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Move over Sundance

Friday 11th April 2014

Film blogger Adam Goodall has previously complained about the cinema scene in Dunedin. So we sent him to report from the highlight in the city’s filmic calendar, the 48HOURS Film Festival

Like the eager cineastes treading the asphalt of the Croisette, or the young ‘indies’ taking in the breathtaking cold of Park City, New Zealand’s would-be auteurs, drunk on the opportunity of cinema, gather in centres around the country to give life to the Rialto Channel’s Quarante-huit Heures (48 Hours, if you lack a proficiency in French) Film Festival. It is another year of hastily-assembled films that reflect the breadth and depth of the local and global human experience; another year of blood, sweat and tears poured into a series of short films as powerful and as aesthetically challenging as Jean Vigo’s L’Atlante or Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu.

Our correspondents in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch have been unable to critically reflect upon the works presented by local directors, writers, cinematographers, and actors – an unfortunate casualty of the sheer bounty of offerings available in those centres; however, in Dunedin, a land of four heats, we can manage such things. So it is that we offer you one of the first* comprehensive, high-minded overviews of a centre’s 48 Hours entries to be published on a public journalism site. (*Editors’ note: There are three more to come, oh my god.)

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS

In the tradition of great movements before it – Cinema pur, Italian Neorealism, Dogme95 – 48 Hours imposes a set of controls on its participating filmmakers (on top of its central conceit). These are 

1. A film must be made within the constraints of the genre that is allocated. These genres are Fantasy or Adventure; Horror or Splatter Film; Time Travel; ‘Rom-Com’; Musical or Dance; Race Against The Clock; Vengeance (Revenge); Film Within A Film; Mistaken Identity; Mystery or Puzzle; Against The Odds; Shock Ending.

2. A film must have a character named Morgan Foster. That character must be a liar.

3. Each film must have the line of dialogue, “Not with that, you’re not!”

4. Each film must have a specific prop  a ball.

5. Each film must have a specific shot  an Extreme Close-Up, or Macro.

HEAT ONE: THURSDAY

Film #1. = sheep  ‘Got Milk?’  Fantasy/Adventure

A sullen girl is sent to collect milk powder for a child, only to be waylaid by vicious addiction in this transgressive, jarring update of Sidney Lumet’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The lead’s bodied work as the moody teen calls to mind Musidora’s relentlessly physical performance as the criminal mastermind Irma Vep in Louis Feuillade’s 1915 epic, Les Vampires; the film’s later twists indicate a sensibility in line with Herk Harvey, albeit not without his mastery of atmosphere.

Film #2. Arrested Developers  Paleo  Horror/Splatter

Arrested Developers have a deftness of touch with humour and genre trappings, one that calls to mind a young Franky Capra’s work on Arsenic and Old Lace or Billy Wilder’s genre work with that great character actor Jack Lemmon. Their presentation of their latest work, Paleo – a wry riff on the paleolithic diet, akin to Preston Sturges’ satire of the social mores of the upwardly mobile – was beset by technical difficulties as a result of its projection, but even so, their confidence and strong lighting makes them a worthy contender for the grand prix.

Film #3. Bus of the Undead  Day Shift  Time Travel

A quiet film, though it is unclear if it is a Ozu-esque quirk or an unfortunate casualty of the sound editing process. Bus of the Undead (a name that calls to mind the work of great ‘zombie’ filmmaker Jacques Tourneur) present a good-hearted but inconsequential tale of the inertia and inequity of time travellers serving that great villain, the capitalistic status quo. Their admiration for their two white-collar heroes has a bit of Ikiru in it; the film’s focus on the small reprieves from tedium a bit more Malle.

The use of ‘popular music’ as a device for the deliverance of emotion and plot detail was reportedly popularised by John Hughes, and it is to my disgust that I see Chambers of Secrets utilising that base, non-classical technique here

Film #4. Chambers of Secrets  Lovestoned: The Story of Morgan Foster – ‘Rom-Com’

The use of ‘popular music’ as a device for the deliverance of emotion and plot detail was reportedly popularised (how appropriate) by that vulgar auteur John Hughes, and it is to my disgust that I see Chambers of Secrets utilising that base, non-classical technique here. Their use of modern technology as language calls to mind the dystopic worlds of Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 and Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville – however, the Hughesian elements of the film, which I vehemently oppose on principle, act as a crutch for a threadbare story.

