Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “film festival”

Omar goodness – Tales from cinema heaven

This post first appeared on Watt to Watch, http://www.stuff.co.nz on 24th July 2013

Well, we may only be five days into the festival, but I can comfortably declare that the award for Most Handsome Newcomer goes to Adam Bakri in Omar. Crikey. When this chap runs from police across rooftops, it’s less the fancy parcour from the Bond movies and more the breath-holding desperation of someone in real peril.

In only his second ever screen acting role, Bakri is in every scene of this excellent West Bank thriller and although he’s aided and abetted by a terrific cast, his natural charisma oozes movie star. If anyone in Hollywood has any sense left, we should be seeing him in thrillers and action movies pretty soon. (If not – Adam, call me!)

Omar is your average Palestinian lad, who is incited to violent rebellion against the occupying Israeli army. He’s unfailingly loyal to his two best friends, and also has a thing for his mate’s sister, Nadia (Leem Lubany, also in her first screen role, also utterly captivating). The couple’s encounters are surprisingly (and refreshingly) chaste as two parallel stories unfold; the burgeoning love affair, alongside the fallout from the young men’s attempted revolution. Omar is soon faced with a Hobson’s choice: Take one route and he loses everything or take the other and he loses everything else. Omar is tight in its storytelling, the performances uniformly superb, and the final revelations quite devastating.

Next up, no heartthrobs, but instead a curious little “essay film” that might even be considered a tribute of sorts to an otherwise bland Auckland suburb.

During my years spent living in England I would race to New Zealand films in anticipation of feeling that frisson of recognition – whether on seeing Aotearoa’s very distinctive light, or a familiar setting that would provoke happy memories of home. As I currently live on Auckland’s North Shore, watching Oracle Drive was a bit like that – only less exotic.

Local filmmaker Gabriel White went to Albany, and he filmed the sorts of things many of us drive past every day but never stop to notice. White’s voiceover gets whimsical about billboards and the origin of street names, while cars circumnavigate roundabouts and a distant black-clothed figure appears and disappears from frame. Special effects and an abstract bedroom-produced-like soundtrack lend dissonance as well as greater perspective to a sprawling suburb which used to be just poo-ponds, but is now so much more. Albeit mostly new-build homes with ugly Grecian columns. And a long motorway. Anyway, Oracle Drive unashamedly embraces the abstract and will delight those with broader minds and a meditative temperament.

One of the festival’s most eagerly awaited films has been delivered straight from Cannes, and based on the director’s last film, audiences should be snapping it up greedily. The Past is Asghar Farhadi’s latest film after A Separation, and once again the Iranian writer/director has crafted an exquisite family drama that effortlessly layers nuance over the top of subtle, credible performances.

Berenice Bejo (much less glam than in her breakout movie The Artist) plays Marie, a Parisian woman whose estranged husband visits from Tehran to sign divorce papers. From the opening moments it’s evident they still know each other well, as they communicate wordlessly through airport glass, although we the audience cannot discern what’s being said. But it is soon clear things at home are in strife, as Marie attempts to forge a new life with her boyfriend (A Prophet‘s Tahar Rahim, brilliantly inscrutable as always) while battling her daughter’s strong-willed opposition.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that movies over two hours (or even more than 100 minutes, as seems to be the trend) are “too long”. Farhadi has a lot of story to tell, and it takes the full 130 minutes for our protagonists to travel the winding path towards truth and resolution. No one does moral dilemma quite like Farhadi, and his writing is, as ever, spot-on in describing how real people behave in realistic (though horrible) situations. The Past rightly delivered Bejo the Best Actress prize at Cannes, and it will deliver New Zealand audiences yet another enthralling cinematic experience.

COMING UP: I’ve plenty more to look forward to as the week rolls on, including Which Way is the Front Line from Here? a documentary about the late photo- journalist, Tim Hetherington, made by his friend and colleague Sebastian Junger. I’ll be girding my loins for the Chinese crime drama A Touch of Sin and drinking in the quirky coming of age indie flick Frances Ha before Friday night’s Kiwi rock opera Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song which sets the most famous love story of all time in a Kiwiana campground. Mint.

