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MIFF 2016 – It's Our 65th MIFF!
The 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival will be our 65th one (although it's only been 64 years – it's like the whole millennium vs the year 2000 thing all over again, and thinking too hard about it will hurt your brain!). Sixty-five years of film in Melbourne is a big deal: MIFF is one of the top ten oldest film festivals in the world, and is the oldest in Australia.
While the 65th MIFF* is all about the future of film – we're hoping you'll find some of your future favourites in this year's program – it's also fascinating to look back every now and then, at MIFF's history and at the wider cinematic story of the time.
2016 also marks a big anniversary for Australia's oldest film school: the Victorian College of the Arts turns 50 this year! As part of their celebrations, the VCA has created a Digital Archive Project, where they plan to showcase more than 50 years of student filmmaking in a publicly accessible, ever-growing online collection of Australian film. Many of these films – both shorts and features – have screened at MIFF.
The University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Arts and more recently the Victorian College of the Arts have enjoyed a decade-long relationship with MIFF, incorporating activities ranging from expert academic panels, program stream and film note contributions, and student work and internship opportunities including programming, festival management and communications. This relationship was cemented in 2014 with the signing of a formal partnership and the future now sees this partnership broadening to include exciting research and teaching and learning collaborations, ensuring that the Faculty of Arts, as Learning Partner, and the Victorian College of the Arts solidify their position as the leaders of film theory and practice education in Australia.
Here, Nicolette Freeman, the VCA's Head of Film and Television, takes a look at 50 years of Melbourne films, and discusses how they are choosing the films for the Digital Archive.
*try saying that three times fast, in a row!
Armchair Travel: 50 Years of Melbourne Films
Anyone who still frequents those picture palaces with comfortable seating will understand my association of movies with armchair travel. Indeed, magic-lantern shows with glass slides of far-off destinations, and accompanying travelogue narration, were the earliest precursors to cinema-going.
Of course, jet technology has long since freed us from relying on the cinema for travel. These days we watch movies while we sit on those planes, or on our phones as we amble around.
I have been on my own journey via film recently, meandering through a 50-year-old archive of little-known film treasures. I have the great fortune of heading Australia’s oldest film school, which is celebrating its golden anniversary this year; it started its life at the Swinburne Institute of Technology in 1966 and in 1992 transferred to its current home at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
In recognition of the school’s legacy and enviable contribution to the Australian screen industry, we are using this milestone to make freely available, for the first time, 50 student films from the past half century – four of which are embedded within this article.
Those 50 films will be released gradually over the coming weeks, in the run up to our anniversary on 19 June, accompanied by articles that contextualise the filmmakers and the eras in which they were working. It’s just the start of a larger Digital Archive project that will eventually see our entire back catalogue made available to the public, to researchers, to teachers, and to filmmakers.
And there is much to be gained from watching them.
While viewing these films, and considering our school’s and our nation’s history, I have been reminded of how remarkably we have changed our view of ourselves as a nation, in the context of the wider world of exotic destinations, and of filmmaking.
Life is Elsewhere
It’s worth remembering that the school started before the moon landing, in an era when most of us thought the “important stuff” only happened north of the equator – London, San Francisco and Paris had The Beatles, the Summer of Love and the French New Wave respectively.
But in 1966, the year the school opened, the top box-office film at Australian cinemas was not a foreign story (as had been the norm since the demise of our local industry at the end of the 1920s); it was They’re a Weird Mob (1966), a film based on the novel of the same name by John O’Grady, about Australia’s bizarre and xenophobic culture, told through the eyes of a fictional Italian immigrant.
Although, alas, it was realised not by “one of ours” but by the brilliant British director Michael Powell.
The establishment of our first Australian film school was part of a dream by visionaries including Philip Adams, Fred Schepisi, and the school’s first Head, Brian Robinson, to change that situation – to get Australian directors, producers, and crew telling their own stories in their own way.
Australia, by the way, is credited with making the world’s first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906). Yet even in 1970 Kelly was played by Mick Jagger in the UK director Tony Richardson’s Ned Kelly. It wasn’t until 2003 that our own Heath Ledger played Kelly in the Australian director Gregor Jordan’s version.
Choosing the Films
So how did we choose the first 50 films?
Of course, there are award-winners, and films made by students who went on to make titles we all recognise – films such as The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1978), Mad Max (1979), My Brilliant Career (1979), Muriel’s Wedding (1988), Evil Angels (1988), Death in Brunswick (1990), Chopper (2000), The Proposition (2005), Animal Kingdom (2010), Mary and Max (2009), Snowtown (2011), Red Dog (2011), and The Dressmaker (2015).
But there are also films that shine with a different value: they give us insight into what Australia was like during those 50 years, into unique and memorable characters both real and fictional, and into the fears and dreams that characterise those times.
As a filmmaker, I have spent considerable time in archives, in Canberra, Washington, and New York. When looking through archival footage, you recognise the inherent qualities of each individual fragment but, more interestingly, you discover metaphors for something that is connected to you personally.
The process of re-looking, from a greater distance, at films that were devised for other audiences, in other contexts, gives us a unique opportunity to reflect, while also imagining what if.
If you are curious to see the early work of some of our most influential filmmakers (Gillian Armstrong, Jill Bilcock, Ian Baker, Robert Luketic, John Hillcoat, Matt Saville, Nikki Caro, Tony Ayres, Glendyn Ivin and Emma Freeman) or to see both the real and fictional Australia of the last 50 years, then I urge you to visit the films we will be releasing, decade by decade, in the coming weeks.
Spend a while travelling to other times and perspectives. In doing so, you’ll experience the social, political and cultural shifts that have influenced our sense of ourselves as Australians, and given us the drive and confidence to tell our own stories on our film and television screens.
Of course, the story of the school and its emerging filmmaking talent is not over. We look forward to the next 50 years and the travel it continues to afford us from our comfy armchairs, or our screens on the go.
Banner image: Still from The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, #MIFF2016's Opening Night film, directed by Melbourne filmmaker, VCA graduate and MIFF Accelerator alumnus Cris Jones.