We asked filmmakers to choose a favourite from the Film Festival lineup and also tell us about their own films in the festival. In this second instalment of the series, Florian Habicht explains his scary movie with ‘more heart than horror’, Nic Gorman ties his sub-Antarctic thriller to the dystopian Russian classic Stalker and Simon Ogston makes the case for fearless artistry.
Spookers director Florian Habicht recommends The Inland Road
July is one of my favourite times of year, and we are so lucky to have such a fantastic festival. Sitting under the Civic stars really makes me happy. The Spookers’ closing credits were even influenced by the Civic, so if you’re watching the film, watch the credits right to the end and make a wish!
I’m very excited about our New Zealand premiere, as the entire Spookers cast will be at the Civic in character and costume. Maybe we can do a curtain call after the film, take a bow and sing a song.
I’m also excited about The Inland Road by Jackie Van Beek. The young lead actress Gloria Popata is a new star of New Zealand cinema – you can find her on YouTube singing ‘Purple Rain’ at the film’s recent premiere in Berlin. I’m also eager to see the German/French film Frantz. It’s a love story in stunning black and white.
Something more about Spookers. I tried really hard not to make the film as I was in the middle of writing a script that’s very dear to me, inspired by the late and great Warwick Broadhead. I was planning to shoot it last year. But Madman production company called me out of the blue, to see if I was up for a film about Spookers. Suzanne Walker from Madman dreamed up the idea to make a documentary about the haunted attraction. I wanted to say no but I agreed to go to Spookers and shoot a test. I’d never been there and this was the only way I would know for sure, so I could say no without regrets.
But when I arrived and saw all the performers getting into their makeup and costumes, I fell in love. They come up with their own characters and do their own makeup and prosthetics – I was blown away by their creativity and curious about what goes on behind the masks. The energy of the place felt intense and once I learned Spookers takes place in an old psychiatric hospital, I knew I couldn’t say no.
I got to make the film my own. Lani-rain Feltham from Junkyard Universe was the New Zealand producer and we had a lot of fun. Spookers is a documentary with more heart than horror in it – you meet and get to know some of the most beautiful New Zealanders. It’s a real whanau and maybe it’s similar to my doco Kaikohe Demolition. The Civic premiere is on Saturday night and it should be quite an event – I hope to see you there!
Spookers: July 22, 23 (all dates are for Auckland screenings; other centres follow).
The Inland Road: July 25; August 3.
Human Traces director Nic Gorman recommends Stalker
I’m going to talk about a film I have seen a number of times but never on a big screen, and one that was a key visual influence on my own film, Human Traces. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker is one of the greatest films ever made, a densely metaphysical Russian sci-fi road movie epic about three men, one of whom is known as the Stalker, who enter The Zone, a deserted industrial wasteland which supposedly contains a room (sorry, A Room) that has the ability to fulfill any occupant’s inner-most desire.
Stalker has a very deliberate and unusual pace. Tarkovsky has described his aesthetic approach like this: “If the regular length of a shot is increased, one becomes bored, but if you keep on making it longer, it piques your interest, and if you make it even longer, a new quality emerges, a special intensity of attention.” He’s right. Time moves in such an unusual way in this film. Watching Stalker is like undergoing a strange and immersive ritual. You don’t get that with Marvel.
In Human Traces the characters are trying to return a once-inhabited sub-Antarctic island to a ‘natural’, pre-human state by getting rid of all non-native biota and the traces left behind by the previous occupants. The island is a very important character in the film. I always conceived of it as being similar to The Zone, not in a metaphysical way per se, but in the sense of a location reclaiming itself and starting to expel the humanity forced upon it.
Our island is called Perseverance Island, lying deep in the Southern Ocean. There’s an old hut set on the shoreline with a temporary scientific lab built next door, a couple of rusting sheds and an old World War II bunker on the other side. It’s a fictional island that uses geographical and historical elements of three real sub-Antarctic islands: Auckland, Campbell and Macquarie Islands.
