> The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is the largest and longest-running film festival in the Asia-Pacific region. Widely acknowledged as one of the world's top ten international .lm festivals, MIFF has emerged as the leading forum for screening Asian and regional films, and places particular emphasis on the works of eminent auteurs. Last year, MIFF recorded eighty sold-out sessions and an attendance of 178,000, the largest in Australia. In its fifth year under the leader-ship of Executive Director James Hewison, the 2005 festival offered new discoveries and more excitement for Melbourne .lm buffs. Just before its opening, Boris Trbic talked to Hewison and his team about the method and madness behind putting together a major.
James Hewison EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
BORIS TRBIC: This is your fifth year at the helm of MIFF You have made changes in the conception of the festival; placed emphasis on regional and Asian cinema and gradually introduced a number of programs. What is the guiding idea in your work?
JAMES HEWISON: I guess that the sense of being arbiters--ultimately that is what we are--of what goes into the festival, from the various styles, genres, concerns--I think that the vital ingredient for me is a sense of restless energy, inquisitiveness and curiosity, that I don't think one should be either afraid as a programmer to constantly reappraise both where the festival is, but also, ultimately, what the value of cinema is.
During the past five years Melbourne became the 'Australian capital of Asian cinema'.
When I started, I knew very little about Asian cinema, in particular about Korean cinema, and yet now, I guess, we are known for having a substantial Asian section that we really pushed from a content point of view and from a preoccupation point of view. One must not be restrained by our own culture, by our own knowledge. One of the fundamental ideologies of the festival is the notion of regionalism. Happily of course, the cinemas of those Asian countries have been particularly dynamic in the past half a dozen years or so.
The work of distinguished directors takes a prominent place in MIFF selection. What is characteristic of this year's program?
I think that this festival is very much about making discoveries and about revelations. In the program for this year, for example, we have films from venerable auteurs, from Bergman to Tsai Ming Liang to Claire Denis. And of course, we're always keen to support auteurs. We are in particular trying to replicate the experiences that we've had in the cinema for audiences back here. The notion of making discoveries at the cinema could be re-evaluated with someone like Kiarostami or someone like Bergman or Im-Kwon Taek, for that matter. As much as we are interested in the work of, for example, Assayas and his floors, we are also interested in bringing discoveries and that's why, for example, whilst we don't have retrospectives per se, we have filmmakers in focus. For example, this year Fruit Chan, and to a certain extent the work of two Chinese filmmakers, Jiz Zhang-ke and Yu Lik Wai, because these are important filmmakers who have been ignored and to a large extent underestimated in this country. So, I see our festival very much in the present, rather than, in some cases, operating in shadows of the past.
How do you balance the screening of Australian and international content at the festival? Do you feel a certain pressure to screen more Australian content?
I think in a certain respect, we are removed from it, but in another respect feel a certain responsibility to engage with it. Any substantial film festival needs to engage with its local culture, but one shouldn't be imprisoned by it. We consider Australian films, be they shorts, documentaries, feature films, experimental, drama or comedies. We view them in much the same manner as the rest of the program. That said, we d …