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Film Festival appetiser: Barbenheimer

We are very blessed to have the film festival we have here, especially in a city as small as Wellington. I have attended film festivals in Sydney and Melbourne where the audience are routinely lined up and herded like cattle. The Venice Film Festival is held on a campus resembling a military base. With all those A-list celebrities and red carpets there is high security, barriers everywhere and the movies are shown in gigantic buildings resembling aircraft hangars. The New Zealand International Film Festival remains friendly and personable despite being comparable in size to festivals in much bigger cities.

We have the benefit in this part of the world of not being important. This allows for much better programming, thanks to the programming of Sandra Reid and Michael McDonnell, as well as the ripples of the legacy of Bill Gosden's expansive and discerning taste. Other film festivals are burdened with the weight of so many mediocre “important” films. They want prestige, they want premieres, they want sponsorship. Most film festivals are largely funded by corporate and state sponsorship. These are expensive operations and these festivals have obligations to their sponsors. They will for sure show the great films, but they'll show a lot of boring stuff that looks good on paper. The sort of films that win Oscars, or at least want to. The 2022 London Film Festival I attended was flooded with so many Netflix films they had their own desk in the lobby. NZIFF is rare as a film festival that obtains about 90% of its running costs from ticket sales, and so its obligation is to its audience, as the programme reflects, curated for cinemagoers of diverse inclination, but certainly for the pleasure of its audience.

An element I am happy to see has survived from the Gosden years is the quality of the film notes. Most film festivals have brief descriptions of the plot or the filmmaker's previous work that resembles vapid and unconvincing advertising copy. Although certain phrases, such as "world class", that would not have survived the integrity and sincerity of Gosden's editorial eye, may have slipped through, the commitment remains to writing notes that describe the film in a way that will attract the audience that will appreciate it. Rather than blandly sell it to whoever is credulous, there is an attempt to describe the film's form and style as well as content, its context and its impact in a way that can actually help you know if it's the right film for you. Because we know that if it's not, there will surely be others that are.

And it goes a week longer than most other film festivals!  And the films play all day at all venues, not just evenings and weekends, catering not just for the unemployed amongst us, but those who take time off for the film festival.

Since having attended cinemas in countries around the world I have rediscovered how great a place to see a movie Wellington's Embassy Theatre is. The spectacular and elegant lobby is great, but I prefer the comfortable seats, huge screen and perfect sight-lines from every one of the 900 seats. Barbenheimer is my pre-film festival appetiser.

Barbie is Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach's attempt to make a blockbuster that is socially responsible; a story for tween girls that will appeal to everyone; set in a perfect world where things are complex and confusing; encouraging girls to be anything they want to be, but that it's okay to be ordinary; a movie about depression and anxiety that is fun and uppifting; a frothy celebration and a serious critique of an extremely successful and protected brand, totally approved by them. They attempt to subvert expectations while totally satisfying them and they pretty much succeed at all of this, which makes the film feel a bit too thinly spread. But they made a lot of money.

Nolan's directorial style remains as oppressive as usual. He attempts to beat his audience over the head with subtly for as long as he can get away with, in this case three hours.

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