Telling the es­sen­tial New Zealand story


Ru­ral Otaki res­i­dent Waka Attewell has rubbed shoul­ders with many of Hol­ly­wood’s elite and the qual­ity of his cin­e­matog­ra­phy work is wellac­knowl­edged over­seas.

So why does he live on Gorge Rd rather than Mull­hol­land Dr?

‘‘I tried,’’ he said. ‘‘I did three weeks in LA and went ‘this isn’t for me, I don’t have a need to in­vest my time on this stuff’.

‘‘The sto­ries I want to at­tach to are the New Zealand sto­ries.’’

Re­turn­ing from Los An­ge­les, Attewell and his part­ner es­tab­lished Val­halla Stu­dios in a New­town ware­house and lived in an apart­ment above.

These days the cou­ple are build­ing a new home on an Otaki life­style block.

‘‘ Un­for­tu­nately, at the mo­ment with Wel­ly­wood just down the road, the New Zealand sto­ries keep on dis­ap­pear­ing as the Film Com­mis­sion be­comes more and more of a stu­dio along the lines of an Amer­i­can stu­dio,’’ he said.

How­ever, Attewell’s lat­est pro­ject is story firmly bed­ded in New Zealand – Billy T: Te Movie, which is due for re­lease next week. Attewell di­rected the pho­tog­ra­phy on the film, which was di­rected and co-writ­ten by Ian Mune, and de­scribes the work as a fea­ture doc­u­men­tary.

‘‘ Hav­ing shot a lot of doc­u­men­taries for TV I know how doc­u­men­taries for TV have evolved into the talk­ing head, be­cause bud­gets have got lower and lower.

‘‘ We in­ter­viewed a lot of peo­ple but we spent the en­ergy and craft into plac­ing the peo­ple in the movie.

‘‘ If we were in­ter­view­ing some­one in a farm kitchen, [pro­duc­tion de­signer] Rob Gil­lies moved stuff in to make it the quin­tes­sen­tial farm kitchen.’’

He worked with Billy T James just once, on a com­mer­cial for Air New Zealand’s busi­ness class on its new 767 air­craft.

‘‘I re­mem­ber be­ing to­tally in awe,’’ Attewell said. ‘‘Billy ac­tu­ally worked the sub­text in front of the cam­era – that was ‘ what was a Maori do­ing in busi­ness class?’ – and he brought that with just his pres­ence.

‘‘ I thought that was very clever – that would be in the mind of ev­ery red­neck who saw this com­mer­cial. That would have been when Billy was right at the top sup­pose.’’

Billy T James em­bed­ded him­self on the psy­che of New Zealan­ders in a very short pe­riod, said Attewell.

‘‘The thing that amazed me about the whole Billy T thing – you talk to any­one in New Zealand about Billy T and they talk about him be­ing around for­ever.

‘‘But the whole thing, from when Tom Parkin­son put him on TV to the crash-and-burn of the sit­com, was only about eight years.’’

As well as in­sights into the man the film de­picts his time, and one scene that is likely to jar with mod­ern au­di­ences shows Maori boys not be­ing al­lowed in 1950s cin­e­mas, Attewell said.

‘‘Pakeha will re­mem­ber that some­body stole the body, and Maori will watch and say ‘ if Tainui had not come and got the body, it would have been an in­cred­i­ble in­sult’,’’ said Attewell.

‘‘And that is some­thing that Ian [Mune] brought out. That will be one of those ‘ aha’ mo­ments of en­ter­tain­ment.’’

Billy T: Te Movie is re­leased on Au­gust 18 and will screen at cin­e­mas around the re­gion.

of his game,



On the job: Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Waka Attewell at work on Billy T: Te Movie.

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