Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Alex Casey: What to watch at the NZ International Film Festival

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man.
Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man.

Auckland is currently in the throes of the New Zealand International Film Festival, and the symptoms are starting to show. You can see punters shuffling between cinemas, eyes red from a potent combination of tears, laughter, tiredness and an air thick with salty popcorn dust. If you haven't got a strategy for tackling the dense film festival booklet by now, and are blindly booking tickets with the control of a whacky inflatable arm-flailing tube man, allow me to guide you through the next week of high-class cinematic delights.

My first tip for the festival, regardless of what films you are going to see, is to stay well-hydrated and nourished. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and requires similar sustenance. Keep pouches of pure fructose in your pockets to maximise staying power and minimise candy bar temptations. Sip on a CamelBak if you really want to freak out the people around you. But do not, under any circumstances, bring hot food into the cinema.

With your nutrition under control, head to Ants on a Shrimp: Noma in Tokyo for a look into the whacky cuisine from the greatest restaurant in the world (spoiler: a lot of twigs and bugs). To anyone needing to quash their guilt for necking a donut between daytime sessions, the body positive documentary movement Embrace will empower you to love your wobbly bits regardless. If you can stomach it, Swiss Army Man's touching tale of a farting corpse could be the weirdest late night session of the fest.

It's also important to stay active during the festival. Go for brisk walks between sessions; catch Pokemon as you jog from lengthy German comedies to Iranian horror films. If moving your own body doesn't appeal, check out Le Ride starring our own local TV legend Phil Keoghan. Attempting to recreate the treacherous conditions of the 1928 Tour de France (bike included), Phil and his mate Ben might make you feel slightly guilty for Ubering a block up just because it was raining.

Feel bad for exchanging the great outdoors for artificial lighting and prolonged sitting? Escape to the stunning Altai Mountains of The Eagle Huntress, or the luscious island paradise of Tanna.

A scene from Jim Hosking's The Greasy Strangler.
A scene from Jim Hosking's The Greasy Strangler.

With the rain pelting down on the roof of the Civic, there's no better time to transport yourself elsewhere. It's not all ravishing landscapes and exotic locations however -- The Land of the Enlightened takes you inside war-torn Afghanistan, and A Syrian Love Story follows a refugee couple on their journey to freedom.

For those who can't resist documenting the plush flamingo curtains for all their mates on Instagram, there are plenty more beautiful real-life moments captured in the vast array of documentaries on offer. Disney fans will adore Life, Animated, the story of an autistic man who learnt to communicate through the likes of The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. If being behind the camera interests you, Cameraperson captures the illustrious career of veteran cinematographer Kirsten Johnson and No Home Movie lets you inside intimate conversations between a daughter and her dying mother.

Le Ride doco about Tour De France by Phil Keoghan.
Le Ride doco about Tour De France by Phil Keoghan.

As a wise man in a film once told us, the film festival is like a box of chocolates -- you have to try a bit of everything, even if it makes you feel sick sometimes. Try the thrilling French ghost film Personal Shopper, or Jim Jarmusch's delicate introspection in Paterson. Locally, the biggest must-see is The Rehearsal, by Alison Maclean, adapted from Eleanor Catton's first novel. And if you are still hungry after all of that, I dare you to gorge upon the visceral gross-out horror of The Greasy Strangler. A perfectly balanced diet.

The New Zealand International Film Festival, until July 31.

- Spy.co.nz

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