2014 columns, Film

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

by Rochelle Siemienowicz , August 14, 2014Leave a comment


Earlier this year, I wrote about greed, cinephilia, and the fear of missing out – vowing to see fewer films, but to experience them more deeply. I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival (31 July – 17 August) in full swing right now, such anxieties arise again, and I find myself having to take a deep breath every time the #MIFF2014 hashtag on Twitter reminds me of another spectacular, brilliant, potentially life-changing cinematic event that I happen to be missing out on while I’m cooking dinner for my son, or reviewing another stupid (but fun) Hollywood blockbuster like Guardians of the Galaxy.

I have this fantasy of one year checking into a hotel in the centre of Melbourne (ten kilometres away from my house), and seeing films from morning till midnight for the duration of Australia’s oldest and biggest film festival. Sciatica and sleep deprivation be damned, because in this fantasy I’d clock up 130-odd MIFF screenings, as some of my more fanatical film friends manage to do each year.

In reality, I generally settle for a smattering of about 15 films spread across the two weeks of the festival, many of them chosen purely because they happen to fit around my schedule. For example, sombre Chinese social realist tragedy Fantasia, directed by Wang Chao, in which a family is torn apart when the father contracts leukaemia, may not seem an appealing prospect on paper, but it was screening at the right time, and it took me somewhere new (and yes, slow and sad). Convenience also pushed me into the cinema to see Ira Sachs’ gay marriage drama, Love is Strange. It stars John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an ageing New York couple who suddenly encounter homelessness when they make their relationship official. Molina plays a music teacher at a Catholic school, who loses his job when he signs the marriage certificate, despite the fact his employers had known he was gay for 30 years. A sweet, honest and funny film, its strength lies in its sensitive depiction of the ways in which the couple’s friends and relatives (especially a nervy niece, played by Marisa Tomei) struggle to deal with the elderly men sleeping in their spare rooms. I’m glad I caught the film (which will get a general release on 23 October) during a stolen Friday morning session.

That’s the thing about film festivals: they force us to take risks and challenge lazy preferences – or to explore more widely and adventurously within those preferences. Me, I’m drawn to films about love, sex and relationships – the ways they fire us up, or fumble and fail and leave us naked. During MIFF this year, I caught the strange indie marriage thriller, The One I Love, starring Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss as a couple who encounter their doppelgangers at a weekend retreat. Then there was the wry French splitting-up comedy, If You Don’t, I Will; and the fearless, funny and quite awesomely rude female coming-of-age story, Wetlands, which will surely never receive a general release in our prudish multiplexes (though it’s due for Cinema Nova release from 4 Sept).

It’s true that attending film festivals is exhausting. It’s so much easier to stay at home and watch films on DVD and download, and these days you can find almost anything you want that way. But for cinematic thrill-seekers (cultural bungee jumpers?), part of the pleasure lies in the gamble. Book a ticket, take a chance, and head out into the cold. Maybe you’ll meet like-minded adventurers and discover new worlds. Or maybe you’ll have a snooze in an uncomfortable seat next to a smelly stranger (it happens!). But while we’re talking about risks, here’s a shout-out for two of the bravest, newest and most interesting little film festivals in Australia, both poised to spring into action later this month: The 2nd Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia (Melb: 21 – 29 Aug and Syd: 2 – 7 Sept); and the Stranger With My Face horror film festival in Hobart (21 – 24 Aug). Now in its third year, this superb Tasmanian event is devoted to women working in horror and genre filmmaking. Now that will take you somewhere new.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a Melbourne-based film journalist, reviewer and editor. 

