Monday, 24 June 2013

Bill Gosden talks the 2013 Film Festival

Bill Gosden talks the 2013 Film Festival

Tonight has seen the launch of the 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland, with the programme being unleashed to the masses.
Now, the scheduling of the film smorgasbord begins - and I managed to catch up with Bill Gosden, the festival director to get a look inside this year's fest:

It's the 45th Film Festival - that's quite the achievement; give us a summary of how you feel on this auspicious occasion.
Well, it’s not my 45th, but I’ve been around long enough to know the thick and the thin of it. I’m amazed that we’ve weathered so many changes, and kept on fronting up every year with something new and lively, because it has never, not even once, felt that it was getting easier. Anyone keeping an arts organisation afloat in this fair land will know what I mean. Fortunately we have had some great allies, best of all an enthusiastic audience.

Every year, it's a veritable feast of film, how do you manage to top it each year?
Topping oneself is probably not a healthy ambition...We’re just trying to identify what’s new and exciting and channel it New Zealand’s way.

How would you describe this year's selection? Are there any over-arching themes? 
Trends that became apparent a year ago are still trending. The idea still holds that there are multifarious clearings in the forest where the multiplex monsters don’t play, so that individuality, even eccentricity can and do occasionally flourish. The increasing concentration of “event” movies in the cinemas has led to a proliferation of smaller scaled productions for varied, smaller scaled platforms. A big, generalist festival such as NZIFF can turn an aggregation of the best examples into an event in its own right.

There is one specific tendency that I have noticed: the ‘everything old is new’syndrome, which is reflected in the retro-futurist look of our own poster, but has also prompted an unusual number of filmmakers in the last year to shoot their films in lustrous black and white. It may look as if they are picking up the abandoned tools of a suddenly obsolete technology, but of course they’re achieving these old effects through entirely new means.

The festival starts with a bang of fabulousness with Behind the Candlebra, a film rumoured to be Soderbergh's last. What made this the opening night film?
You got it, fabulousness.

We've had over 91 short films sent in this year - does that mean the quality's higher than ever and we're in rude health?
No, but the good ones are very good.

It's a veritable extravaganza of live theatre this year - A Buster Keaton, a Goblin and Suspiria and The Crowd. Where do you get the ideas every year for these events and how much of a collaborative process is it?
Ideas are never a problem. It’s the resources that are hard to stack up. We are sharing Goblin tour costs with some Australian shows. The Cameraman stems from our long association with composer Timothy Brock who never scored a film that wasn’t worth watching 100 times over. I may have been the one who nudged Wellington composer Jo Contag towards The Crowd, and I certainly wasn’t surprised when he was excited by the movie. I could not have been happier when he applied, with NZIFF support, to Creative NZ for funds to score it and they said yes.

Plus a couple of great Hitchcock films (after last year's Live Event) and Joss Whedon doing Shakespeare - variety is indeed the spice of life?
 North by Northwest is simply one of the great movies, don’t you think? And it never looked better than it does now. Hitchcock makes inventive use of 3D to define a very constricted space in Dial M. It’s fascinating to watch how he works it. And no Grace Kelly fan will want to miss the chance to see her at her most perfectly porcelain-like. Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is a treat. Even the low comedy that can seem such heavy lifting in otherwise fleet Shakespeare productions is funny in this one.

There's an extremely strong slate of Independent films this us through some of the best.
I liked Starlet a lot, and it’s probably the hardest one to talk through. Dree Hemingway plays an independent young woman in Los Angeles who gets caught up in a strange, guilt-laden stand-off with an elderly widow. It’s fresh and constantly surprising. The little truths stirred up by their encounter have really stayed with me months after. Computer Chess, set at an early computer chess tournament, is a hoot, but you need to be prepared for a film that looks like it was shot on home video in 1982, which is very much part of its geek-loving, nostalgic vibe.

As well as some truly unique New Zealand films - what more can you tell us about Romeo and Juliet on a campsite? And the Deadly Ponies gang as well as nature doco Antarctica on Ice. These films have some truly delicious premises...
I thought Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song was great fun, full of marvellous visual invention. Deadly Ponies nails a great pair of rural clowns. Anthony Powell’s Antarctica: A Year on Ice bursts with his love of the place. He invented his own tools and taught himself film-making to make it. He succeeds impressively not only in sharing his wonder at the environment, but also in conveying the special proprietary sense that grows from actually living there.

