Film festival dishes up treats

KYLIE KLEIN NIXON
Last updated 14:34 10/07/2014
Dark Horse

CHECKMATE: Cliff Curtis, left, and James Rolleston star in The Dark Horse, a bio-pic about a speed chess master who shares his talent with East Coast youth.

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As someone in the movies once said, life is like a box of chocolates. That's never more true for Wellington film fans than in July, when the New Zealand International Film Festival opens.

Like the ultimate box of cinematic sweeties, the hardest part is picking what to try first, with a showcase of more than 80 films from all around the world.

The online catalogue gives you several options for perusing the programme.

I like using the sections, or genres and themes, to sort through it all.

A is for animation, always a delight in the festival, where my top pick is Michel Gondry's Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?.

Coupling Gondry's trippy cartoons with clips of a discussion between him and American linguist-philosopher Noam Chomsky, this is about as far from the cartoon mouse as animation can get while still being hand-drawn.

Animation also offers a chance to get your youngster into the festival spirit with programmes for tots from 3 to 10 years old. There is also the Japanese anime, Patema Inverted, which might be the next Spirited Away.

Kiwi films that shine in this year's programme are: low budget, sci-fi REALITi by the director of Black Sheep, which explores our urban landscape and the "fears we import from overseas"; Housebound, a gothic suburban chiller that wowed crowds at the South by South West festival, in Austin, Texas; and The Dark Horse, a dramatised biopic starring Cliff Curtis as East Coast legend Genesis Potini.

The Big Nights section features Boyhood by Texan director and frequent festival alum Richard Linklater.

Linklater knows how to play the long game when it comes to cinema. The coming- of-age film took 12 years to shoot and follows the film's star from the age of 6 to 18.

Framing Reality, the documentary section, is another big draw in the festival, because these are films that rarely get a wide cinema release outside festivals.

This year's top picks include: Ukraine is not a brothel, by Australian documentarian Kitty Green, about discredited feminist group Femen; seasoned documentarian Alex Gibney's expose on egomaniac pedaller Lance Armstrong; and the "improperly entertaining" The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden.

The Fresh section, showcasing first- time screeners, includes a couple of films that might be must-sees of the year, let alone the festival fortnight.

First among them is Frank, starring Michael Fassbender, the dramatised biopic of Brit legend Frank Sidebottom who pushed musical boundaries all while wearing a giant grinning head. Yes, it's a comedy.

Meanwhile, in the Incredibly Strange section the top film to see is, without a doubt, fourth wall-busting fantasy The Congress. It stars the eternally luminous Robin Wright as a fictionalised version of herself, forced to sell her soul to Hollywood and big business to resurrect her career.

Blending trippy animation with live action drama, The Congress will not be like any other film you see this year, or perhaps ever.

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Music lovers are unusually blessed this year, too. Every film in this section looks like a corker, but my pick has to be 20,000 Days on Earth, a pseudo-documentary about Nick Cave in which Cave plays chauffeur to his friends and collaborators and quizzes them about his life.

The film might be self-congratulatory and indulgent, but I expect that will be mitigated by Cave's enduring sense of the absurd and the fact that he's the coolest man alive.

In the thrill section, Korean sci-fi satire Snowpiercer, about a train that circles a post-apocalyptic earth endlessly, is standout. But there's also The Rover, starring Robert Pattinson, from the director of hit crime drama Animal Kingdom, and bizarre sci-fi nightmare Under The Skin, in which Scarlett Johansen plays an alien who lures, captures and vivisects men. Yes, you did read that right!

The world section brings cinema from France, Mali, Scandinavia, China and Spain. The standouts will be: Black Coal, Thin Ice, a surreal Chinese genre-blender set in the northern coal fields; and lyrical Indian romance The Lunchbox, which stars Irrfan Khan in a film described as "84 Charing Cross Road with added chutney".

The festival is a lot to take in, but my advice is to take a chance. Flip through the catalogue, eyes closed and drop a pin on a random page. Like any box of chocolates, whatever you pick will be delicious.

The New Zealand International Film Festival

When: July 25 till August 10.

Where: Cinemas all over the capital, from The Roxy in Miramar to the Penthouse in Brooklyn and the Lighthouse in Petone.

How: Tickets from nziff.co.nz, by phone on 801 8054 and at the festival box office at The Paramount, Courtenay Place. Tickets on the day are available from the individual cinemas' box offices.

- The Wellingtonian

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