The 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival kicked off with a bang last night, with the much-anticipated Australian premiere of The Sapphires - Wayne Blair's feelgood feature debut about a group of indigenous girls who taste fame, fortune and romance while singing for US troops in war-torn Vietnam in 1968.
With a string of timeless 1960s soul cuts in tow – and following its world premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival in May – the film's four stars surprised a delighted 2000-strong crowd by taking to the stage of Melbourne's Plaza Ballroom after the film's screening.
Jessica Mauboy belted out her current hit from the film, Gotcha – which she credits with refocusing her talents after a vamped-up career bump in 2010 – before delivering a clutch of soul standards, the last of which featured fellow Sapphires Deborah Mailman, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell.
Their group effort – of The Four Tops' Motown classic, I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) – was greeted with a rousing reception.
This year's Melbourne International Film Festival – the longest-running film festival of its kind in Australia – is screening more than 300 films over the next 17 days, including features and shorts from every corner of the globe.
Discussion panels and forums, one-on-one Q&A sessions with filmmakers, script workshops (with LA-based developer, writer and lecturer Wendell Thomas), an editing masterclass (with Australia's Dany Cooper), and a series of talks celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens (presented by Film London CEO Adrian Wootton) are all due to run alongside the film program.
The event – now in its 61st year – officially closes on August 18, with the world premiere of PJ Hogan's Mental. A long-awaited follow-up of sorts to his 1994 classic Muriel's Wedding, the irreverent comedy of errors stars Toni Colette, Anthony LaPaglia and US import Liev Schreiber.
Mental will get a substantial national theatrical release in early October.
■ The Age is a festival sponsor.