Talking the Incredibly Strange at the NZIFF with Ant Timpson

Talking the Incredibly Strange at the NZIFF with Ant Timpson

Ant Timpson’s Incredibly Strange.
Ant Timpson

Not only is that a description of the great man himself, but also the section of the Film Festival he’s programmed. He’s back this year and I spent some time chatting the films he’s chosen for our entertainment.

You’re all about the Gasm this year, Ant – Deathgasm and Orgasm in Love 3D. Firstly, Deathgasm seems like it has home grown hit all over it and appears to embrace our love of homebred splatter and gore?
I think this first question could be your worst opener in all the years you’ve been doing this, Darren. I’m all about the ‘Gasm’ this year? Let’s let that slide and focus on the part that actually makes sense – that Deathgasm could be a home-grown hit. Well like last years fest smash Housebound, it’s also a comedy with horror elements. The film has had a phenomenal festival run so far – from a slambang opening at SXSW to just recently being voted 3rd favourite out of all the films that played Sydney Film Festival. I’m pretty sure folks here in NZ will love its guerilla good-time spirit and that despite all the metal and carnage, it’s actually framed around a pretty sweet love story.
Deathgasm, playing at the 2015 NZIFF

Gaspar Noe’s Love 3D looks guaranteed to be divisive – what kind of controversy are you expecting for this and what do you have to say to your detractors?
Love 3D
We’re expecting little to no controversy about Noe’s latest. Unfortunately. This is no Irreversible which devastated Strange fest audiences back in 2003 nor is it as experimental as Enter The Void. It’s about love and how multi-faceted that can be. Yes, the film does contain hardcore pornographic material but in this day and age when Youporn is everyone’s favourite incognito tab in chrome that's not going to shock many. Obviously Noe’s talent and the 3D medium sets the film apart from casual online wankbank fare – I’m tending to think it’s probably not what people are expecting.  At the end of the day it’s a new film by Gasper Noe and he’s a filmmaker that always excites. Bring your parents along for an awkward time had by all.

Last year’s Q&A saw me hold a gun to your head, and ask you to talk about your film choices. This year, I’m being a bit more lenient – it’s a court setting and you stand accused of being Incredibly Strange. Defend your choice of The Invitation, a film guaranteed to unsettle.
I’ll have to go back and read that Q&A as I was sure it was me that was holding a gun to your head or maybe that's just a recurring fantasy I have. The Invitation screened to acclaimed at the SXSW festival this year and everyone thought it was a killer comeback of sorts for Karyn Kusama the director of Sundance hit Girlfight many moons ago. She went from that into a major film called Aeon Flux and so this is a return to indie film-making - and she displays being director in full control of the material. The set-up is a slow-burn scenario with a couple being invited to a dinner party with old friends and lovers. However, something is just a little off about the proceedings and our couple begins to question the real reason why they are there. It’s just another small gem of a US thriller like Blue Ruin that I hope people take a chance on.
Goodnight Mommy

Festival director Bill Gosden’s said that Goodnight Mommy is “the most viscerally disturbing film seen in years”; this psychodrama looks positively upsetting and works better if you know little – how do you answer that charge?
I saw Goodnight Mommy last year and there are images from the film I haven’t been able to shake out of my memory. The conceit is rather ingenious. Twin brothers are waiting for their mother to return home. When she arrives, she’s bandaged after cosmetic surgery. The kids begin to doubt that this person is actually their mother. The comparison to Austrian maestro Haneke is probably one that film scholars will pooh-pooh as being lazy but I think it's a fair comparison for most cinephiles. There’s something very austere about the work – it’s so beautiful and calculated – it could be directed by a surgeon and an architect. And it’s shot on 35mm and therefore essential viewing. I would say its probably the one title out of the whole section that I think will have the most people talking about it.

The prosecution was somewhat surprised by the emotional feels of Finders Keepers, a film (documentary) that takes a stolen mummified leg, a couple of warring former buddies and America’s obsessions with a 15 minutes of fame mentality and bundles it all up into something warm and oddly fuzzy. Is this a deliberate attempt to maybe make us think twice about your attitudes to programming?
Finders Keepers
So you’re keeping up with this court schtick, huh? I really hope I’m not expected to answer with puns and legal lingo just to make you look better. Your synopsis is a little off about Finders Keepers – it’s not about warring former buddies. It’s about a fame monster trying to cash in on someone else’s unfortunate situation and how both of them are battling demons from their past.
I think every year there’s a balance to the programming – for every film that could be a tough watch there’ll be something at the other end of the scale which has a sweetness to it. A bit like me don’t you think, Darren? There’s always a documentary or two that provides what may be lacking from some of the other narrative films. This year, we have two docs that both feature larger than life characters who provide audiences truly genuine moments of humour and pathos.

There could be charges of nepotism laid, given that you’re a producer on Deathgasm and Turbo Kid too. We’ll put that to the back of our minds for now, and ask how is Turbo Kid – it looks an 80s piece of TV writ large?
Well luckily nepotism reigns supreme this year because without it there’d be no NZ narrative features selected for this year’s festival. Both features I produced Deathgasm and Turbo Kid were the only ones selected! They cleared by festival director and other programmers for my section. Mainly because if I was a filmmaker who had a film turned down and then see the programmer with two films he’s involved with in the line-up I’d be kinda annoyed – especially if they weren’t good. Luckily, both films are great and both have had a tremendous international roll-out and critical acclaim before finally coming back to NZ.
Turbo Kid premiered at Sundance and was one of the surprise hits this year. Everyone - from Variety to Wired to Entertainment Weekly - has all been championing the film. It's a NZ and Canadian co-production and was made by three Quebec directors who I approached many years ago with the idea of turning a short film of theirs into a feature and expanding the universe they created. Then legendary movie villain Michael Ironside got involved and everything picked up speed after that. You’re  incorrect about it being 80s TV writ large – the film’s roots are all from feature films of the 80s not TV – it’s been born from the love of movies like BMX Bandits, Mad Max and Braindead.  A fun hybrid of a coming-of-age pic alongside post-apocalyptic splatter films. It’s got a real sweet love story running throughout the film and all the actors just delivered fantastic on point performances. It celebrates the culture it came from. It doesn’t wink at it or make fun of it. It comes from a very pure place.
It’s good to see that you’re joining the Marvel-befuddled masses and are programming I Am Thor, a doco that looks at a competitive bodybuilder. Are you going soft or is there really something to recommend here – and is it a coincidence that there are similar themes with Finders Keepers?
I Am Thor
Well again, I gotta say you’re one hell of a sloppy lawyer when it comes to the facts. I’d be on death row or worse if you were my lawyer in real life. The doc I AM THOR is not really about a competitive body-builder. Sure, he was a body-builder but the real story of the incredible human named Thor is about watching his decades long odyssey in trying to become the greatest rock god of all-time. At one stage his band was going to be the next KISS – then everything kind of went off the rails when he kidnapped himself. Yes that is not a grammatical mistake. There are a few parallels with Finders Keepers – both feature subjects that you want to succeed – total underdogs who deserve to come out on top. I think Thor is an amazing person and his tenacity to succeed is admirable.

We know you like to push your own films, but give us 3 other films from the main programme that have you genuinely excited to view them with a crowd over the coming weeks?
What you calling pushing my own section, I call fulfilling my contractual obligation with the NZ Film Festival. If we were in a courtroom, you’d be accused of badgering the witness.
Peace Officer
I’ve seen a lot of great docs this year – people should rush to see PEACE OFFICER, BEST OF ENEMIES, CARTEL LAND, WOLFPACK and BEING EVEL. The narrative features I thought were must-sees would be reissue of the mind-blowing The Colour of Pomegranates (a visual spectacular) The Duke of Burgundy (an erotic romp with the amazing actress from the TV show Borgen), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (a striking debut from a gifted female filmmaker), Kiss Me Kate (one of the best musicals of all time in knockout 3D), The Look of Silence (companion piece to Oscar nominated The Act of Killing), Spring (which I had to drop from my section but is a monstrous love story – slimy and sexy), and The Tribe   (a brutal polariser told completely in sign language)

We can ascertain you’ve been doing this for a while now -  what’s been the best reaction to one of your films, which was it, and have you been chasing that high ever since? Is there anything this year that could potentially match it?
Good question. And those are two words I never thought I‘d say to you, Darren. It’s strange for most to think of a high when programming but there’s absolutely a direct correlation to an audience giving themselves over to a film you love and your pleasure synapses doing a rumba. There have been many such highs over the 21yr period of doing this programme. From the utter joy of an unsuspecting audience seeing Wet Hot American Summer for the first time, to curiosity seekers having their minds blown by oddities like Psyched By the 4D Witch to the one-off screening of Irreversible that had people fainting, walking out and finally crying before slowly making their way out to the real world. I don’t think anything is going to match that this year but for me personally I’m going to enjoy seeing what audiences think of the utterly loony and fun Turbo Kid because it’s been quite a journey to get that film here in front of kiwis.
Yakuza Apocalypse

Yakuza Apocalypse seems to be quite wild and crazy (according to the programme). Is this the film which will garner the best crowd reaction?
I think fans of Miike (Gozu, Dead or Alive, Visitor Q, Ichi The Killer, Happiness of the Katakuris etc) are going to love this return to violent goofy lunacy and everyone else will be sitting there with jaws open saying “WTF?”

The defence and prosecution rests for now (judgement to be given out after this year’s festival and frankly, because this lame idea ran out of steam) – but in closing this piece, I have to commend you for being involved in the films and co-pros, is it still something you enjoy doing and do you have any further projects lined up?
Thank you and your world of entertainment, Darren. This faux court proceedings must rank as one of the laziest Q&A gags I’ve seen since reading an issue of ZOO magazine. I do have future projects but in this game you never know which ones will blossom. Making films is mostly a series of endless hassles interspersed with moments of unadulterated joy. You could say that about life I suppose.

Ant Timpson's selection of programmed films at the 2015 New Zealand International Film Festival can all be found on the official NZIFF website.

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