Monday, 22 May 2017

Doc Edge Festival preview

Doc Edge Festival preview

The 12th Doc Edge International Documentary Film Festival hits its home straight with the Auckland leg of the festival starting this week.

Over 49 films and 20 shorts are being showcased in the annual event at Auckland's Q Theatre, which will have its gala opening with Whitney: Can I Be Me? documentary maker, Nick Broomfield in attendance.

As ever, there's a wide variety of films on show, and some shorts that have had airings already, but many that are definitely worth re-visiting.
Whitney: Can I Be Me?
Whitney: Can I Be Me?

Whitney: "Can I Be Me?", the opening night film, will be a draw card for the many fans of the songstress whose life started out in the gospel world, but whose rise to fame and subsequent fall was due to the power of her voice.

Starting with the 911 call on February 11th 2012, the film seems to be going for a chilling vibe, but draws its own strength from the unseen footage Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal have secured. Taken from a 1999 tour of Hamburg, the behind the scenes, unfettered nature of that footage says more about Houston than anything else could.

Whether it's holding the audience expectations in her hands before belting out the final bars of I Will Always Love You to giving you an insight into the pressures on the star, the film's shiny surface is all about Houston and a clutch of people around her.

The back half of the doco becomes more compelling as you see Houston fall under the influence of malevolent forces, but one can't escape the feeling that Broomfield's insight into the star isn't as in-depth as Asif Kapadia's excoriating and emotive look at Amy Winehouse, which truly set the bar for music docos.

That said, fans of Whitney will appreciate and be lining up for its premiere in Auckland.
Mattress Men
Mattress Men

Elsewhere, the Irish recession and the impact on society forms the surprising backbone to the immediately quirky looking Mattress Men.
Mattress Mick is an internet sensation, a sort of grey-mop haired potential embarrassment of a man whose business has been transformed by the power of the viral video.

But the charming and actually heart-breaking doco is more than a laugh at the man involved; it's a poignant heart-breaking demonstration of how the economic times we live in are destroying the souls of those on the front line.

Choosing to follow Mick's co-worker Paul Kelly, a man who feels he deserves more credit than he's getting for his role, the film has elements of I, Daniel Blake via way of The Office's tragi-comedy as darker forces threaten to overwhelm. And while there's a definite feeling that it's a testament to the power of positive though, this doco quickly moves past the quirky to embrace the humanity of those facing darker times.

It helps that it's set to the background of a terrible music video being made (Mattresses, Back To The Future, a Shaft star who's cringe-worthy), this is one of the surprise stand-outs of the festival, a salute to the common man, and proof that life finds a way.

Thank You For Playing is not an easy sell. Playing for free at the festival and with the subject in attendance, this story about a video game's genesis has its foundations in heartbreak.
Thank You For Playing
Thank You For Playing
That Dragon Cancer is a game that will be known by some, but not others; dealing with the death of a child from cancer, it's a game about the universaility of grief and the journey, but its foundations come from father Ryan finding out that his son Joel has the disease.
There are moments when it's not an easy watch, and the frank honesty can occasionally be emotive kryptonite, but that is all to the documentary's powe. Ryan makes the film feel honest with the good and bad being captured during the process, and while it'll take a hard heart of stone to avoid misty-eyed syndrome, Thank You for Playing deserves commendation for never once being mawkish, sentimental or milking its audience.

One other documentary looking to start a conversation and probably likely to succeed so is the relatively short 2016 TV doco Making Good Men.

Not many may know that Hobbit and Arrow star Manu Bennett and former All Black Norm Hewitt were victim and bully respectively back in the day. Threatened by Manu's joining of Te Aute college he was at, Norm powered into Bennett and beat him to within an inch of his life.
Making Good Men

After years of their respective journeys taking them on different paths, both Hewitt and Bennett had a chance reunion in a Koru lounge.

The doco gives each the chance to recollect their stories and their various prior lives before it all happened with pieces to camera.

It's here the film's strength works as the unflinching raw honesty is hypnotic and challenging.
But the main power of this piece is that it may make many re-think their life choices, and begin to muse whether they were smart decisions as this anti-violence piece plays.

There's a wide range of topics covered in the festival - for cinephiles, there are films that look at the shower scene in Psycho, to examining the role of Indian movie houses; for those concerned about our times, there's the effect of screens on our society and there are stories of Syria and refugees as well.

If anything, the 12th Doc Edge International Documentary Film Festival feels like a very contemporary festival that deals far and wide with its subject matter, and will provoke plenty of discussion once the lights have gone up.

The 12th Doc Edge International Documentary Film Festival kicks off in Auckland from May 24th to June 5th.

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