There’s a real verdant, overgrown, elemental quality to these places. When I was researching them, reading and looking at images in the National Library, Stalker came to mind. People even tried to establish a functioning settlement on Auckland Island at one point but it became so hellish they abandoned it. The livestock became wild and there are still other remnants of human habitation – old stoves, foundations, rusting hulks. This became a key idea in making the film, this idea of permanence, what we leave behind, how our touch ripples on years after we are gone.
The music in Stalker feels organic, almost diegetic, like it came sourced from the Zone itself. Tarkovsky said about his use of music, “The aim was to produce a sound, close to that of an earthly echo, filled with poetic suggestion – to rustling, to sighing.” Stephen Gallagher, the composer for Human Traces, and I referenced this a lot when working on our score. That’s how we wanted it to feel – elemental, like an “earthly echo”. There are some oscillating synths, primal strings and wind instruments, sounds and objects that we imagined coming from the bottom of the world.
An odd thing about Stalker is that Tarkovsky shot most of it twice. He shot for a year and filmed all the exteriors in Estonia before he realised his footage had been developed incorrectly. I can’t begin to imagine how heartbreaking that must have been. He fired his cinematographer and started the whole thing over. In the end it killed him. While they were filming in the foamy and polluted waters in the place they had located The Zone, much of the crew became exposed to toxins in the water from the factory upstream. Tarkovsky died of cancer a few years later, as did his wife Larissa and Anatoly Solonitsyn, who played the writer.
More Film Festival picks from filmmakers Paul Wolffram (What Lies That Way), Katie Wolfe (Waru) and Robin Greenberg (Team Tibet)
The film has a very strange power. Perhaps the best way to describe it is ‘uncanny’. There’s something familiar about it – we recognise the genre, and the story – but everything is given to us in such an alien way. Dreamlike is the wrong descriptor but there is something mythic about the effect it has on the viewer. It’s so weirdly prophetic about the Chernobyl disaster, for example. The power of prescience, the influence of death, the impermanence of art. Stalker is a film that gets deeper and richer every time you see it. See it at this year’s festival, let it grow into you like a tendril.
Stalker: July 22, 24, 29.
Human Traces: August 5, 6.
Bill Direen director Simon Ogston recommends Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad was cool, used-to-hang-with-The-Velvet-Underground cool. Cool as fuck cool. A Harvard mathematics graduate when he moved to New York in the early 1960s, Conrad quickly became a key figure in its avant-garde art scene. There he made music with people like La Monte Young and John Cale, and non-narrative films that mesmerised with their hypnotic rhythms of flickering light. A serious but unpretentious artist, Conrad continued to challenge and delight audiences right up until his death last year, aged 76.
In 1997 Conrad came to New Zealand and I went to his show at Christchurch’s much-missed Lumiere. He never revealed himself, preferring to appear as a silhouette projected on to a sheet while he created a sustained drone on his violin. The music and stark imagery accompanied one of his beautiful films to create an experience I have never forgotten. That same year, Tyler Hubby began filming what would eventually become his new documentary, Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present. Twenty years ago! Time flies, as I’m sure Hubby would attest.
I took a different approach to my own portrait-of-an-artist documentary Bill Direen: A Memory of Others. We shot the film in three weeks while driving from the Otago town of Middlemarch to Auckland, as Direen performed with a wide range of collaborators and paid tribute to Kiwi cultural icons such as Janet Frame, James K. Baxter and Douglas Lilburn. Like Conrad and Direen himself, these were individuals with a sense of curiosity and playfulness, a sustained commitment to craft and a willingness to take artistic risks. They helped shape our collective consciousness and made the world a more interesting place. I think we should all try to take every opportunity to experience their work and draw inspiration for our own, whatever that may be.
Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present: July 22, 24, 26; August 3.
Bill Direen: A Memory of Others: August 4, 5.
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