It’s one week into the Melbourne International Film Festival, and trying to find a good movie that isn’t sold out is like walking into Chin Chin before 9pm on a Friday; overwhelming – and who knows how long you’ll be on “standby”?

Before you file it away under too hard, here’s our list of overlooked gems you can still get tickets to.

Spotlight on true stories

Destination Arnold
This documentary follows two Indigenous women on their journey through the world of competitive bodybuilding. It tracks several years in the lives of Natasha Lawrence and Kylene Anderson, best friends with very different personalities. Filmmaker Sascha Ettinger-Epstein will attend a Q&A at both festival screenings, and festival director Michelle Carey’s enthusiasm for the film is palpable. “[Ettinger-Epstein] always chooses really fascinating subjects,” says Carey. “It’s just an absolute joy.”

Helmut Berger, Actor
Helmut Berger may not be a household name anymore, but that doesn’t make him any less interesting as a subject. This in-your-face documentary, during which Berger tries to both attack and seduce the director, looks at the man who was an icon of European cinema in the ’60s and ’70s, and dissects what has become of him in an intense exploration of celebrity.

Don Juan
Don Juan revolves around the relationship between 22-year-old Oleg and his mother, who is determined to “fix” his autism. It won Best Feature-Length Documentary at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam and the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Documentary at the Göteborg Film Festival. This film seriously puts your own family dysfunction into perspective.

Far left of centre

A Dragon Arrives!
Set in 1960s Iran, Carey describes A Dragon Arrives! as a “hybrid mockumentary re-creation [of] a real-life situation”. The work of filmmaker and actor Mani Haghighi, the film is a fast-paced, baffling mishmash of film genres. “It’s going to look amazing on the big screen,” says Carey. Go with it.

Bugs
Why are we so opposed to the idea of insects as a food source? This is at the heart of Bugs, a new documentary that looks for an answer beyond the initial shudder. Laced through the inherent humour of the topic is a serious undercurrent. The film looks at the stark imbalance between a rising population and the food we will actually have available to us.

Life After Life
Dreamy and surreal, Life After Life is about a young boy possessed by his dead mother, who has returned with a strange and specific request. “It’s a ghost story set in a rural town,” says Carey. It’s a very minimal film that balances surreal elements with heavy socio-economic themes. Carey also highlights the involvement of producer Jia Zhang-ke’s – “It’s a great one for fans of Chinese independent filmmaking.”

Unlikely friendships

The Bacchus Lady
The Bacchus Lady explores growing older via this story of an aging sex worker, So-young, and her interactions with her clients and a young boy she takes on as her charge. It stars Korean film legend Youn Yuh-Jung and is by filmmaker E J-yong, who tackles themes often not given space on our screens.

Three On A Couch
This one is part of the Jerry Lewis retrospective. Three On A Couch was panned when it was first released in 1966, but it has since been re-viewed in a more positive light. “It’s kind of a turning point for some of Jerry Lewis’s more famous earlier works such as The Nutty Professor and some of his more idiosyncratic, later films,” explains Carey. The premise is ethically dubious (it revolves around trying to “cure” man-hating women) and could be argued over for days. It’s also a difficult film to come by outside of the festival – “It’s very rare,” says Carey. “So definitely one to watch.”

The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from July 28 to August 14.

It's important to find somewhere to digest the films you see. Explore our guide to eating and drinking in Melbourne during MIFF.

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