Now in its fourteenth year, the World Cinema Showcase arrives for a fortnight every autumn and functions as an entrée to the main course that is the New Zealand International Film Festivals in July. This year’s festival makes its home in Auckland at the Rialto Cinemas in Newmarket, with satellite screenings at the Bridgeway in Northcote Pt., and a couple of 3-D sessions at Event Cinemas on Broadway. It begins tonight (March 29) and runs until April 11th, after which it heads south to the Paramount and the Embassy in Wellington (April 5–22), the Regent and the Rialto Cinemas in Dunedin (April 19–May 2), and the Hollywood 3 in Christchurch (April 26–May 9).
As well as giving a few local films world premières, the wcs is committed to showing a range of titles that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else—although there are always some that are given mainstream release later in the year: Ralph Feinnes’ Coriolanus, Fred Schepisi’s The Eye of the Storm, and Terrence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea will, for example, likely return to art-house screens for a limited run, but you’d be well advised to take advantage of this opportunity to catch them early. At perhaps the other end of the scale, the festival strives to give encore big-screen outings to a couple of past nziff successes that, for whatever reason, failed to gain distribution.
The latter selection in this year’s programme are Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s atmospheric, slow-burning police procedural Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da) (nziff ’11) which, in my opinion, should only ever be seen on the big screen; Michael Rapaport’s Tribe Called Quest doc Beats, Rhymes & Life (also nziff ’11); Yes Madam, Sir (nziff ’09), Megan Doneman’s portrait of India’s most controversial woman, Kiran Bedi; and Chico & Rita, a colourful piece of feature-length animation which was nominated for an Oscar this year, and first screened in the inaugural Spanish Film Festival last May.
Nineteen films from around the world and across the genre spectrum
Chief among the stand-outs in this year’s festival is Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret. It is an expansive, searingly brilliant film set in post-9/11 New York about a 17-year-old high-school student (played by Anna Paquin in one of her best-ever performances) who has to deal with the moral, social, and beaurocratic ramifications of witnessing an accidental death. It is also a film that has suffered an immensely troubled post-production history. Long story (sort of) short: it was shot in 2005, and it wasn’t until last year that its director and the distributors could agree on a releaseable cut. The studio wanted something approaching ‘regular’ length; Lonergan’s preferred (read: three-and-a-half-hour) cut—which, all things going to plan, will see home-video release Stateside in May—was untenable to them, so they reached a compromise.
The film you’ll see in the showcase is the same cut that was notoriously under-released without any real marketing push in the States. It runs nearly two-and-a-half hours, and while it’s obvious that a few story threads have been annoyingly curtailed, there is a lot to savour here. Margaret is one part glorious city symphony, one part the intense study of a complex, grieving character, developed more beautifully than any other in recent memory, and one part a reaction to the lasting emotional chaos of 9/11. It is sprawling and novelistic, and it’s easily one of the best films about New York City made in the past decade. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll want to go back again—if only to unravel more of its many facets each time.
The opening-night selection (in Auckland, at least) may seem a little unusual, until you realise it never came out in New Zealand last year, and hasn’t yet appeared on DVD. Jesse Peretz, who was behind Important Things with Demetri Martin, and has (since) directed episodes of New Girl, wrangled an impressive ensemble cast for his début comedic feature Our Idiot Brother, which was co-written by his sister Evegenia: Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan and Rashida Jones.
The familial dynamic also pervades first-time-film-maker Alex Ross Perry’s black-and-white mumblecore comedy The Color Wheel. It’s about a brother and sister who take a road-trip to New York so he can help her move out of her ex-boyfriend’s apartment. (Her ex-boyfriend is also her ex-Journalism-prof, which complicates matters and provides the film a solid set-piece in its third act.) Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather, which was happily included in last year’s Showcase, is essentially a mumblecore-’genre’ picture—it’s a Holmsian msytery that plays out within the subgenre’s handheld-camera-and-mumbled-dialogue-between-young-people rubric. The Color Wheel is a nice companion piece to Katz’s films, which (along with the work of Andrew Bujalski) are some of the best mumblecore has to offer.
Collegiate comedy continues in the programme with Whit Stillman’s hotly anticipated comedy of manners Damsels in Distress. This is the director’s first film in 13 years, since 1998′s The Last Days of Disco. From its description—”a trio of girls sets out to change the male-dominated environment of their college campus, and to rescue their fellow students from depression, grunge, and low standards of every kind”—it sounds like Stillman hasn’t strayed far from the comedic style and campus-life social mores with which he made his name. The cast—which includes Greta Gerwig, Aubrey Plaza, Analeigh Tipton, and Adam Brody—also sounds very impressive.
