05 July, 2015

Power of suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings... mainly happy endings

So here's the thing,

If you had gone past the Paramount Cinema at 5.30 on Wednesday morning, you would have seen a solitary figure standing outside in the cold. After the disaster that the film festival online ticket bookings had been last year, I was concerned that a lot of people might revert back to booking in person, just in case, and I was determined to get in front. I needn’t have worried. It was over an hour before a second person turned up, and another 30 minutes before the next person arrived. Eventually, we were let in at 9am and tickets went on sale. And things seemed to go well with the system. Until...

We were booking my last day of films, just four films remaining to process. And suddenly the ticket agent’s screen froze. And remained frozen. I had to wait 15 or 20 minutes until the system reconnected, at which point my entire order had been lost. So we had to start again from scratch. It was now 9.40am. Unfortunately, for a few of the busiest screenings, I’d lost the very good seats I’d initially secured, but I still don’t have any bad seats by any means. On the whole, it worked.

But I’m thinking about taking a chance with not queueing next year. While they still seem to have some issues with the booking system not coping with the demand, it seems that things are much improved from last year, and (one would hope) should be even better next year. And now that the online system allows the user to make seat selections, that’s the last advantage of in-person booking gone. And so much of the in-person booking time was occupied with searching for the films I’d selected, before we even got to picking seats, that it would have been faster had I been able to just use my pre-compiled wishlist of film; I could have just selected them all and been choosing my seats within a minute. I might have been able to complete the transaction before the system went down. (And not having to get up at 4.30 in the morning would be nice.)

So I return to my car to drive to work. Except that there’s a car parked next to me. The problem is that the space next to me is nowhere near wide enough to fit a car; it’s usually used by motorcycles. So, in order for this car to squeeze into the park, they had left about 20cm space between their passenger side and my driver’s side. Obviously there’s no possible way anyone, no matter how small, could get into my car. After a moment of panic, I realise my church is just down the road. So I wander down to the office to ask whether anyone there can help me; I was imagining us trying to push the car into the road so that I could get in. Fortunately one of the people who came to help realised that he could climb into the driver’s seat from the passenger side, and was therefore able to drive it out.

So here are the films I’m seeing this year:

* The Lobster
* '71
* Dope

I’m most excited about Inherent Vice. I’ve loved Paul Thomas Anderson’s films ever since I saw Magnolia at the 2000 film festival, and was bitterly disappointed when the release of his new film was cancelled two weeks before its scheduled release date. I know that the Paramount had tried to negotiate with the distributor for a limited release to that cinema, but that also fell through. Fortunately, the festival will offer an opportunity to see the film, and at the Embassy, which is a great relief. Everything I'd seen of the film looked remarkable and visually distinctive, so I was not looking forward to only ever experiencing the film on my TV screen.

I’ve heard excellent things about the shot-in-California Iranian black-and-white vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and while it has been sitting in my Netflix streaming queue for a couple of months, I’m held off on watching it in the hope it would get a festival screening. So I’m excited to see that.

I’m also really looking forward to Victoria, which is supposed to be great. A crime thriller about a girl who falls in with some guys planning to rob a bank, it’s apparently an intense and thrilling experience, and that’s before you take into account the technical feat of filming the entire 140 minute movie as a genuine single take. (None of the Birdman-style fakery piecing separate takes together to create the illusion of a single take; they apparently really did shoot it with one camera over a 2 hour 20 time period.) Consider Russian Ark, which is probably the most famous single-take film. That film was a brilliant film and technically an impressive achievement, but it took place in a single (admittedly large) location that could be controlled, and while it was enjoyable and had memorable sequences, it was also a bit impregnable if you don’t have a strong grasp on Russian history (which I don’t). By contrast, Victoria takes place over 22 separate locations, wandering the streets between each location, plus it’s almost twice as long as Russian Ark, and it should have the easy audience accessibility and pure entertainment value that comes with working in the defined crime genre. If they really have managed to pull this off, the film could be something quite special.

There’s a small selection of classic films this year. I saw The Colour of Pomegranates at the film society a few years ago, and did not care for it, so I’m not seeing that. However, I’ve never seen either of the other classic films; The Misfits (the final film of both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable), or Kiss Me Kate (a musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, in Technicolor 3D). Both of those should be fun.

