“A varied movie diet is good for the system,” explains Bill Gosden, director of this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival. TNT quite agrees. We like to stay regular with a balanced diet of independents, home-growns, documentaries and those quirky flicks where Hollywood stars stick two fingers up to the usual crowd-pleasing stuff and test themselves out in murkier, but inevitably more interesting, waters. 

Our ‘systems’ have been positively stuffed with all of the above and more, courtesy of the film fest, now in its 35th year. And it ain’t over yet – the festival is due to hit six more cities between now and November 20.

The rags-to-riches tale of the New Zealand International Film Festival is in itself worthy of a screenplay. Founded in the Sixties, when the then-insular country yearned for a movie industry to call its own, the organisers originally tagged it on to the Auckland Festival of the Arts, screening flicks that weren’t mainstream enough to be shown at the ‘strictly commercial’ cinemas of the time. 

Today, the festival proudly screens documentaries, feature films and shorts produced by local directors and producers – something the organisers could barely have dreamt of 35 years ago. There’s more on offer, too, from world cinema to independents, brand-new productions to rejuvenated classics and promising newcomers to blockbuster stars. Here, TNT picks six of the best films to watch when the festival comes to a town near you…

Hamilton: Only Lovers Left Alive

The one to watch: Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch

Why: Hamilton’s film fest is being played out on September 15 by the cool and clever Only Lovers Left Alive. The always-quirky Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston (who played Loki in Thor and The Avengers) portray a couple who have been in love since the beginning of time. Literally.

Adam and Eve – see what they did there? – are vampires, although their coupling makes Edward and Bella look like Jason and Kylie. The intense pair grapple with their immortality as they find themselves in a world that they find increasingly trivial. Often lost in nostalgia, they also give us dystopic glimpses of the future (“Have the water wars started?“ – “No, they’re still all about oil“). The deadpan humour helps lift this slow-burner into being a fun and hypnotic watch. 

When & where: Now-Sep 15; Lido Cinema, Hamiltonsee: lidocinema.co.nz

Also showing at: Nelson, Tauranga


Nelson: We Steal Secrets

The one to watch: We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks, Alex Gibney

Why: One of the most fascinating and important cases in recent history, even if you think you understand the story behind WikiLeaks, this is worth a watch. Documentary film director and producer Alex Gibney manages to relay the facts, sift through the murk and clarify the complications of the intricate story.

Plus, with US state secrets, the CIA, computer hackers, a cross-dressing military intelligence analyst and the now infamous Australian whistleblower, Julian Assange, all featuring, the thrilling narrative unfolds like an espionage movie.

When & where: Now-Sep 15; Suter Cinema and Motueka State Cinemas, Nelson 

Also showing at: Hamilton, Tuaranga




Tauranga: UTU Redux

The one to watch: UTU Redux, Geoff Murphy

Why: The original UTU helped put New Zealand on the filmophile radar back in 1983. Now, the movie has been restored and digitally remastered to impress us all over again. ‘Utu’ is Maori for ‘revenge’, and so this film follows Maori warrior, Te Wheke, in his fight against British colonials who killed his family during their hostile takeover in 1860. This Western-style film is old-school action at its best, and offers an important lesson in the history of NZ and its native people.

When & where: Sep 12-Oct 12; Rialto Cinemas, Taurangasee

Also showing at: Hamilton, Nelson


Hawke’s Bay: The Deadly Ponies Gang

The one to watch: The Deadly Ponies Gang, Zoe McIntosh

Why: When the Flight Of The Conchords graced the world’s TV screens and delightfully assaulted our eardrums, we knew we had found comedic kindred in the Kiwis. Now, The Deadly Ponies Gang is making us want to give them a big hug – a manly back-pat one, but with a secret tear in our eye.

Clint and Dwayne are real-life mates from South Auckland who can’t afford cars so they have pimped out their ponies with sunglasses and bling, using them to get around and “pull chicks”. This documentary follows the hip-hop loving gang (of two) members as they try to raise money to help “sex up” Dwayne after he lost all his teeth, culminating in the ‘Help My Mate Dwayne Get Some Teeth’ gig, held in Auckland.

When & where: Oct 16-Nov 3; venue TBC

See: nziff.co.nz/hawke-s-bay

Also showing at: Hamilton, Masterton, Nelson, New Plymouth (TBC), Tuaranga


New Plymouth: New Zealand’s Best 2013

The one to watch: New Zealand’s Best 2013, various

Why: A collection of short films by home-grown talent, this is a great way to see New Zealand’s creative minds at work. Selected by international filmmaker Alison Maclean, the six shorts each run between 13-16 minutes long and cover topics spanning a kid’s decision about what to wear (it’s more poignant than it sounds), a day in the life of a Samoan child, and a love triangle.

Friday Tigers by Aidee Walker, which delves into a fantasy world created by a single mother for her three-year-old daughter, was awarded both the Best New Zealand Short Film and the Audience Award last month – see if you agree.when &where: Oct 24-Nov 6; venue TBC

See: nziff.co.nz/new-plymouth

Also showing at: Hamilton, Masterton, Nelson, Tuaranga


Masterton: Ginger & Rosa

The one to watch: Ginger & Rosa, Sally PotterWhy: With enough Britishness to make you suitably homesick, this film based around the friendship of two girls is dragged kicking and screaming away from the classic ‘coming-of-age’ tale thanks to a stellar performance by Elle Fanning and a raw approach to sexual and political issues.

Set in the 1960s, the film explores the threat of nuclear war and sexual liberalism – themes that, unlike the era’s cars, furniture and clothes so wonderfully attested to in the film, are not so lost in the past. Definitely worth a watch.

When & where: Nov 6-Nov 20; Regent 3 Cinemas

Also showing at: Hamilton, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson, New Plymouth (TBC), Tuaranga



For more info on the New Zealand International Film Festival, which runs until November 20.