FEATURE: MIFFing Out On Festival Fatigue

“19 Days Only”! That’s the slogan for this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. It’s a catchy little phrase, no doubt engineered by some marketing guru hoping to incite panic among cinephiles desperate to savour each and every last frame from the films on show. And yet now, with the program nearing its conclusion, I can’t help but wonder whether the same genius that figured three weeks was too short either has a wicked sense of irony, or has never done the ‘festival thing’.

19 days in isolation may sound like easy time for the hardened criminal (blonde socialites notwithstanding) but when it comes to the cinema it’s a whole other story. For the festival devotee, MIFF demands a lifestyle adjustment that can break even the fiercest of characters. Forced out of bed by the crack of noon, the serious MIFFer begins their rigorous preparation for the day ahead.

Dressed up like a Scandinavian sightseer, their backpack filled to bursting with assorted snacks, caffeine supplements and a trusty flask, they converge on the CBD. Arriving early to occupy prime position in the queue is a crucial part of this festival ritual. Territorial disputes amongst MIFFers have been known to get ugly and arriving early to stake ones claim upon a preferred seat is one way of avoiding such bitter feuds.

Once inside the cinema though, it’s all about the screenings. And this is where the real test begins. For the hardiest of MIFFers a 10-hour stretch on weekdays and 14 hours on the weekend is not uncommon. It’s an exhausting haul that only a few can sustain for the duration of the festival. But it’s not without its dangers. Going without sunlight for weeks on end can have a serious impact upon the human psyche. Just look at Iceland. Here in Melbourne though, the effects of the prolonged darkness and cinematic assault upon the senses can be even more severe.

For the MIFFer trapped inside an increasingly hallucinatory state, the seams between each filmic world gradually begin to fray. Japanese techno paranoia bleeds through French eroticism, Chinese action coalesces with American political provocations, while the horrors of undead sheep and vagina dentata find their way into a British ‘coming of age’ tale. The resultant memories conjured up by these strange commingling narratives offers up images the likes that even Burroughs, Kafka and Dali would struggle to imagine.

Sadly, I’m little more than a ‘tourist’ at this year’s festival. With my MIFF-tripping days behind me I’ve limited my selections to a mere dozen or so. Though restricted, the viewing has yielded some unexpected joys. The Japanese retrospectives of Imamura and Kore-eda have proved highly rewarding, while the documentary section has so far thrown out some impressive gems (Your Mommy Kills Animals, and The War Tapes were both exceptional).

The only real controversy to emerge from this year’s MIFF was new festival director Richard Moore’s decision to break with the tradition of screening an Australia film on opening night. Instead, that honour went to Michael Moore’s (no relation so he tells us) new release, Sicko. There’s perhaps a certain irony in the fact that this year’s closing night film is also a non-local affair, with Shane Meadow’s This Is England getting the nod. America at one-end, Britain at the other, and the rest of the world crammed in-between. Who was it that said colonialism was dead and buried?

But enough about politics! I’m sure you’re all still curious about the fate of those MIFFers I mentioned earlier. Some return happily back to their 9-5 caves as accountants and actuaries, while others, bitten by the cinema bug, may try and carve out a living as a film critic. But not all are so fortunate. For some MIFFers the physical and mental stresses of the festival ultimately prove too great. And so, their minds warped and their souls twisted, they retreat to the boardrooms of major film studios and once more set about plotting that next, wondrous, blockbuster sequel.

Filed under : Feature

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a reply