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First Films And New Festival Strands Announced For Whānau Mārama New Zealand International Film Festival 2024

A still from Never Look Away. Photo:Supplied.

The new film by an Academy Award-winning director, a Best International Feature Academy Award nominee, a widely acclaimed teen-vampire horror-comedy, an immersive journey into the work of a music legend, an Iranian meditation on love, loss and loneliness, and a portrait of a ground-breaking CNN camerawoman from Te Tairāwhiti are among the first announced films set to delight Kiwi audiences at this year’s Whānau Mārama New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF) when it screens around the country this winter.

NZIFF 2024 Artistic Director Paolo Bertolin says, "A film festival is a space for encounter and dialogue. The communal experience of watching a film in a theatre brings together bodies and minds, sparking a conversation between the works of filmmakers and their audiences. Curating the programme of an international film festival does not simply mean choosing the best films available across the world at that time, it is a mission in facilitating a meeting between a film and its audience, providing opportunities for discovery, entertainment, and reflection. It is an equally exciting and challenging task.”

The 2024 NZIFF programme is made up of 10 strands, or sections. This structure provides audiences with clear insight of the cinematic experiences they can expect and of the artistic identity of the selected films. While the full programme will be revealed in July, a flagship title has been released today for each section.

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Māhutonga: Illuminating the pathway to the storytellers from Aotearoa is our constellation of Māhutonga - lighting up the Southern Skies via the Southern Cross.

Never Look Away (directed by Lucy Lawless, New Zealand)
Presented in association with NewstalkZB

Fresh: First narrative features from brand new voices of international cinema.

Brief History of a Family (directed by Lin Jianjie,China)

Frames: Works that explore and expand the language of documentary filmmaking.

The Speedway Murders (directed by Luke Rynderman and Adam Kamien, Australia)

Portraits: Character-driven narrative and documentary films that draw us into the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people.

My Favourite Cake (directed by Behtash Sanaeeha, Maryam Moghadam, Iran)

Widescreen: Narrative and documentary films that provide snapshots from diverse realities from across the globe.

The Teachers’ Lounge (directed by Ilker Çatak, Germany)
Presented in association with Goethe Institut

Nocturnal: An evening strand devoted to irreverent genre and out-of-the-box films.

Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person(directed by Ariane Louis-Seize, Canada)

Rhythms: Narrative and documentary films centered around music and its forms.

In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon (directed by Alex Gibney, USA)

Presented in association with Coast

Visions: Works showcasing the distinct cinematic style of revered masters and emerging talents.

Evil Does Not Exist (directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan)

Journeys: Presenting films from specific countries or regions, beginning in The Himalayas.

The Monk and the Gun (directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji, Bhutan)

Treasures: A section of hand-picked classics and recently restored films.

Days of Heaven (directed by Terrence Malick, USA)

New this year are two competitive sections, the Fresh and Frames competitions. The winning films in both sections will be determined by votes from Wellington and Auckland audiences. All audience members participating in the ballot will have the chance to enter a draw and win yearly subscriptions to Wellington Film Society or Auckland Film Society.

Joining Artistic Director Paolo Bertolin in programming the 2024 festival is long-standing Head of Programming Michael McDonnell, co-curators of Ngā Whanaunga Māori Pasifika Shorts Leo Koziol and Craig Fasi, and two newly appointedJunior Programmers, Huia Haupapa and Amanda Jane Robinson. Both Haupapa and Robinson hail from the ranks of the core delivery team of the festival, as they also work as Marketing Leads in Wellington and Auckland respectively.

“I am grateful to work with Michael, a pillar in the NZIFF team who has a wealth of knowledge about films, and look forward to working with Leo and Craig who similarly bring a lot of wisdom and experience. Huia and Amanda’s contribution to the programming team is of extreme value, too, as they aptly emphasise the connections between the artistic value of films and their impact on audiences,” says Bertolin. “As I take on the position of Artistic Director for Whānau Mārama New Zealand International Film Festival 2024, I envision the festival as an important component in the ecosystem of Aotearoa filmmaking. It should provide an essential nexus between filmmakers and professionals and their audiences, offering a platform to amplify the impact of both contemporary and historical New Zealand cinema.”

