“Vital, full of life and Promethean in nature”: Richard Wolstencroft on MUFF 2016 and alternative Australian cinema
Both prolific and innovative, Richard Wolstencroft founded Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) after his feature film was not accepted by the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). Outspoken and brash, you may not agree with Wolstencroft on everything, but he is a fascinating character and a large figure in alternative Australian cinema.
Pop Culture-y has partnered with MUFF in 2016 to bring you as much film goodness as possible, and we chatted to Wolstencroft about the state of Australian cinema, genre films, and what you can expect from MUFF’s sixteenth incarnation this year. (Note: all the capitalisations in his answers are his.)
You originally started MUFF in part as a protest against the way that the MIFF and the local film industry did things. How have the industry and the scene changed in the past 15 years, in your opinion?
Well, I joked when I started MUFF that the local film industry is Left Wing – and even Stalinist in nature – when I started MUFF. But Now I think I was being unfair and unkind to the concept of Stalinism – that did evolve in the arts over 20 years. The local industry is, regrettably, far more static and stays the same – even as local Box Office Figures for local films continue to decline.
On the upside I get to stay around and run the rebel MUFF festival – now in its 16th year and foster an entirely OTHER and new voice in Australian cinema. One that is vital, full for life and Promethean in nature – and not one that is stuck in some lame appropriations of left wing filmmakers like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh or lame comedies like the recent Kath and Kim movie that was fairly woeful. Recently the mainstream local industry has made some SLIGHT changes and followed MUFF’s advice by making more genre films (crime, horror, sci-fi and such) – and you have seen a few of these type of projects make it through the funding and festival apparatus. This is a good thing – but only the tip of the iceberg of the potential the local film industry has – and what it could achieve and combine. My Vision is of a 2nd Australian Cinematic Renaissance like that of the 1970’s. This is perhaps beginning but needs institutional and funding body support. Even if with just small amounts of money for radical new micro budget genre features.
You held the one-off Bloodfest Fantistique a few years ago, and this year’s theme is ‘It’s Killer’. Obviously you have a soft spot for genre films – have you considered starting up another yearly film festival?
Bloodfest Fantistique was MUFF’s Horror Festival and it was presented by major sponsor, Monster Pictures in 2011. The year after in 2012 Monster Pictures started Monsterfest – that is now in its fourth year this year, so I like to consider Bloodfest Fantistique as Monsterfest One in a way – that they went off and ran with the ball on. I’m sure Neil Foley would acknowledge MUFF and Bloodfest Fantistique as an inspiration and spring board for their own festival – which is, of course, totally independent. Which is all fine by me as MUFF is enough of a festival for me to run each year – as I have my own filmmaking career to concentrate on – and also I think the Monster guys do a great job at their fest. My fifth feature – The Second Coming Volume One, based on the poem by W.B Yeats – also plays at MUFF this year. So that’s the way things are at present.
Until I get the nod from MIFF board Chief Claire Dobbin to run The Melbourne International Film Festival they way it SHOULD be run – in a decade or so. hehe. I laugh but I’d probably do it if asked – but they would NEVER ask – most likely. But, dear God, with their budget I’d make it one of the greatest film festivals in the world within 3 years – which it sadly isn’t under the current Champagne Socialist and Cinematheque Michelle Carey regime.
Of course, there are already a few horror film festivals around, including Monster Fest – what local film festivals are you a fan of, when you have the time?
I like the Perth Revelation Film Festival run by Jack Sargeant and Richard Sowada (two top blokes), MUFF (of course!), SUFF – founded in Sydney by MUFF alumni Filmmaker Stefan Popescu after he attended MUFF as an Official guest back in 2007, A Night Of Horror Film Festival Sydney run by Dean Bertram (another top bloke), PUFF – founded recently in Perth by MUFF alumni Jimmy The Exploder, BUFF in Brisbane and Neil and Grant’s Monsterfest. There are a few other smaller festivals around I don’t mind, too. I dislike Tropfest as it promotes a kind of Advertising style filmmaking that is deeply superficial and all hype. I have my issues with The Melbourne International Film Festival as a cultural gate keeper of a rather dull and insipid voice in Australian cinema. They should have done some kind of partnership with MUFF a long time ago. But as I said they are often Stalinist in nature apropos innovation.
You’ve been quite controversial for some of your political views and your personal life, but apart from all that, you also make films. Can you tell us about your current film in progress? Is it slated to premiere at a MUFF soon?
I have many controversial views on this and that. Sometimes I just enjoy a good shit stir and naturally have a a bit of a Right Wing slant on a few issues, but am Left Wing on the Economy and libertarian on social issues like gay marriage, drugs and sexuality – so really it’s a mixed bag and I like pragmatism and some idealism. But these are just MY opinions on politics, art, society and culture, etc – and that’s all they really are. I hope the fact that mine are slightly outside the Left Wing Hive Mind that you usually find in the arts and cinema film scene means it makes it at least a little interesting apropos Difference. I also play feature films in MUFF – of all types and politics – I don’t just base it around my personal politics as I like true variety – and try and make it manifest at MUFF.
I also make films – six features so far, seven really if you include the Intruder – my unreleased film I did with Tottie Goldsmith, Lachy Hulme and Frank Howson back in 92. And MUFF is one of the only festivals in the world RUN by an active and productive low budget filmmaker. I have the aforementioned new feature – The Second Coming Volume One based on the poetry of W.B Yeats and starring the likes of Gene Gregorits, Boyd Rice, Michael Tierney, Pete Doherty, Jerome Alexandre, Kim Fowley, Kristen Condon, Larry Wessell and Jesse Merlin and many others. Trailer of which is is here:
The Second Coming Volume Two with Michael Parle, Jim Goad, Kristen Condon and Bruce LaBruce and others is shot and will be out next year for festivals and release.
My first documentary The Last Days of Joe Blow – based on porn star Michael Tierney (Joe Blow) is coming out from Monster Pictures later in the year. The Trailer is here:
This year is MUFF’s 16th year, which promises to be a big one – I’m particularly interested in the MUFFplex at Earthcore. From what I’ve read it sounds like there will be a fascinating mix of films. Curating films must be like an art in itself – how are you programming those three days? Can you give us a sneak peek into what particular films you’re looking forward to?
MUFFplex is great and an initiative of MUFF and Spiro Boursine of Earthcore. We select a bunch of trippy cult movies and local MUFF Genre favourites and play it to the large Earthcore audience of around 5000 people at the wonderful Earthcore Music and Arts Event up in Rural Victoria. It’s a real trip and great way to chill out after dancing all day or night. Earthier is really going off at present and is one of the dance music festivals not to miss each year – it’s unique.
Are there any other big events you’re particularly excited about for this year’s festival?
Opening Night Under a Kaleidoscope by Addison Heath, Closing Night Sizzler 77 by Timothy Spanos, Fake Shemp’s Cult Genre Double Feature with the likes of Albert Pyun being Skyped in for a Q and A, the great selection of new features in MUFF Neu – and Hussein Khoder’s wonderfully demented shorts collections in six sessions known as MINI MUFF – and the MUFF Academy, the free one day MUFF Film school presented by SAE – are some of the real highlights of this year’s festival. Plus having a beer or three from our sponsor Pistonhead on Opening and Closing Nights.