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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Our stories on screen at the Doco Film Fest

Posted in: Movies
By Matt Akersten - 24th February 2009

Docs Rock! The 2009 DOCNZ International Documentary Film Festival happens around NZ from this week and screens more than 50 local and international documentaries.

The Documentary Film Festival begins in Auckland this week, then tours through Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

This year's festival includes a gay couple's Roman romp, love between Muslim men, Kiwi transgender art and a look at NZ's Homosexual Panic Defence.

Here's the LGBT highlights on offer this time around:

Suddenly, Last Winter

TV presenter Gustav Hofer and film critic Luca Ragazzi are a committed couple, living a comfortable life in Rome. When right-winger Silvio Berlusconi's government is replaced by a centre-left coalition, Italians are promised a new law increasing rights for unmarried and gay couples.

Unfortunately, the proposed legislation granting same-sex rights, nicknamed the 'DICOs,' is stalled in the Senate in face of opposition by the Vatican, conservative politicians and family-values. With anti-gay sentiment running high, rallies are held, politicians are lobbied and wagons are circled. The violence of intolerant homophobic attacks, launched daily from the pulpits and national TV talk shows, reached such dramatic heights that even the more seasoned analysts and gay rights activists found worrisome.

It was in this the context and camera-in-hand, that Gustav and Luca decided to set off on a journey through their country, to explore and challenge the objections to their civil rights within a loving relationship. With a very light touch and a good measure of patience and humour, Gustav and Luca attempt to navigate the roadblocks, landmines and mind-boggling bureaucracy standing between themselves and their equal rights. The intrepid and at times reluctant filmmakers maintain a steady pace in this study of an ancient culture in flux and a modern couple in love. The result is in turn a hilarious and sobering reflection on Italian society.

While a relentlessly mischievous documentary about a literal life-and-death subject, Suddenly, Last Winter is also, in the end, a loving tribute to a happy union.

A Jihad for Love

In a time when women's rights are still a taboo in many Muslim cultures, one can only imagine how difficult it is to breach the subject of homosexuality.

Homosexuality is forbidden by the Quran and condemned in Prophet Muhammed's Hadith. As a result, Muslim homosexuals face persecution and often severe punishment under Sharia law. But most heartbreaking of all is the desperate confusion felt by those who do not wish to abandon their faith and the God they love, but cannot change who they are.

A Jihad for Love gives voice to those struggling — a direct translation of the word jihad — to reconcile their homosexuality with their faith. The film follows different Muslim men and women in different countries from France to South-Africa and from Egypt to India. The fact that these people agreed to be part of it is in itself a show of tremendous bravery, evident by the many friends and acquaintances that choose not to show their faces. This is A Jihad for Love's greatest strength: it tells the personal stories of those who normally dare not speak, which makes their plight all the more powerful.

Assume Nothing

Many of us assume that there are only two genders and that being female or male follows from the sex of our biological bodies.

Focusing on the art, photography and performances of six "alternative" gender artists of Maori, Samoan-Japanese, and Pakeha descent, the film Assume Nothing poses the questions: "What if "male" and "female" are not the only options? How do other genders express themselves through art?"

Director Kirsty Macdonald's feature length debut documentary takes the orginal concept behind her short film and turns it into a full length theatrical release. Candid, playful and provocative, Assume Nothing travels from Wellington's Red Rocks to the Metroplitan Museum of Art in New York to document photographer Rebecca Swan's vibrant and sensitive exploration of the potent creative world that flourishes between and beyond genders.

An Ordinary Person

Is it impossible to murder a homosexual in New Zealand?

In 2004, David McNee, well-known TV personality and interior designer in his 50s, was found brutally killed in his luxury home. The trial of his killer, Phillip Layton Edwards, raises uncomfortable questions about New Zealand attitudes. It almost seemed like McNee was being made responsible for his own violent death. The media called McNee an "interior decorator", "television celebrity" and a man with an "out of control sexual appetite". The accused was a young "homeless" Maori, laying bare the hypocritical standards and values of our society.

Edward's lawyers argued that he either lacked intent to kill, or that he was provoked into killing by McNee's sexual advances. Edwards was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter and the same provocation defence was successful in another case. An Ordinary Person includes interviews with lawyers, the Crown Prosecutor, academic commentators and a journalist who followed the cases. Director Potter interweaves the interview material with a stylised recreation that tells the story that props up the use of provocation as the 'homosexual advance defence' to murder. Her film is the first film that tries to set the story straight and in the process, provide some dignity and voice to a life that was unnecessarily taken away.

The DOCNZ Festival 2009 is in Auckland from 26 February until 8 March, in Wellington 12-22 March, and Christchurch and Dunedin 26 March to 5 April. Get all the details on its official website.

The trailer for Suddenly Last Winter appears below.

Matt Akersten - 24th February 2009