Now in its second year, the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival is taking things to the next level with more than 80 local and international films across four awesome venues, as well as a series of filmmaking masterclasses. Whether you’re interested in being entertained, educated or inspired, the MDFF crew has got you covered this year. Here are eight fascinating films not to miss.
Miss Kiet’s Children
Dutch filmmaking couple Petra Lataster-Czisch and Peter Lataster (The Need to Dance, Awake in a Bad Dream) have achieved something quite extraordinary with Miss Kiet’s Children. This intimate look at the day-to-day challenges of a handful of young immigrant children, adapting to their new lives in the Netherlands, is as straightforward as it is affecting. Shot over the course of a full school year, the Latasters’ encourage viewers to abandon their tedious adult lives, lowering the camera to toddler height and immersing us in a world in which schoolyard fights and stick-figure drawings become subjects of great consequence.
God Knows Where I Am
In May 2011, Rachel Aviv published a harrowing piece in the New Yorker about Linda Bishop, a woman whose struggle with mental health issues led to her hiding from imagined pursuers in an empty New Hampshire farmhouse for four months. When her body was finally discovered, Linda had nothing but a diary in her possession. In God Knows Where I Am, filmmaking brothers Jedd and Todd Wider (Mentor, Mea Maxima Culpa) introduce us to Linda’s hardships through her diary entries (narrated by Lori Singer) and via interviews with her family and mental health experts. The Wider brothers deliver a sombre and powerful exploration of the blurry line between the rights and the needs of individuals suffering from severe mental health issues.
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One Heart: One Spirit
Documentary filmmakers John Pritchard and Greg Reeves don’t worry too much about unnecessary bells and whistles in One Heart: One Spirit, following all that transpires when Kenneth Little Hawk, a Native American performing artist, arrives in Australia for the Aboriginal Garma Festival in the Northern Territory. Accompanied by Australian actor Jack Thompson, Little Hawk spends time with the Yolngu people in North East Arnhem Land. Watching the sharing of stories and experiences between these two cultures is an unforgettable experience, and one we could all learn from.
American filmmakers JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet (Keeping the Peace) take a look at the other Bob Hawk(e) in this intimate portrait of one of the relatively unsung heroes of the American independent film world. Film consultant Robert Hawk is a man known for giving everything for cinema, forgoing fortune in exchange for the opportunity to make himself available to young, talented filmmakers like Kevin Smith, Edward Burns and Barbara Hammer. That aside, he is also remarkably charming, a wonderful storyteller, and a completely enigmatic figure. Garvine and Parquet keep things satisfyingly simple with Film Hawk, following their subject around New York as he reflects on cinema and his life in equal measure. An array of filmmakers pop up on occasion too, most notably Kevin Smith, whose account of his interaction with Hawk won’t leave a dry eye in the house.
Act of Kindness
Costa Botes partners with Sven Pannell on an incredibly lean yet powerful film about Pannell’s quest to find the man who saved his life in Rwanda many years earlier. With nothing more than a name and a few hunches to go on, Pannell heads off with a video camera and a mission, coming back with an amazing story and a tonne of footage. Botes, perhaps most widely known for his legendary collaboration with Peter Jackson on the New Zealand mockumentary Forgotten Silver, has turned this footage into something special.
The Cinema Travellers
In a world in which technological and social change have become the new norm, Indian filmmakers Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya invite us to reflect on all that is being left behind in The Cinema Travellers. Concentrating on three men committed to the fading tradition of the travelling cinema in the state of Maharashtra, we watch as they each deal in their own way with the threats and opportunities afforded by the digital age over the course of five years. Gorgeously shot, nostalgic but not overly sentimental, and universal in its meditation on the bittersweet reality of replacing the old with the new.
Jewel’s Catch One
C. Fitz directs this fun look at the history of Los Angeles’ legendary gay nightclub Catch One and the woman who brought it to life, Jewel Thais-Williams. Covering 40 years, Jewel’s Catch One is as much about the history of civil rights in America as it is about the young gay black woman who beat all the odds to create a safe and welcoming place for the gay community in 1970s LA. Featuring interviews with the likes of Sharon Stone, Sandra Bernhard and Thelma Houston (who first heard her Grammy-winning hit Don’t Leave Me That Way right there on the Catch One dance floor), this is equal parts education and inspiration.
Dogs of Democracy
Australian Mary Zournazi finds a unique way to explore the consequences of the economic crisis in Greece, focusing on the impact the crisis has had on the stray dog population of Athens. Using the experiences of the dogs as something of a metaphor for the struggles and hopes of the Greek people, Zournazi provides a strong case for the anti-austerity movement. And any film that counts Nobel Prize-winning author JM Coetzee among its fans is one that shouldn’t be missed.
The 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival runs in Melbourne from July 9 to 16.