Art & Design


Interview with the Programmer

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Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Hussain Currimbhoy moved to Perth before settling in Melbourne to attend VCA. Now the programmer for the Sheffield Doc/Fest in the UK, we caught up with this busy ex-pat to chat about movies, Melbourne and Nicholas Cage.

How did you make the leap from VCA to programming one of the largest doc fests in the world?
After VCA I was broke, had no ideas for films but I had time. So started as an intern at MIFF, working in the Publicity Department. I just saw loads of films and loved every minute of it, so they put me on their Programme Advisory Panel. From there I got work at the Brisbane and Adelaide Film Fests as a programming assistant, then got picked up to programme doc/fest full time. It’s a dream.

What does being a film programmer involve?

There are a lot of skills involved in programming. I’m really a hands-on kinda guy, so I have had to learn tech skills about film prints, sound mixes and cinema stuff, while during the year I have an industry and public facing role as programmer. On the nuts and bolts side, I manage the film programming, viewing, scheduling, selection, cinemas, juries and make sure Joan Rivers lands on time. During doc/fest I also do Q&As with filmmakers, handle the distributors and sales agents that come to view films and check on the cinemas to make sure they’re not playing the films backwards in the wrong language.

Do you get to travel much with your work?

I travel to about ten film festivals in Europe and North America every year to view films and see what’s new, but also to get a feel for what the industry is talking about, what new developments are taking place in documentary and to bring the best of it to Sheffield. Travel is fun, it’s addictive and some people pretty much live on the festival circuit. But having to view films and manage the thousands of entries that come in through our submissions while being in a foreign land and no internet can, occasionally, turn me into Nicolas Cage in ‘Bad Lieutenant’.

What do you think of Aussie cinema at the moment? How’s it regarded overseas?

Australian documentaries have a few known heroes in the UK and Europe – Bob Connelly, David Bradbury are known here. Australian film is known for being at its best when it’s raw and brutal. Chopper, Animal Kingdom, Ghosts Of The Civil Dead: they have respect here. There is always a brilliant Aussie film at Cannes and dammit sometimes they win. We always have a really strong Aussie presence at doc/fest every year. People like Amiel Courtin Wilson, Matt Bates and Bryan Mason are my favourites, as well as Rolf de Heer. Can’t loose.

Watching movies all day sounds like a dream job. Is there any downside?

Watching movies is easy. Watching really shitty movies all day is not. During the height of programming I’m watching at least 8 films a day, 15 hours a day. It’s not rocket science, but it can be draining. The hard part is getting the film. Yes, you like a film. easy. But sometimes you gotta convince the distributor or filmmaker that screening at your fest is a good thing. That takes experience, good industry knowledge, connections and enthusiasm. You can’t fake that.

Best film you’ve seen this year?
Oh man, tough question. The only films to really blow me away so far were Nader and Simin, A Separation by Asghar Farhadi and Senna by Asif Kapadia. I’ve yet to be knocked over like I was last year with Inside Job and Armadillo.

What do you miss about Melbourne?
You guys don’t know how lucky you are! ACMI has the best cinematheque outside of Paris, I miss it so much. It’s like church. you go every week, you see everyone you know (mostly under-achieving males in their 30s with substance addiction issues, but still, at least you’re among friends.) I learned so much from cinematheque in Melbs, about cinema history, about good programming, about presentation, about building audiences. You have MIFF too – unbeatable. I miss the community of film there. I’ve lived in a lot of places and Melbourne really is like no where else in the world.

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