George MacKay stars in True History of the Kelly Gang, one of the films that can be seen online and in a selection of cinemas in this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival.
For Waikato cinephiles, the annual advent of the International Film Festival makes for an exciting month of eye-opening, mind-expanding culture.
But not this year.
The festival, which usually brings at least 50 news films to Hamilton, is conspicuously absent from the screening calendar of its regular host, the Lido Cinema in the Centre Place shopping mall.
The Lido’s owner Richard Dalton, who also runs the Lido Auckland, said his theatres had “opted out” of this year’s festival because – in a decision compelled by the Coronavirus lockdown – the programme of films would be available online, as well as in cinemas.
Organisers are touting the 2020 iteration as a “hybrid” festival, due to the dual mediums in which this year’s films will be presented.
Some cinemas in other centres including Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington and even Gore were still screening a selection of films in Whānau Mārama, as the festival had now been branded.
But that undid the special nature of the event, as well as any advantage for hosting a festival in the first place, Dalton said.
Cinemas needed to have a gap of at least six months before the films they screened were released on DVD or on streaming services, otherwise people would have little incentive to go and see them in the theatres.
Dalton said festival organisers had probably made a premature move to concentrate on streaming this year’s films online – a decision made when it appeared the Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing could have lasted for a much longer time in New Zealand.
“Naturally I would much rather people came to the cinema and watched the films there.
“I love the festival, but there are good films being released throughout the year. You don’t have to wait until there is a festival on. You can go to the Lido and watch a really good film at any time.”
Dalton said there was no bad blood between his cinemas and the festival organisers and he was looking forward to getting back to business as usual next year.
“They understand our situation. We understand their situation. Next year life will return to normal and we will get back into it, all guns blazing.”
Festival communications and marketing manager Sally Woodfield said Hamiltonians were not actually missing out on the festival because all 79 feature films and seven short film collections could be viewed online.
Festival organisers were “totally committed” to returning to the Lido and other cinemas in 2021, she said.
“Hybrid” versions of the Venice, Toronto and Locarno film festivals would also be staged over the coming months, and other major festivals such as Cannes had been scrapped outright thanks to the pandemic.
Among the highlights of this year’s festival were True History of the Kelly Gang, a postmodernist version of the tale of the legendary Australian outlaw; The County, a black comedy about dairy farmers in Iceland; and the documentary Steelers: The World’s First Gay Rugby Club.
There is also Japanese auteur Kore-eda Hirokazu’s new film The Truth, a powerful family drama that featured acclaimed actresses Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche; and Australian director Peter Weir’s acclaimed 1977 doomsday thriller The Last Wave.
The festival begins on July 24 and runs until August 3. The full selection of films and details on how and when they can be viewed can be found at nziff.co.nz.