Despite Monday afternoon's screening of Computer Chess causing my brain to turn inside out, I continued to attend film festival movies this week.
It's always fun just to pick random documentaries out of the film festival catalogue, and that's what I did with Village at the End of the World, a remarkably profound achievement which gently coaxed me out of my Computer Chess-induced stupor.
Following a year in the life of Niaqornat, a tiny Inuit fishing village (pop. 59) on a miniscule peninsula in Northern Greenland, this unabashedly uplifting film presents an environment that at first glance couldn't appear more alien, but eventually reveals a small group of people dealing with very relatable problems.
The very existence of Niaqornat has been under threat since the fisheries company shut down their tiny "factory", but a plan exists for the townspeople to come together and purchase it for themselves, creating a co-op. It won't be easy for the impoverished village though, as many families are succumbing to the pressure to move to the bigger towns.
This all plays out against a context of hundreds of years of Inuit fishing and hunting traditions, which provide many amazing moments.
Much of the film follows the teenage Lars, who was raised in Niaqornat by his grandparents, even though his mother and (presumed) father live only metres from his front door. A heart-breakingly self-aware seventeen-year-old who yearns for the greater world but displays clear affection for his isolated (although internet-ready) home, Lars is our tour guide through Niaqornat, and his Western culture-influenced perspective provides an appropriate entry point.
Village at the End of the World is one of those films that feels like a warm embrace - it's playing once more, next Thursday at the Civic, and I strongly recommend that you check it out.
A slightly more high-profile documentary screening at this year's festival is Alex Gibney's We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.
The prolific Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room) has displayed a gift for crafting accessible films about unwieldy subjects in the past, and the multiple threads to this tale are in confident hands.
But while many documentaries on this scale work hard to emphasise the more emotive aspects of the story being told, there is so much inherent drama in the Wikileaks story that it almost has a numbing effect.
Maybe the implications of the subject are too wide-ranging to be addressed in a single feature documentary, but the zig-zagging conclusions reached here rarely get a chance to land properly
As a dense rundown of the story so far, it works. Gibney has access to all the principal parties, including one of the Swedish rape-complainants. Gibney and Julian Assange couldn't agree on terms so the ever-elusive Wikileaks founder appears only in previously-filmed interviews. In painting a not particularly flattering portrait of the man, the film effectively challenges a few popularly-held views of Assange.
Flashy CGI graphics have a suprisingly large role to play here, perhaps betraying the film's inability to construct a strong and clear arc. I left the cinema feeling much better informed than when I went in, but Gibney's often fascinating film never quite nails the media zeitgiest-defining nature of the story.
There is one final screening of We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, this Sunday evening at 8.45pm.
One of my favourite films from last year's festival was the indie cult-centric thriller Sound of My Voice.
That film's co-writer/star Brit Marling and director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij team-up again and are joined by one of the strongest casts of the year for the eco-terrorism thriller The East.
The willowy Marling plays a private security agent whose film is hired by a big chemical company to infiltrate the titular eco-terrorism group. Like a slightly more vegan-friendly version of the Project Mayhem anarchists from Fight Club, The East put all their efforts into staging ironic 'jams' which target (with often violent intent) the corporate fatcats responsible for poisoning our children and destroying our planet.
Like Sound of My Voice, The East is a genre-leaning story that benefits greatly from the low-fi independent film approach. As approximately the 912th film to feature an undercover operative whose loyalties become challenged (see: Point Break; Rush; The Fast and the Furious among countless others), The East needed a point of difference - the naturalistic approach provides this for the most part, but the eco-thriller angle feels relevant too.
The impressive cast includes True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard as the group's predictably charismatic leader; and Ellen Page and Toby Kebbell as two of his more prominent acolytes. Patricia Clarkson lends weight as Marling's boss.
Perhaps a touch earnest in the final assessment, The East nevertheless further demonstrates that Marling and Batmanglij are a filmmaking force to be reckoned with - I look forward to their next collaboration.
The East's Friday night screening is sold out, but there are still tickets available for next Wednesday's session.
Except maybe for Elysium, there is no other film coming out this year that I have been looking forward to as much as Upstream Colour. Writer/director/producer/star Shane Carruth's only previous film is the 2004 head-scratching masterpiece Primer, the ambiguities of which continue to haunt me.
In the nine years since Primer came out, I have been very excited to see what Carruth would do next. Apparently he has spent much of that time working on an epic follow-up only to switch focus relatively recently to the more manageable Upstream Colour.
Anyone who's seen Primer knows that traditional plot logic is not a high priority for Carruth, but the broad strokes of what's happening in Upstream Colour are relatively perceptible. Plus even when it's difficult to discern the literal reality of what's occuring, Carruth's mastery of mood and tone ably carries the picture.
Indeed, I'm now very ready to pronounce Shane Carruth the Terrence Malick of genre cinema. Like the director of Badlands and The Tree of Life, Carruth infuses his films with a lyrical poetry that washes over the viewer. It easily displaces any superficial confusion with an emotionally assured message that is expressed in a manner so specific to the medium of cinema, it can't be put into words.
What I'm trying to say is, I really really liked Upstream Colour. It's a beautiful film that doesn't spoon-feed the viewer, but offers grandiose pleasures for those prepared to engage it.
It has a larger visual scope than Primer, but they're stylistically similar films. While Upstream Colour may lack an obvious sci-fi trope like the one that Primer is hung upon, the new film has no shortage of its own mind-expanding ideas and unbelievable developments.
It's only screening once more at the Auckland festival, THIS AFTERNOON (Friday July 26th) at 4.00pm. Don't miss the chance to experience this on the big screen, there's never been a film quite like it.
What have you seen so far? Any of these? Comment Below!