Saturday, 7 May 2016

Doc Edge NZ Festival Preview - In The Game, Be Here Now, Sugar Coated and Driving with Selvi

Doc Edge NZ Festival Preview - In The Game, Be Here Now, Sugar Coated and Driving with Selvi

As the Doc Edge NZ Festival continues in Wellington, Auckland's getting ready for the launch with anticipation.

After the farrago of Iranian director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami initially being denied entry into New Zealand has subsided, the films are taking centre place now.

And it seems a lot of the central theme this year is one of inspiration, certainly from the hand picked titles here.

Be Here Now already had a gala premiere in Wellington at the Roxy, with both director and "star" Vashti Whitfield being in attendance. 

I use the quotation marks around star, because it's a doco about the untimely death of Spartacus star Andy Whitfield after being diagnosed with cancer. I've already written a longer piece about both the admiration and honesty of the doco and the journey that Andy's wife Vashti goes on, but needless to say this is a carefully crafted, yet devastatingly honest look at the journey any cancer patient goes on and those around them. Its frank honesty and its humility is what won me over given its core subject matter, and I wholeheartedly recommend you take a look.

Read the Be Here Now review.

Elsewhere, the inspiring is never far from the screen.

Peabody Award winner Maria Finitzo's In The Game takes a look at a girls' soccer team in an urban public school in Chicago. With its uncomplicated and unfussy lens, this film is all about struggle against perception and adversity, but never in a preachy manner. Hardly Bend It Like Beckham, Finitzo's lens captures the team at work, training and playing, facing break up as others graduate within. It captures the exuberance of training and playing, the lows of losing and also the camaraderie of a team under an inspirational coach, Stan. Training teams for some 30 years Stan's approach is more of a mentor than someone running pack drills, and the genuine warmth he has for his team and they have for him is humbling. 

Finitzo helps matters by never once appearing intrusive or judgemental. Kelly High School where they filmed and the girls play is one of those hit by a raft of cutbacks (even students are facing the prospect of bringing their own toilet paper in) - but rather than condemning the local boards and the senior levels, Finitzo manages to bring a level playing field and shows how the team rises above such adversities as having no field to train on.

In The Game is a small film about small struggles that are massive to those involved - it's quietly crafted and is more a focus on life, rather than a film simply about soccer. In that respect, it's a documentary that emerges as a worthy winner during the season.

Elsewhere, the sugar debate continues to grow.

What with Damon Gameau's That Sugar Film ruffling a few feathers, but ultimately not seeing millions of us ditch the soda, the debate is gathering voice and strength about the continuing white danger we all face.

In Michele Hozer's factual and rather matter-of-fact piece, Sugar Coated examines the fact the obesity rates have doubled in the past 30 years and the diabetes factor has tripled. It's not exactly anything new in terms of what it's telling and presenting, but in unravelling some of the conspiracies around policy issues and how dieticians were bought off to essentially peddle the message that a little sugar is good for you, it shows how insidious the white disease is - and from a long time back in America.

As ever with these films, the companies targeted and mentioned choose not to give interviews and while there's always a danger that the evidence presented could be one-sided, Hozer's dedication to presenting a clear and concise view of where we've ended up is an interesting watch. It adds to the debate, rather than detracts, as it exposes systemic and wilful ignorance from experts and those higher up. Inspiration comes from the rather nanny state adopted by Japan who impose health nurse visits after a sharp spiral in obesity rates and one can't help but feel that in days of soda costing less at supermarkets than water or healthier alternatives, it's no bad thing.

Ultimately Sugar Coated is sadly another voice to the growing cacophony on the issue. That's not to detract from what Hozer's done, more a reflection that this is an increasing concern that goes untapped for too long - you may well be tempted to ditch the popcorn and drinks for this viewing, to ease your own discomfort.

Finally, Driving With Selvi is more a film to be admired than engaged fully with.

It's the story of Selvi, a former child bride, trapped in a violent marriage and nearly lost to suicide. Instead of jumping under the bus approaching, she decided to jump on it and out of town. Setting up herself as South India's first female taxi driver, this is a 10 year journey and exploration of a woman blossoming under her own steam and finding her inner strength. 

From meeting her when she's younger, all timid and terrified to the lady joking about fast driving, it's a story that never revels in the horror of what has transpired, but never fully embraces what it wants to be. Very much a documentary of two halves, this is a film that seldom wanders from Selvi and her arc, but feels a little unfocussed as it hits the road. There's a core message of strength and a key message here, but it's Selvi who emerges as the true heroine of the piece, more out of admiration rather than out of the way the story is told.

The Doc Edge festival runs now in Wellington until May 15th and kicks off in Auckland from 18th May.
Get all the details on their official site -

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