Lockdown Film Festival
Each mini-programme here consists of one short film and three feature films. The films are on a variety of online platforms – some free, some paid – all accessible in Aotearoa New Zealand.
It’s not even one week into lockdown and it already feels like it’s been months. Time has slowed, anxiety is a given, and it’s an effort to pass the days in any manner apart from endless scrolling. When looking for something to watch online, it’s easy to get lost in the depths of Netflix algorithms suggesting pandemic-adjacent dramas and British reality television. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this kind of content, but in these times of isolation, distraction alone is not always enough. These programmes instead focus on films to keep you emotionally stimulated and connected to the world.
A lot of the films listed here are slower than those you might usually go out of your way to see, but perfectly match these slow days of quarantine. And it’s not like most of us have anything to rush off and do. They’re films of art and beauty, stories of everyday lives that remind us we’re not alone, that we are each part of the world outside our places of residence.
At least, we hope these films break up your day and offer a distraction from the tumultuous news cycle for a few hours. At most, we hope they serve as a reminder of our collective humanity during this difficult time. Either way, we suggest switching your phone to airplane mode, turning down the lights, and settling in to whichever film matches your mood.
This selection features films about the trials, tensions, and connections inherent to reunion, family, and community.
Though technically a music video rather than a short film, Territory (YouTube, free) masters visual storytelling better than many films, portraying an emotional homecoming set in Algiers.
Next up, Mauri (NZ Film on Demand, from $4.99) is a staple of Aotearoa cinema history as the first feature film directed by a Māori woman, the inimitable Merata Mita. The film follows Rewi as he returns to Te Mata in search of stability after his family has left the district.
From there, head towards Academy Award-winner Moonlight (Lightbox, $4.99), a graceful, virtuosic love story set in 1980’s Miami.
And finish up with In My Blood It Runs (Vimeo, $7.50), a documentary following a 10-year old boy and his family as they navigate the frustrating Australian educational curriculum while thriving within their Aboriginal community in Alice Springs.
This category features films of heartbreak, unrequited love, and secret desire.
Short film My Josephine (Vimeo, free) is the early work of Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, and tells of a hidden longing between two Arab-Americans working at a laundromat, washing American flags for free in the aftermath of 9/11.
Follow that up with Asghar Farhadi’s masterpiece, A Separation (YouTube Movies, from $4.99), which questions the limits of half-truths following the separation of a middle-class Iranian couple.
Taking a sharp turn to modern-day Brooklyn, Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats (YouTube Movies, from $4.99) follows a teenager as he spends his days hanging with his boys and talking about girls and his nights looking online for older men to hook up with.
Round this lineup out with 2019 Cannes Grand-Prix winner Atlantics (Netflix, by subscription), Mati Diop’s sublime Senegal-based debut feature which encompasses nuanced impressions of class, migration, employment, crime, family dynamics and grief all through the lens of a hypnotic, lightly supernatural love story. It also features some of the best photography of the ocean ever put to film.
WHAT’S A GIRL GOTTA DO
Sometimes I’m just in the mood to watch a movie about a woman doing what she can to get by.
If you feel the same, begin with Anybody’s Woman (Vimeo, free), a short film set at a porn theatre in New York City’s East Village made by one of independent film’s greats, Bette Gordon.
Stick with the world of 1980s Manhattan with Working Girls (YouTube, free). Not to be confused with the Melanie Griffith rom-com, Lizzie Borden’s day-in-the-life film follows a working girl in a midscale midtown brothel.
Chase this one with The Last Days of Disco (YouTube Movies, from $5.99) as roommates played by Chlöe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsdale escape their tiny apartment and their day jobs in publishing to dance the nights away at the last popular disco club as the 1980s begin.
And if these aren’t the thrill you’re after, psychological suspense Gone Girl (Netflix) is always a good call.
If seeing movie characters out and about within a two-metre radius of each other is a bit too much right now, try these films about characters who are cooped up and locked down.
Caroline (Short of the Week, free) follows a single mother who, when her childcare falls through at the last minute, makes the difficult decision to leave her kids in the car on a humid summer's day while she goes for a job interview. Locked inside the hot car, Caroline and her young siblings grow increasingly restless leading to a tense climax you’ll remember long after the credits roll.
Another great film about being cooped up in the heat is Hitchcock classic Rear Window (YouTube Movies, from $8.99). Confined to his apartment with a broken leg for the summer, a professional photographer becomes obsessed with watching his neighbours across the courtyard.
