NZFF International Guests
Director: Up the Yangtze
Yung Chang is a Canadian filmmaker currently based in Montreal, where he earned a degree in film production in 1999 from Concordia University. His parents are both first-generation Chinese immigrants to Canada. Through their influence, Yung maintains a strong interest in contemporary Chinese issues. Since 1996, he has spent extended periods in China and has travelled throughout the country.
His first documentary film, Earth to Mouth, produced by the National Film Board of Canada, is a beautifully crafted meditation on migrant farm labour, food production and Canada’s Chinese community. It circulated widely on the international festival circuit, winning awards at the International Film and Video Festival in Columbus, Ohio, and Montreal’s Rencontres Internationales du documentaire.
He is also a graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City, where he studied the Meisner technique. He makes innovative use of this methodology in his first feature-length documentary, Up the Yangtze, in which the highly contested Three Gorges Dam forms a dramatic and unsettling backdrop for a moving and richly detailed narrative of a peasant family negotiating unprecedented historic changes.
Up the Yangtze
Chinese Canadian Yung Chang’s documentary observes life on the soon-to-be-flooded banks of the Yangtze from aboard a cruise ship taking English-speaking tourists up the river. ”’It’s hard being a human, but being a common person in China is even more difficult,’ says one tearful shopkeeper along the soon-to-be-submerged banks of the Yangtze River in Yung Chang’s lucid, beautifully observed portrait of the incipient flood zone… By journey’s end, Yung has found a brilliant natural metaphor for upward mobility in modern China: whether they hail from the lowlands or the urban centers, everyone here is scrambling to reach higher ground.” – Scott Foundas, Village Voice
”Witty, lovely and profoundly unsettling… Chang’s images of the Yangtze and the new megacities replacing the villages on its banks are spectacular, and his cast of characters rival any fiction film I’ve seen recently.” – Andrew O’Hehir, salon.com
Monday 14 July
Yung Chang’s dates in New Zealand are yet to be confirmed.
Director/Writer: Son of a Lion
Benjamin Gilmour was born in Monchengladbach, Germany. Now a Sydney-based ambulance paramedic, he became interested in filmmaking while working as a unit nurse on UK film sets. He’s a seasoned traveller and writer, and he fell in love with Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on his first trip there in early 2001. The inspiration for his film came while he was in Darra Adam Khel, where he saw boys catching bullet shells as they fell from the air after being test-fired skywards, and his guide told him about one of the boys who wanted to go to school instead. In 2004, Gilmour based himself in Pakistan for eight months of pre-production, and then returned to the region in 2006 to complete filming of Son of a Lion, his first feature.
Son of a Lion
Benjamin Gilmour’s audacious docudrama was shot undercover in great secrecy and danger in the dusty gun-manufacturing villages of Pakistan’s remote Northwest Frontier. A place completely forbidden to foreigners and journalists, let alone filmmakers. “The first-time Australian director went to Pakistan’s tribal regions to create, with native Pashtun performers and collaborators, the tale of a jihadist warrior’s son torn between peace and war. The 11-year-old boy wants to go to school; the fierce father wants him only to learn gun lore, in Darra, their arms-making village. The non-professional actors play versions of themselves (in real life the father helped the mujahideen expel Russia from Afghanistan) and the script hums with credibility. When not scarily enlightening – in the depiction of a guerrilla mindset that prefers Taliban tyranny to American intrusion – it is scarily funny.” – Nigel Andrews, Financial Times
Tuesday 15 July – Thursday 17 July
Thursday 17 July – Sunday 20 July
Director/Writer/Co-producer: River of No Return
Darlene Johnson is a filmmaker from the Dunghutti tribe of the east coast of New South Wales, who graduated with BA (Hons), specialising in Indigenous and post-colonial cinema, from the University of Technology, Sydney.
Her first drama Two-Bob Mermaid was part of an Aboriginal anthology, From Sand to Celluloid, which involved first-time Indigenous filmmakers. The film won the Australian Film Critics Circle Award for Best Australian Short Film (1996). It was nominated at the Venice Film Festival for the Baby Lion Award and won the Best Dramatic Short Film at the 41st Asia-Pacific Film Festival.
In 2000 Johnson wrote and directed Stolen Generations, her first hour-long television documentary. The film was nominated for an International Emmy (2000) and for Best Documentary at the 2000 AFI awards. It screened at the 2000 Margaret Mead Film Festival and was a finalist in the Hollywood Black Film Festival. Stolen Generations won the journalist award for Best Documentary at Film De Femmes International Women’s Film Festival in France and the Golden Gate Award in the History section of the 2001 San Francisco Film Festival.
