From July 7-17, 2005 in Melbourne, Australia we celebrate the 6th Annual Melbourne Underground Film Festival or otherwise known as MUFF for the dissident male who inadvertently begs his date to send his balls flying into his stomach when he tells her “let’s head down to the MUFF!” This all started back in 2000 when festival director Richard Wolstencroft entered his film “Pearls Before Swine” into the Melbourne International Film Festival only to get a rejection. Instead of licking his wounds and finding a cheap uncertified therapist, he decided to start his own film festival which is the subversive equivalent to MIFF, showing some fine independent films and offering another avenue for bravely bold filmmakers who once had no where to exhibit their films in Melbourne. Filmmakers such as James Wan (“Saw”) and Shannon Young (“Razor Eaters”) had their big break at MUFF with the world premiere of their co-directed debut feature “Stygian” (2000). MUFF proclaims with such heart but little decorum that the “Australian Film Industry is in crisis” and if you want the explanation for the literal douche bag on the festival poster, well it is quite simple like they say “it’s time for a clean out!” The biggest political statement to have ever been made by a ‘s**t bag’ outside of government!
Anything and everything is possible within any of the films found inside the MUFF program, from romance to action to necrophilia to s**t eating – it’s all here and destined to satisfy a wide variety of acquired tastes which just goes to show how dangerous it can be when no-budget filmmakers have final cut! MUFF is the answer to the long struggling non-aggressive Australian Film Industry, boasting a barrage of undiscovered rising talent who have been shut out for far too long, losing to the common trend of conventional Australian cinema which are mostly producing unfunny slice of life comedies which have long passed their expiration date. We Australians want more! There is little or no funding available for Australian films as it is not a top priority for the governing bodies but that will not stop us, because we can make great films for peanuts and in all its glory, MUFF will save Australia from any more Crocodile Hunter movies! Support the independent voice, support exploitation, support filming without permits, support something unconventional and support the other 9% of your brains that have been starved of originality for far too long!
Now all politically charged discussion aside! When I initially contacted Festival Director Richard Wolstencroft for my festival pass, he was more than happy to have me come along and cover the festival, saying “I dig Film Threat and used to collect the magazine in the early nineties”. He then asked me to ring him within two weeks of the festival to remind him to leave a festival pass at the Kino box office.
I phoned him one week before the festival was to commence and we had a brief chat about whether I wanted him to mail the festival pass to my home address or leave it at the door of the venue. To save an already busy man from forgetting to drop it in the mail, I thought it would be less hassle for Richard to leave it at the door waiting for me. Just before we hung up he assured me that if there were any problems or if anyone stood in my way to call him and he would straighten things out. What a cool guy! I can see I was going to like him already! I mean here is a guy who starts an underground film revolution so he must be down to earth because quite frankly he has to be doing it out of love because there ain’t much money in it. I couldn’t have asked for a more helpful guy.
The 2005 program is a combination of original, weird and nostalgic all guaranteed to be out of the ordinary which is to be expected with a wide range of low to no-budget films where the emphasis is placed on originality and not necessarily budget. With a new record set each year with the amount of entered films, many quality films have unfortunately been given the cut but the festival director insists that it shouldn’t suggest they are bad films only that the festival is not big enough to run everything. In 2005, they have increased the Mini MUFF short programs from five to eight and a barrage of feature films both in and out of competition in the biggest MUFF yet. Word has spread to the shores of many international destinations as films from all over the world are entered, and MUFF is quickly receiving a fine reputation around the world festival circuit. MUFF is held in four venues simultaneously – Kino Dendy Cinemas, Loop, Pop Shop Gallery and Glitch.
This year’s jury consists of Frank Howson (President), Scott Ryan (Filmmaker), Diane Charlson (RMIT Media Course), John Lucas (Filmmaker), Jack Sargeant (Film Critic), Amadeo Marquez Perez (15/15 Film Festival Director) and Shannon Young (Filmmaker). Director Jim VanBebber will also be present throughout MUFF, which will be showcasing some of his short films, his debut feature “Deadbeat at Dawn” (1988) and his most recent film “The Manson Family” (2003).
