The inaugural Melbourne Documentary Film Festival will be held 9-11 July 2016. We begin a series interviewing the festival's curators. Here we speak with Betty Milonas. More info:
What does the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival mean for Melbourne?
Betty: Melbourne offers a variety of music, film and art-related festivals that the public enjoy attending. Though we are currently lacking Melbourne’s own documentary film festival that allows filmmakers the opportunity to screen and promote their films. We want to support the film industry with a particular focus on documentaries.
The festival is a 3 day competitive event that offers a variety of documentaries and a creative film schedule that appeals to a broad audience. I think the festival is a great opportunity for us to watch world-class Australian and international documentaries in Melbourne. The documentaries encourage the public to learn, to connect, and engage into thought-provoking conversations on various themes, ranging from health, political, sports, music to environmental issues.
This year will be the first year of the film festival. What are some of the highlights?
Betty: The film festival presents exciting and interesting documentaries from local and international filmmakers who will premier their films in Melbourne. There’s a great collection of short and features directed by filmmakers from different backgrounds, including: international, locals, women, LGBTI, film students and Aboriginals.
One of the main highlights of the film festival is the diverse range of films that touch on music, environmental, mockumentary, comedy, sport and personal stories. For instance, Good Night Brooklyn by Matthew Conboy is an entertaining film capturing the last underground venue for music and art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (NY).
Melbourne Guide to Living by Sam Gould and Chloe Christodoulou offers a comedy-style documentary presenting the city’s culture and people. On a compelling note, Death by Design by Sue Williams traces the environmental consequences of our daily usage of digital devices such as smartphones.
What did you find interesting about the submissions?
Betty: I found both the short and feature documentaries presented a range of interesting and compelling themes. During the selection process, it was exciting to watch and discover the diverse and talented Australian and International filmmakers.
It was interesting watching submissions from Australian filmmakers who captured a variety of personal stories, social and environmental issues that reflect upon our own community. For example, The Coffee Man by Jeff Hann is a personal and entertaining documentary about Sasa Sestic’s passion to serve the perfect coffee and his journey to compete for Australia at the 2015 World Barista Championships.
It was great to see submissions from local filmmakers who now have the opportunity to showcase their film at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Em Baker’s Spoke follows the journey of three young cyclists from San Francisco to Orlando, capturing the stories of fellow cyclists killed on American roads. Inside Fighter by Nick Barkla presents a real Melbourne story of boxer Frank ‘The Italian Stallion’ Lo Porto‘s mission to fight for the world title in America.
What type of feedback have you given the filmmakers? How does that work?
Betty: The curators provide constructive and positive feedback to all filmmakers after watching their documentaries. The idea is to create an open, supportive and personal dialogue with the filmmakers by writing feedback for each documentary we watch. Often the feedback includes a response about the content, the artistic and/or the technical qualities presented in the film such as editing and cinematography.
Have the documentaries surprised or challenged your point of view?
Betty: Yes, there are a number of documentaries that did challenge and improve my outlook relating to health and environmental issues. For instance, A Billion Lives by Aaron Biebert tackles a complex and compelling theme of vaping and tobacco industry that leaves the viewer questioning the role of corporations and government.
Additionally, I found the environmental and health-related documentaries provided an in-depth and honest insight about our surroundings and even the food we eat. Sustainable by Matt Wechsler and Annie Speicher’s is a great documentary on the American food system and sustainable agriculture group. The documentary makes us question what does sustainable food actually mean, and also prompt us to consider our role in supporting our local farmers.
What are you looking to achieve in the film industry and as curator?
Betty: Coming from an art curatorship background I often study the artworks, artists, the curatorial theme and the layout of the exhibition. As a curator you want to organise an exhibition that will connect with the audience, creating an engaging and entertaining experience. I found working as a film curator, we are looking at films that will also connect with the community, creating a sense of excitement and intrigue.
Working on a film festival the aim is to select and screen films that will educate, entertain and appeal to a diverse audience. We want the viewer to enjoy the film and to also form a personal connection with the documentaries, creating thought-provoking or fun conversations. From a curatorial viewpoint, it was exciting watching the different documentary styles and techniques used to produce short and feature film.
As a film curator, I want to promote and support documentary filmmakers, who have their own unique storytelling, and recognising their individual voice and cinematic-style. Most importantly, the aim is to acknowledge the filmmaker’s dedication, and also award the best films in the documentary film sector.
What have you enjoyed most about being a curator?
Betty: I enjoyed watching the submissions we received throughout the year and also identifying the common themes the filmmakers are capturing at the moment. It was fascinating to see how documentary is also another art form, not just about addressing social issues in a linear storytelling manner. Many of the documentaries took a different approach to tackling difficult issues such as Bullied to Death by Jo Coda, tells the story of bullied victims through an avant-garde style.
It was also great working on the Festival’s Schedule and to include local and emerging filmmakers into the film festival, providing them the opportunity to screen their films for the first time.
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela