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Guide: Melbourne International Film Festival


Hello and welcome to the Art Smitten guide to the Melbourne International Film Festival. My name’s Ben and I love films a bit too much.

If you didn’t know, the end of next week is the beginning of over two weeks of the Melbourne International Film Festival – or MIFF – as it takes over many of the screens in the city, and pushes film to the forefront of Melbourne’s minds.

There’s such a wide array of films in this year’s festival, so there’s bound to be something for everyone. Unless, of course, you just really hate films. Then I probably can’t help you.

Personally, as I said, I love films, and I’m going to be seeing quite a few of them at the festival. But rather than giving you my picks of the festival, I thought I’d share a few tips on how to navigate the whole thing.

Firstly, choosing films. A good way to start off is with people you know. This is probably the easiest way to find something you’ll enjoy. If you’ve liked a film directed by someone or starring someone, chances are you’ll like their latest one. And there’s plenty of recognisable names in this year’s festival, like directors Kelly Reichardt and Pedro Almodóvar – Tom Hanks even pops up and there’s not one but two films starring Kristen Stewart – so hopefully there’s someone there whose films you’re already familiar with and can go watch.

Or: take a stab in the dark! Film festivals are notorious for including an eclectic array of films, to say the least. Pick something or someone you’ve never heard of and just go watch it. You may be surprised. Or if you’re not that adventurous, at least read about a bunch of films you have no idea about and see what takes your fancy. Who knows, that might just become your next favourite filmmaker.

Don’t forget retrospectives. Film festivals are not just about showcasing new films, they’re also about celebrating the past. Most film festivals have a couple of themed retrospective sections, and this year MIFF have included four separate retrospective streams, including one celebrating Jerry Lewis who turned 90 this year and one entirely devoted to female directors from New York like Elaine May or Sara Driver. You could almost go the entire film festival watching films from these retrospectives.

Also, check cinemas to see what’s coming soon. For example, High-RiseCaptain Fantastic and Girl Asleep, three popular titles at the festival, are all being released fairly shortly after the festival ends anyway, so unless you’re absolutely dying to see them I’d recommend holding off and going to see something that might not have a wider release.

Hopefully by this stage you’ll have a fairly decent idea of what it is you want to watch at the festival.

But remember, book early! This is Melbourne, city of culture. Cinephiles are racing to secure tickets to their chosen films. Some sessions are already sold out and even more are selling fast! So be quick if you don’t want to miss out.

Once you’ve got your tickets and have put all the dates and times in your calendar, you’re ready to get to the films themselves. Don’t be afraid to go alone, either. This goes for the rest of the year too but there’s nothing wrong with going to the cinema alone. Especially if all your friends take ages to agree to go with you. Just book the ticket and go for it.

Remember to get there early and get used to queuing! There’s going to be lots of waiting around but I prefer that to arriving just on time and worrying that I won’t get a good seat. You can always talk to people, anyway. Generally, film festival audiences are friendly and eager to chat about what they’re seeing during the festival or what they’ve just seen. Strike up a conversation in the queue or even once you’re seated. Chances are the other person will be more than happy to talk and you might even make some new friends. Just remember to stop talking once the film itself has begun! Also, turn your phone off.

But my number one tip is: enjoy yourself. It’s really a fun time of the year and I hope this guide can help you make the most of it. So if you only go and see one film or if like me you’re seeing over fifty films, enjoy the festival. See you there!

Written by Ben Volchok

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