Melbourne International Film Festival returns to cinemas for 2021 program

Building on the success of last year’s 2020 online-only festival – which had the largest audience reach in their history – The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) will afford its largest platform to date, with the 2021 festival presented as a hybrid with both digital and physical access.

Returning August 5th-22nd, MIFF 2021’s packed program will be toplined by the festival’s first-ever Opening Night film from a female Indigenous director, a further record 11 Premiere Fund films, anticipated titles from Berlin, Venice and Sundance Film Festivals, and the first Australian film in Cannes Competition in a decade; the full program set to be announced on 13th July.

Already announced as this year’s Opening Night Gala is Leah Purcell‘s highly-anticipated The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson, a revisionist outback western that speaks to the realities of racial injustice – all told through the lens of an Indigenous woman; Purcell noted “It is an honour to be the first female Indigenous director to have an opening night film at MIFF and I am thrilled to act as an ambassador for their stellar showcase of filmmaking.”

Several other program highlights have been revealed, with Nitram, direct from its world premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where it’s the first Australian film in Cannes Competition in a decade, set to be one of the festival’s biggest sellers.  A narrative portrait of the troubled man behind modern Australia’s worst mass-shootings, director Justin Kurzel brings his distinct eye to a sure-to-be harrowing feature, with Caleb Landry Jones headlining an ensemble that includes Anthony LaPaglia, Judy Davis and Essie Davis.

Another star-studded Australian cast featured will be Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Stephen Curry and Hugo Weaving in the Jonathan Ogilvie-directed Lone Wolf.  Described as an inventive political thriller, the film is a deft adaptation of Joseph Conrad‘s 1907 novel “The Secret Agent”, detailing a group of activists in the near-future embarking on a defiant act against state corruption and cyber surveillance.

The Australian sporting scene will earn prominence across two titles, with the National Rugby League-centred documentary Araatika: Rise Up! and the competitive swimming-set drama Streamline.  Writer and director Larissa Behrendt foregrounds the bonds between sport and community in Araatika: Rise Up!, featuring such prominent Indigenous voices as Stan Grant and Adam Goodes, whilst Ian Thorpe‘s early career is echoed in Streamline, with a light shone on the pressures of competitive sport and teenage masculinity.  Thorpe, who executive produced the film, will cameo alongside actors Jake Ryan and Harry Potter‘s Jason Isaacs.

Some of the international titles screening this year will come from such lauded directors as Celine Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) and Pedro Almodovar (Pain and Glory).  Sciamma explores the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, with just a touch of magic realism, in Petit Maman, whilst Almodovar’s English-language debut short The Human Voice, starring Tilda Swinton, charts the pain of waiting and uncertainty in this dangerously dramatic film that premiered at the 2020 Venice Film Festival.

A runaway hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Zola is a hyper-kinetic comedy described as part Spring Breakers, part Hustlers, and all female gaze.  Based on an infamous tweet-storm detailing a wild, pole-dancing road trip in Florida, the Riley Keough-led film has already amassed enough attention to earn it a spot as one of MIFF’s most sought after titles.

With the aforementioned just a slew of the first glance titles, MIFF 2021, in its 69th year, more than looks to be making up for the lost ground of 2020 with an eclectic line-up that, no matter where you opt to view from, will provide you with cinematic food for thought.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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