The New Zealand International Film Festival is finally back on screens across the country, including Auckland, after two pandemic-plagued years. A small but wonderful selection offers exciting cinematic offerings from Aotearoa and across the world.
It’s been a damn long time since the Civic Theatre opened its doors to shivering and oft-waterlogged cinephiles for the New Zealand International Film Festival. In both years of the pandemic, some semblance of the festival remained, but largely compromised in a way that sapped some of that classic Festival magic. The world has changed a lot since the last time the Festival was in full force, not least due to the loss of Festival mastermind and driving force Bill Gosden. Now, finally, it seems like we will get a reduced but no-less thrilling return of the good-ole-days – in Auckland the festival runs from July 28 through to August 7, on the big screen, with a lineup that promises festival titles from around the world and buzzed-about debuts from New Zealand filmmakers. Here are my top picks for this year’s fest.
Muru (Kahi, 2022) and Punch (Ings, 2022)
Every year, the New Zealand International Film Festival is home to a range of major Aotearoa titles premiering to massive audiences. This year is no different, but the range of films on offer is exceptionally tantalising and strong. The centrepiece – and the festival’s opening night film – is Muru, which looks to be a blisteringly intense interpretation of the Tūhoe raids of 15 October 2007. Cliff Curtis stars as a Community Sergeant caught up in the dilemma, alongside Tame Iti playing himself. It’s modern New Zealand history in thrilling, frightening form, sure to generate conversation and provide a startling viewpoint on a modern injustice.
Also on the block is Welby Ings’ Punch, a small-town New Zealand drama that has the added intrigue of featuring a performance from thespian Tim Roth.The the story of a young boxer struggling with his sexuality and his relationship with local takatāpui Whetu, film has reportedly taken over fifteen years to reach the big screen. Both films promise to tackle issues that strike at the heart of modern Aotearoa in powerful and urgent ways.
Kainga (Various, 2022) and We Are Still Here (Various, 2022)
Intriguingly, there are not one, but two anthology productions this year boasting Aotearoa involvement. Both examine Aotearoa from a cultural lens, both from profoundly different perspectives. The third in a series that also includes Waru and Vai, Kainga is a selection of short stories that weave into each other, exploring the lives of women of the Asian diaspora and covering a range of cultures, including Chinese, Korean, Indian, Filipino, Iranian, Tamil Eelam and other viewpoints. The filmmakers are a fantastic selection of some of the best emerging artists New Zealand has to offer, including Julie Zhu, Asuka Sylvie, Michelle Ang, Nahyeon Lee, Yamin Tun, Ghazaleh Golbakhsh, HASH and Angeline Loo.
Meanwhile, We Are Still Here is a New Zealand/Australia co-production, folding in indigenous voices from both sides of the pond to create a cinematic response to the ravages of colonialism and an emphatic statement on the ability of indigenous peoples to survive and thrive. The directing talent for this one is similarly stacked, featuring Beck Cole, Danielle MacLean, Dena Curtis, Tim Worrall, Richard Curtis, Miki Magasiva, Mario Gaoa, Chantelle Burgoyne, Tracey Rigney and Renae Maihi in the telling of multi-faceted stories that feature an animated segment, a segment set at Gallipoli in World War One, and a segment set far in the future.
New Zealand’s Best and Nga Whanaunga Shorts
Every year, it is more than worth making the trip to sample the best short films this country’s emerging talent has to offer. With a selection chosen by a local filmmaking giant (this year, Florian Harbicht of Woodenhead and Kaikohe Demolition) and a prize pool that includes a percentage of ticket sales direct in the hands of an emerging filmmaker, it’s also a great way to give back to New Zealand’s up-and-coming filmmakers and get a sense of who the cinematic voices of tomorrow will be.
Aftersun (Wells, 2022)
The surprise hit of this year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival was the debut feature of Charlotte Wells, a Scottish filmmaker who here employs the talents of Normal People’s Paul Mescal to play the divorced father of an eleven-year old girl as the pair set out on holiday to a budget Turkish resort. Employing a free-flowing style that evokes warm summer memories, the film is set to be a late-in-the-Fest stunner. Get in quick though – Auckland only has one screening.