The Brown Bunny Hits MUFF
I arrived at the Kino Dendy Cinemas on Collins Street in the heart of Melbourne at around 10:00pm on the first Friday of MUFF. I decided to get there a little earlier than the session time for Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny” (2003) so I could check in with the front desk, pick up my festival pass and obtain my ticket. We had some time to kill and the Zanzibah happens to be right next to the venue so we chilled and ordered up some drinks. Luckily there was little less than an hour to wait before the film commenced which meant I couldn’t squeeze too many drinks in, so I could actually be mentally alert for some sort of legible review of “The Brown Bunny” (2003).
Plenty of people were lined up to see “The Brown Bunny” (2003) but I was suspicious as to their motives behind the interest. We shuffled into the theatre and I took my back row seat and sat eagerly awaiting the beginning of the film. It turns out I didn’t read the program properly and much to my surprise there was a great little Aussie short film that played before the feature. “Top Speed of a Rabbit” (2004) was the title and it was one of the more hilarious short films I have ever seen and I thought I’d better soak up all the laughter I could because I knew it would all change momentarily when the feature started. The night film crowds are usually the hardcore movie goers but in this case I was very disappointed in most of them. Here I am sitting totally immersed in Vincent Gallo’s subtle masterpiece while others are laughing at the most ridiculous things such as seeing Vincent Gallo’s name reoccurring in the credits. It didn’t end there. They thought plenty of other things were comical about the film as well. They even laughed when the Bud character was crying through the film.
This infuriated me, but I put my anger on hold for the duration of the film and then let it consume me after it finished. It made me realize how unenlightened some movie goers are as they totally missed the whole point of the film. It scares me to think that so many people are so one dimensional, I mean after all they were at the Melbourne UNDERGROUND Film Festival, so if they wanted bubblegum s**t a local multiplex would have better suited the dull taste in their mouths. Some people grew impatient with the pacing of the film and left after twenty minutes. I thought it looked promising that only a dozen walked out, but I was suspicious that we would lose more of the audience right after the blow job. And my thoughts were one hundred percent accurate! The film attracted plenty of the wrong people who were simply there to see that one scene. Others who expected a typical piece of cinema norm with plenty of multi-angles, gunshots and fast talking were greatly unsatisfied. I couldn’t have been more satisfied with the film which I am touting as one of the best films I have seen this century. Once again I will stress that these people are at the wrong festival if they can’t handle their experimental films. Society has this viewpoint that all films are supposed to be a certain way, following the same structure. Why make films all the same? That is why the industry is at an all time low! Overall I enjoyed my first night at MUFF; the only downer was that some people don’t have open minds. I really liked the character name theme of the film where all characters are named after flowers or plants, example Bud, Violet, Lilly, Rose, Daisy, just had to point that out as I failed to mention it in my review.
MUFF Symposium – How You Market an Underground Movie on a World Stage
The following evening was one of the four MUFF Symposium’s which was held at Glitch in North Fitzroy (north of Melbourne). The Symposium is a live forum, debate and discussion and this particular one is called “How You Market an Underground Movie on a World Stage”. The speakers for this include Jim VanBebber (the f*****g funniest laid back guy you’ll ever meet), Mark Savage (“Sensitive New-Age Killer”), Shannon Young (“Razor Eaters”) and hosted by film critic and theorist Jack Sargeant.
We arrived early and I bumped into an attractive young woman riding a bike in the cold Melbourne weather who was performing a skit as part of the MUFF Ed Wood tribute. She was the first person I got talking to and I asked her “are you an actress?” She said no “I’m a life model”, with a figure like hers …good on her! She was really nice and I saw tremendous potential in her to actually get into acting. After all that I caught her name …Carmen Olsen. She then introduced me to the Ed Wood programmer and MC Adrian Maiolla. We got into an in depth discussion about roughie exploitation fodder from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Two very cool people!
