New Zealand comedy & the horrors of war: Sunday at SFIFF

Passover kept me away from the movies on Friday and Saturday, so Sunday became my first regular day at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.

Here’s what I saw:

B Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I caught this one at the New Mission‘s theater 5. The auditorium is short and wide; not the best configuration for a movie theater. I sat in the front row, which was too close even for me. Most of the second row was reserved.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the second feature I’ve seen directed by Taika Waititi. Like the previous one, What We Do in the Shadows, it started out wonderful and very funny, but wore out its welcome before it finally came to an end. The last half hour was often a pain to watch.

Unlike the silly, farcical Shadows, Wilderpeople had a real, almost believable story. My concerns for the characters helped make the weak last act a bit more bearable.

The story concerns a troubled boy (Julian Dennison) sent to a new foster home in the very rural outback (the film is set in New Zealand). The boy begins to warm up to his new foster mother (Rima Te Wiata), and even to her very unfriendly husband (Sam Neill). After the foster mother dies, the boy runs away, and his reluctant foster father goes after him. Soon the government creates a dragnet to catch these two escapees from civilization. Needless to say, they bond.

They supposedly spend some five months in the woods, hiding from the authorities and eating what they can find. But their clothes show few signs of wear and tear, and they don’t appear to lose any weight.

Despite these unbelievable elements, the movie is funny, sentimental, and touching. But it also overstays its welcome.

This was the last screening of Hunt for the Wilderpeople at the festival. As far as I know, it will not get an American release at any time in the future.

A- Shadow World

This screened in the New Mission‘s big, beautiful theater 1.

This extremely troubling documentary argues–very convincingly–that our globe’s current state of never-ending war exists solely for the profit of arms dealers and the politicians they bribe–Bush, Cheney, Obama, Clinton, Thatcher, and Blair among them. Effectively, they’re all war criminals.

Based on Andrew Feinstein’s non-fiction book, it starts with images of World War I (“The war to end all war”), but stays primarily in the experiences of the last 35 years. Feinstein wrote the screenplay, as well, and worked closely with director Johan Grimonprez.

It’s powerful, clearly one-sided, and very persuasive. But it sometimes seemed scattered and random, as if the filmmakers were trying to cram too much information into 94 minutes.

After the film, Feinstein and Grimonprez came on stage to answer questions from both the Festival’s Rachel Rosen and the audience. Feinstein did most of the talking; probably because unlike Grimonprez, he’s a native English speaker.

Some highlights:

  • I looked for a director. Many wanted to do a story about my research. They wanted a story of the trauma I went through. I tried to argue that this wasn’t about me, it was about the issues.
  • This world is so much about privatization. The pinnacle of what shouldn’t be privatized is war. And it’s being privatized.
  • I’ll never publish anything or say anything in public that I wasn’t absolutely sure of. Yohan wasn’t that concerned with that. it created an artistic tension.
  • Here’s a trade that accounts for 40% of all of the corruption in the world.
  • I’m working on a crime thriller on this subject to get to a whole different audience.

You have two more chances to see Shadow World at the festival: