Monday, 3 August 2015

Film Fest Finale

This is the end. My only friend, the end...

This is the last post of my festival viewing. And I have to say, it finished strong.


Going in, this felt like a companion piece to the Peggy Guggenheim documentary I reviewed a couple posts back. The last work by the late Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens), this fly-on-the-wall documentary chronicles the life and work of Iris Apfel. Iris is a world-renowned figure in the worlds of fashion and interior design. She has travelled the world in a constant search for new fabrics, styles and colours, combining the cheap, the exotic and the expensive to create her own sense of 'style'. She is so famous, she even acted as interior decorator for the White House.

Fascinating, charismatic and utterly grounded, Iris acts as her own guide to her life story. Both commentator and comic relief, she is the lynchpin of the whole enterprise, and Maysles wisely keeps his camera firmly on Iris and her 100-year old husband and collaborator Carl. Both still sharp as a tack, their easy rapport is one of the joys of this warm, intimate portrait.

A modest, but enjoyable tribute to an intriguing woman, and a fine conclusion to Maysles's illustrious career.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Man, talk about a real 'rogue nation'!

Illuminating, scary and (occasionally) blackly comic, Alex Gibney's hot button doc is one of the highlights of the festival. I'm glad I caught it before the festival ended.

Charting the history of Scientology from its bizarre origins under founder/visionary L. Ron Hubbard, to its current status as a multi-billion dollar enterprise, Going Clear is must-see cinema. The film is very slick and well made. It feels more like a conspiracy thriller than a documentary. Combining expert testimony from the organisation's now-ostracised hatchet men and former members (including screenwriter Paul Haggis), the film is very tense and unnerving.

If the film has a Big Bad, it is Hubbard's self-appointed successor David Miscavige. He comes off like a cross between Gordon Gecko, Jim Jones and Dr. Evil. He's been a part of Scientology since he was a child, which makes him far more unsettling than Hubbard -- he's a true believer to the extreme.

Apart from his antics, the movie is filled with other disturbing stuff. Former members show self-shot footage of Scientology members watching (and filming) their homes, and talk about harassment, black mail and worse. The film was so effective, about midway through the screening I started to get paranoid about undercover Scientologists hiding in the audience. Based on the evidence in the documentary, I don't think my fears were unfounded.

As has been noted elsewhere, celebrity members like John Travolta and Tom Cruise do not come out well (no pun intended). The episode involving David Miscavige trying to placate a post-divorce Cruise with a new girlfriend is really, really creepy. Actually everything involving Cruise is creepy.

I didn't know much about Scientology going in, and Gibney has constructed a really detailed history. It does not paint a pretty picture, but it is damn good cinema.

Well, that's it folks. Hope you enjoyed my incoherent musings and half-baked analysis of the New Zealand International Film Festival 2015. I'm going to try and do it again next year.

Check in soon I'll be back with more reviews of some really cool movies.

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