I finally met up with the man himself Richard Wolstencroft. We shook hands and we talked about how great “The Brown Bunny” (2003) is and he then asked me what the crowd was like. I told him how many people walked in and how many walked out before it ended. We were both shitty about that little known fact. To me Richard is essentially a better looking Australian equivalent to Quentin Tarantino in appearance. He also sports a similar laugh to that of QT but lacks the hyperactivity. I got a real kick out of meeting him because I pretty much grew up with his first film “Bloodlust” (1992).
I then turned my attention to Shannon Young and stole Richard’s seat as soon as he got up. We spoke for a little while about his film “Razor Eaters” (2003) and how much s**t he went through with the Victorian Police who made many efforts to shut the film down because it portrayed police in a bad light in the film among other things. Shannon just told me how a positive came from a negative as that created free publicity for the film when Shannon leaked the police statements to the press. The film was then labeled “controversial” which he said helped sell the film. I haven’t yet seen the film as I missed its screening a couple of years back so he grabbed my address and promised to send me a copy. He made me promise to get back to him whether I liked the film or not. I then told him how I am one of the fairest reviewers he will ever meet, and my knowledge and interest regarding the actual filmmaking process helps me to understand each film on individual levels. Film Threat contributor Heidi Martinuzzi came up in the conversation after we spoke about his interview with her for Film Threat. He had nothing but great things to say about Ms. Martinuzzi and she must have been real nice because she made me look good regarding my involvement with Film Threat. Thanks Heidi. Shannon loved the review too!
The venue which held this discussion was a bar with a very small theatre in the back which had a capacity of around 20-30. Only half a dozen people showed up to the forum which was a little depressing so Jim abandoned the microphone and it turned into an intimate group discussion which was better for me personally. This just further proves how ridiculous many Australians are and how little they think outside of the box. I am insulted as a film writer and guru that no one showed up! We all had drinks in the bar area before the discussion began and it was a great relaxed environment to talk film with aggressive filmmakers who are a minority in this country. These guys do not deserve to be marginalized. They should be the norm and the current c**k sucking standard of acceptability should be less than underground. Take Australian mainstream (and a substantial number of international mainstream) to the sewers where it can join the other effluent. Waste matter on three levels; it smells like s**t, a waste of film and our time. The Australian Film Industry is in crisis, but we need more than just Richard’s band of renegade filmmakers. Australia needs the real talent to step up and save us from film hell!
Jim began proceedings after a swift introduction by Richard Wolstencroft, where he discussed how hard it was to complete his film “The Manson Family” (2003). The battle was even fiercer beyond the end of principle photography as Jim had a fridge full of film footage that he couldn’t even afford to watch himself. Jim filmed “The Manson Family” (2003) between 1988-1992 and the next several years were spent in and out of post. Jim explained how he had no big stars in the film and how that made it hard to sell the film on the international market. So he made his main star the character of Charles Manson. The stigma attached to that name helped sell the film. I cannot tell you enough how much of a great guy Jim is. We chatted like we go way back and what you see is what you get with him. He is the filmmaker next door. Plus he was drunk the whole the time on our popular Aussie beer VB, which made him even more hilarious and more like a drinking buddy. He reminded me of Wooderson from “Dazed and Confused” (1993).
Mark Savage then took the floor and discussed sales agents when trying to distribute a film to other territories and how much of a bad idea most of them are. He put them in a category on the same level with child molesters and politicians which clearly stated how passionate his hatred was of getting f****d by the middle man. In the end he said they could have you in serious debt. Like you need more debt after making a low-budget film. Mark had a great sense of humor, lacking the downright craziness of Jim.
