A festival of waking dreams

RNZB dancers Abigail Boyle and Alexandre de Oliviera Ferreira in The  Heart Dances. PHOTO: KEN...
RNZB dancers Abigail Boyle and Alexandre de Oliviera Ferreira in The Heart Dances. PHOTO: KEN DOWNIE

Weekend Mix film reviewer Jeremy Quinn casts his eye over the offerings at the 42nd New Zealand International Film Festival.

Welcome folks, to the 42nd Dunedin International Film Festival. As always, this lovingly curated and exceptionally eclectic programme of filmic delights serves as the definitive word on the current state of cinema: an opportunity to indulge in the best, boldest and brashest the world has to offer, to sample future classics-in-the-making, with perhaps the odd turkey on the side, and to celebrate the greatest artform of the last 100 years or so in all its magnificence and splendour.

So, am I overselling it? Well, no, not in the slightest. With the world in such a continual state of woe and flux, it is as crucial as ever to have access to narratives which help us find some meaning amongst the madness. Sure, a good book can stimulate the imagination and the intellect, but a good film allows us to experience the hypnotic pleasures of a waking dream, and provides us with a means to somehow intuit our way through ... and besides, who really has the time to read these days what with the internet and all that?

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Ben Foster star in Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. Image: supplied
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Ben Foster star in Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. Image: supplied

I've been obsessive about the festival for years, and I can truly say that this year's line-up is as strong as it has ever been. It does not have everything I would like to have seen included, but I guarantee most selections will be worth your time no matter your taste or proclivities for the unique, brazen and/or bizarre.

The Big Nights and Special Presentations section forms the core of the programme. It is here you will find the prestige pics of the festival; the highlights from Cannes such as this year's Palme D'Or winner, Kore-eda Hirokazu's Shoplifters, or Debra Granik's Leave No Trace, featuring a much-acclaimed performance from young New Zealander Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie. There's also a reportedly stunning 4K restoration of Wim Wenders' 1987 Wings of Desire, the angels-looking-over-us masterpiece that, if nothing else, puts forward the case for Berlin being the most beautiful city on Earth.

New Zealand also makes a typically strong contribution, and I'm predicting the highlight to be Dustin Feneley's debut feature Stray which, from the strong reviews and exceptional-looking trailer, looks to be a brilliantly shot, finely-honed variation on the Man Alone archetype, with a few modern-day twists to boot.

Documentaries make up the rest of the local offerings, and though the opening night film, Pietra Brettkelly's Yellow is Forbidden, will no doubt thrill the fashionistas, I'm looking forward to Heperi Mita's archival biography, Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen, as well as Rebecca Tansley's The Heart Dances - the Journey of The Piano: the ballet, for my cinema history fix, while She Shears, the story of women shearers competing at the prestigious Golden Shears competition, could well rival The Ground We Won in its portrait of Kiwi rural life.

However, this being a festival of world cinema, I'd like to offer my most essential picks from the rest of the fest - these are the smaller ones, the ones that might go unnoticed among the big guns ... the less worthy, or perhaps even worthier. First though, a disclaimer: I'm not making any claims to objectivity here, these are purely the ones that stand out for me personally ... your mileage may vary.

Heddy Lamar. Photo: NZIFF
Heddy Lamar. Photo: NZIFF


The fascinating story of the Austrian-born siren of the silver screen, famous for glamorous roles in such Golden Age Hollywood films as Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah, while also being a prolific amateur inventor, is boosted by a rare interview recorded in 1990 for Forbes magazine.

Screening times: Friday, August 10, 2.30pm, Rialto; Monday, August 13, 6.15pm, Rialto; Saturday, August 25, 6.15pm, Rialto.


A three-hour-plus observational film on the inner workings of the New York Public Library may, on the surface, sound like a bit of a snooze-fest, but when the venerable, prolific documentarian Frederick Wiseman is involved, it is more likely to be a mesmerising, trance-inducing experience, richly rewarding patient and accommodating viewers. Comes complete with random Elvis Costello cameo.

