Mark your calendar, as Whānau Mārama New Zealand International Film Festival is returning in mid-July – and the full program has now been announced, with tickets on sale from July 4.

It’s now in its 24th year, having brought together regional film festivals under the NZIFF umbrella for the first time in 2009. This year’s festival will show 129 full-length films and seven themed short film collections, starting off in six Auckland venues before unfurling across 15 Aotearoa regions and 30 venues.

It opens on July 19 and runs until September 10, with a typically varied and high-quality selection that includes cinematic gems from around the globe, festival circuit favourites and memorable documentaries.

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Earlier in June, it was announced which films were coming direct from this year’s Cannes Film Festival – including NZIFF’s opening film for 2023, the Palme d’Or-winning Anatomy of a Fall. Directed by Justine Triet, the psycho-thriller centres on a murder trial that steadily reveals the complex family dynamics of the suspect and the victim, and is a sharp exploration of the slippery nature of truth.

Nine films are celebrating their world premiere at this year’s NZIFF – and all films are making their New Zealand premiere. One of the most highly anticipated is Past Lives, the directorial debut of Korean-Canadian filmmaker Celine Song about the reunion of two childhood friends. It premiered in competition at the Berlinale and has been compared to Richard Linklater’s seminal Before trilogy.

Another highlight, coming straight from Sydney Film Festival, is The New Boy, directed by Cannes Caméra d’Or-winning filmmaker Warwick Thornton and starring Cate Blanchett, Deborah Mailman, Wayne Blair and newcomer Aswan Reid. Set in 1940s Australia, this story of survival and spirituality follows an orphaned Aboriginal boy taken in by a remote monastery run by a renegade nun.

Wes Anderson’s newest vision is also showing. Asteroid City features a typically packed all-star ensemble including Tom Hanks, Margot Robbie, Scarlett Johansson and Jason Schwartzman, and is set in a tiny desert town during a space convention.

As always, the festival supports local films – and in the spotlight this year are movies that illuminate and challenge our national character. The line-up includes several new documentaries – one, King Loser , includes a post-show gig at Hollywood Avondale from Chris Heazlewood of the eponymous band that are the film’s subject – as well as feature dramas and short films.

There’s the Sundance-selected Bad Behaviour, starring Jennifer Connelly in the directorial debut of actor-turned-director Alice Englert (Jane Campion’s daughter). Portraying a complex parent-child relationship, with Englert also playing Connelly’s daughter, it was filmed in Aotearoa and features several New Zealanders in supporting roles including Ana Scotney, Marlon Williams and Tom Sainsbury.

Stay ahead of the curve and abreast of up-and-coming filmmakers with the festival’s short film collections – all curated around various themes. Guest selector (and director of Whale Rider and Mulan) Niki Caro has curated New Zealand's Best 2023, narrowed down from 81 submissions to six shorts. Watch them one after the other over 82 minutes, as they feature “features fresh perspectives, acts of resistance, and small, but powerful stories perfectly told,” according to Caro.

There’s also Ngā Whanaunga Māori Pasifika Shorts, which brings together eight shorts from Aotearoa and the Pacific over 91 minutes, featuring works by the likes of artist Pati Tyrell and director Hiona Henare.

At the time of this article’s publication, just the Auckland schedule has been revealed. It takes place between July 19 and August 6, across six venues. Wellington’s printed catalogues will be available to collect at festival-affiliate venues from July 4, and at the rest of the country’s venues throughout the remainder of July.