Around the world in three films

This post first appeared on Watt to Watch, http://www.stuff.co.nz on 22nd July 2013

Yesterday I travelled around the world from the comfort of my seat.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that the Civic Theatre was packed out for the World Premiere of Antarctica: A Year on Ice. Kiwi filmmaker Anthony Powell has spent most of his adult life working on the great freezing continent, and has thoughtfully created a mind-blowing account of life there for those of us who will never get the chance to experience it for ourselves.

I have to admit, I wasn’t necessarily going to see this one – not much of a National Geographic girl, me – but my father visited Antarctica briefly some years ago, and I thought he’d enjoy it, so I dragged him along.

antarctica_cold -40 degrees

I was therefore (naively) quite unprepared for how simply stunning and enthralling every minute of footage was. Not only is Powell a keen user of time-lapse photography, he thought to interview the various people living at McMurdo and Scott bases throughout nightless summers and sunless winters. We therefore get an incredible insight into Polar T3 syndrome (the vague madness that seemingly prevails when one hasn’t seen sunlight for months) as well as the fun that incarceration produces.

If you missed Sunday’s screening, Aucklanders have only one more chance to see amazing night skies and 24-hour sunscapes in the best possible format. Get along to Tuesday’s session – you won’t regret it. (Those of you in the rest of the country – book your tickets now!)

Then I was off to Israel to interview the former heads of its Shin Bet secret service agency, in the documentary The Gatekeepers. It’s the first time any of the men has spoken publicly about the controversial and sometimes seat-squirming work carried out since the Six-Day War of 1967 in the name of Israel’s own War on Terror.

The documentary is subtle in form, but the message is profound. There is nice use of historical still photographs rendered almost like a moving image to give a sense of re-enactment – otherwise, mostly through talking heads, we hear about torture and collateral damage, and in some cases the growing regrets felt by certain Shin Bet leaders about actions taken. But for every equivocal response, there is another who makes no bones about the necessity of crushing the opposition. It makes for uneasy viewing.

The Gatekeepers is fascinating, and provides a helpful snippet of background for those of us gearing up to see the festival’s other Middle East stories (I’m looking forward to seeing Omar this afternoon, a West Bank thriller that won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year).

charulata_jpeg

I finished my cinema-going day in India, with the beautifully restored classic Charulata, by acclaimed director Satyajit Ray. WHAT a delightful surprise this was. Black and white, set in 1870s Calcutta, the subtitles call the film “The Lonely Wife” which sets the scene for our eponymous heroine to develop feelings for her husband’s young cousin. You can’t take your eyes off lead actress Madhabi Mukherjee, not because she is beautiful, but because of that indescribable X-Factor that true movie stars possess. Whether embroidering a hanky or dishing out withering glances, she is captivating.

Granted, if the film were in colour I would be raving about the costumes and jewellery too, but perhaps it’s just as well this is muted into greys, so we can concentrate on the action.

All the performances are charming, with no one drawn as such a villain or a spoilt brat that our loyalties are decided for us, and therefore the narrative is all the more moving. I’m so glad I got to see this in a proper cinema context, too. Catch Charulata if you can.

I’ve been lucky enough to see a couple of other gems now playing that are worth special mention. Stories We Tell is a deeply personal documentary by actress/director Sarah Polley, who interviews her father and siblings in an effort to paint a portrait of the mother who died when she was young. Well, every family has skeletons in its closet, right? but it’s not every day your investigations blow open the whole question of your identity AND you capture it on film. Polley’s home movie is nothing short of fascinating.

