Thursday, July 31, 2008

The final curtain has fallen on the Auckland Film Festival 2008

Seventeen days saw thousands of punters watching hundreds of films in the City of Sails. It was above entertainment, it was an education, an inspiration and a chance to watch and listen to the world in film. A Rwandan drama, an animated Iranian autobiography, authentic action from Rio de Janeiro and a light British comedy played alongside a showcase of home grown talent.

Films I was determined to love (A Complete History of My Sexual Failures) left me untouched whereas others I was hesitant about watching played in my mind for days and left me feeling elevated (Persepolis).

In A Complete History… we follow scruffy film-maker Chris Waitt contacting his numerous and unimpressed past girlfriends to discover why his love life is a failure. At first obvious and contrived, it gets going when he admits to an erectile dysfunction problem – every man’s second worst fear (marginally better than death). Disturbing, sad, funny and knees-clamped-together-both-hands-pressed-to-groin moments provide the entertainment as he seeks a cure among psychosexual counselling, Viagra and a particularly enthusiastic female dominatrix.

After Persepolis, my festival honours were split between Mongol and Elite Squad. In Mongol film-maker Sergei Bodrov builds a swell of empathy for Gengis Khan, a man famous for his 12th century war mongering, showing us a brutal childhood and demonstrating a capacity for love, inner strength and integrity. We are treated to vast landscapes on the steppes of Mongolia where simple nomadic settlements are framed by dusky mountain ranges.

Elite Squad was co-written by a retired captain of Rio de Janeiro’s BOPE special police force. Incorruptible and feared throughout the underworld they raid the slums dressed and armed like commandoes. They are the last bastion of law and order in a world run by the drug lords – even the NGOs have to get permission to operate from the local drug baron. Elite Squad is imbued with an authenticity which transforms this all action film into something of a cultural discussion. Brutal, violent and very personal this film made my palms sweat throughout.

So my time in Auckland is up. I won’t miss the cramped dorm-room in the hostel where I scrubbed and cleaned in return for my bed but I will miss the camaraderie and characters that call it home. I’ll also miss my morning walks up Mount Eden to sit and contemplate the urban skyscape that stands against the dusky silhouette of the Coromandel Peninsula, my adopted home in the land of the long white cloud. A chance to sit and silently thank whomever may be listening for not being in the crawling line of cars heading towards another fluorescently lit day in front of a computer monitor on a 3rd floor somewhere.

And what now? To Brisbane. Where, coincidentally, the Brisbane International Film Festival plays until 10th August. Oh, what to do? More film reviews? Maybe.

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