We fill our voids of blockbusters and Hollywood brands within our regular visits to our local cinemas, bombarded with explosions and whatever A-lister celebrity they can advertise across marketing. But then, there’s the niche side of cinema, a side that is relished and celebrated within the two weeks housed at Melbourne’s International Film Festival, or simply MIFF. While a platform to showcase Australia’s own unique forms of storytelling and filmmaking, such as Undermined: Tales from the Kimberly, the festival is also known for screening diverse voices and creative visions from around the globe. This year at MIFF, I was lucky to have caught six feature films, all more different and unique from the last screened across Melbourne’s most beloved and gorgeous theatres scattered across its CBD.
The films I saw ranged in countries from Japan and Belgium, were heartbreaking to deranged in tone, award-winning titles of the Palme D’Or and selections from Cannes, films helmed from the likes of Gaspar Noé and a bizarre violent spectacle led by the incomparable Nicolas Cage. These films, also represented across film festivals across the globe during the course of the last year, demonstrate a crucial trait that remains a necessity in a film festivals: diversity. Not just diversity in the global reach of film but diversity in the storytelling. Marco Müller contends that the role of the film festival is to ‘complement and answer what is lacking in the current cultural scene in films’, ultimately ‘revealing what the markets normally hide’. These array films stray from what is traditionally given a wide release and remain as unique and obtuse as the next.
The first film I had pleasure of watching was ‘Our House’ (2017), directed by You Kiyohara. The film followed two seperate stories, a cast led by women, intertwining through the connection of a house within different realities. The first followed a single mother and her daughter during her adolescence. The second followed a woman who doesn’t recall any memory aside her name, taken into the home of a stranger as the two become friends. The film, though strange and somewhat incomplete in its narrative, nevertheless exemplified the global reach film festivals aim to achieve. Here, the film was helmed by a female film student of Tokyo’s film school who’s graduate film won awards amongst local film festivals before making its way to MIFF. This echos the sentiments demonstrated by Iordanova & Rhyne (2009) demonstrating that ‘films are distributed via networks’, while others, with ‘Our House’ falling into this bracket, ‘are exhibited through festivals’. The writers contend that most film festivals are not in the business to seek distribution but are simply to screen films. ‘Our House’ is an example of a feature that simply did not make rounds through the film festival circuit to be bought but to be seen in film festivals where diverse culture remains a prominent figure.
Others films I viewed, from Meryem Benm’Barek-Aloïsi’s family drama ‘Sofia’ to Brett Haley’s indie darling ‘Hearts Beat Loud’, were stories that are diverse, unique and creative from its execution to its characters. Film festivals exist to not only show films, but to showcase stories we as audiences would not necessarily see. That remains the most pivotal factor within the film festival landscape.
Muller, M 2000, ‘On the Role of Festivals’, Kerala International Film Festival, Italy.
Iordanova, D & Rhyne, R 2009, ‘The Festival Circuit’ Film Festival Yearbook 1, St Andrews Film Studies, UK.