So firstly, if you find yourself in the mood for a well crafted locked-room mystery in the style of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, get yourself a copy of An Unwanted Guest by mystery master Shari Lapena. It’s a group of strangers held captive by the elements in a secluded boutique hotel. When the guests begin to fall victim to murder the story weaves and wraps around in a classic whodunit style with a good twisty-turny plot. A perfect choice for a bit of summer escapism.
How about hearing some tales of the Norse Gods, written and read by Neil Gaiman – a self-confessed devotee of the classic sagas.
These stories are fantastical, full of deceit and murder, trickery and beauty, and expertly read by the author in the audiobook edition available on our eResource BorrowBox. You’ll discover the strange relationship between Thor and his brother Loki, learn how the Gods came to be in possession of their most treasured artifacts like Thor’s hammer, named Mjolnir, or how Loki came to bear his children – a brilliant story of Loki’s trickery coming back to bite him. Amazing stories and a privilege to be able to listen to the author present them just as intended – casual and conversational storytelling.
What about music…? If you’re looking for some tunes this season then I would suggest you check out the award-winning new album from Kiwi contemporary music legend Eve De Castro Robinson, The Gristle Of Knuckles. New Zealand’s contemporary music is in a fine state if this album is anything to go by. It’s from the hand/mind of one of the countries most respected music educators and composers and features many of our most celebrated musicians. It’s outstanding – dynamic, inventive, masterfully performed, and well worth a listen if you like jazz and contemporary music as an artform.
And there’s always a Graphic Novel to help you while away an evening.
A darkly comedic tale of a man who wants to die but instead, whenever he tries to die, he just shifts over into whoever is around him. A brilliantly funny and darkly curious take of modern life by an expert artist. It’s simplistic artwork counterpoints the bleak nature of the subject matter – a comedy about suicide!? And what results is book of gravity and heart.
A grown up fairytale from the legendary Giambattista Basile that is dark, twisted, and engrossing. Three kingdoms exist within the lands, each ruled by very different monarchs. Through the lives and demands of the people and the supernatural worlds, their stories intertwine to create a masterpiece of imaginative film making. A brilliant cast and a story that will stay with you long after.
After digging deep in the library catalogue, I found a couple of great things on one of my favourite bands, Fugazi. Fugazi is an American punk rock band from Washington D.C. that formed in 1987. The band consists of guitarists and vocalists Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty. Fugazi are the ultimate independent punk band, they staunchly refused big money offered by the major record labels, would only play all-ages gigs that were no more than $5 on the door and refused to sell merchandise.
Fugazi were a phenomenal live band and played 2 gigs in Christchurch (both at the Caledonian Hall) one in 1993 and one in 1997. At the 1993 gig, a member of the audience was annoying Ian McKaye so much he was escorted out and offered his money back. On Ian McKaye’s record label Dischord you can access recordings of both these Christchurch shows. (If you have photos of either of these shows that you would like to share with the library please contact us or upload them to the Discovery Wall).
This book offers a little bit of back history before it looks at the making of the album In on the Kill Taker. It starts from the disastrous first recording with Steve Albini, to stories behind the writing and recording of songs like Smallpox Champion, Rend it, Public Witness Program and Instrument. This book is full of interludes and discusses how the band wrote songs, punk vs pop, and their live performances. Joe Gross also interviews long time friend of Fugazi, Jem Cohen who spent a lot of time recording their live shows and is also responsible for creating the cover art for this album.
After reading In on the Kill Taker by Joe Gross, I really wanted to see footage of Fugazi and was super excited to find the library had this 2 hours of footage from a collaboration between Fugazi and Jem Cohen. This video has footage covering the 10 year period of 1987-1996, and it captures the energy of their live performances. Fugazi are known for touring relentlessly and played over 1000 gigs around the world from 1987-2003.
Do you like ghosts and ghouls? Do you look for the ‘thing’ that’s hiding under the stairs in the dead of night? Do you like worms, squirms, and other icky things? Well we have some news for you…
In anticipation for the up coming movie “Goosebumps 2,” where yet another lot of fabulous monstrosities will be coming to life on the big screen, here is a list of must reads to get you quench your thirst for books!
Dear Diary Day is observed each year on 22 September. If you have kept a diary, today is the day to go back and reread your efforts – or if you don’t have a diary, today is a great time to go about starting one.
