New book brings NZ film into focus
A wizard has waved his wand of approval over a new book about New Zealand film.
Sir Ian McKellen, who played the wizard Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, has written the foreword for New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History.
Edited by a group of movieloving Wellingtonians, the book charts the history of New Zealand film. Film Archive director Diane Pivac spent five years compiling the book and was thrilled to have McKellen add his touch.
‘‘He is a big fan of New Zealand film, so we were very lucky to get him to do that. We feel very special,’’ she said.
Published by the Film Archive and Te Papa, New Zealand Film covers more than 100 years of movie history, starting with the introduction by George Hausmann of the kinematograph projector in 1896 for the screening of vaudeville films.
‘‘ It really is a wonderful overview of moving-making and moving-going in New Zealand,’’ Pivac said.
‘‘People think New Zealand film started with Sleeping Dogs [in 1977], but it goes back so much further.’’ As well as covering film pioneers Rudall Hayward and Len Lye and classics such as Goodbye Pork Pie and Smash Palace, the book delves into lesser-known topics, including government films, the popularity of home movies and the pioneering of film technology.
Pivac said New Zealanders’ No 8 wire mentality was salient in the film industry from its early days.
‘‘ When Hollywood first had sound, they kept the secret of how to do that for a long time, so New Zealanders came up with their own way to produce sound.
‘‘And at the filming of the  Empire Games in Auckland, filmmakers built rigs that health and safety would never allow now. So you get the idea of how equipment has changed.’’
What has not changed is New Zealanders’ penchant for home movies. There was a tendency to think amateur moving-making was a recent past-time, but Pivac said it went back to the 1950s and 60s.
‘‘ For instance, we [ the Film Archives] have a huge number of amateur recordings of the Queen’s visit in 1953. Everyone there must have had a camera.’’
She said one of the most interesting chapters in the book was about government films.
Between 1918 and 1941, the Government Publicity Office produced short films about New Zealand’s scenery, created subtitles for silent movies and introduced newsreels to the country. ‘‘There’s footage of the 1931 Napier earthquake and, man, that footage is so similar to the Christchurch earthquake footage,’’ Pivac said.
Publicity Office became the National Film Unit in 1941, when Cabinet decided to screen news of New Zealand’s war effort.
Pivac said the book also showed how society had changed over the years. Early photographs depict film-makers and movie-goers dressed in three-piece suits. Our viewing tastes have also changed, though perhaps not that much, said Pivac.
‘‘There are so many films of contests – baby contests, hair-cutting competitions, beauty competitions. The funny thing was that you voted for your favourite contestant. They were forerunners to reality television, I suppose.’’
Pivac said there were plenty more gems and readers should enjoy discovering them. The book, which costs $85, comes with a DVD of short movies and clips.
On film, in print: Diane Pivac was pleased Sir Ian McKellen put his flourishing touch to her book, New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History.