Seventy years ago, in January, 1952, The Australian Council of Film Societies presented a program of international films in Olinda, on the outskirts of Melbourne. The following year this event became known as the Melbourne Film Festival. What was initiated in those early days was a festival that was dedicated to screening films that might not otherwise have been seen in Australia. What has emerged, 70 years later, is an international festival with multiple programming strands, initiatives designed to support emerging careers of local filmmakers and an international festival with global influence and an enduring history. MIFF is the largest and longest surviving film festival in the southern hemisphere. Whilst it curates programs of latest releases, it also anticipates, perhaps even influences, the future of film culture. 

Twenty years ago, when the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, was planning to develop a professional Masters Degree, the Melbourne International Film Festival collaborated with us to build a partnership, one that would provide direct insight into how this festival operates. At that time Arts students were looking for ways to bring their knowledge of film, film history, theory and culture into practice and MIFF was their desired destination. There was no language for thinking about how to develop such a partnership, nothing remotely resembling a Work Integrated Learning subject and no real understanding of how to create experiential learning experiences beyond the role of a volunteer. In the background was the need to respond to the eternal question that plagues the Arts and Humanities tertiary sector – what is the value of an Arts degree? Knowledge of film and media is imperative in not only understanding ourselves, our connections to local and global cultures, but it provides a key to being able to think creatively analytically, adventurously, to identify patterns of unquestioned knowledge, and challenge entrenched hierarchies. 

Communication has been at the heart of this collaboration, one that encompasses a range of critical, professional, cross-cultural, and creative modes. Across the years our students have had opportunities to write and research multiple articles and extended annotations. They began writing for the MIFF catalogue when it was printed on paper, they wrote to the Classification Board providing the often-confronting detail required to request exemptions from classification, they reviewed films for journals and social media, they developed targeted communications campaigns designed to introduce new audiences to the festival, targeting Melbourne’s Indian diaspora in one instance, hoping to strengthen connections with the community. 

This MIFF at 70 Dossier celebrates the 70th year of MIFF’s existence by continuing this tradition. Within the dossier are articles written on films scheduled to be screened this year by early and mid-career career researchers from the Faculty of Arts. This dossier includes a range of writing on cinema from reviews to research articles, each in their own way addressing pertinent issues relating to the notion of ‘transition’, and highlighting approaches to writing on the moving image that distinguishes contemporary Screen Studies as a discipline. 

We begin with Alicia Byrnes’s eloquent article on Shaunak Sen’s documentary, All That Breathes (2022). Byrnes focuses on both the technologies and affect of the aesthetic by analysing the lens distortion that miniaturises the vast skies of Delhi, revealing them as sites of danger for the black kites who suffer wing damage when they become entangled in the razor-sharp strings that are part of competitive kite flying. This article builds a series of associations to identify the interconnectedness of ‘all that breathes’. Byrnes points out that connections can also be subject to disruption and questions whether film itself is implicated in the ‘ecological circumstance’ of our environmental crisis. 

My own research article on Fire of Love highlights some of the complexities in contemporary documentary cinema, specifically those that are built from archival materials, by looking at Sara Dosa’s film on the life of the vulcanologists, Katia and Maurice Krafft. This documentary blends the original with contemporary bespoke sequences that are made using materials that remain faithful to the timeframe. Fire of Love continues the focus on the danger of the ecology, positioning volcanic energy at the centre of this romance, foregrounding inevitable demise. 

Laura Henderson’s article, ‘Art and Loathing in The African Desperate’ looks at the second feature length film created by the multi-disciplinary artist, Martine Syms. Here Henderson tracks the depiction of a dynamic and turbulent 24-hour period for its protagonist, Palace, as they graduate and move towards the art world in New York City. Henderson reads The African Desperate as a semi-autobiographical film, one that incorporates social media memes and reveals influences of Soviet montage. 

Nonie May’s article on An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl, (Colm Bairéad 2022) considers the emotional affordances of the point of view of a child who glimpses some of the secrets of the adult world. This exploration of childhood displaced and re-situated within the broader matrilineal family expands to identify the impact of the loss of language in cultures that continue to be subject to colonisation. This exercise in auto ethnography also reveals a sense of loss for the writer and her own matrilineal line. 

Kirsten Stevens’s contribution ‘Give Me Pity!’ focuses on the ‘hyper-real, hyper-saturated’ latest film release by Amanda Kramer. Stevens sees this film as an amalgamation of multiple genres, forms and aesthetics, a film that navigates ‘candid confessions’ and the revelation of childhood trauma. It is a film that explores the ‘late stage female entertainer come TV special host’ Sissy St. Claire (Sophie von Haselberg) who is ‘dying to be known, really known’ through the televisual medium, a desire that ultimately implodes live on the small screen.  

Each of these films addresses significant moments of transition relating to the ecology, education, and cultures. They also reflect the programming decisions that mark MIFF as a festival of, as Artistic Director, Al Cossar described it recently, ‘adventurous thinking’. MIFF remains deeply invested in education within and beyond the University, offering us all opportunities to see cutting edge films that address difficult questions, and ask us all to think adventurously. 

About The Author

Associate Professor Wendy Haslem researches the intersections of film history and new media. Her book From Méliès to New Media: Spectral Projections (Intellect, 2019) examines the persistence of traces of celluloid materiality on digital screens. Wendy produced the 'MIFF at 70' dossier for Senses of Cinema in 2022 and her current research project is dedicated to the histories and possible futures of optics and screen media.

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