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Preview: 2010 Wellington Film Festival

By July 15, 2010August 6th, 20102 Comments

New Zealand Film Festival poster 2010It’s nev­er been a tough­er time to be run­ning a film fest­iv­al. In addi­tion to the usu­al com­mer­cial con­sid­er­a­tions of just selling enough tick­ets to stay afloat, each year brings with it fresh wrinkles to be accom­mod­ated. The win­dow of avail­ab­il­ity of titles shrinks every year because dis­trib­ut­ors don’t want to sit on their invest­ment. There’s increas­ing pres­sure to get films into cinemas before down­load­ing des­troys the mar­ket and less time for films to build a deserving inter­na­tion­al buzz.

In pre­vi­ous years films like the Argentinian Best Foreign Language Oscar win­ner The Secrets in their Eyes might have been tent-pole fea­tures for a Wellington Film Festival but have already been and gone from loc­al cinemas so it’s incum­bent on dir­ect­or and chief pro­gram­mer Bill Gosden (and his cohorts) to dig deep­er to find more gems for our annu­al mid-winter fix.

People keep ask­ing me, Dan, they say, what sort of Festival is it, this year, and I have to answer that I really don’t know. I’ve only seen 19 out of the 160+ movies in the book. That’s not enough to know any­thing, really, about the Festival as a whole. It’s less than 15% of an enorm­ously rich and diverse smör­gås­bord of poten­tial goodies.

As usu­al, I asked the Festival people to feed me the unher­al­ded and unknown, the films that might miss out on atten­tion from the big media, and they did. As might be expec­ted, not all of them worked for me but I have some sug­ges­tions for films that I am assured will not be com­ing back on gen­er­al release later this year.

AB7288B0-44D3-4906-A3B7-6966FC3D2C18.jpegIn the drama sec­tion I was very affected by Honey, a beau­ti­ful Turkish film about a young boy with some kind of learn­ing dis­order, des­per­ate for the approv­al of his teach­ers, class­mates and his tacit­urn bee­keep­er fath­er. A fine example of slow cinema, I feel cer­tain that you will be absorbed by its beauty and the mira­cu­lous cent­ral performance.

AB7288B0-44D3-4906-A3B7-6966FC3D2C18.jpegI Killed My Mother was a minor sen­sa­tion at Cannes, win­ning prizes for French-Canadian enfant-terrible Xavier Dolan who pro­duced, wrote, dir­ec­ted and starred in this semi-autobiographical tale of a prig­gish, self-absorbed gay youth, stuck at home with a moth­er he swears hates and mis­un­der­stands him. Surprisingly unsym­path­et­ic to his own alter-ego it comes across as a vir­tu­oso apo­logy to his long suf­fer­ing parent.

AB7288B0-44D3-4906-A3B7-6966FC3D2C18.jpegCommercial cinema out of Spain is always worth a long hard look (e.g. Timecrimes two years ago, REC) and Cell 211 is a tight little pris­on drama with a great premise – dur­ing ori­ent­a­tion new guard Juan Oliver gets caught behind enemy lines dur­ing a riot but man­ages to con­vince the lead­er of the cons, Malamadre (Bad Mother?), that he’s actu­ally one of them. It hits the ground run­ning and rarely lets up.

AB7288B0-44D3-4906-A3B7-6966FC3D2C18.jpegI was very taken with Wah Do Dem, in which a moody New York hip­ster dumpee goes on a Caribbean cruise, loses everything in a rob­bery in Jamaica and has to walk the length of the island to the safety of the US Embassy. On his jour­ney he sees the oth­er side of the tour­ist bro­chure but his odys­sey is an eye-opener for us too.

AB7288B0-44D3-4906-A3B7-6966FC3D2C18.jpegThis year Ant Timpson’s Incredibly Strange sec­tion is back on dis­gust­ing and degen­er­ate form after a few years of tip­toe­ing around it’s rais­on d’etre, so much so that even I am going to avoid most of what’s on offer. I did see The Loved Ones, how­ever, a low budget hor­ror from Australia that reveals its macabre yet ridicu­lous sense of humour slowly but surely – a great call­ing card for young writer/director Sean Byrne.

Don’t miss a very Wellington ‘live cinema’ event, Warren Maxwell’s live scor­ing of the silent Hollywood-maori extra­vag­anza Under the Southern Cross. A hand­ful of lucky people saw this at the Film Archive earli­er this year but it deserves a much wider audi­ence for Maxwell’s witty music­al touches added to a unique slice of NZ cul­tur­al history.

AB7288B0-44D3-4906-A3B7-6966FC3D2C18.jpegI’ve had a ball with the doc­u­ment­ar­ies this year. Salam Rugby is an often-surprising video doc about the against-all-odds suc­cess of the Iranian women’s rugby team – nev­er quite goes where you expect it to. The Most Dangerous Man in America and The Two Escobars are pretty straight tele­visu­al inter­pret­a­tions of two fas­cin­at­ing stor­ies. In one, Daniel Ellsberg tells us how, des­pite being embed­ded in the élite US mil­it­ary machine, he tried to stop the Vietnam War by leak­ing the most incen­di­ary doc­u­ments ima­gin­able – the Pentagon’s own advice that the war could nev­er be won. And in the second, the com­plex social and polit­ic­al entangling of drugs and foot­ball in Colombia lead to tragedy for every­one involved.

AB7288B0-44D3-4906-A3B7-6966FC3D2C18.jpegThere are two great films about dif­fer­ent kinds of American dream­er: Marwencol focuses on Mark Hogencamp, an artist who has built an amaz­ingly detailed liv­ing mod­el world for him­self to replace the one he lost when a bru­tal attack out­side a bar took his memor­ies and nearly took his life. And loc­al hero Costa Botes has stumbled across a mod­ern day Willie Loman in David Klein, invent­or of the Jelly Belly gour­met jelly bean, cheated out of his right­ful share of the profits (US$160m!!) due to, I guess, naïveté. Klein is one of the great char­ac­ters in the Festival and Candyman a ter­rif­ic intro­duc­tion to him.

AB7288B0-44D3-4906-A3B7-6966FC3D2C18.jpegFinally, a big enthu­si­ast­ic recom­mend­a­tion for Asylum Pieces by Wellington film­maker Kathy Dudding. I was a big fan of her last film, The Return (2008) and I’m stoked to see her gentle, poet­ic style devel­op fur­ther and mesh with a more gritty doc­u­ment­ary sub­ject – in this case the bizarre and banal his­tory of Porirua Mental Hospital.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 July, 2010. Cross-posted to


  • Peter Darlington says:

    Nice picks Dan, will keep these handy for when the much cut-down Nelson ver­sion arrives in a few months. 

    Glad you men­tioned Timecrimes, I saw it last year and loved it, ori­gin­al and fun.

    Also, Wa Do Dem is a reg­gae tune by Eek A Mouse, FYI.

    • Dan says:

      Cheers, Pete. Thanks for the info about Wah Do Dem – I might have known you would have that inform­a­tion at your fingertips.