Sunday, August 10, 2008

MIFF 2008 Overview

MIFF is over for another year, which brings both sadness and relief. Sadness that we have to wait another year for so many good films that we wish distributors would drip-feed us throughout the year but - with few exceptions - don't. And relief that we can get back to eating and sleeping normally.

My daily 'reviews' were this year more summary/cursory than last year. I make no apology for this to myself or anyone who may happen to read. I just could not put the effort into it that I did last year. Fatigue has really become a health issue for me. There's maybe a dozen films I'd like to write more on, and if the opportunity presents itself I will. If any of those films get a release outside of the festival, I'll be sure to do so.

I saw 42 complete films this year, 2 more than last year. I tried to keep it to 40, the number I saw last year, so I wasn't too much over the mark. That really is about the maximum number of films that I can see and respectfully absorb without burning up (which I got close to yesterday). I also attended another 4 films that I walked out of, not necessarily because they were bad per se, but because they weren't worth staying for and I'd rather get a break or go home and get some sleep. There's a number of other films that I could've walked out of, but didn't. That includes everything in "GIVE IT A MISS" below, and pretty much everything in "MEH".

Were it possible, I'd have been happy to have just seen the "MUST SEE" and "VERY GOOD" films below and nothing else. That would have been extremely satisfying, and I wouldn't be feeling the fatigue I am now.

I managed to see all six of the Romanian Wave feature films, and I found this stream very satisfying. My pick of them is The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, with a special mention to The Paper is Blue. I look forward to seeing anything coming out of Romania by the directors in this stream.

I wanted to see all of the Edward Yang films (except Yi Yi, which I'd already seen) and managed to see all but two of them. I was disappointed that I couldn't fit A Bright Summer's Day in, which is reputed as his masterpiece. I found it interesting to see a number of his films, but at best I found them quietly satisfying without being earth-shattering in any way. I think I'd appreciate them more outside of the festival and maybe Melbourne Cinémathèque may put on a season of his films in the future. My favourite at the festival was A Confucian Confusion.

I found the Ozploitation films fun and added a nice touch of variety to the festival without being profound in any way. Not Quite Hollywood, opening night film, is entertaining rather than insightful, but gives a reason to visit or revisit these early Australian films. Of the three films screening in the Ozploitation stream, my favourite was Road Games (though it's really a thriller rather than an Ozploitation film).

I saw five of the ten films from the Tribute to the Cannes Director's Fortnight stream, but none of them impressed me overly. It's the stream that disappointed me the most.

I saw twelve films from the largest stream, International Panorama. Five of those films made it into my 'MUST SEE' or 'VERY GOOD' list, namely Lorna's Silence, Three Monkeys, Silent Light, Katyn and O' Horten.

I only saw one film from the New Gen stream, The Substitute, which I didn't particularly like. It's an obviously 'made-for-children' film, which is a kind of euphemism for 'be prepared to suspend all your critical and intellectual faculties because we're really dumbing this down'. I think the best children's films are those that don't underestimate a child's intellect, like John Sayle's The Secret of Roan Inish or Ken Loach's Kes. The best film at the festival that I think would suit children (but wasn't available to them) was Tricks. It's about a young boy who thinks a man he sees at the station might be his absent father.

This year I cut back on the number of Neighbourhood Watch films I saw compared to last year as I found there was too much homogeny among them. Of the four I saw, Secret Sunshine was the easy stand-out in this stream, though 24 City and Night and Day were very enjoyable.

Looking at the list of films I saw at MIFF, I have unsurprisingly gravitated towards the social-realist films. There didn't seem to be many 'headline acts', so to speak, this year. I think I could improve my future MIFF experiences by doing a little more research. I found a number of films weren't worthy of the festival (in my opinion, of course) and would prefer to see less quantity and more quality. I think my overall MIFF experience is on a par with last year, though I'd have to revisit my journal for last year to comment more authoritatively.

Last year I collated a list of suggestions for MIFF, and this year I'm doing the same. If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to post them and if appropriate, I'll add them to my list.

As a MIFF Member, I thought the priority queue was a great innovation for this year. It certainly enhanced the festival experience for me and I suspect will lead to a rush of new members before next year's festival (perhaps there was one this year).

I thought the addition of the Kino as a venue was good, but it's a pity that MIFF didn't book the Regent, which is a magnificent venue and holds a huge number for the popular sessions. Opening Night at Hamer Hall just wasn't the same and I certainly will not attend opening night there again.