What's the strangest film on this list in your section - is it a toss up between a Pedro Almodovar mock airplane movie or Upstream Colour?
The Almodovar film came to us late and could only be accommodated into Auckland, but it’s not really especially strange, more a regression to sex farce basics, and nelly gay stereotypes no straight director would dare revive. Upstream Colour is consummately weird and utterly seductive on the big screen.

You've tapped into the zeitgeist of fears over privacy with Terms and Conditions Apply and Wikileaks - is this the year of paranoia / Big Brother do you think?
It’s not paranoia when it turns out they really are watching. Terms and Conditions delves into precisely the issues that prompted Edward Snowden to blow his whistle. Alex Gibney’s Wikileaks film provides a bracingly clear assessment of the issues that need to be discussed when you discuss Julian Assange.

What's your personal pick from the festival fare this year and why?
I’m hanging out for all 21 Cannes titles, vetted for us by our Paris-based programmer Sandra Reid. Here are a few picks from the extensive register of films I have already seen and would hate anyone to overlook:

2 Autumns, 3 Winters. Don’t be put off when I say that the three principal characters often speak to camera.  This tale of two 30something couples is inventive, funny and charmingly self-aware. I was a little reminded of Florian’s Love Story.

The Act of Killing
The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer’s encounter with veterans of the murder squads who devastated Indonesia in the 60s is startling and utterly revealing.

Dormant Beauty. Superb classical filmmaking applied to an utterly contemporary subject by Italian master Marco Bellochio.

Museum Hours. A lovely low key drama in praise of platonic friendship and great museums.

Stories We Tell. Sarah Polley’s painful family secrets and lies are revealed and inspected with inimitable poise and discretion.

Utu Redux. It’s even better than you remember.

Wadjda. From a country where movies are never shown, at least not in public. This gentle drama proves a sly, surprisingly funny bid for gender equality on behalf of Saudi Arabian schoolgirls (and their mothers).

What's the movie you feel has the propensity to change lives and which do you feel would garner great word of mouth?
To name just one: Gardening with Soul might open a few minds to the wealth of life possible in a convent. Jess Feast’s documentary about a nonagenarian gardening nun is completely winning. There’s an irresistible spark to Sister Loyola, and the camera really catches it.

Is there any chance of securing last minute the Cannes Palme D'Or winner, Blue is the Warmest Colour?
No. The word is that the film was rushed to Cannes in an incomplete state. I think it will be quite some time before the ‘complete’ version is ready to be seen at an art house near you.

The Isaac Theatre Royal
Just as an aside from the festival, there are just days to go with the Isaac Theatre Royal project in Christchurch - how's that going?
There are several other strands to this appeal, but more Boosted donations would definitely be in order at this point. Please donate the price of a ticket to help provide Christchurch with a fitting home for NZIFF.

We have some international guests heading this way as well - can you tell us more?
 I first knew about the director of This Ain’t No Mouse Music! Maureen Gosling from her longstanding association with the films of Les Blank. We showed her Blossoms of Fire about a matriarchal culture in Oaxaca, Mexico a decade ago. The film she made with Chris Simon about roots music producer Chris Strachwitz is a lovely celebration of the music he’s preserved and helped feed into the American mainstream. Sean Baker seemed a great choice as Starlet shows what resonance can be achieved with small resources – assuming, of course, that those small resources are as potent as Starlet’s arresting scenario and two actresses.

What's the perfect NZ Festival day for you?
 Only the movie titles have changed since you asked the same question a year ago. A perfect NZIFF Sunday begins when I look out my window, find an overcast sky and feel assured that it’s a perfect day for indoor pursuits. A wake-me-up documentary, The Human Scale perhaps, is followed by a World Premiere of a new Kiwi film. The filmmaker is delighted by the projection. The audience is delighted by the film. The Q+A is lively.  An exercise break at this point seems unlikely but would pay dividends ahead of the Australasian premiere of one of those Cannes winners I’ve yet to see. Then it might be time to sneak into something of Ant’s for cathartic mayhem. Or I could just go to bed....

The New Zealand International Film Festival is now launched - the site is live with all the smorgasbord of treats available - check it out at and then drop us a note in the comments as to what we can expect to see you all at! 

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