Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) Schools is back in 2023: Here’s what you need to know

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

Melbourne’s International Film Festival (MIFF) School Initiative returns to bring the dazzling world of cinema back into Aussie classrooms. 

This year’s offering kicks off in cinemas and online on 3 August and promises to introduce students to films from across the globe – and highlight the major societal challenges facing our next generation. 

Ranging from international dramas and heart-warming documentaries to more experimental films, MIFF Programer Kate Fitzpatrick has brought together an eclectic selection of silver screen gems she hopes will strike a chord with younger audiences. 

“Filmmakers are making more films that cater to a wide range of issues facing younger people, which is exciting from a programming viewpoint,” she told EducationDaily. 

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“Issues such as body positivity, gender, and mental health are much better represented now than they were even five years ago.”

Ms Fitzpatrick says this year’s films will address a broad range of topics, including racism, representation of neurodivergent students, connection to family, artistic creation, grief, and loss. 

Learning through film

While announcing a ‘movie day’ might seem at odds with classroom learning (but no doubt elicit cheers from students), Ms Fitzpatrick said Victoria’s education curriculum remained a key focus when forming this year’s film program.

“One of the main focuses of the MIFF Schools program is to present high-quality films in some of the languages commonly taught in Victorian schools,” she says. “This year that includes Mandarin, French, Japanese, and Spanish.”

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“The films have been selected for how well they address the Victorian Curriculum’s Arts, Humanities, Science, and Languages learning areas, as well as themes and issues relevant to the Critical and Creative Thinking, Ethical Understanding, Intercultural Understanding, and Personal and Social capabilities”.

Read more: It’s ‘lights, camera, action!’ for student film-makers

Each film will also have a dedicated online seminar created by MIFF cinema expert Dr Josh Nelson that teachers can download alongside the program. 

These seminars will outline the specific themes and “filmic aspects” of each offering and give educators suggestions on how they could best incorporate these into a lesson plan.

In-cinema tickets will set students back $13 (free for teachers), or each stream can be booked by schools for $35. Cinema screenings will be held during the festival period (3–20 August), and streaming via MIFF Play will be available between 18–27 August.

A guide to this year’s films  

Deep Sea

From: China (2023, dir. Tian Xiaopeng) – 112 mins

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Language: Mandarin

Director Tian Xiaopeng uses an animation technique he calls “particle ink” to create a breathtaking tale beneath the waves. Inspired by the Tang Dynasty ink washes that popularised the freehand brushwork style known as xieyi, this uniquely 21st-century method of animation layers billions of specks of ‘digital dust’ to craft an innovative and visually resplendent coming-of-age story.

“An absolutely ravishing Chinese anime that needs to be seen on the big screen … Offers a spectacular visual treat for younger viewers and a deeper, more meaningful experience for mature audiences.” – Filmuforia

Classroom discussion points: Family (both born into and found), coming of age, dealing with sadness, mental health, friendship, facing adversity, adjusting to new life

Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be

From: France (2022, dirs. Amandine Fredon & Benjamin Massoubre) – 82 mins

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Language: French

Annecy Best Feature winner Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be envisions what happens when the art meets his artists, weaving young Nicholas’s escapades with the backstories of cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé and writer René Goscinny. Blending biography and origin story, the film reveals how tales of the character’s carefree youth – pranks at summer camp and being grossed out by girls – emerged from his creators’ experiences of war and troubled childhoods.

“Told with warm affection and wild invention, it successfully combines biopic, origin story, and Little Nicholas adventures into an irresistibly warmhearted delight … Sweet, charming and very entertaining.”– Screen Daily

Classroom discussion points: Creativity, friendship, grief, loss, nostalgia, achieving success, coming of age

Neneh Superstar

From: France (2022, dir. Ramzi Ben Sliman) – 98 mins

Language: French

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France’s historic Paris Opera Ballet School is the place to train for any aspiring dancer, and the supremely gifted and socially disadvantaged Neneh dreams of one day attending it. When she finally gets there, however, she quickly discovers that her talent might not be enough in a school where black students are subject to a different set of rules than everyone else – and where the mysterious, legendary headmistress is committed to upholding the institution of classical “white ballet”.

“Both heartfelt and bitterly honest about the truth behind so many lauded institutions … Garrel is incredibly kinetic.” – In Review

Classroom discussion points: Coming of age, fulfilling your dreams, facing adversity, racism, nature of competition


From: Argentina, Italy (2022, dir. Florencia Wehbe) – 89 mins

Language: Spanish

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Director Florencia Wehbe’s second feature Paula earned her the FEISAL Award for Best Under-35 Latin American Director at last year’s Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema. Partly inspired by her own brushes with disordered eating, Wehbe and co-writer Daniela De Francesco have penned a screenplay that perceptively deals with the anguish and vulnerability of being a young woman in a world obsessed with appearances.

“With remarkable sensitivity and an uncommon naturalism … [Wehbe] avoids saccharine drama to construct a social portrait that is accurate and free of demagogy, and at times joyful and luminous.” – EscribiendoCine

Classroom discussion points: Body image, family dynamics, bullying, peer pressure

The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes

From: Japan (2022, dir. Taguchi Tomohisa) – 83 mins

Language: Japanese

Kids and adults alike will lose themselves in this dreamily drawn coming-of-age adventure addressing big questions, including friendship, love, loss, and acceptance. Premiering in competition at the Bucheon International Animation Festival, The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes is a stunning ode to resilience and a reminder to tread life’s path with an open heart.

“A beautifully realised tale of first love and adolescent angst … Absorbing.” – South China Morning Post

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Classroom discussion points: Grief, art, loss, love, friendship, family, finding one’s place and meaning in the world, following one’s dreams, sacrifice

This Is Going to Be Big

From: Australia (2023, dir. Thomas Charles Hyland) – 90 mins

Language: English

Peer behind the curtain as a cast of neurodivergent teens prepare to come of age and hit the stage in their school’s time-travelling, John Farnham–themed musical. This is Going to Be Big is the first MIFF Premiere Fund film to be awarded Bus Stop Films’ ‘Inclusively Made’ certification, recognising authentic representation and inclusive filmmaking processes. Thomas Charles reveals the human story behind the hit show.

Told squarely from the teenagers’ perspective and documenting their experiences of autism, clinical anxiety, and acquired brain injury, the film follows them, their families, and the school staff as they weather the highs and lows leading up to showtime. Creativity has a powerful role in fostering self-acceptance and nurturing agency and resilience.

Classroom discussion points: Mental health, music, creative outlets, family dynamics, navigating school and difficult situations, celebrating neurodiversity

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.