The New Zealand International Film Festival, which aims to showcase engaging and innovative world and local cinema across the country, has unveiled the Auckland programme for this year. The festival, which plays across 13 cities in New Zealand from July to September, kicks off with the largest collection of films, the Auckland leg, and the 150-film strong line-up is an impressive cobbling together of Cannes premieres, films from Sydney Film Festival and the upcoming Melbourne International Film Festival (NZIFF pretty much falls in the middle of those two festivals) and belated screenings of films that deserved theatrical distribution across the pond (see: Inherent Vice).
Opening with a bang on July 16, the festival’s first film is Yorgos Lanthimos’ highly-anticipated The Lobster, an inspired choice considering the polarising opinion that greeted his 2009 feature Dogtooth at this festival. The rest of the Cannes titles are likewise impressive, with Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin and Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales among the festival’s special presentations and, outside of that, films ranging from Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home to the prize-winning My Golden Days (Director’s Fortnight winner from Arnaud Desplechin) and Rams (Un Certain Regard). There are also some Cannes 2014 titles playing, all of which missed out on theatrical distribution, including Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood and Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja.
Cannes isn’t the only festival that NZIFF had their eye on, with a nice collection of Berlinale features, including SFF favourites Tehran Taxi, The Club, and Victoria alongside films we’ve yet to see here in Australia, like Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, his follow-up to Weekend, and Alexey German Jr’s Under Electric Clouds.
In the realm of documentary cinema some of the best documentaries we have seen this year are screening, including hajoj kuka’s Beats of the Antonov, Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s Welcome to Leith and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, as well as some we wish had played at Sydney, like Gabe Polsky’s Red Army and Laura Gabbert’s City of Gold. They are also screening the two latest vérité documentaries from the Ross Brothers, 2012’s Tchoupitoulas and 2015’s Western.
There’s a big focus on animation at NZIFF this year, with 4:3 favourites Song of the Sea and When Marnie Was There playing in all-age screenings and, among the various collections of animated shorts, Ernie Biscuit, the latest from Oscar-winner Adam Elliot, Don Hertzfelt’s Sundance-winner World of Tomorrow and Kyungmin Woo’s charming Johnny Express. Among the other short films screening are two of the latest from Mark Rappaport, Becoming Anita Ekberg and The Vanity Tables of Douglas Sirk, as well as Kitty Green’s The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul, which was very well received here in Sydney.
There’s a strong offering of local films at the festival as well, with Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm destined to be a massive cult hit, and some very compelling documentaries ranging from Kim Webby’s socially conscious The Price of Peace to the intimate art biopic Tom Who? The Enigma of Tom Kreisler, from director Shirley Horrocks. For our money, though, the New Zealand film of most interest is Out of the Mist: An Alternate History of New Zealand Cinema, directed by Tim Wong, who helms the wonderful online journal The Lumière Reader. His documentary, which takes its title from his 2006 piece about Peter Jackson’s King Kong, is a collage of clips from oft-ignored and underseen New Zealand cinema, narrated by Man Booker Prize-winning novelist Eleanor Catton.
As expected, and as mentioned above, a whole host of our Sydney Film Festival favourites are in the programme – Arabian Nights, Tangerine, Haemoo, Court, and Cemetery of Splendour among them. From the theatrical realm, though, it’s great to see films like Clouds of Sils Maria, While We’re Young and ’71 screening at the festival, an even clearer indicator of the importance of NZIFF in terms of access to contemporary films in New Zealand.
The Auckland leg of the festival opens on July 16 and runs until the 2nd of August. Ticket sales open on June 26th.
We already have reviews for over 60 films that are screening at NZIFF this year. Those can be read here.