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MELBOURNE UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 2003 -UNWOUND

CHOPPER, THE NAZIS AND ME: THE DIARY OF A MUFF JUROR
In this exclusive extract from his personal diary, our young Melbourne based film critic and all round film lover, Jake Wilson, reveals how he was seduced to be a MUFF juror this year (2003) and how Nazi apologist David Irving stole the limelight. 


In early June, word reaches me that the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) is looking for people to judge their feature film competition. Could be fun, I think, especially when I hear that the jury president will be the sometime stand-over man, bestselling author and colourful Collingwood identity Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read. Obviously this is yet another cheap publicity stunt from MUFF’s jester director, Richard ‘Hellfire’ Wolstencroft. Even, so, I can’t resist the glamour of celebrity; I write to the festival organisers and ask them to sign me up. 

Thursday 19 June
Looking over the MUFF catalogue, I’m starting to have second thoughts about my involvement. The rant in which Richard Wolstencroft declares himself a “Transcendental Fascist” is par for the course, but the program features some downright repugnant items, including the notorious atrocity video Bumfights and a couple of taped seminars by Holocaust revisionists. Even worse, practically everything is being projected on DVD rather than film. Have these guys no shame?

Tuesday 8 July
By now I’ve looked at videos of a number of the films entered for competition. True to MUFF form in previous years, the majority are amateurish local B-movies like Reign In Darkness and Bullet In The Arse. More interesting entries include Bill Mousoulis’ minimalist Lovesick and the crime mockumentary The Magician (which starts off as a Pulp Fiction clone before veering into uncharted territory).

Protests are being organised against the screening of a video lecture by disgraced historian and Nazi apologist David Irving. The Jewish Community Council of Victoria has sought a legal injunction to prevent the screening taking place – even though Irving’s video has been freely available for purchase for the last ten years. 

The controversy has received wide coverage in the national media, often in tandem with debate over the banning of the film Ken Park for its alleged underage sex scenes. Presumably many people are now walking round with a composite image of arthouse cinemagoers as a bunch of Nazi child molesters.

I’m as repelled as anyone by MUFF’s decision to give publicity to Irving, but believe that Wolstencroft should retain the legal right to behave like a stupid prat if he wants to. Whether he should continue to receive public funding for this is another question.

Wednesday 9 July
Shane Lyons, the Melbourne filmmaker who’s running a one-man crusade against Wolstencroft on the Web, has sent round an email message imploring people to boycott MUFF. I wonder if Chopper got one.

Thursday 10 July
The injunction has failed. Compelled by morbid curiosity, my companion and I show up at the Bughouse Omniplex an hour prior to the Irving screening. There’s a crowd of around sixty people outside, making it hard to tell the protesters from the would-be ticket buyers (presumably the urban groover demographic doesn’t overlap much with the hardcore fascist demographic, but you never know). In any case the guy on the door tells us that the screening has been cancelled, at the request of the owners of the venue.

According to a message I got today from the MUFF mailing list, an alternate screening has been organised at the F4 bar. 

But it’s been cancelled there as well. We go and have a drink.

Sunday 13 July
I meet Chopper and the other jurors at the Lobby Bar of the George cinema to confer over the awards. Chopper is wearing glasses, a grey business jacket and a ‘Wild Colonial Brew’ T-shirt. He seems very centred and a bit manic at the same time. He chortles over the David Irving affair (which he views as an inspired publicity gimmick), buys us all shots of Frangelico, and politely refuses to sign an autograph.

At the award ceremony Richard Wolstencroft tells a few lame gags but Chopper steals the show with a well-rehearsed story about a gangland shooting. The closing night film is Shannon Young’s Razoreaters, about a terrorist group who pull outrageous stunts to gain media attention. We declare it the Best Achievement in Guerrilla Filmmaking as well as giving it the Special Jury Prize.

The major awards go to The Magician, which Chopper considers a genuine attempt to make a ‘hard film.’ Putting his arm around the film’s writer-director-star Scott Ryan, he proclaims that Ryan is headed for big things. Ryan looks a bit dubious, but considering that the last actor Chopper gave his official approval to was Eric Bana, this has to be a plus for his career.
One of my fellow jury members tells me that after Thursday the Bughouse Omniplex pulled out of the festival entirely, meaning that several other movies, including Bumfights, didn’t get screened either. I suppose this is another setback for free speech, but somehow I can’t feel too upset.

Published July 17, 2003

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