NZIFF 2014 at a glance

img_nziff2014-posterartAn overview of our New Zealand International Film Festival coverage for 2014.

The Lumière Reader reports from the New Zealand International Film Festival every winter to bring you in-depth criticism and feature writing on world cinema. For additional commentary and opinion, follow us on Twitter.

Correspondents: Alexander Bisley (AB), Brannavan Gnanalingam (BG), Doug Dillaman (DD), Jacob Powell (JP), Laura Suzuki (LS), Nathan Joe (NJ), Tim Wong (TW).

Last Updated: September 16, 2014

img_darkhorseBig Nights

The Dark Horse (James Napier Robertson, NZ)

The Dark Horse is, ultimately, a very moving film about manakitanga, whanaungatanga, and aroha. Cliff “Method” Curtis again impresses as manic-depressive chess coach Genesis Potini, working with disadvantaged tamariki in Gisborne. It’s great to see Boy’s James Rolleston knock a different role out of the park as Gen’s nephew Mana, on the verge of a gang life. Atmospherically shot, cut and scored, with terrifying violence tougher for being left off screen. I was on the verge of tears, but plenty of laughs, too. “Kia ora, bro. My name is Rusty. My special power is I would jump to the moon and colonise it.”—AB

Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón, Argentina) » Review

“Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales relishes in crimes of passion—revenge served hot. And it’s all the better for it. Outside of the Incredibly Strange selection, you’re unlikely to have this much fun at any film all year… It’s a silly, violent, hilarious, shocking, and campy affair, filled with relatable characters pushed to the brink of madness.”—NJ

The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy) » Review

“Grand Prix winner The Wonders captures a sense of things in flux, both emotionally in terms of its main character Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) coming of age, and in Italy in a more general sense, as nostalgia and tourism takes over from ordinary people trying to eke out a living… The film seizes a moment in time with the family, and while its ‘slice-of-life’ narrative is a touch underdeveloped—the film’s many strands could have done with an extra 20 to 30 minutes of exposition—its overall effect is moving.”—BG

Housebound (Gerard Johnstone, NZ) » Review

“The triumph of Housebound—one that’s especially impressive after Johnstone revealed in a post-film Q&A that the first two-thirds of the film were basically thrown out and rewritten, bar a dinner scene, after the initial shoot—is tonal, maintaining the fine balance between comedy, horror, and plausible characters. Laughs and screams happen in equal measure, [and] Housebound plays with viewer expectation in a deep, knowing way, maintaining unpredictability and engagement.”—DD

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, USA) » Review [1] | [2]

Boyhood proves the ultimate coming of age drama full of warmth, passion, frustration, and heartbreak. The film is quite simply a breathtaking celebration of the fullness of life… [singing] a dual melody which perfectly blends the intimate into the epic, the specific into the universal. A synergy of performance, production, and subject make this one of Linklater’s greatest achievements and one of the finest pieces of cinema I’ve ever experienced.”—JP

Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision (Edgar Reitz, Germany/France, 2013) » Review [1] | [2]

“Edgar Reitz’s magnificent Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision takes the template from the megalith that is his Heimat series, and looks at ordinary lives being shaped and shaping the social climate around them… The four hours pass by in a flash. Rich observations of character and incident carry the story, and the small triumphs and disasters are shown to have massive consequences.”—BG

Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey) » Review [1] [2]

“While Winter Sleep quite clearly speaks to a conflicted modern-day Turkey, it casts its net wider than its Turkish setting in terms of examining how money and power intertwine, and how intellectuals and artists have the potential to ignore others. It also magnifies its gaze: the relationship breakdown and the power relations touches on some of the great 1970s relationship films… Charity isn’t simply something involving money, and Ceylan’s magisterial film expertly weaves this through in examining both personal and societal relationships.”—BG

Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia) » Review

“Compared with his debut The Return, the Russian director’s most recent feature is more narratively dense and not as formally tight, yet with its sprawling scope and occasionally scenery chewing characters—guns and alcohol anybody?—Leviathan finds a rhythm which works to deliver its heavy thematic load with a certain lyricism.”—JP

Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets (Florian Habicht, UK) » Interview

