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new zealand international film festival

Starlet poster

Cinematica 4/16: On the Road Again!

By Audio, Cinematica

Cinematica_iTunes_200_cropLive at the Paramount, Wellington – Nick Ward reviews The Heat; we inter­view moth­er and daugh­ter Gaylene Preston and Chelsie Preston-Crayford who both have films in the New Zealand International Film Festival, Sean Baker (dir­ect­or of the LA indie Starlet) and Anthony Powell (Antarctica: A Year on Ice).

The House of Radio poster

Preview: 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival

By Cinema, Reviews

Now, I’m risk­ing the ire of the extremely help­ful and gen­er­ous New Zealand International Film Festival team here, but I’m going to recom­mend an approach to festival-going that will prob­ably reward you more than it will them. Here goes: don’t book for any­thing. Don’t plan your life around any par­tic­u­lar screen­ing of any par­tic­u­lar film. Especially, don’t book for any­thing because that’s the one all your mates are going to.

Try this instead. Wake up on any giv­en morn­ing dur­ing the fest­iv­al, feel like watch­ing a movie, have a look through the fest­iv­al cal­en­dar in the middle of the pro­gramme (or the handy-sized mini-guide, avail­able soon) and pick a some­thing you fancy based on the title. Or the cinema closest to you. Or the cinema fur­thest away. Or close your eyes and jab a fin­ger at the page. Either way, step out of your com­fort zone and try some­thing new. You won’t regret it. Well, you might, but prob­ably not for long.

Every year, this is kind of what I do when I ask the fest­iv­al pub­li­city team for help with this pre­view. Give me a stack of screen­er DVDs, I say, or those new-fangled inter­net links where I have to watch a film sit­ting at my desk. No, don’t tell me what they are. Let me guess. Some of my favour­ite fest­iv­al exper­i­ences have come watch­ing films I knew noth­ing about, but for those of you who are going to ignore my advice and, um, take my advice, here are some notes on the films I’ve already seen, in no par­tic­u­lar order.

The House of Radio posterI’m a radio-head from my child­hood. I love radio, listen­ing to it, appear­ing on it, mak­ing it. I love look­ing at stu­di­os, per­ving at micro­phones, the red lights that go on when the mics are live, the silently tick­ing clocks. Watching Nicolas Philibert’s The House of Radio, I was a pig in shit. I don’t think I’ve been as blissed out as this watch­ing a film for ages. It’s one day in the life of Radio France, where seem­ingly dozens of sta­tions share a giant Parisian cathed­ral ded­ic­ated to the wire­less. News, talk, cul­ture, music – clas­sic­al, jazz and hip-hop. Philibert’s polite cam­era peers into their stu­di­os and their offices, even the Tour de France cor­res­pond­ent report­ing live from the back of a motorbike.

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2008 Film Festival preview

By Cinema, Reviews, 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.