Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

NZ Film Festival: This year's programme revealed

The programme for this year's New Zealand International Film Festival is about to hit the streets. Russell Baillie takes a look at what's on offer

Snowpiercer.
Snowpiercer.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more alluring star in the programme for next month's New Zealand International Film Festival than silent screen siren Louise Brooks.

That's her below in her 1930 French film Prix de beaute (Miss Europe), which was the last major film to star Brooks and her forever influential hairstyle.

The 84-year old film is getting the live soundtrack treatment from the Auckland Philharmonia, near the end of the festival's fortnight in residence at the Civic theatre.

Yes, there was sound by 1930 and Prix de beaute was originally made in two versions - silent and sound.


Prix de Beaute.

But the orchestral event is soundtracking the silent version. It's a digital restoration of an Italian print, complete with English subtitles of the Italian intertitles. It doesn't get much more film festival than that.

And the August 3 screening is just one of the events-within-the-event that makes the film festival more than a movie marathon for the cinematically adventurous.

Other events? Well, the world premiere of New Zealand movie The Dark Horse is likely be one of the more memorable opening nights the festival has had in some time. For why, see the sidebar on the page opposite.

The festival will also see the premiere of more than a dozen New Zealand features, mostly documentaries and short films. But in a period where we've had one veteran director saying our pre-eminent film-maker "stole" New Zealand cinema, it seems - and this is the opening weekend of What We Do in the Shadows - there is plenty of evidence against that charge.

There are, of course, plenty of movies from elsewhere as well.

A look at the geographical spread shows a line-up predictably dominated, in order, by the United States, France, Britain, and Australia.

Place you never thought you'd see a feature from? How about Nepal and Manakama which takes us on a gondola ride in the Himalayan foothills?

Or is it Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako's tale of Mali in Timbuktu, one of an impressive swathe of movies which were in competition - and won prizes - at May's Cannes Film Festival (more on which below).

Four films about Africa - all by non-African directors - have given rise to the programme's "Out of Africa section" which includes the Sundance Jury Prize winner We Come as Friends which the programme describes as "this year's most ingenious and risk-embracing act of documentary filmmaking".


The Armstrong Lie.

There are other docos, the reputations of which have preceded them, like Alex Gibney's The Armstrong Lie which started out life as a rare feelgood assignment for the investigative director - profiling the cyclist's post-cancer comeback - but then turned into something else as his subject was confirmed as the best known drugs cheat in sporting history.

Elsewhere in the 'Framing Reality" part of the programme there are films to take you from the Large Hadron Collider beneath the mountains of Switzerland (Particle Fever) to the troubled streets of Ukraine (Ukraine is Not a Brothel; Maidan), from the halls of the great institutions of Europe (The National Museum; The Great Museum), to the fashion houses of Paris (Dior and I).

Elsewhere, the biopic Yves Saint Laurent looks the life of the designer once described as being "born with a nervous breakdown".

If that all sounds a bit deep and meaningful - and this is a festival which features not one but two movies involving Noam Chomsky - this year's event also has a section dubbed "thrill" with eight films bending genre rules to their own ends. Among them is the possibly mind-bending post-apocalyptic sci-fi Snowpiercer which stars a vast international cast (including Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Jamie Bell) in South Korean director Bong Joon-ho's tale of Earth's last inhabitants living on a giant train perpetually circling a frozen planet.

So, this year's festival offers everything from the silver screen past to a whiteout future.

Here's some other possible highlights ...

Out of the Cannes

Twenty of the films showing at the Auckland and Wellington festivals caught their connecting flights through Cannes, where our own Jane Campion was jury president.

This year's selection is head-spinning," says NZIFF Director Bill Gosden. Among them are the Palme D'or Winner Winter Sleep a 196-minute "chamber epic" from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan whose Once Upon a Time in Anatolia captivated many at a previous festival.

Also from Cannes' main competition are David Cronenberg's poke at Hollywood, Map to the Stars, which won Julianne Moore the best actress prize.

