Written by Adam Bryce
The New Zealand International Film Festival season has arrived and, this year, it’s an online-only gig making it ideal for those of us who can’t bear experiencing life below 15ºC.
Committed to showcasing diversity with a selection of films from all over the world, a bunch of volunteers scour the world for fresh content and wrap it up in a beautiful easy-to-access bow for us to enjoy. And so, without further ado, we announce our extended-viewing list of recommends.
Martin Margiela: In His Own Words (2019).
One of the most influential and intriguing figures in recent fashion history, Belgian designer Martin Margiela is the pivotal yet unseen subject of this captivating and sensitive documentary from Reiner Holzemer.
A protégé of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Margiela’s anonymity is mythical and an enduring point of industry fascination; during his two decades helming Maison Martin Margiela, he was never photographed, seen or interviewed by the press – any communication was conducted via fax. The mystery deepened when he walked away from the industry without warning in 2009. It is here that the film begins, with his final show, before tracing his childhood, education and career with gentle revelation.
True History Of The Kelly Gang (2019).
Adapting Peter Carey’s 2001 novel of the same name, director Justin Kurzel’s Ned Kelly (1917’s George McKay as an adult) lives out his short but audacious life writ-large in punk graffiti scrawled across a canvas far bigger and more surreal than any other film or cultural to depiction to date.
Ned spends the film failing to win the love of his mother Ellen who, at one point, sells the child to her sometime-lover and bush ranger Harry Power — a gesture one wonders might be as much to deflect Ned’s burgeoning Oedipal gaze as it is to earn a pretty coin. Ned finds some intermittent consolation in the arms of young sex worker Rose, a cynical soulmate of sorts, while we’re encouraged to deduce he also shares something deeper and more urgent than just fraternal bro-hood with his loyal friend and Kelly Gang member Joe Byrne. No putting this gang into any binary corner.
In 2014, students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Mexico were attacked by masked assailants and police forces while travelling through the town of Iguala, Guerrero, leaving six dead. Forty-three students were abducted, never to be seen again. World-renowned Chinese artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei visits the Guerrero region to craft an affecting and gut-wrenching document of this tragedy through the families of the students.
Through intimate interviews with the families, Weiwei allows their grief and trauma to be given a voice, and allows us to bear witness to this scandal, where a corrupt government’s investigation is seen as more a cover-up.
The Girl on the Bridge (2020).
In the increasing public discourse on mental health, Leanne Pooley’s inspiring and fearless documentary tracks an extraordinary young woman’s journey from suicide survivor to advocate for those struggling. The fact it leaves you hopeful and with tangible advice makes it vital viewing.
Almost a film-within-a-film, The Girl on the Bridge explores the emotional tightrope to be walked when tackling a taboo and emotional topic. It follows 21-year-old Jazz Thornton during the pivotal two-year period she was emerging out of her own struggles with suicide to become a powerful advocate for mental health. During this time, she was also embarking on a personal project, the award-winning 2019 web series Jessica’s Tree, which pays reflective tribute to the eponymous friend whose life she could not save.
Premiering their forthcoming web series as a special festival presentation, director Max Currie and writer Cole Meyers’ queer and trans-celebratory drama swells with character and heart.
A young trans activist, Caz, breaks down in tears in front of a support group towards the start of Rūrangi. He doesn’t know how he can help the queer people in front of him and feels entirely guilty, even shameful, about that fact. Like many of our young queer people, he’s burned out not by his struggle, but by the struggle of those around him. Having fled his hometown of Rūrangi to find himself, Caz returns hoping to connect not just with his father , who he left 10 years ago, pre-transition, but the small community whose residents are having struggles of their own now as well.
A decade after Mental (also presented at NZIFF20), filmmaker Soda Kazuhiro returns to Chorale Okayama, the mental health clinic run by Dr Yamamoto Masatomo. A deeply compassionate portrait of a doctor who spent decades dedicating his life to the mental health community, Soda captures the many intimate moments between Dr Yamamoto and his patients, including their frank conversations as they try to come to terms with losing a doctor they deeply trust. In a society that shows no respect for their conditions, the patients must navigate the difficult path to mental wellness, and for some, mere survival in everyday life, without the support they have relied on for so long.
Coded Bias (2020).
Joy Buolamwini, who found that facial recognition software does not ‘see’ dark-skinned faces, is one of the activists challenging gender and racial bias in the decision-making software that increasingly impacts on our lives.
We travel to London, where police trialling facial recognition surveillance apprehend innocent, mostly black, people for questioning. In New York, an apartment tower manager requires residents to submit to a biometric security system. But people are fighting back. In Hong Kong, pro-democracy protesters confuse and disable facial recognition software by waving laser pointers and spraying the lenses of CCTV cameras.
Inequitable algorithms developed by white men using “pale, male datasets” are also used to sort college applications, rank resumés, set insurance premiums and evaluate prisoner recidivism risk. Unsurprisingly, the technology repeatedly fails people with non-white skin, women and youth.
Kubrick by Kubrick (2020).
If you’re wondering what more can be said about filmmaking giant Stanley Kubrick, Gregory Monro’s documentary — hot on the heels of the equally fascinating Filmworker — goes where few have been able to before: straight to the source.
Notoriously reclusive, Kubrick’s guarded genius has served to fuel endless theories and interpretations on the meaning of his cinema. Meanwhile, films like Room 237 have only deepened the mystery with their imaginative speculation on how Kubrick’s mind worked. Through rare audio recordings of the auteur in dialogue with Michel Ciment — a writer who had privileged access to Kubrick over 30 years — Kubrick by Kubrick allows the director to illuminate his work, both graciously and with an air of finality, in his own words.
Before Everest (2020).
In 1951, climber Earle Riddiford organised New Zealand’s first Himalayan expedition, inviting an Auckland beekeeper by the name of Ed Hillary along. The successful ascent of Mukut Parbat (7,242 metres) opened the pathway to Everest for Hillary, a debt our national hero never fully acknowledged.
Upset and confused by Hillary’s comment, Earle’s daughter Anna Riddiford was driven to find answers, and to better understand her difficult father, on a journey spanning 15 years. Brother Richard’s reluctance to engage forms part of the film, as they confront the highest stakes in mountaineering history. “What do you do when the man on the $5 note disparages your father?”