The 40th International Film Festival to grace the city of Hamilton kicks off on August 22. The venue: the Lido Cinema. The opening film: Birds of Passage.
Opening nights have traditionally been under-patronised by the student body, even those nominally studying in the field of screen and media. Generations of students have no idea what they’ve been missing. Admittedly, in the past, film selections have been a little more alternative. Programmers, in their wisdom, have consistently decided to begin a film festival with the least festival-like movie they can think of; the one that attracts the largest mainstream audience. Talk about a contradiction!
This year, things are different. It’s as if the powers that be have decided that after four decades, Hamilton has finally grown up. We get the same opening night film as Auckland did. Birds of Passage is co-directed by Ciro Guerra, who made the 2015 masterpiece Embrace of the Serpent. It’s a Colombian drama set in the 1970s, about the clash between the indigenous culture and period drug lords. Or maybe how the two complement one another. A thinking person’s Sicario, if you will.
University students should pride themselves on being thinking people. They qualify for a ticket discount. It is a privilege to have access to so many excellent international films in such a short space of time; 58 features and four collections of contemporary shorts. There is sex (Gaspar Noe’s Climax), violence (Mandy with a chainsaw-wielding Nicholas Cage) and religion (Paul Schrader’s First Reformed – a major return to form).
There are also slow, arty movies that are good for you. Stray, a stunning debut by New Zealander Dustin Feneley; The Wild Pear Tree, from Turkish maestro Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Burning, a 148-minute South Korean love triangle, and the 1987 West German classic Wings of Desire – Wim Wenders’ finest hour.
One more thing... on opening night the booze is free. How can impoverished students turn down quality alcohol?