Day 124 in the time of coronavirus and it was an exciting and healing day bringing with it a brief return to an experience that has always been a highlight of winter, something that brightened the bleakness of the season - the Auckland International Film Festival. This year the event has slipped by almost unnoticed without its usual weighty, informative and easy to follow booklet and mostly lacking a venue. In the main we have to watch online on a computer or apple tv. In the weekends though there are a just a few screenings at random cinemas, but not the beloved Auckland Civic.
I know. I know. I know. We are lucky to be able to engage in even the most minimal form of crowd activity in the time of lockdown. (Am I fully appreciating my good fortune, I wonder, or am I too focussed on how eerily quiet the city seems, apocalyptic almost on a Sunday in the viaduct, all the brand new apartment blocks standing empty?) But for today anyway it was a tonic to view a rare and precious feminist film set in Saudi Arabia, intelligently scripted, powerful, heart-warming, dismaying - oh the gender divide - and intensely thought-provoking. Then for the visual narrative to be amplified with a musical score featuring the exotic, and sometimes lonely, wandering sound of the oud, just stunning.
There has been discussion recently about the Netflix series ‘Unorthodox’ and its insight into Jewish Hasidic culture. This film, ‘A Perfect Candidate’ provided a similar fascinating frame by frame slice of contemporary life within a Middle Eastern Islamic culture, one I know little about. That is what I love about the medium of cinema, its facility to lift me from the mundane reality of everyday life in little New Zealand into other worlds, other cultures, other geographies, offering a chance to learn more and ponder more about the wonderful and perplexing wider world in which I live. This seems more important in the time of coronavirus because living here I do have a feeling of being stuck. We’ve pulled up the drawbridge and are living in quiet isolation, far from the madding world.
Tonight I took the ferry home from the city, a first, the boat slicing swiftly through the inky water away from a brilliantly lit city skyline diminishing as we moved further into the harbour towards Devonport. Sitting outside, slightly under the cover of a jutting overhead deck, feeling the chilly, slightly damp, salty air, a mist on my face, I felt a rush of adrenalin, felt energised. I could see the apartment tower, with its lights on as we crossed over. I'm not in residence yet but it lifted me to see it. And then I wended my way home through the village, along the side of Takarunga, pausing to look up through the ornamental branches of a flowering magnolia, and absorb its flushed petals softly drooping against a brushed dark grey sky. Again I knew I had made the right decision, to live here.