Darlene followed this with several documentaries, including Gulpilil – One Red Blood about iconic Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil and her latest, River of No Return. She is currently developing her first feature film Obelia.
River of No Return
Frances Daingangan, the subject of Darlene Johnson’s documentary, and in a sense its star, is a Yolngu woman from North East Arnhemland. She is a 45-year old mother of three and grandmother of six. Her life has been tough, but despite every encouragement to do so, she’s never quite relinquished the powerful girlish fantasy of becoming a movie actress like Marilyn Monroe. When Rolf de Heer was casting Ten Canoes in Ramingining, he met the vivacious Frances working in a shop. He thought she would be perfect for the role of the second wife, ‘Nowalingu’ but he can have had little idea of the depth of experience or historical knowledge she would bring to the part. Two years later she was walking the red carpet at Cannes. Johnson, who brought her portrait of actor David Gulpilil to the Festival in 2003, films Frances in her community where she discusses the stark circumstances of her life candidly and ponders her options. It’s a revealing encounter with a woman richly imbued with two cultures who receives scant visible support from either. – Bill Gosden
Saturday 19 July – Tuesday 22 July
Tuesday 22 July – Friday 25 July
BEN RIVERS (UK), BEN RUSSELL (US)
Directors: We Can Not Exist in This World Alone
A programme of ten 16mm films.
Two Bens, Ben Rivers from the UK and US-based Ben Russell converge on Auckland to present this programme which combines experimental work from each of them, making for a lively dialectic – and a vivid film experience. Of the many programmes proposed to us by total strangers this year, this seemed especially intriguing. The work turned out to be just as lively as it sounded in its expressive rewiring of familiar tropes and old technologies – 16mm film – for new worlds. This programme is hosted in association with FPS curators Sam Hamilton and Eve Gordon. — Bill Gosden
“By way of introduction, I am an American experimental filmmaker and curator whose work has screened in places as far afield as the Museum of Modern Art (solo), the Sundance Film Festival, the London Film Festival, and a punk warehouse in Latvia. I have been on three film tours in the last two years, but in spite of all of this, I am sad to report that my eyes/ears have yet to find their way to your country’s shores… As for Ben Rivers, he is a rather remarkable British artist whose recent film Ah! Liberty was awarded the Tiger Prize at Rotterdam this year; he founded the Brighton Cinematheque in 1996, and his films have been seen in galleries and theatres across the globe.
Taken together, our films operate in the blurry spaces between documentary, ethnography, portraiture, and experimental cinema. Featuring Scottish hermits, ghost cities, Dubai sci-fi, hand-processed kids in masks, and a flicker film featuring Richard Pryor, we’ve put this program of ten 16mm films to pose the broader question of what it means to live with hope in an increasingly alienated world.” – Ben Russell
Monday 21 July – Friday 25 July
Friday 25 July
Director/Co-screenwriter: Married Life
Ira Sachs was born and raised in Memphis, Tennesse and has been a resident of New York since 1988. Married Life, which he co-wrote with Oren Moverman (I’m Not There) is his third feature film and stars Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson. It screened at the 2007 Toronto and New York Film Festivals. His second feature Forty Shades of Blue received the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005. The Delta, his first feature, received its world premiere at the New Zealand International Film Festivals in 1996, and went on to screen at the Toronto, Sundance and Rotterdam film festivals.
Ira was the recipient of the Emerging Talent Award at the 1997 Los Angeles Outfest and in 1999, was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. He was also a 2001 Fellow at the MacDowell Artist Colony and has made several shorts, including Vaudeville, Lady (Sundance 1995), and Get It While You Can:: My Father in Moscow.
Ira Sachs’ slyly ironic film noir relocates British crime novelist John Bingham’s Five Roundabouts to Heaven to the Pacific Northwest in the late 40s. Staunchly respectable Harry (Chris Cooper), married to warm and funny Pat (Patricia Clarkson), has been swept off his perch by the much younger Kay (Rachel McAdams). The unworldly Harry confesses to his bachelor friend (Pierce Brosnan), who takes an instant fancy to the luscious young mistress himself. Harry, meanwhile, in order to spare Pat the pain of desertion, has made a solemn decision: as humanely as possible, he will murder her. The piquancy of the film’s comic/tragic tone is derived from the fact that no one in it ever knows as much about any of their intimate friends or lovers as we do. There’s refined cinematic pleasure here in 40s style and in the flair of the performances, but it is our anxiety for the Patricia Clarkson character that gives this brainy film its heart. – Bill Gosden.
