The Plot Thickens... NZIFF 2019’s films based on books

A guest post by our friends at NZIFF who have some bookish-filmish news:

(tickets on sale 4 July, Book here.)

So it’s that time of year again. Winter has come, it’s cold, it’s windy. We’re all rocking that windswept Bridget-Jones-lost-her-headscarf look. Own it.

If, however, you’re looking for a more secure footing and less shouting-to-be-heard phone calls on the walk home, NZIFF is here to help you out. The pal that says, “don’t worry, let’s watch a French film with mulled wine and be a bit cultured.” Fending off winter blues and frostbitten fingers yet again will be a cosy, educational, yet recreational affair. None of us need fret about that looming interview/ first date/ catch-up with whatshisname who won’t quiet down about being ‘woke’. And as always, we’ve got a beautiful selection of doubly intellectual films adapted from books. You are so welcome. Ice-breakers abound.

In a world of media pushing the doom and gloom narrative it’s unfortunate that ‘what is the world coming to’ has become a common thread of reaction. Whether we’re helplessly watching the ice caps melting or sobbing our eyes out at the injustices of politics; we’re simultaneously becoming less ignorant and perhaps wishing we had remained as ignorant as we were before sitting down.

Disclaimer: please be less ignorant. Always be less ignorant.

However, newfound knowledge and polished intellectual armour aside, NZIFF has a couple of book-inspired documentaries that seek to inject joy and hope into our discourse. We start with 2040, based on 2040: A Handbook for the Regeneration, where Damon Gameau, back from his bizarre self-inflicting experiment in The Sugar Film, embarks on a kaleidoscopic, philosophical journey on the road to predicting the state of the planet in 20 years’ time. With his little girl’s future in mind, he unearths (no pun intended) incredible efforts against the strides humankind is making towards demolishing our beautiful world: strategies behind renewable energy, transport development, and agricultural shifts which might make us a little less selfish as a species. Refreshingly, it’s not out to depress or chastise us: Gameau is upbeat, truthful and playful in his style; animations and discussions abound.

Topping audiences up with artful joy, Martha: A Picture Story leads us down an optimistic, visual pathway, in a documentary that helps us engage in some oft-drowned-out GoodNews. “I very badly wanted to be a photographer. I was willing to do whatever it took, and it turned out it took a lot.” Selina Miles’ documentary is a multicoloured celebration of Martha Cooper, an exuberant photographer from Baltimore with an exuberant collection of work behind and still ahead of her. Best known for her documentation of the 1970s and 80s New York City graffiti, when such zest for street art was considered dangerous, she isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. Martha is hugely popular among the street art community: a pioneer through her work and her graffiti books. This film showcases Martha in her accidental role as a ground breaker: throwing her all into a grassroots movement that has since been assimilated into mainstream culture. 

So now we’ve brought you up into the stratosphere (where the air is clear) it’s time to remind ourselves that some people are subpar and have their priorities wrong, either because they are rubbish or because money is. In 2013, French economist Thomas Piketty published the global bestseller Capital in the 21st Century, of which Justin Pemberton has directed a compelling adaptation. Grasping the edge of our seat, this exploration into the $$$ that makes the world turn takes us down the rabbit hole of Wall Street, banks and the wealth gap that runs a deep cavern through the world like nobody’s business. From offshore hoarders to destitution, “the system is rigged”. With the expertise of analysts, professors, journalists and Piketty himself, we time-travel with society’s obsession over the movement of money, from the olden-days’ “death sentence” of poverty all the way to today’s capitalist society, where nothing much may have changed at all.

Hurray for corruption!

And now, an exercise in turning anguish on its head, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is a tried and tested classic but The Miracle of the Little Prince explores how the book is more than the sum of its parts. Delving into lost indigenous tongues and misplaced cultural identity, Marjoleine Boonstra’s documentary shows how this little book has revived endangered language through its translation. 2019 is the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages, and we are invited to understand the magnitude of what language can do for a people and culture. Recovering Tamazight (North Africa), Tibetan (Tibet), Sámi (northern Finland), and Nawat (El Salvador), these niche but incredibly influential translators breathe new life into their mother tongues through The Little Prince and his beautiful surprise and fascination with our broadly-horizoned world and all it has to offer.

Bridging the gap between documentary and fiction, Yuli, from the eponymously titled memoir, is an artistically crafted biopic swinging between the art and the man, immersing us in the life of the first black principal in the English Royal Ballet. Originating from Cuba with blazing patriotism in his heart, Carlos Acosta leads us along his life’s journey from home to the stage, including incumbent difficulties and triumphs. Clearly begrudging of his talent and his father’s determination for him to utilise his gift, Acosta skips between reconstruction and talking heads, whilst the film shows him directing other dancers to act out parts of his life. It’s different, it’s thoughtful and it’s imaginative. A trifecta.

Before you think ‘documentaries are great but is there something a bit more escapist?’ look no further, friends, because the sublime novel Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth has been brought to life by extraordinary talent in front and behind the screen. Directed by Sophie Hyde and starring Holliday Grainger and Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat, Animals is a phantasmagoria of female talent, a film brimming with its central friendship and its relatable yet otherworldly hedonism. When Grainger’s character meets a dreaded boyfriend, so ensues an implicit grapple to keep their friendship exactly as is whilst everything surrounding it changes. Filled with laughs, both ours and theirs, and evoking our deepest care for these characters living in Dublin, the film deals with the societal pressures of being a woman in her thirties and  the disdain one might garner for refusing to conform.

Finally, and far less visible, The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão focuses on perhaps a similar female friendship, although this time against a starkly different backdrop. 1950s Brazil apparently did not lend itself to feminist empowerment, and when inseparable sisters Eurídice and Guida are pried apart by their father they set off down very different roads. Whilst Guida, a rebellious spirit, flounces off to elope and generally be wild, Eurídice goes for the opposite approach and settles down with a traditional husband. Not to group all men together, as Eurídice embarks on secret projects to combat her restlessness in the uber-boring role of ‘directionless wife’, he rebukes the idea of an independent woman being a bit of a breadwinner. Enter estranged Guida and a big pregnant belly with no husband. In 1950s Brazil a luscious ‘tropical melodrama’ unfolds, with all the authenticity this plot deserves. 

By Jessica Hof

Book here.
Wellington tickets on-sale from 4 July