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Political Movies

If you are interested in politics, we have some films you won’t want to miss.

This year the New Zealand International Film Festival will be showing a great range of political films and documentaries from around the world, to enlighten, educate and entertain.

If you or your organization would like to include this list in any mailout or newsletter, or you simply want more information, please feel free to contact me.

Unfortunately not all films will be able to make it to all centres due to print availability, but we will try our best to reach everybody that we can in Aotearoa/New Zealand with these great movies.

The dates for our festivals are:

34th Auckland International Film Festival

Friday July 12 to Sunday July 28

31st Wellington Film Festival

Friday July 19 to Sunday August 4

26th International Film Festival, Dunedin

Friday July 26 to Sunday August 11

26th International Film Festival, Christchurch

Thursday August 1 to Sunday August 18

The films then tour the smaller centres from August 8 until October 30.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like more specific dates.

Our free programmes will be widely available three weeks before each festival starts, and for information on the internet our website is

Best regards, and keep up the good work.

Yours faithfully,

Matthew Donaldson (04) 802 2575 –

A Huey P. Newton Story

USA 2001

Director: Spike Lee

Screenplay: Roger Guenveur Smith

90 minutes/Beta-SP

Spike Lee’s film captures an astounding one-man show about the Black Panther co-founder Huey P. Newton developed, written, directed and performed by Roger Gueneveur Smith. Smith has performed his continuously evolving monologue to universal critical acclaim more than six hundred times. Spike Lee spotlights Smith’s extraordinary, vivid performance – most of which is spent sitting in a chair – punctuating it with brief interludes of archival footage and music. Smith is alone on a square studio stage, talking into a mike, hemmed in by an ‘audience’ that sits in shadowed balcony seating. Smith inhabits the charismatic chain-smoking Newton. He is both cool and wired, a nervy mix of chat show host and interviewee, a standup comic doing his shtick, jiving and riffing on a routine. The monologue has been created from Newton’s words, although Smith occasionally refers to events subsequent to Newtown’s violent death in 1989, thereby giving the story a contemporary framework and highlighting the continuing struggles of Black Americans.

Apocalypse Now Redux

USA 2000, 202m

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

“Retina burn, rock'n'roll war Apocalypse Now is Vietnam meets 60s counter- culture meets Joseph Conrad's `Heart of Darkness'. A mind-blowing sensory overload of epic proportions with hallucinatory visuals, mythic story, a cast to die for and magnificent music. In 1979, Apocalypse Now's no holds barred take on Vietnam was regarded as a fabulous but flawed film that received international acclaim and the Palme d'Or at Cannes but did not deliver the box office or kudos back home in America. Now, 22 years later, Coppola and his team of incredible collaborators, including cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, and editor Walter Murch, have revisited and restored the film. This work, which re-incorporates some legendary deleted sequences (the Bunny Girl segment and the French plantation scenes which restored Aurore Clement's role in its entirety) has made Apocalypse Now Redux not just longer but - amazingly - an even better film than before. Confirming Frances Ford Coppola's status as a visionary film-making genius, Apocalypse Now Redux is a genuine masterpiece…” – Adrian Wootton, London Film Festival 2001

Beneath Clouds

Australia 2002, 88m

Director: Ivan Sen

Winner Best First Film, Berlin 2002

Race relations between whites and Aboriginals in contemporary Australia permeates every frame of "Beneath Clouds." This is a stylish road movie sure to be controversial at home, touching on themes of racial profiling by police and a general hostility toward minorities among the rural population. Yet this first feature from Aboriginal helmer Ivan Sen won't likely resonate worldwide the way it will Down Under. While high-profile sales are unlikely, pic could still perform well among audiences drawn to stories of disenfranchised young people and/or social injustice.

Tired of her single-parent Aboriginal upbringing in a flyspeck town in New South Wales, light-skinned and blue-eyed teenager Lena (Dannielle Hall) hops a bus toward Sydney and her Irish father.