Stories We Tell

Matthew McConaughey has been on our screens a lot in the last year, playing increasingly edgy characters from the stripclub entrepreneur in Magic Mike to the serial killing statutory rapist in Killer Joe. In Mud he plays a much softer kind of outcast, an ex-crim, granted, but a man mostly driven by love for his former flame (Reese Witherspoon). He’s aided and abetted through the roughness of river life by young Ellis – the incredible Tye Sheridan from Tree of Life – and though some may feel the film’s ending doesn’t live up to its considerable efforts, most of it is terrific. And at least it’s not Killer Joe.

Candelabras, criminals and goblins

This post first appeared on Watt to Watch, http://www.stuff.co.nz on 20th July 2013

As day two dawns, I can now declare the New Zealand International Film Festival officially open and already awesome.

Thursday’s opening night film was the perfect choice to get us into the swing of things at the Civic Theatre. Behind the Candelabra has glitz, glamour, pathos and tells the mind-boggling story of the most flamboyantly closeted gay icon of our time – Las Vegas pianist and performer Liberace.

behind-the-candelabra-michael-douglas piano

Famous for being director Steven Soderbergh’s final movie (at age 50 he’s retiring from cinema, though thankfully not from TV), Candelabra is warmed by yellow hues and golden glitter, from Matt Damon’s bouncy ’70s haircut to Michael Douglas’s gold slippers. The acting on all counts is superb – Douglas excels at balancing Liberace’s nightclub camp with a heartfelt domestic longing, and Damon is wonderful – not just when he steps out of the swimming pool (cue gasps from both genders in the audience) but credible in every scene as he makes the bizarre and disturbing journey from toyboy to adoptive son.

And as for the production design…

The film has Soderbergh’s trademark edge (those who enjoyed Magic Mike for the grit as well as the spectacle will feel right at home) and though much of it is played for laughs – Rob Lowe steals all his scenes, literally without lifting an eyebrow – it’s a heartfelt, wonderful film.

Gideon's Army

To counter all that glamour after opening night, my first “proper” step into this year’s fest-feast was Gideon’s Army. A documentary about public defenders in America’s south, it had everything I’d hoped for. Strong protagonists in the form of criminal lawyers Travis Williams and Brandy Alexander walk us through their daily tribulations defending over 120 clients at a time, attempting to save foolish youths from 10 years in jail. It made me laugh, I nearly cried (but clearly I’m too tough to let tears trickle this early on in the festival) and I actually whooped out loud (sorry, fellow viewers) as Brandy took down a prosecution witness on the stand. Gideon’s Army is truly inspirational, pragmatic and also very moving.

Only Day one, but I’d booked three movies. I like to start as I mean to go on (ie: frantic) – so straight after Gideon I hoofed it up the hill to see a Singaporean film, Ilo Ilo. What a perfect little movie this is. The performances are so real and modestly played, you feel like you’re sitting on the couch at a stranger’s home, watching their family slowly combust. But in a palatable way, not a Von Trier way.

Set in Singapore in 1997, just as the recession is hitting, it follows a typical Singaporean Chinese family living in a housing development block (like most of Singapore’s citizens) who take on a Filipina maid, Terry. Husband’s work is in jeopardy; mother is pregnant and snippy; and their only son, Jiale, is an absolutely handful. Maria in The Sound of Music had it easy – for the first few scenes I wanted to give that Jiale a clip round the ear (figuratively, of course, since that’s illegal).

Ilo Ilo pic

But then the relationship between maid and child develops and what a joy this is to behold. Beautifully photographed, the story and dialogue perfectly pitched – Ilo Ilo is certainly one of those “unexpected gems” you’re warned about at festivals. Highly recommended.

So far, so satisfying – this festival lark is doing exactly what it says on the tin. As I set off back down the hill to the grand old Civic again, hordes of dark-clad film nerds – sorry, aficionados – were congregating in growing excitement for Dario Argento’s horror masterpiece Suspiria, to be accompanied live by Italian prog-rock band Goblin.

