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After a splen­did Wellington Film Festival last year, the New Zealand International Film Festival might be for­giv­en for put­ting their feet up and tak­ing it easy but instead they have gone out of their way to pro­duce anoth­er bas­ket of good­ies to fill the Easter week­end and bey­ond: the grandly titled World Cinema Showcase.

Arguably the only real dif­fer­ence between their two events now is the scale – and the lack of Embassy big screen – but there is qual­ity all over this year’s Showcase. Like they do at its older – wintri­er – sib­ling audi­ences are surely temp­ted to try the “will it come back” lot­tery but those odds are deteri­or­at­ing all the time. Indeed, at time of writ­ing one film (Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus) has already been with­drawn from the com­mer­cial release sched­ule and Showcase screen­ings are the only chance to exper­i­ence it on the big screen.

As is my wont, though, I asked the Showcase people to feed me pre­views of the little bat­tle­rs, the unher­al­ded, the films that are often over­looked by a media demand­ing big names, head­lines and page views. I was giv­en 10 to look at, a couple dropped off as I didn’t feel up to recom­mend­ing them, but I’ve added two more that I saw (or par­tially saw) at last year’s Festival. So, here’s ten to watch at Showcase 2012.

Music docos have always been a major com­pon­ent of both Festival and Showcase and sev­er­al hun­dred Wellington movie­go­ers were dis­ap­poin­ted when a power cut inter­rup­ted the July screen­ing of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. They (mean­ing I) get a chance to see the con­clu­sion of this fas­cin­at­ing por­trait of hip-hop pion­eers in an uncom­fort­able middle age. Also deal­ing with the fal­lout from suc­cess are the folk duo Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Oscar win­ners from the 2006 film Once. As The Swell Season, they toured and recor­ded, try­ing to ride the wave they were on and keep their rela­tion­ship intact at the same time. Hansard’s troubled fam­ily back­ground and Irglová’s youth con­spire against them how­ever and the film of their post-Oscar lives is more about a rela­tion­ship fizz­ling out than your usu­al rock doc­u­ment­ary. Which is good because there’s noth­ing start­ling about the music.

Due to intense pres­sure from a large [redac­ted] over­seas film fest­iv­al, the Showcase has had to with­draw the the­at­ric­al cut of Bob Weide’s impress­ive bio­graphy, Woody Allen – a Documentary, in favour of the essen­tial 3+ hour tele­vi­sion ver­sion. This is what you might call a win for Wellington audi­ences as the exten­ded dur­a­tion gives Allen and his col­lab­or­at­ors much more breath­ing room and there are plenty more intriguing details revealed about his work­ing meth­ods. As you might expect for a film­maker whose best years are behind him, the first part is the most inter­est­ing, but even part two encour­aged me to check out later films that I had dis­missed like Sweet and Lowdown and Bullets Over Broadway.

There are two examples of recent anim­a­tion for grownups on offer: Alois Nebel is a Czech drama about a repressed rur­al sta­tion­mas­ter in 1989, strug­gling with his past and not really ready for a post-Socialist future. Aesthetically, Alois Nebel asks how much detail and tex­ture you can take out of a pic­ture and still have it cap­tiv­ate and move you. The answer appears to be quite a lot. Also inspired by a graph­ic nov­el but full of col­our this time is Chico & Rita. An age­ing Cuban jazz­man looks back on his past and the one that got away – beau­ti­ful sing­er Rita who achieved the suc­cess in the US that Chico couldn’t man­age. The sex­i­est car­toon I’ve seen in a while.

On the final day of last year’s Festival I man­aged to sleep through most of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s mas­ter­piece Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a gently paced polici­er about a miss­ing body and a dubi­ous con­fes­sion. I’m look­ing for­ward to reac­quaint­ing myself with it – after a good night’s sleep this time.

Three dis­tinct­ive doc­u­ment­ar­ies formed the core of my pre­view watch­ing this year. The Triangle Wars starts out record­ing the NIMBY protests of Melbourne’s St Kilda res­id­ents as they try and pre­vent a multi-million dol­lar redevel­op­ment of their beloved fore­shore. It soon morphs into a cut­ting por­tray­al of loc­al body polit­ics and (pos­sible) cor­rup­tion, remind­ing us that – even though they look inno­cent enough – those who would rule our bor­oughs need as much scru­tiny as cab­in­et ministers.

In the 1996 Festival (I think) I watched a doc­u­ment­ary called Paradise Lost about the dubi­ous con­vic­tions of the West Memphis 3 for some bru­tal child-murders. I was out­raged – for about five minutes – and then pro­ceeded to for­get all about them until Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory arrived. Updating us on the boys (now men), the cam­paign to release them and the shift­ing sands of truth and belief, this film stands alone as a hor­rif­ic tale of a com­munity witch-hunt lead­ing to enorm­ous injustice. It’s impossible not to be stirred at every stage.

Designer Charles Eames is prob­ably best known for the still-manufactured fur­niture that bears his name, but the work pro­duced by him – and his unsung right-hand and wife Ray – from the 1940s until his death in 1978 is sur­pris­ingly wide-ranging. The Eames’ didn’t just design things though and in Eames: The Architect and the Painter we see that they were about design­ing ways of think­ing about the world and how we func­tion with­in it. They made films, build­ings, exhib­i­tions, exper­i­ments. They fol­lowed their nose and wanted to see what happened next.

Last, and pos­sibly least, is Alex Ross Perry’s The Color Wheel which received some notori­ety last year as Indiewire’s Best Undistributed Film in their annu­al crit­ics’ poll. Perry him­self stars with co-writer Carlen Altman as dis­af­fected sib­lings forced into a road trip togeth­er so they can retreive her stuff from an ex-boyfriend (and col­lege pro­fess­or). They bick­er incess­antly and you won­der why you’re put­ting your­self through this but, darn it, they grow on you and by the end you find your­self inves­ted. Perry’s not much of an act­or – his deliv­ery is almost all in dead­pan Michael Cera style – but Altman has some range and the 16mm black and white pho­to­graphy gives the film more grav­itas than the micro budget would nor­mally allow.

The World Cinema Showcase opens at the Paramount on Thursday 5 April and runs for two weeks.

Cross-posted between Funerals & Snakes, Wellingtonista and the Capital Times.

One Comment

  • Bryan Perkins says:

    Dan mate – great little movie piece on National Radio with Jimmy Mora. You’re sound­ing con­fid­ent, informed and even witty and enga­ging. Jesus Dan, keep tak­ing those smart pills!! Good stuff mate! I might take Clare to the Titanic 3‑D on your wisdom.