The Incredibly Strange Section with Ant Timpson: NZIFF Interview

The Incredibly Strange Section with Ant Timpson

What comes up in Google, if you type Ant Timpson

There wouldn't be an annual influx of the bizarre without the Incredibly Strange section of the New Zealand International Film Festival - and there wouldn't be that, without the input and programming of head honcho, Ant Timpson. 
Ant took time out of his day to ebulliently answer a few questions about the upcoming delights of the Incredibly Strange section of the programme - and his reasons for programming it.

First up, not directly in your section, but something you’re an executive producer of, Housebound – which has done well in SXSW and is getting a North America distribution as well as screening in the main festival. What’s that been like to be part of?
Well, it’s interesting you bring up Housebound.
Actually it’s not – I mean it’s easily the most entertaining NZ feature to be made for the last few decades so of course you want to talk about it. 

When I came to the project it was in a dire way. It was beaten up, haggard and in tatters.  
Housebound, playing at NZIFF 2014
I took the director Gerard under my wing and said “Kid, you’ve got something, I can work with this, I can shape it into something world class”… Oh hold on.. Sorry I got confused, I think that was something from Rocky 5.  
Actually I came on as EP for HOUSEBOUND in the final stages - Gerard and Luke had been living with the film for a couple of years and once I saw it, I knew it was one of the most accomplished debut films we've ever seen in NZ. I thought I could help get the film in front of the right people and work on its SXSW roll-out.
Housebound had the best launch at SXSW that you could ask for. It was the film critics/people discovered away from the hype machine and then wanted to tell all their friends about how great it was and maybe a bit of "nyah nyah" mixed in for good measure. We planned how to approach SXSW after getting the confirmation. We pulled on XYZ to rep – and having the folks behind The Raid in your corner makes people instantly take notice. We spent a good 4-5 weeks working out who to go with because at one stage we had 6-7 companies all interested in taking on the film. I had my friends at FonsPR look after the media on the ground, Badass Digest got the word out about the cool poster, other friends at certain sites helped profile the funny ‘pee’ clip.. And then Gerard, Luke and I did the hard yards shaking hands and putting up flyers in illegal places.  My partner in crime, Tim League, offered us to piggyback a boil-up party at his house for the film which basically meant we gave Housebound tee-shirts and got to charm the key media folks from IGN and IMDB. From that point on it’s been a whirlwind on the film with it being picked up for North America and then world sales kicking off at Cannes. You couldn’t have asked for a better roll-out to be honest and director Gerard Johnstone has gone from being Flight 370 to suddenly being on everyone's radar in Hollywood.  God help us all.

Turning to Incredibly Strange, what was the choice like out there this year?
There’s always a boatload of films out there every year – unfortunately many of them drain your will to live. The expansion of genre films has exploded as the access to equipment means everyone can deliver a relatively polished product. The end result is a lot of clutter and it takes time to weed through all of it to find the gems. It’s helpful being part of a wider community of programmers who all share insight into what's out there – we all want to be the ones who discover a new talent but unless you’re at a major fest, it's rare to be given something incredible as a world premiere. 
We also have the usual problems of sales agents holding off titles from festival screeners because of placement at larger festivals or restrictions placed on it by US distributors.
Case in point - I really wanted to show Adam Wingard’s THE GUEST - I’ve supported his films since his debut feature Pop Skull and even ended up working with him on my film THE ABCS OF DEATH – but I just couldn’t get the film secured for a festival screening. No matter how many times I pouted and wailed about the injustice of it all.

I’ve got a gun to your head, and am forcing you to choose – what’s the one film from your section that you’d tell everyone to go see and why?
Well, I’ve already disarmed you and now you’re suddenly in a choke hold and wheezing like an old man… so there is no choice for me to make. The only choice that matters is whether you choose to live or die.  Luckily, I am a team player and the NZiFF want this interview to be read by the 5 people who read your blog – so I release the hold. 
On my own free will, I conclude that the one film I can heartily recommend to everyone and their dog is JODOROWSKY’S DUNE. It’s inspirational and rekindles any jaded sense of wonder that audiences might have.

Same question, (I have a second concealed weapon, which is why you didn’t see this coming) – what’s the one film from the main programme you’d tell everyone to go see and why? (This cannot be Housebound, by the way…)
Scarlett Johansson in Under The Skin
Again - and I hate to embarrass you in front of the same 5 people mentioned above - but I saw that concealed bump like it was a 3000watt xenon beam from across the room.. the gun is now in your mouth and tears are streaming down your face. 
Taking pity on the pathetic and because I love many of the features in the main programme – this choice is like shooting fish in a barrel. Using your concealed weapon I pop off a cap and it hits Jonathan Glazer’s mesmerising miasma UNDER THE SKIN. It's a film I saw at Toronto Film Festival last Sept and vividly recall several sequences like I saw them only hours ago.

Turning to all your films in The Incredibly Strange Section, Borgman’s the first Dutch film in competition at Cannes in 40 years, what makes it so special?
Borgman is just being released in the US so the timing is rather perfect for folks here to see what all the fuss at Cannes was about. What gripped me about the film was that it so effortlessly introduces a new mythology without pandering to audiences or attempting to answer everything. It begins in high-gear with the introduction of Borgman himself and from that moment you are riveted in the game he unleashes on an unsuspecting wealthy couple.

