The New Zealand Federation of Film Societies kicks off its 2011 season this week, from Auckland to Waitati in deepest darkest Otago (with the sad absence of Canterbury, which has cancelled all screenings until further notice for obvious reasons). It's rather easy to dismiss the whole exercise as the cinematic equivalent of changing into black tie and formal gowns for dinner. Pretentious, uncomfortable, expensive and really just a waste of time.
I may be a good free-market Tory, but this is one occasion where socialism - film socialism - is not only to be tolerated, but encouraged. (Disclosure: The Secretary of the Auckland Film Society would say that, wouldn't he? Too fragging right. Carry on.)
JOIN THE FILM SOCIETY OR YOU'RE NOT A REAL KIWI! Well, you'll miss out on Merata Mita's Patu!, a still stunning document of the anti- Springbok Tour protests in 1981 and much more including the traditional programme of New Zealand short films. After twenty-eight years -- and with the Rugby World Cup bringing a more benign form of rugby madness to our shores -- Patu! still has the power to cause a post-match argument or two. Which is what the Film Society is all about.
EXPANDING YOUR MIND DOESN'T HURT. PROMISE. If you haven't heard of Portugal's Pedro Costa (and you should), you're not alone. And you're exceedingly unlikely to put Lisbon's Fontainhas on your holiday wish-list after seeing Bones (Ossos), In Vanda's Room (No quarto da Vanda) and Colossal Youth (Juventude em marcha). But an important part of the Film Society mission to make accessible films like this whose chances of getting commercial releases in New Zealand in any format are very low, to utterly non existent. (Even here, it just wouldn't have been financially viable to bring these films to New Zealand without the generous, but not to be taken for granted support of Creative New Zealand. Or other organisations, governments and individuals who've been equally generous in their practical and financial support -- not least the members and volunteers who keep every film society ticking over. Hint hint. )
SEX! VIOLENCE! BABES! All in the best possible taste, of course.
It would take a couple of years to just work through Isabelle Huppert's filmography -- and Hollywood has no idea what to do with an actress whose considerable beauty and intelligence is allied with a fearless ability to play utter bitches who don't win (or want) easy sympathy.
This year, there's a mini-season of three of her best films: The Lacemaker (La Dentellière, 1977) -- her breakout performance as a "a fragile young beautician blossoming in and broken by love" which transcends one of the most tiresome tropes of French cinema. Then there's 1988's Une affaire de femmes (The Story of Women) -- the most starling of her many collaborations with "the French Hitchcock" Claude Chabrol. Based on the story of Marie-Louise Girard, an amateur abortionist who was the last women guillotined in France by the Vichy government, anyone expecting a simple parable either pro- or anti-abortion will be disappointed. The rest of you are in for a treat.
The last Huppert on offer -- Bertrand Tavernier's Clean Slate (Coup de Torchon) , a nimble transposition of Jim Thompson's cynical noir from Texas to Colonial French East Africa -- is a nice segue to the other French mini-season on offer. For a national cinema often stereotyped as insular when it isn't downright xenophobic, French directors seem to spend a lot of time re-mixing popular American genres. In recent years, torture porn horror, kinetic action movies and (more respectably) the ambiguous fascination with criminals of shows like The Wire and The Sopranos.
Less nerve-wracking, and more enjoyably for my taste, lie back and enjoy two fine French exercises in film noir: Touchez pas au grisbi (1954) -- a heist-gone-horribly-wrong flick that knocks Tarantino into a cocked beret -- and Le Dolous (1962).
SIZE QUEEN SATISFACTION GUARANTEED. I'm quite happy to compare DVD/BluRay collections any day of the week, but there are some itches even an forty inch screen and all the toys your overdraft can bear can't satisfy. I'll happily wear a groove in my discs of The Red Shoes and Once Upon A Time in The West, but just between us they don't compare to the pure bliss of seeing them at Auckland's Mighty Civic last year.
Add to that list Terence Malick's un-Disney (and typically ravishing) take on the tale of Pocahontas and John Smith and Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark, which sounds like a gimmick in synopsis (the film is a fantastically elaborate 95 minute, single-take tracking shot) but strangely moving.
THE TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION, AND MORE FUN It's hardly surprising that documentaries -- at least one that don't feature Hitler and horny wildlife -- have consistently been popular both at film societies and on the festival circuit. You're not likely to see them anywhere else. 2011 is no different with eclectic programs from Canada and Germany. The only scientist who resigned from the Manhattan Project on moral grounds? Check. Looking for the centre of Europe? Us too. And that's just for starters.
THERE'S EVEN SOME FILMS YOU CAN TAKE HOME TO MEET YOUR MOTHER. If you prefer to kick it old school there are more classics than you can shake a box of Jaffas at. Singin' in the Rain is the greatest musical Hollywood ever produced, and The Shop Around The Corner only proves how bad modern rom-coms (including the Tom-Hanks/Meg Ryan re-make You've Got Mail) really are. But there's also lesser known classics from Roberto Rossellini, Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi.
OK, THAT'S ALL VERY GOOD BUT THERE'S A RECESSION ON. Putting on my Auckland Film Society hat, $165 for a full membership sounds like a lot. And it's not exactly chump change. (This is just an example, other societies charge differently so please check
But look at it like this: It works out at around six bucks a film. Even if you only attend half the films in a season, that's still less than a full-price adult ticket anywhere else.
TELL ME MORE... And generous discounts for tickets for the World Cinema Showcase and International Film Festival?
CLOSER, BUT NO NICOTINE GUM... If you're out of town, free entry to any film society screening in New Zealand? (And, as a helpful reader has pointed out in comments, many have negotitated discounts with local cinemas if you must pollute yourself with commonplace cinema.)
BUT... My final offer. If you're a try before you buy type, there's a three film sampler. $30 for any three films, and when (not if) you upgrade to a full membership you just pay the difference. What else do you want, blood?
WELL... Don't make me come down there and get Clockwork Orange on your arse.
You can find all the information you need about your local film society -- schedules, venues, contact details and detailed information about how to join -- via the links page on the New Zealand Federation of Film Societies website. I'll meet you in the back row...