I'll just say it: I'm addicted to the NZ International Film Festival and The Civic is my happy place. Sure it can be cold in there on weekend mornings and some of the seats don't have enough legroom. And I still expect, wandering the labyrinthine routes to the toilet, to run into the ghost of someone from 1982 who was doing the same thing but never found their way back.

Also, I still regret the hours I will never get back, from about the same year, which I spent watching a ploughed field.

Art films, eh. It wasn't even a field being ploughed. Just an empty field, sitting there, long after the plough-staff had gone home. That wasn't the whole film, of course, but it still feels like it was. That I can remember it so clearly is not a good thing.

But good films aren't really like that. They're much more likely to be stimulating, mesmerising, slyly funny or hysterical, shocking, enrapturing, beautiful. The best of them take you deep diving to a place of wonder, revealing anew to you the workings of the world and, especially, of the human heart. I'm aware this is my addiction talking, but there it is.

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It's great at the Civic. You get elephants, stars in the sky and the most gorgeous flamingos on the most gorgeous curtain on the planet. And that enormous, seductively immersive screen.

That's tip No.1 for the film festival. Take the chance – the only chance you'll get this year – to see great films at The Civic.


1. It's The Civic, but not only The Civic

The best seats in The Civic are upstairs down the front. The other venues are good too, especially the splendid ASB Waterfront Theatre in Wynyard Quarter. Take the beautiful walk over Te Wero bridge or catch the new route 20 bus from St Lukes through Ponsonby to Wynyard.

They spread the love too, with films at five more venues, including the Hollywood in Avondale and Westgate in Massey.

2. Don't pay full price

A 10-trip ticket gets you $3 off the full price of each ticket. Students get the same discount and so do nurses. Seniors are defined as 60+ and get $6 off the full price per ticket.

Alternatively, sneak off during the day: tickets for sessions starting before 5pm are $3.50 cheaper than full-price in the evenings.

By the way, films in the smaller venues and the "special presentations" commonly sell out, so book. Daytime screenings in The Civic are usually easy to get into.

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3. It's not just art films

They have thrillers, "incredibly strange" films, movies for kids, classics. Many are tryouts for general release, but if they do come back it won't be to the Civic or the Waterfront. The festival has been a pillar of gay culture for decades, and a dedicated conduit for world cinema. Its documentary section is a revelatory contributor to the public record on all manner of subjects.

They also do a classic film, at The Civic, with the APO performing the score live. This year, it's one of the greatest movies ever made: Buster Keaton's civil-war comedy-action caper The General. Book right now, they won't do it again.

How to pick the best? Take calculated risks. To do that ...

4. Follow the Cannes judges

The programme tells you what other festivals the films have been at. Look for Cannes.

Many of the best films go to the Cannes Festival, held each May, because Cannes accepts only films having their international premiere. So film-makers try for Cannes first and only a few are selected.

We're getting a remarkable 30 films from Cannes this year, including 11 of the 20 chosen for the prestigious "in competition" lineup. The top prize is the Palm d'Or (Shoplifters in 2018); the Grand Prix is second.

The Cannes section Un Certain Regard is for films from a wide cultural pool, Critics' Week showcases new directors and Directors' Fortnight is for directors with a strong personal style. They all have key awards as well.

5. Check those other festival tags

There are so many film festivals in the world, it doesn't always mean very much that a film was at one, or even won an award at one.

As well as Cannes, the A list comprises Toronto, Berlin, Sundance and Venice. Sundance showcases great independent (non-studio) films with commercial appeal and something to say. Berlin winners can be very serious.

South Korea's Busan festival and the Hong Kong festival offer the best guides to films from Asia. The London festival is especially strong for stimulating British film-makers, and Rotterdam celebrates the political and the avant garde. Tribeca is another reputable arbiter of indie films and SXSW is good for young film-makers and genre films.

Don't forget the trailers. The festival site, nziff.co.nz, provides easy links.