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MIFF’s Artistic Director, Al Cossar, Deep Dives Into The Films We Can’t Miss At This Year’s Festival

By Rick Stephens
14th Jul 2021

Recently, we received an early look-in to several films screening at MIFF’s 69th iteration. Barely a dipping of our toes and the cinema buffs of Melbourne are already giddy to get back to the theatres. Since, the program has been revealed in all its glory; 283 films will take to screens—at the movies and at home—spanning genres far and wide.

Enthralling as it is overwhelming, the program is hefty to say the least, so we’ve enlisted someone who knows it inside and out, the MIFF brains trust, more affectionately known as MIFF’s Artistic Director Al Cossar, to break it down and share with us his top picks.

Pig

Michael Sarnoski

Rarely a MIFF goes by without Nicolas Cage gracing the screen in some capacity, and in Michael Sarnoski’s Pig, he does so with a nuanced take on classic revenge-mode Cage.

“Nicolas Cage is always on the cusp of a revenge odyssey, no matter what film he's in, and this sets it up in a sort of funny way. He’s living in the backwoods, has a very cute and very challenging truffle-hunting pig who he’s absconded with, and goes on this quest through the underworld of Portland, Oregon to try and reclaim him back,” says Cossar.

“It doesn't quite land in the place that you think it will, it becomes something quite different, and in terms of those Nicolas cage modes, in terms of those bluster and larger than life versus his more serious and modulated kinds of performances this actually lands in the latter category.”

Zola

Janicza Bravo

A stripper, a pimp, and an anxiety-fuelled road trip is just one way to describe Zola, and given it’s backed by tastemaker production company, A24, we’ve no doubt it’ll be a ride—and Cossar certainly agrees.

“Absolutely raucous is the word I’d use to describe it and it's absolutely a film to see with other audiences as well. It’ll be a lot of fun in a room with people for sure.”

Sabaya

Hogir Hirori

As with all MIFF programs, the selection by Cossa and his team covers a full gamut of genres, some more difficult than others, however all stories deserving of a platform nonetheless. Hirori’s Sundance award-winning—and truly chilling—documentary, Sabaya, does exactly that through joining a group of people venturing into Syria’s Al-Hol while trying to rescue a woman being held by ISIS as a slave.

“It's about a group of people working in the Al-Hole camp in Seria to save people from sexual enslavement, then plays like this absolutely kind of death-defying act, there are moments on screen where you just can't believe that a camera’s rolling.

“These films are extremely difficult in subject matter, but they do offer something of substance to an audience. At MIFF, there is every shade of humanity on screen from the light to the dark.” Said Cossar.

“A festival like ours is an environment where films that are more challenging on audience terms can be presented responsibly, and meaningful conversation can flow from them as well.”

Palazzo di Cozzo

Madeleine Martiniello

There’s a palpable hype amongst locals for the Aussie doco centered around furniture and homeware mogul, Franco Cozzo. The man possesses a certain urban legend-status thanks to his iconic ads and reputation in the community, though the film is touted to explore far more than one may assume.

“It's Franco Rosso on a movie screen, 30-foot tall, and his personality fills all of that, which is really wonderful and really beautiful. And you know, it's a wonderful portrait of a really iconic man and personality, but also of Melbourne's migrant community and Italian community, right through the 20th century, and there's some real depth to what it says about us as a community, and it's really wonderful as a Melbourne film, absolutely.”

Annette 

Leos Carax

You may or may not have heard, but MIFF is making its way to the suburbs as well as occupying their CBD locales. A highlight for many will no doubt be the Coburg Drive-In, and the car-parked theatre’s opening film Annette featuring a MIFF regular Adam Driver.

“The film set opening the drive-in season is Annette, which was the opening film at Cannes and a musical, and just this big visionary film that's such an incredible spectacle, and so when i think of the drive-in and something that works to scale, and it's really punchy and bold, and works in that sort of environment,” says Cossar.

Quo Vadis, Aida?

Jasmila Zbanic

In a perfect world, Cossar would suggest you see all 282 films in the program, however, we’re all aware that’s simply impossible. So instead, the cinephile recommends several that should be at the top of your list, and that includes Quo Vadis, Aida? a film which tells the story of a UN translator who has her town taken over by the Serbian Army, what follows is the translator's plight to find shelter for her family in the UN camp.

“It's such an extraordinarily powerful film. It just has this rising claustrophobia to it, it was really a film that followed me around after i saw it for quite some time. It was an Oscar-nominated for best international feature this year, and it's absolutely wonderful. Difficult and devastating but absolutely compelling film.”

Petite Maman

Celine Sciamma

Two of three of Cossar’s must-see’s, Petite Maman is a stunner of a film that tells the tale of a young girl who’s lost her grandmother. What ensues is a gorgeous drama-fantasy that the audience won’t forget for some time.

“It's an absolutely gorgeous film on childhood and adulthood and grief, just beautiful and evocative,” Cossar said.

Topside

Logan George and Celine Held

Bookending Cossar’s trio of unmissable films is Topside, which explores the subterranean subculture of people living in New York’s Subway System through the lens of a mother and daughter.

“So it's about a mother and daughter who are living under New York, in the subway systems, and then authority intervention kind of flushes them into the streets and its this social realist kind of, oh gosh, it has an incredible, again, claustrophobia to this film, it's an incredible film about a parent and child, I think it's an absolute breakthrough talent sort of a film.”


Don’t stop there, though. The full MIFF program is out now and general release tickets go on sale Friday 16 July.

Melbourne’s cultural institutions have been busy. Scope out the NGV’s Summer Blockbuster Exhibition here.

Image credit: supplied

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