Winter in Melbourne means one thing: MIFF is approaching. And while this should fill you with a sense of joy, MIFF’s bumper program – the largest in the festival’s 68-year history – is also at risk of giving you more than the usual bout of decidophobia.

For this reason, the AIDC team has selected a list of Top 10 ‘must-see’ documentaries from the amazing program.

And even if you can’t make it to MIFF, it’s still worth tracking these winning films down as they make it to theatrical and online screens in the coming months.

The Australian Dream

Documentary rarely gets a look-in at MIFF opening night, so it is an absolute delight to see new Artistic Director Al Cossar shaking things up with one of the most powerful Australian documentaries of the year. The Australian Dream is an extraordinary examination of racism in contemporary Australia (and the perfect companion piece to the brilliant The Final Quarter) at a time when Indigenous constitutional recognition is well-and-truly on the table. 


For Sama

Syrian director/video journalist Waad Al-Kateab turns the camera on herself and her family, as she and her husband along with their baby daughter Sama, try for a normal life amid the increasingly untenable situation that would come to be known as the Battle of Aleppo. For Sama sets itself apart from other recent docs around similar subject matter due to its unique ability to communicate love, empathy, compassion, and even hope, acting as a strongly-needed testimony to the good of humanity. Be prepared, the film does contain some graphic and heart-wrenching imagery, but it is also one of the most inspiring docs of the year.



Sitting in the impressive ‘Environmental Docs’ section of the program, a film about beekeeping in remote Macedonia may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re looking for adventure, deceit, corruption and denial, then you shouldn’t miss Honeyland. An observational documentary so perfect you would think it was scripted, this beautiful film of colourful characters will make you think twice about your neighbours.


One Child Nation

Nanfu Wang’s second feature film plays out like a mystery as she seeks to uncover the hidden secrets behind China’s one-child policy. A product of the era, the director subtly interweaves her own personal story into a broader intergenerational and international narrative that defined a generation. With award-winning production company Motto Pictures behind this rising director, One Child Nation is a powerful and shocking exposé of a national policy with enduring global consequences.


Midnight Family

Observational documentary at its best, Midnight Family follows two generations of a family-run, privately-owned ambulance service in Mexico City as they spend their nights saving lives, bribing police, getting arrested, and begging for payments. A strong critique of the Mexican healthcare system, this film is an unmissable piece of filmmaking gold.


Amazing Grace

It was the church performance that would go to become the best selling gospel album of all time. In 1972 Aretha Franklin performed Amazing Grace and Sydney Pollack was there to make a documentary to rival Woodstock. While this is probably enough to get you to the cinema, it is perhaps the film’s epic backstory that is the icing on the cake. An untrained crew, sound synchronisation issues, a disinterested director, a furious diva, and legal issues would all play a part in this epic 47-year-old passion project.


Our Time Machine

A phantasmagoric documentary about time travel, puppetry and Alzheimer’s, Our Time Machine documents famous Chinese artist Maleonn as he spirals into near madness (and bankruptcy) trying to create a play for his father who is losing his memory. An incredibly unique exploration of a universal issue, the film hits all the right notes as it explores the balance between family responsibility and individual freedoms in middle-class China.


In My Blood It Runs

Get ready to have every stereotype challenged in this stunning and heartwarming documentary by Gaby Baby director Maya Newell. With unprecedented access Newell embeds herself with the family of a 10-year-old Arrernte/Garrwa boy in the Northern Territory, exploring the systemic biases in the education system and making visible the power of the Indigenous mothers who are prepared to sacrifice everything for the future of their children.


Martha: A Picture Story

Photojournalism meets graffiti, all set to the backdrop of New York City in the 1980s. Premiering at Tribeca Film festival, Martha is the impressive directorial debut of Australian Selina Miles and a measured celebration of an iconic woman who changed definitions of high art. With the titular Martha Cooper in attendance at MIFF, this is a doc not to miss.


Documentary Shorts

Don’t forget the shorts – from life on a cruise ship to Ethiopian acrobats, this selection of shorts is 99 minutes of emotional ping pong.


Honourable Mentions

We’re also excited to see rock legend bio-doc Suzi Q and Samantha Dinning’s music camp doc No Time For Quiet, pitched at AIDC’s The FACTory Pitching Forum in 2016 and 2018 respectively.

Other films on the AIDC team wishlist include the Rotterdam Film Festival Tiger Award-winning Present. Perfect., the Sundance World Cinema Documentary Directing Award-winning Cold Case Hammarskjöld, the moving Hot Docs audience fave Seahorse, the Tribeca Film Festival Best Documentary-winning Scheme Birds, and the CPH:DOX FACT Award-winning Dark Suns.

But of course, it’s MIFF! So even if you can’t see everything, no one will blame you for trying.

MIFF 2019 runs 1 – 18 August. Tickets on sale now.