Wellington Film Festival opens tonight!

New Zealand Film Festival poster 2010It’s never been a tougher time to be running a film festival. In addition to the usual commercial considerations of just selling enough tickets to stay afloat, each year brings with it fresh wrinkles to be accommodated. The window of availability of titles shrinks every year because distributors don’t want to sit on their investment. There’s increasing pressure to get films into cinemas before downloading destroys the market and less time for films to build a deserving international buzz.

In previous years films like the Argentinian Best Foreign Language Oscar winner The Secrets in their Eyes might have been tent-pole features for a Wellington Film Festival but have already been and gone from local cinemas so it’s incumbent on director and chief programmer Bill Gosden (and his cohorts) to dig deeper to find more gems for our annual mid-winter fix.

People keep asking me, Dan, they say, what sort of Festival is it, this year, and I have to answer that I really don’t know. I’ve only seen 19 out of the 160+ movies in the book. That’s not enough to know anything, really, about the Festival as a whole. It’s less than 15% of an enormously rich and diverse smorgasbord of potential goodies.

As usual, I asked the Festival people to feed me the unheralded and unknown, the films that might miss out on attention from the big media, and they did. As might be expected, not all of them worked for me but I have some suggestions for films that I am assured will not be coming back on general release later this year.

AB7288B0-44D3-4906-A3B7-6966FC3D2C18.jpegIn the drama section I was very affected by Honey, a beautiful Turkish film about a young boy with some kind of learning disorder, desperate for the approval of his teachers, classmates and his taciturn beekeeper father. A fine example of slow cinema, I feel certain that you will be absorbed by its beauty and the miraculous central performance.

The rest of the Wellingtonista preview, after the jump.

Test Cricket

The Second TestWhen the New Zealand cricket team (note not BLACKCAPS™) first toured South Africa in 1953 they had never won a Test Match and were given no show against a ruthless South Africa, on pitches tailored to support their fast, mean quick bowlers.

The cricket was tough, and victory was ultimately beyond New Zealand’s grasp, but it wasn’t the cricket that ensured that the series became a NZ sporting legend. The 1953 Second (Christmas Day) Test is famous for the profoundly moving story of one player, Kiwi fast bowler Bob Blair, and his story has been brought to the stage by talented actor Jonny Brugh (Sugar & Spice) and it’s playing now at BATS.

During the rest day of the Test, Blair got the news that his fiancée Nerissa Love had been killed along with 150 others in the Tangiwai Rail Disaster. When play resumed on Boxing Day nobody expected Blair to play any further part in the game. Without giving too much away, the rest (as they say) is history.

Brugh’s play is a moving and beautifully acted treatment of the story. He plays dozens of parts (Blair & Love; cricketers Rabone, Reid, Sutcliffe, etc; Prime Minister Sid Holland) and imbues them all with fine detail and a sweet comic sensibility. He brings, not just the game to life, but the era – a different age.

Spartacus R rounds off Soundstage for 2009

Spartacus R at The ParamountThe debut season of Downstage’s Sunday music programme ‘Soundstage’ has been a tearaway success. The formidable line-up of bands including The Woolshed Sessions, Little Bushman, Sam F Scott and The B.O.P and Rhian Sheehan have all thrived in the theatrical environment playing to capacity audiences.

We’re now at the last Soundstage gig for 2009 and Wellington six piece psychedelic psychonauts Spartacus R are the perfect band to close out the season. Their theatrical credentials are impeccable having built a reputation for unique and innovative performances at the NZ Fringe Festival. At the Fringe 07 they presented Spartacus R in Octophonic, and the following year at the Fringe 08 Spartacus R in 3D, combining live music with 3D visuals in the Paramount.

Based on a foundation of blues, rock and funk, Spartacus will deliver a captivating and electrifying performance that explores new musical and visual territory. For Soundstage on 15 Nov Spartacus R have crafted a completely new show combining 100% new musical material with projected visuals, actors and even live poetry.

More about Spartacus R and Soundstage after the jump.

Cinephilia: Opening This Week

Julie & Julia posterIt’s Labour Weekend and, as such, you can pretty much guarantee that the weather will be filthy and the movies will be the place to be. So, what is there to choose from?

Nora Ephron made Sleepless in Seattle back in the day (and wrote When Harry Met Sally) and now she has cunningly merged two best-selling books into one film – Julie & Julia. On one hand Julie Powell (Amy Adams) attempts to cook every recipe in Julia Childs’ famous cookbook for a blog project and on the other hand Meryl Streep portrays the real Julia Childs and her transformation from American intelligence agent to one of the great cooks of Europe. Readings, Empire, Penthouse, Embassy (sharing with the Italian Film Festival), Lighthouse, Sky City Queensgate.

