New Zealand International Film Festival highlights

Last updated 14:46 19/07/2014

SNOWPIERCER: Song Kang Ho and Ko Ah Sung at the stunning sci-fi epic's premiere.

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The New Zealand International Film Festival arrives in Wellington on Thursday and for the next few weeks I'll be picking out some recommendations, especially from the less publicised corners of the programme.

One film that isn't going to suffer for lack of interest is the opening night feature The Dark Horse. James Napier Robertson's feature, based on the life and character of East Coast chess prodigy Genesis Potini, is an extraordinary achievement. Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston (Boy) and Wayne Hapi turn in a trio of stunning performances.

And a mention for Snowpiercer from Bong Joon-Ho (The Host). This is a stunning sci-fi epic. It may be brought back after the festival, but you'll never have another chance to see this film on a huge screen, at its intended length. Don't miss it. And I'm looking forward to Joe, if only because it stars Nicolas Cage, and is being touted as his best work since Leaving Las Vegas.

More obviously populist, We Are The Best! is a funny and touching coming-of-age-in-a-punk-band drama from Swedish darling Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4-Ever).

Likewise, New Zealand director Florian Habicht's idiosyncratic take on the band Pulp, as they prepare for their final hometown concert in Sheffield. Pulp: A Film About Life, Death, and Supermarkets is quite excellent.

I'd also look out for Alister Barry and Abi King-Jones' Hot Air, on the climate change debate in New Zealand. The film-makers have made great use of the television archives, and make a compelling case that although the science was settled by 1990, we've allowed politics and corporations to mute our response to a very real crisis. I also like very much Voices of The Land: Nga Reo o te Whenua, on New Zealand musicologist and instrumentalist Richard Nunns. Nunns' work with near-lost Maori instruments makes for a fascinating and astute film.

Legendary cinematographer Alun Bollinger (Goodbye Pork Pie, Heavenly Creatures, River Queen) was behind the camera. A welcome returnee to the festival is director Paora Joseph, with Te Awa Tupua - Voices from the River, which looks at the occupation of Whanganui's Moutua Gardens in 1995. This a beautiful film, with an important story to tell.

Staying local, Housebound is a Kiwi horror/comedy that has wowed audiences in the US and Europe already. Even Harvey Weinstein phoned up to request a copy. Also making waves offshore, Max Currie's debut feature Everything We Loved looks well worth checking out.

Back to the docos - try Particle Fever, on the first years in the life of the Large Hadron Collider. This is real science, made accessible and engaging. I felt smarter for having seen it. And Sepideh: Reaching For The Stars is a free-ranging and unpredictable doco about a young Iranian girl who dreams of being an astronomer. It's a gem. As ever, there'll be compilations of short films from New Zealand, the best of international animation, and a swag of films you won't see coming. Pick up a programme, or check out, and take some chances.

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- The Dominion Post

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