MIFF: world citizen

Issue 

52nd Melbourne International Film Festival
July 23 to August 10
Forum Theatre, cnr Flinders and Russell streets
Single ticket sales open July 11
<http://www.melbournefilmfestival.com.au>

PREVIEW BY ANNE O'CASEY

More than 400 films born of a myriad of cinema cultures will be screened at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) under the banner "world citizen". Films from Iran, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Israel, India and Hong Kong stand alongside European, Australian and North American offerings.

The festival will welcome more than 200 international and Australian filmmakers to Melbourne, including one of the world's greatest living filmmakers, Iranian Abbas Kiarostami. The program will be structured around a number of series including "international panorama", "Australian showcase", "regional focus" and documentaries.

Among the 37 documentaries at MIFF is the 2003 Oscar-nominated Spellbound by Jeffrey Blitz, which follows eight teenagers and their quest to win the 1999 American National Spelling Bee. Bus 174 by Jose Padilha, is about a Brazilian bus hijacking which turned into an OJ Simpson-style TV broadcast watched live by 35 million people.

None Without Sin: Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Hollywood Blacklist by Michael Epstein, raises the lid on filmmaker Elia Kazan during one of the darkest and most turbulent periods of American history. There are three films by the award-winning Frederick Wiseman: Domestic Violence returns with its equally powerful sequel Domestic Violence 2. He also directs French actress Catherine Samie in the dramatic recreation of a Russian Jewish doctor's final letter in 1941. Jochen Hick's Talk Straight: The World of Rural Queers, Teddy Award winner for best documentary at the 2003 Berlin Film Festival, is a bitterly comical portrait of rural German gay men.

The Game of Their Lives by Daniel Gordon remembers the year the North Korean team caused one of the biggest upsets in soccer history when they made it to the final round of the 1966 World Cup. The Other Final by Johan Kramer celebrates the losers of the 2002 World Cup, the Bhutan and Montserrat teams, ranked 202 and 203 respectively.

The Afghan Alphabet (Alef-bay-e Afghan) is the new documentary by Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. His feature films have long followed the Iranian tradition of blurring the line between fact and fiction. His 2001 film, Kandahar, documented one woman's journey through war-ravaged Afghanistan. For his latest work, Makhmalbaf has stripped away artifice and produced a short feature documentary following the trails of Afghan refugee children who live in villages on the border between Iran and Afghanistan.

Shot under extreme conditions, during the US government's bombardment of the area, Makhmalbaf examines the effect on the children's schooling. Using a digital camera, he captures a number of unexpected moments: school classes that are improvised in the open air for children starved of knowledge, but denied "official" learning because they do not have the correct paperwork; a group of young girls studying in a UNICEF class, where the director focuses on one particular girl who, although no longer under Taliban rule, refuses to remove her burqa for fear of reprisals.

De Guerres Lasses is a documentary by Laurent Becue-Renard and tells the story of three young village women, Sedina, Jasmina and Senada. During the war in Bosnia in the mid-1990s, their world fell apart. Their husbands disappeared, along with dozens of men from their families. Their houses, land, villages and country were all swept away. In August 1998, they moved into a halfway house in Tuzla, Bosnia, where they undertook a year-long psychotherapeutic program, engaging in the vital process of rebuilding their lives and regaining control of their fates.

Chantal Akerman's new documentary, From the other side (De l'autre cote), focuses on the plight of Mexican workers and their attempts to cross the US border and forge a better life. Akerman sets the story in the twin towns of Agua Prieta, Mexico and Douglas, Arizona, USA.

In Agua Prieta, she interviews those inhabitants whose desire to improve their lot in life requires them to risk their lives by crossing an unforgiving desert. In Douglas, the residents, both the police and ordinary citizens alike, express concern that the illegal immigrants pose a terrorist and health threat — ranchers even willingly turn a blind eye to the law and shoot Mexican trespassers.

The full program of the festival will be available from July 11 on the MIFF web site and in Melbourne's Age.

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