Eagle Vs. Shark
Opening film Eagle Vs. Shark (2007, Taika Waititi) is aggressively strange and awkward in a Napoleon Dynamite sort of way. It follows social misfit Lily (Loren Hornsley) as she seeks the affections of nerdy Jarrod (The Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement). She goes with him to his hometown as he seeks revenge against an old bully. What follows is a quirky yet prickly romance that will likely charm as many people as it alienates.
Director Taika Waititi found a stronger voice in his follow up film, Boy (2010, Taika Waititi). It tells the story of young Maori nicknamed Boy (James Rolleston) growing up in the 80s. His ex-convict father (played by Waititi himself) returns home after his latest stint in prison. Boy grew up idolizing his father, and wants nothing more than to be with him. But his rose-colored view of his dad isn’t very realistic. The film’s setting is very specific, and it’s obvious that Waititi is speaking from a more personal place. Boy is laugh-out-loud hilarious, drawing hilarity from a child’s skewed perspective of the adult world. But in its heart lies the tragedy of a boy growing up without a father.
If you haven’t seen Whale Rider (2002, Niki Caro) yet, now would be a pretty good time to see it. The film follows a young Maori girl named Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes in an Oscar-nominated performance) who challenges tradition as she fights for her right to inherit the chiefdom of her tribe. Whale Rider may be one of the finest family movies ever made, telling a powerful and moving story that never talks down to its audience. And Keisha Castle-Hughes performance really is worth seeing.
The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
The lineup features one lone documentary, but it’s a good one. The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (2009, Leanne Pooley) looks into the lives of one of New Zealand’s most entertaining and enduring musical acts. The Topp Twins, Jools and Linda, are country-western singers, yodelers, lesbians, comedians and activists. In a career that has spanned thirty years, they’ve brought all sorts of change of New Zealand society through their music and their comedy. They are fascinating people, and the documentary about them is equally fascinating.
In My Father’s Den
Those looking for more serious fare will find it with In My Father’s Den (2004, Brad McGann). The film is about Paul (Matthew Macfadyen, most recently seen in The Three Musketeers), a weary journalist who returns to New Zealand after the death of his father. There he makes a connection with sixteen year-old Celia, who might share an even stronger bond with him than he might think. When Celia goes missing, Paul becomes a suspect. He’s forced to confront his past and face the consequences of a long-buried betrayal. The film moves slowly and methodically, letting all the pain and terror unravel at its own pace.
Second Hand Wedding
There are two movies in the lineup that deal with weddings. Second Hand Wedding (2008, Paul Murphy) runs with the goofy premise of a bride-to-be afraid that her frugal mother will keep her from having the wedding of her dreams. Sione’s Wedding (2006, Chris Graham) follows four Samoan ne’er-do-wells who seek committed relationships in order to attend their friend’s wedding. Sione’s Wedding is the broader of the two, while Second Hand Wedding digs deep for some sentiment.
No. 2(2006, Toa Fraser) was originally a play, and one can feel it in the adaptation. The film follows an old lady named Nana Maria (Ruby Dee), who wants to gather her grandchildren for a traditional Fijian feast. There, she intends to name a successor as matriarch of the family. Naturally, things don’t go so smoothly. Though there’s some insight to be found in this dysfunctional family’s antics, it’s a little hard to get over the staginess of the production. The film did win the audience award in Sundance a few years back, so it might work better as a communal experience.
Coffee and Allah
The lineup also features a program of short films. Coffee and Allah (2007, Sima Urale) follows a young Islamic woman who moves to New Zealand and uses her love for coffee to connect with the people of her new home. Tama Tu (2005, Taika Waititi) is about a group of Maori soldiers hiding out in an abandoned house, trying to quietly amuse themselves as a battle rages on outside. Take 3 (2008, Roseanne Liang) follows three Asian actresses as they endure racial stereotypes in their work. Animated short Noise Control (2008, Phill Simmonds) has fun with the idea of a rooster keeping up people with his crowing, putting the simple annoyance through the filter of rock and roll. We don’t get a lot of short films in our cinemas, and this is a fine lineup of shorts that I think people really ought to check out.
Here’s the schedule for the festival: