The best picks from the 2020 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

The best picks from the 2020 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

‘Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story’
Words by Arielle Richards

Featuring a Manus Island exposé, an underground punk documentary and a deep dive into Sydney’s lockout laws.

The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival (MDFF) is here, offering a curated selection of some of the biggest hits from film festivals worldwide. Now in its fifth year running, MDFF is bringing the festival experience to your very own screens, gracefully adapting to the 2020 climate with a video-on-demand format. This year, you can sign up for the number of screenings you wish to see, and from now until Sunday August 2, you can tuck in to your own curated selection, whenever you want, wherever you want.

With viewing prices ranging from $8 for one stream up to $100 for unlimited screenings, MDFF allows you to create your ideal programme at an accessible cost. With a myriad of international, Australian and Melburnian documentaries, and a focus on women in film and Indigenous storytelling, MDFF’s selection seeks to bring you the forward-thinking, thought-provoking documentaries of the future.

So without further ado, here are our picks for the films you can’t miss at this year’s Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.

Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story

Part biopic, part lo-fi tour documentary, this film explores the story of Beverly-Glenn Copeland, the singer-songwriter who self recorded and released the idiosyncratic Keyboard Fantasies in 1986. Three decades on, the seven-track cassette and its unique, transcendental sound received a revived cult-status following. Director Posy Dixon showcases Glenn Copeland’s return to the stage and arrival to the screen, weaving aural and visual histories into a compelling coming of age story that seeks to highlight the power of music and celebrate our LGBTIQ+ elders.

Watch the film here.


This 13-minute must-see documentary presents a raw glimpse into the lives of the hundreds of people held captive by the Australian government in detention centres on Papua New Guinea and Manus Island. Crafted from footage filmed in secret by Walkley award-winning Australian journalist Olivia Rousset in 2017, the film specifically focuses on the experiences of the men held in detention on Manus, as they await the freedom that may never come. Directed by Australian artist and filmmaker, Angus McDonald, the compelling film features poetry written and voiced by award-winning writer and asylum seeker imprisoned on Manus, Behrouz Boochani.

Give Manus a spin here.

Swans: Where Does A Body End?

Swans: Where Does A Body End is a masterfully-paced journey through the history of iconoclastic post-punk band Swans. The documentary paints an evocative portrait of the 1980s punk scene, lending the viewer an insight to the band through the eyes of frontman Michael Gira. With unparalleled access to archival footage from Gira himself, the film tells a much larger story, honing in on the music industry and the transcendent process of music making. The film exists as a time capsule of a band, a sound and a movement which will inspire listeners for generations to come.

Check out this doco here.

Paradise Without People

At the height of Europe’s refugee crisis, Syrian women Taimaa and Nour are giving birth at a Greek hospital. The film follows their journey as they navigate motherhood and the various bureaucratic hurdles which come with seeking asylum. As their situations evolve, the women are forced to make their own difficult choices, with vastly differing consequences. Directed by Emmy award-winning journalist Francesca Trianni and produced by TIME Magazine, the documentary gives a poignant, memorable insight into the experience of two refugees as they seek a better life for their families.

Watch this doco here.

This Film Should Not Exist

In 1995, underground music fiends Gisella Albertini and Massimo Scocca began voyaging around Europe and the USA, filming live garage-punk and lo-fi gigs on a Video8 camera. Two decades later, the pair dusted off the old tapes and resumed their pilgrimages, this time meeting with and interviewing the bands they had followed on that fateful tour. Featuring the likes of legendary post-punk band Country Teasers and their touring counterparts Oblivians, the film is a memorable snapshot of an iconic time in underground music history.

Check it out here.

Man on the Bus

Melbourne psychologist and filmmaker Eve Ash goes on a deeply-personal investigative journey to uncover the truth about her mother, a polish holocaust survivor. Stitched together from interviews, archival footage and home-movie footage, each small clue unfurls the gripping narrative. Ash follows the story to Ukraine, learning the true history of her grandmother’s death, her father’s heroism, and the secrets her mother took to her grave, in a rewriting of her family story that will change her life forever.

Give Man on the Bus a spin here.

After the Lockouts II: Gladys’ War on Music

One of the most captivating features of the MDFF programme is certainly the Paul G Roberts-directed After the Lockouts II: Gladys’ War on Music which explores the constant struggle for Sydney to be freed from its restrictive lockout laws. The documentary explores the NSW Liberal government’s unwillingness to cease their grip on an ailing nightlife, citing bureaucracy issues and other fishy happenings behind the scenes. Roberts goes inside the nucleus of power to see what really went on, uncovering truths many wouldn’t want exposed.

Check this doco out here.

Bernard’s Dream

Director Mayeta Clark (Australian Story: Final Call) follows Bernard Tipiloura as he builds a canoe with a group of young men in Wurrumiyanga, the largest Aboriginal community on Bathurst Island. Tipiloura’s dream is to bring about the return of the once-famous canoe festival between Bathurst and Melville Islands. The scenery of the Tiwi Islands provides a scenic, meditative backdrop for Tipiloura’s discussions of the past, present and future. Within a short runtime, the film offers a glimpse into Tipiloura’s life, history and culture.

Check out this doco here.


Set during Ramadan, Hayat follows the experiences of an Eritrean migrant family living in Melbourne, as they navigate the Islamophobia and racism cultivated by the government’s harsh policies on refugees. While the protagonist tries to raise her four children within the core cultural values of family and faith, the film looks at the disconnect she experiences as a Muslim migrant in Melbourne. Directed by Rendah Haj, the short film explores the family’s dynamics as they navigate Australian society.

Watch Hayat here.


Clockumentary is a tongue-in-cheek take on the music-making process, a mockumentary style “rockumentary piss-take” directed, written and produced by female keyboardist, Ursula Woods. The film takes a look at the life of Brian “Toggs” Toggle, a self-proclaimed timekeeper and drummer for indie-pop band, Sunset Thrills. Born and raised in Ulverstone, Tasmania, Toggle is explicitly particular about his timekeeping and drumming philosophy, prompting plenty of friction with his bandmates. If you’re in for some drummer in-jokes, a laugh at the industry, or perhaps just a good chuckle, Clockumentary is not to be missed.

Give Clockumentary a spin here.

The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival takes place online from now until Sunday August 2. Score yourself some tickets here.

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