Diaries are acknowledged to be excellent ways of letting off steam, and effectively becoming a better person (though if you are like me, realistically, you just brood on what you have written and become all the more grouchy – but then I am a bit ‘special’ like that). There is also nothing quite like going back and rereading these snapshots of your life – be they good or bad – and, in the process, enjoying a lot of memories, and learning from your mistakes.
Dear Diary Day, is also a great time to acknowledge those great diarists who have taken the ultimate step in diary keeping – namely, committing their memories to print. Here are some great reading picks for ‘Dear Diary Day’ that will hopefully inspire you to write up your thoughts for posterity too:
The Kenneth Williams Diaries: The Telegraph recently predicted that in twenty years time, Kenneth Williams will not be remembered as a Carry on favourite, but as one of the English language’s finest diarist. It is impossible not to agree – this volume of his diaries is devastatingly honest both in his assessment of others, from Joe Orton to Tony Hancock, and of himself. Deliciously waspish, and often unbearably tragic, these diaries really do bring readers closer to a fine autodidact and one of Britain’s most underrated performers.
The Noel Coward Diaries: These erudite and witty diaries bring to life one of Britain’s most beloved theatrical figures – Noel Coward. A man of seemingly numerous talents from acting to writing, Coward’s diaries take us through theatrical tours, his own private struggles with depression, and ultimately priceless stories of his contemporaries and of himself. A sheer delight to read, Coward’s diaries are rewardingly gossipy but always without any sort malice, just like the man himself.
The Diary of Virginia Woolf: These diaries from one the 20th century’s most important and ground-breaking literary giants, are a real privilege to read. Virginia Woolf’s diaries take you to the very heart of a genius – dispelling the myth of a sobering and snobby intellectual, and replacing this with a complex, sensitive, and even humorous woman. With descriptions of other famous literary figures – from Katherine Mansfield to T. S. Eliot – as well as descriptions of day to day life, and her journey through writing, this first volume of her diaries is a fascinating and eye-opening read.
The Diary of A Young Girl: Just after receiving a blank diary for her birthday, Jewish teenager Anne Frank and the rest of her family were forced into hiding in Nazi occupied Amsterdam. This beloved classic is her evocative and honest record of those two years in hiding in a claustrophobic attic, along with her parents, sister, and others desperate to escape the horror of the Nazi regime. Over seventy years since its first publication, ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ remains an unforgettable testament to one of the most shameful events in world history, as well as a moving tribute to the spirit of a remarkable young girl.
The Diary of Samuel Pepys: You couldn’t really say that you love reading diaries and not read Samuel Pepys. A member of parliament who rose to the position of Chief Secretary to the Admiralty, Pepys is better known now for the diaries he wrote throughout the 1600s. Recording such historical events as the Plague and Great Fire of London, these astonishingly honest and ever entertaining diaries also chart the author’s own life – from political chicanery, to his own sexual adventures and domestic conflict.
The Diary of A Bookseller: Shaun Bythell’s hilarious diary charts a year in the life of the largest secondhand bookshop in Scotland. It is one of the ultimate books about books, packed with stories of eccentric book buyers, sound book recommendations, and accounts of stock purchase trips to auction houses and estates. With its wonderfully barbed and ever-entertaining style, this is a diary enthusiast’s and book shop lover’s dream.
The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh: These classic diaries reveal Evelyn Waugh in all his cantankerous yet honest and genuine glory. A must for Waugh fans, and anyone wishing to delve into the history of this era, these diaries are a mesmerising read filled with hilariously indiscreet portrayals of his peers, and great insights into the creation of Waugh’s beloved work.
Journal of Katherine Mansfield: The diaries of Katherine Mansfield contained in this volume, are mainly drawn from the last years of her life as this beloved author struggled but bravely strove to continue writing. Despite war time losses, and the immense pain Mansfield found herself in, she manages to write of the beauty of things surrounding her, and movingly reflects on her life, and celebrated writing.
Ancient as the Hills: James Lees Milne was a writer and English architectural conservationist, now best known for his compulsive diaries. Kept over the course of 60 years, his diaries cover a fascinating half century in history – from war time England to Blair Britain. Along with engaging descriptions of his own life and work, Milne observes a fascinating array of people from Nancy Mitford to Mick Jagger – always with absolute honesty and a fantastic eye for detail.
I Will Bear Witness: These powerful diaries are Jewish scholar Victor Klemperer’s record of life in Nazi Germany. His eloquent and mesmerising entries describe the day-to-day horror of life in Hitler’s Germany with important detail, candour, and courage.