Shannon Young then closed the forum, discussing his experiences with “Razor Eaters” (2003) (both making and distribution). Shannon is probably one of the easiest guys to relate to. He talked about his friend James Wan and how his film “Saw” grossed $80million yet he still currently resides in a small one bedroom apartment sleeping in discomfort. His point is that very little of a film’s box office takings get back to the filmmaker but in James’ case he signed a back-end deal which will see him with a nice chunk of money somewhere down the track. Shannon talks about what is forgivable and unforgivable in selling a film on the world market. Forgivable is low-budget and average effects. Unforgivable is bad actors and terrible script. He also discussed what we had talked about before the forum regarding the persecution at the hands of the Victoria Police.
Shannon says “notify the authorities” when filming a scene with gun play and Jim says “get your shots and get the f**k outta there!” Richard and Mark stumbled out before the end of the forum leaving only Jack Sargeant, Jim and Shannon. To close the forum, Jim VanBebber did his rendition of Dennis Hopper’s character from “Tracks” (1976) – the end scene. “I love! I love! I love! I love! I love! I really do love! I love! And I hate! And I hate! And I hate! And I hate! Because I love I hate! Because I love! Because I love I hate! Because I love!” His Dennis Hopper impersonation is the best I’ve seen. That put an end to the symposium and we all shook hands and said see ya!
A Richard Wolstencroft Screening
A couple of days later I attended a rare screening of Richard’s second film “The Intruder” (1991). The film was never released and barely finished, but Richard showed it in its crude unmixed work print form. I wasn’t going to miss probably the only chance to ever get to see this film so I went along. Richard was in the audience and gave a brief introduction to the film and throughout the movie he was doing a live director’s commentary and stressed the point that this was not his script! He said he hadn’t seen the film in fourteen years so he was looking forward to watching it again. Jim VanBebber was also briefly in the audience and tried to talk Richard into turning the film off and putting on his third feature “Pearls Before Swine” (1999). Richard leaves the theatre to get a copy of Pearls and upon returning asks the audience members to vote on which film they would prefer to see. Jim didn’t believe it was the right idea to screen a work print of a film. Jim interjects and says “this is like screening your dirty laundry”. Lucky for me that the vote was in favor of “The Intruder” as I only just re-watched my own copy of “Pearls Before Swine” (1999) a few hours earlier at home and I didn’t feel like watching it again in a matter of hours. Just hearing Jim talking through the film was making me laugh to myself, because even when he isn’t trying to be funny he still cracks you up. During the audience vote, Richard said “now I know why I haven’t watched this f*****g film in fourteen years!” I think he may have regretted showing the film in its crude form, but it really didn’t bother me at all. I’m glad I finally got to see the buried film.
I also stuck around after “The Intruder” (1991) to watch “The Making of Pearls Before Swine” (2005) which did offer a great insight into how Richard operates on set, which is always vital in trying to define style and personality in filmmaking. He was mostly calm and never treated cast or crew like s**t. But maybe it was filmed on a good day who knows?
Mini MUFF 4
The next night I decided to go down to The Loop bar/cinema for one of the Mini MUFF short film programs. The bar was packed out with hardly any standing room. I was lucky enough to find a comfortable seat which meant that I had to stick to the one drink throughout the short film program to ensure no body stole my seat. The program consisted of the following titles:
“Snap” (2004), “Late Shift” (2004), “Unlocked” (2004), “Waiting Room” (2004), “1982S” (2004), “Exit” (2004), “A Quiet Drink” (2005), “A Brief Case of Anonymity” (2005), “Cadence” (2004), “Inside” (2005), “Devine Retribution” (2004), “Road to Reality” (2005) and another film entitled “Snap!” (2004).
