Documentary Edge Festival to launch in Wellington
Funding issues left the Documentary Edge Film Festival hanging by a thread last year, but support from Wellywood means things are on the up.
As a result of former Heart of the City boss Alex Swney defrauding more than $2.5 million from his organisation, the festival dealt with a significant loss of funding which threatened its future
But after a partnership with Wellington City Council and the Documentary NZ Trust, DocEdge will go ahead, launching in Wellington for the first time in its 11-year run.
Miramar's Roxy Cinema and Park Road Post will host DocEdge, Australasia's leading documentary film festival, from May 4 to 15, ahead of its Auckland run.
The Wellington launch is not the only first for DocEdge this year.
Now recognised by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the festival's top short documentaries will qualify for the Academy Awards.
The festival boasts 37 feature length films and 15 shorts in its 2016 line-up, which covers topics from the life of a WWII war crimes prosecutor (A Man Can Make a Difference), to life for homosexuals in China (Inside the Chinese Closet), and South India's first female taxi driver (Driving With Selvi).
The festival opens with with the touching film Be Here Now, which follows the late Spartacus star Andy Whitfield and his wife Vashti, following his cancer diagnosis.
Created by Oscar nominee Lilibet Foster, Be Here Now won the Audience Award for the Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2015.
Both Foster and Vashti will be at the screenings in Wellington and Auckland.
Festival organiser Dan Shanan says the film is first and foremost a beautiful love story between Whitfield, his wife and his two children.
"This is quite a special opening night film for us because Spartacus was filmed in New Zealand and a lot of the actors know Andy, so will be a nice tribute to him and what he left behind."
A Billion Lives marks a huge coup for the festival, Shanan says, an expose of corruption behind the rise of vaporisers or "vaping" – the alternative to cigarettes.
Sonita, which won World Cinema Best Documentary and the Audience Award at Sundance this year, follows the Afghan rapper of the same name who has become a leading voice against child marriage.
Sonita director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami is heading to New Zealand to present the film at its screenings.
New Zealand filmmakers are represented in several documentaries, including The Sound of Her Guitar, which features Kiwi country singer Donna Dean as she tours through the southern States of the US. Dean is set to perform at the screenings.
Wrapping up the festival is Presenting Princess Shaw, a film that follows Samantha Montgomery, a singer from one of New Orleans' toughest neighbourhoods, who became a YouTube star.
In addition to films screenings, the festival will also host a number of Doc Talks, a series of discussions curated around different topics, not necessarily centred on particular films. The schedule is yet to be released, but will include filmmakers as well as field experts.
This year will also have an emphasis on education, with Doc 4 Schools offering schools the opportunity to attend free daytime sessions, complete with education packs to assist with the New Zealand school curriculum.
Shanan says the new partnership with Wellington City Council was an exciting venture for the festival.
"We've been working with the council in bringing them on board to make DocEdge an international event in Wellington. They saw our vision and believed in it happening. We hope to be the next WoW, in the sense it started out small, but turned out to be very big."
Doc Edge Festival: Wellington – The Roxy, Miramar (May 4 to May 15). Doc Edge Festival: Auckland – Q Theatre, Auckland CBD (May 18 to 29). See Docedge.nz for more information.