MIFF ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


I feel remiss for not mentioning the Melbourne International Film Festival, which is now in full swing, with a good dose of political controversy to keep things interesting. However, a couple of other theatre bloggers are keeping well in touch - Carl Nilsson-Polias at Spark Online and Richard Watts at Man About Town are heroically logging reviews, and well worth checking out.

Although I'm not attending MIFF, I've seen a couple of the featured Australian films, which I mention here because they involve some names which will be familiar to Melbourne theatrenauts. And because they both, in very different ways, show how strong and uncompromising Australian work can be.

Balibo, Robert Connolly's film about the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, is as traumatising as everybody claims. It starts slowly, but gradually builds up power until it becomes a shattering experience. It's one of those rare films that absolutely impresses with its ethical commitment, its careful attention to the story it is telling. For example, Connolly carefully frames the story of the deaths of the six Australian journalists murdered by the Indonesian military as part of the larger massacre - 200,000 East Timorese - that took place when the island was invaded. It's a devastating indictment of many things, but perhaps most of all of the political pragmatism, exemplified by Whitlam's diplomat Richard Wollcott, that permitted these things to happen without a squeak of protest.

It's impeccably researched and, tellingly, is one of the few films I've seen about journalists that resists the impulse to romanticise them. It features a brilliant performance by Anthony LaPaglia as Roger East, with roles also by stalwarts of the Melbourne indie theatre scene - Mark Winter and Thomas Wright, known to us as the boys from Black Lung, and Simon Stone of Hayloft fame. If you missed it at MIFF, Balibo will be on general release from August 13.

The other is Jonathan Auf Der Heide's haunting, brutal and beautiful Van Dieman's Land. It features remarkable performances from some notable Melbourne theatre actors, including (again) Thomas Wright and Mark Winter, Oscar Redding, John Francis Howard and Greg Stone, and the music is by theatre composer Jethro Woodward. I saw this at the Adelaide Film Festival (review here) and loved it.

As I said at the time: "For all the savagery of its story, the visual beauty of this film harks back to the haunting poetry of some classic Australian films of the 1970s - Picnic at Hanging Rock, for instance, or Peter Weir's The Last Wave. And like those films, it is driven by an urgent sense of self-definition, a desire to grapple with the received ideas of what it means to be Australian."

PS: If you missed the sell-out MIFF screening, Van Diemen's Land is on general release from September 24.


Martin White said...

'Van Diemen's Land' screened last Wednesday night, the 29th, to a sold out audience. It, unfortunately, had only one screening at MIFF.
It is, as you say, extraordinary. What an achievement.
The film is being released on September the 24th.
I have been a little puzzled by the lack of coverage the film received here. There are some very good reviews available from its recent inclusion in the Edinburgh Film Festival.
This film deserves as much support as it can get.

Alison Croggon said...

Yes, I'm surprised it hasn't attracted more notice. Admittedly there are some very strong films around this year, but this is sui generis. Maybe that's the problem.

Matthew said...

Another reference point is Gus Van Sant's Gerry.

Both sessions at the Sydney Film Festival were sold out, too. I suspect there will be written about the picture when it gets general release.

Matthew said...

"I suspect there will be more written about the picture when it gets general release."

richardwatts said...

Balibo is already getting a general release, on August 14, I think...

Paul Martin said...

Close, Richard - Aug 13. And the Nova has a Q&A with the director and cast that night as follows:

"Thursday August 13

6pm – Book launch at Readings
7pm – screening at Nova

Please join us for a very special opening night gala event including the launch of Jill Jolliffe’s Balibo: The Definitive True Account at Readings Carlton. To be followed by a preview screening and Q&A with director Robert Connolly, author Jill Jolliffe and cast members of BALIBO at Cinema Nova where this esteemed panel will discuss controversy, cover up and turning national heritage into a highly anticipated piece of Australian cinema."