Screening times: Sunday, August 12, 1.45pm, Rialto; Thursday, August 16, 11am, Rialto.


This Israeli anti-war drama makes the titular three-step dance a metaphor for the traumatic cycle of war, death and violence in Israeli society; the story of a dead soldier propelling its own novelistic, reflective three-act structure, jumping back and forth in time and featuring an apparently stunning animated interlude.

Screening times: Sunday, August 12, 5.30pm, Rialto; Tuesday, August 14, 1.30pm, Rialto; Wednesday, August 15, 8.30pm, Regent.


Retrospectively functioning as something of a send-off for the legendary, iconic Harry Dean Stanton, who died last year at the ripe old age of 91. Friend and collaborator David Lynch also co-stars in a film said to overcome the indie-movie cliches of this type of thing, becoming a touching meditation on old age and death, with plenty of warm, brittle humour throughout.

Screening times: Sunday, August 12, 7.45pm, Rialto; Thursday, August 16, 2.45pm, Rialto.

Climax. Photo: NZIFF
Climax. Photo: NZIFF


My undoubted pick of the festival. Gaspar Noe, the great New French Extremity jerk and schoolboy provocateur, came away with some seriously unexpected plaudits at Cannes for this LSD-fuelled tale of a '90s warehouse dance party gone bad. Expect the usual full sensory overload, jokey Godardian jump-titles and playfully deep, existential mansplaining from a film-maker who has never been afraid to push the limits of what cinema has to offer ... but be warned, you may need a few days off to recover.

Screening times: Sunday, August 12, 8.30pm, Regent; Tuesday, August 14, 4pm, Regent; Friday, August 17, 8.15pm, St James, Gore.


There are no words more beautiful in the English language than ``Hitchcockian war-thriller'', but this German-French co-production transcends the label by setting its tale of assumed identity during occupied France very firmly in the modern day, suggesting the circularity of history in what is sure to be a notable and stylish contribution to the genre. As a bonus, this is playing at the festival with David Hay's short film Cold Fish, shot right here in Dunedin.

Screening times: Monday, August 13, 6.15pm, Regent; Thursday, August 16, 4pm, Regent; Saturday, August 18, 8.15pm, St James, Gore.


Some amazing-looking cinematography might lift this firmly out of your standard ``yurt movie'' territory. In Bulgarian director Miklo Lazarov's second feature, a quiet story about an ageing Yakut couple whose traditional lifestyle is gradually being encroached upon by the iniquities of the modern world, the subtle observations of the opening act slowly give way to an operatic finale worthy of a Technicolor melodrama.

Screening times: Tuesday, August 14, 6.15pm, Regent; Wednesday, August 15, 11.30am, Regent; Sunday, August 19, 5.15pm, St James, Gore.

First Reformed. Photo: NZIFF
First Reformed. Photo: NZIFF


Writer-director Paul Schrader's latest is being touted as one of his best, the culmination of a career practically littered with fragile men wrestling with their consciences and having embittered crises of faith. In this instalment, Ethan Hawke plays a parish minister looking for hope and meaning in the face of our current environmental nightmare, and much like another well-known Schrader anti-hero, finding violence, redemption, or maybe both,

Screening times: Tuesday, August 14, 8.30pm, Regent; Sunday, August 26, 7.30pm, Rialto.


This cult-movie-in-the-making looks set to be a gloriously insane piece of visually inventive, grindhouse madness, with yet another singularly off-the-trolley performance from the great performance artist himself, one Nicholas Cage. Expect trippy animation, psychedelic visuals up the wazoo, and blood, lashings of blood. The fact that Linus Roache (son of Coronation Street's William) plays the villain here only makes me more intrigued.

Screening times: Tuesday, August 14, 8.45pm, Rialto; Saturday, August 18, 9.15pm, Regent.


