Almost a month after our final Wellington screening the action has moved to Masterton and New Plymouth. At the NZIFF office in September we traffic in reports, not movies, passing on the news – most of it very good – to the many individuals and organisations who contributed to a bumper 2015. We’re keen to hear your reports too, while the weather’s still brisk and impressions are fresh.
In its 44th manifestation, NZIFF in Wellington hit an all-time record attendance of 75,303 admissions. That number might have been even bigger if we’d not been dependent on so many tiny cinemas to house us this year. Red spotted fever swamped the schedule boards this year: we’ve never turned away so many people from so many films. Fortunately the ease with which ticketing information can be updated online reduced the chances that you’d got to the cinema before you received the bad news. Maybe you’d even taken the opportunity to buy for an added session. We attribute a generous measure of our success this year to the brilliant work done by Cactus Lab and Vista on our website and online ticketing.
It was a Super Documentary year at NZIFF 2015, with Amy very much dominating the spotlight – or maybe just lending it to us – from the moment we announced the screenings. The other truly big one was Sherpa. If you missed Jennifer Peedom’s breathtaking film at the Embassy you may be waiting until next year for the release, buoyed, let’s hope, by the Oscar nomination it so richly deserves.
Having selected the film from an early morning preview shared with an audience of five, I’d been a nervous festival programmer when I took my seat at the opening night screening of The Lobster. My enjoyment of NZIFF 2015 began from the moment, twenty minutes later, that I knew for certain that such artfully determined perversity was even more fun with an audience. Colin Farrell, you are a hero.
As it happens, our choice of centrepiece was to take more of a battering from the unconvinced, not that I recall ever having claimed that The Assassin was an action movie. And yet, the numbers were huge for this transportingly beautiful (and exquisitely kinetic) film; and its stout defenders are numerous. NZIFF 2015 may have fuelled disagreements, but it rarely felt disagreeable. Some have said it was livelier than ever.
The other features to draw big Embassy crowds were 45 Years – also contentious in its way – Phoenix, The Mafia Kills Only in Summer, Grandma while at the Paramount we filled up for that triumph of taciturn cinema, the tale of Icelandic bachelor farmers who don’t talk to each other for 40 years, Rams. That’s entertainment.
Topping the box office amongst the New Zealand films was the sole feature of obvious local provenance, the dildo-wielding metalhead gross-out Deathgasm. Last year’s Housebound may look like Ozu in comparison, but egged on by its programmer (and producer) Ant Timpson, the late-night audience had a ball.
Of the wealth of local documentaries we celebrated, David Stubbs’ Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses and Costa Botes and Sven Parnell’s Act of Kindness were the big draws in Wellington. From out of town, the two Tūhoe documentaries left a powerful impression.
For the first time in its brief, illustrious history the New Zealand’s Best Short Film Competition handed out prizes to as many as four of the six finalists, no consolation to the two excellent films that missed out, but a clear indication of the strength of the 2015 line-up.
It was a great year for music. You didn’t have to be Scottish to be savour the joy and sadness in Virginia Heath and Grant Keir’s From Scotland with Love. But it was live music that took the cake. Lonesome with a new score from James Milne and friends met the on-screen dynamism of 1928 to exhilarating effect. This was surely the barnstorming, one-of-a-kind event at this year’s NZIFF.
Guest appearances were plentiful and rewarding. Crystal Moselle brought us up to date on her Wolfpack. Kidlat Tahimik followed up his 140 minute Balikbayan with performance art. Joshua Oppenheimer spoke for the better part of an hour after the evening screening of The Look of Silence and barely a soul left the room before he'd finished.
It’s time already for me to head to Toronto and begin the search of NZIFF 2016, though the annual debrief is far from over. Your feedback, via the accompanying questionnaire, has an important role to play. Don’t be too shy to tell us what you suppose we already know: being armed with evidence of patron dissatisfaction has helped us work for change in the past. By all means tell us what you think we’re doing right. And don’t hesitate to point out gaps in service or information you feel we might never have thought of. To last year’s respondent who proposed we introduce a title card identifying short films ahead of features, we hope you got to see your suggestion taken up this year and to enjoy the resulting alleviation of are-they-showing-the-right-movie? panic. Your next good idea is eagerly awaited.
All the best
Bill Gosden – NZIFF Director