In praise of the New Zealand International Film Festival, plus the future of live music in Wellington.
This list is dominated by two things: one, the continued importance of the New Zealand International Film Festival in bringing in the best film offered from around the world (all bar Eden, which was in the Alliance Française French Film Festival, are from the NZIFF). Two, the continued lamentable ‘maleness’ that tends to dominate most canonising. If people complain about the liberal bias of cinema, it is also worth noting that it arguably has the biggest glass ceiling of any profession. I apologise for helping perpetuate.
- The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin/Evan Johnson, Canada)
Maddin and Johnson hit a home run with this Raymond Roussel-inspired piece of brilliance. It was hilarious, tormented, and unrelenting in its energy. For a film supposedly based on death and lost films, it was the most alive piece of cinema I’ve seen for a long time.
- Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
It’s all in the subtext of Weerasethakul’s remarkable film. While it’s one of the most pointed films in his oeuvre, it’s also remarkably kind-hearted towards its memorable protagonist.
- Phoenix (Christian Petzold, Germany, 2014)
A superb inversion of Vertigo (and with a stone-cold classic ending), Petzold and collaborator Harun Farocki have created a potent account of ghosts and suppression of guilt in post-war Germany.
- The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan)
The year’s most beautiful film—heck, probably one of the most beautiful films ever made—every single item in every single frame is unbelievably charged.
- Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2014)
One day, someone will put all of Hong’s films on loop and I will watch them in a glorious rapturous state.
- The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark/Indonesia, 2014)
More subtle than the brilliant The Act of Killing, but in hindsight more heart-breaking. Oppenheimer has created another devastating account of the forgotten ’60s genocide in Indonesia and its continued effects in contemporary Indonesia.
- Arabian Nights (Miguel Gomes, Portugal)
Gomes blends Scheherazade’s desperation for narratives in the Arabian Nights with contemporary Portugal. The sudden shifts in tone and content jar and jostle with each other to create a hopeful account of life under austerity.
- The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece/Ireland/UK)
Funny and sharp, and also probably one of the more misunderstood films of the year, this film actually has very little interest in presenting a social commentary on relationships, and more to do with fixed ideologies and a lack of compromise.
- Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve, France, 2014)
A bit of a nostalgic trip for me, an account of ‘90s French electronic music (and Paris), but the film is presented more as a comedown than as a hagiography.
- Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment (Kidlat Tahimik, Philippines)
Tahimik’s film took 30 years to make. It’s an exuberant retelling of a forgotten Filipino hero, Enrique of Malacca, and in the process, Tahimik has made one of the more unique films of recent times.
Music in 2015
Who knows what John Key meant when he said that Wellington was a dying city (the lad can be a little incoherent sometimes), but it sure felt like it when Mighty Mighty and Puppies and San Fran were in their death throes last year. Wellington had felt the lack of international bands for some time, and long gone was the glorious period when promoters like Rushmore, Strange News, and Mystery Girl were subsidising everyone else’s good times by bringing over bands that became famous one month after they visited. But locally there was always good stuff. It just didn’t have a home.
Now in 2015, arguably there still isn’t a home. But that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. There were murmurings last year when a raucous party took place at the Albermarle on Ghuznee Street. The decaying building came alive with artists and musicians, to the point that it will go down as one of the best parties in years. Some artists are being more proactive than ever. Promoters like Eyegum, Blink, and the Old Hall Gigs, and venue spaces like the Pyramid Club and 19 Tory Street are starting from the bottom and doing truly great things. Smaller venues like Moon, Meow, and San Fran are trying hard in a competitive environment. And larger venues, in particular the City Gallery with their wonderful open late nights, are starting to get in on the act.
If there’s one thing that is perhaps lacking is the sense that people can accidentally stumble in on great music (the City Gallery excepted). Compared to a social hub like Mighty Mighty, it’s more difficult to wander inadvertently into something new unless you’re in the know. I remember once dragging work mates who were exposed to a typically brilliant Bent Folk performance—a thirty minute rendition of Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain’—whereas that’s much harder to do these days. But there does seem to be one consistent aspect. The quality of the music here is outstanding. Truly outstanding. It’s almost intimidating at how high the entry-level is. You can have a band like Echo Beach show up with a stunning debut single like ‘Kowhai’. The duelling guitar outro is as classy as anything you’d hear anywhere. And this is a band starting out. I could go on for hours about the sheer number of Wellington bands and musicians that I’d recommend right now. All I can suggest is that people keep an ear out and support them. But there’s no excuse to think nothing’s happening: there is some astonishingly good music in the nooks and crannies of the city.