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Three gems at the International Film Festival

New Zealand International Film Festival
Auckland
July 8-25; other centres follow

This year’s international film festival has a host of documentaries, including The Peddler, about an itinerant filmmaker, the Russian Arctic drama How I Ended This Summer and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

The Peddler
Directors: Eduoardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano, Adriana Yurcovich

Not many people seem to have heard of Daniel Burmeister, even though he has made around 60 feature films.

It’s probably because he makes his films in rural Argentine villages using the locals to act in his films and one of the half dozen scripts he has available.

This tradition of itinerant film makers goes back more than a century with little local films having been made throughout Europe, the US and even New Zealand in the 1920s and 1930s.

He is the producer, director, script writer, editor marketing manager and projectionist. He even makes his own props. His financial return comes at the end when he charges the locals to see the film; they can also buy a DVD.

In The Peddler we watch as he arrives in the little town of Benjamin Gould, talks to the mayor about a new film project, gets some free accommodation and free access to the local grocery store.

He has auditions in the local hall and starts to get his actors together, including the local taxi driver. He drives to a nearby town where he has previously filmed to see if he can borrow a fire engine as Benjamin Gould doesn’t have one.

He puts together a film which is short on production values, is full of amateur acting, and poor continuity – but the locals love it.

While he makes the films as his occupation and passion they actually provide the small settlements with a sense of local pride and some social cohesion


How I Ended This Summer 
Director/screenplay: Alexei Popogrebsky

Like a number of Russian novels, this is a long slow film with an almost ethereal feel to it, made even more so by the sparse Beckettian-like dialogue..

Gulybin and Danilov are two men working in the Russian Arctic wastes taking meteorological and radioactivity readings. Their bored and constrained lives are relieved by the occasional spat, their regular radio communications with base and boat trips to catch fish.

The imposing Arctic panorama is blighted by the junk of human habitation – oil drums, rubbish and radioactive material, all vestiges of previous occupation.

These images are symbolic of the relationship between the two men, which is also hostile and caustic. The couple of major events that occur are not mentioned by the pair, who try to maintain their personal distance, thought their relationship is soured by their inability to communicate their emotions.

Their environment consists of dark, claustrophobic cabins as well as the wide-open icy wastes, which the older Gulybin is completely at one with while Danilov finds it alien and disturbing.

A beautifully shot film that captures the endless days and nights as well as the almost surreal landscapes.


Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Directors: Ricki Stern and Annie Sunberg

Joan Rivers made her name as a comedian in the 1960s and 1070s, regularly appearing on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show as well as having her own programmes in the 1980s.

The film follows her through a year in which she seems to be desperate to keep being on the celebrity radar. She takes a stage show, about herself, to Edinburgh and London (not very successfully), and appears on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, where she successfully beats the others.

She may be 75 but she still seems to have the energy of a teenager and can swear as well as any of her male counterparts.

The film is interspersed with clips from her previous TV appearances and shows, and she talks about how she pushed the boundaries of comedy, especially for women, in dealing with issues such as abortion.

Jack Lemmon famously walked out of one of her shows because he was disgusted by her use of language.

Then there was her book wit the philosophical title, Men are Stupid and Like Women with Big Boobs.

She is down to earth and honest about her desire for staying on top of her game, revealing her problems with other people, and her daughter.

She is impressive in the ways she commits herself to a whirlwind life but is also a bit tragic in the desire to be loved and feted.

It is a film which about an extraordinary life as well as revealing the insecurities of the rich and famous, and is a reflection of the triviality and superficiality of many aspects of American society.

Director Ricki Stern says of the comedian, “Joan Rivers is funny, edgy and relevant. She's a captivating and bold female performer, writer, icon, and businesswoman. She has the bravery to tackle issues in her comedy that has left her excluded from the boys' clubs and removed from lists of more 'appropriate' lady comediennes.

"Her comedy dissects the truth, and she embraces humor to ease the pain of tragedy. She has personally confronted suicide, business failure and biting criticism, and in the face of it all she perseveres.

"Ultimately Joan engenders strong feelings in people…they love her, they hate her…and because many people have some prior exposure to Joan, the film works to strip away those surface associations to reveal a private and surprising portrait of this very public persona.”

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