Our favorite time of year is back and with it the return of our favorite festival!

The 8th Melbourne Documentary Film Festival returns this July with a showcase of spectacular documentaries ready to reach your soul, capture your heart, and ignite your wonderment with their thought-provoking subjects.

Online screenings begin July 1 – 31st across Australia, while live in-cinema screenings take place at Cinema Nova in Melbourne from July 21st – 30th.

This is Documentary Drive’s 8th year partnering with MDFF.

Every year it is an honor to share with you our thoughts on some of the incredible documentaries screening at the festival. Over the next 9 weeks, we will share with you our lists of must-see films (in-cinema, online, and shorts picks), as well as an array of reviews we hope will inspire you to go check out these extraordinary documentaries and discover the passion and talent of some of today’s brightest filmmakers.

Are you ready?

To kick off our coverage, here are 11 feature documentaries you won’t want to miss screening at Cinema Nova as part of the 2023 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.

“Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer” directed by Thomas von Steinaecker

Synopsis: “A comprehensive portrait of one of cinemas most enigmatic characters. With exclusive behind-the-scenes access into Herzog’s everyday life, rare archive material and in-depth interviews with celebrated collaborators – including Christian Bale, Nicole Kidman and Robert Pattinson, we are given an exciting glimpse into the work and personal life of the iconic artist.”

“The YouTube Effect” directed by Alex Winter

Synopsis: “This feature documentary explores the ascension and acceleration of YouTube, a video-sharing website that started with humble origins and has gone on to change how we experience the world. With exclusive access to some of YouTube’s biggest stars, the film presents an eye-opening and troubling look at the platform now so powerfully embedded in our lives.”

“Finding Her Beat” directed by Dawn Mikkelsen and Keri Pickett

Synopsis: “In the midst of a frozen Minnesota winter, a Japanese drum master and Korean adoptee from North Dakota join forces to assemble the world’s best Taiko drummers in a bold effort to claim a cultural spotlight that has historically been reserved only for men. Their rhythm revolution includes rock stars from the world of Taiko: Tiffany Tamaribuchi, Kaoly Asano, Chieko Kojima, Megan Chao-Smith, and Jennifer Weir. Through grueling rehearsals, Jennifer weaves together their disparate voices and styles. Vulnerability, pain, and joys are shared-and we quickly see the bonds of friendship form as these talented women navigate their way through differences in culture, age, language, and performing styles. As the clock ticks toward their first performance, it becomes clear that their story has become much larger than Taiko.”

“A Rising Fury” directed by Ruslan Batytskyi and Lesya Kalynska

Synopsis:A Rising Fury follows two hopeful Ukrainian idealists from the peaceful protest in Kyiv in 2013 to the full-scale Russian invasion to Ukraine in 2022. Pavlo and Svitlana met and fell in love at the Maidan Revolution and were filmed over 8 years with several expeditions to the frontlines of the war. Pavlo loses his family home from the invasion and joins the Ukrainian military. Both find themselves on the battle lines, protecting their land, democracy, and their relationship.”

“Luku Ngarra: The Law of the Land” directed by Sinem Saban

Synopsis: Luku Ngarra: The Law of the Land is an unflinching, indigenous Australian Aboriginal funded documentary on the history and culture of Arnhem Land leading up to the present day, seen through the eyes of one of Australia’s most respected Indigenous elders and traditional lawmen, the Reverend Doctor Djiniyini Gondarra OAM. Set mainly in the remote community of Elcho Island, the film is a timely challenge to the dominant mainstream paradigm that has failed to recognize the true value and importance of traditional Aboriginal law and culture for the well-being of remote communities.”

“Solstice” directed by Helen Newman

Synopsis: “When 15-year-old Mary died by suicide, her parents were met with shame and stigma. They refused to be silent.”

“Freedom is Beautiful” directed by Angus McDonald

Synopsis:Freedom is Beautiful is the story of two extraordinary Kurdish refugees, Farhad Bandesh and Mostafa (Moz) Azimitabar who fled persecution in Iran and arrived separately by boat into Australia seeking asylum in 2013. Reaching Christmas Island just days after the Rudd Government instituted Australia’s new hard-line offshore processing policy in July that year, they were transferred offshore and subsequently held for almost 8 years by the Federal Government. Instead, they found tranquility through music and art. This not only helped them survive, but also fight back, making connections to the outside world, building networks & perpetually using their voice to fight tirelessly for the freedom of everyone held. Beautifully told in their own words, Freedom is Beautiful is an uplifting story of the power of love and our shared humanity.”

“Speed is Expensive” directed by David Lancaster

Synopsis: “Philip Vincent built the fastest and most glamorous motorcycles in the world – yet he ended his days in poverty. Some 40 years after he died, one of his machines sold for over $1 million. This is his untold story.”

“The Burnt Half” directed by Stephen de Villiers

Synopsis: The Burnt Half is a gripping, character-led, observational documentary about the impact of the devastating 2020 bushfires, the fallout on the local community and the controversy surrounding whether or not two individuals could have put the fire out.”

“Surviving Sunset” directed by Shaun Anthony Robinson

Synopsis: Surviving Sunset: An Actor’s Hollywood Journey is a documentary about the challenging and often un-glamorous life of being a working actor. Shaun Anthony Robinson explores the difficulties of succeeding in the industry and lifts the curtain on many myths. Myths like, if you’re in Hollywood you’re making it or that it’s all about red carpets and celebrity events, or if you’re in Hollywood you have a better chance of being a success. We only hear about the celebrities who have hit the big time, but the reality for a working actor, struggling day to day, is much different and the industry can’t survive without them. This film takes a hard and honest look at the acting world, complete with all the real and raw moments through the eyes of Shaun, who is also on his own journey. Shaun chats to a range of industry people to gain insights into what actually takes place in La La Land. Featuring Michael G. Welch, Christian Isaiah, Aaron Jeffery, Roger Ward, Kym Jackson, Shane Connor, Andy McPhee, Matt Burch, Elle Dawe, Omari Washington, Nathan Sapsford, Alison Headrick and Craig Bennett.”

“The Invisible Extinction” directed by Sarah Schenck and Steve Lawrence

Synopsis:The Invisible Extinction spotlights the extraordinary work and charismatic personalities of renowned scientists Martin Blaser, and his partner in the lab and in life, Gloria Dominguez-Bello, as they endeavor to save the vanishing microbes that are essential for our survival.”

For more information on the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, visit: mdff.org.au and check out cinemanova.com.au for a complete list of films and showtimes.