Goblin scored the original soundtrack, and quite how festival programmer Ant Timpson managed to entice them to la bella Nuova Zelanda, I can only imagine – but entice them he did. Twenty-five years after the original film hit cinemas (and two decades since I saw it at a slumber party and was terrified out of my wits), this time round it was probably more thrilling to watch the band hit their timpani and strum their bouzouki than it was actually frightening to see ballet dancers flailing about in razor wire. (Sorry, am I too late to say Spoiler Alert?)

In the cynical light of 2013, Suspiria is quite silly and unintentionally humorous – certainly last night’s audience thought so – and I only hope the five members of Goblin weren’t a bit miffed to hear laughter where back in 1977 they’d have heard screams.

Suspiria

But it was a splendid experience, nonetheless, and proof yet again of how wondrous cinema can be, particularly when consumed with a side order of Italian synth.

Please, just nobody tell Signor Dario.

New Zealand International Film Festival preview

This article first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 14th July 2013

So many films, so little time! The annual NZIFF may be the greatest thing about winter, but a cinephile’s stress levels rise considerably when faced with a heavily-highlighted festival programme and the creeping awareness that one simply can’t see everything.

From my own list of 37 will-sees and a handful more may-get-luckies, I’ve picked out some of the films I’m particularly excited about. Roll on Film Fortnight!

At a slumber party many moons ago, I sat in transfixed horror through Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria. Never again, I vowed, my memory to this day swimming with images of barbed wire and a lot of blood. Well, I am going to see it again, as Italian prog-rock band Goblin reprise their original soundtrack, live at the Civic Theatre on Friday 19th July. It can’t possibly be as petrifying this time round…

The NZIFF programmers excel at devising special events that put paid to the “I’ll catch it on DVD” mentality, whether a 1920s silent flick screened with live orchestral soundtrack or a restored Scorsese legend from 1973 projected onto the big screen where it belongs. This year one such gem is Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder 3D which the director actually shot in 3D back in 1954, though most audiences have only seen it in 2D. Now beautifully restored, you’ll never get this chance again so grasp those glasses and step back in time.

Joss Whedon, whose brilliant take on the horror genre delighted fans of Cabin in the Woods last year, is back with something completely different – a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s spiky romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Set in contemporary Los Angeles while retaining Will’s original dialogue, the cast includes actors from Whedon’s various television shows. The lovers’ timeless banter couldn’t be better served.

Yet more of the Bard comes in the form of New Zealand film Romeo & Juliet: A Love Song – here set in a campground just out of Auckland, and the script arranged in song. The cast of colourful characters should transpose superbly to such a location, and I cannot wait to see how it works (and sounds). Or, if a Kiwiana pop-opera doesn’t take your fancy, perhaps the restored local classic Utu Redux will. Whether you saw the 1983 original or not, you’ll be enchanted by this true director’s cut of a Maori soldier’s quest for vengeance in the 1870s. See it on the Sunday, and you get the added bonus of a Q&A with director Geoff Murphy afterwards.

Heading overseas for some gritty realism, my film festival experience wouldn’t be complete without some heavy narratives guaranteed to leave my thoughts provoked for days after. What Richard Did sounds right up my alley – an Irish lad with everything going for him commits a brutal act that brings his life crashing down. Also sporting great reviews from abroad is Omar, a tense thriller about a young lad caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the West Bank, which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes film festival.

Audiences who adored Asghar Farhadi’s award-winning A Separation (and I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t) will be flocking to see his latest film, The Past. Berenice Bejo from The Artist plays the estranged Parisian wife of an Iranian man who visits to sign divorce papers and go on his way. Said to be as enthralling as A Separation, Farhadi has cast my favourite actor Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) for good measure. I love it already.

For a bit of light relief with heart, I’m looking forward to Noah Baumbach’s (The Squid and the Whale) latest tale of life, love and those still searching for themselves. Frances Ha follows the eponymous heroine around New York City, filming her kooky antics in black and white. I’m hoping it will evoke those charming 90s slacker movies many of us grew up on. Plus, it’s got Adam from Girls in it.

