Beasts, Kingdoms, Holy Motors: The New Zealand International Film Festivals 2012

The 2012 festival lineup is spectacular, with yet another record-breaking number of films direct from Cannes; the world premières of more than half a dozen locally made features; strong “Worlds of Difference,” “New Directions,” and “Go Slow” sections that present the very best of those branches of cinema, and a number of sterling new restorations of bona fide classics all vying for your hard-earned, festival-earmarked dollar.

The opening-night selection, Beasts of the Southern Wild, is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, and there are many gems hidden throughout this year’s programme. Ant Timpson’s carefully curated “Incredibly Strange” section is, as usual, teeming with an enticing, eclectic group of films from around the globe—ranging from the scary and creepy to the shocking and the downright bizarre—and we may yet see one or two late announcements in addition to Compliance, the latest cinematic offering from David Gordon Green acolyte Craig Zobel (a.k.a. the guy who created Strongbad).

It’s always very difficult to predict which of the lesser-known films from any given year’s programme might appear on the regular art-house circuit over the next nine-plus months, but suffice it to say that the festival provides not only the first opportunity to see—theatrically—any of the films in its lineup, but in many cases the only opportunity.

Centrepieces
Direct from Cannes

Some 18 titles come to us this year fresh from screenings at the most prestigious of world-cinema festivals, Cannes. Among them are the gala opening- and closing-night selections: American director Benh Zeitlin makes his feature début with the apparently “Malickian” bayou folktale Beasts of the Southern Wild (pictured), and—at perhaps the opposite end of the calm-to-crazy scale—Frenchman Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, a “supremely perplexing…mysterious odyssey through the streets of an eerie, beautiful Paris which…often digitally morph[s] into somewhere from a different planet entirely.”

Michael Haneke’s Amour—which garnered the Palme d’or this year—and Wes Anderson’s Cannes opener Moonrise Kingdom will doubtless already be atop many cinephiles’ must-see lists. Pablo Larraín’s No, starring Gael García Bernal, and Wayne Blair’s ’60s-set girl-group comedy The Sapphires—here given some of its first screenings outside Australia—are also worth looking into.

Journal de France (pictured), a documentary on the renowned photographer Raymond Depardon, also comes to us straight from Cannes, as do Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share, Sergei Loznitza’s follow-up to My Joy, In the Fog, and Walter Salles’ much-discussed Kristen-Stewart-starring Kerouac adaptation of On the Road. There’s a new film by Festen director Thomas Vinterberg called The Hunt, as well as Korean animation (The King of Pigs, by the sounds of it most definitely not for kids—”a violent low-budget anime about bullying” says the programme); Reality, the new film from Gomorra director Matteo Garrone; Beyond the Hills, Romanian director Christian Mungiu’s follow-up to 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days; and Hong Sang-Soo’s latest, In Another Country.

Spotlight
Films you might not have spotted the first time you flicked through the booklet

Portugese filmmaker Miguel Gomes (Aquele querido mês de agosto [Our Dear Month of August], nzff ’08) returns with the mysterious-looking Tabu (pictured), about which Tim Robey wrote, in the Telegraph, “[Gomes’] cinematic playfulness and coy referentiality…are conduits to long-lost feeling, to a faraway rapture.” Whores’ Glory, from Michael Glawogger, the director of Workingman’s Death, “introduces us to female sex-workers, their clients, and their managers, in three markedly different cultures.” In Side-by-Side, Keanu Reeves interviews film-industry big-wigs and movie makers about the encroaching digital revolution in cinema. The Boy Who Was a King and Our Newspaper look at a former Bulgarian Tsar, the appropriately triple-barrel-surnamed Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and the creation of an independent newspaper in Ulyanovsk (named for its most famous son, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin; the Russian city’s dominant paper is called The Leninist). Victor Kossakovsky’s ¡Vivan las Antipodas! looks to be a delight for those inclined to a more relaxed filmic pace.

Ben Rivers’ Two Years at Sea (pictured)—one of the (sadly) rare films in this year’s programme screening from a 35mm print—sits alongside presentations of some of the young director’s avant-garde work (double-featured with work by another ‘Ben,’ Ben Russell). Bonsài and Neighbouring Sounds—the latter an adaptation of a Chilean novel, and a Brazilian drama by Kleber Mendonça Filho about “a sheltered prosperous street adjacent to a poor neighbourhood” in Recife—both look fantastic, as does Back to Stay, an award-winning début that heralds its director, Milagros Mumenthaler, as yet another promising filmmaker from Argentina. Studyent, the new film from Kazakh director Darezhan Omirbayev, is a loose adaptation of Crime and Punishment “with no policeman.”