Film #5. Decile One  False Profit Musical/Dance

Decile One’s comedy (or painful existential tragedy?) about a Cassandriac fortune teller forced to lie in order to become a slave to that great beast, capitalism, calls to mind the great beat poets - Ginsberg, Burroughs, Parker (not Kerouac, that drunk). Its cinematography, by turns grimy and oversaturated, seems to distance the viewer in a way common to the Dogme filmmakers of the mid-1990s; it is a shame the story cannot match Thomas Vinterberg’s superlative Festen.

Film #6. Disconcerteam  Pressure Point  Race Against The Clock

How droll this film is! How clever its control! Using the classic reference point of violent action films around the globe, the ‘bomb defusal’, Disconcerteam weave a totally unexpected tale in two minutes. Their narrative is sparse but their twists resound, calling to mind the cleverness of filmmakers like Wilder (in his Double Indemnity) and Siodmak (in his Criss Cross).

Film #7. Go Go All The Time  Fridge  Vengeance (Revenge)

It is clear that the team, ‘Go Go All The Time’, owe a debt to the confrontational work of the America’s ‘New Hollywood’ of the 1970s. It often calls to mind the vivacity of the young Scorsese - the smart-aleck teens and aggressive close-ups of Mean Streets, the disdain for social politeness displayed in Taxi Driver. But their sense of humour is more modern and their aesthetic more slick, a visual and narrative deadpan that would appear quietly promising to the Japanese maestro of the form, Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano.

Film #8. Handcranked Productions  Un chien in einem chien  Film Within A Film

It is not often I am offended by a film, though I will note that this is not the last I am to be offended by in this heat. Yet here I am presented with Un chien in einem chien, which has the gall to disrespect the revolutionary aestheticism of Luis Bunuel’s Un chien andalou! The beauty of Jan Svankmajer’s Darkness/Light/Darkness! The empassioned socialist polemic of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le petit soldat! That they would sarcastically marry this material to the visuals of that base provocateur Harmony Korine - dim lighting, gaudy costuming – is but salt in the wound. The film is fine. But the outrageous attitude towards film history! I cannot abide.

Film #9. Hobo Pictures  Ella  Mistaken Identity

This light musical’s murky cinematography and sound editing call to mind classic Hollywood affairs like Love Me Tonight and Top Hat, were they untouched by modern restoration. It is less physically active than either of those films, and lighter on plot, but it has a rudimentary charm that recalls (if not replicates) Mark Sandrich’s collaborations with Astaire and Rogers.

Film #10. My best friend is – My Name Is Morgan Foster – Mystery or Puzzle

A sparse and simple noir animation made up of etchings on a whiteboard that makes some use of this unexplored medium’s potential – but not totally so. Its story is classic Chandler or Hammett; its well-lit action and use of depth call to mind more Polanski’s Chinatown or Don Hertzfeldt’s fringe animation style.

Film #11. Norfolk & Good – Narcolepsy: A Wake Up Call – Against The Odds

Norfolk & Good occupy a common space for submissions to the Quarante-huit Heures – that of the ‘mumblecore’ submission. Calling to mind the works of American masters Cassavetes and Bogdanovich, as well as recent realist auteurs like Duplass and Swanberg, this small team find some humour and tension in a narcoleptic trying to stay awake long enough to do a delivery shift. Unfortunately, they lack the panache and aesthetic verve of the great cineastes whose footsteps they follow.

Film #12. Out of Our Ass – Black Out – Shock Ending

I have much affection for Sam Neill’s thesis of the New Zealand national cinema as one of Unease – of the shadows lurking in the hearts of our landscapes and communities. Out of Our Ass are firmly a part of that tradition, with an eye for the looming masses of the Otago landscape that calls to mind the groundbreaking works of Roger Donaldson, Geoff Murphy, and Jane Campion. However, these filmmakers are no Techine, no Sichel – if they were, they would not treat homosexual sex as a punchline. Perhaps the true unease is within our filmmakers themselves.

To come next week: Heat Two; Heat Three (Schoolchildren); Heat Four (residents of what Dany Boon would term ‘The Sticks’)

*

A REMINDER: If you are, as I, a fan of the classical cinema, the New Zealand International Film Festival Autumn Events are occurring this weekend in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and Napier. Get along to classics like Funny Face, On The Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Strangelove and The Third Man because they are wonderful all.]

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