Melbourne International Film Festival’s got the long and short of it

Ernie Biscuit: The story of a lonely quest for love. Photo: SuppliedQuiet Mujo will play at MIFF. Photo: supplied
Shanghai night field

Under the Sun: Confrontation between two families. Photo: Supplied

“It’s one of the best films in the festival, and it’s 19 minutes long,” according to an enthusiastic staffer at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival.

This recommendation – for a film called Under The Sun – highlights one of the key ingredients of MIFF, one that’s easy to overlook: its rich selection of short films. The festival’s prizes go only to shorts, and the winners in three of the categories this year are eligible to submit their films for the Academy Awards.

This year’s line-up includes short fiction, experimental shorts, documentaries and animations, works by student filmmakers and films from well-known feature directors.  The psychedelic program has a shorts session. And some strange and idiosyncratic films that can’t easily be categorised are screening under the title of WTF Shorts.

Under The Sun, that festival highlight, was the graduation film made by writer-director Qiu Yang when he was a student at the Victorian College of the Arts. Shot in China, it’s a slowly developing, quietly explosive narrative of confrontation between two families, against a backdrop of corruption and abuse. In its short duration, it has the density of a feature. It was selected for screening at Cannes this year.

Some well-known directors have shorts in MIFF. French-Swiss filmmaker Ursula Meier (Sister) has two – Quiet Mujo, about a boy and a soccer ball, and a portrait of Kacey Mottet Klein, the young actor from Sister.  Among the works in the experimental shorts program is Peter Tscherkassky’s​ The Exquisite Corpse, which references in its title the surrealist technique of shared composition and combines footage from a range of sources, all erotic films of one kind or another. The psychedelic shorts session is host to Ken Jacobs’ singular Seeking The Monkey King, a frantic, hallucinatory vision of 500 years of American history in 40 minutes.

Alison Klayman (Ai Wei-wei: Never Sorry) has a 29-minute documentary portrait, The 100 Years Show, that features an artist to whom recognition has come late. Cuban-born New Yorker Carmen Herrera, who has just turned 100, makes hard-edge geometric work that  began to be recognised 10 years ago. It’s a warm, engaging portrait of Herrera, who now does not leave her home but still makes work every day.

Some shorts are screening alongside features, rather than in shorts programs. Among them is a new work from Australian animator Adam Elliott, whose Harvie Krumpet won an Academy Award in 2004; his latest production screens with Stories I Want To Tell You In Person, an adaptation of the play by Lally Katz.  Shot in luminous and deftly detailed black-and-white, Ernie Biscuit is a companion piece to Harvie Krumpet that follows the quest for love of its lonely title character, a French taxidermist, as he leaves Paris for Venice but somehow ends up in Australia, accompanied by a duck.

Another short screening with a feature is Voila L’Enchainement, directed by French filmmaker Claire Denis (Beau Travail) from a script by Christine Angot. It’s a series of short, tightly shot scenes, some of them monologues, about the intimate, disintegrating relationship of a couple – played by Norah Krief and Alex Descas, a Denis regular  – that embodies confronting issues of race, class and difference. It screens with South Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s feature, Hill of Freedom.

The late French actor Pierre Clementi was also a writer and filmmaker, and one of his experimental shorts, Visa de Censure No. X, made in 1967, can be seen at MIFF this year. It’s showing with Carmelo Bene’s Salome, a highlight of the psychedelic selection.

The Accelerator program, which began at MIFF in 2004, brings a group of emerging filmmakers to the festival to help them bridge the gap between making short films and commencing a first feature. Films from this year’s participants can be seen in two sessions, and there’s a selection of works by Accelerator alumni in a program called  Australian Shorts.

A selection of this year’s MIFF prizewinners will be screened at the awards session on August 9. www.miff上海夜网

From small beginnings…

Shorts that grew: films (and a TV series) that had their basis in a short film.

The Babadook: Jennifer Kent’s tale of haunting, motherhood and loss was first explored in a short called Monster.

Fatal Attraction: James Dearden’s screenplay for Adrian Lyne’s film had its genesis in a Dearden short film about infidelity called Diversion.

Bottle Rocket: The debut feature from Wes Anderson had its origins in a short of the same name, co-written with Owen Wilson.

Boogie Nights: Paul Thomas Anderson made a short, The Dirk Diggler Story, that paved the way for Boogie Nights.

Raising Victor Vargas: Filmmaker Peter Sollett’s tale of a boy growing up on the Lower East Side was first told in a short called Five Feet High And Rising.

The Evil Dead: Sam Raimi made a “prototype” called Within the Woods    to help find investors for his horror classic.

UnREAL: The pilot for this TV series about reality shows  was based on a short film called Sequin Raze, written and directed by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. What you’re saying about MIFF

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