Among others with a Cannes trophy: Italian director Alice Rohrwacher's Grand Prix winner The Wonders; Screenplay winner Leviathan; veteran French director's Jean-Luc Godard's Jury Prize-winning foray into 3D Goodbye to Language; Australian director Rolf de Heer's Charlie's Country which won aboriginal actor David Gulpilil the best actor prize; while Hungarian film White God, a story about a a girl, her dog and pack of pooches running wild in city streets won the Un Certain Regard prize as well as the Cannes canine division, the Palm Dog.


Goodbye to Language.

And there's many more - including new films from Ken Loach and Japanese animation masters the Studio Ghibli - where those came from.

Stars taking left turns

Captain America himself might be stretching his fantasy horizons in the aforementioned Snowpiercer, but his Avengers comrade, Scarlett Johansson is also heading far from Marvel land. In Under the Skin, she's playing a predatory alien driving around Scotland who lures blokes into a van for a close encounter of the possibly fatal kind. Some of the film was done with hidden digital cameras to show the reactions of the locals to someone who looks a bit like that Black Widow character turning up in a Ford transit.

Still living down his Twilight era, despite forays to the edge in films by David Cronenberg and others, Robert Pattison features in Australian movie The Rover, a post-apocalyptic road movie which is the latest from David Michod, the director of the acclaimed Animal Kingdom.

And by the sounds of it Joe, with Nicholas Cage as the titular southern backwoodsman, may be a film to restore some lost lustre to his particular wonky star.

Time lapse and double acts


The Double.

Both Jesse Eisenberg and Jake Gyllenhaal are in films being spooked by guys who look just like Jesse Eisenberg and Jake Gyllenhaal. Eisenberg's hall of mirrors act comes in The Double while Gyllenhaal's is in Enemy, his second film with Canadian director Denis Villeneuve.

But the greatest act of time-space manipulation in the festival is undoubtedly Richard Linklater's Boyhood, which the director filmed incrementally over 12 years as his star, Ellar Coltrane, grew from a 6 year-old to an 18-year-old.

Oldies but goodies

Prix de beaute isn't the only digitally restored cinematic wonder at this year's festival. Also featuring in the don't-make'em-like-they-used-to-department are Jean Cocteau's 1946 fairy tale retelling Beauty and the Beast ("not exactly a film for children" warns the programme).

Orson Welles's 1947 noir, The Lady from Shanghai, in which he stars opposite a platinum-tressed Rita Hayworth is another black and white extravagance.


La belle et la beat.

And the oldest film on offer - albeit with a modern soundtrack mixing electronica with traditional Nepalese instruments - is The Epic of Everest, the official filmed account of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine's 1924 attempt on the peak which shows the British climbers' final days before the mountain claimed them.


Opening night sneak preview: The Dark Horse

Remember that feeling when you walked out at the end of Once Were Warriors? That deep deep heartache? That sense of pride mixed with the regret it had sprung from such a sad side of life in New Zealand? Well it's back.

Prepare for one of the most gut-wrenching, inspiring human dramas to spring from these shores in an age.

It's not all sad, though. The Dark Horse does a pretty good Karate Kid too. Only with chess, more than one kid and an unlikely coach (Cliff Curtis in the performance of his career).

Well that's what I think of the film festival's opening night movie which I was lucky enough to see earlier this month. A full review is to come.

Directed by James Napier Robertson and also starring James Rolleston of Boy fame, the film is based on the life of Genesis Potini, the late Gisborne chess champion who battled bipolar disorder and was also an advocate for mental health awareness.

Says the festival programme: "The modesty and grace with which his film celebrates its uncertain hero is more potently celebratory in its understatement than a stadium of air-punches."

The film's only festival screenings are at the opening nights in Auckland on July 18 and in Wellington a week later.

A prediction: Those premieres will be just the beginning for a film which is destined to live up to the title it takes from its lead character's nickname.


What: The New Zealand International Film Festival 2014, programme out on Tuesday.
Where and when: The Civic and various venues Auckland from July 17; The Embassy Theatre and various venues Wellington from July 24
More info: nziff.co.nz

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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