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More announcements from the 2012 NZ International Film Festival

Following a couple of sneak announcements earlier this month, the New Zealand International Film Festival went live today with their 2012 website and leaked a few more exciting titles from this year’s programme. The four films announced today each promise fascinating and timely true stories: Peter Jackson and Amy Berg’s West of Memphis documentary will thoroughly re-investigate the case surrounding the West Memphis 3; Richard Linklater’s true-crime comedy Bernie looks to be great fun and potentially feature a career-best performance from Jack Black; Lee Hirsch’s urgent documentary Bully, which was recently mired in controversy due to the MPAA sticking it with an R-rating in the States, will be a must-see; and First Position has been acclaimed as an inspirational and visually dramatic documentary on children’s ballet. When you add these titles to what we already know – Marley, Your Sister’s Sister, Crazy Horse, Klown, The Cabin in the Woods – the 2012 NZFF line-up is starting to look pretty great already, and we’re yet to even hear any news of Cannes acquisitions!

Producing partners Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have brought director Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil) on board to take another look at the case of the West Memphis 3, whose miscarriage of justice has been documented over the years by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky in the Paradise Lost trilogy. West of Memphis promises “unprecedented access to the inner workings of the defense”, and will likely focus harder on the new suspect revealed during Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. This film was co-produced by the falsely accused Damien Echols, along with his wife Lorri Davis, and features music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. As an avid follower of the WM3 case and the HBO documentaries, West of Memphis is a must-see and I’m looking forward to seeing what new material it will bring to light, but I’m sure this film will also serve as the best entry point to this ongoing saga for newcomers.

Watch the trailer for West of Memphis below.

Bernie is a strange new black comedy from writer/director Richard Linklater (Dazed and ConfusedBefore Sunrise). Based on a true story, the film reunites the director with his School of Rock star Jack Black, who may have landed the role of his career as the larger-than-life Bernie Tiede, an immensely popular assistant funeral director in the tiny, rural town of Carthage, Texas. Tiede befriended a not-so-well-liked older, affluent widow (Shirley MacLaine), travelled around the globe with her and managed her banking affairs… and reportedly murdered her. Matthew McConaughey also stars as the town’s blustery District Attorney who was determined to get to the bottom of the crime. I’m a huge fan of Linklater’s work, and Black and McConaughey both look terrific here, so I can’t wait to catch Bernie at the NZFF.

Watch the trailer for Bernie below.

Directed by Sundance and Emmy-award winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch (Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony), Bully follows five kids and families over the course of a school year, whose stories each represent a different facet of America’s bullying crisis. The film has been hailed as a powerful, essential wake-up call for a society in denial, and it is easily the most hyped documentary of 2012 so far, thanks in part to the controversy surrounding its R-rating and The Weinstein Company’s subsequent decision to screen Bully unrated in the U.S.

Watch the trailer for Bully below.

If the subject matter of the aforementioned documentaries sounds like a bit of a bummer to you, then Bess Kargman’s directorial début First Position should come as a relief. This upbeat film follows six young dancers as they prepare for a chance to enter the world of professional ballet via the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix competition, struggling through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries, all while navigating the drama of adolescence. A number of the performances are reportedly stunning, so if Black Swan piqued your interest in ballet, First Position may provide you with a more insightful and comprehensive look into the dancers’ competitive world.

Watch the trailer for First Position below.

The 2012 NZ International Film Festival kicks off in Auckland on July 19 and runs through to August 05. For more information on any of these films, head to their website. I will be covering the festival in-depth this year, so look out for more updates as well as reviews once the screenings commence.

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