Melbourne International Film Festival Has Just Unveiled Its Hefty Virtual 2020 Program

MIFF 68 1/2 will screen 113 features and shorts from 56 countries — and they'll be available to watch nation-wide.
Sarah Ward
Published on July 14, 2020

With metropolitan Melbourne currently subject to strict stay-at-home orders until at least mid-August, the city's cinemas have all gone dark — again. But, as it usually does at this time of year, the Melbourne International Film Festival will still be serving up an 18-day feast of movies for Melburnians to enjoy, this time from the comfort of their homes.

Cinephiles around the rest of the country will be able to check out MIFF's 2020 program, too, with the festival going both virtual and national with a lineup it's calling MIFF 68 1/2. After cancelling the fest's physical event months ago, back when the first COVID-19 lockdowns were going into effect, the annual showcase of cinema will deliver a sizeable and impressive online program between Thursday, August 6–Sunday, August 23, which is when the festival would've run if it had forged ahead in-person.

Mirroring the fest's physical structure as much as is possible in a digital format, that includes exciting opening night, centrepiece and closing night screenings — as well as other program spotlight titles, a selection of world premieres, and movies that have had film buffs talking at prestigious international festivals. In total, 113 features and shorts are on offer, spanning flicks from 56 countries. So, if you were wondering why you might need almost three weeks to work your way through the program, now you understand.

It all kicks off with Kelly Reichardt's First Cow, one of the very best movies of the past year — and a hit everywhere from Telluride to Berlinale. Stepping back to 19th-century America, the Certain Women director spins the story of a cook (John Magaro) and a Chinese entrepreneur (Orion Lee) who start an illicit but highly profitable business making delicious biscuits using milk stolen direct from the titular animal (the first in their region, hence the name) in the dark of night. It's also one of the 49 percent of MIFF 68 1/2's films that's made by at least one female director.

MIFF viewers can also look forward to Peter Pan reimagining Wendy, the long-awaited next film from Beasts of the Southern Wild's Benh Zeitlin, which sits in the fest's centrepiece spot. Wrapping things up is closing night's Ema, from Jackie director Pablo Larrain — with his frequent star Gael García Bernal featuring alongside newcomer Mariana Di Girolamo, and the narrative set in Chile's dance world.

Also in the high-profile camp: the Aubrey Plaza-starring psychodrama Black Bear, about a filmmaker who gets involved with another couple's squabbles; the Tilda Swinton-narrated, visually stunning Last and First Men, as directed by late film composer Jóhann Jóhannsson; Mogul Mowgli, with Riz Ahmed playing an aspiring British-Pakistani rapper forced to grapple with a sudden illness; and Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt), a queer Aussie rom-com with a ghostly component.

From the documentary selection, there's also this year's Sundance US Grand Jury Prize-winner Boys State, which experiments with democracy from the perspective of teenage boys; On the Record, detailing and exploring the allegations against Def Jam mogul Russell Simmons; and 9to5: The Story of a Movement, which sees this year's American Factory Oscar-winners Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar chronicle the fight to end gender discrimination in the workplace.

As always with the consistently super-sized MIFF, the list goes on — with Polish drama Corpus Christi, US black comedy Shiva Baby and the distinctively animated Kill It and Leave this Town on the bill as well. So is award-winning documentary Welcome to Chechnya, about the persecution of queer Chechens, and Maddy the Model's insight into the life of Madeline Stuart, a Brisbane-born model with Down syndrome. Staying local, Aussie film fans can reassess Captain Cook's arrival through the eyes of the country's First Nations population via Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky, and watch the Karrabing Film Collective latest work, Day in the Life.

If you really feel like settling in for the long haul, Mark Cousins' Women Make Film: A New Road Trip Through Cinema spends 14 hours diving deep into female-directed cinema (and 183 female filmmakers, in fact), while the four-part City So Real surveys Chicago's 2019 mayoral elections.

And, if that's not enough, a program of 44 short films will screen for free — and, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Aussie comedy Death in Brunswick, MIFF 68 1/2 is hosting a virtual table read of the movie's script.

MIFF 68 1/2 runs from Thursday, August 6–Sunday, August 23. For further details and to buy online tickets from 9am on Friday, July 17, visit the festival's website.

Published on July 14, 2020 by Sarah Ward
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