Rhian Sheehan at Soundstage

Rhian Sheehan at DownstageThis Sunday’s Soundstage @ Downstage is a goody – Rhian Sheehan plays his album Standing in Silence from start to finish with accompanying filmic elements by Gareth Moon (Nektar).

Guaranteed to be like nothing you have seen at Downstage before, Rhian’s sound as described by him is “like floating through space in a warm bath”.

Described by reviewers as “spine tingling…a tsunami of sound” (Tom Cardy, Dominion Post), Standing in Silence at Downstage features a full complement of live musicians playing alongside Rhian including key collaborator Jeff Boyle, two percussionists, a string section, Raashi Sheehan (Rhombus), Jeramiah Ross (aka Module) and Woolshed Sessions members Jess Chambers, Andy Hummel and Peter Hill.

For those who like to join in, custom made music boxes will be onsale before the show, which you can play in particular tracks.

The luscious Rhian Sheehan: Standing in Silence this Sunday 18 Oct @ Downstage Theatre.  It starts promptly at the sensible hour of 7pm.

For more info check out Simon Sweetman’s blog , and you can purchase tickets at Downstage.

LATE UPDATE: Only 16 tickets left!

Cinephilia: Italian Film Festival

The Girl By the Lake imageThe Italian Film Festival once again surveys the best of recent Italian commercial cinema. Based at their entirely appropriate new home of the Embassy Theatre, the Festival screens 16 different feature films over the next two weeks and the range means that there will (almost certainly) be something for everyone.

Highlights include The Girl By the Lake, a gripping psychological whodunit that won several Donatello Awards (the Italian Oscars) in 2008 as well as two prizes at the 2007 Venice Film Festival. Set distinctively in the northern Italian Dolemite region, the film follows the police investigation of a young girl’s death. Inscrutable detective Toni Servillo discovers several suspects, meanwhile his personal own life isn’t going so well.

Cinephilia: Opening This Week

As that old war film quote goes, "it’s quiet, too quiet": only three films opening this weekend as the mad rush of the last few weeks works its way through the system.

An Education posterBack from the Festival (and haven’t I had to say that a lot recently?) is An Education, adapted by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s memoir of growing up in 1960s England "before it became the 60s". Wise bods are picking newcomer Carey Mulligan for an Oscar nomination next year as the lead, and she’s very solid support from the likes of Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson and Peter Saarsgard (whose English accent is very good judging by the trailer). The director is Lone Scherfig who came out of the Dogme movement in the late 90s but also made the dark comedy Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. Empire, Penthouse and Lighthouse.

The rest of this week’s new releases after the jump.

Cinephilia: Opening This Week

G-Force posterFreakin’ school holidays. 9 – count ’em – new films are opening this week and most of them are designed to keep restless young people out of the hair of their elders and betters. Time is short so I’m just going to list them here:

Cinephilia: Opening This Week

Moon posterStill, they are returning from the Festival: Moon by Bowie’s boy Duncan Jones is a Paramount exclusive which should do quite nicely for them as they prepare for new ownership (discuss rumours you might have heard in the comments). After three years alone mining the moon Sam Rockwell might be going slightly nuts and imagining that he’s got company. Or is he?

The Penthouse and the Lighthouse both share Stephen Frears’ Chéri and the documentary that launched the Festival back in June, The September Issue. Chéri is based on two novels by Colette and is a cherished project by acclaimed screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).

[The rest of this week’s new releases after the jump]

Cinephilia: Opening This Week

Casablanca posterI think the highlight of the Wellingtonista cinema-going week is likely to be a toss-up between the wonderful Vanguard retrospective at the Film Archive or the restored print of Casablanca. The Paramount has been bringing back the venerable old favourite regularly for the last 20 years (always with newer prints it should be said) and it’s still a big draw. Do you need to know the plot? Read Tom G’s summary here at Ornery World. Two shows a day until Sunday.

Fresher fare is on offer elsewhere but nothing is likely to be as satisfying. Atonement director Joe Wright returns to the screen with a modern day drama (and more Oscar-bait), The Soloist. Jamie Foxx plays a gifted cellist, blighted with mental illness and Robert Downey Jr is the hack who befriends him. Readings, Empire, Penthouse.

[The rest of this week’s new releases after the jump]