There’s one film I’m seeing about which I’m deliberately trying to stay ignorant. I heard the festival director, Bill Gosden, on Radio NZ’s “At the Movies” show mention The Tribe, a film apparently about a gang of teenage delinquents. What Gosden said was that the characters are all hearing-impaired, the dialogue is therefore all in Ukrainian Sign Language, and that the director believes that the sign language is so expressive that you don't need subtitles. So there are no subtitles in the film. Frankly, that intrigues me as an experience and an experiment; can I follow the film if I have no idea what anyone is saying? So I’ve decided to not know anything else about the film until I sit down in the cinema, and try to experience the film in as pure a way as possible.

There’s also a couple of documentaries that I fully expect to be difficult and challenging to watch, but that are also supposed to be excellent. The first, The Look of Silence, is a companion piece to The Act of Killing, an incredible and disturbing documentary that I saw in the 2013 festival. That film looked at the Indonesian killings in the mid-60s, when a million alleged-communists were murdered, and was strongly focused on the killers, showing them recreating the techniques they would use to murder their victims. The new film is apparently more focussed on the victims, with the central character being an optomistrist offering free eye checks to members of these death squads as an opening to discuss their crimes, including the murder of his own brother. There’s also a film called Dreamcatcher about a woman called Brenda Myers-Powell, who spent 25 years as a prostitute (starting when she was just 14), but who is now working to help sex workers leave the life. (There’s a really interesting (albeit disturbing) interview with Myers-Powell here)

I’ve decided to trust the decisions of the festival programmers where it comes to the “big night” films. I’ve had too many times where I’ve decided not to see an opening night, centerpiece, or closing night film because it didn’t interest me, only to discover later on that I really loved those films. So even though they don’t immediately interest me, I’m still going to see The Lobster (about a society where people who are turned into animals if they remain single for too long?) or Tale of Tales (about, umm, I genuinely don’t know) just because. (On the other hand, the centrepiece film, a Taiwanese movie called The Assassin, actually does seem pretty interesting.)

A couple of years ago, the festival show the Koreeda Hirokazu film I Wish, about two brothers wanting to be reunited, which everyone I heard from really loved. Unfortunately it just kept clashing for me with other priorities, so I never got to see it. (And still haven’t.) Then there was the swapped-at-birth film Like Father, Like Son. Which I also wanted to see, but which kept clashing. So this year, I decided to make his new film, Our Little Sister (about girls meeting their half-sister) an absolute priority. And I’ve managed to fit it in; I am risking a rather short turn-around between two films and different cinemas, but it should be achievable.

One thing I always find a little disappointing is the way Wellington has often been shortchanged with the Live Cinema events, where classic silent films are accompanied by live musical performances. Auckland always seems to get the big films, while we get the lesser-known films. So this year, both Auckland and Wellington are getting a film I’ve never heard of called Lonesome. I’m sure it’s a great film, and it’s nice to be able to see a film I might otherwise never get to see, and the music will be great. But then I look at my wall, and see the big picture of Charlie Chaplin with “the kid”, and I realise that Auckland is also getting a Live Cinema screening of The Kid, and I wind up feeling like I’m missing out. And that’s disappointing. Sure, it’s not exactly hard for me to find a copy of The Kid to watch at home, but it still feels like a lost opportunity.

There’s a ton of films I’ve just heard good things about and am excited to see – Ex Machina, While We’re Young, Dope, Girlhood, The End of the Tour, or The Wolfpack. As an animation fan, it will be sad to see When Marnie Was There, which (following the retirement of Miyazaki and the likely retirement of Takahata) could very well be the final film of the great Japanese animation Studio Ghibli. And the rest of the films I’m seeing are just movies that leapt out at me for one reason or another, and often I don’t really even know why I feel compelled to see some of these films. But I’m optimistic; there could be some real gems in there.

We’re now less than three weeks from the start of the festival, and I find myself getting impatient, looking over the programme again and again, wanting the festival to have started already.  And in five weeks’ time, it will all be over for another year. And so to next year...

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