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New Zealand International Film Festival: Picks of the 2018 Festival

It’s the most magical time of year in the New Zealand cinephile’s calendar – the New Zealand International Film Festival. In the deep, dark heart of winter lovers of cinema brave the chill and come together some of the best films from New Zealand and beyond.

In a time when it’s so easy to plonk yourself down in front of Netflix, there’s something far more magical about attending NZIFF screenings: the anticipation of what you’re about to see on the big screen, the shared experience with your fellow cinephiles, and the ability to immerse yourself in films that go beyond the usual blockbuster fare. Unlike other film festivals which happen in one specific city, NZIFF shares the love with New Zealand, playing in centres like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. No pining for films that you want to see and have to wait for general distribution for!


NZIFF 2018 is a delectable cinematic chocolate box of sumptuous selections to tempt every film lover’s palate. Here’s just a few picks of the Festival:

Wings of Desire

I was just 6 years old when Wings of Desire came out, so the opportunity to see Wim Wenders’ magnificent masterpiece in a spectacular 4K restoration on the big screen is a must for me. If you want to see one film that will prove to you the emotional power of cinema, this is it.

McKellen: Playing the Part

As a native of Christchurch, New Zealand, Sir Ian McKellen has a very huge place in the hearts of the people of Christchurch thanks to his tireless dedication to assisting with the rebuild of the Isaac Theatre Royal through his Shakespeare, Tolkien and You tour of NZ. I can think of nothing better than seeing Joe Stephenson’s intimate documentary at the very place Sir Ian helped rebuild. With music by Peter Gabriel and with supporting black and white dramatisations, this is absolute food for the soul.

Leave No Trace

Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik returns with a story about a father and daughter enmeshed in a survivalist lifestyle that comes under threat from the outside world. Starring young NZ actress Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as Tom and Ben Foster as her father Will, Leave No Trace has previously screened at Sundance, San Francisco International Film Festival, the Sydney International Film Festival and as part of the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.


I don’t know about you, but I tend to like my films to be on the acid trip/what the fuck/lick the penguin spectrum, and Mandy is definitely on the super high end of that spectrum. Playing at Sundance and the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, Mandy stars Nicholas Cage and Linus Roache with a suitably ethereal and haunted-looking Andrea Riseborough as the titular Mandy and boasts Elijah Wood as one of the producers. This is tasty, psychedelic, unsettling fare.


This NZ-made feature has made waves even before it screens as part of NZIFF; making history by being the first NZ feature film to be selected for the Moscow International Film Festival with actor Kieran Charnock also winning Best Actor at the Festival for his performance. Stray also has the distinction of being a film which was successfully crowdfunded, raising $125,000 via Boosted. Written and directed by Dustin Feneley and with Ari Wegner (Lady Macbeth) as DP, the first two NZIFF screenings in Wellington sold out in four days with an additional screening added. It’s just as well I will be purchasing my tickets for a Christchurch NZIFF screening online, because otherwise I may have had to use elbows to nudge people out of the way in the ticketing line- that’s how much I want to see this.


Blue Moon

What would you do if you had one chance to turn your life around? Would you steal half a million dollars if nobody in the world would ever know? Chances are, you have strong opinions about your answers to these questions, but after seeing Blue Moon, will the answers change? Front line NZ police officer Stef Harris’ thriller noir Blue Moon makes its debut at the Christchurch leg of the NZ International Film Festival on August 8th. The film was shot almost entirely on iPhone 7s and unfolds in real time with no time lapses.

The inspiration for Blue Moon? “After years working as a front line police officer, I became fascinated with the people of the night,” says director Stef Harris, “[t]he night cashiers, cleaners, taxi drivers, security guards, the police and the criminal underclass…I wanted to make a story entirely within that realm, using the night time almost as a thematic special effect.”

International cinephiles will know Blue Moon’s Mark Hadlow and Jed Brophy respectively for their work in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, and for Christchurch audiences Mark Hadlow is a beloved son of Canterbury both on screen and on stage. Together as a petrol station proprietor and a gang enforcer they are compelling on screen in this taut thriller.

This is just a small sample of the magic that is happening this year at NZIFF. The only way to really get a sense of just how wonderful the Festival is is to check it out online and if you’re in one of the centres in NZ that is hosting the Festival – get your tickets!


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