Some of the best filmmaking coming out of Australia right now is of the nonfiction variety, so it’s no surprise that this year’s MIFF is full of local talent telling local stories. Across the festival you’ll find documentaries about sports and the arts, the history of the nation, and new movements looking to shape the country’s future.
If you're watching from home, a selection of over 60 titles from this year’s MIFF's program will also be available to stream online Australia-wide at MIFF Play. Check out the program here.
Here are five Aussie docos you won’t want to miss.
Yorta Yorta and Wiradjuri man Bill Onus is a revered figure in Australia’s civil rights history. His grandson Tiriki thought he knew the story of his forebear, famed for his role in the struggle for Indigenous rights in the ’40s and ’50s, as well as his film appearances and connections to trailblazing Aboriginal-led stage plays. Then an unearthed film reel raised the question: was Bill the first ever Aboriginal filmmaker?
Co-director Tiriki – an opera singer and academic in his own right – provides the voice-over for this documentary, which explores the newly uncovered side to his grandfather through archival footage, animation, photographs, re-enactments and interviews. Here, key events in Australia’s sociocultural past mix with a deeply personal story; it’s a historical study with the energy of a detective thriller.
In 2018, the talented but notoriously shy singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, by then a global sensation, embarked on the world tour for her album Tell Me How You Really Feel. Director Danny Cohen tagged along to document the journey, and for the next three years found himself recording the ups and downs of her life – both professional and personal.
Narrated by Barnett herself, who kept an audio diary on the road at Cohen’s request, the result is a strikingly effective mix of his warm visuals (shot on 16 millimetre) and her own unguarded take on events. It’s a forthright, insightful look at both her creative process and the toll that fame can take.
Araatika: Rise Up!
Former rugby league star Dean Widders wants to teach you a dance. Devised by Indigenous players Preston Campbell, Timana Tahu and George Rose as a counterpoint to the Maori haka, their pre-game “unity dance” is gathering support as a celebration of culture and a way to combat entrenched racism. But for Widders, one goal remains: to have it adopted by Australia’s national team.
Celebrated writer-director Larissa Behrendt’s examination of the bonds between sport and community doesn’t hold back. Featuring a number of NRL greats alongside prominent First Nations figures such as Stan Grant and Adam Goodes, as well as the Bangarra Dance Theatre, one man’s determination becomes a spirited call-to-arms to stand behind Indigenous Australia.
Palazzo di Cozzo
A documentary about the colourful, much-loved Melbourne furniture giant Franco Cozzo pretty much sells itself, given the relentless TV commercials (“In Brunswick and Footscray”) that made him a cultural icon.
Part biography, part celebration, director Madeleine Martiniello’s film is an affectionate look at the Sicilian-born Cozzo and the generation of post-war migrants that reshaped Melbourne. Whether you see his ornate, ostentatious furniture as a sign of success or a sign it’s time to redecorate, this charming slice of local history has plenty to say about how we became who we are today.
Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow
In 2004 Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter teamed up with Paul Grabowsky’s Australian Art Orchestra to create Kura Tungar: Songs From the River. A multimedia song cycle that told the stories of Roach and Hunter – both members of the Stolen Generations – it won that year’s Helpmann Award for Best Australian Contemporary Concert.
Created by director Philippa Bateman (working with Roach) from footage of the performance, as well as rehearsals and behind-the-scenes interviews, Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow is a moving musical portrait of two remarkable artists and a testimony to the fortitude, resilience and creativity of First Australians.
This story was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with the Melbourne International Film Festival. MIFF runs from August 5 to 22. More details here.