I was really impressed with the overall quality of these short films and I think they show positive signs for the next generation of the Aussie filmmaking troupe. I was truly blown away by some of the shorts, just at how much originality we have on our home soil and I think the U.S. are starting to realize the amount of undiscovered talent in Australia. The only problem with our film industry is that we are likely to lose many of these quality filmmakers, as there is so much more available for them in the States which will force them to leave their native country. But we definitely have some special filmmaking talent around and it makes me proud.
The Following Night…
The following night I went to see the “The Actress” (2005) directed by relatively young filmmaker Zak Hilditch from Western Australia. It had a small session with the director and some cast and crew in the audience. Perhaps the festival may be a little hampered by the cold as a witch’s tit Melbourne weather. I am a very hot-blooded Italian guy who fears no cold weather but this week I have found my own personal icy kryptonite. Richard introduced the film and Zak took some questions after the film. An audience member for some reason asked Zak about sex and violence in films. This man said that he saw “Baise-moi” (2000) which had sex and violence in it, but made a statement saying that you never see sex and violence together in the one scene in films! Even though “Baise-moi” (2000) had a horrific rape scene in the film! He must think rape is a passive style of sex to make that ridiculous declaration. He is misinformed and the filmmaker disagreed in the nicest possible way. The audience member was dressed in the kind of attire that one would wear in a porno theatre to not be noticed. I was really impressed with “The Actress” (2004) which was remarkably shot for around $700 Australian. Amazing, and the result is nothing short of magic. Zak was saying that so far the film has not had any interest from distributors but if you ask me it is worthy of international distribution as the whole world would find the humor quite funny. Zak Hilditch just again proves me right in saying that the next generation of Australian filmmakers are asserting their authority.
Many films were shown at MUFF which are all worthy of our attention. Every film has something special about it even if they are not always executed perfectly. It is important to give these up and coming filmmakers the chance to show their films to an audience, interact with other filmmakers and hold a Q&A. It brings them to a whole new level going from people who make films to filmmakers. We are in the midst of greatness.
MUFF 2005 closed with four films. One short “Britney Pounds Justin” (2005) that was supposed to play the night before was added to the bill which already included JP Nickel’s “Grim” (2004), the documentary “What is Ropar?” (2005) and no-budget Aussie comedy “The Money Shot” (2002).
A huge crowd turned out for closing night and of course a lot of the crowd was made up of various filmmakers and/or actors who were involved with the films in competition. Richard did the introduction (he loves the microphone) and then the night had officially begun. The first film was the occasionally funny Aussie short “Britney Pounds Justin” (2005) the title explains itself to an extent. The crowd found it pretty good. Little was I to realize that the next film I was about to see would be the best short film of the entire festival and possibly one of the best I’ve ever seen. “Grim” (2004), written/directed/starring America’s latest up and coming filmmaker JP Nickel was a spectacular film and was packed so full of great material that I felt like I had just watched a feature film. JP Nickel introduced the film and said that he shot it over three days for twenty bucks. I have never ever seen an underground film of any kind to feature the director in the lead role who can pull it off so well. “Grim” (2004) found the biggest applause that I had heard erupt during the entire festival and it was much deserved. The next film was a documentary entitled “What is Ropar?” (2005) which is a self-made documentary by the subject Dennis Ropar who is one of the most successful pop-artists in the country. The film was well-made and quite enjoyable to see a brazen self-promoter going hard at it, trying to get his name etched into peoples’ minds. The final film for MUFF 2005 was “The Money Shot” (2002) which is the story of a recent film school graduate who cannot find work in the field so she decides to make a porno with her new camera, set in her share house with her flat mates working as crew. The film was laugh out loud in some places and gained plenty of attention as it managed to hit the closing night main event bill. The film was shot on Mini-DV in eighteen days for $2,000 and considering all this the film came out very well and was of high quality just like all of the no-budget features at this year’s MUFF.
