It’s coming up - that time of year when our evening hours have the potential to be a little bit sparklier (and full of screen-friendly snack consumption). The New Zealand International Film Festival brings a curated selection of some of the world’s best and diverse cinematic works to our doorsteps, making planning date nights, catch-ups, and mindful me-time sessions that much more exciting. From movies brimming with hope about ways we can change the world, to guaranteed crowd-pleasers with plot twists and tight scripts, to nuanced slower-paced portrayals of small-town life… there’s a perfect film for everyone in the 2019 schedule. Here are five movies topping my to-watch list this year.
The Inspirational: 2040
A climate emergency has been declared by numerous city councils across Aotearoa, but what are we going to do in the face of crisis? In this uplifting film, director Damon Gameau traverses the world looking for technologies and practices that might help us make our 2040 look better than the one in current projections. Regenerative farming practices, solar systems, marine permaculture experiments, and electric transportation development… as Gameau learns about each promising practice, he pieces together a vision of a better future and the practical steps that we can take to get there: “Not only are there so many people who want to take part in telling a new story… we have everything right now to make it happen.”
The Documentary: The Biggest Little Farm
This story is about how Emmy Award-winning filmmaker John and Molly Chester ditched their Los Angeles apartment lifestyles to take the venture of transforming a historically unproductive 80 hectare orchard in the foothills of California’s Ventura County. Their journey of regenerating the land using traditional farming methods against all odds (including a cast of “evil rogues” including ”murderous coyotes, gobbling gophers, and a squadron of fruit-filching starlings”) will likely leave you yearning for the joys of a simpler life (or at the very least prompt you to dabble again with the nitrogen to carbon ratio in your home compost). A reminder that there is beauty in the act of restoration, and a captivating portrait of one couple’s efforts to bring eco-philosophy into the world, The Biggest Little Farm is a documentary that brings a lot of heart to the screen. Also ducks. And a very good pig called Emma.
The Rom-com: La Belle Époque
This big night draw promises to be one of the unicorns of the rom-com world - the rare gem of a film that is both crowd-pleaser and cinematic treat. A contemporary twist to the second chance at first love storyline, La Belle Époque takes you into a world where an agency can provide you the opportunity to play the protagonist in any moment in history with cast, costume, and set all provided. The point in history selected by an unhappy cartoonist (played by Daniel Auteuil) currently fighting with his wife? The happiest day of his life, several decades ago, when a beautiful mademoiselle entered a cafe...
Films for Equity: This Changes Everything
Another somewhat sneaky (but necessary!) addition to the list considering This Changes Everything is also a documentary. But Tom Donahue’s film chronicling the systemic biases undermining women in Hollywood is a must-see for those passionate about gender parity. A brilliant example of ways that men can take a stand with women to fight discrimination, this frank film goes beyond the hashtags of #MeToo and #TimesUp in capturing and amplifying the voices of many Hollywood veterans (including Meryl Streep, Yara Shahidi, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Tiffany Haddish, Sandra Oh, and Tracee Ellis Ross) to deconstruct Hollywood’s problematic ways.
The Home-grown: Bellbird
Having read Doug Dillaman’s recent essay on why so few NZ films make it to Cannes Film Festival, I paid more attention than usual to the home-grown films in this year’s NZIFF schedule. “It takes a long-term commitment to selling an artist and giving them the space to develop their voice”, wrote Dillaman, “... to let them be distinctive across several stand-alone shorts and feature films”. If following the works and development of our local talents is your thing, then writer-director Hamish Bennett’s poignant yet subtly playful feature Bellbird stands out as one to watch. Bennett’s short prequel to Bellbird (Ross & Beth) won prizes in the NZIFF 2014 New Zealand’s Best short film competition, and now this feature masterfully illustrates the relationship between third generation dairy farmer Ross (Marshall Napier) and his squeamish son Bruce (Cohen Holloway) as they grapple with the loss of their wife/mother, and the ways their community looks out for them. Rachel House also plays the part of Connie (Bruce’s friend and boss) and I absolutely can’t wait to watch her in a feature as promising as this. For the record, Rachel House is a national gem I’d watch performing on repeat even in a soap commercial.Support Villainesse