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Melbourne Underground Film Festival is shaking things up in the film industry

“I’m a showman. I look for things that are controversial, in your face, that ruffle people’s feathers.”

Australian filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft hosted the first Melbourne Underground Film Festival in 2000, after growing frustrated with the talented filmmakers going unnoticed within the industry. After his film Pearls Before Swine was rejected by the Melbourne International Film Festival, despite having been accepted into revered festivals in Mexico, Spain and South Korea, Wolstencroft took action.
 
“I wrote this outraged email to an internet film zine called Filmic back then and I got a response from about 50 filmmakers,” says Wolstencroft. “One of the filmmakers who responded was James Wan who had made the film Stygian. It was his first feature. He made it with a guy named Shannon Young. James went on to make the Saw movies and become one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers of the last 20 years.
 
“When I saw James Wan’s film it was full of interesting ideas, it had these weird torture devices and for some reason I thought ‘That’s interesting, I’ve never seen that,’ and these ended up being the kind of devices that were used in the film Saw that Jigsaw was using. It was interesting and that’s exactly the kind of thing I look for.”
 
Now in its 18th year, MUFF has since discovered a number of filmmakers such as JJ DeCeglie, Patrick Hughes, and Scott Ryan, something that Wolstencroft puts down to his constant search for films that explore unconventional concepts.  
 
“I look for interesting ideas, something that’s a bit aggressive, a bit different, something that’s a bit controversial even, which seems to be the opposite of what the Melbourne International and Sydney International look for.
 
“They look for things that are politically correct, that seek some political agenda, are a bit dull but it might be for a good cause and that’s exactly what we don’t look for. Though we will support films that are for a good cause, if they’re well done.”
 
This year, MUFF’s theme is The Golden Age of Censorship which will see a range of films seeking to break down barriers, each in their own way. Wolstencroft was inspired to explore the theme of censorship as a form of protest against the “wave of political correctness that’s swept over our society in the last five years.”
 
MUFF will feature two particularly controversial films, VAXXED: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe which explores the possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism and The Red Pill which delves into the current men’s rights movement. These films touch on hotly debated topics and have thus far been excluded from any Australian film festivals. Due to their controversial nature, the location of their screenings will be kept a secret until Friday October 27 in an effort to minimise protests.
 
“I have a long history of playing controversial films, I’m a showman. I look for things that are controversial, in your face, that ruffle people’s feathers, and I’m sure that the decision to play VAXXED and The Red Pill will ruffle a few people’s feathers.”
 
Alongside VAXXED and The Red Pill, Wolstencroft has a diverse program for this year’s MUFF, with the festival showcasing an array of themes through horror films such as Crackbaby Billionaire and The Super to Urine Aid, a documentary detailing the alleged health benefits of drinking your urine.  
 
“The Jeremy DeCeglie film [Can’t Win. Do Try]  is a real highlight, I’m playing my own new feature called The Second Coming Volume 2, we’re doing that as a pre-festival event on Friday October 27 with a film by Frank Howson, he’s the Festival Patron,” says Wolstencroft.
 
“The opening night film A Brilliant Genocide by Ebony Atlanta Butler is really one of the major highlights and closing night which is Throbbin 84 by Timothy Spanos is a lot of fun, sort of like a John Waters’ film but set in the ‘80s.”
 
Alongside the huge range of feature-length and short films that will be showcased at MUFF, the festival will also feature Q&A sessions with Wolstencroft and fellow filmmaker and Festival Patron Frank Howson as well as a masterclass on cinema by Australian director Alex Proyas who has developed a massively successful career in Hollywood with films such as The Crow, I, Robot, and Gods of Egypt.

Melbourne Underground Film Festival runs from Friday October 27 to Friday November 3 with screenings at Howler, Fad Gallery, Alex Theatre and Moondog Bar & Space. Check out the full festival program and ticket information at muff.com.au.