The opening night of this year's New Zealand International Film Festival was a huge success, with over 100 people turning up for the first screening.

Disobedience was a riveting way to launch proceedings, giving a sense of promise for a varied and captivating lineup of films to explore throughout the festival.

Many films this year explore personal stories on a very human level – stories of love, self-discovery, liberation, incredulity, sadness and joy.

One such film which has really captured my interest is Puzzle, which follows Agnes on a journey of self-discovery, breaking out of the small world she has known from a young age - finding her voice, power and liberation.

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This movie looks quirky and absolutely delightful and is one I'm planning to see.

Loveling is another journey of self-discovery and explores a dedicated mother of four sons with all the chaos and fun that brings, facing her first experience of empty-nest syndrome.

Bring your tissues to Aga, as I have it on good authority from a friend that this simply beautiful story about an elderly couple living in the Arctic tundra had her in tears.

Another film, Shoplifters, follows a struggling family of five who take in an abused child with no way of knowing the journey they will embark on.

This film uses a delicate hand to explore a number of themes including the very nature of what makes a family.

A film that is already proving popular, based on ticket sales, is Three Identical Strangers, which shares the simply incredible story of identical triplets separated at birth who find each other again as young adults.

The movie clearly has hidden depths as further secrets and unbelievable twists follow.

New Zealand content is well represented this year.

Maui's Hook by Māori psychologist and filmmaker Paora Joseph bravely tackles the grim subject of suicide with a sensitive hand and a sobering touch.

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Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen delivers a "richly personal portrait" exploring the life and work of Merata Mita who broke through many barriers as an indigenous filmmaker, a woman and an activist.

Paul Callaghan: Dancing with Atoms looks at the life of renowned scientist, thinker and "renaissance man" Callaghan, who continues to have an impact today.

And we have the ever popular "New Zealand's Best 2018", showing the best of short films.

For those who love a bit more action or thrills, Burning is based on a love-triangle with a story that slowly gets darker and stranger, leading the viewer on a journey of suspense and surprise.

The best-reviewed film at Cannes, Burning looks mesmerising.

Beirut has been personally recommended to me by several people. Described as a "cracking, old-fashioned spy thriller" this promises twists and turns coupled with fantastic acting by Jon Hamm and fellow cast members.

Of course, you can never know where films in the film festival will take you – and that's the beauty of it all.

• Talk, walk and beach clean with curator Jess Mio, beginning in the Bottled Ocean 2118 exhibition. Gloves and bags supplied. Free event, starting and ending at MTG Hawke's Bay. Today – Saturday, September 1, 10am.

• New Zealand International Film Festival at MTG Century Theatre now on until September 16. Tickets available at MTG now.

• Laura Vodanovich is the director of the Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG) Hawke's Bay.