The venues you end up at MIFF are somewhat random. Sure, you can select movies specifically based on location, and I do make a point of trying to see at least one film per year at the Forum. But I venture most people leave it up to chance, and just see the movies they want to see.
Considering that I tend to do the same thing, I found it funny that I ended up at the Comedy Theatre for at least one screening at each of my first five times attending MIFF, some of which involved only a handful of screenings.
I knew this was a bad break after the first of those screenings.
See, the historic Comedy Theatre on Exhibition Street, which opened in 1928, has long been considered one of the most uncomfortable venues to attend a performance at MIFF. As beautiful as its ornate Spanish-style interior is, it’s got seats that feel exactly like they date back to 1928. They could be considered torture devices, if you were being tortured by someone who was, you know, very polite.
I’d been wary of them from the start, but I met my match with Ruben Ostlund’s 2017 film The Square. Not only is it 151 minutes long, and not only does it have one of those meandering plots that prevents you from knowing how close you are to the end, but the director gave a video introduction from a beach somewhere in Europe or South America, I can’t remember where, recorded on his iPhone. As you might imagine something like that might go, he rambled for close to ten minutes.
So for 160 excruciating minutes I was wedged into a Comedy Theatre seat, pressing my legs against the seat in front of me in 137 different configurations over the course of the evening. I’m 6’3”, which makes the problem even worse.
But you know what? I miss it.
The Comedy Theatre is not one of the venues in use at MIFF this year. I did a bit of cursory googling and could not figure out why. But indeed, the musical Come From Away is playing throughout the run of MIFF.
Until I knew I wasn’t going to see a 2019 MIFF film at the Comedy Theatre, I didn’t realise how much I would miss doing just that.
It’s not that I suddenly think the seats are actually okay, though I did eventually come up with the strategy of sitting in the front row off to the right, meaning my legs could sprawl out as far as they needed. As these screenings were almost always sold out, these were also seats I could reliably find, no matter how late I arrived.
It’s that there was something about attending a film at this theatre that just screamed out “MIFF.”
When you saw the queue wrapping around the corner, past the Secret Kitchen restaurant and stretching a good ways up Little Bourke Street, you knew you were at MIFF. When you felt a little panic enter your step as you scurried to the back of the queue, unsure if you’d get in even though they don’t sell more than the 1,003 seats the venue comes equipped with, you knew you were at MIFF. When the MIFF volunteers came down the line to scan your tickets, and a light rain started to fall, and you looked through the Secret Kitchen’s windows at the giant lobsters swimming in their tanks, you knew you were at MIFF.
As much as you go to MIFF each year to see new things, there’s an element of ritual involved with attending the annual festival. Restaurants you make sure to visit each year for dinner. Drinks you make sure to get at the festival bar at the Forum. Mates you meet up with every year for a film, catching up on your lives as the queue starts to wriggle toward the front.
The Comedy Theatre has not only been the site of some of these rituals for me, it’s also been the place where I’ve seen some of my favourite MIFF films, from The Witch to The End of the Tour to Certain Women to The Killing of a Sacred Deer to Ingrid Goes West to Climax. I also attended my only Hear My Eyes performance there, when there was live musical accompaniment to Rene Leloux’s trippy French animated film Fantastic Planet.
Venues go in and out of rotation at MIFF, and in fact, just this year we are welcoming back the Capitol on Swanston, which has not hosted MIFF screenings since 2014. It’s beautiful and also has comfortable seats. So I’m not complaining.
And I also know this means that the Comedy Theatre will be back, probably, at some point in the future.
Torture devices for seats or not, I miss it.
Tickets to MIFF can be found here.