“Florian Habicht’s wonderful Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets captures the last ever concert performed by Pulp in their hometown of Sheffield, England. Unlike your typical concert film, Habicht applies his trademark democratic approach to filmmaking on the band and the city itself. Throughout his career he has shown a real love and empathy for ‘ordinary’ folk, and in the process has created some of the most indelible films about towns and cities. He has achieved a rare feat: he makes films without needing conflict to drive them and leaves his audience with a happy glow.”—BG

The Salt of the Earth (Wim Wenders/Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, France/Italty) » Review

“A portrait of Sebastiao Salgado, the film begins on his images of a Brazilian gold mine, hellish images that evoked Hard to Be a God, a teeming, desperate mass of humanity mired in muck. Salgado’s passion for his work—and for his fellow man—takes him around the world, increasingly focusing on the dispossessed, the marginalised, the victims. I didn’t know Salgado’s work or story going in, and while the former stuns on the big screen, it’s the emotional wallop of the latter that left me both reeling and optimistic well after the film was finished.”—DD

The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata, Japan, 2013) » Review

The Tale of Princess Kaguya’s calligraphic renderings mark a distinct departure from Ghibli’s usual animation style in favour of a sketchy, gestural approach that evokes traditional scroll paintings. This gives a beautiful, textural quality to the film that is one of its most captivating aspects. Figures may become nothing more than blurs of sweeping charcoal; landscapes are suggested by expressionistic swirls of colour and line. There is a richness of expression and movement that feels almost tangible.”—LS

The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, USA, 1948) » Review

“For all of the supposed shortcomings and compromises, Welles achieved a rare feat with… The Lady from Shanghai: he mixed formal experimentation, experimentation that still feels fresh and alive today, alongside compelling storytelling, and in the process confounded the studios who, truth be told, had no idea.”—BG

Show People (King Vidor, USA, 1928) » Review

Show People is no more than frivolous entertainment, though has its own kind of significance, particularly as a document of the silent movie business at the height of its popularity. There’s a relaxed simplicity to Vidor’s depiction of Hollywood that lends the film a satirical, though never scathing, edge. As Davies tours the bustling studio lots and encounters various industry greats—most notably, Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, Vidor, and in a cute self-reflective moment, herself—there’s a sense that these people are just hanging out and shooting the breeze. It’s a publicity stunt, yes, but also a gentle and unpretentious insight into the social dynamic of moviemaking in an era where the people involved were, to an extent, making things up as they went along, and having plenty of fun in the process.”—TW

img_hotair4Aotearoa

Hot Air (Alister Barry/Abi King-Jones, NZ) » Interview

“Alister Barryand Abi King-Jones’s troubling documentary refers not necessarily to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, but instead the rhetoric and inaction by successive governments to do anything meaningful to improve New Zealand’s climate change track record. The documentary is told via interviews of key participants—including the relevant government ministers Simon Upton, Pete Hodgson, and David Parker—along with chilling archive footage of business leaders and minor parties’ obfuscation tactics. It’s a vital work in showing the impotence of various governments and why they continue to choose extremely limited short-term “gain” for what is going to be a lot of long-term pain.”—BG

Voices of the Land: Nga Reo o te Whenua (Paul Wolffram, NZ) » Interview

“Paul Wolffram’s marvellous Voices of the Land: Nga Reo o te Whenua looks at taonga puoro pioneer, Richard Nunns. It’s hard to describe this film—it’s not quite a biography, nor is it an educational film—and yet it’s an incredibly rich portrait of Nunns, a wise, eye (and ear) opening film in the way it challenges us to re-examine what we ought to consider music. The interplay between landscape, sound, and Nunns’s pithy one-liners makes for a unique and arresting experience.”—BG