ACO logo


Nathan Smith

Letting the Essays Do The Talking: Meghan Daum’s My Misspent Youth

In the introduction to her essay collection My Misspent Youth, Meghan Daum writes that as frank as her essays are, they ‘are not confessions’. The personal essay may have long defined Daum, but she is far from a ‘confessional writer’, a title she has long resisted. Read more »


Ilona Wallace

Between You & Me: The New Yorker’s Mary Norris on publishing, editing and insecurity

Mary Norris begins her chatty grammar guide and memoir, Between You & Me, by chronicling the odd jobs she held before she began working at the New Yorker in 1978. She delivered milk – awkwardly calling ‘Milkwoman!’ when she left bottles at each stop – and crashed the dairy truck. Read more »


Chad Parkhill

On judging the Most Underrated Book Award

The chair of the judging panel for the Most Underrated Book Award shares his observations on the award, what it means to be ‘underrated’, and the current landscape of Australian literary prizes. Read more »

ROSEANNE - On set in New York - 10/16/93 
Sara Gilbert (Darlene) on the ABC Television Network comedy "Roseanne". "Roseanne" is the story of a working class family struggling with life's essential problems.

Rebecca Shaw

Out of the Imaginary Closet: Fictional characters who should have been gay

When you are part of a group that isn’t portrayed in the same way (or only negatively, or not at all) you become desperate for that glimmer of recognition. Here are several characters that I loved as a young person, who became stand-ins for the openly lesbian characters I wanted to see so much. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Rebecca Varcoe

In defence of professional cheerleading

My name is Rebecca and I’m a 26-year-old woman with a shameful secret, for which I refuse to be ashamed any longer. Today I want to confess my obsession and one true love, the subject of many rants and late-night tweeting frenzies: Cheerleading. American, All-Star Cheerleading. Read more »


Adam Rivett

Tell Me, Princess: The evolution of Disney’s princess songs

Two years ago today, Disney’s Frozen was unleashed upon the world. As far as rapacious corporate behemoths go, it’s one of the more appealing, and remains surprisingly resilient to repeat screenings. But at the heart of its achievement sits one indisputable melodic and cultural phenomenon: ‘Let It Go’. Read more »


James Tierney

Bodily Limits: An interview with Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film Suspiria suffered from a critical eclipse and a variety of censored prints, and was largely cherished in its original form by aficionados of the field. A reassessment has been building, something sure to be aided by the forthcoming publication of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ perceptive and elegantly written monograph. Read more »

je tu il elle 2

Eloise Ross

Existence as Minimalism: Remembering Chantal Akerman

Images of a young woman, emptying her small flat of furniture, blocking the window and sitting in the dark, still. Sitting on a mattress in a bare room, furiously writing letters with a pencil and watching the snow through the window. Meeting with a past lover and reuniting on-screen. I think about Chantal Akerman’s films more often than I can say. Read more »


Matilda Dixon-Smith

Family Matters: Please Like Me and the Aussie TV family

In a recent episode of Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me, the bouncy titles run over three little scenarios: Josh cooks dinner for his mate Tom and his boyfriend Arnold; his Mum cooks for her new housemate Hannah; and his Dad cooks for his wife, Mae. The three of them stir, sip wine and dance daggily around their kitchens in a neat metaphor for this season’s fantastic, cohesive new trajectory. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels in Mortido. Photo credit: Shane Reid

Jane Howard

A Shining Nightmare: Mortido‘s Sydney

Sydney is a city of shine and reflective surfaces. The glint of the harbour follows through to city high-rises clad in polished glass, bouncing off the wide windows of the mansions hugging the undulating land before it gives way to the impossibly deep and wide water. But this beauty that can betray the darkness of the city and its people. Read more »


Angela Meyer

Outrageous Fortune: Seeing Hamlet as a Cumberbitch

Jazz swells, hushing the audience, and the solid black gate of the theatre curtain opens. It reveals the lounging figure of Hamlet, playing a record, sniffing his father’s old jumper. But what I see first is not Hamlet: it is Benedict Cumberbatch. Read more »

kiss copy

Jane Howard

Great Aspirations: In the shadow of Patrick White

The text of The Aspirations of Daise Morrow is lifted directly from Patrick White’s short story ‘Down at the Dump’. It’s a wonderful thing to hear White’s judicious use of language; to understand the eyes through which he saw Australia; and to see an entire world of his creation brought to life in the theatre. Read more »