A Campfire of Stories: An Interview with John Harvey


Described by the 2023 Shorts Awards jury as as “the story of one’s unbreakable connection to place and the ancestral power within”, Katele (Mudskipper) follows a Torres Strait Islander woman whisked away from her thankless job and unfolds in a world that “comes alive in vibrant colour … lovingly enveloped in traditional song and dance”.

We speak to writer/director John Harvey about submitting his film to MIFF, being part of a community and how festivals can foster creativity.

What made you decide to submit your film, Katele (Mudskipper), to MIFF?

I absolutely love MIFF, the way it brings the community together to celebrate our kaleidoscopic stories. I’ve been fortunate to have several films in MIFF and have been part of the Accelerator Lab program. I really enjoy the creative conversations involved in the making of work, and MIFF is a festival that embraces ideas, conversations and community.

What were your favourite things about the experience of having your film screen at the festival in 2023?

Firstly, to have the film selected was an absolute thrill, especially as the MIFF Shorts program is incredibly strong – it’s a wonderful feeling having the film and our team recognised through the film’s selection. We had some crew members based in Melbourne, so I’m glad they got to experience the film on the big screen. It was also very exciting to have the film screen in regional areas as part of MIFF’s touring program.

Above: John Harvey (centre back) on set  |  Header: Katele (Mudskipper)

You won the VicScreen Erwin Rado Award for Best Australian Short Film. How will this award impact the trajectories of your film and of your filmmaking career?

It was truly an honour to receive the VicScreen Erwin Rado Award for Best Australian Short Film, not just for myself but for co-writer Walter Waia, producer Gillian Moody, and our entire team and the incredible work they did. There’s been a lot of interest in the film thanks to the award.

The award is extra special because MIFF holds a special and familiar place for me – it feels like a campfire of stories every winter and I love being a part of it. I think, for me, in terms of my career, the award gives me a certain sense of reassurance in my own creative process to carry forward into future work. It’s funny; creativity is such a tenuous process that is inherently risky but also requires a lot of faith.

Do you have any advice for other filmmakers looking to submit their work to MIFF?

I think, firstly, get engaged with MIFF regardless if you have a film screening or not; it’s such an incredible festival to stimulate creativity. Do all the things – watch the films, listen to the filmmakers and be inspired. And then, when it comes to making your film, think deeply about what inspires you, what you’re interested in and why you’re the best person to tell that story. Then go for it!!

What are you looking forward to at MIFF 2024?

In a world where so much of the content consumed is algorithm-based, I’m warmed by the feeling that the MIFF team will be curating an incredible program that reminds us of who we are, who the others are and who we are together.

Submissions for MIFF 2024 are now open and close on Thursday 15 February. For more information or to submit, click here.