REALITi (Jonathan King, NZ) » Interview

“In a banner year for New Zealand genre films, REALITi stands out as a sober, serious minded science-fiction concept served in plain clothes. By downplaying its genre trappings in favor of a more grounded approach, REALITi delivers an emotional sucker-punch while still giving viewers plenty to puzzle over.”—DD

img_belovedsisters2World

Beloved Sisters (Dominik Graf, Germany/Austria) » Review

“An accomplished costume picture, [Beloved Sisters] displays a briskness and emotional energy. Graf’s film is more invested in the private struggle of its lovers, whose irrational passion, though conducive to soap opera, has the effect of cutting through the formality and propriety of the era. The characters themselves are fighting, be it shrewdly through marriages of convenience as they carry out their secret pacts and trysts, against the stifling convention imposed by society, and the cumulative effect is a film with a desperate tension beneath its lavish surface—more Brontë sisters than Jane Austen, at a pinch.”—TW

Of Horses and Men (Benedikt Erlingsson, Iceland, 2013) » Review

“Staring into the soul of his thoroughbreds through extreme close-ups of their eyeballs, Erlingsson has one of his hapless human players lose his eyesight in an accident involving barbed wire, one of several grisly yet hysterical catastrophes to befall the titular men of this film. The choreography of these scenes is sublime, and at the risk of disrespecting the singular Roy Andersson—a true individual filmmaker for whom there really is no substitute—Of Horses and Men also deals in a particular kind Scandinavian sadness and fatalism. Until Andersson’s next incomparable venture, this will do nicely.”—TW

Reaching for the Moon (Bruno Barreto, Brazil, 2013) » Review

Reaching for the Moon covets the Mad Men demographic with its account of the love affair between… American Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Bishop, and the Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares… Easy on the eye, there’s much less of a compulsion to agitate the form here, with director Bruno Barreto opting for a set menu of artistic preoccupations: creative self-doubt, political impulse, personal and professional jealousy, self-destruction and loathing, all dutifully introduced around the aesthetic pleasure of words and structures. Through Bishop’s letters and Soares’s designs, these concerns come and go without any real subtlety or impact, and it’s this even temperament that betrays the conflict of personalities at the heart of the film.”—TW

Timuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritania) » Review

“The narrative does have an air of predictability to it, but it’s fiercely and compellingly told. The imagery is stunning, most notably during the dramatic river fleeing scene, all magic hour light and perfect composition… The final freeze-frame image, a beautifully conflicted moment à la The 400 Blows, stops at a moment trapped between freedom and imprisonment. While liberation may have occurred subsequent to the events of the film, Sissako warns that, without a community banding together, there’s no guarantee the events are simply a historical document.”—BG

Our Sunhi (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2013) » Review

Our Sunhi pessimistically folds in on itself, almost like a Möbius strip. Hong’s use of repetitions, such as the music (this time an old pop song), the same conversations and platitudes repeated in different contexts, and the use of the same locations with the same interactions, suggest his characters are stuck, doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. It’s almost a mutually assured destruction—we never get the sense of any escape. It’s what makes Hong’s films so compelling and so funny: they may seem small, but they’re so big in showing how people interact, the barriers people place in front of others, and the way people’s self-interested motivations get in the way of how they treat others. If Hong wants to make the same film over and over again, I’ll be watching each time.”—BG

Exhibition (Joanna Hogg, UK, 2013) » Review

“In her latest film, Exhibition, [the house] is literally on display, an open home on the market through which we are invited to witness the comings and goings of a couple and their relationship to the spaces within… Hogg examines the fragility of this relationship as if it is tied intrinsically to the house, a very human notion in the sense that we all attribute emotional value to the places we call home. The reverse of this is that domestic spaces can also be responsible for discomfort and malaise in our lives, and Hogg’s film explores this dichotomy with a sharp, penetrating stare.”—TW

Land Ho! (Martha Stephens/Aaron Katz, USA) » Review

“Branching out earlier with incredibly slow-burn crime thriller elements in Cold Weather and now with subject and setting in Land Ho! seems to suit Katz. This warm-hearted road comedy as character study proves an easy, enjoyably thoughtful watch.”—JP

Love Is Strange (Ira Sachs, USA) » Review

“There are no traces of melodrama in this tale of family, aging, and generational-gaps. The direction never calls too much attention to itself—Sachs is happy for the audience to witness the events unfold in a quiet, observational manner. Its structure often recalls that of its spiritual predecessors, Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow and Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story. Sachs is clearly indebted to the earlier films but isn’t merely updating them with a gay twist. He is interested in a far more bittersweet retelling, heartwarming rather than heartbreaking, but never reducing the scenario to cloying sentimentality.”—NJ