And then there is the wealth of documentaries! I can already recommend Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer for its incredible behind-the-scenes portrait of a criminal justice system that will make you glad you live in New Zealand. The fact that camera access was granted is astounding given Russia’s seemingly hyperbolic response to a punk rock protest act. The film provides extraordinary insight into not just the basis for the criminal case against them, but the lives and families of three gutsy young women who went to prison for their beliefs.

Another woman with a fascinating life is actress/director Sarah Polley, who turns the camera on her own family in a mission to unearth some home truths about her mother. Stories We Tell is gripping in its exploration, but equally entertaining thanks to the warm, honest performances of Polley’s siblings and father. Surprises abound.

Hopefully equally enthralling although less benign, I’m intrigued by The Captain and his Pirate, a documentary which interviews both the hostage and the hijacker from a real-life drama. The captain re-enacts his experience in a German psychiatric hospital, while his erstwhile captor speaks from a Somali desert. Like most documentaries, I anticipate it teaching me about a world I hope never to enter for myself.

Having once planned to be a criminal lawyer and been asked constantly how I could defend rapists and murderers, Gideon’s Army should be a fascinating watch. Set in America’s southern states, this portrait of public defenders dealing with the grim day-to-day offers a realistic narrative. Yes, even the worst offenders deserve a fair trial. The film is bound to be equally upsetting and inspiring.

After two weeks of wonder and emotional tumult I may need a holiday, so if anyone has a bach I can borrow, please get in touch!

NZFF – Dreams of a Life

The big reveal in this movie comes within the first few minutes.  In 2006 council workers broke down the door to a bedsit in North London, after their attempts to rouse the tenant whose rent was £2400 in arrears went unheeded.  As they pushed through the mound of unopened mail, they made a gruesome discovery: a flat coated in dusty cobwebs, the television still on, and 38 year old Joyce Vincent’s skeleton in front of the sofa.  It turned out Joyce had died three years earlier.  The startling thing was that Joyce hadn’t been reported missing and no one who heard the news report even realised it was her.

Filmmaker Carol Morley heard about the story and was intrigued, setting out to piece together a picture of  the mystery woman whose friends and family thought she’d dropped out of touch because she was off “having a wonderful life”.  Morley gently interviews ex-flatmates, erstwhile colleagues and old boyfriends, interposing the talking heads with a reconstruction of Joyce’s presumed final moments.  Actress Zawe Ashton personifies the Joyce that her friends fondly recall in well-directed, understated scenes, including a stunning piece of karaoke filmed in one long take, which seems to perfectly capture the essence of a beautiful young woman living an ultimately lonely life.

The story itself is incredible, and in bringing the characters from Joyce’s world out to reminisce and grapple with their own response to the tragic outcome, it’s impossible not to be deeply moved.  Morley handles every element with utmost care and discretion – it would have been easy to slip into mawkish voyeurism, blame-throwing and judgement, but instead we see an affecting tribute to one of life’s bright sparks, along with a deeper message about human interaction and the busy-ness of life in a 21st century world.

NZFF – Killer Joe

This overblown piece of pulp fiction about a cop who kills people for money does exactly what it says on the tin – so given I took the tin off the shelf, opened it, gorged for nearly two hours and then felt sick, it was my own silly fault really.  Doubtless others in the audience may be feeling the same way.

Echoing last year’s The Killer Inside Me, Matthew McConaughey plays a law man who saunters through life as a law-breaker, hired by loserville Chris Smith (Into The Wild‘s Emile Hirsch) to kill Chris’ mother so he can reap the insurance payout and settle his own criminal dues.  McConaughey’s Joe encounters Chris’ family of reprobates, immediately sizing them up as the undesirables they will prove to be, though he takes a fancy to Chris’ innocent younger sister Dottie, and claims her as his “retainer”.

