Category Archives: NZFF 2011

NZFF: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

A few years ago, in a beautiful French valley, some explorers found a cave. They were searching for undiscovered caves by checking for changes in air pressure, wind drafts, big gaping holes – that sort of thing. And they stumbled upon one of the most fascinating discoveries of recent times. A cave, which had been isolated for tens of thousands of years, and contained the most stunning and well preserved cave paintings ever found.

This is a fascinating subject for a documentary and Werner Herzog was given exclusive and unprecedented access to the now-sealed off cave. And in my opinion, he then proceeded to make the cave and the people involved look ridiculous.

We saw this film in 3D, which I would not recommend. Although some of it may have been shot in 3D, much of the film was not. And it has been poorly post-converted. Which means you get blurry lines around people, and which for some will cause headaches. It’s distracting.
As is Werner Herzog’s commentary. A dull monotonous German accent tunes out anything interesting he has to say. Which is not much in the first place. He makes assumptions and ponders motives, giving the audience little room to make their own conclusions or use their own imaginations. He tells you what to think. Without any factual basis.

He is disrespectful to his interview subjects. He leaves interviews going just a little too long, so you get awkward pauses as someone’s thought trails off, making them look slightly senile or mad. He asks them to dress up or demonstrate weapons but then plays it out of context, so the audience is wondering what is wrong with this person, before he introduces them, or lets them explain why they are doing whatever it is they do.

The score was heavy and felt discordant to me. It didn’t complement the cave paintings, it distracted from them. The actual footage of the paintings was stunning though, and the sequences where these were shown were left long and uncut, so you could fully appreciate their beauty.

Finally Herzog adds a postscript. A completely unrelated note about a nuclear power plant in the region and some albino crocodiles. He ponders “Are we the crocodiles looking back on these paintings” – or something to that effect. So instead of leaving you gazing at these stunning charcoal sketches created by our ancestors and preserved over millennia… he leaves you with some crocodiles. Seriously, WTF?

I hope that another filmmaker one day has the opportunity to use this footage and creates the respectful and amazing documentary that the subject and those studying it deserve.


NZFF: The Tree of Life

It’s a poem which only the poet can understand. Or a painting which makes sense only to the painter. I don’t pretend to understand half of what this film was about but that it is a great work of art is under no doubt.
Like all great masterpieces, it will and has divided critics, confused audiences and caused a bit of interesting conversation.

It should be pretentious, yet it’s not. It is earnest, heartfelt. Beyond the grasp of us mere mortals. But there is a simple message in amongst the metaphors. To love your children. I’m sure there is more to it, and that might come to me if I sit here pondering for hours, which one could easily do. But I guess that’s up to each individual viewer and I won’t extrapolate what others might discover.

The cinematography was stunning. The music grandiose and intimate – wherever one or the other was needed. The child actors put in touching performances, and for a moment you almost even forget that you are watching Sean Penn or Brad Pitt, but not quite. It might have been better if it had been unknown or lesser known actors in these roles.

My personal critique would be of the repeated religious references, but that’s a matter of taste or faith. Also, I’m not sure the film was made any better for the whole creation sequence. The dinosaurs were a little off to me. It was pretty, sure, but left little to the imagination – or too much perhaps. I’m not sure. Just didn’t sit right.

Overall, a beautiful film and I’m glad I watched it, but would I recommend it? Probably not. Which is a shame.

[On a side note, we only had a handful of walk-outs. Which is less than many reports I’ve heard. But more than most films. I guess some people would just rather watch Transformers 3.]

Weekend – Review

When we heard that our friend David’s brother Andrew Haigh had a film showing at this years festival, we went with trepidation… What if it was terrible? Would we have to lie to our friend and say that we liked it?

Fortunately for us (and Andrew I would imagine) Weekend is a fantastic film.
Two men, Russell and Glen, meet at a gay bar and have a one night stand that develops into much more over the course of a weekend.
At heart Weekend is just a series of conversations between the main characters, similar to Before Sunrise (to which it has been compared). But it is so well crafted that you find yourself completely absorbed in the budding relationship between the two.
This a beautifully shot film. The camera work is intimate and remote when it needs to be. There’s little in the way of frills or gimmicks with the camera work or editing (and very little music, apart from incidental or background stuff) which gives the actors the space they need to just act.
And they act very well. Tom Cullen plays Russell, a “mostly out” guy, who is pretty shy, a bit repressed and doesn’t really like talking about being gay. Chris New plays Glen, who is the opposite of Russell in a lot of ways. Out and proud, he’s a bit militant, but also a little messed up. They are both very natural and believable.
As their weekend romance progresses we (and they) learn more about themselves and each other.
Although this is a film with gay themes and is at times quite confrontational, it’s also a film about relationships and in that respect is a film for everyone. It’s about difference between the persona we project and the person we are inside. It’s also about letting others see that person inside.
This was a quiet little gem of a film and I’m really glad we don’t have to lie to our friend about how much we liked it.

Homegrown: Works on Film

Two more films today and lots of work to do before we go, so just a quick recap of my thoughts for Homegrown: Works on Film…

Overall, I think the quality was higher than last years batch of shorts we saw – there weren’t any terrible films this year, but there also weren’t any blow-your-mind-away films.
So we saw:
Blue by Stephen Kang, Ebony Society by Tammy Davis, Eeling by Peter McCully, Bird by Jane Shearer, Meathead by Sam Holst and Preferably Blue by Alan Dickson.
Blue and Ebony Society (despite the terrible title) stood out as my favourites. I found Eeling just a wee bit disgusting, Bird had very clunky dialogue, Meathead was slightly insulting and Preferably Blue was a blatant rip off of Nightmare Before Christmas (although nicely done, with Harry Enfield providing the narration).
Blue has a great concept and is well told. Ebony Society has a very sweet story about a couple of boys doing good for a change and some great young acting talent. It was also the only short with quite a bit of dialogue that worked.
Overall, it seems the less dialogue in your film the less awkward/uncomfortable it is. With the exception of sex scenes with eels, that is… those are always awkward.
This afternoon, we’re off to see ‘Weekend’ by Andrew Haigh (our friend David’s brother) and Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D later on. Updates on those tomorrow hopefully…

NZFF – so much to see, so few hours in the day… DAY 1

So the New Zealand (International) Film Festival kicks off in Wellington today, and we start off our long list of films to see with a doco about Bobby Fischer, the chess master.
I want to try put down some thoughts on all the films we see this year, but to do so, I’ll keep them brief, as work is insanely busy (yay!) and half my time will be spent in dimly lit theatres (yay!).
Bobby Fischer Against the World promises an interesting new look on one of America’s more eccentric 70’s celebrities. Unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the promise. I felt a little like the festival organisers heard about this fascinating doco called “Me and Bobby Fischer” (mentioned in the film) and couldn’t get prints in time so they asked HBO to send over their low-budget made-for-TV doco instead.
The technical quality of the film was somewhat lacking. It deals with a huge amount of archive footage, but archive footage does not need to look so bad. The more recent archive footage looked as bad as the 70s and 60s stock. The recent interviews were all framed and shot in the same style. Dull.
Last year we saw “American: The Bill Hicks Story” which had the same challenges for filmmakers. Lots of archive, lots of talking heads, some beautiful photos and a dead subject. It was a beautifully made film, put together in an interesting way that drew acclaim. Bobby Fischer Against the World was not.
Hopefully the rest of the festival is more promising.
A wee plug here for the Wellington Film Festival – calendar links which Mike and I put together. You can copy them to your own calendar and share them with friends. Super organised fun!