Meanwhile, at a minimum-security prison further west, young indigenous pine forest laborer Vaughn (Damian Pitt), hardened and embittered by years of incarceration and prejudice, escapes the work gang. Thrown together in the middle of nowhere, the pair gradually learn over the course of 24 hours to embrace their differences, and each other, through a series of encounters with shop owners, passers-by, and, ultimately, a pair of aggressive white policemen.

Sen has a muscular and arresting visual style, at once leisurely and intricate, forged from numerous award-winning shorts and docus since 1994 ("Dust," "Wind," "Tears"). He uses complex multiangle setups to dramatize the droning whoosh of passing trucks and cars, and his feel for the life force of nature as it relates to character is reminiscent of Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven."

Yet the unofficial but pervasive mantle of First Aboriginal Feature Filmmaker -- a title at which Sen chafes -- is the source of the pic's main pre-release buzz at home. Still, anyone with Sen's obvious talent and social awareness could have made "Beneath Clouds"-- regardless of skin color.
By Eddie Cockrell (abridged)

Blind Spot – Hitler’s Secretary

Austria, 90 mins

Directed by Andre Heller, Othmar Schmiderer.

Breaking a five-decade silence, 81-year-old Traudl Junge (nee Hump) talks about her life in the corridors of Nazi power in "Blind Spot Hitler's Secretary." No-frills talking head docu eschews vintage photos and period footage, rendering visually static pic of greatest interest to history buffs, fests and the tube. Amazingly, Junge died in a Munich hospital on the night Feb. 10, a matter of hours after the Berlin Fest premiere.

In 1942, Junge was singled out from a large pool of applicants to become one of a trio of secretaries. She remembers "a pleasant boss and fatherly friend," but avows, "the older I get, the more guilt I feel" after transcribing the Fuehrer's last will from the bunker where he committed suicide. Junge comes up short on specific memories of key bunker details. Is this a lifetime of trauma manifesting itself or an act of chutzpah which strains credibility? (Pic coincides with publication of her German-lingo memoir, "To the Final Hour.") Whatever the motivation, Junge's story is a fascinating one. Tech credits are functional, with scenes showing Junge watching herself being interviewed, a la Mick Jagger in the Maysles' "Gimme Shelter." – Eddie Cockrell

Culture Jam

Canada 2001,58m

Director: Jill Sharpe

“Jill Sharpe’s smart, witty documentary follows the exploits of pranksters and artists who express their anti-corporate frustration, not with the violence that has marred worldwide protests, but with a slyer and arguably more subversive approach – culture jamming. From the large-scale mischief of the infamous Billboard Liberation Front to the grassroots protests of Grrlly Self-Publishing and The Church of Stop Shopping, these politically charged social critics voice their outrage in outrageous ways. This intelligent and always entertaining film chronicles an important moment in the evolution of consumer society – when people started talking back to the ads that surround them.” – Elan Mastai, Vancouver Film Festival 2001

Daughter from Danang

USA 2002, 80m

Directors: Gail Dolgin, Vicente Franco

Winner Best Documentary, Sundance 2002

“As the Vietnam War was ending in l975, thousands of Amerasian children were brought to safety in the U.S. as part of Operation Babylift. One of these was Mai Thi Hiep, who grew up Heidi Bub in Pulaski, Tennessee (the birthplace of the KKK). Heidi has grown up 10l% American and is referred to as ‘an American with a tan.’ She returns to Vietnam 22 years later to meet her Vietnamese family and the mother who gave her up when she was seven. Cultural differences and painful misunderstandings complicate the initially joyful reunion and result in an unexpected and heart-wrenching twist toward the end of Heidi's visit. This well-crafted and beautifully shot documentary by directors Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco won this year's Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.” – New Directors/New Films 2002


Iran 2001, 96m

Director: Abolfazl Jalili

“Jalili tackles the effects on Iran of the war in Afghanistan through episodes from the life of a teenage Afghan boy working in a truck stop just inside the Iranian border. Kaim is a refugee (father fighting for the Northern Alliance, mother dead in an air raid), as are many of those who come down the road; when he helps out the local cop, he finds himself threatened with deportation as an illegal immigrant. Working with (mostly wordless) vignettes of mechanical and human break-downs, Jalili builds up a surprisingly good-humoured picture of what it takes to survive in seemingly hopeless circumstances.” – Tony Rayns, Sight and Sound

First Kill

Netherlands, 2001

English Language


Director: Coco Schrijber

First Kill is a provocative documentary about war and the thin line between good and evil. The film is about the contradictory feelings that war evokes. Feelings such as fear and anger, but also seduction, fascination and excitement.