The Congress seems like a novel idea – why did this make it through?
Did you just make an awful pun in front of me? A novel idea – about a film based on a Stanislaw Lem’s classic novel? 
You’re on the ground begging for your life now. Making whimpering sounds that have limited appeal to me. 
I let you stand.  
The film was selected because it’s hugely ambitious film-making (just like Jodorowsky’s Dune) and that’s infectious to watch. The premise is ingenious and the film-making techniques match the script's inventiveness.  It helps that it’s superbly well-cast and it should appeal to a wide cross-section of movie-goers.

Cold In July looks like a twisted take on the home invasion story, what’s the best moment in it and why?
Just be quiet. You don’t tell me what the films are like. 
Michael C Hall in Cold In July
The five readers have no interest in your take on these films, especially when you haven’t seen them. 
It is not a home invasion story, let's get that out of the way. This is pulpy neo-noir feast with extra crackling on top. The opening sequence is someone breaking into a house but from that point on it becomes a fully-fledged thriller/mystery with some unpleasant discoveries along the way. 
The best moment is obviously when Don Johnson’s character comes into the story.

Jodorowsky’s Dune – legendary to some, need I say more?
No you’ve said quite enough. The film is legendary full stop. Not to some. It just is. 
When people see this incredible documentary they’ll understand that the 9th wonder of the world is still preserved in a giant book – but they can imagine it as Alejandro Jodorowsky begins to explain just what his vision would have been. 
PS – I still love the Lynch version.

Home seems to be a haunted house story with a twist – what’s different about this Nicholas McCarthy flick?
Well for one it’s unlike any haunted house film you’ve ever seen. 
McCarthy is someone who in the space of two features has become a film-maker that I think is worthy of every horror fan's attention. He has the uncanny ability to create dread from composition and sound design – some of his sequences are like he’s channelling Polanski. He’s that good.  
He also doesn’t shy away from delivering jump scares that cause spontaneous soiling. The film doesn’t fit into any easy compartment – it’s a possession movie as much as a haunted house film but you’re never quite sure how it's going to play out. I think for discerning fans it really is something special – if you want Insidious 2, this ain’t it.

Killers looks like it could be a confrontational watch – is this the one title on your programme that could be a tough watch?
This is the film that the censor actually emailed me and felt they’d been through the ringer. 
It’s a disturbing watch but it’s also entertaining (if that doesn’t make me sound too much like a psychopath.) Knowing one of the Mo Bros (Timo) – I know how much of a pitch black sense of humour he has and how this conceit to him is as humourous as it is disturbing. 
He’s playing with a pretty large canvas here and I think we’d be doing a disservice to the film to just label it as a nasty. It’s much smarter than that. Those who got winded by cop vs serial killer pic I SAW THE DEVIL a few years back will want to grab a ticket to duelling serial killers pic quickly.
Kung Fu Elliot, playing at NZIFF in 2014

Kung Fu Elliot is already garnering a good word of mouth and was your choice of launch film, is this one likely to be the next cult hit?
I liked this doc even more when I heard Melbourne Film Festival turned it down along with many other festivals. It was like when I knew Dear Zachary had something and I wanted to share it with audiences here… I call 'em onion docs. The more layers that come off, the more you want to cry. 
Kung Fu Elliot delivers an emotional rollercoaster – audiences go from laughing at the main subject, to laughing along with him to suddenly going "WTF! Dude what the hell is going on here!" 
I expect lots of discussions on the streets after it screens. You’ll want your friends to see it so you can talk about it.

It Follows appears to have a delicious premise – tell us why this is a must see film?
By delicious you mean it involves sex right? God, you sound  like a real creepazoid. Why don’t you just come clean? Stop this film blog masquerade and start covering hamster porn or whatever disgusting stuff you’re into. 
Of course people should see this. 
For one, hardly anyone has seen this film, so you can instantly brag to your friends about seeing it. 
Secondly, it’s a strong a conceit was when Scream first came out – it's one of those ideas that you go:  "That’s so brilliant and yet so obvious why has no one made this film before?" 
The director unabashedly wears his influences heavily and still manages to create a film that feels completely original. Seeing this film cold is the best way though so I’m not going to reveal anything specific to do with the story – just believe me that this is one of the gems of the festival

Finally on your section, Life After Beth (aside from the great title) is a zombie film – thought you’d said you’d never programme a zombie film - why did this one change your mind?
It may have something to do with Aubrey Plaza or that it literally takes that most boring of all genres, the bloody zombie film and injects new life into it. 
Christ in a handbag! That sentence was as bad as some of your questions.. you’ve drained me so much, I’m trotting out lame puns that would make every mainstream breakfast DJ cringe. 
It’s not just a cute take on the familiar  - I should be shot in the face for using the term zom-com.
In fact I’ve just got myself in a choke-hold. 

Before I pass out, I’ll just whisper.... John C Reilly.

What’s the deal with The ABCs of Death 2 – is this going to be a surprise screening or do we have to wait a little longer?
None of your fucking business.

The Incredibly Strange Section plays as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival - for more details, visit



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