The similarities with Jim Thompson’s noir novel are several, including the brutal and explicit beating of women and the impassive countenance of a smooth but crooked copper.  However, in The Killer Inside Me Casey Affleck impressed as a physically timid-looking, squeaky-voiced protagonist with nuanced motivations, and the script and performances were neatly directed by the excellent Michael Winterbottom.  By comparison, McConaughey – although potentially a career-best performance (which is still a bit of a backhanded compliment) – is already strapping, strong and indisputably the cool guy in town, controlling the backward Smith family and delivering some nasty blows.

With a collaborative film like this, it’s hard to know where to criticise the writer or the filmmaker.  Gina Gershon’s introduction – naked crotch first – is as grating for her acting histrionics as the exploitative nature of her character.  Strangely, a dopey Thomas Haden Church (from Sidewaysand TV’s Ned and Staceyback in the ’90s) brings relief to the harshness of Hirsch and Gershon’s effing and blinding, although his disloyal father figure rather deserves his own comeuppance.  Chris brought the whole thing upon himself.  Frankly, everyone’s horrid.

The story comes from the pen of Tracy Letts (a TV actor whose play has been a hit on Broadway and also staged here in NZ, and who wrote the film’s screenplay).  Surprising, but then again not so much, is that the tawdry content has been directed by William Friedkin – legendary director of ’70s classics such as The French Connection and The Exorcist, and now 76 years old.  Friedkin has clearly not lost his touch for feeding audience appetites, but his ability to produce such a nasty piece of work as this is somewhat disturbing.  The worst scenes in the film are part-horror in their cruelty and part-genius for making us squirm and wonder at our own motives for watching.

For me, the revelation was Juno Temple’s characterisation of the slightly dotty Dottie, emotionally vulnerable and a little kooky yet the only shining light in the whole dismal picture.  Temple won’t be remembered for previous roles in Atonement and The Dark Knight Rises, but this outstanding performance ought to see her move swiftly on to great things.  Dottie not only serves as a justification for Joe’s own weakness, but ours for having thought we actually like this kind of movie.

NZFF – Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

In most film festivals you just know it’ll be the documentaries that leave the longest lasting memory.  This surprising Portrait of the Artist is a case in point.  As George Emerson cried out in Room With A View:”Truth! Beauty!”  He was on to something.  Because it’s the truth and authenticity portrayed in this film that delivers an extraordinary sense of beauty about the world.

Marina Abramovic is a Serbian-born performance artist in her early sixties, renowned for using her (often naked) body in her art and producing provocative, sometimes shocking installations.  Termed “alternative” since she started out forty odd years ago, she wants to reject the term now, but even by today’s standards Abramovic’s interpretation of what can constitute “art” may be seen as ground-breaking.

The film introduces us to Abramovic’s world, with curators, assistants and other artists discussing her impact, before focusing on the lead-up to her recent three-month retrospective on all six floors of MOMA in New York.  Entitled “The Artist is Present”, the exhibition not only showcases the highlights of her illustrious career, but does what it says on the tin: for she is literally there in person, every single day, as part of one amazing performance.  Abramovic conceived to sit, still and silent, in a chair opposite an empty chair – and invite members of the public to sit, lock gaze with her, and just be.

To the untrained art-appreciator’s eye, this may not seem like much, although the film pays due attention to Abramovic’s consideration of the physical and mental toll such an ordeal could bring.  But what transpires is the incredible power of silent viewing /watching/ looking/seeing between two human beings.  For us, the cinema audience, it is nothing short of captivating.

In fact, “captivating” isn’t even the right term – it implies we’re just sitting there in the dark ourselves, watching people being watched, but this doesn’t capture it at all.  We are instead deeply moved seeing others deeply moved.  People sit in front of Abramovic and miracles happen.  It is human connection in its purest form, and presents one of the most touching, beautiful things you are likely to see all festival.