With FIRST KILL, director Coco Schrijber intends to confuse the viewer. In the documentary she creates an atmosphere which causes the viewer to lose his certainties and confront him with the ultimate question: Would I pull the trigger?

In FIRST KILL, various people talk about their experiences during the war. One of them is Michael Herr, former war-correspondent and author of the bestseller ‘Dispatches’, about the horror and attraction of war. He also wrote the script for Full Metal Jacket and he was involved in Apocalypse Now. For ten years, Herr refused to give any interviews because he was fed up with war, but in FIRST KILL he descends into his own dark experiences one more time.


USA 2001, 104m

Director: Neal Slavin

“Adapted from an Arthur Miller novel, Focus takes on a difficult subject many Americans either know little about or believe was swept under the rug long ago: the persecution of Jews in the United States during World War II. Lawrence is an introverted personnel manager who lives in a Brooklyn neighborhood that's growing increasingly anti-Semitic. His life perks up when he meets Gertrude Hart, until they find that, together, they're erroneously taken to be Jewish. Lawrence is neither righteous nor brave (witnessing a rape at the film's outset, he does nothing); after experiencing anti-Semitism firsthand, however, the couple are compelled to rethink their standards. Excellent performances by both William H. Macy and Laura Dern drive this impressive study in courage. A visceral visual quality – there's a subway scene, for example, that's like a Francis Bacon painting come to life – intensifies this eye-opening journey from personal anguish to moral outrage and awareness.” – K. Wolff, Mill Valley Film Festival 2001

Good Husband, Dear Son

Netherlands 2001, 50m

Director: Heddy Honigmann


“Life proceeds at a gentle pace in Ahatovici, a picturesque village in the green hills outside Sarajevo. But Ahatovici was far from quiet in 1992, when the Chetniks rounded up and murdered 80 percent of the men. Not a single house escaped the curse of death. Ten years later, the women carry on with the chores and rituals of the day-to-day, still weighted with grief. Dutch master Heddy Honigmann respectfully invites several widows to describe their beloved through the most basic yet profound touchstones. The dead men live on in pictures, of course, but also in their clothes and tools, and especially in the walls they plastered and the doorposts they built. They come to life through the heartbreaking words of their women. Ignoring the temptation to make a political or even an antiwar statement, Honigmann nobly chooses to humanize, eulogize and (given the nature of film) immortalize Refik, Eldin, Sead and the other victims.” – San Francisco Film Festival 2002

In a Land of Plenty

New Zealand 2002

Director/Screenplay/Research: Alister Barry

Photography/Editor: Shane Loader

Narration: Ian Johnstone

Sound mix: Mark Austin

112 minutes/Beta-SP

Alister Barry describes his new documentary In a Land of Plenty as ‘the story of unemployment in New Zealand,’ and it serves as a strong companion piece for Someone Else’s Country, his wildly popular history of the Rogernomics era. This time round, Barry is out to demonstrate how the mass unemployment of the 1980s was not an accident, but a deliberately planned strategy of the market reforms. Once again, Barry tells his story through the artfully chosen speeches and statements (by politicians and ordinary people alike) that he has patiently retrieved from the archives. A lot of this footage is priceless, capturing the endless capacity for self-delusion among the prophets of Rogernomics. Much of it would be hilarious, if the consequences were not so tragic – and Barry has edited it all into a powerful piece of history that

puts to shame the dreck that our channel bosses demand that television current affairs must all too often be in this country. — Gordon Campbell

