Screen Entertainment

DocEdge serves a feast of films

There is plenty of food for thought on this film festival platter, writes Darren Bevan

The 12th DocEdge International Documentary Film Festival hits its home straight with the Auckland leg of the festival starting this week.

Over 49 films and 20 shorts are being showcased in the annual event at Auckland's Q Theatre, which will have its gala opening with Whitney: Can I Be Me? documentary maker, Nick Broomfield in attendance.

There will be a wide variety of films on show, and some shorts that have had airings already - but some of those will definitely be worth revisiting.

Whitney: Can I Be Me? will be a draw card for the many fans of the songstress whose life started out in the gospel world, but whose rise to fame and subsequent fall was driven by the power of her voice.

Starting with the 911 call on February 11th 2012, the film seems to be going for a chilling vibe, but draws its own strength from the unseen footage Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal have secured. Taken from a 1999 tour of Hamburg, the behind the scenes, candid nature of the footage says more about Houston than anything else could.

Whether it's holding the audience expectations in her hands before belting out the final bars of I Will Always Love You to giving you an insight into the pressures on the star, the film's shiny surface is all about Houston and a clutch of people around her.

The back half of the doco becomes more compelling as you see Houston fall under the influence of malevolent forces, but one can't escape the feeling that Broomfield's insight into the star isn't as in-depth as Asif Kapadia's excoriating and emotive look at Amy Winehouse, which truly set the bar for music docos.

That said, fans of Whitney will appreciate it, and will line up for its premiere in Auckland.

Elsewhere, the Irish recession and the impact on society forms the surprising backbone to the quirky-looking Mattress Men.

Mattress Mick is an internet sensation, a sort of grey-mop haired, potential embarrassment of a man whose business has been transformed by the power of the viral video.

But the charming, heartbreaking doco is more than a laugh at the man involved; it's a poignant demonstration of how the economic times we live in are destroying the souls of those on the front line.

Choosing to follow Mick's co-worker Paul Kelly, a man who feels he deserves more credit than he's getting for his role, the film has elements of I, Daniel Blake via way of The Office's tragi-comedy as darker forces threaten to overwhelm. And while there's a definite feeling of a testament to the power of positive thought, this doco quickly moves past the quirky to embrace the humanity of those facing darker times.

Set against the background of a terrible music video being made, this is one of the surprise stand-outs of the festival: a salute to the common man, and proof that life finds a way.

'Thank You for Playing' has emotional subject matter, but doesn't milk sentimentality from its audience. Photo: Supplied

Thank You for Playing is not an easy sell. Playing for free at the festival and with the subject in attendance, this story about a video game's genesis has its foundations in heartbreak.

That Dragon, Cancer is a game that will be familiar with some people as a game dealing with the death of a child from cancer. It's about the universality of grief and the journey, but its foundations come from father Ryan finding out that his son Joel has the disease.

There are moments when it's not an easy watch, and the frankness can be emotive kryptonite, but that is all to the documentary's benefit. Ryan makes the film feel honest with the good and bad being captured during the process, and while it'll take a hard heart of stone to avoid misty-eyed syndrome, Thank You for Playing deserves commendation for never once being mawkish, sentimental or milking its audience.

One other documentary looking to start a conversation,and probably likely to succeed, is the relatively short 2016 TV doco Making Good Men.

Not many may know that Hobbit and Arrow star Manu Bennett and former All Black Norm Hewitt were victim and bully respectively back in the day. Threatened by Bennett, Hewitt powered into him at Te Aute college and beat him to within an inch of his life.

After years of their respective journeys taking them on different paths, both Hewitt and Bennett had a chance reunion in a Koru lounge.

The doco gives each the chance to recollect their stories and their various prior lives before it all happened with pieces to camera. It's here the film's strength works as the unflinching, raw honesty is hypnotic and challenging.

But the main power of this piece is that it may make many re-think their life choices, and begin to consider whether they were smart decisions as this anti-violence piece plays.

There's a wide range of topics covered in the festival - for cinephiles, there are films that look at the shower scene in Psycho, to examining the role of Indian movie houses. For those concerned about our times, there's the effect of screens on our society, and there are stories of Syria and refugees as well.

This feels like a very contemporary festival. The films deal far and wide with their subject matter, and will provoke plenty of discussion once the lights have gone up.

The 12th DocEdge International Film Festival has completed its Wellington run. It runs in Auckland from May 24 - June 5.

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