American science fiction writer Ted Chiang has a very particular way of speaking. He pauses a lot to gather his thoughts, and the intonation, or melody, of his voice doesn’t vary much. This can have the effect of making it feel that he is taking a very long time to get to the point. Fortunately, Arrival is the third WORD Christchurch session of his that I’m attending so I’ve become somewhat accustomed to it. Because once you get past the quality of his voice, he actually does have some interesting things to say.
It also helps that Arrival (the only sci-fi movie I’ve every watched with a middle-aged female linguist as its hero – feel free to recommend others if you know of any) is a recent favourite of mine, and that I’m part way through reading The story of your life, the novella on which the movie is based.
Local sci-fi and fantasy author, Karen Healey happily lets Chiang talk about the things that interest him about the genre he writes in. You get the impression from Ted Chiang that he spends a lot of time thinking generally, and about science fiction especially, so his thoughts, when he does finally express them are fully-formed. His lines are not throwaway ones. He’s considered these things from a variety of angles.
For instance, he rejects the notion that his writing “transcends genre”, as, in his opinion, this is the kind of thing that people who don’t usually like science fiction say – the implication being that the rest of the genre isn’t very good, and that this thing that they somehow like is some kind of aberration.
Hollywood sci-fi vs literary sci-fi
I especially enjoy hearing about his views on the nature of science fiction storytelling in movies versus in fiction because, as a fan of sci-fi cinema, I recognise that his observations have the unerring ring of truth to them and I may never watch an MCU movie in the same way again.
In Hollywood sci-fi, he says, there’s very often a good vs. evil scenario in which the world is in a good/peaceful/stable state then something evil/monstrous/destructive comes along and there is a struggle to overcome this force of evil and return the world to a state of goodness, peace, and harmony. It’s a very conservative formula in that it’s looking to restore the status quo. This immediately makes me think of Make America Great Again (MAGA) and just how powerful narratives that resonate with people can be. Human beings love stories and we like to use the same patterns of story over and over again.
The kind of science fiction that Chiang is interested in is entirely different. In these kinds of stories the world is changed by some kind of disruption or discovery and the change is irrevocable. There is no going back to the way things were before. At the end of the story the world is a very different place from what it was at the beginning, and more than that it’s not necessarily a better place, just a different one. This is a much more progressive storyline and one that you don’t get much in Hollywood movies, if for no other reason than that they are not easy to make a sequel to.
For instance, all the Jurassic Park franchise (currently on its 5th film – a 6th is planned) needs for there to be another dinosaurs-cause-chaos story is for some scientists to make the same errors of judgement the first lot did and the “oh no, who could have foreseen this dinosaur-related catastrophe happening again?” scenario can and will happen again.
Compare this with Chiang’s favourite science fiction film, The Matrix. In many ways it looks like a battle between good vs. evil story but it’s not. The world is a radically different place at the end of the movie. “Neo’s monologue at the very end of the film,” says Chiang “has really stuck with me”. And just in case we didn’t believe him, he quotes it, word for word:
I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.
To Chiang this quote perfectly captures what it is to be a radical or a revolutionary. It is not the status quo and it is not comforting, which good vs. evil stories often are. Ted Chiang is not interested in writing “comforting” fiction.
Humanity, curiosity and evidence
What he is interested in is what it means to be human and for him a sense of curiosity, which Healey points out is often present in his characters, is essential.
To be fully human is to be actively engaged with the world around us…
Trying to learn more about the universe is a really noble pursuit and “profoundly meaningful”. And though a lot of his stories have a theoretical question or “though experiment” at their core he feels that science fiction, by tying these ideas to a character with an emotional storyline, can make them more accessible to people.
Philosophy doesn’t have to be so radically removed from our lived experience. I think it’s interesting because it does apply to our lived experience.
Chiang is an Atheist but has an interest in religion. In one of his stories he imagines a world in which there is irrefutable evidence of the existence of God and explores whether that would make it easier or harder to have faith. In some ways, he thinks it would be harder.
In response to a question from Healey about how you approach people from the past as a topic for science fiction, Chiang is magnanimous – people in the past had a different way of viewing the world. Given the observations they had at the time, their interpretations often make sense. Subsequent observations can change this view, of course. They were engaged in the same general practise as modern scientists are engaged in.