Stations of the Cross (Dietrich Brüggemann, Germany) » Review

“Closer to the ethics and formal exactitude of Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl’s cinema, Dietrich Brüggemann’s Stations of the Cross is a model of German precision… Framed within its 14 unerring compositions is a devastating tale of delusional martyrdom, or alternatively, virtuous sacrifice—neither of which, graciously, is favoured in the final analysis. Comparisons to Pawel Pawlikowski’s superb Ida are warranted: the stillness of newcomer Lea van Acken’s central performance mirrors that of Agata Trzebuchowska (also a novice actor), spiritual awareness and human curiosity are explored in equal measure, while both films are completely absorbing aesthetically.”—TW

img_atberkeley2Legends

At Berkeley (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 2013) » Interview | Review

“Despite being in his 80s, [Wiseman’s] output hasn’t slowed, and he’s represented in this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival with two quite different documentaries: National Gallery… and At Berkeley, a film that examines the Californian university and the tensions between balancing the books, keeping education affordable, and maintaining the required research.”—BG

National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman, USA) » Review [1] | [2]

“For those viewers who struggle with the work of acclaimed documentarian Frederick Wiseman… there may be no better skeleton key to his work than National Gallery. In a film dotted with dozens of explanations of paintings, his opening choice seems a mission statement, as a docent invites viewers to imagine themselves into a space they no longer have access to, the church where the painting being observed would have once stood. This act of creative displacement of a viewer into a space—be it a strip club, boxing gym, high school, mental institution, or so many of the other locations and institutions Wiseman has profiled over the years—is what his work has done for decades.”—DD

Hard to Be a God (Aleksei German, Russia, 2013) » Review [1] | [2]

“German’s bruising version of medieval times, distinctly Russian in that it supersedes such stuck-in-the-mud classics as Letter Never Sent and Come and See (and outside of that context, Vincent Ward’s The Navigator), retains its own kind of veracity by virtue of his intense self-belief and devotion to the brutal and unglamorous. A fearless monument to elemental beauty and savagery… palpable, immersive, and vitally challenging.”—TW

Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg, USA) » Review

“David Cronenberg’s unsettling, uneven Maps to the Stars… sees this veteran director mixing things up. A bitterly biting satire whose entire construction seems to be an extended, not-attempting-to-be-subtle metaphor… Cronenberg perfectly skewers a myriad of all too familiar stereotypes, from insecure aging stars in specialised therapy, to awful child celebs in rehab, to wannabe actor-writers employed in low level service jobs and lorded over by their peers-in-aspiration.”—JP

Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France) » Review [1] | [2]

Two Days, One Night manages to resolve itself with an ending that is both unexpected and absolutely pitch perfect. Though it may be their most overtly political film, the Dardennes never forget the heart of the film is in Sandra’s struggle, her strength and perseverance in spite of the odds. It’s a deceptively simple film that reinforces the importance of camaraderie and individuality in a time where people are reduced to numbers and figures, perfectly capturing the moment when the personal and political collide.”—NJ

Story of My Death (Albert Serra, Spain/France, 2013) » Review

“A film beautifully poised between naturalism and artifice as it transitions from light to darkness through a magic-hour gateway that is quintessentially Serra. At once folksy and bawdy, cerebral yet lustful, and caught nervously between the ages of enlightenment and romanticism, the history within Story of My Death is only deepened by these transfixing binaries.”—TW

Venus in Fur (Roman Polanski, France, 2013) » Review

“Despite being an enjoyable experience and successful adaptation, the film ends up feeling like another minor work by Polanski. There is a saying that is tossed around: a minor film by such-in-such is still better than most. After all, this is the man who directed classics such as Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. But, for a film that revolves around the topic of masochism, Venus in Fur barely leaves a mark.”—NJ

img_52tuesdays2Fresh

52 Tuesdays (Sophie Hyde, Australia, 2013) » Interview | Review

“Sophie Hyde’s debut feature, 52 Tuesdays, is a bildungsroman for the 21st century. Insightful, hilarious, and poignant, the film centres on Billie, an Australian teenager in her penultimate year of high school… This is not a film about the difficulties Billie faces from having a transgendered parent, although that is part of the struggle portrayed. Billie is undergoing her own transformations and revelations as a young adult, and it is that particular transition that is at the heart of the film, along with the internal dynamics of her family unit. The film slowly uncovers Billie’s realisation that her parents are far from all knowing and perfect. 52 Tuesdays addresses this topic with nuance, casting its characters as individuals with flaws and inconsistencies, rather than in easily definable roles.”—LS

