Screen­ing for pref­er­ence

Face facts: you won’t see them all. Whether you plan to see just a few of the movies in the film fes­ti­val or dozens, you’ve got some de­ci­sions to make. Metro picks some likely can­di­dates, and talks to three Kiwi di­rec­tors about their of­fer­ings.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Nz International Film Festival - TEXT — DAVID LARSEN

“They don’t do 11pm screen­ings any more,” said the wo­man sit­ting next to me at the film fes­ti­val. “It means there’s no way to do six films in one day.

How they ex­pect me to keep up with the pro­gramme now, I re­ally don’t know.”

This con­ver­sa­tion took place two years ago and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. Not count­ing open­ing night, or any post-fes­ti­val ex­tra screen­ings, the film fes­ti­val runs 17 days. At six films a day, this gives you time to fit in 102 films. They’re still adding ti­tles to this year’s pro­gramme as I write, but some years the to­tal num­ber of films gets up around 150. For keep­ing up with the pro­gramme to be math­e­mat­i­cally pos­si­ble, screen­ings at 11pm would not do the job. You’d need to add ones at 1am, 3am, and 6am, and you would need to go 17 days with­out sleep.

The New Zealand In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val is there­fore our an­nual em­bod­i­ment of the Great Truth About Cul­ture: you are go­ing to die leav­ing a lot of good things un­read, un­lis­tened to, and un­watched. This seems de­press­ing at first. But an­other way to think of it is this: the sup­ply of in­ter­est­ing films, books, and mu­sic is ef­fec­tively in­ex­haustible. The right ap­proach is to work out how much you can take in while still en­joy­ing it, and then do that. There is no wrong num­ber: in the case of the fes­ti­val, 50 films over 17 days is great, but so is five. Which only leaves the prob­lem of choice.

My mantra: fol­low your peo­ple, but take some risks. So, Let the Sun­shine In is a ro­man­tic com­edy/drama di­rected by the great Claire De­nis. You don’t even need to tell me it stars Juli­ette Binoche, I’m al­ready there. Happy

End is Michael Haneke’s fol­low-up to 2012’s shat­ter­ing Amour. The Guardian’s en­thu­si­as­tic de­scrip­tion of it as a “sa­tanic soap opera of pure so­ciopa­thy” would get me on board, ex­cept that I’m on board al­ready. Call Me by Your Name is the new film from Luca Guadagnino, whose last two dra­matic fea­tures were the lush, un­pre­dictable I Am Love and A Big­ger Splash: this will be the first time I’ve seen him work­ing with a cast that doesn’t in­clude Tilda Swin­ton, and while I’ll miss her, I’m also fas­ci­nated to see what a Swin­ton-free Guadagnino film looks like.

Tay­lor Sheri­dan is one of the most ex­cit­ing new names in Amer­i­can genre film, with a sen­si­bil­ity fus­ing a ve­he­ment sense of so­cial jus­tice with tense, smart ac­tion: in two years, he’s gone from “to­tal un­known” to “writer of Si­cario and Hell or High Wa­ter”. Wind River, star­ring Jeremy Ren­ner and El­iz­a­beth Olsen, is the third film to be made from one of his screen­plays, and the first he’s di­rected; I have no idea whether he can work with a crew as well as he can work with a key­board, but there’s no way I’m not lin­ing up to find out.

Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan (2014) is one of the most cu­ri­ously mov­ing doc­u­men­taries

I’ve seen at the fes­ti­val: a sin­gle cam­era is set up and left rolling in the midst of protest­ing crowds dur­ing Ukraine’s Maidan revo­lu­tion, and we watch them. No ed­its, no voiceover, al­most no ex­plana­tory ti­tles. Auster­litz ap­plies the same po­tent min­i­mal­ism to crowds vis­it­ing for­mer Nazi death camps. The fes­ti­val also fea­tures Loznitsa’s A Gen­tle Crea­ture, a drama based on a Dos­toyevsky story, set in the Rus­sian pe­nal sys­tem; the chance to see two such con­trast­ing films from the same di­rec­tor isn’t one I’d pass up.