Life and Debt

USA 2001, 86m

Director: Stephanie Black

“Stephanie Black's eye-opening documentary focuses on how the International Monetary Fund has devastated Jamaica's agriculture and industry, but it also powerfully illustrates what globalization has been doing to underdeveloped countries around the world. An ideal companion to No Logo, Naomi Klein's bible of the antiglobalization movement, the film shows in depressing detail how Jamaica's independence from British rule in the early 60s only ripened it for new kinds of exploitation, to the point where today it can no longer afford to use, much less develop, its own resources (unless one counts the tourist trade, which is shown in sarcastic counterpoint to the high interest rates crippling the local economy). The narration, derived by Jamaica Kincaid from her 1988 book A Small Place and read by Belinda Becker, alternates with interviewees ranging from former prime minister Michael Manley to IMF deputy director Stanley Fischer; under it all one hears a generous sampling of Jamaican music from Belafonte to Marley to Buju Banton and Anthony B.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader


USA 2000, 115m

Director: Raoul Peck

“Raoul Peck’s vital melodrama about the tragically abbreviated life of Patrice Lumumba opens graphically with his brutal murder, then circles back to the same event, with Lumumba telling, from the grave, the story of his scant two months as first prime minister of a Congo that, in 1960, was newly liberated from more than a half-century of Belgian rule. As Peck tells it, the ardent African nationalist, who’s played with febrile verve by Eriq Ebouaney, was no saint: A former beer salesman, the ambitious Lumumba could work a crowd with Clintonesque ingratiation. He was also a pragmatically canny statesman and a radical idealist with charisma and principles to burn – neither of which was enough to save him from being fatally trapped between the machinations of the country’s former Belgian rulers, enthusiastically abetted by the CIA, and a nation crippled by tribal factionalism. Peck, who assayed Lumumba’s life in a 1991 documentary, now paces the doomed man’s story like the genuine thriller it is, with one crisis hurtling after another, heightened by hauntingly brief moments of peace. Saddled with an inept and passive president, Lumumba was unable to weather the betrayals that came at him from every side. His was a prophetic African tragedy: As the movie closes, his former friend, the tinpot dictator Joseph Mobutu (Alex Descas), takes office and pronounces Lumumba a national hero, even as Belgian thugs are making sure that not a trace of their country’s first and last hope remains.” – Ella Taylor, Los Angeles Weekly

The Navigators

UK 2001, 96m

Director: Ken Loach

At the start of this new film by Ken Loach (My Name is Joe) management read a “Mission Statement” foreshadowing the many changes that privatisation will bring for a Brit Rail line maintenance crew. The men, most of whom have worked together for years, give the suits the hard time they deserve. Several of the cast members are stand-up comics from England's Northern club circuit and this is classic Loach: rude, hilarious, buoyant with the bantering wit of his characters – and utterly political. It’s 1995 and the scene captures the last high point of their camaraderie: The Navigators (long for “navvies”) movingly dramatises the continuing impact of economic “rationalism” on these men and their families – and, with typical forthrightness – on the safety of Britain’s rail transport. “Supremely entertaining and affecting. The confrontations at the workplace find sharp human drama in abstract, sometimes complex issues…. Like all the most challenging art, the film takes a very specific story and setting and uncovers universal meaning within it.” – Sheila Johnston, Moving Pictures

The New Country

Sweden 2000, 137m

Director: Geir Hansteen Jörgensen

“Facing deportation, two refugees from an asylum camp in southern Sweden - Ali, a young Somalian boy, and Massoud, a fortyish Iranian man - escape in an old car and embark on a journey through the country they hope will be their new homeland. At their first stop, enthusiastic Swedophile Ali falls in love with Louise, "Miss Sweden" of not exactly yesterday, and the unlikely threesome find themselves involved in at times hilarious, at times chilling, interactions with an assortment of types they meet along the way. In Geir Hansteen Jörgensen's clever satire of the proverbial land of milk and honey, the theme of friendship becomes the major focus as the exquisitely realized characters reveal themselves.” – New Directors/New Films 2002