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, Australia) » Interview

“In The Babadook, one of the better horror films in recent memory, a harried single mother finds herself being chased by a mysterious figure in her house. Its strength comes from the characterisation of the mother and son—the horror is a manifestation of grief and loss—and the tone is perfectly creepy. While the film loses a little when it shifts to a more literal horror, the acting (Essie Davis, in particular), impressive editing, and moody tone guarantee it’s effective both in terms of drama and freaking you out.”—BG

Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, Sweden) » Review

“The story itself is carried, and commented on, by the stunning visuals. Östlund suggests that he is already well on his way to being a master at fusing visuals and thematic resonance. The family are nothing more than ants, and it’s the little things that collapse the supposed edifices that they construct. Rather than have his protagonists dominated by urban landscapes (Östlund shows himself as a heir to the visual and thematic tradition of Michelangelo Antonioni, just way funnier), it’s the impassive natural landscapes that dominate the puny human attempts to tame it.”—BG

The Double (Richard Ayoade, UK, 2013) » Review

“Applyinh his distinctive brand of magical realism to a Dostoevsky novella of the same name, Richard Ayoade’s The Double proves an arresting blend of quirky humour and noir-glazed psychodrama.”—JP

Fish & Cat (Shahram Mokri, Iran, 2013) » Review

“As a title, Fish & Cat doesn’t even begin to describe Shahram Mokri’s strange and audacious sophomore feature, a waking nightmare for both the characters and the audience stuck in its hypnotic loop. Perhaps for that reason, most of the press around the film has focused on the logistical feat of its camera work, and fair enough, too—its single uninterrupted tracking shot, courtesy of the prolific Mahmoud Kalari, outdoes Russian Ark’s one take wonder by more than 30 minutes. As a cinematographic statement, it’s enthralling, but as a visual concept, what’s truly striking is that it works at all.”—TW

Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, UK/Ireland) » Review

Frank skirts its way around issues of identity, celebrity at the cost of compromise, and the prefabricated nature of pop-cultural myth making without falling afoul of an overly contrived sense itself. Which is a little strange considering the entire affair is roundly tongue-in-cheek. A lot of credit should go to the central performances… Having the actors perform the music for the film as the band also adds significantly to the overall tone of the film and the believable chemistry the characters develop. Any fears of a one trick pony based on a gimmicky premise are quickly dispelled; Ronson, Abrahamson, and co. have effectively utilised an arresting real life jumping off point to develop an intriguing story of their own conception.”—JP

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (David Zellner, USA) » Interview | Review

“Based on the tragic suicide of a Japanese tourist in North Dakota whose death cruelly mutated through news media and the Internet to be “as a result” of a treasure hunt for the suitcase of cash buried in Fargo, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter maintains a deceptively potent distance. It doesn’t laugh at Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a disaffected Tokyo office worker who is convinced by an old VHS of the film, nor does it play it straight or for easy sentimentality. The end result, grounded by Kikuchi’s magnificent performance, is haunting.”—BG

Lilting (Hong Khaou, UK) » Review

“Staying true to its title, Lilting resolves with a gentle quaintness rather than a powerful bang. But in its more moving moments, Lilting reminds us of the power of compassion. For all our difficulties understanding one another, it isn’t language that separates us. As we all know, words are easy. Empathy is the hard part.”—NJ

The Reunion (Anna Odell, Sweden, 2013) » Review [1] [2]

