20. Living Universe

Directors: Alex Barry & Vincent Amouroux

            The universe, it goes on forever. It dwarfs the human race in every way, yet that doesn’t stop us discarding our humility and thinking ‘you know what, we can conquer that’. Living Universe takes the science of today, and carries it to its logical conclusion of where that science will take us in the future. It’s a beautiful tale about celebrating the minds that are making space exploration possible today by showing what the fruits of their labours will bring in the future. The CGI landscapes of the world are superbly realised, and the always enjoyable Dr Karl Kruszelnicki provides engaging, informative narration to help guide the journey to discovering life in the universe.

19. Lost Gully Road

Director: Donna McRae

            After The Babadook and Berlin Syndrome, Aussie women directors and horror are going through a minor revival. Joining that great line-up is Donna McRae’s quiet creep-fest, Lost Gully Road. Focusing on Adele Perovic’s Lucy, Lost Gully Road takes horror fans somewhere new for Australian cinema – the sprawling, endless green forest of the Dandenong’s. Lucy, escaping a life that threatens her, heads to the forest to await the arrival of her sister. While there, unseen forces threaten her. Lost Gully Road is a film of the moment, showcasing the pure fear that masculinity can bring to the life of a woman, regardless of whether she is standing right beside a man, or in a room all by herself, the grasp of toxic masculinity is not far away.Unsettling and downright effective.

(It’s also worthwhile noting that Adele Perovic featured in a great short film called Eye Contact about the addictive nature of the internet. Well worth seeking out if you can find it.)

18. Gurrumul

Director: Paul Damien Williams

            Director Paul Damien Williams was a close friend of the great Dr G Yunupingu, and it’s this close relationship with Gurrumul and his collaborator Michael Hohnen, and Mark Grose, that makes Gurrumul such a profoundly moving experience. Gurrumul is a portrait of an artist who broke down barriers and brought an understanding of the issues facing indigenous Australians to the world stage. Gurrumul’s music moves you in ways that most music struggles to. These are stories that have carried through the lineage of the Yolngu people are brought to the masses in beautiful, heartwarming and heartbreaking songs that are delivered with Gurrumul’s powerful voice. This is an essential film to watch, working as a powerful reminder of an Australian great gone too soon.

17. Finding the Line

Director: Bjarne Sahlen

            One of the best parts about exploring cinema, and writing and talking about cinema, is that you manage to find out about great films that you simply may have missed otherwise. Having engaged with the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival two years in a row, I’ve been exposed to some really superb documentaries. Finding the Line is one such film. Sisters Anna and Nat Segal are skiers, tackling the biggest mountains in the world, tackling the world of the Olympics, tackling extreme sports – and, while they do this, they tackle fear as well. Finding the Line is an exploration into the term ‘because it’s there’, as well as exploring what it means to be a professional athlete.While the views of the mountain are simply stunning, evoking images of Jennifer Peedom’s Sherpa and Mountain, it’s the relationship that Anna and Nat have with each other, supporting each other as they tackle a new mountain, and most importantly, supporting each other with their mental health.At a brisk 52 minutes long, Finding the Line is extremely deep with its narrative, all the while employing some truly stunning drone cinematography.  

16. Breath

Director: Simon Baker

            Tim Winton has forged a legacy for himself which in turn has forged the way many see the landscape of Western Australia. Raging waves, rugged men, boys who struggle with the difficult path the puberty puts them on – these are all the archetypes of the Tim Winton narrative. First time director Simon Baker brings one of Winton’s weaker books,Breath, to life – managing to showcase the South West of Australia in all its beauty. Firstly, the cinematography by Marden Dean and Rick Rifici is reason enough to watch this film – Rifici’s water based cinematography is simply some of the finest you’ll see this year.Secondly, the casting of Samson Coulter and Ben Spence as the lead characters Pikelet and Loonie is inspired. Spence in particular has a rage that burns deep in him that is clearly coming from a personal place. While the last act becomes a bit staid, unable to match up with the first two thirds, Breath is still a journey you’ll want to embark on. More of this kind of representation of Western Australia on film thanks.

15. Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story

Directors: Kate McIntyre Clere & Michael McIntyre

            Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story is an exceptionally brutal film. It presents an Australia that rages on in the nighttime, with the death of Australia’s iconic marsupial occurring in epic proportions, their heads, feet and tails left in the bush to rot. Joey’s are bashed against the bull bar of the ute that cut through the night like a knife,finding an unassuming victim standing, blinded by its lights. If it sounds like I’m being hyperbolic – I’m not. The footage in the film is damning, but directors Kate McIntyre Clere and Michael McIntyre both know that this can’t just be a film about the death of the kangaroo, and in turn, they allow the pro-kangaroo hunters equal space to explain why they should be allowed to hunt kangaroos. A difficult watch, but an important one. If there were any justice,this documentary would have the same effect that Blackfish and The Cove did for their respective regions.

14. Border Politics

Director: Judy Rymer

            Human rights barrister Julian Burnside is one of the many heroes in Australia who work tirelessly to help make the lives of refugees easier. Director Judy Rymer focuses the camera onto Julian as he traverses the world, looking at the way the world is dealing with the unfolding refugee crisis. Oddly, this is not as depressing as Eva Orner’s essential Chasing Asylum, but that doesn’t mean it’s without consequence. Julian Burnside sits down with great minds like Lord Dubs and Gillian Triggs to explore how to change the world and get people to respect and care about the plight of refugees again. Australia has continually crafted interesting films about refugees (all, interestingly,directed by women), and Border Politics is another film which adds to the conversation that we all need to pay attention to.

13. Boy Erased

Director: Joel Edgerton

            Lucas Hedges is reason alone to watch this disturbing look into the world of conversion ‘therapy’ (again, it’snot therapy, but torture). Joel Edgerton takes the reigns as triple threat actor, writer, and director, as he adapts Garrad Conley’s book Boy Erased for the big screen. While it’s clear that this is written from the eyes of a straight man, it is also written with care, respect, and a desire to understand where all involved with this horrendous act are coming from. Whether it be Hedges Jared, or his Baptist parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe), or the man who enacts the ‘therapy’, Jared Eamons (Joel Edgerton), Boy Erased encourages an understanding of how a society can allow such a heinous crime to be fostered, encouraged, and allowed to thrive. Upsetting, disturbing, and yet,still extremely timely, Boy Erased is not your typical Australian film (after all, it’s set in America), but given the news that these kinds of ‘therapy’ camps exist in Australia, well, it’s no less potent with its message.

12. Jirga

Director: Benjamin Gilmour

            A lot like Finding the Line, Jirga is slight on its run time, but not slight on its thematic content. Playing like a pared back road movie, with ex-soldier Mike Wheeler (a superb Sam Smith)heading on a path of redemption through Afghanistan. Director Benjamin Gilmour aims to explore the effect that Australian soldiers had on Afghanistan, and in turn, what effect Afghanistan had on the soldiers who battled the wars there. Jirga looks at what happens when the war torn soldier has finished their tour, and asks, how are they supposed to redeem themselves in the face of a still open wound?

11. Have You Seen the Listers?

Director: Eddie Martin

            Director Eddie Martin has crafted a catalogue of films about artists in Australia. His first film, Jisoe, looked at graffiti artist Jisoe in Melbourne, then follow up film All This Mayhem (one of the great Australian documentaries) flicked through the lives of skateboarding brothers as they took on the world. In his latest work, Have You Seen the Listers?, Eddie Martin puts artist Anthony Lister under the microscope. Getting under the skin of what makes an artist work is what Martin does best. Anthony Lister isn’t a particularly likeable guy all the time (who is?), but you get a great understanding of what makes him tick, and the difficulties that he has with straddling success, drug use, family life, and generally living in a world that struggles to accept that someone like Anthony Lister wants to make art and exist. Your mileage may vary with the apparent lionisation of Lister as a failed hero, but for me, it was exactly what I wanted from an Eddie Martin film– explorative, entertaining, and engaging.

Head over to the next page for entries 10-1…