Non-fiction is no longer the stuffy cousin of feature films. We have parsed the full line-up of documentaries a MIFF to find which of these films you absolutely have to see.
From celebrity biographies, true crime thrillers and Oscar-nominated portraits, they are scintillating, daring, and beautiful to watch.
How do you go from high school acid trips to international fame?
A roller-coaster of artistic highs and domestic lows, told through a collage of home movies, this is a relentless and cinematic insight into one of Australia’s greatest talents and it may just be the best Australian documentary of 2017.
Made with the assistance of the MIFF Premiere Fund (which turns ten this year), Eddie Martin’s (All This Mayhem) moving family album is the life of artist Anthony Lister condensed down to a thrilling 80 minutes. A roller-coaster of artistic highs and domestic lows, a collage of home movies, this is a relentless and cinematic insight into one of Australia’s greatest talents and it may just be the best Australian documentary of 2017.
Is this murder mystery part of a government conspiracy?
Spending an hour and a half in the company of alt-right conservatives might not sound like fun, but Erik Nelson’s fascinating documentary examines the paranoia and conspiracy theories that fuel one such man. At the heart of this true crime film is the mystery surrounding the death of David Crowley, a right-wing filmmaker whose murder was like something out of a movie, and which many of his ardent online fans consider suspicious.
Was James Baldwin ahead of his time or have we gone backwards?
While race is an element of many MIFF-screened documentaries, few hold the visceral, memorable power of Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro. An Oscar nominee, this masterwork of non-fiction cinema charts the life of homosexual author, poet and social commentator James Baldwin. Narrated by Samuel L Jackson, it’s based around his unfinished manuscript about assassinated civil rights leaders Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers, Peck’s film is packed full of insightful wisdom from Baldwin that is as relevant today as it ever was.
Would you trust this theme park with your safety?
A horror theme park in New Zealand prides itself on giving guests the fright of their life. (One of the park’s promotional video’s recently went viral, with 50 million views.) This film by Florian Habitch (Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets) dives deep into the lives of those who spend their days working as chainsaw-wielding clowns and ooze-splattered zombie brides, getting to the real personal horrors behind the make-up.
Who would you turn to for advice on your sex life?
93-year-old Mahinder Watsa is India’s sex specialist. A columnist for the Mumbai Mirror, the popular doctor is the face of contemporary India’s push for greater sexual understanding. People are going to do it, so why not make it good? As his column earns the ire of conservative moralists, Dr Watsa nonetheless attempts to make sex education part of school curriculums in this funny and enlightening glimpse into modern Indian (sex) life.
How long would you wait for the concert of a lifetime?
Brandishing a Cuban flag and a microphone, American electronic producer and one-third of Major Lazer, Diplo, struts on stage in front of a crowd of thousands in Havana at the start of Austin Peters’ Give Me Future. Major Lazer’s song Lean On is one of Spotify’s most streamed songs ever, with more than one billion streams. In this exquisite blend of concert and political documentary the global hit is shown in a new light – an anthem for a new generation of Cubans.
Would you know what to do if terror came to your front door?
This Israeli film is perfectly timed for the current political climate. Made predominantly out of CCTV security footage in a train terminal during an unfolding terrorist attack, Death in the Terminal is a crushing blow-by-blow account of vicious crowd mentality and the base instincts of a society that has been taught to fear and hate, and the ounce of good that shines through in these circumstances. It’s a stunning but unflinching work, which screens with short film Find Fix Finish about drone warfare.
Do you need some girl power in your life?
The rights to this story have already been sold to Hollywood, but this documentary is where it all began. An inspiring trip into the heart of Baltimore, the film follows the story of a group of young black women who are competing to be step-dance state champions as members of the Lethal Ladies. Set against the #blacklivesmatter movement, Step features rousing dance routines as the girls hurtle towards graduation. It won the Sundance Special Jury Prize for Inspirational Filmmaking for a reason.
Do you know the story of this activist pioneer?
Marsha P. Johnson holds a special place in LGBTIQ history – she’s the one who famously instigated the Stonewall riots of 1969. Found dead in 1992, the death of this iconic transgender voice and queer activist was ruled a suicide by an uncaring police force, but not everyone buys that story. Director David France (Oscar-nominated How to Survive a Plague) investigates by going back to the start of Johnson’s story in Greenwich Village in New York.
How do you forge a career comeback when you’re only in your 30s?
Fashion entrepreneur, comeback kid and even Project Runway judge Zac Posen gets the lavish big screen treatment in Sandy Chronopoulos’ House of Z. The 36-year-old Posen says, “It's not all runways, lipstick and fishtail gowns”, but this film is nonetheless full of the sort of gorgeous outfits worn by celebrities and models (and the egos to with them) that made him a star on red carpets around the world. Make it a fashion double with the equally sublime Dries about trailblazing Belgian designer Dries van Noten.
The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from 3 – 20 August.
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