“One can replace Odell’s character in the film with things from our past we’d rather not talk about societally (homophobia, racism, sexism for example) or on an individual basis (the nature of scapegoating and bullying). In this respect it has similar thematic concerns to Michael Haneke’s Hidden in the way nostalgia and repression effaces past injustices. The Reunion though is far more banal than Hidden, and in many respects, that banality is even more chilling.”—BG

img_snowpiercer3Thrill

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea/USA/France, 2013) » Review [1] [2]

Snowpiercer is a wildly ambitious film, and while not without its faults, it’s incredibly assured. [Bong’s] ability to expand and contract the pace of time in sequences… demonstrates an unerring sense of the balance of the large and the small, the epic chaos and the intimate character moments. His boldest tonal choices as the revolution makes its way to the front… all pay off. And for whatever distance this film may have from his original ideas, the eventual theme that emerges—of the importance of family, no matter what shape they may take—leads to a finale that echoes The Host, in both unexpected horror and optimism.”—DD

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, Canada/Spain, 2013) » Review

“Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy is a 90-minute jackhammer of one-note tone. Which is highly disappointing, as the premise of dueling doppelgangers (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) trying to work out how they have come to inhabit an identical universe is rife with promise. But from its urine-hued cinematography to the fifty shades of beige production design, the visual tone is set for unleavened oppression, with drones and funereally paced performances combining to create a relentlessly portentous atmosphere that teeters into the unintentionally comic.”—DD

The Rover (David Michôd, Australia) » Review

“The film’s action sequences, when they arrive, are spare and to the point. People are shot and go down. There are no heroics or elongated, stylised match-ups. Good and bad luck works in both directions and our protagonist is no honour bound knight in armour, shining or otherwise. If not quite as strong a film as Animal Kingdom, which applies a meditative layer over its base tension, The Rover’s focused intensity still makes for a gripping genre experience.”—JP

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, UK, 2013) » Review [1] [2]

“At first glance, it would be easy to call Under the Skin an exercise in style over substance, but pull back its layers and you’ll find a picture oozing with a deep curiousity over humanity. Glazer’s film, like Johansson’s alien, is fascinated by mankind, desperate to understand us. As we watch, we too are forced to see ourselves through foreign eyes. It’s a simultaneously enthralling and alienating experience like no other.”—NJ

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Patema Inverted (Yasuhiro Yoshiura, Japan, 2013) » Review

“The bones of a truly exceptional sci-fi are there, but Yoshiura’s heavy-handed approach to his characters makes for a trope-laden genre film that lays all the originality of his world building to waste… Characters’ relationships and personalities are not developed through meaning and feeling built up in the film. Instead, they act as cookie-cutter symbols that operate to fulfil pre-prescribed stereotypes and anime genre conventions.”—LS

img_galapagos5Framing Reality

The Galápagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (Dayna Goldfine/Dan Geller, USA, 2013) » Interview

The Galápagos Affair tells the almost scarcely believable story of a group of German settlers to the then inhabited Floreana Island in the Galápagos Islands in the 1930s. The tensions between the initial settlers—some were Nietzsche loving, some were vainglorious, some just wanted to be alone—led to murder. Or did it? Geller and Goldine’s teasing film examines the various viewpoints through preserved film and diaries, all the while having the benefit of killer metaphors.”—BG

The Great Museum (Johannes Holzhausen, Austria) » Review

“What’s worth noting about this snapshot of Austria’s Kunsthistorisches Museum is that it is a very good imitation of a Frederick Wiseman film—this is not faint praise, but an acknowledgement of director Johannes Holzhausen’s willingness to show rather than tell. In doing so, he quietly inspects the meticulous work of art historians, restorers, and technicians parallel to National Gallery, and even the scenes included of administrators deliberating over marketing strategies and budget cuts are virtually indistinguishable from those seen in Wiseman’s documentary.”—TW

The Green Prince (Nadav Schirman, Germany/Israel) » Review

The Green Prince tells the almost scarcely believable story of Mosab Yousef, the son of Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who ends up becoming a spy for the Israeli spy agency Shin Bet… It’s filmed in a breathless thriller style, and moves at breakneck pace. Given the story is composed of the muddy politics, divided loyalties, and betrayals a-plenty, it’s an apt approach.”—BG

