Heavy in the head, bleary-eyed, no time for a shower, drawn like a magnet to my MacBook Pro keyboard, hissing at the trickles of daylight seeping through my lounge room windows like a vampire about to re-enter their coffin – this is how one feels, or how one ought to feel, or simply how I’m feeling at the moment, the morning after an opening night film festival celebration.
Most people who’ve never attended an opening night of a major international film festival might naturally assume the focus of the evening is the screening of the premiere film. It ain’t.
Film festivals are for film lovers, film obsessives and the casually interested general public, who might amble into town to catch a session or two and forget about it until next year.
Film festival opening nights consist of a different crowd: largely media, celebrities, sponsors and organisational affiliates who will sit through anything – train wreck Italian neo-realism, nonsensical avant garde nightmare-scapes, Nazi propaganda films, two hours of starving feral pigs parachute bombed into a puppy farm, etcetera – in order to get to the after party afterwards, where the land of proverbial milk and honey (read: alcohol and food) awaits.
Beer, wine, champagne and delectable canapes with funny sounding names will be consumed by gents with slicked back hair, women with low-cut dresses and supple breasts and everybody in between – including bald men wearing glasses and a Heffner-esque black smoking jacket dusted off for the same event every year. That’d be me.
Opening night at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival was no exception. The film, The Fairy (film #1), a delightful French absurdist comedy from filmmakers Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, who were in attendance, but not in the cinema I and fellow media were seated (more on that in a moment) went down well with the crowd, as well it should given it’s a genuine crowd-pleaser: a warm, funny, quirky Tati-esque collection of physical and situational humour wrapped around a plot about a man visited by a fairy, but not of the genie in the bottle variety. She’s more a soul mate with a lesson or two to add to his blackboard of life experiences, though what exactly he learnt is hard to ascertain, and harder still if that question is reflected onto us.
The crowning achievement of the event was, perhaps, that it made Russell Street’s decrepit Greater Union cinemas, which haven’t been renovated since Moses split the Red Sea, look, well, kind of nice, actually very nice, so long as one didn’t look too closely at the floor – largely thanks to huge rotating spotlights pointed towards the sky, red carpet stretched onto the pavement, the proverbial mutton dressed as lamb experience, the analogy this time fitting a building and not a hefty waistline squeezing into a mini skirt.
But inside the once great Greater Union complex the experience, in so far as pre-movie entertainment goes, was as shabby as the old leather chairs we plonked our rumps on, at least in cinema 5, populated by a crowd deemed less important than the one situated in the bigger, marquee cinema. At best the pre-film organisation in cinema five, where myself, and other media such as my fabulous and charming contemporaries Richard Watts and Cerise Howard, was badly orchestrated; at worst, demonstrated borderline contempt for our presence. Two cinemas screened the film and the one we were in was obvious deemed far less important than the big’un: we didn’t see the film’s talent; we got the Tourism Minister and not the Premier; we got an awful, awful hissing microphone that made a mockery of the brave souls who spoke into it.
Prior to the screening the Greater Union bar was loaded to the hilt, with far too few bartenders and way, way too many customers – six or seven rows thick, at least, populated by over dressed people ripe for a Ralph Steadman picture, which meant some serious time expended at the bar, waiting to be served. I told Watts and Howard I was going in. I came back with nada – too many people, too many people – so we found our seats in the cinema before I returned to the bar, now with far fewer people around it, to give a fresh crack at obtaining some beverages for thirsty patrons.
But in a shameful act of bastardy, right when I reached the front of the line the red-headed woman, clearly in charge, the Queen Farouk of this wretched enterprise, declared the bar shut. I returned to the cinema sans champagne and vented my spleen to Watts, who retrieved from the pocket of his smashing velvet collared overcoat, the letter of invitation to the event, which clearly said the bar would stop serving beverages at 7:45pm. So I returned to the bar and the red-headed woman, politely reinstating my case, brandishing a letter that in no uncertain language explained that the bar was supposed to be open for another ten odd minutes and she was wrong to have closed it. But alas, she was standoffish, borderline rude, clearly felt no respect or allegiance to the letter or its officialdom.
Back in the cinema the microphone hissed like a TV caught between signals, and Louise Asher, Victorian Minister for Tourism and Major Events, the woman who Ted Baillieu – who was speaking metres away in the main cinema – reportedly brought to tears after she slept through a vote in Parliament in June, gave an awful speech, one that could have been classified as soporific were if not for the bizarre spectacle of watching somebody struggle with a microphone that made their voice cut in and out, while the background noise in the speaker sounded like a violent ocean. Where the hell was the sound check? Legendary Australian director Fred Schepisi, who gave a good speech about how things have changed, and the breadth of titles now on offer at the festival, a yada yada, ditched the microphone all together, scored a hearty round of applause for doing so and spent most of his speech shrouded in darkness, yelling to the audience.
The man who grabbed the possessed microphone after him told the audience to be patient, that the trailer reel was the same being used in the other cinema and needed to be brought to this one. Bizarrely, he told the audience to bide their time by checking the MIFF app on their smart phones to find out which sessions had sold out.
The MIFF after party was a far more pleasant affair; streaked from the Greater Union cinema there were even MIFF staff every 20 metres holding gigantic arrows pointing us in the direction of the Melbourne Town Hall, as if nobody knew where it was. Beer, wine, champagne and cider flowed endlessly until around 1AM, not exactly the break-a-break-a-dawn but fair enough given it was a school night. At around 10:30pm a producer from Melbourne Talk Radio called, for my weekly Thursday night spot, and I snuck off into a side room where I snatched a full glass of champagne from the floor and rabbited on about the film and the festival, and gave a review of The Fairy far more….eloquent than the one I have presented here.
It was a solid, safe choice for an opening night feature: whimsical, clever, hard to hate, infectiously enjoyable and a nice warm up to the party afterwards but hardly a water cooler DID YOU SEE THAT? WOWZA! feature loaded with oomph and excitement. Last year’s opening feature, The Wedding Party, was a dreadful choice, and after watching it we all did our best to avoid the gaze of the cast and crew at the after party.
I would heartedly recommend audiences to see The Fairy – it’s worth it just for a scene in which a baby rides on the boot of a car up a mountain, chased by two people on a scooter, desperately stretching their limbs trying to grab and rescue the infant, though the film is loaded with wonderful, deftly handled moments – but the MIFF program isn’t offering a second screening. Fingers crossed they add one to the surprise or “back by popular demand” spots, which spring up on the final day of the program.
Boy, I wrote that post quick. Today I’m off to see Three, The King of Comedy, The Silence of Joan and Melancholia. More words soon…