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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Concrete Playground's Picks for the 2017 NZ International Film Festival

Time management one of your special skills? You'll need it to get through this year's phenomenal program.
By Katharina Charles
July 04, 2017
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Concrete Playground's Picks for the 2017 NZ International Film Festival

Time management one of your special skills? You'll need it to get through this year's phenomenal program.
By Katharina Charles
July 04, 2017
  shares

Quit your job, and live at the cinema because it might just be the only way to ensure you won't miss any of the electrifying films sourced for this year's New Zealand International Film Festival.

Presenting a spectrum of theatre with a huge contingent ripped straight from French film reels at Cannes, this year's festival offers a tasty selection spanning big budget crime thrillers, terrorism, activism, teenage angst and witchcraft set to monopolise your time through to August. Here are Concrete Playground's best of the fest.

A GENTLE CREATURE

Framed by dream-like mystery, Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznita plays on Russia's dark and disturbing history as viewers accompany stoic heroine (Vasilina Makovtseva) while she unravels just what has become of her husband once he has been jailed for murder in Putin's Russia.

I AM NOT A WITCH

A subject which captures imagination and incites a trembling fear of the unknown, I Am Not A Witch centres around a village girl in Zambia as she is forced to work in the country's lucrative world of witchcraft for hire. Writer/director Rungano Nyoni lived for a month in one of these 'witch-camps' and it's through her observations of tragedy and humour she is able to aptly hold the men who keep the trade in business accountable.

MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS

Set across sun-baked fields in rural Indonesia, Marlina finds herself at a defining moment when raiders appear at her home unannounced, and she must quickly decide, does she endure robbery and rape. Or deal retribution. Fantastic feminism peppered with Tarantino influences, Marsha Timothy's dead-pan expression offers just enough humour to set this script slight.

PATTI CAKE$

I didn't really want to like Patti Cake$, for a feel-good script about a New Jersey rapper making her way in the world just seemed careless, but lead actress Danielle MacDonald captured every inch of my imagination. Hyper-real, unaffected and super endearing, viewers are drawn into the world of Patricia Dombrowski, an overweight and unlikely heroine who chases her dreams in the rap-game with the support of her own motley crew.

THE VENERABLE W.

Turning religious stereotypes upside down, The Venerable W. is Barbet Schroeder's third instalment of the 'Axis of Evil' trilogy which began in 1974 with 'Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait' followed by 'Terror's Advocate' in 2007. A chilling account of Burmese monk Venerable Wirathu's anti-Muslim rhetoric and a correction of sorts delving into the tragic history of a country divided, The Venerable W. poses more enduring questions about the world's evolving nationalistic sentiment.

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman step up to the plate in this brooding thriller, the stuff which domestic nightmares are made of. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Dogtooth) borrows from the classic Greek tragedy to portray the misery of a family held to ransom by a teenage stalker. Clever, terrifying and guaranteed up the anxiety.

WIND RIVER

Set on the isolated, snow-covered plains of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, Elisabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner are an unlikely due working to solve the murder of a teenage girl. Characterised by tension and intrigue, everyone is a suspect, while elements of gender and race add to the essence of confusion, combining to deliver a catastrophic and gripping crime thriller.

100 MEN

Take a voyeuristic look into 40 years of gay history as ever-humorous filmmaker Paul Oremland opens up his life (and the lives of some of his conquests) to provide an entertaining, conversation-provoking peek into how experiences of being different can shape identity. Using candid interviews with past lovers, Paul's personal touch here makes for a really refreshing approach to a topic many simply can't understand.

20TH CENTURY WOMEN

Nominated for 'Best Screenplay' at the Academy Awards 2017, American director Mike Mills conducts a colourful symphony of emotion and life in '70s California as a mother (Annette Bening) leans on boarders (Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig) for help raising her 15-year old son. Hailed as captivating and glorious with just enough teenage angst, it's the perfect fit for a matinee with mum.

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL

If you're into the wise-cracking bloodshed of Game of Thrones duo Aria Stark and the Hound, its likely this brutal, over the top and completely absorbing offering by legendary Japanese director Miike Takashi will be right up your alley. Telling the story of ruthless warrior Manji (who benefits from self-healing limbs) and his quest to protect the Aria-esque Rin, the action is visually stunning and there is definitely a reason some critics are calling it 'better than 13 Assassins'.

THE FREE MAN

Base jumping, wing suits and tightroping, not for the faint hearted and Kiwi director Toa Frazer looks at why. Examining the relationship between extreme sportspeople and mental health, The Free Man follows world champion Kiwi free skier Jossi Wells as he links up with intense aero-acrobats The Flying Frenchies to travel and train, even attempting some of their death-defying stunts. The film disguises it's thought provoking message with breath-taking moments that beggar belief, yet you'll walk away with an inexplicable insight into the never-ending chase that these fellas give for the thrill.

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

Oscar-nominated and completely challenging, I Am Not Your Negro is a film from French director Raoul Peck, compiled entirely from the unpublished writings and works of deceased novelist James Baldwin. Using the voice of Samuel L. Jackson, the movie delves deep into the question of American identity, raising uncomfortable truths about her chequered civil rights history and its implications for our lives today.

LADY MACBETH

A binding reinvention the Russian novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, director William Oldroyd peppers oppression and longing with murder, intrigue and desire to tell the tale of Katherine (Florence Pugh), a young bride suffering at the hands of a repulsive marriage arrangement and her plans for emancipation. While the tale may have been told times over, the suspense is every bit as thrilling as Oldroyd nails the recipe for this tried and true thriller.

THE LOST CITY OF Z

Big budget and full of heavyweights, The Lost City of Z is the epic (albeit removed from fact) account of real-life 20th century explorer Percy Fawcett (played by Charlie Hunnam) in his quest to find a hidden civilisation within the Amazonian jungle. Outstanding cinematography and performances by Sienna Miller and Robert Pattinson show colonial exploration for all its foils and the elements of mystery and adventure are sure to draw out your childish curiosities.

NEW ZEALAND'S BEST 2017

Showcasing the six finalists from New Zealand's best short film competition (from 83 total submissions), this compilation is a refreshing lens aimed at emerging Kiwi directors. Spanning tales of youthful misfits (The Dregs) and struggles with professional ethics (Do No Harm), it's the Untitled Groping Revenge Fairytale about a woman pitching her tent on the edge of a forest beginning to collect men which has really piqued my interest.

SPOOKERS

The deeply terrifying carnival spook-house which operates out of the derelict psychiatric hospital in Kingseat might have some raising questions about the image of mental health in New Zealand, but this documentary paints a clear picture. Taking a look at the people behind the demonic masks and ghoulish makeup, filmmaker Florian Habicht finds a charming middle-ground where those too shy for daylight find strength from the characters they portray at this night-time horror house.

WHAT LIES THAT WAY

Returning after living with the Lak people from Papua New Guinea for two years, filmmaker Paul Wolffram returns to the rainforests of southern New Ireland determined to undergo the dangerous initiation process into the Buai shaman cult. Seldom practised and administrated by the only one known sorcerer in the region, the camera runs as Wolfrram is left without food or water on the bush floor to experience the edge of this dark magical psychosis.

The NZIFF starts in Auckland on 14 July and in Wellington from 28 July in 2016. See the full program here.

Published on July 04, 2017 by Katharina Charles

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