For some­thing more dar­ing, con­sider Don’t Swal­low My Heart, Al­li­ga­tor Girl! It’s a di­rec­to­rial de­but, it’s from Brazil, it riffs on Romeo and Juliet and it sounds mod­er­ately in­sane; the re­views have been strong, but I freely con­cede I’m go­ing to it mostly to dis­cover whether it can live up to its ti­tle. This mo­ti­va­tion would also get me through the door for My Life as a Cour­gette, but I don’t need mo­ti­vat­ing. This is an Os­car-nom­i­nated an­i­mated fea­ture from Kim Keukeleire, one of the stop-mo­tion mas­ters be­hind Wes An­der­son’s Fan­tas­tic Mr Fox, and the an­i­ma­tion strand of the pro­gramme is one of its re­li­able high­lights.

If you pay at­ten­tion to the in­ter­na­tional re­views, I Am Not Your Ne­gro ar­rives strongly

her­alded: this doc­u­men­tary dis­til­la­tion of the writ­ings of James Baldwin has been get­ting praise from all quar­ters. Elo­quent, brac­ing, in­ci­sive, and deeply at­tuned to our global po­lit­i­cal mo­ment. An­other doc­u­men­tary on my don’t-miss list: Aba­cus: Small Enough to Jail makes a pow­er­ful point about the im­plicit li­cence to re­of­fend ex­tended to the white-col­lar rogues be­hind the global fi­nan­cial crash. The film looks at the treat­ment of the only Amer­i­can bank to be pros­e­cuted for fraud in the wake of the sub-prime mort­gage scan­dal... which just hap­pened to be a small fam­ily bank owned by Chi­nese im­mi­grants.

Laura Poitras was able to make Ci­ti­zen­four, her fea­ture-length in­ter­view with Ed­ward Snow­den, be­cause the highly cau­tious Snow­den trusted her to tell his story. Risk is her fol­low-up, and its sub­ject is an even big­ger ac­cess coup: over a sixyear pe­riod, she was al­lowed to film fugi­tive Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange. I’m equally cu­ri­ous to see Tro­phy, by all ac­counts a thought­ful, anti-sen­sa­tion­al­ist study of the 2015 furore over an Amer­i­can den­tist’s shoot­ing of the African lion Ce­cil. An­other film that prom­ises to ease its way past con­tro­versy and ask use­ful ques­tions: Win­nie is a sym­pa­thetic ac­count of the life and work of Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela, the widely crit­i­cised for­mer wife of Nel­son Man­dela.

If you ap­pre­ci­ate get­ting to hear the sto­ries of peo­ple not usu­ally al­lowed into the geopo­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive, keep an eye out for Star­less Dreams, which is an Ira­nian doc­u­men­tary about young fe­male in­mates in a de­ten­tion cen­tre just out­side Tehran. Or leap back into the arms of genre for an en­tirely dif­fer­ent look at a young wo­man at odds with the law: Mar­lina the Mur­derer in Four Acts is a stylish, en­er­getic In­done­sian re­venge story whose epony­mous hero­ine re­fuses to lie down and be vic­timised when a gang of out­laws in­vades her farm.

Blade of the Im­mor­tal is the lat­est film from Ja­pan’s Takashi Mi­ike ( Thir­teen As­sas­sins); it’s based on a pop­u­lar manga se­ries about an im­mor­tal samu­rai, and if there’s one thing you can trust Mi­ike with, it’s a samu­rai ac­tion movie. For a more trans­for­ma­tive twist on genre, I’m putting my hopes in A Ghost Story, from David Low­ery ( Pete’s Dragon). The key words for this one: slow, quiet, un­pre­dict- able. And, as it says on the tin, it’s about death and loss and what hap­pens next.

An­other slow, quiet story I’ve been wait­ing ages to see: 20th Cen­tury Women, a gently hu­mor­ous char­ac­ter piece for which, ev­ery­one who’s seen it seems to agree, An­nette Ben­ing should have been Os­car-nom­i­nated. Or for a strong fe­male per­for­mance of a very dif­fer­ent kind, don’t miss Florence Pugh in Lady Mac­beth, a Vic­to­rian pe­riod drama in which the pa­tri­archy meets its match.

Fi­nally, a wild old-meets-new punt: Zacharias Kunuk is a Cana­dian Inuk di­rec­tor, and his new film, Maliglu­tit, is in­spired by John Ford’s The Searchers. A hunter searches for his kid­napped wife and daugh­ter across vast ex­panses of ice and snow, mak­ing for an out­door pur­suit epic that ought to look spec­tac­u­lar on the big screen.

LEFT— Greta Ger­wig and Elle Fan­ning, 20th Cen­tury Women.

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