Once again, we are heading towards the time when the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival will be happening in all its glory. Once again, unlike a lot of film festivals, they have an online portion for their festival (you can check it out here) that’ll be running for the entire month of July. There really is nothing like a good film festival, especially one full of fascinating documentaries and this one has dozens of them.
They also have a bunch that’ll be happening in the last week of July that’ll be in person in Melbourne… but I’m not in Melbourne so I won’t be able to see those, I can see the online ones and now I have access to the full list of films they’ll have on offer so here is a list of the 10 films that have me the most excited/interested/curious. Please note this isn’t a specifically ranked list, just the 10 that stood out to me.
Pushing the Boundaries: The Mavis Bramston Show
In 1964 The Mavis Bramston show began airing on TV, a political satirical show that was unlike anything that had been seen up to that point. It won awards, was praised as one of the greats of Australian television and basically invented a format that many other shows would copy for years. Pushing the Boundaries will look into not only the history of the show but it’s impact on those who followed, which is important because early television history needs to be documented as much as we can since we’re approaching the point where the people who were there might not be around to tell the stories anymore.
Star Wars Kid: The Rise of Digital Shadows
We’ve all seen the video of the Star Wars kid, a slightly awkward teenager recreating a lightsaber fight that became one of the earliest viral videos. It’s a funny video, people have shared it for years for a reason. What people might not know is the story behind it, what happened to the Star Wars kid and why he uploaded a video of himself doing something so objectively silly… well, that’s what this documentary plans to discuss, along with an idea known as “The right to be forgotten” which will undoubtedly be a fascinating (and judging by other descriptions I’ve seen, heartbreaking) story to hear.
Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino
Ida Lupino is regularly considered to be the biggest female film director of the 1950s (and probably of all time because, for some systemic reason, there just aren’t a lot of female directors even though there should be). Starting as an actress, she moved to directing and even started a production company known as The Filmakers Inc. With 10 feature length films and dozens upon dozens of episodes of TV (including shows like The Twilight Zone, Gilligan’s Island and Bewitched),she’s an iconic figure in film history and it’s about damn time that someone made a documentary about her. Also, looks like it would make a great companion piece to the Be Kind Rewind episode that talks about Ida Lupino in the wider context of how female directors are treated
The Sound Of Identity
Lucia Lucas is an Opera Singer, a performer, an artist and a trans woman who will be taking on the role of Don Giovanni. She is the first trans performer to ever take on this role and that would be intense enough, but she’s also doing it in the red state of Oklahoma. We’re in a period where it’s imperative that we see trans stories get the biggest spotlight possible and the story of a trans woman truly destroying any notion of the gender binary while also displaying some incredible vocal talents (Her voice in the trailer alone sends chills up the spine) is the kind of story we need more of. More trans women in opera please!
The Tunnel: The Other Side of Darkness
10 years ago The Tunnel was released, the first Australian crowdfunded film that broke all the rules. It not only was crowd-funded but it was sold one frame at a time (literally, a dollar for every frame), then released everywhere on the day of its release including a legal BitTorrent download that was provided by the filmmakers as part of the official plan. It was a surprising sharp shift to how films were released, breaking free from the way everyone was used to seeing movies. Not only does this film claim to talk about the making of the movie itself, but to then delve into the impact it had on the system. It’s a fascinating little story that any film lover should be curious about.
A Fire Inside
The Black Summer bushfires were not that long ago, they started 3 years ago and didn’t stop burning until March of 2020 (which, if you’ll recall, was when we went straight into the plague period of modern history). The Black Summer fires devastated a lot of people, turned some into heroes and took a huge amount from others. A Fire Inside talks about not only the devastation that happened but about the heroism and the personal toll that those heroes took while fighting those fires. It’s recent history but important to learn in detail, especially because it happened so close to the worldwide plague that it feels like some of the true impacts of this devastating event have been forgotten.
D-Day Superhero Jack Kirby
Nowadays it seems weirdly popular to suggest that comics aren’t political… which maybe shouldn’t be said around any relatives of the legendary Jack Kirby who literally fought in WW2 and actually drew the invasion of the Normandy beach not too long before he would actually be sent to that same beach as part of a mission. The documentary apparently chronicles his early beginnings as an artist and up to his time in the war, but it’s essential viewing as a reminder to those who might want to question the impact of politics on the arts because I’m going to take a wild guess here that going to the beaches of Normandy during WW2 probably had a profound impact on Jack Kirby.
Horn & Hardart was a franchise of coffee shops that ran through America for over 100 years, opening in 1888 and closing around 1991 due in large part to a decline brought on by the fast food industry that made Horn & Hardart’s setup (one where there was basically a wall of food behind little glass barriers and you would pay a buck to get each piece of food, all self-service) no longer desirable. The documentary talks about the business’s rise and fall with the help of some well known former diners… the one that interests me most being Mel Brooks, who apparently also wrote a song for this movie. I’m a simple person, I see Mel Brooks is involved and I’m going to at least give something a look.
The phrase “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” is one that has become synonymous with the epidemic of police officers murdering unarmed black men but its origins start in 2014 when Michael Brown Jr was shot 6 times by Officer Darren Wilson. Witnesses claimed that before the fatal shooting, Michael Brown lifted his hands in the air and yelled Don’t Shoot but was shot anyway. Now, as is sadly often the case, Darren Wilson got off scot free but the events triggered a massive protest by people who were saddened by the way that police keep getting away with this. Ferguson Rises takes us back to that community to talk to the people who were there at the time of the protests, about their experiences in order to give us a full picture of that period in history.
Doctor Who Am I
In 1996 the Doctor Who movie was released featuring the first American Doctor, Paul McGann. It was written by screenwriter Matthew Jacobs who was roundly called out by the Doctor Who fandom (and I’m sure it was all constructive criticism because fandoms have never ever been horrifically toxic in any way). Well, now Matthew’s being dragged back into the fold of the fandom to see if the American fans will embrace him as a part of the history of the franchise, and maybe Matthew can see a little bit of what makes the good parts of this fandom so special. Honestly, just the idea of someone who was a part of the franchise which people hated going back to try and be part of that fandom is just interesting on its own.
And those are the 10 films from this year’s Melbourne Documentary Film Festival I’m most looking forward to. Any from their lineup you’re interested in? Well you have all of July to enjoy the online content and from the 21st to the 31st to enjoy the in-person stuff so hopefully I’ve helped you pick at least a few things to watch to get you through the post-pride month.