From Little Things. Big Things Grow.

MIFF Weekend #1

So after a cracking start to the festival it was time to indulge in my first weekend at MIFF which usually results in five to eight films spanned across two very long days. I was a little bit excited for this first weekend however as one of the films that I had at the very top of my wish list for this festival was the documentary Paul Kelly: Stories or Me which I had booked in on the Saturday night. But before I start getting all excited about that, first up was the Australian horror/comedy 100 Bloody Acres.

The great thing about this film from debut feature directors Colin & Cameron Cairnes is that it doesn’t hide from what it really is. It’s a gross out, in your face, borderline b grade horror film which I would liken to something like the New Zealand film Black Sheep (MIFF 2007). The concept is quite simple. A trio of young travelers are on their way out into the country for a music festival before their car breaks down. They are picked up by the incredibly endearing Reg who runs an organic ‘blood and bone’ fertiliser business with his brother Lindsey and who is in need of a fresh supply of their ‘secret ingredient’ for the fertiliser as stocks are low.

This film has more laugh out loud moments than I have seen in an Australian film for some time now and is essentially a very simple concept that is well crafted by it’s directors. If I had one qualm it would be that I felt the acting let the film down a little bit. The more experienced actors in Angus Sampson, Damon Herriman and John Jarratt (particular mention to Herriman who is incredible as the bumbling Reg) do a fantastic job but unfortunately the same can’t be said for the films younger actors. They arn’t bad by any stretch but I just feel that perhaps they were all miscast in their roles and the film might’ve gained from some different casting choices. Nevertheless I still had a great time watching the film which is sure to become a cult horror comedy and do well on the festival circuit. Unfortunately the screening left a bad taste in my mouth after the crash and burn Q & A which was hosted by a complete dickhead and which suffered from people asking dumb questions about neck beards.

And then the big one.

Now before I talk about the movie I just wanted to highlight exactly why I was so excited about this documentary. I have loved Paul Kelly’s music for as long as I remember and have seen him perform live more times than any other live music act. Reason being is that I think that he is one of the greatest Australian artists and storytellers of our time. His music speaks of love, loss, youth and many aspects of life in a way which is most affecting and accessible.

The documentary made by filmmaker Ian Darling not only pays tribute to the man and his life but also tells the story of what it is to be an artist, and why it is so important in our world to have people like Paul Kelly. The music is carefully chosen and placed and the doco jumps between live footage from concerts, interviews with family, friends and other musicians and old footage of the early days of Paul Kelly. I think the thing that I enjoyed most about this doco was how they used certain elements to really highlight how Paul’s songs so closely follow his own life. As each moment in the film dealt with an important moment in Paul Kelly’s life, the lyrics of his song were written in front of the footage, again showing that Paul’s strength in his music is that he writes from the heart, from his own experiences, even though in the doco he cheekily denies writing anything but fiction.

This is without doubt one of the best MIFF experiences that I have had. Not only was the doco brilliant but the audience was buzzing with Paul Kelly fans who were so excited to see a film about their hero. As the film ended and the director took the stand for a Q & A, he did something else that warmed my heart. Before speaking, Ian Darling invited his crew up on stage and acknowledged them all – something that is not done enough, especially in Australian film. We often forget how many people it takes to craft a film so it was really great to see Ian do that. If I have one qualm about the whole thing it was the little prick in front of me who decided to check the footy scores mid film. I’ve never done it before but I did the angry kick of the back of his seat. Sometimes I just wish I had a cattle prod.

Day two for MIFF weekend number one started off with another film featuring one of the kings of the American mumblecore movement in Mark Duplass (see Safety Not Guaranteed), Your Sister’s Sister. This was an interesting one for me cause I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The film begins with Iris (Emily Blunt) inviting her deeply depressed friend Jack (Duplass) to stay at her fathers island cabin for the weekend after the death of his brother. At the cabin, Jack runs into Iris’ sister Hannah who has gone up to the cabin for a similar reason and after a drunken encounter a revealing stretch of days ensues.

The funny thing about this film, being that it was in a similar vein to Safety Not Guaranteed, which was another American Indie that I saw on Friday night, was that it had completely opposite issues to SNG. The film featured stunning performances from it’s leads Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass and Rosemarie DeWitt but unfortunately I felt the script needed a bit more work. I just felt that the writer and director Lynn Shelton needed to choose her moments a little more closely as I found the pacing was all over the place. When I wanted the story to progress it seemed to linger, when I wanted more it seemed to wrap up far too quickly. Worth seeing for the performances though as they really are beautiful to watch on screen.

The second film I caught was The Sessions. A film which I wasn’t totally looking forward to after reading a friends review of the first session from a few days back. I gotta be honest, I was completely and utterly blown away by a really beautiful piece of low budget filmmaking.

The film is based on an essay called Seeing A Sex Surrogate written by Mark O’Brien, a man who suffered from polio and spent most of his days living in an iron lung. The film follows Mark (played by John Hawkes) as he decides he wants to lose his virginity despite his condition. This quest leads him to Cheryl Cohen Greene, a professional sex surrogate who helps him to explore intimacy and sex. I found this film to be so affecting due to brilliant performances from it’s leads John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. The film could’ve been very in your face but the choices from director Ben Lewin (an Australian) were spot on as he treated the subject with a respect and humour which made the subject matter all the more accessible for it’s audience. I really can’t encourage you enough to go out and see this film. It’s a beautiful, inspirational story about the human condition. Also stars William H Macy.

I finished my weekend off with a screening of the Swedish film Flicker, from Academy Award nominee Patrik Eklund. Now I don’t know if I was far too tired or that I really wasn’t in the mood for zany Swedish comedy but I really didn’t like this film. When it was funny, it was really funny but I found those moments to be few and far between. It seemed like Eklund had all these wonderful ideas for these characters and then when it came to weaving a story and a world for them all to exist in, he panicked. The film is about people trying to find their place in modern society but I just didn’t care about any of the characters which made it hard for me to engage with what the hell was going on. I will drop a mention for the sequence with the woman in therapy over her fear of spiders just before the lights go out – clever set up.

So that’s it for the weekend – I have taken Monday off to go and earn some of that sweet sweet cash but will be back on the bandwagon come Tuesday for Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (I can feel the erection already) and the Beastie Boys doco Awesome, I Fuckin Shot That.

Massive win.