It was perhaps this train of conversation that prompted the first of the audience questions, as a very forthright arm shot up a couple of rows in front of me, and an older gentleman asked what Chiang’s thoughts were on the question of “settled science”, a phrase that he felt was being used to shut down debate in such areas as Climate Change (a topic, it should be noted, on which the vast majority of the scientific community is in agreement).
Chiang, as is his habit, takes a while to get to the point of his answer but to summarise it is basically this: Science is practised by human beings who have biases, but scientists are far more aware of their biases than other people (in particular, politicians, who are the worst at recognising their own vested interests). Science fiction in general aligns with scientists. And science by its nature doesn’t really get to an end point.
This is so successfully diplomatic a response that the questioner, judging by the nodding of his head, felt he was being agreed with. Sir, you were not being agreed with. You were being disagreed with in a slow, patient manner.
The only other audience question was, shockingly, about science fiction and picked up on Chiang’s earlier discussion of The Matrix, which the audience member wondering what he made of the sequels. Like most of us, he found them disappointing calling them “the prime example of the harmful effects” of Hollywood’s demand for sequels, when “commerce runs counter to artistic goals”.
Which led nicely into a discussion of how the film Arrival got made.
The movie’s genesis was rather different route than what’s usual, as the screenwriter Eric Heisserer had read Chiang’s story and wanted to adapt it, but then had to find someone to produce it. Chiang is at pains to point out that Heisserer deserves all the credit for making The Story of your life work as a movie, as Chiang himself considered it “unfilmable” due to its very “internal” nature. And Chiang himself offered a few comments on the screenplay but mostly stayed out of it.
The movie-making business is so, so weird and it’s not something I want to be closely involved in.
Diversity in science fiction
Chiang is happy about the shift in science fiction that has seen increasing diversity in its authors and writing, though this hasn’t been without its conflicts, Chiang describing sci-fi’s “own version of the Alt-Right” laying seige to the Hugo Awards for a number of years. These efforts, in his opinion, have ultimately proved unsuccessful. N. K. Jemisin, a queer, African-American woman winning the Hugo for best novel for an unprecedented three years running.
Chiang also points out that the popularity of The three body problem by Cixin Liu, a work translated into English from Chinese, is another example of a growning openness in science fiction.
I think it’s great because for a long time science fiction, despite it being very forward looking – in practice it’s been very conservative.
Not to mention the tropes. So. Many. Tropes. And conventions and little in-jokes. Science fiction, Chiang seems to be saying, in some quarters has become unchallenging and… comfortable.
I very much want [science fiction] to be filled with surprising reading experiences. I think science fiction should be about questioning your assumptions… It should make you wonder about things you took for granted, things you assumed to be true but actually are just a societal convention.
The more different science fiction writers there are, he says, the more likely it is that you get that experience.
And there he goes again, advocating against the status quo. Ted Chiang: the slow-spoken, thoughtful revolutionary.
Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah (literally translated as ‘the head of the year’) is one of the most important dates on the Jewish calendar. It is a time for seeking forgiveness and in effect, beginning the year with a clean slate. Celebrated over two days, Rosh Hashanah is marked through traditions such as blowing a shofar (a hollowed out rams horn), casting off sins into a river, and dipping apples in honey (a symbolic hope for a sweet new year). It is a celebration filled with hauntingly beautiful ancient customs and symbolism, and even for those who are not of the jewish faith, Rosh Hashanah and jewish tradition in general, is fascinating to learn about.
Judaism has hugely informed western ethics and law, making awareness around this faith important. The library has some fantastic books on Judaism both for children and adults. as well as great resources on jewish history.
One of these gems is Simon Schamas epic ‘The Story of the Jews which details the suffering and accomplishments of the Jewish race from 1000 BC to the Holocaust, to modern day. Schama tells the Jewish story with empathy, insight, and even humour.
More locally the library also holds Jewish Lives in New Zealand a beautifully produced book which records the achievements of over 8000 New Zealanders who identify as Jewish.
If you are really wanting to go the extra mile and are keen to attempt some Hebrew, our free online learning resource ‘Mango Languages’ has a course you can try on both biblical and modern Hebrew. Again, there are also some great books in our collection you can use to supplement your learning, both for children and adults.
Wanting some Jewish themed movies? The library has a fantastic selection of these too, including these five great picks:
Chariots of Fire, a classic movie which tells the story of two runners in the 1924 Olympics- one a Scottish Christian, the other Harold Abrahams, a Jewish man seeking to overcome the world’s prejudice.
