MELBOURNE UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 2009 -WRAP
The Melbourne International Film Festival has become one of the top drawer
cinematic events for film lovers in this city. If MIFF is the well respected
older sibling, then the MUFF is its rebellious, black sheep younger brother,
reports Ernesto Zelaya*.
Filmmaker and founder Richard Wolstencroft is outspoken about his views on
current Australian cinema, and for over ten years, he’s struggled to give
low-budget, underground directors the chance to show their work to a mass
audience, in a market where distributors give very little chance to local
It makes sense that Into the Shadows would be its opening film. A scathing and
informative documentary from Andrew Scarano, it charts the heyday of Aussie
cinema in the 70s – when alternative movie houses like the Valhalla and Electric
Shadows gave rise to filmmakers like Bruce Beresford and Philip Noyce – to its
decline in the current era of the multiplex. Scarano’s view is affectionate and
nostalgic (footage from Shadows’ closing is capable of bringing a tear to the
eye), but also doesn’t pull any punches – the blame is laid squarely on
distributors giving preference to the Hollywood blockbuster and local filmmakers
unwilling to embrace genre cinema as a way to reach their audience. Fun and
insightful, the film can speak to anyone, regardless of where they’re from – the
distribution problem seems to be common anywhere in the world.
From the Heart
Many of the filmmakers at MUFF are passionate about their projects, films made
on low budgets and on very personal levels. And they don’t get more personal
than The Marina Experiment. Made up entirely of photos and home movies, the film
documents the unhealthy obsession of Abbot Lutz with his daughter, director
Marina Lutz. For 16 years, she endured psychological abuse from her father, and
the wounds apparently have yet to heal; her emotional response during the
post-screening Q&A was every bit as harrowing as the film itself.
Marina Lutz can be considered brave for putting up on screen something this
personal, when she clearly still has trouble coping – if 30 plus years of
therapy are any indication. This isn’t merely a film: it’s a form of catharsis
for Marina, a way to make peace with her past. Despite its short running time,
this documentary is powerful; a disturbing view of child abuse, a situation
that, sadly, happens more than anyone would like to admit.
Most of the films at MUFF are far from being lighthearted: one look at the
programming reveals a series of low-budget horror and suspense films, as well as
some experimental works, all designed to shock the viewer, get us thinking and
give more to chew on than your typical multiplex fare.
Daniel Scheinkraudt's Seeking Wellness, however, is in a class all its own.
Subtitled Suffering in Four Movements, the film isn't precisely fiction. It's a
series of short vignettes, shot on video, all on the topic of human suffering.
It's a harsh and nightmarish view of human nature, from its most unpredictable –
two masked thugs massacre the patients of a burn ward through the view of
security cameras – to its most pathetic: a traumatized father shares his dark
past with his children, and a suicidal man does everything possible to give
himself cancer and die. This uncompromising film appeals to the voyeur in all of
us. Being shot with video cameras gives it a terrifying air of naturalism, and,
like a car crash, no matter how gruesome, we can't turn away. Seeking Wellness's
images are disturbing and at times uncomfortable to watch, but one thing's for
sure: love it or hate it, you can't stay indifferent to a project like this.
This year, MUFF paid tribute to some figures in the underground and cult movie
circles, and it was quite a diverse bunch. Famed over-actor Wings Hauser made a
career of chewing scenery in trashy B movies like Vice Squad (1982), an
over-the-top sleazy look at the seedy streets of Hollywood, filled with
prostitutes with hearts of gold, incompetent cops, and flashy pimps. Hauser has
a ball as the psychotic honky Ramrod, who enjoys mutilating his girls with coat
hangers, and the cheesy, dated nature of the film is a neverending source of
Horror novelist Jack Ketchum also got his due at MUFF with four adaptations of
his novels, from Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee's Red to Andrew van der
Houten's borderline unwatchable Offspring, about a Maine town terrorized by a
tribe of cannibals. The uninitiated to Ketchum's work can be forgiven for
pegging him as nothing but a writer of trashy potboilers after watching this
low-budget, badly acted and unintentionally hilarious dreck, which intends to
shock audiences by slinging plenty of gore - and via its cavalier scenes of
children getting killed without a second thought. It's a treat for lovers of bad
movies, everyone else is advised to stay far away.
The third retrospective was saved for German filmmaker Arnold Fanck and his
leading lady, Leni Riefenstahl. He popularized the genre of “German mountain
movies” during the 20s and 30s, and she, of course, later went on to film the
Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, becoming Hitler's filmmaker du jour.
Only at MUFF could three tributes be so vastly different; we have the festival's
commitment to diversity to thank for that.
Rounding out this year's program was Mini MUFF, a wide array of short films
covering all genres, from comedy to horror to the downright weird and bizarre.
Anything can be found here: Melbournians' passion for football, even in a
third-rate neighbourhood game where no one can kick a ball properly (The
Community Cup), a tour through Europe with Ramones tribute band The Ramonettes
(Ramones are not Dead), a ridiculous horror mix of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
and the Hostel movies (The Decayed), and the Trainspotting-like adventures of
three drugged out youths on their way to a convenience store (Vulture Culture).
It's a grab bag of films, and most of them serve as a view of what many up and
coming directors have up their sleeves.
Controversy came in the form of Matinee, a short that includes uncensored,
explicit sex scenes. Even though they are between two consenting adults, without
a hint of exploitation and naturally shot, the OFLC deemed the film too risqué
and banned the session. Richard Wolstencroft and director Jennifer Lyons Bell
protested against what they deemed an unfair call that negated the film's true
artistic merits; while other, more explicit and shocking works, like Lars von
Trier's Antichrist (with its scenes of genital mutilation) get a free pass to
screen at festivals like MIFF. The decision ultimately remains, however, and the
short has apparently stayed in the vault.
Situations like this are not news to Wolstencroft, whose controversial views of
current Aussie cinema and his efforts to change it are well documented. MUFF is
certainly not for all tastes, but those willing to take the chance will find an
interesting, diverse and downright entertaining mix of genre cinema which can be
safely said will not be found anywhere else.
* Ernesto Zelaya is journalist from Lima, Peru, who recently moved to Melbourne
to study for a Masters Degree in Creative Writing.
Published September 3, 2009
Email this article
Into the Shadows
Deadly Force (Wings Hauser tribute)
The Marina Experiment
Ramonettes Tribute Band