This week, we’ll be celebrating Melbourne’s arts festivals at the Wheeler Centre Dailies.
Today, we interview Michelle Carey, artistic director of the Melbourne International Film Festival, finding out from the source what it’s like to put the programme together, what the highlights are – and what we can expect from literary highlights like the film of Christos Tsiolkas’s Dead Europe and the series of Illustrated Film Talks on Charles Dickens and Film.
What’s your favourite thing about programming the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF)?
I just love watching films – I am forever inspired by filmmakers and cinema, as art, as entertainment and as a pedagogic experience. I also love putting together a kaleidoscopic mosaic of genres and styles for Melburnians to explore!
What’s your biggest challenge in programming the festival?
The scale of it makes it an incredibly huge undertaking to mount – a year-round endeavour. It is just so big and unpredictable. This is a challenge, but also the thing that makes it such an adrenaline rush. With 430 sessions, there is more margin for error and it doesn’t matter how much you plan – spanners are always thrown into the works from unpredictable directions.
We know this is a bit like asking you to choose your favourite child, but … what are some of the films (or programming strands) at this year’s festival that you’re most looking forward to?
I love the curated spotlights and this year there are so many great ones. The Swedish strand is incredibly diverse and we have some great guests here for that. The Latin American strand (Through the Labyrinth) has me dying to visit South America; there is really something for everyone there. I always love documentaries and of course, the retrospectives. The middle weekend. We have some great new Australian films too – including Save Your Legs! (in our centrepiece gala), Dead Europe, Mental (our closing night film) and all the shorts films, for a very different experience.
Your opening night film this year was The Sapphires, the Australian film about four Aboriginal girls who are branded Australia’s answer to the Supremes, and who tour Vietnam to entertain the troops. What made you choose it to open the festival?
It was a no-brainer: just such a joyous colourful film, with real heart and a brilliant cast. Finding the right opening (and closing) film is one of the most difficult parts of the job – it is under such close scrutiny, with so many disparate groups of people to please, and sets the tone for the whole festival.
One film Wheeler Centre audiences will be particularly interested in is Dead Europe, the film of Christos Tsiolkas’s award-winning novel. Can you give us a taste of what to expect from this film?
Tony Krawitz is perfectly suited to adapt a Christos Tsiolkas novel. He is from the same generation and like Christos, is very socially aware with a very strong artistic style, one that favours gritty realism over shiny artifice. I have yet to read the novel, but from what I can tell, the film is different in terms of scale – it hones in on one part of the story in particular. But I will leave it for the expectant viewers to make up their own minds. Ewan Leslie and Kodi Smit-McPhee in particular are brilliant in it. I love it!!
Former British Film Institute and London Film Festival director Adrian Wootton will be presenting a series of Illustrated Film Talks, focusing on Charles Dickens and Film, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the author’s birthday. What can we expect from these talks?
I could listen to Adrian Wootton read the phone book, and not just because of that lovely accent! He is an incredibly articulate and film (and book) literate man, who presents film history in a very accessible and direct style. He has a huge passion for Dickens and especially film and television adaptations of Dickens. In talking with him, I was stunned to learn just how many Dickens adaptations there have been since the beginning of cinema. Definitely a lot to learn in these lectures and I am sure they will be very entertaining.
What’s your favourite film (or director) of all time – and why?
This is very hard to answer, but I would have to say Jean-Luc Godard. As an impressionable teenager, seeing his work transferred me from a film appreciator to a film obsessive. His works undoubtedly reward repeated viewings. They are fascinating and enjoyable in themselves, but also portals to countless monumental (and lesser known) works of art, literature, music, other films. Like Dostoevsky, his is an infinitely questioning world that reveals new ideas with each visit.
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