Another year, another NZ Film Festival. Overall, this one contained many a highlight, but I encountered more duds than I ever have before. This was disappointing for my holistic experience, but exciting for the diversity of this summary blogpost.
My festival kicked off with John Hamm playing a holographic version of a dead husband. Marjorie Prime contained ideas much more interesting than the execution: the text may as well have stayed on stage. On the flip side, the cinematic joy of Kiki: Love to Love was contagious. It was kink-positive and had some delightful scenes, but a story line that wants us to laugh at rape is unforgivable in 2017. The Ornithologist probably got a lot right, but not being versed in the tale of Saint Sebastian made for a challenging two hours. Finally the hot mess that was The Square shouldn’t really be in a paragraph about ‘duds’ because it really was close to something cohesive and commendable. Instead the result was one of the greatest cinematic sequences of all time, with another few outstanding scenes plus a lot of dribble. The film will stay with me, but it could have been another Force Majeure.
The festival’s closing night, Good Time, was a visceral delight. Stretching cinematic language to make something that was both raw unnerving realism and styled like a John Carpenter’s 70s back catalogue B-movie (including an synth-score). I Am Not A Witch set in Zambia was a bold in its absurdity and satire. The evocative images of the last minutes of the film are etched in my memory. Also hard to forget will be My Friend Dahmer which was chilling and extremely well made – but I’m left wondering where this serial killer fascination will end and why exactly I’m so happy to play along with the game? The game of The Teacher was delightful. A Czech story of corruption and a reminder of just how much power I have as a teacher, if I was to choose to use it…
Some of the documentaries I encounter this year were strong. I Am Not Your Negro is a contender for the best of the fest. Constructed flawlessly, for me it opened up a whole new angle to consider racism, privilege and identity. I will definitely watch it again and I will definitely spend more time finding out about James Baldwin. Step contained some outstanding subjects: the young women of Baltimore Leadership School were inspirational. The insight into their world and the school doing things differently to ensure they have the best chance of succeeding was truly moving. Less successful was The Farthest, which contained content that landed, but visual storytelling that was misguided. Completely misguided was 100 Men, which managed to mention every buzzword in gay history, but offered nothing more than a surface exploration in a highly limited form.
The highlights of the festival came in the queer cinema category. While the representation was really positive – the quality of the films themselves is really encouraging. A Date for Mad Mary is charming and quaint. While the script wasn’t flawless, it was accessible and well-pitched. God’s Own Country was another matter altogether. While it will struggle to find a mainstream audience, it has secured a NZ distribution deal which is a testament to it’s quality. It is moving – depicting the love between a hired hand and a lost local and the landscape of Yorkshire with care and intensity. Francis Lee is a filmmaker to follow. BPM (Beat Per Minute) also resonated. The context was Paris in the 90s as we follow an AIDS activist group. There is palpable tension in the political edge of the film, but it’s the interwoven personal threads which make the film so special.
The crown of the festival for me goes to Call Me By Your Name. Another queer film, this time in a Italian summer filled with literature, music, architecture and love. It observes the forming of a pure relationship with an inquisitive camera which often lingers on specific details and finds beauty throughout the sun-soaked setting. The central performances create the initially unsaid attraction and then later their beautiful sensual connection with such admirable care. It’s a masterpiece for queer cinema, but it’s a film that deserves to find a large audience as the storytelling is just so timeless.