Magazine article American Cinematographer

Report from the New Zealand Filmmaking Scene

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Report from the New Zealand Filmmaking Scene

Article excerpt

Revisiting New Zealand, American Cinematographer Editor tells of a magnificent new filming complex, a new Motion Picture Academy and a revitalized feature film industry


The nation of New Zealand, composed of two large islands, has a population of 3,130,000 . . . Throughout the country there are 12 theatres equipped for 70mm projection, and all of these also screen in 35mm. A number of other theatres, basically equipped as 35mm houses, also screen in 16mm. The total number of commercial theatres is 182, with a seating capacity in all theatres of 119,000 . . . The number of spectators per year is 15,035,000 . . . No features for cinema release were produced locally during 1973-76. In 1977-78 four were produced, and one of these was a New Zealand/Australia co-production . . .

I review the above items on the fact sheet before me as the aircraft begins its descent into the lush green of the countryside surrounding Wellington airport. These items are pertinent to the reason why I have flown here non-stop all the way from Los Angeles, but that reason had its genesis a couple of years ago in Iran (during happier days for that beleaguered nation). On the shuttle bus, while riding back to the Intercontinental Hotel from a late-night screening of the Tehran International Film Festival, I had found myself seated next to an affable gentleman who introduced himself as David H. Fowler, Manager of the New Zealand National Film Unit. In the course of our chat I remarked that I had been to Auckland a couple of years before and had gotten the impression (during my very short stay) that there was no feature production in New Zealand-only commercials and documentary films.

"That's basically true as of now," he said, "but the situation appears to be shaping up to a change. When it happens, I'll let you know."

And so he had-in the form of a letter telling me that, since we last met, a New Zealand Film Commission had been formed, the New Zealand Academy of Motion Pictures had come into being, four feature films (one of them an Australian co-production) had been made in New Zealand during the past year, and now the National Film Unit's new Fairway Drive Studio Centre was about to have its official opening ceremony. Would I come to Wellington to be present for the grand occasion and also to see for myself how far the New Zealand film industry had progressed of late? I would.

And so it is that I find myself touching down on the runway of Wellington Airport on a sun-drenched day right out of the travel brochures. David Fowler is there to meet me and with him is Tom Williamson, Chief Producer of NFU. Their welcome is warm and cordial.

Off With The Old . . .

David Fowler suggests that on the way into town we stop off at Miramar, where NFU's current base of operations is located.

"I think it will be valuable for you to see where we're coming from before we take you to see our new complex," he says. "It will help you to appreciate what a step up these new facilities represent to us."

Miramar, located about six miles from Wellington's commercial center, consists of a basic sprawling red brick building which has had numerous sheds and extensions tacked onto it during the half-century that it has served as the base for the production of NFU films. Moreover, several private residences on either side have long since been commandeered to house the overflow of personnel and equipment. One of these buildings even has a flatbed editing console ensconced in its bathroom, I'm told.

Miramar's main building, on the inside, is an intriguing rabbit warren of passages and stairways leading to improbable cubbyholes and drafty sheds that have served for decades as non-soundproof shooting stages. Much of the equipment has already been dismantled and shipped to the new headquarters, so that the whole place has the rather forlorn air of a much beloved old house on moving day. Yet it is easy to tell from the attitudes of the remaining personnel that they harbor great affection for this dowdy old girl. …

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