“The funny, the scary, the campy, the sad – they’re all splendidly of a piece. The movie is a goof on Hitchcock and Sirk – a period (late forties) soap opera with nasty sexual undertones and the omnipresent threat of murder. The narrator, a Lord of Misrule, is Pierce Brosnan, who can play a too-handsome cad and convincingly parody one – everything rolls off him. But his best friend, the protagonist, is played by Chris Cooper, off whom nothing rolls: Sour, saggy, quivering with repressed longing, always a step away from implosion, Cooper straddles the comedy-melodrama border and keeps you both giggly and tense.” – David Edelstein, NY Magazine
Monday 14 July – Thursday 17 July
Thursday 17 July – Sunday 20 July
Director: Billy the Kid
Jennifer Venditti makes her directorial debut with Billy the Kid. Venditti started her New York-based casting agency JV8INC in 1998. Travelling all over the world, street scouting real people for advertising, fashion, and film she discovers an inspired repertoire of diverse talent otherwise ignored by traditional casting methods.
Billy the Kid
The sun seems to shine brighter on 15-year-old Billy, the hyper-engaging misfit who is the subject of Jennifer Venditti’s much awarded and widely loved documentary. Venditti, a talent scout, stumbled upon her subject while casting a short film from non-actor high school students in rural Maine. Billy is a funny, good-looking, motor-mouthed kid who takes to Venditti’s camera with alacrity. Her camera loves him back, enthralled by his precocious rants, following him into the most intimate encounters with his tender, pragmatic mother, and, most disarmingly, into his ardent, soul-baring courtship of the sweet, pliant and semi-blind 16-year-old Heather. What Billy lacks is any instinct for self-preservation. We may be moved by his candour, touched by his self-aggrandisement, or startled by his intelligence, but to his classmates these are the very qualities that mark him out as a freak. Venditti’s moving portrait largely eschews psychological analysis, arguing tacitly for this vivid, troubled boy’s right to be exactly who he is. – Bill Gosden
“Billy was diagnosed with Asperger’s after the film wrapped, and if you know anything about the autism spectrum, this will not come as a surprise. So were the filmmakers somehow exploiting Billy by not acknowledging they had a real disorder on their hands? I think not. This documentary is a totally refreshing look at a person dealing with autism… you see the kid first, and the autism second.” – Annie Wagner, The Stranger
“A film that makes you think about (and question) what fitting in really entails. Billy tries… Watching him try to orient himself in a world that makes no sense makes you wonder how any of us ever did.” – David Edelstein, NY Magazine
Tuesday 22 July – Saturday 26 July
Saturday 26 July – Tuesday 29 July
Director/ Co-writer/Editor/Producer: Pop Skull
Hailing from the deep south of the United States, director Adam Wingard was just 24 when he finished Pop Skull. Made for around 3,000 US dollars, it managed to capture the attention of major French distribution company, Wild Bunch. The film went on to premiere at the prestigious Rome Film Festival and the American Film Institute Film Festival.
His dark and sometimes abrasive directing/editing style has been compared to directors such as David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky and Shinya Tsukamoto. As well as directing, he shot, edited, co-wrote and co-produced the film.
Adam started making films at just 19 with his debut feature – a slasher horror called Home Sick.
Welcome to the fevered dream world of Daniel, 20-something and losing the plot. Upset from an ended relationship, plagued by recent murders, Daniel is downing too many pills and starting to trip out big time. We are taken on a creepy subconscious journey into Daniel’s popping skull, inhabited by spontaneous violence, shocking aural hallucinations and murderous ghosts from his past. Director Adam Wingard has created one of the most dazzling and distinctive American independent films since the heyday of the early 90s: its hip sensibility is Lynch before he entered into self-parody. This micro-budgeted flick has turned its fiscal limitations into strengths. Empathising with Daniel’s attempt to make a human connection through the mother of all acid freakouts, the audience has no choice but to sit on the edge of their seats, watching this druggy-ghost tale through to its shockingly surreal conclusion. – Ant Timpson
Tuesday 15 July – Saturday 19 July
Saturday 19 July – Tuesday 22 July