Robyn Harper, who has graced NZIFF in numerous professional roles over the years, has chosen to recall the Festival from her place in the audience.
A huge part of my education was through attending the Auckland International Film Festival, where I learnt that going to movies on my own was actually not weird, and that watching subtitled films was actually not difficult. This was back in the 1980s and my Festival viewing was random and eclectic, based on nothing but a good still, and an interesting note in the guide – Japanese comedies, silent movies, Russian dramas, anything by Eric Rohmer.
The Festival was always a wonderful time and seemed like an oasis in the long and dark Auckland winter. My most memorable year was probably the one where I booked early and all of my tickets got lost in the post. Unlike today, where there are electronic records of everything you have bought and where you are seated, the booking office of the day had no record of my seat numbers and was unable to re-issue any of my tickets. For the period of the Festival I would have to turn up at the films I had booked, wait in line to talk to someone at the booking office and explain my story again and again. They would then try and find me a seat (which they always did, though it was often not great). Whenever I feel like moaning about modern ticketing companies, I remember this.
My most memorable film experience at the Festival would have to be the screening of Underground Orchestra – a fabulous doco by the fabulous Heddy Honigmann, which followed the lives of immigrant buskers in Paris. At one point after an incredibly rousing performance, the entire St James audience erupted in applause mid-film. I believe everyone there had been completely transported to the Paris Metro and felt they were there – such is the magic of a truly great film.
These days, the real pleasure for me is having the opportunity to watch films in the magnificent Civic that the Festival allows. Gone are the days when this was a working cinema (I saw films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gandhi there on first release; Charlotte's Web as a small child!), and so this is the only time of the year that The Civic is dedicated to its original purpose as a spectacular picture palace. Knowing that we nearly lost this cinema two decades ago makes the experience even more special, and I look forward to it every year.
Happy 50th birthday to the Auckland Film Festival!
Image: Underground Orchestra