The Ten Films You Must See at the 2019 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

Rolling on for another huge year of great content is Australia’s finest documentary film festival – the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. With a huge wealth of content and guests, with subjects stretching from remote Australia, all the way to Hollywood, there’s something for everyone at this years festival. While I could point at the Uwe Boll documentary, Fuck You All: The Uwe Boll Story, that screens with a Uwe Boll Q&A, or the raucous music film Desolation Center, or even a doco about an unreleased Peter Sellers film, I won’t do that! No! I’m going to run down the ten films that would be on my viewing list.

Make sure to check out the festival guide, and pick up your tickets as the festival kicks off on July 19th and runs through to the 30th.


I’m a sucker for a good food documentary, especially one that focuses on one of the finest food groups ever – pasta. Funke focuses on chef Evan Funke, a once successful culinary artist who walked away from the restaurant life, only to return to the world of food after a sojourn into darkness. Funke looks into the world of the ever combative LA restaurant industry through the eyes of someone trying to reaffirm their place in the world. If anything, the shots of handmade pasta will have you rushing off to Pelligrini’s after the screening to fill yourself up.

Short films – Big Men, Small Dogs, Murder in Mobile, Bartle, The Dundee Project, For Your Consideration, Adoption Pending

Alongside the truck load of great documentaries will be a wealth of exciting and interesting short films. There’s too many to list here, but the shorts that have peaked my interest include stories about a pop culture provocateur who once tried to take down Trump with a naked sculpture, and have now turned their sights to Harvey Weinstein; a film about a dog, George, who is surrendered to an adoption home – a guaranteed tear jerker; or a story about five tall men and their small dogs; or a look at a bizarre ritual in Yorkshire which looks to involve sheep; or a story about a family returning to a cold case about a black man who was beaten to death 70 years ago and the search for justice; and finally, a short about UFO culture in Dundee, Wisconsin. This is just scraping the top of the shorts that’ll be screening, and just like the rest of the festival, there will be something for everyone here.


Looby is one of the best Australian films for 2019. A fascinating and deep dive into the life of Keith Looby, this documentary embraces all of Looby’s eccentricities, with his impact on Australian art and politics getting the grand exploration it deserves. With a mildly unhealthy dose of antagonism directed towards Keith, Looby is never dull, and always informative. Even with mid-interview walkouts and a frenetic subject who always looks bothered, Looby is the kind of film that you can’t help but ask – why did it take so long for this story to be told? And, once you’ve finished asking that, you can be thankful that it finally did get told, and most importantly, told in such a brilliantly entertaining fashion. This right here is my pick of the fest. Do not miss Looby. Give my interview with the filmmakers a listen here.

Defending a Monster

Defending a Monster takes the book, John Wayne Gacy, Defending a Monster, written by Sam Amirante and Danny Broderick, and translates it to a documentary format. This looks to be a powerful glimpse into the world of the one man who was assigned the task of defending the worst American serial killer, John Wayne Gacy. Directed by Marc Menet and Bob Packo, Defending a Monster will likely raise questions about how somebody can actually defend someone who is so clearly guilty.

Pariah Dog

The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival has long shown great films about dogs from all around the world – take 2018’s Dogs of Democracy for example, a beautiful film about the activist dog Loukanikos, and the other dogs that live in Athens. And now, there is Pariah Dog, a film about the street dog caretakers in Kolkata, India. Painting a broad picture of life in Kolkata, Pariah Dog was filmed over four years and takes a look at the dogs that live in the city, and the people who look after them. There are even more documentaries about animals at the festival too, so if this looks interesting, then certainly there will be even more about man’s best friend to explore.

Right to Harm

From one extreme to another, Right to Harm is an activist documentary that looks at the impact that factory farming has on America as a whole. Focusing on the expansive and destructive entities that are CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), Right to Harm looks at the citizens who are taking on these facilities in a bid to enact change. While these kinds of activist documentaries can sometimes be a little preachy, there is a definite need for this kind of story to be explored on screen, and just like the next film and its effect on me, you might find your life changed after watching Right to Harm.

Sharkwater Extinction

Filmmaker Rob Stewart died while making his second Sharkwater film, and while that tragedy alone is enough to seek out this film, it’s the fact that there has still been little global action on stopping the ruthless slaughter that sharks everywhere face. While Sharkwater aimed to open the eyes of the many to the importance of sharks, Sharkwater Extinction aims to reinforce that same message and stress the trouble our oceans will be in without these majestic creatures. Sharkwater changed my life and changed my viewpoint on the world. I no longer eat seafood and became involved in action to help save the oceans. Hopefully Sharkwater Extinction does the same for you.

Kartika: 9 Ways of Seeing

While Looby is a fascinating look into an Australian artist, Kartika: 9 Ways of Seeing is a beautiful look at an artist who you most certainly are unaware of – Kartika Affandi. Kartika’s history is explored in depth, with a brilliant look at her artworks, and a frequent look at her joyous smile. There’s a beauty and depth to Kartika’s work, and thanks to great interviews, we get a deep look into the meaning behind her paintings, and her process for creating art. The wonders of documentaries are exposed with Kartika: 9 Ways of Seeing, with their core purpose of informing, entertaining, and enlightening all working in harmony. You’ll love this one for sure – also, take your Mum, she’ll appreciate it, and very well may be inspired too.

Singled [Out]

While I found Singled [Out] a little too short, take that point as a way of saying that this is a really solid documentary that you can’t help but want more of. As a look at what it means to be a woman in your thirties and single, Singled [Out] is a fascinating glimpse at social and familial pressures that are needlessly pushed on women. The comparisons between living a single life in China versus Australia is fascinating, and will no doubt spark a wealth of discussions after the film. Take your friends and open up a discussion about what you can do differently in your life to help make your over thirty single friends feel better.

Terror Nullius

Finally, there’s Terror Nullius. Not a documentary at all, but definitely one of the best Australian films in recent years. Raucous, punk rock, left as fuck and a searing feminist statement, this is one film you really cannot miss on the big screen. It featured in my top 10 films of 2018, and if that’s not enough, it got a perfect rating from me here. See. This. Film.

So that’s it! My viewing suggestions for this years Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Head along to the website and purchase tickets here.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian film and culture. He is the co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association, a Golden Globes voter, and the author of two books on Australian film, The Australian Film Yearbook - 2021 Edition, and Lonely Spirits and the King. You can find him online trying to enlist people into the cult of Mac and Me.

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