The must-see documentary of the festival, being timely, resonant and more than a little frightening, it is about the outsourcing of censorship by Facebook/Google/Twitter et al to Filipino workers who view roughly 25,000 images a day, making snap decisions about what we can and can't see online, bringing up important questions around how not only what we see affects how we see the world, but how the world is affected by what we see.

Screening times: Thursday, August 16, 8.15pm, Rialto; Monday, August 20, 2.30pm, Rialto.

Ash is the Purest White. Photo: NZIFF
Ash is the Purest White. Photo: NZIFF


Epic underworld drama from one of China's most acclaimed current film-makers, Jia Zhang-ke, is also an allegory for the changing face of modern China, as tradition slowly gives way to modernity. Spanning 2001 until New Year's Eve 2018, and employing a range of cameras, lenses and styles to represent the different periods within this timeframe, it offers a thoughtful and far-reaching take on a genre staple.

Screening times: Saturday, August 18, 8pm, Rialto; Tuesday, August 21,1.30pm, Rialto.


Brilliant Scottish writer-director Lynne Ramsay takes on Jonathan Ames' 2013 novel in the second of this festival's obvious riffs on Taxi Driver, this time featuring Joaquin Phoenix as a disturbed, hammer-wielding Gulf War veteran in what promises to be one of the standouts of the year; Ramsay bringing an outsider's view to a hellish vision of the United States, flanked by a sure-to-be-excellent Jonny Greenwood score.

Screening times: Monday, August 20, 8.45pm, Regent; Saturday, August 25, 8.15pm, Rialto.


A new film from Iranian director Jafar Panahi is always a cause for celebration, not least because he is literally banned from making films or indeed leaving his own country; his unique method of covert, guerrilla film-making a necessary consequence of this unfortunate situation.

Screening times: Tuesday, August 21, 8.15pm, Rialto; Sunday, August 26, 3.30pm, Rialto.

Shut Up and Play the Piano. Photo: NZIFF
Shut Up and Play the Piano. Photo: NZIFF


The most interesting and unconventional-sounding of the programme's music documentaries centres on the enigmatic figure of Chilly Gonzales, a Canadian pianist, rapper and all-around eccentric entertainer who is probably best known here for his work on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, although this new portrait is certain to help introduce his unique talents to a wider audience.

Screening times: Wednesday, August 22, 8.15pm, Rialto; Friday, August 24, 4.30pm, Rialto.


That we can see a new Jean-Luc Godard film on the big screen in 2018 is nothing short of a miracle. The veritable instigator of the French New Wave has made a career out of bold, unconventional, anti-cinema experiments of arguably variable quality, not to mention some of the best films made, yet there is no escaping his drive, passion and propensity for taking on this great artform. His latest cinematic collage will delight some and infuriate others, but really it just needs to be seen.

Screening times: Thursday, August 23, 8.30pm, Rialto; Friday, August 24, 12.45pm, Rialto.

Dogman. Photo: NZIFF
Dogman. Photo: NZIFF


And finally, some light relief after all the doom and gloom ... a wacky tale from Matteo Garrone, director of the equally breezy Gomorrah, about an Italian dog groomer who somehow gets involved with the local mafia, leading to much stylised violence and destruction ... hang on a second ... it seems that, for some unknown reason, there is something of a running theme among many of the films in 2018...

Screening times: Wednesday, August 22, 4pm, Rialto; Friday, August 24, 8.30pm, Rialto; Sunday, August 19, 7.15pm, St James Gore.

If an otherworldly being somehow found their way to a cinema at any other time of the year, they might very well think we humans were a bunch of cosplaying bickerers only set on learning to dance in our old age.

Perhaps we are this sometimes, but we're so much more: a messy, sprawling, uncertain, yearning, loving, searching and, quite frankly, rather strange bunch, and they might very well also observe, if settling atop the Regent for a few weeks in August, all the folk shuffling into this rather glorious space to see others like themselves, on a giant white screen, be messy, sprawling, uncertain...

Ex Libris. Photo: NZIFF
Ex Libris. Photo: NZIFF

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