Fiddler on the Roof A musical with universal appeal, Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of a poor jewish milkman living in Tsarist Russia as he and his wife seek to find husbands for their three daughters. With touching themes of family, tradition, and human tragedy, Fiddler on The Roof is also packed with excellent music and timeless jewish humour.
A Place to Call Home: Set in post war Australia, and featuring a seriously fantastic Jewish heroine, this binge-worthy TV series is the ever addictive saga of Australian royalty – the Blighs. Happily the library holds all four parts to this series, because once you start, you really won’t stop.
Daniel Deronda: This beautifully filmed adaptation of George Elliott’s classic novel, tells the parallel stories of Gwendolyn Harloth, a beautiful but spoilt gambler, and Daniel Deronda, a sensitive and brilliant young man. Unique for its time, Daniel Deronda explores the theme of Jewish identity in the nineteenth century with a beautiful sympathy and understanding.
Gentleman’s Agreement When a journalist decides to research anti-semitism as empathetically as he can by telling people he is Jewish, he witnesses first hand the bigotry that is rife in 1930s America. A classic movie which remains as relevant and effective as when it was first released in 1947.
There are so many amazing Jewish authors it is hard to recommend just a few you could try, but here is my attempt with five very different writers:
I Will Bear Witness ‘I Will Bear Witness’ is the incredible diary of Jewish scholar Victor Klemperer. Written in Germany during the second world war, these powerful and mesmerising diaries describe day to day life under the Nazi regime with important detail, candour, and courage.
Foundation: Asimov’s classic Foundation series is the forerunner to other space age Science fiction. The first book in this trilogy begins the tale of the death and reestablishment of the Galatic empire. While brilliant Mathematician Hari Seldon attempts to gather the Galaxy’s finest thinkers in order to preserve knowledge and ideas for the next generation, corrupt warlords threaten to destroy their ‘Foundation’ and potentially, any hope for the future of mankind.
The Catcher in the Rye: This unforgettable classic is sixteen year old Holden Cauldfield’s simultaneously hilarious and tragic story (narrated directly from a Sanatorium) of the events that happened to him just before Christmas. In Holden/Salinger’s own words “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it”. This is exactly how you feel after reading this.
The Finkler Question: This Man Booker Prize Winning novel explores what it means to be Jewish and the dark theme of anti semitism. ‘The Finker Question’ tells the story of two friends- Sam Finkler a Jewish author and philosopher, and Julian Treslove, a less successful BBC worker. When Treslove is attacked as he walks home that night, there follows his exploration of who he is, opening up a story of identity, old age, justice, and love. A wonderful story told with compassion, humour, and intelligence.
Exodus This gripping epic tells the story of the birth of Israel through the eyes of Karen, a German Jewish teenager orphaned by the Holocaust; Kitty a glamorous American looking to make a new start in life, and Ari, an Israeli freedom fighter raised on a kibbutz and determined to see the survival of this new nation. ‘Exodus’ is a fast paced novel written with passion and insight, one of those reads that really is impossible to put down.
Rosh Hashanah began on Sunday evening 9 September, and ends on the evening of Tuesday 11 September. Whichever way you decide to celebrate, shanah tovah everyone!
Gambaga is a town in northern Ghana, formerly capital of the Northern Region of Ghana. It also serves as a sanctuary for women accused of witchcraft in greater Ghana. Witches of Gambaga is a documentary film, directed by Yaba Badoe, that tells the story of the women who have been condemned to live their lives in the poverty of the witches’ camp in Gambaga. The film follows these women and explores how their lives have been destroyed by accusations of witchcraft.
Badoe, in her running commentary throughout the film, does mention that superstitions have a role in the accusations of, and continued belief in, witchcraft. However, she examines the prevalence of witchcraft in Ghana through a gendered lens that attempts to explain why it is exclusively women who end up living in the witches’ camp in Gambaga. One of the particularly interesting ways she does this is exploring the relationship that the Chief of Gambaga – the Gambaran – has with the woman accused of witchcraft. Here, the women have to pay the Gambaran for sanctuary, work for him on his property, and when they have proven that are no longer a ‘witch’ they have pay him to return home. In this instance, there is an obvious benefit for him to perpetuate the belief in witchcraft within the superstitious communities. Furthermore, Badoe also explores how all women in the witches’ camp are either elderly or middle aged – with the youngest women in the camp being in her early 30s – reinforcing certain ideas pertaining to women’s value and youthfulness. Through the way that Badoe engaged with the issue of witchcraft in Ghana, it is easy to see how the tradition is maintained through patriarchal beliefs and systems.