One of the highlights of the programme for many will be Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea. Based on a Terrence Rattigan play from 1952—which has been filmed once before: Anatole Litvak directed Vivien Leigh in a fairly straightforward theatre-as-film version in the fifties—this is Davies’ first fiction film since 2000′s The House of Mirth. Davies’ adaptation of the post-war love story stars Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston (War Horse) and Simon Russell Beale, and pays homage, say the film’s press notes, to films such as Letter from an Unknown Woman, Now, Voyager, The Heiress, and All That Heaven Allows.
Davies is particularly renowned for his use of popular and classical music, strongly evident in all his films, up to and including his 2008 elegy to Liverpool, the city of his birth, Of Time and the City. Here, Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto “articulates the depth an passion of [Weisz's character's] dilemma, much in the same way that Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto № 2 articulates Celia Johnson’s emotional crisis in David Lean’s classic melodrama Brief Encounter.”
More Stories about Buildings and… People
Gary Hustwit, whose Helvetica (nziff ’07) put him on the map of documentary-makers to watch, has completed the third film in his trilogy on urban design, simply called Urbanized. “As more and more of the world’s population congregates in cities, what is being done to make the modern metropolis sustainable—let alone liveable?” he asks. Elsewhere, Hell and Back Again looks at the impact of the Afghan War on a photojournalist; Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory gets its first local screenings, and The Tall Man examines Palm Island, which was used by the Queensland government as “a dumping-ground for Aboriginal ‘troublemakers’.”
The Triangle Wars is one of two other Australian films in the documentary section; it examines the opposition to “a $300m retail and entertainment plaza that was proposed for the triangle of crown land adjacent to the Palais Theatre on the foreshore of St Kilda in Melbourne.” Kiwi filmmaker Rosie Jones spent three years following the often fractious battle over the use (and potential mis-use) of public space.
One of the two New Zealand films having its world première at the festival, Jim Marbrook’s Mental Notes examines the “bad old, very bad old” days of mental-health care in our country. Says the director, “They had benign names like Cherry Farm, Seaview and Sunnyside, but for many they were simply known as ‘the Bins.’ These old psych wards housed hospitals housed thousands of patients and long-term residents. They were a culture unto themselves, a world of ‘back wards,’ ‘ECT trolleys’ and ‘seclusion rooms.’ Mental Notes is the story of five survivors from the Bins. It is the portrait of a unique group of people who are coming to grips with a past that is difficult for many of us to imagine today.”
Marbrook interviews five former residents as well as former nurses and psychiatrists, who “recall the ‘toxic and disabling’ psych-hospital culture that persisted in New Zealand long after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest provided a popular damnation of it.” The other film premièring at the wcs is Te Hono ki Aotearoa. Commissioned by the Museum Vokenkunde in Leiden, observes the inter-cultural goings-on that atten the handing over by its carver of a waka taua to a young Dutchman who will row it down Dutch canals. “Given a front row seat from the earliest negotiations through to the handing over, filmmaker Jan Bieringa is alert to the different ways in which so many men on the project, young and old, Maori and Dutch, inhabit the rituals that invest meaning in the work.”
Art & Music
Paradise Lost director Joe Berlinger makes his second appearance in the programme as the film-maker behind Under African Skies, which looks at the creation and lasting cultural and political impact of Paul Simon’s landmark 1986 album Graceland on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. Anda Union: from the Steppes to the City follows “a band of young Inner Mongolian musicians as they traverse 10,000 km to perform for each of the ten members’ far-flung relatives,” and The Swell Season profiles the eponymous musical duo.
The bio-doc Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard, by all reports a huge success at last year’s Melbourne International Festival, has its first local screenings in the showcase. The film reveals the late musician, who was a pivotal figure on the post-punk landscape, as a frail but strikingly energetic man who was as instrumental as Nick Cave in crafting the “fiery, original” sound of The Birthday Party. Richard Lowenstein and Lynn-Maree Milburn’s film weaves Howard’s music with interview footage (Howard’s many collaborators, admirers, and lovers all make appearances) in an unadorned, brazenly full-on way that mirrors what was by all accounts the way Howard lived his life.
Finally, two pbs documentaries enjoy outings in the festival: Woody Allen: a Documentary, by former Curb Your Enthusiasm director Robert B. Weide, happily screens in its complete three-hour television cut (not in its theatrical cut, as has been advertised), while the other, Eames: the Architect and the Painter, about the lesser-known creations of the mid-century designer and his wife, comes in at a more easily digested 83 minutes.
For information on the rest of the programme, see the World Cinema Showcase website.
The 2012 World Cinema Showcase runs from March 29–April 11 in Auckland; April 5–22 in Wellington; April 19–May 2 in Dunedin, and April 26–May 9 in Wellington.
For more coverage, browse the “World Cinema Showcase 2012” tag on this site, and for information on tickets and session times, visit the World Cinema Showcase website. You can also follow me, @insequential, and the @wcshowcase on Twitter (hashtag #wcs).