The New Zealand International Film Festivals 2010: A Preview

By Hugh Lilly

The 42nd annual Auckland International Film Festival starts on July 8th, and although the line-up hasn’t been officially finalised just yet, some great entries have already been confirmed. An impressive restored print of the classic spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West will be on display in its full CinemaScope glory.

French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s directorial début J’ai tué ma mere is a semi-autobiographical look at a mother-son bond brought to fractious heights by the son’s sexuality. Dolan, who is openly gay, takes the lead role, and the film, while not without its faults—namely a knock-off Philip Glass score and some superfluous imitation-Wong Kar-wai slo-motion tracking shots—is a striking first feature. (Les Amours Imaginaires, Dolan’s privately-financed second film, screened at Cannes this month and looks to be every bit as enthralling, and even more colourful and vivacious than his first.)

American documentarian Frederick Wiseman takes a look backstage at the Paris Opera Ballet in La Danse, and there’s a streak of gangster pictures:

Jacques Audiard (De battre mon cœur s’est arrêté) returns with Un prophète, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes last year and was nominated for the Foreign Oscar—and there’s Animal Kingdom, which stars Guy Pearce and Joel Edgerton and was made by the Australian director David Michôd. The drama, which centers on a family of criminals, looks like an antidote of sorts to the retro-kitsch, trashy quality of things like Underbelly.

Trickery and sneakiness is afoot elsewhere too, with Exit Through the Gift Shop, “the world’s first street-art disaster movie,” lined up for what will surely be eager audiences. The documentary was supposedly directed by the notorious British artist Banksy, though since its première at Sundance, speculation has been rife as to the prankster’s level of involvement—with some arguing he had no part in the film whatsoever…

In the same vein, one-time hipster wünderkind Harmony Korine—who wrote the script for Larry Clark’s Kids at age 21—returns to form with Trash Humpers, which looks to be a brilliant, bizarre study of an absurd world of… well, people who hump garbage bins, as viewed—literally—through the amateurish cloudy lens of a bunch of old camcorders.

Another prodigal artist, the New York painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died at age 27 of a heroin overdose, is profiled in a documentary by Tamra Davis. Jean-Michel Basquiat: the Radiant Child is composed of interview footage shot by Davis—a music-video and TV director and a contemporary of Basquiat’s—in 1986, just two years before his death.

Secrets of the Tribe, by Brazilian director José Padilha, is a shocking exposé centred on the life and work of Napoleon Chagnon, the only cultural anthropologist to have ever been accused of genocide. In the 1960s and ’70s, Chagnon led a group of ethnographic expeditions that set out to live among and record data on the Ya̧nomamö Indians, an indigenous tribal group who have lived for thousands of years between what is now Venezuela and Brazil, in the heart of the Amazon.

With the filmmaker Timothy Asch, Chagnon made several influential film-studies of the various primitive Ya̧nomamö communities, a great many of whom had never before had contact with the outside world and so had social customs and behaviour that the researchers found fascinating, to say the least.

Throughout the film—which is largely composed of talking heads, archival footage, and excerpts from anthropological reels—accusations fly: that Chagnon and others instigated a measles epidemic in the Ya̧nomamö that may have lead to hundreds of deaths due to a lack of medicines, and that the epidemic was somehow designed to test the effects of radiation stress from the fallout of nuclear warheads; that Jacques Lizot—an anthropologist sent with the blessing of the late Claude Lévi-Strauss, one of the most highly-respected French academics and thinkers of the 20th Century—engaged in extensive acts of sexual abuse, including paedophilia, within the communities he was entrusted to study; and that Kenneth Good, an American academic, married a then 13-year-old Ya̧nomamö girl, had children by her and bought her back to the States as a grown woman in order to further his professional career. One of the most shocking, revelatory documentaries in the last ten years, this simply has to be seen to be believed.

Other documentaries lined up so far include two New Zealand-oriented ones: Briar March’s Te Henua e Noho (There Once Was an Island), about the encroachment of climate change and its effects on those living on the tiny island of Takuu in the South Pacific, and Clive Neeson’s Last Paradise, in which the director chronicles his three-decades-long passion of filming adventure sports around the country.

Follow @nzff on Twitter, ‘like’ their Facebook fan page, and sign up at nzff.co.nz for updates, announcements and more information as the festival draws near.

A scene from Frederick Wiseman'€™s La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet.

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