Secret Ballot

Iran 2001, 105m

Director: Babak Payami

Winner Best Director, Venice 2001

“The Iranian election process gets a working over in this comedy from newcomer Babak Payami. Taking place in a rural coastal area against a backdrop of sea, sand and deep blue sky – a setting as stark as it is stunning – the story initially focuses on the personality clashes between a young woman (Nassim Abdi) in charge of collecting votes on election day and the local soldier (Cyrus Abdi, giving a brilliantly thickheaded performance) assigned to help her out. Plenty of farcical moments ensue as the soldier’s old-fashioned chauvinism collides repeatedly with the election official’s almost hyperactive political idealism. As the story unfolds, Payami also allows us a fascinating look at day-to-day life in rural Iran. Some details are beautifully absurd: The soldier’s home base, for instance, is a rickety bunk bed on a lonely beach, and he’s entirely unfazed by the sand whipping his face through his clunky jeep’s lack of a windshield. At the same time Payami shows us rural life at its richest, from age-old farms to longstanding traditions surrounding both funerals and childbirth. Scenes unravel at a deliberately unhurried pace, and by film’s end we’re left with a complex vision of a culture still in development but facing the future with a bit more understanding.” – San Francisco Film Festival 2002

Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town

USA 2001, 56m

Director: Micha Peled

“Some facts: Wal-Mart is the biggest corporation in the USA, employing nearly one million people, most of whom don't make more than $250.00 per week. On average a new Wal-Mart opens every two days. By 2004 Wal-Mart is aiming to open a new store every single day. There are more than 300 abandoned Wal-Marts in the States. Why? Because Wal-Mart saturates an area, drives all competition away, and then, when it is only competing with itself, closes the least profitable branches... These are just some of the facts brought to light in Micha Peled's lucid, balanced and quietly powerful look at what happens to the people of Ashland, Virginia, when Wal-Mart wants to move into their small, historic town. If you think democracy still has a place on the global corporate landscape, Store Wars might change your mind... Golden Gate Award winner, San Francisco 01.” – Vancouver Film Festival

Taking Sides

Germany 2001, 109m

Director: István Szabó

“Master filmmaker István Szabó turns again to the Second World War for his subject matter, producing a film that, like its predecessor Sunshine, is both deeply moving and dramatically effective. Wilhelm Furtwängler was a controversial figure. One of the most spectacular and renowned conductors of the thirties, his reputation rivalled that of Toscanini’s. As music director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, he held a position of immense stature in the cultural life of Germany. When Hitler came to power, Furtwängler stayed on. While he attempted to avoid any association with the Nazi regime, it became increasingly difficult for him to maintain this distance. After the war, he was investigated as part of the Allies’ de-Nazification programme…

“The film’s intense power centres around a series of interviews and cross-examinations which Arnold conducts with Furtwängler in his office. Keitel and Skarsgård parry and respond, two cultures meeting in the post-war chaos where one hides behind his art and the other attacks the naiveté of this position. The two actors are simply magnificent, the script is hypnotically compelling, and the film examines with great subtlety the different moral and ethical positions taken by victor and vanquished.” – Toronto Film Festival 2001

Tirana Year Zero

Albania/France/Belgium 2001, 89m

Director: Fatmir Koçi

“Niku is 23 and struggling to survive and prosper in the chaos that is contemporary Albania. Everyone else, it seems, wants to leave - his girlfriend Klara wants to go to Paris, and his neighbor gets herself married to an Italian. Niku uses the only asset he has - a pickup truck - to make a living. The odd jobs he takes on are odd indeed: a German tourist who has bought a bunker as a war souvenir wants to transport it home; Niku has to move an enormous statue of Stalin. Random shootings seem the order of the day. But the spirit of his neighbors gives Niku optimism, puts things in perspective, and sharpens the "should I stay or should I go" dilemma of a generation. Drawing on the country's cultural wealth and beautiful landscapes and the dry humor of its people, Fatmir Koçi, directing his second feature, paints an affectionate, surreal, and comic portrait of his homeland.” – New Directors/New Films 2002

