Melbourne Documentary Film Festival 2020: Man on the Bus & Can Art Stop a Bullet?

One of the many festivals to adapt to digital this year, the acclaimed Melbourne Documentary Film Festival has arrived in the digital realm with a loaded program filled with local and international delights, mixing world premieres with festival favourites arriving on our shores.

Frequently ranked in the top 2% of film festivals in the world throughout its past three-year run, the MDFF began as a small showcase of the types of documentaries that don’t usually receive theatrical distribution in Australia, swiftly growing into a major stepping stone for independent films and filmmakers to gain recognition and larger audiences with their singular pieces of art.

As part of their 2020 program, I had the pleasure of previewing two distinctive titles: Eve Ash’s Man on The Bus and Mark Street’s Can Art Stop A Bullet?

Man on the Bus (Eve Ash)

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival 2020: Man on the Bus & Can Art Stop a Bullet?
source: Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

Following in the footsteps of Three Identical Strangers, Eve Ash’s stranger-than-fiction documentary Man on the Bus invites us along with the bittersweet excursion into the director’s own labyrinthine past, which begins with a black box of mysterious 8MM film rolls and concludes with the wholesome revelation that the roots of her family tree are far deeper than anybody thought possible.

In the wake of her mother’s death, psychologist and filmmaker Eve Ash, after a lifetime of feeling ‘different’ from her family members, decides to interrogate the lingering questions that remained after she departed. Wielding a camera to capture her ancestral research, she finds the match that lights the long fuse towards her private bombshell in the form of lost home videos, a series of arbitrary family memories that seem innocent enough until they conclude with a clip of an enigmatic man who, whilst cradling a youthful Ash, glares down the barrel of the lens with a look of deep affection, and as the camera never looks away to cut this unsung tension, seems to suggest this romance was reciprocal.

To detail any more of Ash’s consequent discoveries, which span from Australia to Ukraine and even Los Angeles, would spoil the various riches that continually decorate The Man on the Bus’s rapid run-time. An interesting story that delicately balances solemn reverence, personal poignancy, and provincial charm, a rousing addition to this year’s virtual festival.

Can Art Stop a Bullet? (Mark Street)

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival 2020: Man on the Bus & Can Art Stop a Bullet?
source: Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

Ascending the stairs towards his sketch-adorned studio, the artist and human-rights advocate William Kelly begins Mark Street’s Can Art Stop a Bullet? by internally toiling over the universal question of “Why is that we can not seem to understand or cooperate with those who have different systems of belief?”, a far-reaching discussion point that begins this politically-passionate cinematic enquiry.

Playing at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival over a month after the massive eruption of Black Lives Matters protests that enveloped every end of the globe, Street’s historical chronicle of the intersection between humanity’s darkest moments and our greatest creative crests, a sentiment solidified in Kelly’s own 2016 Library installation, The Big Picture (aka ‘Peace and War’), various depictions of historical chapters of violence arranged together onto a towering, contrasting roll of art-based apostasy.

Delving into the inception of Kelly’s sharply-rendered composition, Street’s camera keeps close to his subject as he tours the world seeking inspiration, talking with corresponding artists and humanists who help the New York-born artist verbalise his vision. It’s all delivered within a conventional documentary approach, but there’s no denying the naked affection witnessed when  Kelly lovingly gazes at his hard-work soaring above the main interior of the State Library of Victoria and with a click of his digital camera, captures its visage forever, securing art’s endless ability to embolden and crystallise the best and worst of humanity.

 The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival 2020 will be streaming online from June 30th until July 15th, information about ticket prices and the full program is available here: http://mdff.org.au/

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