The Melbourne International Film Festival consistently boasts a significant number of non-fiction features. The films are not only locked to the Documentaries section, but can also be found in the music-centred Backbeat category, as well as the return of the This Sporting Life segment for this year’s program.
With at least 50 documentary features set to play at MIFF this year, I’ve picked out twelve titles I believe deserve a spot in the festival line-up. Honourable mentions go to The Startup Kids, Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic, and A World Not Ours, two of which will be screening / available to watch prior to the festival.
[Please note that my picks do not include films that were revealed in official MIFF announcements; mentioned in my three part feature series on titles for major Australian Film Festivals, or selected as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival.]
American Promise | dir. Joe Brewster, Michele Stephenson | USA
Two parents follow their son and his friend from kindergarten through high school in this expansive documentary culled from over 13 years of footage. An expansive look at growing up, education, and race and class issues in contemporary America, this looks to be an engaging and thought-provoking film.
Blood Brother | dir. Steve Hooper | USA
Winning the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Blood Brother focuses on a disenchanted young American who took a trip to India as a journey of self-discovery and decided to move there permanently to work at a care centre for women and children living with HIV and AIDS. An intimate look at a dedicated individual by his best friend, its successful screenings at Hot Docs and Sundance make this a must for MIFF.
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction | dir. Sophie Huber | SUI
The enigmatic character-actor with over 200 film credits to his name is profiled in this impressionistic Swiss documentary featuring strong cinematography and effective excerpts from his most memorable movies. The film also contains candid scenes with friends and collaborators like David Lynch, Wim Wenders, and Sam Shepard, as well as a number of American folk song renditions by Stanton himself. A documentary that is long overdue.
Karma Shadub | dir. Roman Giger, Jan Gassmann | SUI
The Swiss love continues with this incredibly personal documentary focusing on the director’s father, Paul Giger: a world famous violinist. Stunningly photographed, this exploration of a father-son relationship in the lead up to Paul’s performance in the Cathedral of St. Gallen recently took out the Grand Prize at Visions du Réel.
The Kill Team | dir. Dan Krauss | USA
Already picking up awards at the Tribeca and San Francisco Internation Film Festival, Krauss’ documentary examines the war crime of killing for sport from the perspective of the accused. Exposing the abuse, torture and rape that plague the American military, alongside its questionable judicial system, The Kill Team looks at an issue entirely relevant to Australian audiences.
Leviathan | dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel | FRA/UK/USA
Castaing-Taylor appeared at MIFF in 2010 with Sweetgrass, and he continues the anthropological immersion in Leviathan, swapping sheep herding with fishing on a trawler. Capturing life and death at sea in a profound and philosophical manner, this abstract documentary should mesmerise viewers at the Melbourne festival.
Mirror of the Bride | dir. Yuki Kawamura | FRA/JPN
A companion piece to Stories We Tell, this co-production sketches a portrait of the director’s grandmother – now living out her final days in a Kyoto nursing home – through interviews and reunions with other family members. Mirror of the Bride is a lucid examination of the relationship between a mother and her children.
More than Honey | dir. Marcus Imhoof | SUI/GER/AUT
Who knew the world of bees could be so fascinating? Imhoof looks at why bees are facing extinction and the complex relationship between mankind and honeybees, before considering how nature can give us insight into our future. This is an intriguing documentary gaining universal praise.
The Punk Singer | dir. Sini Anderson | USA
A documentary all about Kathleen Hanna: lead singer of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Boasting 20 years of archival footage and interviews with the woman herself, Anderson takes viewers through the life of an activist, musician and cultural icon. Perfectly timed with The Julie Ruin’s new album, this is a must for the Backbeat section.
The Short Game | dir. Josh Greenbaum | USA
Here is my spiritual continuation of last year’s selection, First Position. Josh Greenbaum’s documentary is set on the Pinehurst Golf Course, where the best 7-year-old golfers from around the globe compete in the World Championships of Junior Golf. The documentary is an affectionate and highly entertaining look at golf culture, competition, and a reflection on contemporary global society.
These Birds Walk | dir. Omar Mullick, Bassam Tariq | PAK/USA
The Edhi Home and Ambulance Centre in Karachi, Pakistan, gives runaway children a place of food, shelter, and education. While some are picked up by parents immediately, many stays are indefinite. Shot over three years, the film examines the dedicated individuals of the centre and the city’s most vulnerable people told through the prism of a particular runaway boy and a reluctant ambulance driver.
The Trials of Muhammad Ali | dir. Bill Siegel | USA
Covering Ali’s battle to overturn a five-year prison sentence for refusing military service in Vietnam, Siegel’s documentary explores the issues of race, faith and politics at a time when the sports figure chose faith over fame and fortune. The charismatic Ali guides the film and the wealth of archival footage should have viewers enraptured by this remarkable story.
So that’s what I would add to the documentary features at MIFF 2013. Have I missed anything? What would you want if you had free reign?