Maïdan (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine) » Review

“For as objective as possible a view of resistance politics, it’s hard to beat Sergei Loznitsa’s Maïdan. Told in wide shots, almost entirely without camera movement, this immersive Ukrainian documentary covers the occupation of Independence Park in central Kiev by anti-government protesters.”—DD

Manakamana (Stephanie Spray/Pacho Velez, USA/Nepal, 2013) » Review

“A film rigorous in its methodology, yet one with a tranquil simplicity that promotes pure contemplation. Directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez have assembled a tableau of 11 un-edited shots, each filmed in rich 16mm from a stationary setup within a gondola carrying people either to or from the titular Hindu temple. Whether pilgrims, tourists, or on one occasion, goats, the passengers on each trip (lasting about 10 minutes) become the subject of a form of real time portraiture. Like Frederick Wiseman, the filmmakers uphold the viewer’s autonomy by not allowing exposition to obscure what’s unfolding on screen. Through this restraint, we find our own meaning in the images.”—TW

Particle Fever (Mark A. Levinson, USA, 2013) » Review

Particle Fever… is a fine example of a complicated story told in an extremely lucid and compelling way. A joy of a film, in which the origins and rules of our universe become rightfully as exciting as any Hollywood thriller.”—BG

Point and Shoot (Marshall Curry, USA) » Interview

“Marshall Curry’s Point and Shoot is an intriguing documentary centred on Matthew VanDyke, a twenty-something traveller who set off to motorcycle around the Arab World and ended up filibustering in Libya during the revolution to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. He was subsequently captured and kept in solitary confinement by Gaddafi forces, and became a well-known American voice on the conflict. Curry assembles the footage that VanDyke shot, and showcases a particularly complex individual.”—BG

Ukraine is Not a Brothel (Kitty Green, Australia/Ukraine, 2013) » Interview

“Subtly, referentially, the women of FEMEN often acknowledge (and seem to appreciate) Green’s presence. Through these small interactions, a sense of closeness and kinship appears between the filmmaker and her subjects, and the film’s most striking developments are relayed to us by virtue of this intimacy. This approach reminds us that trust and respect are integral to the human understanding that Green hopes to cultivate through her work. Rather than criticising FEMEN for its flaws and contradictions, Ukraine is Not a Brothel invites us to learn about how they came to be, through the stories of the people behind the image.”—LS

img_bigmenOut of Africa

Big Men (Rachel Boynton, USA, 2013) » Review

“Watching Big Men, the world feels like a truly cruel place. What does it mean to be a ‘big man’? The title is a riff on what, according to the militants of the Niger Delta, we all apparently want: power, influence, and money. Sharp and comprehensive, Big Men is both incisive and unnerving in its portrayal of the destructive politics of the global oil industry.”—LS

Concerning Violence (Göran Hugo Olsson, Sweden) » Review

“Martinique writer Frantz Fanon was one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century on colonialism, and his writings touched powerfully on race, psychology, and power. Fanon initially caused a stir with Black Skin, White Masks… [and his] chapter about discovering race, when he was deemed “black” as a kid by another “white” kid and the weight of inferiority that comes down on that discovery, is one of the most brutally incisive chapters in literature, and is called attention to in Göran Hugo Olsson’s documentary Concerning Violence.”—BG

img_eteam2Champions

E-Team (Katy Chevigny/Ross Kauffman, USA) » Review

“Watching the team genuinely connect with people whose lives are lived in awful, fearful circumstances, then leaving them with no assurance of anything other than a guarantee to get their story out to the world in some shape is both moving and challenging. The many frustrations the team faces, though evident, does not dull the passionate belief in the rights of all humanity that drives them to brave the risks and to continue to act.”—JP

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (Brian Knappenberger, USA) » Interview

“Brian Knappenberger’s fascinating account of Swartz’s life shows a government and criminal justice system that is clueless (that’s a charitable interpretation) about the major technological changes taking place, with major implications surrounding not just the tragic circumstances of Swartz’s life, but on civil rights and democracies around the world.”—BG

img_godhelpthegirl2Music

God Help the Girl (Stuart Murdoch, UK) » Review

“Despite its rough edges and occasionally precious feeling, God Help the Girl is a fresher, more compelling musical than the usual stage adaptation and perfectly encapsulates that exquisite Belle and Sebastian signature blend of happy-sad.”—JP

img_kingdomofdreams4Portrait of an Artist

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (Mami Sunada, Japan, 2013) » Review

