Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare) (2016)



This stunningly crafted documentary, ostensibly about the European refugee crisis, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Without narration, context nor exposition other than a few paragraphs before it starts, the film juxtaposes the quiet life of the inhabitants of the island of Lampedusa with the horrific plight of those attempting to cross from Africa to Europe. Continue reading

The Family (2016)


Image via MIFF

I wasn’t expecting this documentary about the Melbourne suburban and Victorian rural sect The Family and leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne to pack such an emotional wallop. It begins as a blow-by-blow retelling of the investigation into the cult in the 80s and takes a while to build a coherent story but ends as a devastating insight into the repercussions for the children involved and the inability of investigators to breach the protective wall of privilege around the cult to obtain justice. Continue reading

The Swell Season (2011)


The delightful, tiny film Once thrust musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová into the spotlight when they won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2008 for Falling Slowly. The Swell Season is the name of the band they formed and toured around the world as well as this quiet and genuine B&W documentary that follows the ups and downs of their personal and professional relationship in the aftermath of their success. Continue reading

Cameraperson (2016)


Described as a memoir, this documentary is a montage of footage taken by documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson over the 25 years (so far) of her career. Presented without narration, we see a patchwork of clips that pull us from Bosnia and Afghanistan to Brooklyn and Guantanamo Bay. Johnson only appears on screen once, a highly personal and emotional moment toward the end, but her quiet presence is often felt. Continue reading

The Eagle Huntress (2016)


Talking about feminism, this is a lovely example of a story that centres around a girl making her own choices in a conservative, patriarchal culture. Aisholpan is 13 and lives with her parents and younger siblings nearly the Altai mountains in Mongolia. Her father comes from 12 generations of eagle hunters and Aisholpan has inherited his passion. Women don’t become eagle hunters though, they milk the livestock, cook food and, according to the menfolk, “argue over the gifts at a party.” Continue reading

Heart of a Dog (2015)



A missed MIFF film, thanks be to ACMI for screening some MIFF gems well before they might get a Nova season (or not). Heart of a Dog is Laurie Anderson’s rumination on death, wrapped loosely around stories of her dog Lolabelle. It is spoken word and a moving montage of illustrations, painterly home movies and text, seeming to skitter from one thought to another. Continue reading

Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie (2015)



I’m a fan of Louis, in fact I’m booked to see him in Melbourne in September. Having said that, I was pretty sure what to expect from this feature length Louis-style documentary; an enjoyable and endearing ride that would teach me something but perhaps leave me feeling a little unsatisfied. And that’s just what I got. Let’s face it, Louis is not about hard hitting investigative journalism, what makes him special is his ability to hang around people without saying much which seems to provoke them to reveal more than they intend or realise. In this case, it is ex-members of the Church of Scientology and various current members who show their colours by their aggressive and bullying behaviour toward Louis and his team. Continue reading