Grace Notes
Music- and art-related movies

Jonathan Demme’s new concert film Neil Young Journeys (pictured), pairs an intimate concert at Toronto’s famous Massey Hall with “a back-roads trip through Omemee, Ontario and other [of Young’s] childhood haunts.” The African-American choreographer Bill T. Jones is profiled in A Good Man, while Shut Up and Play the Hits! is a combo doc/concert-film on LCD Soundsystem and their massive final show at Madison Square Garden. The German artist Gerhard Richter, the American photographer Bill Stern, and “the most influential woman in 20th-century fashion,” Diana Vreeland, are all profiled in documentaries in the “Portrait of an Artist” section of the programme.

Independent Highlights
Audience favourites and award winners from SXSW, Sundance, and other ‘indie’ festivals

Chief among the many films that come to us brimming with buzz from the smaller US festivals is The Sound of My Voice (pictured). If you saw Another Earth last year, you won’t want to miss that film’s star and co-writer, Brit Marling, in this “creepily ambiguous” lo-fi-sci-fi tale of a cult infiltration. Liberal Arts and the new one from Humpday director Lynn Shelton, Your Sister’s Sister, get their first New Zealand screenings at the festival, as do Lee Hirsch’s headline-making doc Bully, and Kubrick obsessive Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, subtitled “Being an inquiry into The Shining in 9 parts.”

New Zealand Firsts
World Premières

The “Make My Movie” movie, How to Meet Girls from a Distance (pictured), gets its première in Wellington on July 29, and plays on the last day of the Auckland leg of the festival. Among the ten New Zealand documentaries in the lineup are new works by Dan Salmon (Pictures of Susan), Pietra Brettkelly (Māori Boy Genius), and Costa Botes (The Last Dogs of Winter).

From the Vaults
Restorations, retrospectives and other archival findings

A new restoration of Hitchcock’s Blackmail gets its second outing (with live accompaniment!) at the festival, as do digital restorations of Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse and Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The 1927 film The Flight of the Airship Norge over the Arctic Ocean (pictured) is given a special presentation from a 35mm print—surely a highlight for cinephiles of every stripe. Alongside those screenings of Room 237, you have the opportunity to see a DCP of Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece The Shining in the surrounds of (and on the enormous screen of) on the mighty Civic theatre.

Off the Wall
Incredibly Strange

At the top of my list is the late-addition of Pang Ho-cheung’s new film Vulgaria (pictured). Pang has done the same thing this year as he did two years ago: make a romantic comedy (in 2010 it was Love in a Puff) and a totally off-the-wall film at the other end of the spectrum. His 2010 home-invasion horror film Dream Home was, unexpectedly, one of my favourites that year, and although I haven’t yet seen his rom-com sequel (strangely named Love in the Buff), I’m very much looking forward to Vulgaria, which Ant Timpson calls “deliriously offensive.” Ben Wheatley (previous nzff selections Kill List, Down Terrace) returns with Sightseers, and the “Sundance shocker” triptych/horror anthology V/H/S get outings alongside the apparently Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque Danish comedy KLOWN and (finally!) the first New Zealand screenings of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s meta-horror Cabin in the Woods.

Time Out
The Civic Wintergarden

As this post goes live it’s not clear if Gina Dellabarca and the Show Me Shorts team have once again organised the Civic’s elegant Wintergarden into a thrumming social and cultural hub; in its first incarnation last year, the Film Café ran from noon on weekdays and 2pm on weekends throughout the festival. Aside from living up to its name by being home to an actual café and bar, the Wintergarden was last year witness to short-film screenings, discussions with festival guests, Script-to-Screen Filmmaker Talks, and much more. The only event scheduled so far is on Sunday evening: the second of the Auckland Film Society’s pub-style quizzes.

The New Zealand International Film Festivals begin tonight in Auckland (with a gala presentation of Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild) before travelling to Dunedin on July 27, thence to Wellington, Christchurch, Palmerston North, Hamilton, and Nelson throughout August, and Tauranga, New Plymouth, Hawke’s Bay, and other centres not yet announced.

Full information on all films in the programme is at the festival’s website.

Check the Twitter hashtag #nzff and follow me for social-media coverage,
and see the note below about my festival coverage.

My festival coverage will appear not on this site, but on the film blog of the New Zealand Listener magazine.

I’ll also be writing film columns for them on alternate weeks; the first will be in the issue of August 18.

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