Shelter from the Storm: The World Cinema Showcase 2011

Cross-posted from The Corner.

One of bFM’s long-standing slogans has been “Shelter from the shit.” If you’re despairing at all the pathetic stabs at romantic comedy, insipid pseudo-sci-fi ‘thrillers,’ and tween-aimed re-treads of age-old fables—not to mention the imminent onslaught of Justin Bieber in three hideous dimensions—on offer at your local multiplex, despair no longer: the World Cinema Showcase exists to provide you the same anti-lamestream, art-focussed respite cinematically as B does on the airwaves.

Now in its thirteenth year, the festival arrives every autumn and functions as an entrée to the main course that is the NZIFF in July. This year’s showcase makes its home in Auckland’s elegant Skycity Theatre from today (April 1) until the 18th; it then heads south to the Paramount in Wellington (April 14–30), and thence to Dunedin’s Rialto Cinemas (May 5–18).

If the recent Documentary Edge Festival didn’t fully sate your desire for life through a lens, there are plenty of docs among the 36 films in this year’s lineup. Adding to the plethora of extant examinations of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are Restrepo, Armadillo and You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantánamo. In the first, a camera crew is embedded for a year with a platoon in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. Restrepo, which won Best Documentary at Sundance last year, is co-directed by The Perfect Storm writer Sebastian Junger, and based in part on Junger’s book War and his reports (with Tim Hetherington’s accompanying photojournalism) printed in Vanity Fair. Similarly, Armadillo follows a group of Danish ‘peace-keepers’ in the titular army base in the Afghan province of Helmand. Finally, You Don’t Like the Truth is 99 minutes of fly-on-the-wall hidden-camera footage from Guantánamo Bay.

Closer to home, Operation 8—which has its World Première at the festival—examines our own ‘anti-terror’ raids that took place in October of 2007 in the Urawera ranges. Returning from last year’s NZIFF is Waste Land, which follows a Brazil-born New York artist as he embarks on an ambitious project in his homeland involving garbage-pickers. Elsewhere, Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman” is a filmic Op-Ed on the many failings of the US education system, and the carousel-like Freakonomics is a movie version of Stephen Dubner and Stephen Levitt’s best-selling book split into test-case chapters directed by six filmmakers including Alex Gibney and Morgan Spurlock.

In addition to being a prolific producer, Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney is a master of his craft: his previous films include Enron, Taxi to the Dark Side, and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. His new film Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer is the perfect companion to Inside Job, which won Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars. Spitzer was state attorney general and was elected governor of New York in 2007 before he became embroiled in controversy in March 2008 after the New York Times reported that he was a client of a prostitution ring. He resigned two days later, citing “private faillings.” Sticking with documentary, though taking a few twists and turns: Bicycle Dreams tracks, up close and personal, contestants in the 24th Race Across America as they traverse 3,051.7 miles (and scale 110,000 feet) from San Diego to Atlantic City in the longest pedal-powered race in the world.

Catfish looks to be a stunning, depressing, amazing, insightful pseudo-documentary about the many ways social media allow us to construct and control multiple identities. In the film, Nev Shulman, a New York City photographer, is contacted by Abby, an 8-year-old girl living in rural Michigan. She’s a painter, and Nev is amazed at her skill when she sends him a painting of one of his photos. Nev strikes up online relationships with Abby’s entire family, one of which, with Megan—Abby’s 19-year-old sister—becomes romantic. Facebook friendships collide with brutal reality; as the Showcase’s wordy blurb puts it, the film is a “queasily riveting picture of virtual self-realisation through mutual misrepresentation.”

There’s a host of photography-related documentaries, including Smash His Camera, about the paparazzo Ron Galella, who once got the bash from Marlon Brando, and, another title returning from last year’s fest, Bill Cunningham New York, about the octogenarian photojournalist. There are profiles of John Lennon (LennoNYC); Harry Nilsson (Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)); the author of Naked Lunch and one of the fathers of the mashup (William S. Burroughs: a Man Within); Lemmy from Motörhead; of the playwright and monologist Spalding Gray, who committed suicide in 2004 (And Everything is Going Fine, dir. Steven Soderbergh); and, in The Woodmans, of another suicide, Francesca Woodman—a largely unknown photographic artist whose work comprises mostly nude self-portraits. The Art of the Steal details the City of Philadelphia’s power struggle with the children of a private collector for the art in their father’s estate. The Showcase affords Dunedinites the opportunity to see the truly wonderful L’amour Fou, about the auctioning of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s massive art collection, reviewed on this site earlier this year for the French Film Festival.

Remember that house-music track from a decade or so back with the yellow sock-puppet head-banging along to the beat? The guy who made that, Quentin Dupieux, has made a movie called Rubber, about a lovelorn homicidal car tyre. Yep, a killer tyre: it explodes people’s heads with telekinetic powers which it summons by quivering. Gregg Araki’s much-anticipated new film, a sci-fi inflected sex-filled filmic detonation called Kaboom, plays in the Showcase, as does Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, a gorey Canadian comedy-horror about hillbillies. We Are What We Are is a creepy-looking piece of work that’s been described as “surely [the first] Mexican social-realist cannibal horror-drama.” Looking East to two martial arts films: Gallants returns from last August’s Hong Kong Film Fest, and Reign of Assassins, a joint Taiwanese-Hong Kong production, stars Michelle Yeoh and is co-directed by John Woo.

Mumblecore director Aaron Katz (Dance Party, U.S.A.; Quiet City) turns in a smart little mystery in Cold Weather, while precocious young cineaste Xavier Dolan—whose J’ai Tué ma Mère played in last year’s NZIFF—presents his colourful sophomore effort, Heartbeats (Les Amours Imaginaires). Opening the festival is François Ozon’s new film, Potiche, a 1977-set comedy starring Catherine Deneuve. Sylvie Testud (Lourdes; La Vie en Rose) plays Françoise Sagan in a biopic of the author of Bonjour Tristesse called, simply, Sagan. Gérard Depardieu stars in My Afternoons with Margueritte (La tête en friche), and Nicole Kidman ramps up the claustrophobic intensity opposite Aaron Eckhart in the drama Rabbit Hole.

The White Meadows (Keshtzar Haye Sepid) and Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et des Dieux) are two examinations of religion, from Iran and France respectively; the editor of the former, Jafar Panahi, and its writer-director, Mohammad Rasoulof, have both recently been handed jail sentences and banned from making films in their homeland. The German film When We Leave (Die Fremde) is a melodrama about “a young Turkish-German woman torn between the modern, secular society around her and the demands of her traditional Islamic family.”

Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s resplendent Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Lung Bunmi Raluek Chat) returns after a few special presentations in an August coda to last year’s NZIFF. Finally, the Showcase provides audiences their first opportunity to see new films by Mike Leigh (Another Year, which plays once on April the 2nd before going on the art-house circuit on April 21st) and by Truman Show director Peter Weir, whose film The Way Back—his first since 2003’s Master and Commander—follows a group of gulag escapees as they trek 4000 miles overland from Siberia to India.

The World Cinema Showcase runs from today (April 1) until the 18th. Come back to The Corner over the next few weeks for in-depth coverage of more than a dozen films in the lineup.

All screenings are at the Skycity Theatre on Hobson St. Adult tickets are $12 for weekday sessions before 5pm, and $16 after 5pm and on weekends. A five-trip pass is $60. For students and Film Society members, tickets to all sessions are $12. See the festival’s website, worldcinemashowcase.co.nz, for the full schedule and more information on all the films playing.

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