A reel local gala

By Russell Baillie

The Auckland International Film Festival turns 40 next month. Russell Baillie surveys who's coming to the party

Next month's Auckland International Film Festival might be celebrating 40 years of bringing the increasingly widening world of cinema to the city's big screens each winter.

But funnily enough, this year's "international" fest is more domestic than ever.

It might have a programme big on some global heavy-hitters fresh from being acclaimed at the Oscars, Cannes, Sundance or the like.

But there are 10 feature-length New Zealand-made works lined up in its programme of more than 150 titles, a record for the Auckland festival.

The parallel Wellington event has even more, with four docos by local film-makers in its line-up.

Appropriately for Auckland, the festival will start with a movie largely set in the city.

Auckland-born Samoan director Sima Urale's first feature, Apron Strings, which was shot mostly around Otahuhu, has been chosen for the festival's prestigious opening night.

Urale has been acclaimed for her short films - one of which, Coffee and Allah, is also screening at the festival.

Apron Strings is from a script by Shuchi Kothari and Dianne Taylor, paralleling the lives of two families of cooks, one Sikh and one Pakeha and centring on the respective broods' mothers and their fatherless sons.

"Apron Strings isn't simply a story about women," says Urale.

"It's about their sons and the next generation; the changing face of New Zealand and the age-old conflict between traditional and modern which also reminds us we have more in common with each other across cultures than we think."

The other major local film being launched by the festival screening is Vincent Ward's The Rain of the Children which had its world premiere last weekend at the Sydney Film Festival, where it is in competition for that festival's inaugural awards.

Mixing documentary with drama, Rain revisits Ward's 1978 debut In Spring One Plants Alone for which he spent 18 months living with and filming Puhi, an elderly woman caring for her mentally ill adult son Niki in the remote Urewera Ranges.

Puhi's story - and her family connections to the Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana - has continued to fascinate Ward over the years.

"I wanted to piece together the puzzle of why she had become who she was," Ward told TimeOut this week after the Sydney screening,

"There were things I didn't know about her and that really plagued me, so I went back to answer those questions."

Ward is promising a big Tuhoe turnout in support of the festival screening.

Other local works in the programme include a portrait by Florian Habicht - who made the memorable Kaikohe Demolition - of veteran performance artist Warwick Broadhead, entitled Rubbings From a Live Man; Gregory King's suburban crime drama A Song of Good which stars Ian Mune, Matthew Sunderland (Out of the Blue) and Danielle Cormack; Pietra Brettkelly's Sundance-prizewinner The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins about controversial art world star Vanessa Beecroft; and Athina Tsoulis' drama of estranged siblings Jinx Sister.

Says festival director Bill Gosden: "It's been a great pleasure over the last year to discover so much New Zealand work that just leapt up and demanded the wider exposure the festivals can offer.

"The sheer range of New Zealanders on screen makes it abundantly clear that our culture is becoming increasingly and excitingly inclusive."

- NZ Herald

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