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NZ International Film Festival: Documentary Picks

Jul 11, 2015 Film & TV

Documentaries that take you inside the world of some extraordinary individuals.


Camilla Nielsson, the Danish director of the outstanding Democrats, somehow gained — and held onto — unparalleled access to the parliamentary select committee charged with drafting Zimbabwe’s new constitution. It’s a subject as policy wonkish as they come, but the well-paced, riveting result is in equal parts frustratingly tragic and unexpectedly funny as the months-long process stretches into years.

Australian director Jennifer Peedom’s astoundingly beautiful film Sherpa began as an insight into the Nepalese ethnic group synonymous with mountain climbing. Sherpas scale heights for spiritual reasons rather than athletic achievement, but there’s money involved, too. Following an unimaginable tragedy, the story turns into a major industrial dispute at high altitude, with New Zealand mountaineer Russell Brice a somewhat misguided negotiator. Renan Ozturk’s heart-stopping cinematography keeps “Goddess Mother of Mountains” Chomolungma (Mt Everest) always in view, and the recent Nepalese earthquakes pile on many complicated emotional layers for the viewer.

Putting a fresh, elegant spin on the tired old talking-heads format, Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber’s Peace Officer carefully deconstructs the increasing use of military-style tactics by US police officers, as a man tries to make sense of his son-in-law’s death at police hands. The father-in-law also happens to be a retired sheriff who trained his state’s first SWAT team — the same team that later killed his son-in-law.

As haphazard and bonkers as the frenzy the artist himself creates, Banksy Does New York documents English street artist Banksy’s October 2013 reign over the streets of New York City. Using found, gathered, begged and borrowed footage, the film follows “Banksy Hunters”, bemused journalists and opportunist locals, in a hunt not just for Banksy, but for the meaning of art. Again.

Iris will undoubtedly be the best-accessorised screening in the festival. The most recent in a lovely trend of documenting excellent older people, Iris follows nonagenarian American style icon Iris Apfel on her various bargain-hunting fashion adventures. We also get to meet her husband, Carl, who turns 100 during the film and sports some marvellous trousers. Alas, Iris and Carl outlived the film’s director: Albert Maysles, RIP.


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