'Sicko' to premiere in Oz at Melbourne fest

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SYDNEY -- Michael Moore's "Sicko" will have its Australian premiere in the prized opening-night slot at the Melbourne International Film Festival, festival director Richard Moore said Wednesday as he unveiled the 19-day fest's more than 300 films.

" 'Sicko' proves the power of documentary to place important issues on the social and political agenda," Richard Moore said. "I can't say I've always agreed with him, ... but this is Mike Moore in vintage form. 'Sicko' is brilliant in its execution, full of humor and intelligence."

Bookending the festival for the closing night on Aug. 12 is Shane Meadows' "This Is England."

The 2007 edition of Australia's largest film festival includes 10 new sidebars, with two focused on African and Israeli films and two Japanese retrospectives -- one on the work of director Shohei Imamura and another focusing on writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda.

The festival also will host nine world premieres of Australian films, including the first feature from the festival's "accelerator" development program, Ben Hackworth's "Corroboree," and the first feature funded by short film festival Tropfest's feature program, Peter Carstairs' debut feature "September."

David Scotts' epic animated TV series "Animalia," produced for Network Ten and Nickelodeon, will debut a feature-length cut of its first two episodes in the new kids sidebar, Next Gen.

Meanwhile, local director Kriv Stenders' real-time, single-take feature, "Boxing Day," a story about a father's struggle to reunite his family in a single afternoon, and Lawrence Johnston's "Night," described as a cinematic documentary event celebrating Australia at night, also will receive world premieres.

"MIFF has long championed Australian cinema, and this year is no different," Moore said of the homegrown efforts. "It's been an exceptionally diverse year of Australian cinema giving life to some smaller, innovative and experimental new work."

Other films among the 170 making their Australian premieres at the festival include Cannes Palme D'Or winner "4 months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" from Romania's Cristian Mungiu and Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart."
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