Thursday, June 27, 2013

NZIFF: Picks of the Fest

Tickets for the New Zealand International Film Festival go on sale tomorrow in Auckland, and if you've just been too busy to even look at the programme, here are a few films which I'm looking forward to...

Some years ago the NZFF screened a great doco on avant-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler which I’ve been trying to see again without much luck. Ayler was one of two musicians John Coltrane said he would like to see play at his funeral. The other was Ornette Coleman. I’m hoping this once-hard-to-see 1985 doco by underground filmmaker Shirley Clarke will offer a similarly fascinating and impressionistic mix of context and perspective on this true genius of seriously out-there sounds. Clarke’s unconventional approach to the format -- supposedly as free as experimental as Coleman’s playing -- should appeal to anyone bored with routine hagiographic portraits.

Normally I’d wouldn’t make anything 3D a priority, but when you put Alfred Hitchcock into the equation, well, everything changes. I mean how often do you get to see Hitchcock in 3D on the big screen? Word is that Warner did a bang-up job restoring this smart, witty ‘54 suspenser starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, and the screening at Toronto International Film Festival last year sold out in TEN MINUTES. Reviews of the 3D have been encouraging, stating that Hitch wasn’t just about the gimmick, only employing it sparingly to enhance depth and emotion. Also: retro programming is easily my favourite part of the festival.

The New York Times on Leviathan: “a product of the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard, offers not information but immersion: 90 minutes of wind, water, grinding machinery and piscine agony.” You had me SENSORY ETHNOGRAPHY LAB. The rest is gravy. Critics worldwide have been bowled over by the visceral sensory wallop of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s “doco” “about” the commercial fishing industry, which was filmed entirely on tiny cameras more commonly used to shoot extreme sports. From the startling images I’ve seen, Leviathan could be the darkest, most beautiful and terrifying experience of this year’s fest.

Andrew Bujalski hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. I still think his debut, 2002’s Funny Ha Ha is one of the best indies of the last decade, even if it spawned a movement with a much-maligned name (“mumblecore”) which he’s ever since been eager to sever ties with. It’s always heartening to see a filmmaker grow with each film, and with Computer Chess, Bujalski seems to be transitioning into a new promising phase of I’m not exactly quite sure what yet. Already a festival favourite stateside, its singular, retro-nerd-core video-vision of chess software programmers in the ‘80s sounds endearing and speaks to the geek inside me -- who also likes the fact that it was shot in the rarely used and unfashionably boxy Academy ratio.

Some others I've penciled in: Ilo Ilo, Camille Claudel 1915, Post Tenebras Lux, Blue Ruin, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, The Dance of Reality, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, The Strange Little Cat... there'll be more to come no doubt!

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