NZIFF 2019 – Film Festival FOMO

One of my sadly dear departed friends once went to 47 films at the Auckland Film Festival. I do not know, but the following year he smashed the 50 or 60 movie barrier. I managed 24 myself, but ten of those I had not had to pay for. As a volunteer for the Film Society, you got to staff the information desk at movies of your choosing and once the opening credits started rolling you were allowed to sneak in and sit at the back.

I once spent an entire Sunday inside darkened rooms – starting with a crazy documentary about making a film at 11 am and ending up stepping out on Queen Street after midnight dazed and confused, having just sat through one of Jacques Rivette’s last spellbinding features.

That was back when there were 70 or 80 films in a festival. And at most a film might screen twice during the two week Festival. There were inevitably clashes to navigate, apart from the Civic or St James (the Festival used to alternate between them each year) there were “overflow” screens at the Regent and the Academy. Some films, mostly the documentaries, only screened once, so you were out of luck if one of your feature film clashes occurred on a Saturday or Sunday, when the docos were shown and which you knew were never coming back.

We remember the stunning success of 1981’s Diva, which screened in the international film festival first, then came back and screened in Auckland for over six months.

So even then we used to play Film Festival Lotto. And predicting what would come back was a relatively straightforward game.

These days that is almost impossible.

Last year I just gave up second guessing entirely and went and watched a couple of classics, re-screenings of former glories, and a couple of docos. Thankfully we now have websites, so the festival organisers can keep us up to date with what is going to sell out and what is not. But we know that even sold out FF movies do not necessarily come back.

This year it is really tough – all the films that look vaguely interesting are screening at odd times, or odd places and times (Westgate at 6.30 pm on a Friday night?)

I have tried to navigate a path through this year’s schedule – but I cannot get a handle on it. Also there are no obvious “Thou must see” movies. Apart from Agnes Varda, no highlighting of great directors. No edgy new wave stylists. And few risks taken.

Why does the festival catalogue feature so many actors wielding hand guns? Why does every second movie seem to feature Juliette Binoche?

Perhaps the most anticipated session for me, the one I am looking forward to the most, and which I suspect is going to “wow” me, will be a re=screening of Koyaanisqatsi in the same film festival that I originally saw it at back in 1983. Has film making not advanced anywhere? Where are the risk takers? Kind Hearts and Coronets? Are you kidding me?

So – no Film Festival FOMO for me – what will be will be. And if something I really wanted to see but was not able to because it was a middle of the day sleeper does

This may be one of the sleepiest programmes for some time. Perhaps the highlights will be the docos (as usual.) Midsommar was added at the very last minute – and I am very confident it will come back – but many of the other feature films here come with no hype. Has the NZIFF lost its soul? I do not know, but we need to get back to excitement.

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