NZIFF 2024 opens in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington on 31 July before screening in nine other centres around the motu throughout August and until 4 September.

NZIFF 2024 will screen at The Embassy, Roxy Cinema and Light House Cinema Cuba in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington (31 July – 11 August), The Civic, Hollywood Avondale and ASB Auckland Waterfront Theatre in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland (7 – 18 August), The Regent Theatre in Ōtepoti Dunedin (14 – 25 August), State Cinemas in Whakatū Nelson (14 – 25 August), Lumière Cinemas in Ōtautahi Christchurch (15 August – 1 September), Luxe Cinemas in Tauranga Moana (15 – 28 August), MTG Century Theatre in Ahuriri Napier (21 August – 1 September), LIDO Cinema in Kirikiriroa Hamilton (21 August – 4 September), Len Lye Cinema in Ngāmotu New Plymouth (21 August – 4 September), and Regent 3 in Whakaoriori Masterton (21 August – 4 September).


Never Look Away, directed by Lucy Lawless – Aotearoa New Zealand, 2024

Courtesy of Transmission Films

New Zealand-born CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth walks on the razor’s edge between sanity and death. Her first assignment with CNN is to cover the riots that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination in India. She goes on to cover conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and the Bosnian war. In vivid, emotional detail, we see what Moth saw and how she in turn changed what we, the television viewer, saw. A rollicking ride through sex, drugs and war, Never Look Away is war from a female perspective, as you’ve never seen it before.

Presented in association with NewstalkZB.

Brief History of a Family / Jia ting jian shi, directed by Lin Jianjie – China, 2024  

Courtesy of Films Boutique

Equally mysterious and revealing, Lin Jianjie’s debut feature provides a dispassionate, almost analytical look into the dynamics of estranged family relations in contemporary China. Drawing inspiration from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Theorem (1968), the surreal tale of a stranger seducing every member of one family, the director dissects the unspoken and unacknowledged dissolution of a bourgeois household, as an inconspicuous intruder integrates himself among its members and reawakens their suppressed individualities. Lin observes his characters with a detached, almost scientific look, as if they were framed through the lens of a microscope. The result is a quietly thrilling investigation into the pretence undermining the pillars of a society.

The Speedway Murders, directed by Luke Rynderman and Adam Kamien – Australia 2023 

Courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

On November 17, 1978, four young employees of Indianapolis fast food chain Burger Chef went missing after closing up for the night. Two days later, their bodies were found in rural Johnson County, around 32 kilometres away. The case remains unsolved to this day. Gripping and visually stunning, The Speedway Murders is remarkable not only for its stylistic choices and investigation of an intriguing case, but also the rare accomplishment of effectively and respectfully honouring victims and their families. Presented with deep care and authenticity, right down to the real 1970s Burger Chef uniforms, this is an incredibly impressive debut from Australian directors Luke Rynderman and Adam Kamien. 

My Favourite Cake / Keyke Mahboobe Man, directed by Behtash Sanaeeha, Maryam Moghadam – Iran, 2024

Courtesy of Vendetta Films

Seventy-year-old Mahin has been living alone in Tehran since her husband died and her daughter left for Europe. One afternoon, tea with friends leads her to break her solitary routine and revitalise her love life. As Mahin opens herself up to a new romance, what begins as a surprise encounter evolves into an unpredictable, unforgettable evening. A huge hit with critics and audiences alike at the 2024 Berlinale, My Favourite Cake is an endearing portrayal of a woman who gives herself a second chance at life and love – and is faced with unexpected consequences. Co-directors Sanaeeha and Moghadan deftly deliver social criticism with a story that is equally charming and touching.