Both Sides of the Blade and Stars at Noon (Denis, 2022)
It’s Double Denis, Claire Denis that is, at the Festival in 2022, as the ingenious French filmmaker responsible for masterpieces like Beau Travail and 35 Shots of Rum flexes on viewers with two much-discussed and divisive titles bowing in the same Fest. Both Sides of the Blade employs Denis regulars Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon and Gregoire Colin in a tangled love triangle between three characters in the midst of midlife crises. Stars at Noon, meanwhile, features rising star Margaret Qualley as a journalist in crisis in Nicaragua, who finds herself in a steamy relationship with a mysterious businessman. Both films proved significant conversation-starters at their recent Festival bows, with Stars at Noon sharing Cannes’ Grand Prix prize, the second highest honour the Festival bestows each year.
Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg, 2022)
Another great master to come swinging into 2022 is David Cronenberg (Videodrome, Crash*), who returns to a subgenre he once came to define – body horror. In a future where pain is a thing of the past, humans experiment on themselves with a range of experimental surgeries. If you’ve ever seen a Cronenberg, you’ll know to expect something a little icky, a little sexy, and a lot thought-provoking, featuring all-out performances from Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, and perhaps most thrillingly, Kristen Stewart..
*the good one, not the Oscar-winner.
Decision to Leave (Park, 2022)
Park Chan-Wook is considered the grandmaster of the modern South Korean ilk of master filmmakers, with groundbreaking films including Oldboy and The Handmaiden under his belt. His latest, Decision to Leave, finds Park in the same register as The Handmaiden, crafting a Hitchcockian murder mystery featuring a stellar performance from the wonderful Tang Wei as the wife of a murdered man. A new Park Chan-Wook film is always an event, and not one to be missed – this was one of the most well-regarded films at Cannes this year, and winner of that Festival’s Best Director prize.
Fire of Love (Dosa, 2022)
The Fest has always been a great place to discover the best documentaries the world has to offer, and this year is no different. The absolute must-see of this year’s strong lineup is Fire of Love, which has been attracting raves the world over. Constructed from archival footage, the film tells the story of a pair of volcanologists whose love of volcanoes was only matched by their love for each other. Narrated by Miranda July, expect a film as swooningly romantic as it is staggering in the close-up footage of eruptions it captures.
One Fine Morning (Løve, 2022)
Last year, French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve (Things to Come, Eden) delivered one of the year’s best with the beguiling Bergman Island, and returns this year with One Fine Morning, which continues the filmmaker’s career of quiet, simmering dramas that centre women’s interiority. Léa Seydoux stars as a struggling single mother who finds herself tumbling into an unexpected romance. Løve’s films take deceptively simple set-ups, preferring the earthen and the domestic, then wring remarkably moving drama out of them. If you haven’t experienced the work of one of the finest living French filmmakers, this looks to be a great start.
It wouldn’t be the Fest without stopping off at Ant Timpson’s Incredibly Strange section, which prizes the strangest and most bizarre offerings world cinema has to offer year in and year out. This year is a small but potent crop, including the intriguing Family Dinner (Hengl, 2022), a horror produced by Timpson himself, and two films from offbeat French provocateur Quentin Dupieux – Smoking Causes Coughing and Incredible But True (2022). For my money, some of the most intriguing titles are Resurrection (Semans, 2022), a deceptively odd film featuring a brilliant, committed performance from Rebecca Hall, and Speak No Evil (Talfdrup, 2022), a nightmarishly unnerving Danish flick about the dangers of social politeness.
NZIFF Preview 2022
Event Title: NZIFF Preview 2022
Event Description: The New Zealand International Film Festival is finally back on screens across the country, including Auckland, after two pandemic-plagued years. A small but wonderful selection offers exciting cinematic offerings from Aotearoa and across the world.
Start date: July 28, 2022
Location name: New Zealand