Documentary can be one of the most illuminating, entertaining and mind expanding of all film forms, but the means to see non-fiction storytelling is scattered at best. While streaming services are boasting more documentaries, and a few titles get mainstream cinema releases, the best place to see documentaries remains at film festivals. And if you want a film festival jammed with non-fiction storytelling, it’s hard to go past The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, which runs from July 19 through to July 30. Making the event even more enticing is its long list of Australian docos, many of which will be making their premiere.
There are several thematic streams running through the festival. Considering its hot-button-topic status, the environment gets major play, with a number of titles taking various approaches to the subject. The true horror of bushfires and their tragic aftermath are brought to vivid life in Forged From Fire and Red Sunday: Healing Through Narrative Therapy, while animals take centre stage in Saving Warru (which follows the quest to save the Warru, or black-footed rock-wallaby, one of Australia’s most endangered mammals) and Dog’s Best Friend (a profile of The Canine Behaviour Expert Dog Psychology Centre, where traumatised dogs and traumatised humans can heal one another).
Sweet, sweet music will also fill The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival’s venues at Cinema Nova and The Backlot Studios, with documentaries about the lasting impact of the epochal Woodstock Music And Art Festival in 1969 (Woodstock At Fifty: A Venue For The End Of The World); pioneering Australian ska outfit, Strange Tenants (Strange Tenants: Ska’d For Life); obscure 1970s Memphis musician Van Duren (Waiting: The Van Duren Story); and late and legendary Aussie guitar maestro, Tommy Emmanuel (Tommy Emmanuel: The Endless Road). Visual art, meanwhile, will be represented in Looby (about controversial Australian artist, Keith Looby); Kartika: 9 Ways of Seeing (which profiles charismatic and outspoken Indonesian modern artist, Kartika Affandi); and Art Of Incarceration (which explores The Torch, a pioneering not for profit organisation that runs arts programs for Indigenous prisoners and ex-offenders in the Victorian prison system).
There’s also politics (The Candidate follows Greens candidate Alex Bhathal over the final three weeks of her campaign to win a seat in the Australian Federal parliament); sport (Chasing The Jet Stream tracks the pioneering adventure of Marc Hauser, a Swiss entrepreneur who wants to become the first skydiver in the world jumping into a hurricane force jet stream at 8,000 to 10,000 meters altitude); experimental cinema (cut-up visual guerillas Soda Jerk’s Terror Nullius is described as “a political revenge fable which offers an un-writing of Australian national mythology”); female-driven storytelling (Singled [Out] tells the story of five educated women in four corners of the world); and a particularly Melbourne-centric tale in the form of Michael Wilkins’ Homefront, which follows the extraordinary campaign to replace the much-loved Greensborough War Memorial statues, which had stood for fourteen years in a local park.
“The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival looks to promote the best quality independent documentaries cinema has to offer,” runs the festival’s official mandate. “The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival team looks forward to bringing you a diverse, challenging slate of documentaries that will entertain, educate and inform, providing our audience with a memorable experience.” These Australian documentary features certainly fit the bill.
The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival runs from July 19 through to July 30. For all programming, session, venue and ticketing details, click here.