My fair Michelle

Her love of film began with a sojourn in Europe, and ended with one of MIFF's top curating jobs. Here's the story of Greek Australian film buff Michelle Carey

Michelle Carey remembers the exact moment when film became her life. A soul searching trip to Europe in 1999 saw her frequent the cinemas of Paris as a form of escapism and entertainment. Sitting back watching the films then gave her an insight into the world that she hadn’t had before; educated by the silver screen.

I think everyone is looking at Greek film through the filter of the crisis which is a real shame because Greek culture is so much richer than that.

“I was completely bowled over,” Michelle Carey tells Neos Kosmos, “particularly by the films from the ’60s – their beauty, their mystery. Also, the ideas in a lot of films opened me up to certain writers, or political streams, or points in history.

“Film is a great portal into things like that.”

Michelle has been the artistic director of one of Australia’s largest film festivals – the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) – since 2010. She lives, breathes and eats film, and craves nothing more than to bring to life more of the underground and lesser known Australian and international cinema for Melbourne audiences.

She attends festivals all over the world and spends hours and hours researching film, talking to fellow film buffs and sourcing independent film and documentaries from the far corners of the earth but also some spectacular home grown talent.
But her life was not always about film.

Born and raised in Adelaide, to an Australian father and an immigrant Greek mother, Michelle’s upbringing was far from artistic. She chose a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology, an area that still interests her, but one that she wouldn’t have pursued as a career. Her path artistically looked to be headed towards music, as she was involved in the mid-’90s with many up and coming acts in Adelaide, putting on shows, distributing zines and community radio.

Then the life-changing trip to Europe would see her change her direction for good.

A decision thirteen years ago to move to Melbourne proved to be a fruitful one. She started off working at ACMI. She met Melburnian and Greek Australian filmmaker Bill Mousoulis, who pointed her in the right direction and introduced her to the right people. Then she started volunteering, doing everything and anything she could in film.

She worked on the Adelaide Film Festival as Program Director then shortly after was picked up by MIFF.

There are 310 films being screened in this year’s festival; Michelle and her team of programmers and volunteers would watch nearly 4000. They get 2-3000 submissions from the open call, then there are films selected from other festivals, internet research conducted throughout the year, reviews read, film recommendations, just “being aware” as she says, amounts to a lot of movies to watch.

She says it’s easy when you really like a film, it’s the ones you can’t agree on that make the job hard.

Then there’s all the other things to consider – themes, countries, documentaries. When they are selecting the films, she begins to consider the structure of the festival’s program and whether or not any themes are becoming evident.

“This year we found that we had a lot of activism films, so we created that section in the festival,” Michelle explains, “we look at the countries, and themes.”

Apart from films on activism, she says this year’s festival is focusing on Arabic film and music documentaries.

But how does someone like Michelle stop and watch film again for entertainment and what kind of movies does she like?

“I find as I am getting older I am drawn to satirical comedies – which is hard at festivals, because a lot of films are depressing,” she says with a smile.

Which motions me to ask, how does she do it – night after night – watch such emotionally draining works?

“I like to have my brain, and my heart and my body knocked around like that,” she says of how film moves her.

This year’s festival comes with its fair share of Greek film that Michelle is not only excited about, but assures me that the artistic exploration going on in the Hellenic Republic is here to stay. Loath to use the word Weird Wave to describe this genre of film, she explains it as a tag given to the “eccentric and unusual film” coming out of Greece.

“It’s a group of young filmmakers in their 30s who all work on each others films. So it’s a bit like the French New Wave like that, where they all just play different roles in the films and when people see the same names come up it’s deemed as a movement.”

She says the group – that include Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari – are a group of friends who came from theatre and have started making film, hence the theatrical acting in many of their movies. Because of this, and because of their background and desire to create art, Michelle assures me that there’s longevity in these artists and what we’ve seen is just the tip of the iceberg.

“There’s so much diversity in Greek cinema and I think things like the Greek Film Festival show that. I find it really exciting with what’s going on with this cinema. I hope that they are inspiring other people to – not necessarily do the same thing – but explore making film, and making film doesn’t have to cost as much as people think.”

I have heard one school of thought that says Greek film is thriving artistically due to the crisis, in that there are no financial constraints and boundaries put on the directors, writers and cast. But Michelle disagrees in a sense, and uses last year’s guest, L director Babis Makridis as an example. In every Q&A he had last year, he was asked if his film was influenced by the crisis, and every time he answered with a resounding ‘no’.

“Every Greek I speak to says they are sick of foreigners asking that in relation to cinema, because I think everyone is looking at Greek film through the filter of the crisis which is a real shame because Greek culture is so much richer than that.”

But then she adds that some of the best cinema is produced when people go through hardships and are faced with a crisis of sorts, such as post-war Italy or post-revolutionary Iraq – both examples of great cinematic eras.

“I don’t know if Greek cinema is coming from this place of hardship but this freedom, where they can devise their own films any way they want, without having to work within a particular sanctioned mould.”

This year’s festival also features a short film by Greek Australian up-and- coming filmmaker Natalie Cunningham, who explores her relationship with her yiayia in You Know What? I Love You. The ten minute short is a charming portrait of the filmmaker’s 94-year-old Greek grandmother, combining flashes of gentle humour with poignant moments of sadness.

The Melbourne International Film Festival is on from July 25 until 11 August. For more information on the Greek films in the festival (The Capsule, The Daughter and You Know What? I Love You), visit