By PETER CALDER
Amarbir Singh hated his first film so much he destroyed it by making his second one.
"I recycled old tapes of a short film I had made," says the 30-year-old Aucklander. "It was really terrible and I thought the best way to cover it up was to reuse the tapes so I'd never be able to look back on it."
It's a decision he - and we - may regret: the new picture showcases a talent whose early work, however stumbling, may one day be of interest.
1nite, whose quirky title earns it first place in the alphabetical list of films in this year's festival, is a small film in many ways. Barely 80 minutes long, it was shot for a budget of $400, almost all on a few blocks of Auckland's Karangahape Rd.
As its title suggests, its camera (deftly wielded by Cristobal Araus Lobos), prowls through a single night, eavesdropping on the lives of several characters: a likeable but lonely Sikh taxi-driver; two drinking buddies beneath the surface of whose mateship bitterness simmers; two sex workers; a young Maori who befriends a crippled ex-cop.
It sounds simple but this is a film with surprises in store. Each character undercuts our expectations as each story lurches in unexpected directions. You think you know someone at a glance, the film seems to say. But look closer.
Stylistically, it recalls early Jim Jarmusch or Paul Auster's Smoke. But the Bombay-born Singh, who arrived here only seven years ago, has an immigrant's watchful alertness to the particularities of his new home: he and Araus Lobos, a Chilean emigre put a distinctively local stamp on the genre, crafting a slight but accomplished and entertaining film.
Being observant may be in the Singh genes. His father ran a security and detective firm in India and he was expected to join the family business. And the film has the feel at times of security camera footage, giving the viewer the uncomfortable sense of prying on private lives.
"Yeah, it is, I suppose," Singh says, as he settles behind a coffee at Verona, in the heart of K Rd. "When I came here I worked as a security guard for about a month because it was an easy job to get. It was basically just watching people's lives."
Most storylines were shot in a single night and, although there was a script, "the actors didn't know about it", Singh says.
"I knew how it was going to go but I wanted the actors to rely a lot on their emotions. Staying in the moment was vital because we wanted to create in each case a bigger conflict than the resolution. We didn't overbrief the actors - just gave them simple objectives.
"And if you look at the film there is not a single dissolve or effect. Everything is in the camera and cut, cut, cut. It's just the simple art of storytelling."
He regards $400 as something of a budget blowout. He and Araus Lobos already owned the camera and editing gear and then there were those tapes ... Singh shakes his head in bemusement.
"We bought some food when the actors had to buy food in the film and some beers for the actors who were drinking. But I'm surprised we spent $400 actually because I'm not sure what we spent it on."
* 1nite is at Screens at Auckland International Film Festival, Village Hoyts Queen St at 6.45 tonight and 4pm Monday
By PETER CALDER