The Teachers’ Lounge / Das Lehrerzimmer, directed by Ilker Çatak – Germany, 2023

Courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Carla Nowak, a dedicated PE and maths teacher, starts her first job at a high school. She stands out among the new staff because of her idealism. When a series of thefts occur at the school and one of her students is identified as a suspect, she decides to get to the bottom of the matter on her own. Carla tries to mediate between outraged parents, opinionated colleagues and aggressive students, but is relentlessly confronted with the structures of the school system. The more desperately she tries to do everything right, the more the young teacher threatens to break.

Presented in association with Goethe Institut. 

Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person | Vampire humaniste cherche suicidaireconsentant, directed by Ariane Louis-Seize – Canada, 2023

Courtesy of Pivot Pictures

Sasha is a young vampire with a serious problem: she’s too sensitive to kill! When her exasperated parents cut off her blood supply, Sasha’s life is in jeopardy. Luckily, she meets Paul, a lonely teenager who is willing to give his life to save hers. But their friendly agreement soon becomes a nocturnal quest to fulfil Paul’s last wishes before day breaks. Winner of a swathe of awards including the highly coveted 2023 Venice Film Festival Director Award, Ariane Louis-Seize’s stylish, sweet teen romantasy is destined to win countless bloodsucking hearts with its many darkly tinged delights.

Presented in association with Phantom Billstickers.

In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon, directed by Alex Gibney – USA, 2023

Courtesy of Madman Entertainment.

In Restless Dreams is the definitive musical biography of Paul Simon, one of the greatest songwriters and performers in the history of rock 'n' roll. Granted unprecedented access to the making of a new album, Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, NZIFF 2015) also reveals never-before-seen footage of Simon’s extraordinary career, from Simon & Garfunkel to the phenomenal global success of Simon’s solo album Graceland, plus glimpses of his personal life that has included a brief marriage to Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher, and a long and enduring one to Texan singer Edie Brickell.

Presented in association with Coast.

Evil Does Not Exist /  , directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi – Japan, 2023

Courtesy of Hi Gloss Entertainment

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s follow-up to the award-winning Drive My Car (NZIFF 2022) is a profound eco-parable that takes place in the outskirts of Tokyo. In a tiny village, deep in the forest, single father Takumi and his eight-year-old daughter Hana live a simple life, surrounded by pristine lakes, mountains, and roaming deer. The serenity is interrupted when an urban development company visits with a proposal – one that will threaten the region’s delicate ecological balance and irrevocably change the lives of its inhabitants. With a staggering finale that will spark debate long after the credits roll, Evil Does Not Exist is a thought-provoking masterpiece about the delicate balance between humanity and nature.

The Monk and the Gun, directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji – Bhutan/France/USA/Taiwan, 2023

Courtesy of Rialto Distribution

When young monk Tashi’s lama (Buddhist master) asks him to procure a pair of guns in advance of their country’s first mock election – to “set it right”, whatever that means – he doesn’t ask questions, he simply strolls off into the unspoiled countryside towards neighbouring Ura village. One problem: Tashi has never seen a gun before! Sporting a premise that could lead to tragedy, tomfoolery, or transcendence, Pawo Choyning Dorji’s The Monk and the Gun keeps you guessing, with a cheeky half-smile at the corner of its cinematic mouth.

Days of Heaven, directed by Terrence Malick – USA, 1978

Courtesy of Park Circus

Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, the wispy tale of a doomed love triangle on the Texas prairie before World War I, is a visual astonishment of the highest order. Bill has gotten into a fight which ends with the killing of a steel mill foreman. On the run with his lover, Abby, and his younger sister Linda, the three take up seasonal work for a farmer who falls for Abby, kicking off a tragic chain of events that will alter the course of their lives. Arriving within the “New Hollywood” era, Days of Heaven reflects the subversive ideas of the time – a grand melodrama sans-soapiness, opting instead for visual lyricism and elegiac, haunting majesty.

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