Greater Union has got to have the shittiest cinemas in Melbourne. Seats are broken, and the prime seating locations should be where the staircases are located. With both Hoyts and Village closed in the central CBD, I suppose there's not much choice, but it'd be nice if Greater Union would refurbish them after so many decades.

The festival ads drove me crazy, especially the MIFF ad itself and the Channel 10 Rush and Yalumba ones. You'd think the advertisers would produce a range of ads that would get circulated, so you wouldn't be seeing the same ads session after session. The advertisers really need to review their contracts with the advertising agencies. They were all poor at best.

Lighting is terrible at most venues. The lights often went out just as the audiences were entering the cinemas as the ads were starting. You'd think half-lighting would stay on while the ads are on, as is usual when one attends a cinema. At most of the venues, seating is so tight, so one invariably stood on others and/or was stood on by others in the dark. This was the case at every venue I attended except ACMI.

I thought the daytime programming was an improvement on last year, but could still be better improved. For those like myself who take two weeks off work, some days there was fairly uninspiring choices during business hours. I'd also like to see film start 11am during the week rather than 1pm. I'm sure there'd be sales for an earlier time as I saw sold out sessions at 1pm. An earlier start would enable one to catch a film, take a 2-hour lunch break and then see a 3pm film.

Other Suggestions (feel free to add your own):
  • I'd like to see more films programmed for children, and screened on weekdays at 5pm and 7pm.
  • The MIFF program would be easier to use if the middle section included the film's stream and the page number the film synopsis is on. This would reduce the film research process from three steps to two.
  • Additional screenings of in-demand films without a local release
  • Website: the ability to select more than one session's tickets at a time
  • Website: the calender could show all events, not just film sessions
  • Website: search engine is pathetic and needs improvement
  • Website: the ability to associate a pass with a membership number
  • I'd be happy to pay say $5 for an A5 size, bound festival guide rather than the free Age liftout
  • Website: blue text on black background is terrible. I'd rather black text on white background.

Memos to self for next year (feel free to make your own suggestions):
  • Make sure you're well-rested before MIFF starts
  • Better to see one or two festival films other than the opening night film on opening night
  • Take more note of which films won Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, etc at major film festivals like Cannes, as these invariably are the must-see films at the festival
  • 40 films is more than enough
  • Take home-cooking with me to eat at appropriate times
  • Get to bed earlier
Here's a repost of my arbitrary classifications of the films I saw:

Lorna's Silence
Three Monkeys
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Secret Sunshine
Silent Light

The Paper Will be Blue
O' Horten

On War
A Confucian Confusion
Momma's Man
Night and Day
My Marlon and Brando
24 City
12:08 East of Bucharest
The Terrorizer

Long Weekend
Not Quite Hollywood
My Winnipeg
Dead End Drive-In

The Devil Probably
Fata Morgana
Private Lessons
Taipei Story
Fox and His Friends

Time to Die
Everything is Fine
The Pope's Toilet
Sleepwalking Land
California Dreamin' (Endless)

40 x 15: The 40 Years of the Directors' Fortnight
Ashes of Time Redux
The Substitute
Of Time and the City
Lion's Den

Xiao Jia Going Home
The Desert Within
La Rabia
Just Anybody


Kamikaze Camel said...

Here's a hint for next year - unless the retrospectives are something that really do benefit immensely from cinema exhibition then skip them. All of the Focus on Ozploitation titles are available on DVD bar Dead End Drive-In (which is available on R1 DVD). I mean, if I had the time and money i'd love to see any movie on the big screen, but something like Razorback may seem like a fun idea to see at the cinema until you're seeing 35 other films.

Or that's just me. :P

As I mentioned on Jim Schembri's blog today, I thought the GU was pretty bad as a screening venue. The seating was far too compact so if you're stuck in the a row of a well-attended movie you can not move. My first movie at GU was O' Horten (after Night Train was canceled due to a blown projector grrr) I was so sore afterward. During my session of My Winnipeg I sat on the isle so I could stretch because I knew it was going to be busy. That at the GU ticket people were very rude. Or one man was, anyway.

I also didn't quite understand why ever session had the ads play and then have them stop, the lights come on and the curtains raise. Either wait five more minutes for the obligatory latecomers or just start screening the movie on time after the ads. Why bother showing the ads only to wait more time anyway?

