Match Frame

Thoughts from an American editor and filmmaker in New Zealand about film and video production and post-production. Plus whatever else I feel like talking about.

Location: Balmoral, Auckland, New Zealand

A work in progress.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

NZFF 2010: Films I'm Very Excited About, Part One.

The New Zealand International Film Festival has been a highlight of my July ever since I moved to New Zealand. It's an excellent film festival, with a wide selection from the mainstreamish to the willfully obtuse to the incredibly strange.

The last two years, however, I've had to miss out - in 2008, entirely (traveling to a wedding and hiking with my family - no complaints) and in 2009 largely (pre-production on JAKE).

This year, I suddenly find myself with no commitments and work lined up on either side to help pay for it. So I am going to indulge.

I found the process of scheduling this year overwhelming, and that's coming from someone who lives for it, and I hear many other friends saying "I don't know what to see!" So here's my pick of twenty-four films that I advocate to varying degrees, divided into easy-to-sort categories that kinda-sorta overlap (check the fest site for additional information):

BIG SCREEN BLISS: Aucklanders are lucky to be able to enjoy films on the massive Civic screen. At times, this can be a curse (if the source material is mini-DV, say), but for these films (amongst others), it will be a blessing.

Once Upon A Time In The West: There's probably not a better way to start a festival than with one of the greatest films ever made, on a giant screen. For those who haven't seen it, and have a bias against westerns: there is no other western that will do more to convince you that you are wrong.

Oceans: This is probably one of those things nobody but me will get so excited about, but as a diver I can watch undersea life for hours on end. And this time I won't have to risk dying! Might take my iPod so I can ignore the likely-to-be hectoring/cheesy soundtrack.

Enter The Void: Now this, I cannot advocate for everybody. From the director of IRREVERSIBLE, a film that still makes people angry years after the fact, comes his latest film. By most accounts, from a content perspective, it's fairly silly; but in terms of visceral experience, nothing screening this year will come close (except possibly AMER, about which more below) to providing an unparalleled unique experience and changing how you think about cinema. Think that's hyperbole? Check out the opening credits, which have more invention than most feature films:

KIWI MADE: There's a larger batch of Kiwi films playing this year than normal. In addition to the short film programs (noting especially the HOMEGROWN DIGITAL program, which features a film I edited, Michael Beran's TEE PARTY), here's three features I'm particularly looking forward to.

Russian Snark: Note that I am in the tank for this film, as the folks say these days, because I cut the trailer. But I do think this independently-produced film, written and directed by Stephen Sinclair, is a very special film, filled with beautiful imagery and a story (about a Russian couple - a filmmaker and his muse who emigrated to New Zealand via boat - and their struggles to reconcile art with a healthy way of life) that's not just strange but true and deeply resonant.

Russian Snark Teaser Trailer from Russian Snark on Vimeo.

There Once Was An Island: A friend went on the first leg of this long-in-the-works documentary, about the island of Takuu, whose existence is endangered due to rising sea levels. While the larger implications and realities of global warming are held up to endless debate and nitpickery, this movie looks to show the unfortunate reality that stretches beyond op-ed pages into actual human lives.

Trailer for There Once was an Island: Te Henua e Nnoho from On The Level Productions on Vimeo.

Wound: THIS COULD BE THE MOST DISTURBING FILM IN THE FESTIVAL, AND DEPENDING ON WHAT YOU LIKE TO WATCH, POSSIBLY THAT YOU'VE EVER SEEN. Just wanted to say that loudly and clearly up-front, so nobody gives me a hard time for recommending it. Writer/director David Blyth was an instructor of mine at film school, with a long history of making provocative cult Kiwi films. After a long hiatus from drama feature filmmaking, he's back with an independently-produced film, and by all accounts, the result of the time off is a deeply personal, deeply visceral, absolutely unforgettable film. (Also worth mentioning: it features Campbell Cooley, who appears in JAKE.) Trailer below is not safe for work, the squeamish, the easily offended, etc.

INCREDIBLY STRANGE: The Incredibly Strange program is probably the part of the film festival I'm least biased about - if it weren't for schedule conflicts, I'd see everything in it. (Sorry, TRIANGLE and HUMAN CENTIPEDE.) It's also probably the most divisive. In addition to the two films mentioned above (and a very special film, about which, more soon), here's three very different films that I'm very excited about.

Amer: This is the film that I am most looking forward to at the film festival, full stop. This Belgian thriller, from the little I've seen online, has its style so deeply embedded in its DNA that it becomes its substance. When two of my favorite filmmakers, whose works have never been compared before - Dario Argento and Stan Brakhage - are mentioned in the same breath, I'm there. Please note: likely to be graphic, disturbing, etc, and the trailer below has one squirm-inducing shot in it.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror: From the sublime to the ridiculous. One of two movies in the fest this year competing for the title of Worst Movie Ever, Birdemic has captured instant notoriety across the world for its badly animated birds, its wooden acting, its inept direction, and terrible writing. A perfect midnight movie, but you'll have to settle for a 10 pm screening. Still undoubtedly worth it.

A Town Called Panic: Also guaranteed to put a smile on your face, albeit intentionally. From a Belgian animation team who are responsible for PIC PIC ANDRE (some of my favorite esoteric animation ever) comes what I understand is a casually surreal adventure. Trying to avoid reading much about it, so I probably can't sell it as much as I wish I could; I stopped reading the program description after I got to "A giant snowball-throwing penguin robot". If that doesn't sell it for you, I got nuttin. Except for this, which I stopped watching after 22 seconds in order to conserve surprise for the cinema:

FAVORITE DIRECTORS: This year seems light on "the latest movie by my favorite director", which I usually say about ten films in a year. Here's three.

Ha Ha Ha: Korean director Hong Sang-Soo (who actually has two films playing; the other one is Like You Know It All) is a specialist, telling stories that usually have parallel internal structures about the life of Koreans (usually in the film industry) drinking and making mistakes in love, usually while engaging in elaborate self-justifications. It's a formula that he repeats with minor variations, and despite his impeccable eye I find it hard to advocate his work to other people for fear that they'll be bored, but at the same time TURNING GATE and WOMAN ON THE BEACH are two of my favorite films ever. I haven't watched the below excerpt, but presumably it will give you an idea.

White Material: Claire Denis has made three of my favorite films: BEAU TRAVAIL, VENDREDI SOIR (FRIDAY NIGHT), and L'INTRUS (THE INTRUDER). All of them are poetic and rather ungrounded in conventional narrative structure. From most accounts WHITE MATERIAL is more grounded in narrative and perhaps less poetic, which may leave it less to my liking, but missing a Claire Denis film on the big screen is Not. An. Option. And the trailer certainly has its share of stunning imagery.

A Prophet: This film about a prisoner who turns crimelord was largely hyped at Cannes last year and has since got attention the world over. Jacques Audiard's films (see also: READ MY LIPS, THE BEAT MY HEART SKIPPED) employ a hand-held, textural, almost collage-like approach; lest that sound painfully experimental, it's all in the service of creating the inner life of the characters, and it's rare to see a filmmaker so in command of his technique and so attached to employing it to the service of the characterization instead of being for technique's sake. And on the Civic screen? Can't wait.

Second installment coming soon. Gotta edit some stuff, call IRD, etc.


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