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FILM FESTIVALS OF THE WORLD #3: Melbourne Independent Filmmakers Festival
by Katharine Leis

Whoever had the idea to hold film festivals in cold places in the middle of the winter should have their head examined. There are few things worse than traipsing around in the snow in an unfamiliar city and then stuffing yourself and a heavy winter coat into a cold, hard theatre seat. They should hold these things in Florida... right? The good news is, they do.

Every year since 1999, the city of Melbourne, Florida, has put on a darn good show for a few days in September. They call it the Melbourne Independent Filmmakers Festival, or MIFF as it has become known locally, no doubt to the chagrin of the similarly dubbed Melbourne International Film Festival in Australia. And it's quickly becoming the next big thing in the industry… okay, maybe the next big thing among the Florida-based independent filmmaking industry. And their parents. Hey, you've gotta start somewhere.

In some cities, large events cause the local residents to shudder, charge $10 for lawn parking and spray hoses at people taking late night leaks on their concrete garden gnomes. Quite the opposite is true in Melbourne, Florida. Not only is the ultra-modern, ultra-clean city straight out of The Truman Show, the residents actually like the festival and (gasp!) look forward to it every year.

The fest is arranged and organized by a group called 3 Boys Productions, and every cent brought in from the festival goes to charities, from the $5 film submission fee to all of the ticket sales. The 3 Boys even pay for all of the administrative fees out of their own pockets! Why? Because they want to. Which makes them a truly rare and selfless group.

As larger festivals march onward toward fully fledged, studio-funded, celebrity-stacked ‘independent’ outings, it’s kind of nice to find the opposite end of the coin – where with a warm welcome and a clean and friendly atmosphere, the filmmaker, local and tourist are all treated as royalty.


Where it be at: Melbourne, Florida. Melbourne isn’t a Spring Break-esque slopfest of drunken teenagers, but rather an extremely well kept, small East Coast city, somewhere between quaint and nostalgic.

When it be at: September every year (9th-12th in 2004)

How expensive it be: Free on Thursday night. US $6.50 Friday and Saturday afternoon. $30 for the VIP party, which includes food, beer, wine, and films included. Damn fine deal!

Number of films screened: 65 shorts, 5 features.

Value for money: 10 cents per movie. Yes, that’s 10 cents per movie.

What you’ll see: An extremely wide range of movies from all over the world. The 2003 fest screened films from the likes of Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Argentina, England, France, Germany, Iran, Canada, and of course the USA. A really broad range, from comedy to animation to horror, and a great mix that really can’t be generalized in any way except to say “they were all movies.”

Celebrity-Spotting: In Melbourne, everyone is a celebrity…or at least that is how they are treated. No A-list stars were seen a mingling, no B-list stars either, in fact if you’ve ever done a Pampers TV commercial, you may well be considered ‘too elite’ for this crowd. But to hell with the celebs – it’s real people time!

Accommodation: It’s Florida, so there are hotels everywhere. The Quality Suites Ocean Front was the host hotel for 2003, and offered a discount rate for the film festival attendees of $71.00 per night. Other hotels nearby include the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront $145.00, and the Crane Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast, $100-175 per night which also includes a full breakfast on the weekends. Which helps the hangover… trust me.

Transport: Carpools are available from the Host hotel, and a taxi service is also available.

Parties: If you come in early, be sure to hit the Wednesday night “Jamaican Me Crazy” shindig at the Holiday Inn Oceanfront. Thursday holds the big kickoff party with $2 beers at Da Kine Diego’s Bamboo Theater. Outdoor screenings of select films and Melbourne’s own version of Woodstock ensue… only without the mud…or the bands… or the brown acid. Well, okay, maybe the brown acid. Friday holds an indoor beer garden and “late night underground” with the horror flicks of the festival. The Saturday post party is held at Meg O’Malleys, a local bar where drink prices are so low they’d make New Yorkers faint.

Best Venues: The Henegar Centre for the Performing Arts is where the grand finale is held on Saturday night. The VIP party is open to all who get there before they sell out, $30 for all the food, wine, beer, and movies you can handle in the 497 seat theatre. Two tiers of plush seating and a huge screen provide for an experience that is I dare say better than any AMC. From khakis to tuxedos, the crowd is an interesting mix who all seem to get along just fine.
The Premiere Theaters Oaks Stadium 10 is where the Friday and daytime Saturday venues are held. It’ll cost you $6.50 for an all day pass here, and the two screens run a variety of shorts and features. This is also where the director’s round table Q & A is held. Very clean, red velvet comfortable seats are good to the behind for an all-day stay.

Worst Venues: Though it is always ‘weather permitting,’ the outdoor screening at Da Kine Diego’s on Thursday night is a good choice if the skies hold up. A splash of rain would completely trash this night, but when does it rain in Florida? Lawn chairs and blankets are useful for that open-air picnic atmosphere, but not for those who prefer their recliner to the grass. The films shown are those that appeal to the whole family, rather than the quirky arthouse geek or slasher nerd. For those who are first timers, it’s a great way to be introduced to the people and mood of the upcoming weekend.

Places to hang out: Uncommon Grounds is a great little coffee shop. With an array of furniture and mugs, fresh baked pastries and a decent patio, you are more than welcome to loiter and pretend you’re famous. A far cry from the big chain coffee shops of big cities, this is a quiet place where you can enjoy a ridiculously good Snickers Cappuccino in relative peace.
Meg O’Malleys is also the site of the Saturday night after party, and is a large bar with plenty of booths and tables, a great pub menu, and of course friendly staff. Other bars include Ichabod's Dockside & Beachside which are two comfortable meeting areas with excellent food. The Melbourne Hooters is also a proud sponsor of the MIFF (you have to love a film festival who’ll accept a Hooters sponsorship).
Fishing, bike trails, beaches, kayaking and airboat rides are just some of the recreational activites found in and around Melbourne, while the downtown Main Street is lined with the usual array of shops, restaurants, and plenty of parking.

Traps for young players: If you’re just dying to have your film screened in front of a major distributor, it probably won’t happen here. Although, the absence of big time stars and execs with checks doesn’t really seem to actually phase anyone present. The MIFF is clearly more about the “Entertainment” part of “Entertainment Industry,” and more about the “Show” element of “Show Business.”

Press facilities: What? There’s press here? Did they get lost on their way to Sundance?

The Hollywood Bitchslap final grade for MIFF: A big, fat A, mostly because there's a real sense of fun here. Don’t expect to walk away with a distribution contract or a full autograph book, but do expect to have seen some great films you may otherwise have never set eyes upon, and do expect to want to return as soon as you leave.

For more info or to submit your movie for next year's festival, head to

Next Monday: We head to the Pacific Northwest for part 4 in the series, as we run the rule over one of the best run fests we've attened in recent years - the Seattle International Film Festival.

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originally posted: 09/30/03 19:05:28
last updated: 12/31/03 12:58:51
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