Agreed about the ads though. After the first time you stop paying any attention. I'd go back to reading my book or the movie flyers I picked up in the foyer.

Oh, and they couldn't use the Regent for obvious reasons - the Regent is showing Wicked. I wasn't too keen on the Regent for subtitled films (I got a big headed doofus in my way and had to keep stretching last year) but other than that it was a good venue.

Also, about the guide, I too found it frustrating that you had to turn it around to read the schedule then turn it back and flip a few pages to see what page the movies' synopsis was on and then turn to that page and then back to the schedule. All very frustrating when you're there trying to calculate times and dates and amounts and so on.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul, excellent coverage and thank you for the release date list! An exceptionally useful thing. I have to admit I don't like the members queue, I think it works against the egalitarian nature of MIFF (ironic they introduced a queuing class-system in the same year the posters promoted the "equality of the people" angle). Agree totally about GU... John

Paul Martin said...

Glenn, in principle, I agree with your comment about retrospectives. Last year was my first experience with a full festival pass. I saw a lot of serious cinema and got fatigued by it. I decided that this year I would see more frivolous and mainstream stuff to break up the homogeny of the films. On that basis, the Ozploitation films worked for me. O' Horten is another film that met that criteria, though I think most people would agree it's vastly superior to most of the Ozploitation films. Did you like it?

Bad? GU is shocking. I think it's an OH&S issue. There's seats where the cushion is unattached, armrests that swing side-to-side. And many of the seats have a terrible sag.

I drove my missus crazy with the ads because I kept bagging them. Or playing Tetris on my phone.

MIFF must've kicked themselves over Wicked. They know many months in advance what dates they need. They should book their venues as early as possible.

As for the guide, I take the info I want from it and collate it the way I want it. I end up with a cut back version of the guide's middle pages with the additional info. They'd save me a lot of time if they did this themselves with the middle pages, adding the suggested info. It is bloody frustrating to the point of insanity. I work in IT where usability is an absolute consideration in everything I design. From the user's perspective, usability is everything. From a MIFF-goer's perspective, the design of that guide is crucial. There's so much information there, and it's bloody hard to find any of it because you're constantly flipping from one broadsheet page to another.

John, what egalitarian nature? Fuck egalitarianism! Seriously though, I imagine the members love it and the non-members probably don't. I don't think it makes much of a difference to non-members as members are probably less than 5% of attendees.

MIFF is an organisation and they want to attract as many members as possible. I suppose this is one way they're going to succeed. I have a fairly elitist MIFF membership, which costs me just under a grand, but buys me one of those reserved seats you see at the Forum. From my perspective, the cost of taking two weeks off work is much more than the cost of MIFF membership. To make that financial sacrifice, I figure I may as well maximise my MIFF experience by taking out the membership I do. I appreciate that the opportunity is there, but if one doesn't want to (or can't) make that commitment, that's understandable.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Hey Paul, like you, I'm very excited about food and sleep. It's a shame you missed Christmas Tale - far above everything else I saw this year (which was mostly good stuff, but little of it mindblowing or even all that memorable). And thanks again for the closing night tickets!

Kamikaze Camel said...

I thought the MIFF member priority seating would be bad for us non-members but it turned out to not be a worry.

Paul Martin said...

Goran, I gave the whole of the final day a miss and saw nothing. I would have liked to have seen A Christmas Tale but then sometimes you've got to draw a line in the sand. "Mindblowing". Hmmmm... the films that blow my mind are usually the quiet understated ones. That's certainly true of every film I've classified above as "must-see". I think it's true from a marketing perspective for MIFF: none of the films I loved are an easy sell to most audiences. But I think all of them have been awarded internationally.

Paul Martin said...

Glenn, I'd recommend MIFF membership if you're able to take advantage of the benefits. You get invites (double tix) to advance screenings about half a dozen times a year, you get discounts on your festival tickets, though I reckon the priority queuing alone is worth it.

Al said...

Enjoyed reading your comments again this year Paul, and as always the "to be released" list is very useful. This year I had to trim my attendance down to just a mini-pass worth, but even with that number of sessions, the ads still wore me down. It's a worry when an ad for pay-TV (the Foxtel one or whatever it was, which at least showed an appreciation of the joys of montage) is far more entertaining than the MIFF promo... and that Yalumba idiot, oh god. I will be boycotting their wine in protest! There must be a better way for sponsors to flog their wares than by driving the festival hard-core to utter frustration.

