Talking the 2015 New Zealand International Film Festival with director Bill Gosden

Talking the 2015 New Zealand International Film Festival with director Bill Gosden

For cinephiles, this, as ever, is the most exciting time of the year.
July heralds the Auckland start of the New Zealand International Film Festival and with so much to choose from the festival, I thought it wise to spend some time with festival director Bill Gosden, who first programmed Auckland's festival in 1984.

NZFF Director Bill Gosden
After last year’s event, The Dark Horse premiere et al, it was hard to see how you could have topped it – I think you’ve come back with the most diverse programme we’ve ever seen?
It’s a rich one for sure, and strong in so many different areas.

It’s another incredibly strong line up from Cannes – Sandra’s clearly been busy. Of the titles screening, which are you excited for and which have you already seen?
I’ve been excited for Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin for years, so please don’t try to reach me while that’s playing. I’ve seen The Lobster which is fiendishly funny – and as far as you could get from a sentimental choice for Opening Night film. Obviously the World Premiere of a great New Zealand film is the ideal Opening Night scenario and The Dark Horse last year was one of the all-time greats. We had to look offshore for options this year. The nerve and originality of The Lobster will make for a startling wake-up call: NZIFF is back in town!

Another two of the best surprises amongst Sandra’s Cannes haul were not competition films.  Ciro Guerra’s wild and spectacular Embrace of the Serpent reimagines the explorations recounted by two early 20th-century European explorers in the Amazon from the point of view of an indigenous shaman. Deniz Gamze Erguven’s Mustang has perhaps been too readily compared to a Middle Eastern Virgin Suicides. The dreamy sisterhood that it evokes so brilliantly and specifically has an emotional impact that’s very different from Sofia Coppola’s world. And I’d be happy to line up for any film by Arnaud Desplechin (My Golden Days), Miguel Gomes (Arabian Nights) or Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Cemetery of Splendour).

It also feels like a festival of returns this year – the return of Jafar Panahi, Costa Botes coming back, Banksy, the return of the free China Junk…
It’s important for NZIFF to maintain these through-lines, though we don’t do it in a slavish way. (No Terrence Malick this year, for instance.) It’s hard to believe that outlawed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was once an NZIFF guest. (He loved Bluff oysters.) Banned from making films, he continues to do so, providing us in Tehran Taxi with more information about life and criminality in contemporary Tehran than any authorised filmmaker could possibly do.
Banksy Does New York

It’s also good to see films without a home here in New Zealand like Inherent Vice, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, ‘71 getting a big screen release, are you hopeful people will embrace these slightly older titles?
It’s crazy that we now think twice about programming a film because it has last year’s date on it, but we do. The ‘slightly older’ films you name all exert their own very strong present tense once you sit down with them in a cinema. That’s the test they have to pass, and I’ve had the pleasure of testing each of them personally.

Being Evel
As I mentioned, it’s a very diverse programme, with so many different genres being covered this year from sport to music; did you ever believe you’d be programming something with Johnny Knoxville like Being Evel?
I’d have programmed the George Hamilton Evel Kneivel film (1971) if I’d been in the business at the time, so no, I’m not surprised, just pleased to have the chance. It turns out that Hamilton’s impersonation of the All American Daredevil was a lot more genial in his craziness than the genuine item.

It’s nice to see a Retro section in play, has that come about because of the success of the Autumn Events seasons?
It’s the other way around really, with the Autumn Events Classic screenings spinning off from years of classic screenings at NZIFF and its predecessors. It’s been a long wait to see Kiss Me Kate in the original 3D. The ‘From That Moment On’ dance number is pure exhilaration in 2D let alone 3.

I’m interested in The Tribe and Tangerine – both seem like very different ways to communicate their stories- what can you tell us about these titles?
Both draw on the off-screen talents of their non-actor stars to create crackling on-screen energy: a deaf cast conducting gang warfare in sign language in the former, a pair of motor-mouthed transgender LA sex workers tearing up the streets in the latter. But in other ways these films are polar opposites.  The Tribe is a bracingly formal work, every Steadicam shot choreographed to a nano-second.  Sean Baker famously filmed Tangerine on his iPhone. It feels spontaneous, but looks fantastic.

Drone photography may be the instantly spottable trend of the year, but tiny, ultra-portable cameras are enabling filmmakers like never before. That shows in films as various as Tangerine, Tehran Taxi and the vertigo-inducing climbing doco Meru that lets us scale precipitous Himalayan peaks.

The Animation section, Toons for Tots all seem to be very strong this year – and a new Ghibli too, what’s the one that’s worth seeking out?
It’s all great. Don’t overlook Tomm Moore’s exquisite Irish legend Song of the Sea; or Dark Hearts, animation programmer Malcolm Turner’s compilation of some of the most confronting animated shorts of recent times.
Song Of The Sea

The talent visiting this year seems to be the finest yet – the Q&As are always a highlight of NZIFF, is there one talent this year you think could be an outstanding post film guest?
From what I have heard of his Berlin appearances, Kidlat Tahimik gives the most entertaining Q+As. And I’ll do my best not to hog the questions to Margot Nash (The Silences) and Turner Ross (Western), about two very individual documentaries that provide fertile grounds for discussion.

It’s a strong line up of female directors as well as a line up from the USA too…
The US indie scene contributes mucho character and vitality to this year’s line-up. Not all the films about women have been directed by women: Grandma and Our Little Sister barely feature men at all, but have been written and directed by men. The number of features (cf documentaries) directed by women remains infamously small, but seven of the nine we are showing pass the Bechdel test with flying colours.

So, I’ve learned from previous Q&As there’s no point trying to confine you to just one recommendation from the entire programme– what are the films this year that demand to be seen on the big screen? And which do you believe will be the audience faves?
Made to fill giant screens: The Assassin (surely), Meru (definitely), Cemetery of Splendour (quietly),  Tangerine (even if it was shot on an iPhone) , A Girl Walks Home Alone, Song of the Sea, The Postman’s White Nights, Saint Laurent, Amy, Sherpa, Inherent Vice…

Ought to be faves: see Auckland NZIFF manager Lynn Smart’s Tour Guide on the NZIFF website!
The Assaassin

Ant’s back – this time with 3D Gaspar Noe and no doubt a bit of controversy – which from his Incredibly Strange section are you looking forward to seeing with the crowd?
Goodnight Mommy is the most viscerally disturbing film I’ve seen in years – if I ventured near that one again I’d be watching the crowd, not the screen.

The NZ Section is wide and varied –from an examination of NZ Film to a makutu lifting in Wellington, there are a range of subjects on show?
Apart from Turbo Kid and Deathgasm, it’s all documentaries. Kiwi filmmakers are covering international subjects too: Robin Greenberg in Taiwan; Sven Parnell in Rwanda, Flavio Villani in Italy.

NZIFF’s never just confined to Auckland, thankfully – Wellington’s just been announced and Christchurch has a souped up venue this year, how are the regions looking?
Turbo Kid
Christchurch’s Isaac Theatre Royal is a venue of great beauty, equipped for cinema thanks to the fund-raising efforts of NZIFF. DCP has made it possible to screen bigger programmes in the regions - and closer on the heels of Auckland and Wellington.

So many films that we’ve not been able to talk about, so much choice this year, what’s your top recommendation for cinephiles aiming to survive NZIFF?
Don’t be shy. Exercise between screenings.

The New Zealand International Film Festival kicks off on 16th July - for all the information on what's screening here and around the country, hit up the NZIFF website. And don't forget, tickets are on sale now!

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