Melbourne International Film Festival is taking things to new, unparalleled heights in 2020

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Melbourne International Film Festival is taking things to new, unparalleled heights in 2020

Melbourne International Film Festival
Photo by Tony Zara
Words by Greta Brereton

We chat to MIFF’s artistic director in the lead-up to the trailblazing MIFF 68½.

With cinema visits currently off the table, the team behind the Melbourne International Film Festival have had to figure out a new method of delivery.

This year’s event has been rejigged and renamed MIFF 68½ – a new guise that is ambitious and forward-thinking but has asked even more from MIFF’s already-industrious artistic director, Al Cossar.

“In April we had to cancel the entire regular festival program that we’d put together at that point and build it again from the ground up,” explains Cossar.

“The time frame in doing a hard pivot from the direction of a real-world cinema event to an online event, it’s pretty sizeable.”

It’s been a mammoth task for Cossar and the team. They’ve had to build their own streaming platform and secure online ratings exemptions for certain films, all the while retaining the essence of MIFF in a digital space.

“There’s a number of firsts within the process that might not be apparent to an audience that we’ve had to work through quite quickly and with a lot of involvement to navigate and negotiate,” says Cossar.

“What was really important was to maintain the programming personality of MIFF. To really lean into it to put together and present a program that would meet audience expectations of what a regular festival would be.”

The result is a collection of 113 films, including 12 world premieres and 83 Australian ones. In keeping as true to form as possible, the event is bookended by opening and closing night screenings, featuring Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow and Pablo Larrain’s Ema respectively.

A centrepiece film in the form of Benh Zeitlin’s Wendy will mark the festival’s midway point and there’s a bunch of free short flicks, MIFF talks events and program spotlights too.

“What we always try to do is be relevant and topical, even if it’s not obvious or literal,” explains Cossar.

“There are films which I think are very much geared towards activism more broadly, there are films which are geared towards the Black Lives Matter movement. There are films in terms of the COVID situation that I think are about loss in a really interesting way.”

As well as reflecting the current global climate, Cossar wanted some components of the festival to reflect the at-home nature of its newfound delivery.

“We also looked at what was possible in terms of longform content,” he explains. “You look at what is context specific for people in their loungerooms and what plays specific to that physical environment, so there are things in there which are multi-episode presentation.

“If you’re in a headspace of bingeing, then there are options for you.”

Being able to play with format more than they usually might was exciting for the team and it wasn’t the only unexpected benefit.

“This is the first MIFF in our festival’s history that all of Australia can attend and that’s something really unique and specific to the opportunity and the context in which we’re building this,” says Cossar.

“The scale of regional access is incredible I think for audiences and that is something we’re looking towards in the future very much as well.”

Though Cossar has embraced the turbulent changes and found merit in MIFF’s virtual reinvention, he’s eager for a time beyond COVID, when the festival can return to its cinema home.

“The world is a more distant and disconnected place in 2020, we’re about finding and fostering audiences no matter the form that needs to take,” he says.

“The festival will always be at its heart something that’s delivered in cinemas and we welcome the point at which we can return to doing that. But until then we can find ways to be relevant, responsive and meet people where they are, and hopefully make that a real point of positivity for people in this situation.”

MIFF 68½ runs from Thursday August 6 to Sunday August 23. Head to the festival website for tickets and the full program.

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