Film festival - getting with the programme

By Russell Baillie

The 2008 Auckland International Film Festival might big on local features, but the world is still beating a path to its cinema door, writes Russell Baillie

It's always a little daunting on the way in - this year's programme to the Auckland International Film Festival runs to 80-plus pages. It comes in 11 sections describing films from nearly 50 countries.

Let's not even attempt to calculate how many screen hours that represents. But it's a little book with a big scope and the experienced festival-goer knows it takes some time to get to grips with the programme.

Well, we've already tried for you. From the major sections, here's some highlights ...

WORLDS OF DIFFERENCE

Arguably the traditional backbone of the festival, this section includes a raft of Cannes and Oscar contenders. Among them are concentration camp drama The Counterfeiters about a team of Jewish banknote forgers put to work by the Nazis. It won this year's Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.

Also included is one of the films it was up against - Mongol, the Russian-Kazakh-Mongolian-produced biopic of Genghis Kahn.

Another Oscar nominee - and 2007 Cannes Jury Prize winner - is Persepolis which adapts the autobiographical graphic novels by expatriate Iranian Marjane Satrapi about growing up in during the time of the Shah then the Islamic revolution.

Fresh from the Cannes competition is the Italian quasi-documentary Gomorrah, which won this year's Grand Jury Prize for its distinctive take on the mafia, best screenplay winner Lorna's Silence, latest from previous Palme D'Or winners the Dardenne Brothers, crime drama Three Monkeys which won Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan the best director prize and Korean film Secret Sunshine starring the festival's best actress award-winner Jeon Do-yeon.

Other films by left-field regulars include Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, Ken Loach's It's a Free World and Shane Meadows' Somers Town.

FOR ALL AGES

Among the festival's mini-programme for kids are the classics The Red Balloon - the first "foreign" film many people of a certain age would have ever seen - which is paired with its French director Albert Lamorisse's other great, his horse adventure White Mane.

NEW DIRECTIONS

The festival section showcasing cutting edge offerings, many the work of debuting directors, don't lack for some experienced faces in front of the cameras.

The Irish prison tale of The Escapist stars Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes and Damian Lewis among its muster while the directing debut of Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, black-humoured crime flick In Bruges stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and that other Fiennes, Ralph.

Tamara Jenkins' The Savages pairs celebrated American actors Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a brother and sister who find they are suddenly obliged to care for an elderly parent. While the film that should be the most amusing to ask for by name at the ticket counter - as well as winning the date-movie-of-the-festival prize - is A Complete History of My Sexual Failures, a autobiographical turn by Brit Chris Waitt who tracks down his many ex-girlfriends to ask "why?"

FRAMING REALITY

Documentaries continue to give the festival programme its greatest voltage. Among this year's offerings in the Framing Reality section are this year's Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side. Directed by Alex Gibney, who also has a doco about the life of Hunter S. Thompson elsewhere in the programme, it's about the death in US military custody of an Afghan cabbie named Dilawar which indicts more than just the servicemen involved in the case. And the war on terror features heavily elsewhere too. No End in Sight, which Gibney produced, interviews some former members of Bush administration all too happy to be candid about the mistakes that were made in the invasion of Iraq.

In Standard Operating Procedure, veteran documentary-maker Errol Morris examines the events behind the notorious photographs from Abu Ghraib. It's not all war and torture though - there are also docos concerning the environment (Garbage Warrior, the underwater wonders of Earth, Encounters at the End of the World, and Sharkwater), steroid abuse (Bigger, Stronger Faster) and the strange things love does to people (Crazy Love, Donkey in Lahore).

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST

Among those in the frame in this section of biographical docos on creative types are legendary New Zealand Alun Bollinger (Barefoot Cinema), New York artist Keith Haring (The Universe of Keith Haring ) and the aforementioned study of the life and crazy times of Hunter S. Thompson (Gonzo).


RETROSPECTIVE


This year's retrospective offers seven films by late great Taiwanese director Edward Yang best known for his 2000 Cannes best director-winning film Yi Yi which is included in the programme.

MUSIC

Among this year's music offerings are biopics on jazz singer Anita O'Day, saxophonist Albert Ayler, folk hero Pete Seeger, female rock icon Patti Smith, and Auckland reggae legend Tigilau Ness. There is Neil Young's own tour movie of the politically charged 2006 American tour by Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Julian Schnabel filmed Lou Reed performing his album Berlin live and there is a doco about great soul label Stax Records.

But the most toe-tapping of them all just might be Young@Heart, the doco about an elderly American choir who take on a repertoire of songs by the likes of Coldplay, Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, Bruce Springsteen and Prince.

INCREDIBLY STRANGE

Formerly known as the Incredible then then That's Incredible section, the weirdo department of the festival has reverted to its original more accurate title. This year among the dozen incredibly strange flicks offer plenty that's potentially blood-curdling. That's whether it's Austrian director Michael Hanneke's harrowing shot-for-shot American remake of his 1997 home-invasion psycho-thriller Funny Games or zombie-master George A. Romero's latest Diary of the Dead.

LOWDOWN
What: The 40th Auckland International Film Festival
When: July 10 to 27 Where: Civic, SkyCity Queen St, Academy, SkyCity Theatre Lido, Bridgeway cinemas
Programme: Out this week
Info: www.nzff.co.nz
Also: The Wellington International Film Festival runs from July 18 to August 3

- NZ Herald

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