This year’s film festival has come and gone, well Auckland’s screenings at least.

Like previous years, the selection of films on offer posed the challenge of deciding on what to see. This was left a bit late this year but I still made it to six features, along with a couple of short films too.

I Killed My Mother opened the festival for me on a high note. The French-Canadian film depicts the tense relationship between a teenage boy and his mother with all the intensity of teenage emotions.  The melodrama did an excellent job telling the story of how both characters go about dealing with each other on a daily basis and their inevitable clashes over issues big, and small.

The Double Hour followed. It’s an Italian film that made fantastic work of a popular plot base that could, and often does, rapidly disintegrate as these films approach their conclusions. Without giving anything away, it did an amazing job at keeping you hooked, even after the audience ‘works it out’. It’s a toss up between this and I Killed My Mother as my favourite feature from this year’s festival.

I say feature, because for me the best film was the short preceding After The Waterfall. I wasn’t impressed by the Kiwi After The Waterfall (I reckon its force dwindled drastically after the first climax) but the 19-minute short, Manurewa, totally blew me away. Perhaps it set the standard for the night to which  After The Waterfall couldn’t match. Funny how the free opening film can upstage the feature I’d actually bought tickets to!

In an incredibly tight piece of cinema by director Sam Peacocke,  Manurewa tells the story of the shooting, and subsequent death, of liquor store owner Navtej Singh. Singh died after being shot during a robbery at his South Auckland liquor store in Manurewa in June 2008. The shooting was a massive story at the time and received a great deal of media coverage, and rightly so. A lot of criticism was directed at the police for delays in giving the all clear and allowing medical personnel behind their cordon to attend to Singh. For many, the delay was hard to fathom considering the robbers had clearly fled the scene and customers were coming in and out of the store.  The police were later criticised in a report by the The Independent Police Conduct Authority, criticism the police refutedManurewa tells this story – from all sides – with such intense fairness that it shook my opinions of the event. If a film can make you stop and rethink about a complex issue in as little as 19 minutes then I have nothing but praise for it.  Laying no blame on the police or the guy that pulled the trigger, it still left you feeling ‘satisfied’. That’s unusual because blame is often used to create closure for audiences, you know, here’s the good guy, here’s the bad guy, and this is how it happened. I felt sorry for everyone in the film – Singh, his colleague, the shooter, the police, Singh’s family, paramedics, the community of South Auckland – they all lost something that night. With poignancy, Peacocke’s film made me realise that people aren’t necessarily bad, they just do bad things, bad things that can happen in a split second. I’d highly recommend Manurewa, it really is superb.

The other short was A Love Story which was a beautifully rendered film of two parallel story lines converging in the climax. Belgium’s The Misfortunates made for a good laugh; its mullet-haired protagonist telling his story of actually getting somewhere in life, despite being prepped to be nothing more than an alcoholic slob.

I ended the festival with A Screaming Man, the sad tale of Chadian man’s two loves and his eventual loss of both.

The biggest upset, which was ironically the film I was most looking forward to, was How I Ended This Summer. This Russian film was touted as a deep and beautiful nail-biting psychological thriller. It tells the story of two guys – one old and experienced, the other young and naive – going about their duties at what is presumably a weather station in an isolated arctic area of northern Russia. To be blunt, this film bored me. It went on for too long, and although I can appreciate the beauty its cinematography, it failed to render the characters as well as promised. Neither men were overly believable, nor was the young man’s ‘King Lear descent into madness’. Give it a go, I certainly don’t regret watching it, but I’m happy to go against the high acclaim its received and say I didn’t like it.

I’m looking forward to next year’s festival. It’s certainly a highlight every July.