NZFF – Wish You Were Here

Two young Australian couples take off to the southern beaches of Cambodia for a week free of the incumbrances of real life, and the usual line-up of sea, sand and partying that said freedom permits.  The extended opening credits of the film economically show the four having a whale of a time; shopping in markets, tasting curious delicacies, laughing, sun-bronzed and happy.  Then, as the film starts for real, the tone changes abruptly – because only three of them come home.

Alice and Dave thought they were having one last hurrah before the arrival of their third child; Alice’s sister Steph had encouraged them to travel with her and new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr), a businessman of dubious enterprise who then disappears after a boozy night out.  Reluctant to involve the police, unable to open up to friends, life gets claustrophobic and paranoid.  Secrets and lies unfold that threaten to destroy their happy family, as the audience is drip fed answers until all must be revealed.

The blend of heartfelt emotional drama with subtle performances is reminiscent of the excellent Lantana, another Australian missing persons drama.  Co-writer Felicity Price is compelling as Alice, caught between her husband, her sister and maternal obligation, opposite a tortured Joel Edgerton (one of the all-round superlative cast of Animal Kingdom).  Sydney serves as a benevolent backdrop to the tension that ratchets up with every scene.  This is a beautifully-shot, perfectly-pitched first feature from Kieran Darcy-Smith, and one looks forward to his next creation.

NZFF – Searching for Sugar Man

They said the less you know about this film, the better – and they were right. In the interests of allowing a similar experience to my own “OK, I’ll give this a go” response, I won’t give too much away. But suffice it to say, Searching for Sugar Man is exactly what a great documentary should be: a story about someone you’ve never heard of, doing something they never dreamed of, and becoming a legend in a country they’d never even thought of.  The adage “truth is stranger than fiction” was written for a tale like this.

As the opening titles roll, a soulful voice with sentiments like Bob Dylan and a tone like treacle draws us in.  Turns out there was a folk/blues/country- style singer in Detroit in the late 1960s and early ’70s who played a few clubs, made a couple of albums, but no one in America ever heard of him, and he disappeared without a trace.  “It’s a shame”, you find yourself thinking “because this guy can really sing“.

Rodriguez may have been just another cassette in the bargain bin, were it not for an extraordinary chain of events that saw his music becoming anthemic a decade later for the people of oppressed, apartheid South Africa. That’s right! Halfway across the world, in the country least likely to create and propogate thoughtful, passionate, anti-establishment feeling (not legally, at any rate), the mystery of Rodriguez grew him to cult status. 

But who was he, and did he know he was popular in South Africa? Was he even alive anymore? Rumours of melodramatic suicides on stage captured the public’s imagination as his music entranced its soul.  And so, one man set off on an investigation to find the folk hero.

What follows is a truly extraordinary tale of an ordinary man with a sensational voice and an inspirational humility. Not only did it convert me to a genre of music I’ve never liked (true to the legend, when I told my SA friend about the film, she produced the Cold Fact CD for me to borrow) but it left the whole audience in awe of how affecting remarkable true stories can be. 

I cannot recommend this fine documentary more highly. Go find him for yourself.

New Zealand Film Festival – let the good times roll

As I write, it is beginning. Somewhere in Auckland city, millions (well, slight hyperbole – though hopefully at least hundreds) are packed into the Civic Theatre (that much is true – those 1930s audiences were clearly shorter and smaller than us) watching the NZFF’s opening night film, Beasts of the Southern Wild. I have not seen it, chose not to see it at Cannes, but it is sure to deliver the sort of opening night wow that will get the festival off to a good start. I look forward to hearing what viewers think.

Throughout the next two weeks I will be joining trillions of blogging reviewers (well, slight hyperbole – but nowadays everybody has a blog) in writing up my post-match reports as soon as I exit the cinema. Or have finished my post-film coffee debrief. Or once I have slept on it and come up with something witty to say.

To start with, however, I will say a few words about the incredible film we were treated to at the Festival Programme launch a few weeks ago, and which has a few screenings in the festival so you have no excuse to miss it: Searching for Sugar Man. Now that’s some opening film wow, right there…

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