometown, but it’s more than a big deal to be able to make it happen yourself. That’s exactly what Marine biologist Fabio Zaffagnini did when he devised a plan to encourage a thousand fellow rock fans from Italy to play Fooeys hit ‘Learn to Fly’ in sync to get their attention. And that’s only the start of this story from director Anita Rivaroli.
Director: Cooper Raiff
Synopsis: Despite the fact that we call it university instead of college here in Australia, we all go through pretty much the same thing when we leave high school. In the midst of his personal existential crisis, lead character of Freshman Year Alex meets Maggie, and the result is one of the most heartwarming coming-of-age films that we’ve seen for a long time. As wholesome as it is vulgarly relatable, Freshman Year will break your heart and conveniently put it back together just in time for you to avoid a breakdown.
Fist of Fury Noongar Daa
Director: Kylie Bracknell
Synopsis: You may recognise Fist of Fury as the 1972 Hong Kong action martial arts film written and directed by Lo Wei, in addition to being Bruce Lee’s second major role after The Big Boss. In its new iteration, Fist of Fury Noongar Daa breathes new life into an old classic as the first feature film ever to be fully dubbed in an Aboriginal Australian language.
Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché
Directors: Celeste Bell, Paul Sng
Synopsis: We all know that ‘Oh Bondage! Up Yours!’ became a punk anthem after X-Ray Spex emerged onto the scene all the way back in the 1970s, but what else do we really know about them? The daughter of X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene answers that question in Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, as she looks to reconcile the mother she knew with the iconic figure so beloved by the punk community.
Set to kick off this August, you can view the full program for MIFF 2021 here.