The film is striking in its simplicity, letting the situations and stories of the women who the film follows speak for themselves with Badoe offering further explanation when required. This allows the film to overcome the technical limitations of its creation and lead to a fantastically woven narrative explaining the plight of the women concerned.
The film was a surprisingly emotional affair as it humanises the suffering caused by patriarchal superstitions. Over 3,000 citizens have had their lives ruined and families stripped away from them on the basis of how a chicken dies; the main “trial by ordeal” used to determine the whether or not the accused is a witch. I found myself almost tearing up at certain instances surrounding discussions of the women’s families that they were forced to leave behind.
The film does a great job in highlighting how damaging patriarchal beliefs are, how they still linger in some parts of the world, and how they are causing extreme harm to the communities involved. For this alone, Yaba Badoe’s film is to be commended for engaging with this subject and telling the stories of these women.
The Freedom Papers Sunday 2 September 1pm
Edinburgh Festival director Nick Barley speaks to three of the international writers from The Freedom Papers collection – Yaba Badoe, Lloyd Jones and Juno Dawson – about what freedom means to them.
This year’s Hugo Award for best novel goes to Book three of The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Books one and two, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate respectively, are both previous winners of the award. This also makes N.K. Jemisin the first author to win three Hugo Awards for best novel in a row as well as making The Broken Earth the only trilogy in which all three novels are best novel winners (the closest to doing so previously was Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Mars Trilogy with two wins and a finalist position).
Essentially, this is the reward for best piece of non-fiction related to the world of science fiction and fantasy and understandably, recently deceased Ursula Le Guin, now six time winner of the Hugo Award and Science Fiction royalty, is the winner of this category. ‘No Time to Spare’ is a collection of Le Guin’s musings on various subjects from the mundane to the philosophical.
The best graphic novel of the year is the sequel to 2017’s winner: ‘Monstress Vol. 2’. Monstress is an apocalyptic steampunk fable notable for its exceptional artwork (with artist Sana Takeda also winning this year’s award for Best Professional Artist) and interesting world building.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Wonder Woman, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins (DC Films / Warner Brothers).
What essentially amounts to the award for best film, Wonder Woman takes the cake for its adaptation of the DC Comic hero in a film that captures the essence of this year’s Hugo Awards winners.
A particular favourite of mine has been ‘Arctic’ – a one-man powerhouse performance by Mads Mikkelsen. He’s a pilot that has crash-landed somewhere in the vast emptiness of the Arctic and from the beginning of the film it’s obvious that he’s already been there for some time. He has developed a routine and a set of behaviours that centres around:
a) keeping himself fed (luckily there’s fish right under his feet ready for the catching), and
b) giving himself the best possible chance of being rescued.
Without giving anything away, events occur that lead him to the decision to make a long trek to a possible permanent habitat due North. It’s a road movie, a survival piece, and a celebration of the resilience of humans in the face of insurmountable odds. Mads needs some serious recognition for this performance!
The survival-against-the-odds theme is not something new to us in storytelling and film making however. I myself am particularly drawn to those stories that pit an individual – often the survivor of some calamitous event, against the wilderness in whatever shape that takes. There are examples set in jungles, deserts, mountains and polar regions, there are even some set in space. Often the entire story is reliant on a single actor to shoulder the whole burden and when there’s nature involved it opens the way for cinematographers, costume designers, and music composers to help set the scene and drive the suspense. A good recent example is ‘All is Lost’ which sees Robert Redford give a riveting performance as a man lost at sea, adrift and endangered.
Films that showcase the stranded loner pitted against nature and against all the odds of surviving at all… From the jungle to the Arctic, from space, the open ocean, and the desert; all these environments are out to kill you! Could you do what it takes to survive…?!?
Into the Wild – The story of a young American man who sells up and hits the road heading all the way north into Alaska. He’s desiring to be closer to nature and to get away from humanity. He has only his wits and some very limited survival skills to negotiate the harsh and unpredictable environment. A great journey and a decent telling in this movie and a great performance from Emile Hirsch.