The Tunnel

Germany 2000, 156m

Director: Roland Suso Richter

“A gripping adventure film with a nerve-racking ending, The Tunnel is the incredible, true story of a handful of Germans who banded together to help their loved ones escape under the Berlin Wall. In 1961, when the Wall was being built, championship swimmer Harry Melchior (Heino Ferch) promises his sister Lotte (Alexandra Maria Lara) that if he manages to cross Checkpoint Charlie safely he will come back and save her. Once in West Germany, Harry convinces a group of friends to construct an underground passageway 145 meters long and seven meters deep beneath the impenetrable Wall. As the rescuers spend nearly a year digging, they are besieged with setbacks such as cave-ins and bursting pipes, as well as spies infiltrating their elaborate network of East German contacts. Will the rescue mission succeed? The answer is absolutely heart-stopping. An intense and tremendously entertaining film, The Tunnel features brilliant central performances by Ferch and Nicolette Krebitz as Fritzi, the sole female digger. While there are several devastating scenes illustrating how the Wall destroyed lives, The Tunnel is ultimately a powerful and extremely rewarding movie-going experience.” – Gary Kramer, Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema 2002

Two Towns of Jasper

USA, 2002, 91mins

Directors: Whitney Dow, Marco Williams

In 1998, in one of most horrific, racially-motivated crimes in recent American history, James Byrd Jr., a middle-aged African-American man living in Jasper, Texas was chained to the back of a car and dragged to his death by three young white men who were later discovered to have links to the white supremacist movement. In a unique cinematic experiment, directors Marco Williams and Whitney Dow hired two crews - one black and one white - to document the response of Jasper's black and white communities. Following the townspeople over the course of three consecutive murder trials, Williams and Dow use their segregated lens to reveal how fear, ignorance and mistrust continue to inform American race relations, several decades after the Civil Rights movement. At once shocking and compassionate, Two Towns of Jasper gets under the skin of its subjects - all regular folk living on opposite sides of the racial divide - painting a powerful portrait of a society severed by racism and intolerance, but looking for answers. Karen Tisch.

War and Peace

India 2001, 180m

Director: Anand Patwardhan

“Anand Patwardhan's impressive and impassioned documentary digs beneath the patriotic fervor that followed the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan in 1998, revealing the essentially political nature of nuclear proliferation and the divisions in Indian society it both cloaks and fosters. A wide-ranging look at the issue of nuclear nationalism, the film features extensive news footage and a well-rounded series of interviews with government officials, nuclear scientists, pro- and antinuclear activists, and ordinary citizens, including the poor who suffer without recourse the brunt of nuclear testing and uranium mining. (‘The government is like a mother,’ one old man says, shrugging. ‘If the mother decides to feed poison to her child, what is the child to do?’) In their promotion of nuclear weaponry, the logic of international prestige and the global arms trade suffuse the very concept of security with Orwellian irony. At the same time, the film moves beyond India's borders to Pakistan, Japan, and the United States to understand efforts to transcend nuclear world politics by building an international movement for peace.” – Robert Avila, San Francisco Bay Guardian

War Photographer

Switzerland 2001, 96m

Director: Christian Frei

“As a portrait of the quiet, unflappable and moral professional photographer with an eye for the right image at the right time, War Photographer has no peer. Director Christian Frei refuses to take on faith that American wartime lenser James Nachtwey is the world’s most fearless photojournalist: Instead, he accompanies Nachtwey on several, sometimes hair-raising, assignments that show the man’s brilliance, his cool under fire and his remarkable sensitivity toward his subjects. An instant classic of its kind…

“Frei’s masterstroke is immediately apparent, as he has a micro-camera attached to Nachtwey’s 35 mm camera body. It allows us to see Nachtwey from a bug’s p.o.v., if that bug were clinging to his camera and watching the lenser’s every subtle move. More than a mere device, this is a completely fresh way of capturing a photographer going about his work… His daredevil work during the worst tensions in South Africa, along with his unprecedented coverage of several African civil wars and genocidal events (the Rwandan catastrophe is highlighted here) sealed his reputation in the '80s and '90s as the dean of war photographers.

“Nachtwey is openly idealistic, but his eyes betray a slightly worn weariness that's emotionally felt by the viewer after witnessing some of what Nachtwey has experienced. During a gallery show of Nachtwey's finest work over the years, his screenwriter friend Denis O'Neill wisely notes that ‘there are no old combat photographers,’ leaving open the question of how much longer Nachtwey can keep going.” – Robert Koehler, Variety

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