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incredibly strange film festival

Preview: 2010 Wellington Film Festival

By Cinema and Wellington

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.

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Review: Slumdog Millionaire, Role Models and The Map Reader

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

I don’t have much room this week and I want to spend most of it gush­ing over Slumdog Millionaire so let’s get started.

Role Models posterBack in 2003, when the Incredibly Strange Film Festival was still its own bump­tious stand-alone anarch­ic self, we opened the Festival with the sum­mer camp spoof Wet Hot American Summer and good­ness me, wasn’t that a time? Written and dir­ec­ted by David Wain, WHAS was a pitch-perfect trib­ute to teen com­ed­ies of the 80s and his new film Role Models attempts to ride the cur­rent wave of sexu­ally frank grown-up com­ed­ies but he doesn’t seem to really have the heart for it. The gross-out bits are uncom­fort­ably gross, the boobies seem like after­thoughts and the film really doesn’t hit its straps until it starts cheer­ing for the under­dog late in the day.

Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott play sales­man ped­dling energy drink to high school kids. After an unfor­tu­nate (sta­tion­ary) road rage incid­ent their jail time is con­ver­ted to com­munity ser­vice at Sturdy Wings – a ‘big broth­er’ out­fit match­ing mis­fit kids up with respons­ible male adults. This kind of mater­i­al has proved out­stand­ingly pop­u­lar recently when pro­duced by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and I can’t help think­ing that if he had got­ten his hands on Role Models it would have about 20% more jokes in 16% short­er run­ning time – he really is that much of a machine.

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2008 Film Festival preview

By Cinema, Reviews and Wellington

Wellington Film Festival posterThe Film Festival has been a fix­ture of Wellington’s winter cal­en­dar for nearly 40 years and for those of us who organ­ise our lives around glow­ing rect­angles of one kind or anoth­er there is no bet­ter way to spend a cold and wet after­noon than in the com­fy leath­er chairs at the Embassy, engrossed in a work of art.

Programming a Festival like Wellington may seem easy but I can assure you it’s get­ting tough­er every year. The sheer volume of inde­pend­ent film is grow­ing bey­ond all reas­on (I read that there were around 5,000 films sub­mit­ted to Sundance last year) and atten­tion must be paid to all four corners of the globe nowadays.

The glossy pro­gramme (doing double-duty this year as Festival Guide Book and Souvenir Programme) is 90 pages long and I dir­ect you to it forth­with – my role here is, with the help of some pre­views from the Festival office, to point your atten­tion towards some of the unher­al­ded titles avail­able amongst the hun­dreds on offer.

The first thing to point out is that, unlike the old days, there is noth­ing to be gained in try­ing to guess which films will return for a com­mer­cial sea­son. With the loss of the three (oth­er­wise unla­men­ted) Rialto screens in June, there is even less chance of a film com­ing back than before and the gen­er­al down­turn in attend­ance this year has made dis­trib­ut­ors wary. At the moment there are no plans to release The Savages (a well-observed, superbly acted drama with plenty of black humour star­ring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) and even the Jack Black – Michel Gondry com­edy Be Kind Rewind is expec­ted to go straight to DVD post-Festival (although strong loc­al sales may pro­voke a change of mind). Recommendation: if the big screen exper­i­ence is import­ant to you, don’t wait.

Many films in the Festival are nev­er likely to come back com­mer­cially – they may not even have loc­al dis­tri­bu­tion and thus even a DVD release is unlikely. Of the fea­ture films I got a chance to see before dead­line, I was most taken with Silent Light by Mexican Carlos ReygadaJapón, 2003). In an isol­ated Mennonite com­munity in Mexico, a hus­band has to deal with the con­sequences when he tells his wife of his love for anoth­er woman. A fable-like story, exquis­itely pho­to­graphed, with an end­ing that more than rewards the work you have to put in. I made the mis­take of watch­ing it over two nights which reduced its potency by about 75% and I recom­mend you get to the Embassy screen­ing (if pos­sible) where you can wrap it around you like a blanket.

Director Shane Meadows has been a per­son­al and Festival favour­ite for nearly 13 years and he showed with last year’s This is England that he is strik­ing a rich vein of form. Somers Town stars that film’s Thomas Turgoose (now 16) as Tomo, on the run from an unmen­tion­able fam­ily life in Nottingham. In London, he meets anoth­er lonely drift­er, Polish immig­rant Marek, and they spend the Summer lark­ing about and grow­ing up in the streets around St Pancras. Fully fun­ded by the Eurostar com­pany as an act of pure pat­ron­age, per­haps it could be a mod­el for the new KiwiRail com­pany to follow.

In the doc­u­ment­ary sec­tion (with the immensely strong music depart­ment jus­ti­fi­ably giv­en its own sec­tion of the pro­gramme) there is some­thing for every­one. With no less than three Iraq War docos to choose from you could do a lot worse than Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure about the abuse-revealing pho­to­graphs from Abu Ghraib. No one frames a story bet­ter than Morris and, while all most of the talk about the film has been abstract dis­cus­sion about the nature of pho­to­graph­ic real­ity, it should arouse plenty of right­eous anger simply for the hor­ror it portrays.

Crazy Love is anoth­er well-constructed tale. With this one it helps to not know too much detail going in, as the reveals are deli­ciously handled. Suffice to say that love is blind, in more ways than one.

If you wanted to explain to a stranger why New Zealand is known as Godzone, show them Barefoot Cinema, the doc­u­ment­ary about beloved cine­ma­to­graph­er Alun Bollinger. His idyll­ic life in Reefton on the West Coast, his career choices (not least to stay in NZ when his con­tem­por­ar­ies in the 70s and 80s left for Hollywood) and of course the AlBol-HelBol 40 year love story. There’s a dark shad­ow that appears but even that is handled by the fam­ily with impec­cable grace.

Ant Timpson has revived the some­what moribund Incredibly Strange Film Festival after sev­er­al years as a watered-down That’s Incredible sub-section. It still sits a little uncom­fort­ably with­in the whole but the pro­gram­ming is back to it’s best: you’ll find our cov­er star tucked away there in Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django. Meanwhile King of Kong plays like an amped up ver­sion of that cross­word doc­u­ment­ary last year, this time fol­low­ing vin­tage video game obsess­ives and the quest for the world Donkey Kong record. It’s a clas­sic good guy/bad guy set-up and you’ll be as manip­u­lated as any 8‑bit Mario, but it’s a lot of fun.

Finally, tucked away at the Film Archive for two lunch­time screen­ings is a little gem called The Return by Wellington film­maker Kathy Dudding. I have just re-watched my two favour­ite films, London and Robinson in Space by Patrick Keiller, and was delighted to see Wellington get a sim­il­ar aes­thet­ic treat­ment – beau­ti­fully com­posed, per­fectly bal­anced, stand­ing images of mod­ern Wellington (the Harbour and Oriental Bay for the most part) with Dudding’s grand­mother­’s memor­ies of Edwardian and post-WWI Wellington on the soundtrack. Mesmerising and moving.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 16 July, 2008. Cross-posted to the Wellingtonista.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: All titles except Standard Operating Procedure were pre­viewed on DVD, usu­ally water­marked and time­coded. Standard Operating Procedure was pre­viewed in the Para­mount’s Bergman cinema.