“Gaining access to Japan’s fabled Studio Ghibli through the making of The Wind Rises… Mami Sunada’s impish documentary is perfectly poised to capture the Midas touch of its master animator and the mood of a retiring artist who, at 71 years old at the time of filming, is ideally placed to contemplate his mortality and creative legacy. Opening with sun-dappled shots of the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, Sunada’s camera in these hallowed surroundings is clearly in awe of Miyazaki’s family of artists and associates, not to mention the inner sanctum it has gained unprecedented access to. It’s literally where the magic happens, which makes this eye-watering documentary a pure pleasure for anyone cast under the Studio Ghibli spell.”—TW

img_borgman1Incredibly Strange

Borgman (Alex van Warmerdam, Netherlands, 2013) » Review

“Alex van Warmerdam’s film has been compared to Dogtooth and Funny Games, and while the former is more apposite than the latter, neither quite captures the spirit of it. It’s not as sadistic or bloodthirsty as either of those films, and apart from one shot it’s surprisingly genteel in its depiction of gore. By withholding genre tropes (for instance, rarely relying on score), it doesn’t create the same frissons as the typical home-invasion film, but instead inhabits a place where humor, surprise, and shock can show up one after the other, in unpredictable patterns. As the narrative adds more unexplained phenomena, the viewer will likely start pondering whether an allegorical reading is intended, and if so, what the allegory actually is. While a little more explanation might not have gone amiss… it’s not as if you can’t say what happens in the film, even if you can’t say why. And moment by moment, van Warmerdam’s consistent play with expectations and perfect pitch for underplayed gags (that popsicle stick!) is hugely satisfying.”—DD

The Congress (Ari Folman, Germany/Israel, 2013) » Review

“The great contradiction of this film is that as it substitutes conventional live action for surrealist cartoon imagery, it only becomes more literal… Couple this with an abundance of ideas that are never quite reconciled into a satisfying whole, and The Congress could easily be dismissed a “fascinating mess” or an “interesting failure.” The notion of flawed ambition, however, is far more stimulating than the banal spectacle of so many big science fiction movies, something Folman implicitly mocks with fake superhero trailers and an amusing caricature of Tom Cruise replete with shit-eating grin.”—TW

Jodorowsky’s Dune (Frank Pavich, France/USA, 2013) » Review

“The genius of Jodorowsky’s Dune, the documentary, isn’t so much the story of the film-that-never-was, recounted vividly for posterity, or even the beautiful storyboards and concept art collected in a rare tome that director Frank Pavich allows us to almost reach out and touch, but the way it bottles the intense belief, enthusiasm, vision, and earnestness behind the project, all of which is filtered through Jodorowsky’s mad charisma as a “spiritual warrior” still fighting the war between art and commerce into his eighties.”—TW

Kung Fu Elliot (Matthew Bauckman/Jaret Belliveau, Canada) » Review

“Some documentaries track the progress of a great success; tales of inspiration, of beating the odds. Other documentaries stand as cautionary tales; visual records of lives gone wrong or the evils of which humanity is capable. With Kung Fu Elliot, the filmmakers combine these two standpoints in a riveting voyeuristic car-crash of a personality profile which careens all over the show as reveal after reveal is made.”—JP

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, USA) » Review [1] | [2]

“A horror film which blends ostensibly competing sensibilities, It Follows is one part supernatural horror, one part slacker drama, and one part psychological creeper. Mitchell and co. achieve synergy with this odd recipe delivering an inventively creepy and relationally insightful feature.”—JP

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Sion Sono, Japan, 2013) » Review

“Sono, like Takashi Miike, really gets what works for his audience: outlandish, viscera soaked gallows humour which provokes in its audacity and seeming lack of interest in propriety, while exploring mankind’s darker inclinations by making light of their extremes. And damn if Why Don’t You Play in Hell? isn’t funny as all hell… a must for all Incredibly Strange devotees.”—JP


Release date: June 29, 2014