It’s the perfect time of year for MUFF.
Before you draw your lead and pencil a repulsed letter to my editor regarding this coarse content, please, hear me out, or rather, read me out.
Article by Charlie Ranger
MUFF, of course, is the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, which, let’s face it, many of you won’t have heard of, it is underground after all.
That’s not to detract from its now extremely important place on the City of Melbourne calendar, but also it’s importance as an alternative to the mainstream.
15 years since it’s incarnation, the latest tag line is ‘Evolve or Die.’ This life or death mantra seems to stretch to Festival Director Richard Wolstencroft, whose energy echoes his passion. He took the time to speak with [HPSS] about all things MUFF, but we started with this dramatic tag line.
“Actual film is no longer shot on film, Tarantino often complains of this, that film is no longer film. Most things are shot and projected on digital. We declared the death of film a couple of years ago so we thought we’d do the evolution kind of theme. It’s a time of great change within the film industry.”
He develops the point of evolution further by addressing the dramatic number of illegal downloads that people source their content from these days.
“The internet destroyed the music industry and it’s doing a good job of destroying the film industry as well. It’s both a blessing and a curse.” Which would suggest that MUFF, like many other festivals, is testing the waters when finding the best way to take the step into the next generation.
“It’s a very interesting time to be doing cinema work. If you wanna exist in the new paradigm, you’ve gotta change and adapt.”
MUFF began when Wolstencroft’s film ‘Pearls before Swine’ was rejected by the Melbourne International Film Festival, and has since gone on to screen films such as the highly controversial A Serbian Film and LA Zombie, the latter being an illegal showing. I ask Wolstencroft how he reacts to criticism that the festival is based on shock value rather than artistic merit. His response leads him to critique the current state of the Australian film industry, an issue he’s been outspoken on for some time.
“Sure, some of them [the films] are made for shock value, I can hardly say that was their only quality. That’s one of the problems with the films that get funded [in Australia], they’re not shocking.”
His criticism continues largely uncensored.
“Who would go to the cinema to watch a movie about a woman who has an aneurysm like in ‘My year without sex’? Why would you go to the cinema to watch that? Now I don’t mind if there’s a couple of films like that. But that seems to be all we were making for many, many years…there have been some small changes, a few more genre films being funded by the Government every now and then. Really, the funding bodies remain these failed bodies that produce films that nobody watches every year. The Australian film industry has become culturally irrelevant.”
It’s an approach that Wolstencroft readily admits won’t go about making him new friends, but I can hardly say as we speak that that’s what he’s concerned with. As one unnamed industry peer told him:
“Listen, you’re a c—, but you’re right.”
Obviously Wolstencroft’s opinions can’t be said to reflect every piece of work presented at MUFF, however they do seem to be a snapshot of what the festival is trying to achieve. It seems this would be a point of difference that challenges the norm and allows for artistic expression that doesn’t have a clear voice in the mainstream. One could argue these films lack voice because they’re not what the majority want, but the fact that the festival is entering it’s 15th year with little financial support from funding bodies would suggest different.
“We haven’t applied for funding the last 2 or 3 years. We just can’t be bothered getting spat on every year like we’re the village idiot… I went cap in hand every year to get 5,000 dollars to bring out an international guest or two, spend a little bit more on the festival and we were denied every single year.”
A fact that has led to crowdsourcing for various initiatives, this year using indiegogo, hoping to raise enough money to bring out the notorious ‘Cinema of transgression’ filmmaker and artist Nick Zedd. When speaking of Zedd, Wolstencroft’s tone changes, his respect and admiration for “One of the most important underground filmmakers in the world” becomes clear. The aim is to have him come and run a masterclass for artists. On this trend towards crowdsourcing, “We thought we’d fly that one up the flag pole and see what we could get.” Pursuits like this ensure an international influence weaves its way through the festival on top of its international film entries, giving a more diverse appeal and assisting in the aforementioned evolution of where MUFF is heading.
Wolstencroft’s passionate pursuit of what he deems quality cinema would no doubt leave a few offside, but it’s this chasing of his dream that would seem certain to ensure the viability of this festival for many years to come.
“This is about entertainment you know. Cinema is about escapism, it’s about giving you an experience you might not have in real life.”
It’s a passion that is sure to run through every facet of MUFF, all but guaranteeing its audience an experience unlike any before.
For more information on the Melbourne Underground Film Festival please visit their website