In a similar vein, Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (YouTube Movies, from $4.99) is note-perfect viewing in this social distancing era, telling the story of the teenage Lisbon sisters as they are pulled out of school and grounded at home when one of them commits suicide. Under the watchful eye of their religious mother, the girls communicate with the outside world via passed notes and phone calls, only leaving their house to sit in the sun on the front lawn.
The final film in this section is Stray (YouTube Movies, from $4.99) by New Zealand director Dustin Feneley. It follows two damaged strangers who cross paths one winter and fall into a complex intimacy as they live together in a mountain cabin, isolated from the rest of the world.
BOYS BOYS BOYS
In lieu of Saturdays with the boys, spend some time watching these films about mates and masculinity.
A.D. 1363, the End of Chivalry (Vimeo, free) is a brilliant two-minute-thirty-second short film depicting the exact moment in history when chivalry died, directed by University of Auckland Screen Production faculty member Jake Mahaffy.
Skip forward six centuries to 1966 for The Endless Summer (Neon, by subscription), a documentary about my favourite sub-section of boys: surfers.
If riding waves isn’t quite your speed, try Scorsese mobster classic GoodFellas (Lightbox, from $4.99).
To finish off with something a little more chill, try Richard Linklater’s college baseball hangout comedy Everybody Wants Some!! (Netflix).
PORTRAIT OF PRECARITY
It’s a hard time out here for many of us, and these films reflect the physical, mental and emotional energy that goes into living under capitalism.
Wasp (YouTube, free) is a short film by Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey) that deconstructs a poor single mother’s lie after she tells her first date in years she’s only babysitting her four kids.
Kaikohe Demolition (NZ Film on Demand, from $1.99) is a high-energy documentary about the families of three middle-aged demolition derby drivers living in poverty in Aotearoa’s far North.
Shifting to France, Two Days, One Night (YouTube Movies, from $4.99) follows Marion Cotillard recovering from a breakdown and attempting to convince her factory coworkers to give up their bonuses in order to save her job.
Wrap this selection up with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters (YouTube Movies, from $5.99) about a family scraping by via petty crime who take in an abandoned young girl into their family and teach her their ways — until the girl’s parents want her back.
NOT YET A WOMAN
Film platforms are over-saturated with coming-of-age films, and yet there is still something so special about them when they’re done right.
Laura Moss’ short Fry Day (Vimeo, free) tells the story of a teenage girl’s loss of innocence when she goes for a drive with boys from her class on the night of serial killer Ted Bundy’s execution.
Similarly tense, New Zealand coming-of-age drama Rain (NZ Film on Demand, from $4.99) follows thirteen-year-old Janey who, in her determination to grow up by the end of the summer, begins flirting with her mother’s lover.
Follow this up with Margaret (iTunes or YouTube Movies, from $5.99), featuring New Zealand actress Anna Paquin as a precocious teenager who struggles with morals and responsibility after witnessing a horrific bus accident.
Top it off with All This Panic (iTunes, from $7.99), a vibrant, intimate documentary filmed over three years following two teenage sisters and their friends as they navigate the liminal period between adolescence and adulthood in New York City.
BEYOND THE END
It’s a strange time to be alive, and each of these films deals with that undercurrent of contemporary doom we’re all feeling.
Zia Anger’s sardonic diptych My Last Film (Short of the Week, free) examines the end of cinema as we know it, or more accurately, the end of New York and L.A. independent cinema scenes.
Miracle Mile (iTunes, from $5.99) is set not far from the Hollywood Hills of the second half of My Last Film, and tells of a first date that happens to coincide with the nuclear apocalypse.
Keeping within Los Angeles city limits, Leilah Weinraub’s radical queer documentary Shakedown is newly released and available for free on Pornhub for the month of March. The film features footage from explicit performances in an underground lesbian club in L.A. captured from 2002–2015. It’s the perfect watch for those more focused on the end of this lockdown period than the end of the world, when we can all be sweaty bodies dancing together in close proximity once again.
Finally, Lizzie Borden’s perceptive Born In Flames (Vimeo, from $2.99) stretches beyond the end of our current timeline into an imagined future of female rebellion set in America ten years after a social democratic cultural revolution. It’s a hopeful note to end on: that we can all come out of this toward something better.
All collage images by Amanda Jane Robinson