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Film festival moves online

This year’s Melbourne International Film Festival is going ahead, but movie fans will enjoy the line-up in their own homes due to COVID-19.

Rachel Sennott stars as college
student Danielle in Shiva Baby,
the debut film by Jewish
director Emma Seligman.
Rachel Sennott stars as college student Danielle in Shiva Baby, the debut film by Jewish director Emma Seligman.

THIS year’s Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) has moved online due to COVID-19 restrictions with a program of 112 films including 12 world premieres, 83 Australian premieres and 44 shorts screening direct to the homes of movie fans around Australia.

MIFF artistic director Al Cossar said: “Despite the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, MIFF’s ‘radical act’ is to keep going and continue on to bring you the world through unforgettable screen experiences.

“Film has the ability to entertain, inspire, illuminate and empower audiences in a way that few other mediums can – qualities we welcome now more than ever.”

Most of the films being screened in the festival, called MIFF 68½, were locked in by Cossar before Australia went into lockdown in March.

Some films will be screened at fixed times to retain the festival feeling, but most will be available on demand and ticketed.

The festival runs from August 6-23 and opens with the Australian premiere of Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, an unlikely story of friendship and free enterprise in the early days of the American gold rush.

Making a fortune in the American gold rush in First Cow.

It stars John Magaro as a mild-mannered New York baker who joins a group of fur trappers in Oregon Territory and finds friendship with Chinese adventurer King-Lu (Orion Lee) also seeking his fortune.

They collaborate on a successful business venture based on the clandestine participation of a nearby landowner’s prized milking cow.

Benh Zeitlin’s follow-up to Beasts of the Southern Wild, Wendy, screens as the festival’s centrepiece film.

A contemporary reimagining of the Peter Pan story set in the American south, the film sees Wendy (Devine France) follow Peter to a mysterious island to escape the monotony of her daily existence.

A scene from director Pablo Larraín’s new film Ema.

Acclaimed director Pablo Larraín’s latest film Ema unites Gael García Bernal with newcomer Mariana Di Girolamo for the festival’s closing night film.

Set in Chile in the vibrant dance world of Valparaíso, Ema is a dance-drama about a couple falling apart after a failed adoption.

The debut feature-length movie by Canadian Jewish filmmaker Emma Seligman is Shiva Baby, set in New York at a family gathering following the death of a distant relative.

Actor-comedian Rachel Sennott stars as Danielle, a college student unsure of which direction to take in her life and career, and pretending to go to law school while moonlighting in sex work.

She is subject to criticism from her demanding parents and shunned by her former best friend Maya (Molly Gordon of Booksmart and Good Boys). The film opens with Danielle having sex with Max (Danny Deferrari) in his Manhattan office at the time of the funeral, and is shocked when Max also turns up at the shiva – more like a wake with party food and alcohol – as he is a friend of her parents.

No sooner had Danielle got over that surprise when she meets Max’s shiksa wife (Glee star Dianna Agron) who arrives with their baby.

This is tailor-made for a series of awkward and embarrassing encounters. Adding to the tension is the presence of Danielle’s former best friend Maya, who gives her a frosty reception.

In Shiva Baby, Seligman explores the pressures young adults feel in the face of parental expectation when it clashes with youth, love and sex.

Growing up in a Jewish family in Toronto, Seligman moved to New York for her undergraduate education and conceived the idea of Shiva Baby as a seven-minute short for her thesis at New York University’s undergraduate film and TV program in 2017. The short screened at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2018 and was reworked as a feature film.

In a recent interview Seligman said: “I think that more complicated female characters are being accepted — and not necessarily ones that are likeable. I’m excited about investigating those types of characters.”

Scientists travel to Antarctica in the documentary The Leadership.

The documentary The Leadership by Ili Baré sees 76 female scientists from around the world travel to Antarctica on a Homeward Bound voyage organised by Fabian Dattner, who believes the women can spearhead changes to society. However, political and philosophical tensions soon surface during the 20-day trip to the ice-capped continent.

The Melbourne International Film Festival is online from August 6-23. Visit miff.com.au.

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