And the awards go to…
Best Experimental Short Film
“Esmerelda Video” (2004) – Yasmin Sabuncu
Best Comedy Short Film
“1982S” (2004) – Despain & Vainwad
Best Animated Short Film
“Herman the Legal Labrador” (2004) – David Blumenstein
Runner-Up Best Short Film
“Smacked Out Kisses” (2004) – David Mazzarella
“Wooden Heart” (2004) – Jason Turley
Best Short Film
“Clown” (2004) – Karl Hirsch
“Grim” (2004) – JP Nickel
Best Documentary Short Film
“Fritz Niedsone is the New Black” (2005) – Andrew Iser
Best Use of the Guerilla Aesthetic
“Welcome to Greensborough” (2004) – Tom McEvoy
Most Gratuitous Sex
“Sex and Sensitivity” (2004) – Brett Eagleton
Most Gratuitous Violence
“In Blood” (2004) – Matt Moss
“Welcome to Greensborough” (2004)
“Desperately Seeking Seka” (2004) – Magnus Paulsson & Christian Hallman
Best Female Actor
Caitlin Higgins – “The Actress” (2004)
Best Male Actor
Peter Stefano – “The Money Shot” (2002)
“Spring Rhapsody” (2004)
“Wait Means Never” (2005)
Anna Brownfield & Lance Petrie – “The Money Shot” (2002)
Special Jury Prize
“Spring Rhapsody” (2004) – Bill Mousoulis
Anna Brownfield & Lance Petrie – “The Money Shot” (2002)
Rachael Lucas – “Bondi Tsunami” (2004)
“Wait Means Never” (2005)
As I was leaving the cinema, Shannon Young tracked me down and brought a copy of “Razor Eaters” (2003) for me. We had a good long chat and found that our views on the Australian Film Industry were very similar. It was great to see him again! The time flew as we were deep in conversation and by the time we took a pause, everyone had left the cinema and we were the only ones there. Once I realized this, I thought we’d better get a move on and head over to the after party, but promised to catch up with him there.
Closing Night Awards Party
Well I think all will say that it has been a long ten days and now the stress ends and unfettered celebration begins. The after party was held at Dale and Danny’s Blue which is where many of the after parties have been held throughout the festival. There was just a nice turnout to the private party, not too many and not too little. I turned up with the three lovely ladies that accompanied me to closing night – Rae, Ellie and Tessa. I noticed JP Nickel sitting just near me and if you know me, you know that I’m not leaving until I have a chat with one of the most talented new filmmakers to hit the circuit. I approached JP and he was a cool guy and I then asked him if the girls could join us and he didn’t mind at all (why would he?). So the girls all took a seat in the JP Nickel section while JP and I chatted endlessly about his films and films in general and he gave me a DVD copy of “Why We Had to Kill Bitch” (2003) and “Grim” (2004). JP was such a cool guy that I really didn’t feel the need to mingle with many other people. In fact the people eventually caught on that JP was actually present and came over our way and before I knew it we had formed a nice little group circle with myself, the girls, JP and Shannon Young. I was right in my element, sitting with two guys who I really have a lot of respect for in the most casual environment this side of a nudist colony. JP admitted that one of his guilty pleasures is enjoying bad mainstream films and I went on to talk about Richard W. Haines and how much of an underrated filmmaker he is and JP promised to track down a copy of “Unsavory Characters” (2001) among other films and filmmakers that we both told each other to get into. The exact same thing happened as before at the cinema with Shannon and I; we all were joking and chatting for so long that when we looked up the party was over. I then met Aussie filmmaker Gregory Pakis who had found out I was there for Film Threat and I gave him my contact details to schedule an interview at some later date. This was an amazing festival and I think the underground is really starting to catch on. Each year is bigger and better and now I have to wait a whole f*****g year for MUFF 7. I will look forward to it!
I would like to thank Richard Wolstencroft for all his help and pretty much just for being an all-round cool guy, Shannon Young, Jim VanBebber and JP Nickel for their great talent which matches their first-class personalities and finally Raelene Pickering for assisting me during my coverage of MUFF.