Cast Away– The classic tale of the “shipwrecked”. The sole survivor of a FedEx plane crash ends up on an isolated island and has to fend for himself. He’s there quite a long time and we get to see his transition from inept city-dweller to experienced survivalist. Great solo performance from Tom Hanks.
Gravity – Survival in space! A single astronaut survives a disaster in orbit around Earth. She’s got to use all her guile, instinct, and training to get back to the surface. Gripping story and amazing cinematography and a stellar performance from Sandra Bullock (and George Clooney for a bit too!).
Jungle – Based on real events, a young Israeli adventurer finds himself lost and alone in the jungle of South America. It’s a hostile environment and we follow his descent into desperation and madness. Another standout performance from Daniel Radcliffe.
127 Hours – Everyone knows the story – a mountain climber gets stuck and spends 127 hours locked in place when his arm becomes caught in a climbing mishap. He’s driven to some dark places in his mind and the most desperate option quickly becomes the only option. James Franco is very good in this!
The Martian– The movie of the super-popular novel of the same name. An astronaut is left behind on Mars after a minor disaster spoils the plans for the mission. The “castaway” is a biologist and he soon gets to work farming potatoes, and making plans for his rescue. Big budget, big names, big topic! Matt Damon delivers a pretty decent representation of the main character but this does get very “Hollywood” at times…. but then it’s set on Mars and it’s a survivalist story so what’s not to like!!
Life of Pi– An oceanic wilderness survival tale with a difference. Young Indian man Pi is adrift in the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat. Along for the ride are various wild animals from his family’s zoo business – one of them is a Bengal Tiger! Can he reach safety before he becomes lunch?? Good story told in retrospect and great work from the special effects department.
The Revenant– Not so much a sole-survivor tale but a good story of desperation, survival, and revenge! A member of a trapping party in the 1800’s is mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his party. With a little help along the way he manages to recover enough to navigate his way back to civilisation and onto avenge his betrayal. Dark and bloody and there’s a graphic bear attack. Leonardo DiCaprio does pretty well with what is a difficult role and the support cast are very good. I’d read the book by Michael Punke first though, it goes better than the film.
The Shallows – A tense thriller involving a young surfer and a homicidal shark! The girl is stranded annoyingly close to shore, but she’s in the Great White’s feeding ground and he’s got a taste for blood. The ocean is a scary place!
This documentary by celebrated film maker Frederick Wiseman, is admittedly a lengthy look at its subject, but each piece is truly hypnotic, offering a unique and insightful look into this most beloved of landmarks (and yes, I do say this with a conscious bias). ‘Ex Libris’ perfectly captures the day to day life of the library – from a talk with Richard Dawkins to a border patrol representative; an inquiry about unicorns to finding information on a long lost ancestor; robotic sessions to braille lessons; babytimes to recruitment drives, the vibrancy and passion within these walls is very real.
There are over ninety-two library branches in New York, and although only a handful of them are covered in this film, Wiseman manages to reflect the sheer diversity in both the patrons and services across the city. The ‘politics’ of libraries is highlighted in many ways, from conversations about digital inclusion, to inaccurate representations of African American history in a set of children’s books, to the tension between the homeless community in New York and the rest of the library users. There is no narrative in this film, and there is no need for one. Whether we are sitting in on a meeting discussing the best use of private funding, watching a book group discuss Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or observing a student research with the library’s microfiche, the theme of the library as a place of equality for everyone, to learn, think, and create is gently yet powerfully observed.
As a librarian and a library lover generally, I found the parallels between our libraries in Christchurch, and those in New York fascinating – in particular the seemingly universal questions and programmes popular with its customers, and the importance of the library as a safe and enriching haven in every community. I hugely recommend this film, not only for library lovers but for anyone who enjoys a perceptive and beautifully produced documentary. I would of course also recommend the chocolate and a very, very good buddy with an extremely good attention span (cue: dramatic Oscar-acceptance-style speech thanking my own buddy for getting me to this point of now being home).
If you have missed out on getting tickets to this event, never fear, there are many other great picks for the NZIFF. If you are super unlucky and all your picks have sold out, there is again a silver lining as the library has a fantastic range of classic New Zealand films – both movies (think ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’) and documentaries (think ‘Pecking Order’).
Even better our non-fiction DVDs are now free to borrow. Whatever way you decide to take part in the NZIFF – whether its going to the cinema, borrowing a New Zealand DVD, or reading a related book (see Donna’s fantastic blog of this year’s related titles) there really is something for everyone.