MELBOURNE, Australia -- Canada has TIFF -- the Toronto International Film Festival, which kicks off Sept. 6 and runs through Sept. 16. Ozzies have MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival), which took place last month.
We have a small film-focused exhibit with temporary shows in the TIFF Bell Lightbox building. They have Screen Worlds: The Story of Film, Television & Digital Culture," in the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).
While Toronto's festival may be more influential, Melbourne's film exhibition receives more accolades and attention -- and justifiably so.
Wide-ranging in scope, Screen Worlds is enlightening, entertaining and has something for visitors of all ages -- plus it's free! With 220 screen-based displays, 30 hours of moving-image content (including some rarely seen footage) and hundreds of original objects and memorabilia, you could easily spend most of a day there, and some people do.
One of the many popular interactive exhibits is Timeslice, which involves entering a large pod surrounded by 36 cameras that capture your movements so you look like Hugo Weaving dodging bullets in The Matrix.
It's fitting that Australia should be home to an exhibition of this calibre. According to tour guide and local actor Ryan Heath, the world's first full-length feature film was produced in Australia. The Story Of The Kelly Gang -- about legendary Australian bushranger Ned Kelly -- was a box-office success that ran about 80 minutes, at a time when most films ran only about 12 minutes. First shown on Dec. 26, 1906, in Melbourne's Athenaeum Hall, at Screen Worlds you can watch the film in its entirety.
Also in the "Emergence" section, which explores the history of film, often through an Australian lens, visitors can see the 1893 peep-show parlour through Thomas Edison's kinetoscope; a Lumiere Cinematographe -- the rare camera/projector that marks film's arrival in 1896, and, from more modern times, a display on the Australian television program Skippy The Bush Kangaroo.
Australia had a film boom in the 1970s when censorship was relaxed and the government began to fund film productions and support dramas with Australian themes. The decade saw movies such as Don's Party, by Bruce Beresford, and Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock. These became part of Australian cinema's new wave and the work had a huge influence on many up and coming directors such as Quentin Tarantino.
The country has produced several notable films and actors in the years since, and Screen World's Voices section contains memorabilia from many of these, including a replica of the iconic Interceptor car from Mad Max; Geoffrey Rush's ring, necklace and sword worn in The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; the hat (replica) and dagger used by Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee; and the dress worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge.
Who knew there were such great variations in the Australian accent? One intriguing exhibit has several screens with different Australian productions that allow you to hear them all for yourself. Alternatively, you can ask guide Ryan Heath to do his hilarious imitations of these.
The Sensation area could also be called the fun zone. This is where you can make your own Flipbook, see TY the Tasmanian Tiger Zoetrope (created for ACMI), experience the funky Sound and Vision Room, enjoy all-day animations, or play classic and contemporary videogames (popular with kids).
Screen Worlds is open daily and offers free half-hour tours at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Check acmi.net.au. While in ACMI, it's also worth checking out the Australian Mediatheque, where visitors can view on-demand digital films and highlights from over 100 years of Australian and international film.
MOVIES IN THE SKY
A plane may not be the best place to watch a film. But a recent flight from Los Angeles to Sydney on Qantas convinced me otherwise. Okay, it helps if you're in business class with the airline's Sommelier in the Sky, complimentary chocolates, noise canceling headphones, and reclining seats. But even without such luxuries, film fans are in for a treat. Why? The in-flight entertainment system includes more than 200 films in seven categories (Oscar Classics, Premiere, Australian, World, etc.) along with reviews of each to help you decide! (The 2011 Aussie flick Red Dog is a good choice). And you can enjoy them all in "the quietest cabin in the sky" -- Qantas' A380 aircraft, which also produces significantly less noise energy on take-off and landing. Finally, a flight without the constant sound of the engine hum! Not only is it great for movie viewing but it leaves you feeling more rested when you arrive. For more, check qantas.com.au.
OZ AT TIFF
There are two Australian entries in TIFF this year: The world premiere of Underground -- The Julian Asange Story, and the Australian-England drama Dead Europe.
If there's a film star visiting Melbourne, chances are good they may be staying at the Langham hotel, which had a brief appearance in a skyline shot in 2012's Any Questions for Ben? Nicholas Cage, Billy Crystal, Heath Ledger, John Cleese, Chris Hemsworth, Zac Efron, Toni Collette and Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) are just a few of the stars who have stayed at the Langham, which has garnered many accolades in travel magazines. (It frequently makes Travel + Leisure magazine's World's Best lists).
Centrally located (a scenic eight-minute walk to the ACMI in Federation Square), the Langham has spectacular skyline views from many of its rooms and its Chuan Spa deck, and offers a selection of DVDs for guests to borrow. Check melbourne.langhamhotels.com.au.