Balancing the demands of elite cinephiles and casual cinema-goers is a challenge Melbourne International Film Festival artistic director Michelle Carey is ready to tackle.
The Melbourne International Film Festival (@MIFFofficial) released its full program this morning, and an embarrassment of riches it is, too. But the festival’s most exciting piece of programming was in fact announced some time ago: Out 1: Noli me tangere, Jaques Rivette’s nearly 13-hour portrait of French malaise in the wake of May 1968, is to be screened in Melbourne in its entirety for the first time. For hardcore cinephiles, this is more than a treat: it is a white whale, a holy grail. It is a stunning coup for the festival.
“Out 1: Noli me tangere — as opposed to Out 1: Spectre, the shorter four-hour shorter version — is something I’ve been wanting to screen ever since I got into programming,” MIFF’s artistic director, Michelle Carey (@raceymicehell), told Crikey. “But I always thought that was a crazy idea because it was so long. I had to find the right context. When Philippa Hawker approached me about co-curating a program of Jean-Pierre Leaud films, I had it.”
“Jacques Rivette is my favourite filmmaker, but I only saw Out 1: Noli me tangere for the first time last year,” Carey said. “I’d owned a bad-quality bootleg dub of the film for a long time, but I wanted to experience it for the first time on film. I did last year, at the Viennale, a 16mm print with German subtitles, the whole thing in one day.”
“There is always the fear around a holy grail that it won’t live up to your expectations,” Carey said, “but this absolutely surpassed them. Like any great novel or a great piece of classical music, the film becomes more and more involving as it goes along. At dinner the next day, the film’s producer, Stephane Tchalgadjieff, recounted several fascinating stories around the production that lent the film even more of an extraordinary aura. It turns out this German-subtitled 16mm print is the only existing film print in the world. We’ll screen it with live English subtitles over two days and four sessions. This is a really big event for MIFF. It basically takes over ACMI the second weekend of the festival.”
But Out 1 is hardly the only film on the program that Carey is excited about.
“I have so many highlights,” she said. “Hard to be a God, Boyhood, Goodbye to Language, Jauja. I find myself increasingly drawn to smart films that really hurtle into your face the magnificent foibles of humankind. On television we have Louis CK and Larry David. In film, there is a new generation of filmmakers influenced by this kind of humour. Two films in the MIFF program I’d recommend are Soft in the Head by Nathan Silver and Buzzard by Joel Potrykus. Both are full of energy and ideas, as well as being hilarious, political and very smart.
“We have some big Australian premieres (and some world premieres). Our opening night film is Predestination from Michael and Peter Spierig, and our closing night film is Felony by Matthew Saville. We also have the world premiere of Tony Ayres’ new film, Cut Snake, as our centrepiece gala. And for something new, Robert “Does-That-Man-Ever-Sleep?” Connolly’s new film, Paper Planes, will screen as a special kids’ gala.
Carey also said she was excited about the festival’s experimental line-up.
“Not only do we have an experimental shorts program — which this year features new films from Nathaniel Dorsky, Richard Tuohy and Laure Provost, among others — but many of our features are experimental, too. La Ultima Pelicula by Mark Peranson and Raya Martin, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness by Ben Rivers and Ben Russell, and The Unity of All Things by Daniel Schmidt and Alexander Carver, are such examples.”
“These films are far from austere or inaccessible,” Carey said. “They are colourful, funny, textural, exciting. These filmmakers are important artists of our generation. Where else will they be seen in Australia if not at festivals?
Carey has been at MIFF since 2008, starting as a programmer before taking over as artistic director three years later. Both positions involved a lot of travel, a lot of relationship-building and, of course, a lot of movie-going.
“Travelling to festivals is fundamental, as it really drives home what is essential about a festival: audiences watching a film in such an exciting and intensive atmosphere. I travel overseas three times a year, and as artistic director, I actually travel slightly less than when I was a programmer. There’s also a lot of admin, meetings and e-mails, and a lot of relationships to develop and maintain. It’s about finding a genuine connection with people, and that connection usually comes through a shared love of cinema and festivals.”
Attending film festivals around the world has given Carey a sense of perspective on our own industry, and the quality of films it creates.
“The success or health of Australian films is always up and down,” she said.
“Australian cinema faces the same challenges that international film industries and cultures do. Most of the Australian producers I know work really long hours, but have so much passion for what they do. But at the end of the day we are a smaller industry than the US or even the UK and shouldn’t constantly compare ourselves to those industries. I feel there is a groundswell of cinephilia in Australia. How can we translate that into exciting indie filmmaking?”
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