Though I'm not a member, I think the priority access thing is a nice idea, and a more 'egalitarian' one than the old Gold Pass reserved seating system.

Agreed that GU is a rotten place, but I do wonder what MIFF will do when it (inevitably) closes. It seems like it will just disintegrate one day, like the house in Poltergeist. I'd very happily spend my whole festival at the Forum if I could.

And another recommendation here to chase up A Christmas Tale, it was my first Desplechin and I'm suddenly very excited about the CT retro in Oct-Nov. It felt like he was doing something quite new in cinema, and it's rare for me to get that feeling these days! Lorna's Silence, Wendy and Lucy, Silent Light were my other faves. And Mr Lazarescu, and Encounters at the End of the World. Actually I think I chose pretty well. :)

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for the comments, Al. I think a minipass is just right for me when I'm working full-time. In 2006, that's all I could squeeze in (and with a family, it was a squeeze).

You know, I don't hold on to things like ads, but now that you mention it, the Foxtel was the only one I found at least bearable and my partner actually enjoyed it. It was put together OK.

The "quack quack... nearly walked out... made me wanna puke..." lines in the MIFF ad were pure irony, because that's how we felt listening to the bloody thing. And I also thought about never buying a Yalumba product again in my life.

I don't know about the Gold Pass system. Is it another name for the current Screen Legend membership? I'd be happy for you or anyone to enlighten me. I have a Screen Legend membership, which is not the slightest bit egalitarian.

I've been thinking about Greater Union, because if it does close down, it does present MIFF with a dilemma. They provided 3 of the 7 screens this year, albeit small as they are (I counted close to 250 seats in one of the cinemas). ACMI has close to 400 seats (which I prefer to the Forum) and the Forum as about 600 I believe. I also like the Forum, as old and smelly as it is. It's got character and the viewing experience is good. I also think the Regent is a good venue if you're not too far from the screen.

Anyway, if GU closed, I wonder who else MIFF would use. Maybe the Kino would fill in the gaps. Of nearly 500 sessions this year, they hosted a mere 28 of them. While Kino is a little further away than GU, I think it's a far superior venue - in fact, I consider it the best commercial arthouse cinema in Melbourne. The stadium seating always guarantees a good screen view, even on the side seats.

Several people recommended A Christmas Tale to me and, while I'm disappointed I missed it (particularly with the Melb Cteq season coming up), I don't regret taking the last day off to miss it. I'm still recovering now.

I'm hoping Wendy and Lucy gets a theatrical release, though word is it's not as good as Reichardt's previous film, Old Joy. I heard mixed responses about Encounters at the End of the World.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Well, the Regent may be available next year if Wicked isn't still playing and they don't have another major show like it or Priscilla.

I saw The Horseman (and was meant to see Night Train before it was cancelled) in GU4 and it was tiny! Absolutely tiny. I thought GU6 though was a good size and GU5 was in between, but was a decent size.

I actually am not a big fan of the Forum. Mostly just because the of the seats. ACMI is clearly the best cinema though, without a doubt.

Paul Martin said...

I see more films at ACMI than any other venue, Glenn, but there's something about the Kino I really like too.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I unfortunately didn't get to see any of the films at ACMI this year, but it just has the best film festival atmosphere there. Unlike places like GU.

All the AFI screenings are at ACMI this year though, which is great. Better than South Yarra for sure.

Paul Martin said...

FWIW, Glenn, I saw over 140 films at ACMI last year, which accounted for about 45% of all films I saw for the year. That's more than all the films I saw at Kino, Nova and Palace combined. It really is the place for quality and outside of the square cinema.

poignantPoint said...

Great summary Paul. Just on venues, i wasn't overly impressed with Melbourne's choices of venues to view films. They were all quite run-of-the-mill, standard cinemas. When i first walked into the ground level of The Forum, i was extremely impressed, and was excited to view some films on presumably a make-shift screen atop the stage. I was therefore disappointed when we were directed upstairs into the standard cinema.

For the Sydney Film Fest, screening films in actual theatres such as the Metro Theatre (e.g. Lou Reed's Berlin album doco) and the State Theatre (e.g. IRA prison movie 'Hunger'), with screens atop the stages, added such a sense of charm and class to the festival.

-Ryan :)